First Sunday in Lent
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the great story teller. Amen
our theme is Stories of Faith,
we’re exploring how the stories we tell
affect our faith,
we’re listening to a variety of faith stories
from congregation members during our Wednesday services
(if you can make it I really encourage you to come, Ramona Witte is sharing this week)
and on Sundays our lectionary this season
is giving us at least two stories a week,
stories of faith and doubt.
This week our stories show us how what story we listen to
shapes our understanding of our identity.
we have two stories where identity is both declared and questioned,
but the outcome is very different
based on what story is listened to.
First we have Adam and Eve,
God finishes up creation by making these two earth creatures
and gives them responsibility for the other creatures in the garden,
‘this is who you are’ God tells them
‘you are the care takers of the garden,
you are to till it and keep it and eat the fruit from any of the trees,
with the exception of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,
if you eat that fruit you will die.’
These seem like pretty clear instructions
a clear story and picture of who the humans are
and what they are to do.
And things are going well,
until the serpent comes along
and questions that story,
provides an alternate narrative
and it’s amazing how simple it is
for the serpent to get the humans off track.
All he does is ask a clarifying question,
“Did God say ‘you shall not eat from any three in the garden?’”
and the woman responds with the original narrative from God,
‘no God said we can eat of any tree,
except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,
if we eat from that tree we will die.’
She’s got the story from God down,
but in asking the question
the serpent has put it into her mind
that she might have heard the story wrong,
and into that questioning space
the serpent places another option, a different story,
saying “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
And that’s the story the humans end up listening to,
they eat the fruit,
their eyes are opened,
and the mark that something has changed
is that they are suddenly ashamed of their bodies
and take measures to cover up,
despite the fact that God made them,
called them good
and gave them everything they needed,
presumably they didn’t need clothes,
but now that they have listen to a story other than God’s
they are calling bad what God has called good.
And though that’s where our lesson ends
the story goes on with the humans hiding from God,
trying to place the blame for their predicament
on anyone but themselves
and being cast out from the garden.
Now this story has been interpreted in many ways,
and we could spend a lot of time sifting through all those interpretations
but for our purposes today here is what I want you to notice:
The humans are presented the story of their identity from God
and provided with everything they need,
and when the serpent comes in,
questions that identity and offers them a slightly different story,
one where they have more power,
they listen to that story and turn from God
and it changes how they see themselves for the worse.
And we’ve been doing that even since,
but it doesn’t have to be that way
That’s where our other story comes in,
it parallels our first story but with very different results.
Right before the gospel lesson starts
Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan river
and as he comes up out of the water
the heavens open, the holy spirit descends in the form of a dove
and God’s voice is heard from heaven
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
This is God’s story of Jesus’ identity,
definitively declared from heaven.
And then the spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness
to be tempted by the devil.
This may seem odd
but it is true that hardships help to define our identity,
we often don’t know how strong we can be
until we are tested,
so Jesus goes and fasts for a long time,
he is weak,
and that’s when the tempter comes to him
and questions his identity,
provides an alternate story.
The tempter says “If you are the son of God”
the challenge under these words says ‘prove to me that you are’
“If you are the son of god, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’
the devil starts by playing off our human need
to prove to others that we are who we say we are,
it’s not enough to believe it ourselves,
others have to believe it as well,
‘prove it’ the devil says.
And Jesus doesn’t fall for it.
He quotes scripture back saying
“it is written one does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
And then the devil tries again,
adjusting his tactics,
Jesus used scripture to refute that temptation
so the devil decides to use scripture to tempt Jesus.
Again he questions Jesus’ identity,
challenging him to prove it
according to what the scriptures say:
“If you are the son of God, throw yourself down for it is written ‘ he will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
and again Jesus resists,
refusing to question, to test,
the story God has told him.
Questioning identity hasn’t worked
so the devil tries one last play,
appealing to the human desire for power,
for a price of course,
and of course Jesus doesn’t fall for that either
and the devil finally leaves him.
Jesus was able to resist temptation
because he held onto the story of his identity
that came from God,
even in the face of other plausible stories.
We too have a story from God,
God created us and called us good
and since we tend to doubt that
God gave us a sign for us to point to, baptism,
when we are washed in the waters of baptism
God definitively declares our identity,
God claims us as children of God
and promises that this will never change,
that this is an identity that cannot be taken from us
even when the world tells us otherwise,
and the world has all sorts of other stories
about who we are
the dangerous thing is that they all sound plausible,
the story that says you are defined by where you were born,
what language you speak
or even the color of your skin or shape of your body,
the stories that whisper that you are not enough
but that you can become enough
by treating people in a certain way,
by only looking out for yourself,
that you are better or worse than others,
sooner or later one of the stories grabs our attention
and we listen to it rather than the story God is telling,
when we do our eyes are opened
and we become ashamed of what God has called good and beloved
and we try to hide,
from ourselves and from God.
