Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who brings us back to love. Amen
Today the Pharisees set out to test Jesus,
and one asks him
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
Now this story comes at the end
of several stories of various groups trying to trick Jesus
into blasphemy or treason,
and this time they specifically use the law as their trap.
Remember, the law was a gift from God to the Israelites,
God freed them from slavery in Egypt
and brought them out into the wilderness
and to teach them how to live in harmony with one another as free people
God gave them the gift of the law.
It was a gift given in love,
intended to help build and maintain relationships,
and now the Pharisees propose to do the opposite
they set out to use the law to test,
to trick, to divide, even to harm.
they ask, which law is the greatest?
and Jesus responds:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment and a second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Jesus brings them back to love.
This is what Jesus does
every time humans take a gift from God,
given in love, intended for love
and use it to test, trick, divide or harm,
Jesus brings us back to love.
Love of God, love of neighbor, love of self.
We see this in the gospels
Jesus continually points those he meets back to love,
love that mends relationships and brings people together,
and often this takes a very physical form,
when Jesus meets people whose relationships are broken because of sickness,
he heals them,
when the disciples want to send the crowds away to get something to eat,
Jesus says you feed them,
and helps them feed the masses with a little bit of bread and fish,
when Jesus knows that the people despair
he sends the disciples out to spread the good news
that the kingdom of God has come near.
Again and again Jesus points those he meets back to love,
until he makes the biggest point of all,
his death on the cross,
an act of love so great
that it defeats death, when Jesus, love incarnate, rises on the third day.
Jesus, a gift given to us in love by God
always brings us back to love,
because of Jesus we know that God loves us,
and nothing can separate us from the love of God,
not even ourselves and our failure to perfectly love God, neighbor and self.
God makes this promise to us at our baptisms
and makes us part of the community called to always return to love.
This is what our young people are affirming today,
their commitment to living in the love of God,
sharing it and returning to it when they go astray
remembering the gift they have been given.
Baptism is a gift from God
given to us in love,
at the font God claims us once and for all
so that we may never doubt
who we are and whose we are,
and this is all God’s doing,
we are saved by grace through faith,
not by our own works
and this gift of God is so great
we want to share it with everyone,
we want to partner with Jesus
to live in a world where the sick are healed,
the hungry are fed
and all have a home and a place
not because of what they have done or earned
but because they are beloved children of God.
This is the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed,
the kingdom that breaks in
every time love reaches across divisions.
As we look around
we are well aware that the fullness of the kingdom of God
has not yet arrived,
we face the imperfections of the world each day,
and so we still need the gift of the law
to guide us in communal living
and to show us when we fall short,
when we need to be brought back to love
and this is a continual process,
one that works in our individual lives and in the communal life.
Today we observe Reformation Sunday,
a moment in history
when a monk named Martin Luther
realized that the gift of God was being used to test, trick, divide and harm,
and so he asked some questions
and started a movement of people
looking anew at the gifts of God
and how they were being used
and calling the community back to acting out of love and care for all,
a way of sharing and living the gospel.
This way of looking at the world is part of our heritage,
But the work is not complete
We are called to continue reforming,
to continually look into the mirror of the law
and when the gifts of God are being misused
we are called to point it out,
to bring it back to love,
and of course we do not do this on our own,
Jesus is with us,
recalling us to the promises made at the font
and bringing us to the table
where with his body and blood
he forgives us and brings us back to love,
love that looks like a community gathered
where there is enough for all,
food enough for all,
love enough for all,
love that then gets sent out into the world.
today you are publicly saying yes to the way of love,
a way that the world desperately needs right now.
As you continue to live your faith in the world
there will be those who will question you,
not because they seek knowledge
but to test you,
and you will encounter times
when the way forward is less than clear
in those moments,
remember your baptism,
remember that you are a beloved child of God,
nothing can change that,
and in remembering
you will realize that the answer is clear,
Because Jesus always brings us back to love. Amen
19th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who invites us to the banquet. Amen
So, I always get a little uncomfortable
when gospel readings
include people being thrown into the outer darkness
where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
To be fair,
it’s supposed to make people uncomfortable,
the threat of being cast out
is used to motivate those on the receiving end of the message
to act in a way that avoids this action.
However, I’m more uncomfortable with it
because it doesn’t square with my understanding of God,
who is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,
who sent Jesus to save the world.
And yet this was a teaching common in the early church
which Matthew deliberately included in his gospel,
the teaching where Jesus tells the story
of a King hosting a wedding banquet
on the day of the banquet
he sends servants to remind everyone who has rsvp’d yes
that the banquet is that day,
and the servants are ignored.
So the King sends more servants,
who describe this great feast
that has been prepared,
surely free food will bring them in,
but those invited go on about their business
or stay behind to kill the servants.
So the king, enraged,
takes a moment before dinner,
to wreak vengeance on them, and destroy their city
and after that he feels a bit better
but he still has no one to eat his banquet,
so he sends his servants back out to gather anyone available,
it doesn’t matter who they are
whether they are good or bad,
the King wants those seats in the banquet hall filled
and so the servants do this
and they fill the hall,
and the king comes to look at his full banquet hal
l and he sees someone,
just dragged off the street,
not wearing a wedding robe,
and the king confronts the guy
and asks why aren’t you wearing a robe?!
And when the guy has no answer
he is thrown out of the banquet hall into the outer darkness.
The good news of the Lord?
Why does Matthew include this story?
I think he includes it
because once we get past the hyperbole and ridiculousness of the narrative,
it points to a central and uncomfortable truth:
the truth that most humans will reject the invitation of God
to participate in the abundant life of God.
The abundant life of God that starts in this life.
As Jesus travels around,
teaching, preaching and healing,
he spreads the news of the kingdom or God’s reign on earth,
God’s reign is in direct contrast
to the way the world works,
think of the beatitudes,
blessed are the poor in spirit,
those who mourn, the meek,
those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
the merciful, the peacemakers,
these are the attributes valued in the kingdom of God,
rather than the powerful,
the violent, the rich, and the manipulative
that seem to be blessed in this life.
Jesus’ message preached primarily to the powerless, the victims, the poor and the manipulated
is that life doesn’t have to be this way,
in fact God desires pretty much the opposite
and you can start living that way now,
you don’t have to wait.
With Jesus, God come to earth,
kingdom living starts now!
And it looks like a banquet
where everyone is invited
and the best food and drink is served,
shelter is provided and God lifts the burdens from every shoulder
and all this is freely given,
offered to everyone both the good and the bad.
It sounds so good
it’s hard to imagine that anyone would turn down the invitation.
And yet it happens,
the grace of God is offered
and is ignored or actively, violently rejected.
because the invitation is for more than a banquet,
it is for a way of life
which means giving up the way of life where wealth leads to power
and power leads to the illusion of independence.
Think about it,
why would those initially invited go to the banquet
when their businesses will allow them to provide their own banquet?
We think, why would we go through the pomp and circumstance
and trouble to go to someone else’s dinner
when we can come up with something just as good,
better even because we can avoid social obligations
And in our quest for independence,
we turn down the grace of God.
We pass up our seat at the banquet
because we think we can do just as well for ourselves
if not better.
We don’t talk about this very often
but the truth is that we humans are free to resist and reject the grace of God,
and we do.
Because we are addicted to independence.
We are addicted to doing things for ourselves
so much that we even turn down invitations from God.
Because to accept grace
means admitting that we need help,
that, we can’t do it on our own,
because accepting grace means
we are then responsible to others, living in community.
But God made humans to live in community,
life is better when lived together
even though a small amount of independence
must be surrendered to be a part of community.
The other Pastors and I were talking about this at our weekly text study
and you know what this reminded us of?
All of the older folks we’ve walked alongside
who have been adamant about staying in their own homes,
maintaining their independence,
even though it often means increasing isolation.
And invariably when something happens
where they can not avoid it any longer
and they move into a community,
and when we go and visit
we hear some variation of the exclamation
“this was the best move I ever made,
I should have done this years ago!”
Because now, even if they are still doing most things for themselves
they are living in community.
We gain so much more than we lose
when we accept the grace of God
and yet again and again we resist
and if we’re confronted,
like the man without a robe,
we often have no good answer for why,
why when we have been offered the chance to live in the kingdom of God,
we would turn down that invitation.
Now you might be wondering,
with all this talk of resisting God,
is there any hope?
And if it were just up to us,
I’d say no.
But it’s not just up to us,
God, knowing that left to our own devices
we would never be able to fully live into the kingdom of God,
no matter how hard we tried,
Jesus who died on the cross
to save all of us stubbornly independent humans
who will only be right through our association with Jesus.
At our baptisms,
we are joined to Jesus
and God promises that we are God’s,
And we know that God keeps the promises God makes.
Even as we go about our lives turning down the many invitations God sends
to participate in kingdom living,
even if we turn our backs on God
exiling ourselves from the presence of God,
God still loves us,
sets out a banquet
offering life and forgiveness
and invites us to come to the table
because no matter what we do,
God is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
the banquet is ready,
come and eat,
there is a place for you. Amen
16th Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love. Amen
If you are ever between books
and need a story that will make you laugh
I suggest you pull your Bible off the shelf
and read the book of Jonah.
It’s short, only five chapters
and is satire of the other prophetic books.
Jonah upon receiving the call of God
does what most of the other prophets frankly wanted to do,
he runs away.
But as he finds out
he can run but he can’t escape God,
and after a lesson in humility
learned in the stomach of a big fish
he goes and gives the message from God to the Ninevehites,
that in 40 days Nineveh will be overthrown.
Now usually people ignore the prophets,
Ezekiel and his brothers busted their buns
trying to get God’s message out and nothing...
and in a way Jonah is counting on this response
because he really doesn’t like Nineveh,
they conquered his own people,
he’d actually like to see them be destroyed by God,
but wouldn’t you know it,
Jonah’s reluctant prophesy works,
the whole city repents
and God decides not to destroy them
and as we heard in our first reading today
this displeases Jonah
and he throws a temper tantrum
“He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’’”
He’s so dramatic,
it makes me laugh every time
and the thing I find most funny
is Jonah’s ability to make God’s virtues
sound like a bad thing.