But God doesn’t give up that easily,
God made a promise,
so God sent Jesus,
who firm in his own identity and story
reached out to those who had been hiding from God for so long
that they had begun to believe that they would never be part of God’s story,
and Jesus offered them another story to hold on to,
to the sick he told the story of health
and then he healed them,
to the outcast he told the story of inclusion
and then he welcomed them,
to the hungry he told the story of being full
and then he fed them,
to the sinners he told the story of forgiveness
and then he forgave them
that’s what Jesus does for us too,
he gives us other stories to hold on to,
to tell again and again and again,
stories that define us as God’s beloved children
washed with water,
stories of meals where Jesus comes to us in bread and wine body and blood
offering forgiveness and new life,
stories of death and resurrection.
These are the stories that define us,
and when the other stories start sounding plausible,
Jesus brings us back to the font and table,
the places where the true stories are told,
and washed, fed and forgiven,
we are reminded of the only story that matters,
the story where we are beloved children of God
we are sent out to tell others this story
in the same way Jesus told it
by living it out
offering healing, welcome, food and forgiveness
treating all we encounter as the beloved children of God that they are,
because that’s who we are.
God told us so. Amen
2 Corinthians 5:20=6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
It’s a story in 12 words,
12 words within which
lie the whole scope of the human life,
that we start as dust and end as dust
and that we do well to remember that while we are living in between.
As humans we tell stories to make sense of our lives,
now if this 12 word story were the only one we told,
it would be horribly depressing,
but it’s not,
it’s one story among many that we tell about life,
and it has a place among all those stories
as they all come together to reveal the truth about life.
This Lent we will be focusing on telling stories of faith,
and thinking about story telling and meaning making,
I was reminded of a Ted Talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie from 2009
Titled “The Danger of a Single Story”,
you can still find it online and watch it for yourself.
And in this Ted Talk
Chimamanda talks about the power that the stories we tell
have to shape our reality and understanding
both of ourselves and others,
she shares about how as a child
the books she had access to were British or American in origin
and so when she as a child
started writing her own stories
all of her characters were blond haired and blue eyed
and ate strange things that she had never tasted before
and it wasn’t until she found books by Africans
that she realized that people that looked like her
could be in stories too
and do things that she was familiar with,
that was the danger of a single perspective,
the danger of a single story
that people, even ourselves, get left out of the picture.
She also talks about a boy that worked for her family growing up,
and all her mother told her about the boy
was that he and his family were poor.
So she was surprised when they went and visited his home
and saw a beautiful basket made by the boys’ brother,
the single story of poverty that she had
didn’t include hard work.
Having only one story is dangerous
because we come to believe that it’s the only way to think about something,
this holds true for the stories we tell about others and ourselves,
but also for the stories we tell of God and faith in God
And of course not all stories
are ones we wish to think about or tell all the time,
but these uncomfortable stories,
the ones that remind us of our mortality
and the ways in which we fail to love God and neighbor
must be told as well
because they are a part of life
that’s what Lent is for,
it is a time set aside to tell stories
that we might otherwise shy away from
but which reveal important truths,
namely that ultimate power rests with God
Which is why we start with the story of Ash Wednesday,
remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,
we rarely tell the story of life this way
but it holds out to us a truth
that we need to understand,
a truth that we tend to forget
or even intentionally ignore,
the truth that our time is finite
and whatever we do,
we all end up the same,
We like to tell other stories about life,
most often we are the main characters,
the ones in control of our own actions and destinies,
we are the heroes and others are the villains
And yet the story of Ash Wednesday
takes us and points us to the one who originally took that dust
formed it into a shape
and breathed life into it,
God, creator of heaven and earth,
the only one with the power to make dust more than dust.
This story re-centers us,
prepares us for the stories to come,
the stories of life where God is the hero,
and God has the power to shape the future of all people
these stories return us to God.
In a moment we will confess our sins,
Luther defined sin as being curved in on one’s self,
navel gazing as it were.
In our readings for tonight
we are warned against this inward turn.
In our first reading God calls out to the people,
who even in their repentance
are focusing more on themselves
than the reason for their need to repent.
“Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers...such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.” God tells the people through the prophet,
Instead, God says “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually…”
The story the people had been telling themselves
was that whatever ill they were experiencing
was the fault of God
and God turns it around on them,
shows them that their own actions
are at least causing some of the harm
and the solution is focus less on themselves
and more on their neighbors,
to change the story being told about what God wants.
Jesus in our gospel reading
points out the hypocrites,
their actions are driven by the kind of story they want others to tell about them,
that they are religious,
not that they actually wish to become closer to God.
If you wish to become closer to God, Jesus says,
the only one who needs to know what you’re doing
it doesn’t matter what story others tell of you
but what story God tells of you.