Jonah, for all his faults knows his scripture,
where God is described as gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and Jonah knows that God really is
gracious and merciful slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love
which is why he didn’t want to go to Nineveh,
because he knew that God would be this way with the Ninevites,
and Jonah didn’t want them to be on the receiving end of God’s grace.
God’s grace makes Jonah angry.
Well it makes him angry
when it’s directed at people he doesn’t think deserve it.
This happens in the parable in our gospel for today as well
with the landowner who keeps hiring people throughout the day,
now in a sense his continual hiring of people
is an act of grace,
each time he goes out into the marketplace
he sees people who want to work,
need to work,
but for some reason have been overlooked for jobs.
Think of it like picking teams on the playground,
the strongest most noticeable are chosen first
and the rest are left on the sidelines to watch,
no matter how much they want to take part.
So it is a matter of grace
that these leftover people
are hired to work for even part of a day,
and he promises to pay them whatever is right,
this of course is determined by the landowner
and I’m guessing that none of those hired later
expected a full days wage,
and yet when it comes time to settle up for the day
the landowner tells the manager of the vineyard
to pay those hired last first,
and to their great surprise they receive a full daily wage,
more than they expected
but surely much needed.
And so it goes on down the line
until those who were hired first are paid,
and they receive,
the usual daily wage.
And they grumble at this,
having seen those hired later get paid
they expected more.
It’s not fair they grumble,
those others don’t deserve to be paid the same as we do,
we did all the work.
And the landowner reminds them
that they are getting exactly what they agreed to
at the beginning of the day,
had the landowner never hired the others
the outcome would still be the same,
and the landowner asks them
“are you envious because I am generous?”
The short answer is ‘yes’ they are.
The longer answer
is that we humans tend to live our lives
from the perspective of scarcity.
Where whether it is true or not,
we think there is only so much to go around before it runs out
and so we hoard what we have and seek to acquire more
and come up with all sorts of ways
to judge who is worthy to use the resources,
who we think should get a piece of the pie
and from this we get our sense of what we think is fair
and this transfers to our idea of justice
where we think people should get what they deserve
and what they deserve is an eye for an eye,
it’s Jonah wanting God to destroy the city of Nineveh
in return for what they had done to his people.
But God views the world differently.
God looks at the world from the perspective of abundance
where resources are shared with everyone
and justice looks like people getting what they need
which they deserve because they are beloved creation of God
and this perspective is in such contrast
with the way of the world
that when it is applied in the world,
it upsets people,
though not I should note,
the people on the receiving end of the grace of God.
Which makes it odd
that anyone should get upset,
because we are all on the receiving end of the grace of God.
If we got what we deserve,
according to our own understanding of justice,
it would be us up on the cross rather than Jesus
and yet on Good Friday,
there Jesus was, for us,
living and dying the truth that God is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love
and that truth continued on through
to Sunday morning and the empty tomb,
and when Jesus appears to his disciples, alive,
he claims them, and all of us who have come after,
for the perspective of God.
Having been claimed by the risen Christ
we are to see the world from the perspective of abundance
where justice is everyone getting what they need.
And not only are we to look from this perspective
We are to make it a way of life
We are to live lives that work to make sure
That people get what they need
Whether the world judges them as worthy or not
And yes, this is difficult because we live in the world
and sometimes the generosity of God upsets people,
and we get angry and dramatic like Jonah
and that’s when Jesus comes to us once again
and gathers us at the table
where all are welcome
and there is enough for everybody
and breaking his body,
pouring out his blood,
Jesus gives us not what we deserve
but what we need,
and then he sends us back out into the world
to live from God’s point of view,
God who is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Amen
13th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who does things the divine way. Amen
How we look at things influences what we see.
The view from the top of a mountain
and the view from the bottom are very different,
even though we’re looking at the same mountain.
How I see the world without my glasses
is certainly a lot fuzzier
than when I put in my contacts
and the world springs back into focus.
On a sunny day I change how I see the world
by putting on sunglasses
and the dark lenses allow me to focus
on more than just how bright it is outside.
These are all physical examples of perspective
but perspective also comes into play
in how we understand the world
and like putting on sunglasses
or climbing a mountain
we can influence to a certain degree
how we understand and interpret the world around us.
Now some things,
our past experiences, our beliefs,
our place in society
all impact our perspective
whether we are aware of it or not
and the things that are most deeply ingrained
are the ones we turn to in times of stress,
the ones we go to without thinking about
and that can get us into trouble.
That’s what happens to Peter
in our gospel for today
Jesus tells the disciples that “he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, 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.’”
when faced with a threat to his teacher and Lord
responds from the human perspective.
The perspective that holds tightly onto life at all costs,
the perspective that says pain is to be avoided,
the perspective that is more concerned with ourselves and our loved ones
than the whole world.
And Jesus scolds him.
He puts him in his place,
‘get behind me’, Jesus says,
‘I am the teacher, you are the disciple,
you’re getting ahead of yourself,
you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
And while it is true that Peter is human,
we know that he is capable of seeing from the divine perspective.
Just last week in our gospel
at a retreat in Caesarea Philippi
Peter proclaimed the truth about Jesus,
that he is the Messiah, the Son of the living God
and Jesus praised him
for trusting the revelations of God.
There Peter had his mind set on divine things.
But it only lasts a moment,
and in seemingly the next breath
Peter is back to human things.
Jesus puts Peter in his place
and turns to the disciples
and spells it out for them
“If any want to become my followers let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?”
To be a disciple of Jesus
means looking at the world from the divine perspective,
a way of looking at things
that at times seems to be exactly the opposite
of what our instincts tell us we should do
what the world had taught us makes the most sense.
The worldly perspective teaches us to put our lives
and those of our family
ahead of anyone else,
the divine perspective teaches
that a life well lived
is one that is lived in service to others,
even if that means sacrificing our own lives.
It’s what Jesus did,
he lived everything he taught
he lived the divine way,
the way that fed people because they were hungry
and healed people because they were sick
and forgave people because they were sinners.
His living the divine way in the world
so upset those in power
(those who were supposed to be living and teaching the divine things)
that they got together
to serve out the ultimate punishment of the world,
the thing there’s no coming back from,
but Jesus did
rising on the third day,
and he promises that joined to him
death is not the end
his followers are free to live in service of others
following the divine way.
But Jesus realizes
that living the divine way
does not come naturally,
that like Peter when we hear something that frightens us
our instinct will be to go back to the way of the world,
that we will need to be put in our places
and reminded again and again
that God will take care of judgment
and that we are to view the world from the divine perspective.
And while this is difficult,
Peter shows us that it is possible,
again and again Peter jumps at the chance to follow Jesus,
and again and again he falls back on the human way of doing things,
and yet each time
Jesus puts him in his place,
reminds him of the divine way,
and gives him another chance.
This is what Jesus does for us,
as we seek to follow him
he calls us to set our mind on divine things
rather than human things
it flies in the face of worldly wisdom.
As Paul reminds the Romans “Let love be genuine...bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep...Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
It takes practice to live in the world
with our minds set on divine things,
we will mess up,
and when we do,
Jesus will put us in our place,
remind us of the divine way
and give us another chance,
and the more we practice
the easier it becomes
to look at the world from God’s point of view
but always Jesus calls us
to set our mind on divine things
because he knows that when we are frightened or disrupted
we will see the world from the human perspective once again
and once again we will need to be reminded to set our minds on divine things.
right now as individuals and as a society
we are frightened and disrupted
and we are falling back on the human mindset,
the mindset that draws those with whom we agree closer
and villainizes those who are different from us,
whether the difference comes in the form of politics,
nationality, the color of our skin,
or even how we think we should live together.
To get through this we must set our mind on divine things,
before we react,
pause and look at the world through the eyes of Jesus,
to see how we might live in service to others
even though it may mean making sacrifices in our lives
so that others may live.
We must overcome evil with good.
we will make mistakes along the way,
and Jesus will put us in our places,
and then he will forgive us,
offering us his broken body and blood poured out,
with bread and wine join us once again to him,
setting our mind on divine things
then sending us out to try again.
This is the divine way. Amen
12th Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one whose salvation is forever. Amen
Have you ever had a song pop into your head
and act kind of like a soundtrack for your life?
Maybe you’re getting psyched up to do something
and all of a sudden you hear in your head
the opening chords of Eye of the Tiger,
bum, bum bum bum, bum bum, bummmmmmmm.
Do, do de de do do do, de de dum dum dummmmmmmm
and it really seems to fit.
Or perhaps those of you who associated with young children a few years ago
when Frozen was at its height of popularity
find yourself at times channeling your inner ice queen
when faced with something out of your control
and all of a sudden Elsa is in your head singing “Let it go, Let it gooo” anyone?
Well for me sometimes this happens with hymns,
I read a piece of scripture
and all of a sudden there’s a hymn running through my head,
many hymns are adaptations of scripture
or reference scripture
so that’s usually the connection
and this is what happened
when I read the gospel for this week,
Jesus asks the disciples who they say he is
and when Peter responds “You are the messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus praises him and says
“and I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church”
upon reading this I heard the opening phrases of the hymn
“Built on a Rock” (of course accompanied by a big pipe organ)
“Built on a rock the church shall stand, even when steeples are falling”
and these two phrases became the soundtrack to my week,
I’ve been walking around humming and singing in my head
“built on a rock the church shall stand, even when staples are falling”
Now sometimes earworms just get stuck in our heads
but with this the words were more persistent,
and when I thought about it, it made sense to me
why this hymn connected with this gospel
kept following me,
they both have to do with identity,
and the question of who and what defines us
in the midst of turmoil.
Right now this is something that we are all struggling with,
many of the things we have used to identify ourselves
both as individuals and as communities
have disappeared or changed over night,
which leaves us wondering who are we now?
If I can’t work who am I now?
If there is no Husker football who are we as Nebraskans?
Or at least what will we do on Saturdays in the fall?
if we can’t gather in the same way for worship and fellowship
who are we as a congregation?
All these steeples,
the things that have pointed to our identity
have seemingly fallen
and we’re left wondering who we are
and where we are to turn for answers.