Those human stories will fade,
God’s story lasts forever.
Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return
The season and stories of Lent
call us back to focus on God
and the stories God has to tell,
stories where God works through the people that go unnoticed,
who are left out of the stories of the world,
stories where God is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,
stories where dust filled with life is treasured by God.
Tonight we hear a short story,
and are invited into a time
where we reflect on all the stories
between the dusty beginning and endings.
So as you go out this evening
marked with the Ashy cross on your forehead,
consider the stories you tell.
Of yourself, of others, of God,
What stories will you seek out this Lent?
Your old favorites or something new?
Stories where you are the hero?
or where God is at the center?
And as you go
remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Amen
Transfiguration of Our Lord
2 Peter 1:16-21
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who
gives us what we need, Amen
I’ve got to admit,
I have a soft spot in my heart
for the festival of the Transfiguration,
perhaps because this moment,
told as a brief story
encapsulates the entire experience of a life of faith,
no matter where you are on your journey of faith
there is something for you
in the story of the transfiguration
which we experience through the disciple Peter.
Peter is the disciple
whose relationship with Jesus
is laid bare for us to see all throughout the gospel,
and it’s not always a pretty sight,
but at each turn,
Jesus gives Peter what he needs,
and at this moment
Peter needs to be reaffirmed in his relationship with Jesus,
and Jesus knows,
he will need this experience in the days to come
when there are more questions than answers
about who Jesus is.
the conversation about the identity of Jesus
is what that started all of this,
six days earlier Jesus, taking a break from the crowds
drew his disciples aside and asked them “Who do people say that I am?”
the disciples responded, Moses, Elijah, a prophet
and hearing these wrong answers
Jesus asked them,
the ones closest to him
“but who do you say that I am?”
and Peter in a moment of clarity
that Jesus later attributes to the Father
says “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”
he gets the right answer,
Peter is the first to confess the truth about Jesus,
and Jesus praises him for it
and tells him that he is the rock
on which he will build his church.
That’s quite a moment,
Peter is riding high,
he got the answer right,
Jesus has given him a special commission,
Peter knows what’s going on
(or at least he thinks he does)
so when Jesus starts to show the disciples
that what it means to be the messiah
is to travel to Jerusalem,
suffer, be killed and on the third day raised again,
Peter doesn’t hesitate to jump in,
he takes Jesus aside and tells him
“God forbid it Lord! This must never happen to you.”
And Jesus’ response is not what Peter is expecting,
at Peter’s rebuke Jesus turns and says to him
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
In a moment the corner stone
has become a stumbling block,
can you imagine how devastated Peter felt?
He has gone from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows
and I imagine that at that moment
he is questioning everything
even his role as a disciple,
thinking that he’s blown it with Jesus.
I think most of us have had moments like that,
where we’ve disappointed someone important to us,
or we’re afraid that we have irreparably broken an important relationship
and it is a bad feeling.
But Jesus hasn’t given up on Peter,
he lets him be for awhile
and then six days after those extreme highs and lows
takes him and James and John
literally out of the valley and up a mountain
where he is transfigured before them,
his face shines like the sun
and his clothes turn white.
The fullness of who Jesus is,
is revealed on that mountain,
in that moment before Peter.
It’s one thing to stumble on the right answer,
it’s quite another thing to witness Jesus surrounded by the glory of the Lord
and speaking with Moses and Elijah
and Peter never wants this moment to end,
‘this is a good place’ he tells Jesus,
‘if you want I’ll build the three of you places to stay and you’ll never have to leave’
he is caught up in the glory of the moment,
but I bet at the back of his mind
is Jesus’ passion prediction,
even after Jesus’ strong rebuke,
Peter is still trying to find a way out of what Jesus has told them must happen,
this might be the answer.
But as Peter is speaking
they are all overshadowed by a bright cloud
and from the cloud comes the voice of God saying
“This is my Son the Beloved, with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
and the terrified
disciples fall to the ground
overcome by fear,
because that is what you do when you hear the voice of God,
you are terrified
and Jesus comes over,
picks them up, and says “do not be afraid”
and when they look up,
they are alone with Jesus
and he leads them back down the mountain.
Because the truth of mountain top experiences,
whether literal or figurative,
is that as important as they are,
they cannot last forever,
at some point you have to come down off the mountain
back into the valley,
because that’s where faith is lived out,
in the valleys of everyday life,
but we are able to live it out
because of what we have experienced on the mountain top.
Peter and James and John will go with Jesus to Jerusalem,
and things will go as Jesus has told them
there will be moments of great faith
and moments of doubt and despair
but even in the depths of fear and doubt
they have the experience of the transfiguration,
the voice of God,
the reassuring touch of Jesus,
the view from the mountain top.
The life of faith is never straight forward,
there will be times when like Peter,
for a moment we get it right,
and in the next instant we will get it so very wrong,
there are the times when we are enthusiastic and energized,
and times when we are disheartened and tired,
and then there are the times when we are just plain terrified,
And in all these moments
Jesus gives us what we need,
sometimes we need a rebuke,
and sometimes we need to be led up a mountain
and shown the glory of the Lord,
or a calming touch
and then Jesus leads us back down the mountain,
to see life in the valley through new eyes,
eyes that have seen the glory of the Lord.
There’s one final detail to this story,
as Jesus leads the three disciples back down the mountain,
he tells them not to tell anyone about their experience
until after he has risen from the dead.
It may seem like an odd request
given how amazing the experience was,
but I think it speaks to the truth
that we often only understand moments where the glory of the Lord is revealed,
long after the experience.
We don’t forget about them
but as we live our lives
we see more clearly than in that initial moment
the impact of that time on our journey of faith,
and only then
it is time for us to share the story with others,
and perhaps our story telling will be Jesus,
giving someone else what they need at that moment
on their journey of faith.
This Wednesday marks the beginning of a season of journeys and stories.
We start by being reminded of the most simple story of humanity
that we begin as dust and we return to dust.
Then we join with Jesus
as he journeys to Jerusalem and the cross,
this is a story we tell every year,
we are still unpacking it’s meaning, 2,000 plus years later
and as we go with Jesus,
we reflect on our own journeys
and tell our own stories
whether they take place on mountain tops or in valleys.
But before all this starts,
we take a moment to rest in the glory of the Lord,
we look around and say,
it’s good to be here,
and even though we know we can’t stay
we will carry this moment with us
on the rest of our journey. Amen
Baptism of Our Lord
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who is continually doing a new thing with us. Amen
So in the story of Jesus
we’ve jumped thirty some years
between last week and this week.
Mostly because the Bible doesn’t really tell us anything
in between Jesus’ birth
and his appearance in the wilderness
by the Jordan river to be baptized by John,
the event that starts off his public ministry.
Jesus is starting something new,
and God calls him to begin with baptism,
so Jesus goes from Galilee
out into the desert to the Jordan river
where John the Baptist
is preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
calling people to turn their lives around,
to start new,
and is baptizing people as a sign of that repentance,
that commitment to new life,
John is preparing the people for Jesus
and he’s doing quite well
gathering big crowds
and now Jesus goes up to John and says,
‘I’m ready to take over, baptize me.’
And John says,
‘wait a minute, that’s not how this is supposed to happen,
you’re supposed to baptize me.’
And Matthew tells us
that “John would have prevented him”
and Jesus has to convince John
that this is what God wants,
finally John consents to baptize Jesus
and when Jesus comes up out of the water
the spirit descends and the voice of God is heard
and it’s all amazing,
but it might not have happened
if Jesus hadn’t been able to convince John
that this was the way God was working.
I don’t know about you,
but this sounds like kind of a rough start to Jesus’ ministry.
After all if John,
whose whole purpose in life
was to prepare the way for Jesus
had to be convinced,
how much more convincing is the next person going to take?
Now to be fair to John,
it wasn’t what Jesus was planning on doing that threw him
but how he wanted to start going about doing it,
Jesus just wasn’t what he expected,
but he was open enough to be convinced
and the ministry went forward.
We see this pattern replicated over and over again,
God doing something new
and since God works in the world with people,
we see God partnering with someone
who while open to the new thing
must be convinced of the how
and when they consent,
even a little bit,
the holy spirit swoops in to make the new life possible.
We see this in our story from Acts,
we only read a part of it
but it is the story of the first Gentile converts
to the way of Jesus.
Jesus has died and risen and appeared to the disciples
and before he ascends back up into heaven
he commands them to spread the news of the new thing God is doing,
and to baptize those who desire it
and with baptism will come the gift of the holy spirit
so that’s what the apostles are doing,
they’re creating a new community,
people are hearing their preaching
and believing and are being baptized
and things are going great,
until Peter has a vision from God.
God wants to do a new thing
within this new thing!
God wants to expand the ministry to the Gentiles
which is really just short hand
for everyone else,
literally it means “the nations”,
there’s the chosen people
and there’s everyone else
and up until this point
the Jesus movement has been a strictly Jewish thing
and one very strong characteristic of being part of the chosen people
is to remain separate from everyone else,
so much so that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate or to visit a Gentile
and yet that’s what God is calling Peter to do,
and Peter resists,
he protests that he’s followed the law his whole life,
why break it now?
But God is insistent
and Peter is just open enough to the idea
that when the spirit nudges Peter to go to the house of Cornelius
who is a Roman soldier but worships the God of Israel,
Cornelius has had his own vision from God
And as a result sends for Peter
and after he explains his vision
Peter begins to speak,
and this is the part of the story we had for our second reading
he starts off “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
and then Peter who is opening up to this new thing of God
preaches the good news of Jesus Christ to those assembled,
Cornelius and his household
and a remarkable thing happens:
“While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.”