But here’s the thing,
while steeples are the most visible points of church buildings,
they are a sign that even from far away proclaims ‘here is a church’
they are not the most important part of the architecture,
that honor falls to the foundation
the base upon which everything else is constructed
and so when those things that point us toward our identity fall
we must return to the foundation.
Isaiah points this out in our first reading
“Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you;”
the prophet is speaking to those in exile
who have been removed from their homeland,
who are wondering how can we be the people of Israel
if we are separated from Israel?
the prophet exhorts them to go deeper
when searching for identity,
back to Abraham and Sarah
who never saw the promised land
but who first received the promise of God
to create from them a great nation.
The prophet is reminding the people
that even when it seems like everything normal is gone
there is a deeper identity and promise,
the promise from God that
“my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.”
This is the foundation Jesus is building for his disciples
as he sits them down in Caesarea Philippi,
he knows that he will soon be heading to Jerusalem, and his death
at which time
all the disciples’ points of reference for their identity
will crumble around them
so he starts to put who he is in perspective,
first he asks “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
and the responses he gets are the equivalent of spires,
people who point to God but who are not God,
“Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets”
the people on the outside
focus on the most visible parts of Jesus,
but then he turns to the disciples,
the ones who have gotten to know him intimately,
who have heard him teach without the great crowds around
and he presses them “But who do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered, ‘you are the messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.’”
Peter gives the right answer as to who Jesus is,
but note that Jesus is quick to point out
that Peter didn’t come up with it on his own,
the truth was revealed to Peter by God the Father
and the faith given to Peter by the father
allowed him to speak the truth.
This faith is what Jesus is going to use
as the foundation of the community that gathers in his name,
faith that comes as a gift from God.
As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”
God gives faith,
and Peter trusted God
with a trust that Jesus could build on,
trust that accepted the truth
even when it didn’t make sense.
a gift from God,
is the foundation
And our soundtrack hymn notes this,
while it begins “built on a rock the church shall stand, even when steeples are falling;”
“crumbled have spires in ev’ry land, bells still are chiming and calling calling the young and old to rest, calling the souls of those distressed, longing for life everlasting.”
Yes the spires that point to identity may fall
but they are not everything,
as Paul Westermeyer remarks in the Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship:
“The church bells in stanzas 1 and 5 provide the frame and point to the center. The clue is in the bells the hymn references, both in a general and a specific sense. What church bells do generally lie behind the hymn, as, for example, in the inscription on the Danish church bell that was rung in West Denmark Lutheran Church, Luck, Wisconsin from 1937 until a fire in 1985. It tells what church bells are ‘chiming and calling’ about.
To the bath and the table,
To the prayers and the word,
I call every seeking soul.”(Hymnal Companion 501-502)
The font and table,
prayer and word,
these are the rock from which we were hewn,
and the quarry from which we were dug,
at the font God washes us,
promises that nothing will separate us from the love of God.
Giving us our primary identity as child of God
At the table God reminds us of that identity
forgives us for our shortcoming,
feeds us to strengthen us
and sends us out into the world.
In the word God speaks to us
reminding us of the promises of God,
the promise of salvation,
salvation that lasts despite exile, destruction, pandemics,
salvation that lasts forever.
Salvation, the gift to us from Christ,
The Rock on whom we stand.
1 Built on a rock the church shall stand,
even when steeples are falling;
crumbled have spires in ev'ry land,
bells still are chiming and calling--
calling the young and old to rest,
calling the souls of those distressed,
longing for life everlasting.
2 Surely, in temples made with hands
God the Most High is not dwelling--
high in the heav'ns his temple stands,
all earthly temples excelling.
Yet he who dwells in heav'n above
deigns to abide with us in love,
making our bodies his temple.
3 Christ builds a house of living stones:
we are his own habitation;
he fills our hearts, his humble thrones,
granting us life and salvation.
Where two or three will seek his face,
he in their midst will show his grace,
blessings upon them bestowing.
4 Yet in this house, an earthly frame,
Jesus the children is blessing;
hither we come to praise his name,
faith in our Savior confessing.
Jesus to us his Spirit sent,
making with us his covenant,
granting his children the kingdom.
5 Through all the passing years, O Lord,
grant that, when church bells are ringing,
many may come to hear your Word,
who here this promise is bringing:
"I know my own, my own know me;
you, not the world, my face shall see;
my peace I leave with you. Amen."
10th Sunday After Pentecost
1 Kings 19:9-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from
the one who comes to us in the midst of storms. Amen
Today we have the story of the miracle of Jesus walking on water,
and after spending time with this story this week
I actually think that part is the least interesting thing about it,
the walking on water was a means to an end,
rather what I’ve found exciting
is that in this short story is found the whole of a life of faith.
Now this story isn’t an isolated event
and much meaning comes from what happens in the life of Jesus
and the disciples
before we get to this point.
Jesus is baptized by John
starts his public ministry
and gains wide acclaim as a teacher and healer,
but then he goes home to Nazareth
the folks in his home town reject him
and he is unable to do many deeds of power among them,
right after this rejection
he hears of the death of John the Baptist,
beheaded in prison,
and he needs some time alone to grieve and pray,
so he gets in a boat
and sets sail across the sea
intending to go out to the wilderness alone.
But the people get wind of what he is up to
and they go by land
so that by the time Jesus reaches the other shore
he is met with a great crowd
who need healing and guidance,
and he has compassion for them
and so works among them,
at the end of the day the disciples point out
that the crowds need something to eat
and with five loaves of bread and two fish
the vast crowds eat until they are full.
And that’s where our story today picks up,
Jesus still needs that time alone with God
and so we are told that
“Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.”
Our English translation sounds like Jesus strongly suggested
the disciples get into the boat
but the Greek paints a stronger picture,
what we hear as “made”
can also be translated as “compel or necessitate, drive by force or threats”.
Jesus makes the disciples get into the boat
in the same way a parent makes a reluctant toddler go to bed
and once he’s gotten them into the boat
and on their way
he dismisses the crowds
and finally has time to pray.
Now while Jesus is off praying
the disciples are in the boat out on the water,
and a storm has come up,
the boat is being tossed about by the waves
and the wind is driving them farther and farther from Jesus
to a point far from the land,
so far that the separation now seems permanent.
The disciples are afraid.
And that’s when Jesus comes to them,
defying all logic and the laws of nature
to be with them in the midst of the storm,
but when they see him they are terrified,
they think he’s a ghost,
they cry out in fear
“But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘take heart, it is I; do not be afraid’”
Jesus speaks peace into the midst of their terror
and he uses the name of God,
or at least the name God gave Moses
all the way back at the burning bush.
Remember God appears to Moses
in a bush that is burning but not consumed by the fire,
and God tells Moses to go free the Israelites
from Egypt on God’s behalf
and Moses reluctantly agrees but says,
who shall I say sent me
and God replies “tell them I Am sent you”.
So anytime we hear Jesus say I Am,
he is revealing his divinity,
his intimacy with God.
This is what Jesus says to the terrified disciples
in the midst of the storm,
and these words produce great faith.
Peter hears these words and he says
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
Now here again is a nuance of translation,
we hear the ‘if’ as Peter testing Jesus
but the sense of it is more ‘because’,
Jesus’ word of revelation moves Peter to great faith
and so he cries out “Lord, because it is you,
command me to come to you on the water”
Because you are Lord
I believe that I can do the impossible.
And Jesus says “come”
and Peter gets out of the boat
and he walks on the water to Jesus,
That is until he loses focus,
he takes his eyes off Jesus
and he notices the wind and the waves
and he realizes that he can’t walk on water
and he becomes frightened
and begins to sink
and cries out “Lord, save me!”
“Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him.”
and together they climb back into the boat
and at this point the storm stops,
and in the calm after the storm
the disciples worship Jesus saying ‘truly you are the Son of God.’
The disciples’ experience
is the life of faith in a nutshell.
Jesus has called them
and they have followed him,
seen him do great things,
even worked with him to do some great things
and then just when they’ve seen an amazing sight,
Jesus puts them in a boat and sends them away.
So there they are,
in a boat that they don’t want to be in,
and circumstances out of their control
are driving them away from the one they want to be with
to a point where the gap seems to great to bridge,
feeling alone, maybe a little abandoned,
and probably more than a little bit scared.
And when Jesus comes to them
in a seemingly impossible manner
they are terrified and don’t recognize him,
until he identifies himself and offers peace,
And then their faith is stronger than before,
so strong as to be able to do the impossible,
and they want to do the impossible
so they try and they’re doing it!
Until they look around
and notice all the reasons they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing
and they get scared and start to sink,
and they cry out to Jesus ‘save me’
and Jesus reaches out,
brings them to safety
and as the storm is calmed
and the disciples’ faith is strengthened once again
with the realization of the greatness of the one in their midst.
We’ve all had times like this,
where we’re following Jesus
who has called us,
and things seems to be going really well,
and then all of a sudden,
it seems like Jesus is sending us away,
Jesus is putting us in a place we don’t really want to be,
sending us somewhere we don’t really want to go
amid circumstances that seem to separate us from God.
Maybe it has been a time of learning and growth that challenges us,
or maybe it has been a time of sickness of body or relationship,
now to be clear
I don’t think Jesus ever causes illness
but it is are certainly a time
where we are in the midst of something we don’t want to be a part of
and circumstances seem to drive us far away from God.
So there we are out in our boat
And just as we’ve been battered about by the waves
and think that we have been permanently separated from God,
Jesus comes to us,
often we don’t recognize him at first
and we are afraid,
but then Jesus reveals himself
speaking peace into our fear
and our faith surges
and even though the storm is still raging
we get out of the boat
to go toward Jesus.
Have you ever seen someone going through a difficult time
and wondered just how they are able to handle it with grace and strength?
I’d say they are at this point in their life of faith,
where Jesus has spoken peace to them
giving them the strength to get out of the boat.
Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself,
the peace of Christ to move forward
through a seemingly impossible situation
and others around you are telling you
‘I don’t know how you do it’
but you are able to with the call of Jesus.
And then of course there are those times in our life of faith
where we look around at all that is going on
and we begin to sink,
where our faith is overwhelmed
by the pain and chaos of the world around us
and yet, when we cry out to Jesus,
he reaches out to catch us
and brings us to a place of calm.