God is doing something new,
but is convinced enough
to make enough room for the Holy Spirit to sweep in
making new life possible in ways that even Peter can’t argue with,
the spirit is supposed to be a result of baptism
but the spirit descends on the gentiles
while Peter is speaking
making it hard for anyone to argue against baptism,
seeing as they’ve already received the holy spirit
God is making God’s will known
and Peter gives up his protests,
baptizes the household,
and then stays with them
breaking many of the laws he’d spent his whole life keeping
but which don’t matter anymore
because of God’s new thing.
And things are great,
until Peter goes home
and the other Apostles give Peter a hard time
for staying with gentiles
and he has to go through the whole story
before they accept
that God has given even to the Gentiles
the repentance that leads to life.
But this leads to the first major conflict in the church,
the conflict over whether the gentile converts
must be circumcised to be an official part of the community.
Even having accepted that God is doing a new thing,
there are those who disagree with the how,
and the cycle starts to repeat, again and again and again.
the resistance that comes from God doing a new thing
is rarely about God opening the community even wider,
we all theoretically get on board with that pretty quickly
the idea that God loves everyone,
that’s kind of hard to argue with
the resistance comes from the how,
how this new broader circle
changes the community,
changes our lives
and more importantly to us humans,
how we know who is in and who is out.
And that takes us back to that pesky original sin,
the desire to be God,
We want to be the ones that determine the boundaries of the community
when that is God’s job.
It’s all a bit of a mess isn’t it?
God still comes to us,
God claims us at our baptisms,
making sure that we know that we have been chosen by God,
and then God calls us to share the gift we’ve been given with others,
to expand the community,
and when we get caught up in the how,
God calls to us again,
to see the new thing God is doing,
and God works to convince us with the holy spirit,
even as God forgives us our resistance,
our desire to hold fast to the way things have been
when God is clearly doing something new.
And for this I give thanks to God,
for the grace and mercy shown to us each and every day,
for the water that reminds us of God’s claim on us
and the spirit’s movement among us.
But it also makes me wonder,
what new thing of God are we resisting?
4th Sunday of Advent
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who comes to us in unexpected ways. Amen
Have you ever wondered about Joseph’s role in the Christmas story?
I mean it seems peripheral at most.
Given that the Holy Spirit is so active,
is Joseph even necessary?
Today Matthew answers that question with an emphatic yes!
As Matthew tells it
the story of Jesus
is all about God fulfilling God’s own promises
but in radically different ways than people expect
especially since along the way
ordinary people of faith
are called to take part in the fulfillment of promises,
people like Mary and Joseph.
Luke is the one who tells us
more about Mary’s faithful response to God’s call
but Matthew is where Joseph shines.
Mary and Joseph are engaged
which back then was a more solid legal agreement than today
but before they actually get married
Mary is found to be with child from the Holy Spirit
and this presents a dilemma for Joseph
who we are told is righteous,
meaning that he is a follower of the law
and the law says in instances like this
that it is legal for the man to dismiss or divorce the woman
with varying degrees of potential punishment,
Deuteronomy allows for a public stoning,
not that stonings were common in the day of Mary and Joseph
but a very public dismissal
would have brought great shame on Mary and her reputation.
But even as Joseph wants to follow the law
we are told he is unwilling to expose Mary to public disgrace,
he tries to find a way to be kind and follow the law.
So he plans to dismiss her quietly,
meaning he wouldn’t expose her supposed infidelity
and thereby take the brunt of the shame on himself
since it would look like he’d gotten a young woman pregnant
then decided to divorce her for no apparent reason.
Which is quite a remarkable decision when you think about it.
“But just when he had resolved to do this” Matthew tells us,
an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream
and tells him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife,
that the child is from the Holy Spirit
and this is how it’s going to play out the angel says:
“She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet.” and the angel quotes Isaiah.
This is classic Matthew,
remember Matthew is intensely interested
in showing that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s past promises
and the angel’s announcement
shows that Jesus fulfills two,
the promise in Isaiah of a child born to a young woman,
and the promise that the messiah will be a descendant of King David,
and this second part is where Joseph becomes crucial,
Joseph is a descendant of King David
as Matthew has established with the genealogy of Jesus
at the very beginning of his gospel.
By naming Jesus,
as the angel instructs,
Joseph acknowledges Jesus as his son
and as his son Jesus too is a descendant of King David.
But Joseph is more than the connection to the family of David,
he is a faithful person,
who encountering the unexpectedness of God
even as what is required of him
goes against the prevailing teaching of the day.
When faced with a choice between following the law
and acting faithfully
Joseph choses faith
and his faith cares for and nurtures Jesus
as he comes into the world and grows up.