The life of faith is a journey,
there are times that we experience great joy,
and times when we are terrified
and feel separate from God,
and no matter how terrified,
or far away we feel,
even when we lose focus,
Jesus comes to us,
Jesus catches us,
reveals himself to us
and brings us to a place of peace.
So wherever you are on your journey of faith,
and may the peace of Christ be with you. Amen
9th Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who does the most with next to nothing. Amen
When we join Jesus today in the gospel
he is going through a rough patch in his ministry.
It all started out well,
preaching, teaching and healing the crowds who have loved him,
until he goes home to Nazareth,
where the people look at him and say
‘isn’t that Joseph and Mary’s boy?
The one we used to see running around with all the other kids?
We know he’s not special’
and they won’t listen to him,
and he is unable to do many deeds of power among them
because of their disbelief.
He expected this would happen,
prophets being without honor in their own country and all,
but it still had to hurt
and then on top of this rejection
he hears the news of the death of John the Baptist,
beheaded in prison by Herod
and it’s too much
he needs some time alone to grieve and pray
So “he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
But when the crowds heard it,
they followed him on foot from the towns.”
It seems like Jesus only gets the time in the boat to himself
because we are told that “when he went ashore, he saw a great crowd”
and though we know that Jesus is tired and sad and needing time to pray
when he saw the crowds that greeted him
“he had compassion for them and cured their sick.”
Now ‘compassion’ is a weak translation of the greek.
What Jesus feels is a visceral, gut wrenching reaction to the crowds,
he feels their pain and need in his body
and he responds to their need with the care they seek.
It’s a big crowd so he’s busy all day.
His disciples have caught up with him
and they’re helping as they usually do
but when it gets to be evening they’re getting tired and are ready to be done
they say to Jesus ‘look we’re in the middle of nowhere and it’s getting late,
send the people away, they uh, they need to eat,
yah maybe if we put our request out of care for the crowd we can get a break.’
But Jesus responds “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.
They replied, ‘we have nothing here, but five loaves and two fish;
and he said bring them here to me”
and Jesus blesses and breaks the bread
and gives it to the disciples to distribute
“and all ate and were filled; and they took up what was leftover of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.”
Jesus takes the scraps,
what the disciples call ‘nothing’
and turns it into an abundant feast.
When Jesus tells the disciples to give the crowds something to eat,
their immediate reaction is to say ‘we have nothing.’
We tend to exaggerate
when it comes to counting our resources,
we often discount or pass over the last little bits,
the five loaves and two fish,
because we see them as not enough,
‘it might as well be nothing for all the good it will do’
we are programmed to think
and so we don’t immediately count it,
but when we pause and take stock,
and it turns out we do have at least a little bit,
Jesus says, ‘bring them here to me’
and Jesus blesses our leftovers,
then gives them back to us to distribute, to work with.
Did you notice that?
The disciples point out the problem
of the crowds of people needing food
and Jesus turns it right back around to the disciples,
they are capable of fixing the problem that they’ve noticed he seems to say.
This seems impossible to the disciples,
but when they bring what they have to Jesus,
he makes it possible for the disciples to feed the whole crowd.
This is how Jesus works,
Jesus takes what we call ‘nothing’,
our leftovers that we forget about or discount,
creates new life and then hands it back to us to distribute in the world,
and he does it with more than just loaves and fish,
we see this throughout Jesus’ ministry.
He comes as a baby to a people that pretty much count for nothing
in the grand scheme of the Roman Empire,
he grows up in a little town
where people ask if anything good can come from there
and when he starts his ministry
he goes out to the desert where people are so desperate for hope
that they have gathered around a man dressed in camel’s hair
who dines on locusts and wild honey.
After he is baptized
he takes the leftover people,
those whom society counts as nothing
and turns them into disciples,
blesses them and sends them back out into the world
to share the good news with even more people.
He teaches them how to live
so that they bear good fruit,
and when people bring Jesus those who are sick
and therefore at that time counted as unclean,
Jesus heals them,
he even heals based on the request of friends
who come to Jesus and say, I trust that if you just say the word my friend will be healed
and based on this belief Jesus heals.
The leftovers, the next to nothings, the small things
are Jesus’ favorite things to work with,
last week we heard Jesus’ teaching
about faith the size of a mustard seed
and how the kingdom of heaven is like yeast,
just a little bit will make a whole lot of bread.
Jesus works with the smallest of things
The things that are overlooked or discounted as not enough
in his hands they change the world.
This applies to us as well,
when we’re on our last nerve,
or our patience is wearing thin,
or the world has told us we’re lacking in some way,
if we don’t think we can go on because we are weary,
if we have come to believe that we have nothing to give.
Jesus still finds something to work with in us.
As a world, as a country,
we are going through a rough patch right now,
a time when it seems like there is not enough all around us,
whether it is medical equipment,
support for families or even normalcy
and it is frustrating and disheartening
and Jesus is with us.
Jesus hears us when we cry to him.
When we pour out our pain and suffering
Jesus hears us and has compassion for us,
and then takes what little we have left
and uses it to change the world,
even if it is just our small piece of the world,
and the kingdom of God comes near.