Joseph shows from the very beginning
the truth that “the faithful thing to do and the faithful way to be are sometimes at odds with social convention” (Feasting on the Word Year A volume 1 pge 94)
even in our religious communities.
We look to our systems of religion,
the rules and rituals,
to guide us through life
and they are generally helpful
until we pay more attention to them than to God,
because God continually does new things,
calling us outside of the comfortably established rules and rituals.
Joseph shows us that it is possible to remain faithful to God
even as God’s work falls outside the established definition of acting faithfully,
and actually, while it may seem wildly different to us
God’s actions are always consistent with God’s priorities.
Later in the gospel in the sermon on the Mount,
Jesus will say “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Matthew 5:17
and then he goes on to interpret the law
to protect those without power under the law,
‘yes murder is against the law’ Jesus says
‘but I say that even anger should be judged
because it is anger that precedes murder’
later he continues (Matthew 5:43-47)
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”
Jesus’ fulfillment of the law is based on the love of God
the love that led to creation,
the love of God for that creation
made manifest in Jesus himself,
the love Jesus showed to the poor, needy and outcast he encountered,
love that took him all the way to the cross,
love that burst out again three days later.
All of this love flew in the face of social convention,
God was not supposed to be human,
the poor, needy and outcast were not supposed to be noticed,
the messiah was not supposed to be crucified,
people who are dead are not supposed to rise again.
And yet that’s how God chose to work to save the world,
doing the unexpected through ordinary people
who when faced with the dilemma of following social convention
or following the call of God,
chose to follow God.
That’s what Joseph did,
and Mary and the disciples,
and that is what we are called to do,
to listen for God’s call in the unexpected
and when faced with a choice between doing what is expected
or unconventionally acting out of love,
we are to choose love,
and we do so trusting that God will be with us
because we are following Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. Amen
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
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
In the play of life,
what role are you playing?
What character do you act out for the world?
Perhaps it’s the role of dutiful worker
that you bring to life
or enthusiastic student
or maybe you’re trying to play that fictional character
the one who can do everything effortlessly and to perfection.
You have multiple roles in life,
facades that you put on and take off like masks
and you’ve been doing it for so long
that it seems to be a part of who you are,
you’ve become so good at playing these characters
that you have trouble distinguishing
where the character stops and you begin
we all do it,
we get so caught up in the expectations and fantasies of a society
that tells us we have to act a certain way
and buy certain products
so that our lives will be better,
we’ll feel younger, live longer,
be one of the attractive people without worries,
that if we make smart decisions or vote for this party or that party
that everything will be okay
and if we don’t everything will be horrible.
Into this whirlwind steps Ash Wednesday and says
‘Stop. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’
and with those words
and a smear of ash on our foreheads,
we are brought back to the fundamental truth of life
that we all started as dust
and will end as dust
and nothing we do,
no role we play
will change that fact.
It’s a sobering moment
and it serves as an invitation,
an invitation to return to God,
who molded us at the beginning,
who breathed life into us
and who knows exactly who we are,
no matter what we tell ourselves or others,
and who loves us as we are.
The invitation of Lent
is an invitation to return to authenticity,
it’s an invitation to see ourselves as we are
without the masks and characters
because that is who God loves,
that is who God goes to the cross for.
Jesus teaching his disciples tonight
points out the hypocrites,
I think our general definition of hypocrite
is someone who says one thing and does another
and that’s relatively easy to disassociate ourselves from,
we generally see ourselves as consistent in what we say and do,
it’s easier to see hypocrisy in someone else
than in our own lives,
but what Jesus is pointing to
has more to do with the intent behind actions
than the consistency of word and deed,
In the Greek language, a hypocrite is one who plays a part,
especially on the stage,
a hypocrite is an actor who changes masks with the change of a character.
The flaw that Jesus points out in the hypocrites
is not their actions,
giving alms, praying and fasting
are all good honorable actions in and of themselves,
what Jesus is critiquing
is the reason the hypocrites are giving alms and praying and fasting,
they want to be seen by others.
They are playing the role of a pious person,
it’s a character acted out on a stage
so that others will honor them as a pious person,
rather than actions that are intended to care for the poor,
build a genuine relationship with God
and heighten spiritual awareness.
Rend your hearts and not your clothing
says the Lord in our first reading
and when we look at it this way
we begin to see ourselves in the people Jesus is pointing to,
we think of the time when we went to church
because we wanted people to see that we went to church,
or the time when we smiled and said ‘I’ll pray for you’
and then did no such thing,
or when we went and did a service project
and made sure that pictures of us working were pasted all over social media.
Beware of practicing your piety before others
in order to be seen by them;
Stop. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.
In the end it doesn’t matter what other people think.
What matters is your relationship with God
who formed you from dust,
who loves you so much
that Jesus, the Son of God
died on the cross, for you,
who in the waters of baptism
joined you to the death and resurrection of Jesus,
marking you as God’s own
in the shape of the cross on your forehead
so that death will not have the last say,
so that freed from the fear of death
we no longer need to try to escape from it
by playing a variety of characters
but instead we turn around,
look death in the eye
we mark it on our foreheads
and then we walk through it
to the new life on the other side
because with God
death is always followed by new life. Amen
Christ the King Sunday
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who is among the least of these. Amen
Today we are at the end of the church calendar,
instead of ringing in the new year
with late night parties and champagne,
new year’s resolutions and year end retrospectives,
we take time to consider who God is,
what kind of God we have
and what the world will be like
when the time of God comes to fullness,
when God’s kingdom comes and it is on earth as it is in heaven,
something we pray for each time we say the Lord’s prayer.
We do this using the image of Christ as a King,
one who has the power to make all the decisions for his people.
In this system of government
who the king is
makes all the difference for how life will be.
And to help us in this task today
we are given the parable of the sheep and the goats
The Son of Man returns in glory surrounded by angels
and he gathers all the nations to him
and begins to sort them as a shepherd sorts the sheep from the goats.
because we also confess
that Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead
The sheep go to the right hand- the place of honor
while the goats go to the left hand.
The sheep he invites into the kingdom
and the goats he sends away from himself.
The sheep, are confused
when they are welcomed into the kingdom
because they fed the king when he was hungry
and gave him something to drink when he was thirsty,
put clothes on him,
visited him, took care of him, welcomed him.
When did we ever do this for you? They ask.
The king responds,
Just as you did it to one of the least of these
who are members of my family, you did it to me.
the king calls the least
members of his family,
he has gathered all the nations around the throne
and calls all the people members of his family,
Jesus is an inclusive
rather than an exclusive king.
In this sentence he affirms that we are all children of God,
everyone, all the nations.
Now the goats,
they are surprised too
at where they ended up in the sorting.
“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?”
And the answer comes
“just as you did not do it to one of the least of these you did not do it to me.”
The goats, the unrighteous
I think are like the fat sheep from Ezekiel,
where we have another sorting scene.
In Ezekiel the Lord is envisioned as a shepherd
caring for the whole flock,
not just the sheep that are doing well,
in fact the fat sheep are the ones that are judged and separated out
because they pushed with flank and shoulder,
and butted at all the weak animals with their horns
until the weak sheep were scattered.
The fat sheep got fat at the expense of the others in their flock
and this is not acceptable to God our shepherd.
The unrighteous were so focused on getting ahead,
that they did so at the expense of others.
They are surprised
when the King says that they didn’t feed him,
focused on power and getting ahead
would have noticed if the most powerful needed something.
And that is where they fall short,
where they miss the most powerful one
who surrenders that power for the powerless.
That is the kind of God we have
One who becomes one of us
One of the least of us
We have a God that is like a King
who considers all his subjects family,
who is concerned about every last one,
especially the weak and lowly subjects who,
are traditionally not paid attention to by a ruler.
We have a God that is like a shepherd
concerned with the health of the whole flock,
where all the sheep must be healthy not just a few.
We have a God
that has promised to come in the fullness of time
and make the vision a reality,
to sort out those
who stand in the way of justice, mercy and abundant life for all
We believe this
We proclaim it as good news
But sometimes we wonder
Are we sheep or are we really goats?
And here we have an advantage,
unlike the sheep and the goats
who were unaware of who would judge them,
we know who will judge us
as well as the standards to be used,
we know that our king, our God
identifies with the last and the least,
those who are hungry, weak, and outcast,
the sick and imprisoned,
looking back through the empty tomb
we know that Christ is found at the cross,
the times of intense suffering
whether in our lives or the lives of others.
As one commentator I read (Karoline Lewis) said,
“If you have to ask Jesus, when was it? You are not paying attention.”
We know where Christ is found
We know what Christ expects of us.
Not noticing is no longer an excuse
actually it was never an excuse that we could use.
It seems like all around us things in the world are being uncovered
and people are being asked to account for their past actions,
some are responding with the equivalent to the question when was it?
And the answer is always,
God was with the powerless,
the least of these.
That is the kind of God we have.
In the end we don’t need to try to figure out whether we are sheep or goats,
or whether the person sitting next to us is a sheep or a goat
because what we really are,
are children of God.
What happens to us matters to God.
Our neighbors are children of God,
what happens to them matters to God.
Our enemies are children of God,
what happens to them matters to God.
The world is Gods,
what happens to the earth matters to God.
Our God is one
for whom the health and well being of all
are of great concern,
and when God reigns as king
all will have everything they need.
And until God returns,
God expects us who know this
to begin to live this way,
the begin to bring about the reign of God,
to look for and see God in all things
so that in the end,
when we come before God
we will not have to ask ‘when was it?’
because we will have seen the Lord. Amen
24th Sunday After Pentecost
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who trusts us in the meantime. Amen
Well, here we are,
nearing the end of the church year,
and we have another set of readings about the coming of the Lord after a long delay,
and again this ends in weeping and gnashing of teeth and outer darkness,
the word of the lord thanks be to God?
While it’s tempting to get caught up in the language of the end
and visions of judgment
and whether or not we think it’s fair
the end is not really what these passage are about,
rather they are about the middle, the meantime,
living life right now and what God expects of us,
They speak to where we are
because we are living solidly in the middle,
our life and faith is lived out in between already and not yet,
between Jesus came, lived, died, rose and ascend to the father
and Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead.
Which begs the question:
what are we to do in the meantime?
Which is where our parable comes in.
In the parable we have a master and three servants,
the master is going away
and has quite a bit of property
which he entrusts to the servants to take care of while he is gone,
he gives each what he thinks they can handle
and even the smallest amount is a large sum of money,
a talent is equivalent to 15 years of wages for a day laborer.
It’s a big responsibility,
but the master hands it over with no instructions
other than the understanding that the master will return
and reclaim the property at some point,
this is a care taking situation not a gift
and the master leaves.
Two of the servants take the money and put it to work,
they invest it and trade with it
and by the time the master returns
they have doubled the original amount
and are celebrated when they give it to their master.
The third servant,
the one with the least amount,
fearfully takes the one talent,
digs a hole and puts it in the ground.
When the master returns he digs it up
and fearfully gives it to the master
who berates him for mismanagement,
at least you could’ve taken it to the bank the master says
as he takes away the talent from the third servant.
We who live in the meantime have a big responsibility
because God has entrusted to us the world
and God’s message for the world,
the message sent through the good news of Jesus Christ.
God expects us to do something with what God has given us,
to live out the message, the good news,
to share it and by sharing it, growing it
so that even though we’re in the middle,
the world starts to look like God’s vision for the world,
where all are loved and fed and clothed,
and there is no more war and creation flourishes.
We are entrusted with love,
the love of family and friends,
God expects that we work to make that love grow
by sharing it with others.
We are entrusted with a community
that shares good news with us,
God expects that we work to make that community grow
by sharing the good news with others.
We are entrusted with physical resources,
God expects that we share those resources with those who lack them.
Because the way God created the world
There is more than enough for all
And when we live in this way
we share, not because we are fearful of judgment,
the weeping and gnashing of teeth
but because we are grateful that God has trusted us in the meantime.
The actions of the first two servants
are riskier than the third, it’s true,
sharing is risky
but only by sharing will the message spread and grow.
If we are overwhelmed by fear and take no risks
there is no hope of anything spreading or growing.
And the tricky thing is that we in the meantime
are left to determine how much to risk.
How much of what God has given us do we give away?
We need some of it to take care of ourselves,
so how much is enough?
These are the questions we find ourselves asking
as we develop our congregational budget,
and we ask these questions when we consider our own giving
and resources of time and talents
and there are very few concrete instructions from God.
In some way this situation reminds me of one of my favorite professors in college,
I took several classes from him
and after the first class,
it was always fun to watch people who hadn’t had him before
when the time came for the first essay,
because in assigning essays
Dr. Jodock simply assigned a topic
there was no required word count or number of pages,
Dr. Jodock told his students
that the essay should be as long as it took to thoroughly address the topic.
And people freaked out,
because it meant that they would have to think hard
about the content of the essay,
and find the balance between what was too little and too much,
they couldn’t just write something
and then if it didn’t meet the required length add more,
or if it was too long cut things out.
It was up to them
to decide how much was enough.
It really stressed people out
who were used to having these things spelled out for them
whether it was so they could do enough to get by
or because they wanted the best grade possible
there was no way to calculate your potential grade
and that struck fear into some students’ hearts.
But after you got to know Dr. Jodock a bit
you learned that he was a gracious grader of essays,
and then it became fun to write for him,
because then it became about exploring the topic
rather than trying to meet a word or page count.
Don’t get me wrong,
he still took off points for things
but you knew that as long as you honestly engaged the topic
to the best of your abilities
you would get a passing grade.
When we think about stewardship,
that big church word
that means taking care of what God has given us
I think it’s in some ways like writing an essay for Dr. Jodock,
we’ve been given a topic
and it is up to us
to figure out how much is too much or too little,
and when we get to know God more,
we realize God’s a gracious grader
which frees us to take some risks,
explore what happens when we give love away freely
and invite others in to share what God has entrusted to us.
Sure God is going to be honest with us
when we miss the mark
but if we know anything from scripture
it is that God is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
God wants us to succeed
and God will give us all the help we need
including God’s own son.
The Thessalonians were worried about the end
Paul exhorts them to live according to the light
to stay awake
but he concludes with these comforting words:
“For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.”
So whether we are awake or asleep
We give thanks to God. 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.