Jesus will gladly take the scraps we bring to him
and turn them into new life,
that’s what he does
but we shouldn’t be surprised
when Jesus turns it back around on us
saying “you give them something to eat”
because in Christ, we are more than enough.
And Jesus will take us
And turn us into abundant life. Amen
8th Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 3:5-12
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who intercedes for us. Amen
“Have you understood all this?” Jesus asks the disciples
“Yes” They answer
Do you really understand?
You understand how the kingdom of God
is like a mustard seed, and yeast,
like a treasure hidden in a field
and a merchant in search of fine pearls,
like a net cast into the sea that caught all kinds of fish that were then sorted.
“Have you understood all this?”
Some how I doubt it,
at text study this week
the other pastors and I got a kick out of this yes,
it reminded us of the “yes” we get at the end of a particularly confusing confirmation class
where the kids are tired and just want to go home.
So you understand the mystery of the sacraments?
Or maybe it’s like one of those user agreements,
where all this fine print legalese is presented
and at the end it asks you to sign that you have read and understood the document,
and you sign your name “yes”
because otherwise you don’t get to use whatever service is on offer,
yes I get it, just let me use your app.
But then there are other times,
the more serious times,
like the time at the doctor’s office
where you haven’t heard a word the doctor has said after “diagnosis”
because your heart has dropped and your tongue gone numb
“do you understand all of this?” they ask,
and you nod your head “yes”
There are a lot of things we agree to,
to move life forward,
that we simply do not understand.
And of course a good confirmation teacher
knows the mystery of the sacraments
will never be taught in one session,
or even understood in a lifetime,
and a compassionate doctor
knows that their patient didn’t hear anything after diagnosis
and so will provide literature and other sessions for explanation.
The user agreements,
that one I think we’re just stuck with,
but the point being that it seems like our automatic response
to the question ‘do you understand?’ is ‘yes’
and it takes conscious effort and humility to answer ‘no’
to admit that we lack understanding,
or that we’re in over our heads,
but when we do, life opens up.
We saw this with Solomon in our first reading.
God comes to Solomon in a dream and offers him, anything,
and Solomon who has just been made King after his father David,
realizes that this offer is being made
because David and God had such a good relationship,
and that he’s only King because of that relationship and the goodness of God.
So Solomon responds “O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen...Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern your people?”
He’s already got the job,
but he is brave enough to admit just how little he knows
and so when he is offered literally anything by God,
he asks for wisdom to better serve God in leading the people of God.
And God is pleased by this selflessness,
God realizes that Solomon could have easily asked for a long life
or riches or victory in battle
but instead he asks for wisdom to better serve God,
so God gives him a wise and discerning mind.
It struck me that this passage,
where Solomon admits how little he knows
and asks for understanding
to be able to discern between good and evil,
has been, I think is
the prayer of anyone in leadership faced with making decisions these days.
I know it’s been my prayer,
and I suspect the prayer of those on school boards,
superintendents and principles, elected officials and coaches.
O God, give us understanding to discern good from evil,
we need some help as we make our way through this unknown territory.
the Israelites were in an unknown territory,
both literally in their wandering and in their freedom
after God led them out of Egypt.
They didn’t know where they were
and they didn’t understand how to live in freedom.
So God provided for them,
manna and quail for food,
and the commandments to give them understanding
for how to discern good from evil as free people.
God gave the commandments as a gift
for times when the unknown is greater than the known,
which is why the psalmist cries out “your decrees are wonderful; therefore I obey them with all my heart… Let your face shine upon your servant and teach me your statutes.”
and praises God for the understanding the laws of God bring
and weeps for the people who do not follow God’s laws.
The difficult part is that the laws of God
do not address every specific problem we may face,
the Bible is not a How To Manuel,
or even a Self- Help Book,
rather it is full of stories of people and God,
stories of God guiding people
and how people respond to that guidance,
some like Abraham follow God,
and others like Jonah run the other direction.
But no matter what the people do,
God is there,
God doesn’t give up.
At our most basic level,
I think we all want to follow God,
we want to understand,
we look for guidance, ways to discern good from evil,
we even pretend we understand,
the old fake it ‘til you make it approach,
and yet in our hearts we know that we don’t understand,
we don’t even know how to pray.
But thanks be to God
who gives us the gift of the Spirit
who intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
The gift of the spirit who searches our heart,
who knows us better than we know ourselves and brings it all to God.
And thanks be to God, for the gift of the Son,
Jesus who summed up all the law
Love your God with all your heart and mind and might, and your neighbor as yourself,
Jesus who God gave up for all of us,
who God made the firstborn within a large family,
so that joined to Christ we are all members of that large family
and now Christ the firstborn sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for us.
God has claimed us.
We are God’s.
Even in the midst of the uncertainty and chaos of the world,
even when we don’t understand
and struggle to discern good from evil,
even when we don’t know how to pray,
even when we are unsure how God is working or if God is even there.
We are God’s.
we don’t have to understand how this works for it to be true,
nor do we have to do anything.
God doesn’t need us, God has acted.
And God has given us signs to remind us
Water to remember our baptisms by
Bread and wind, body and blood
To be forgiven, nourished and strengthened
Joined again to God.
And so cleansed, fed and forgiven we proclaim with Paul “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
It is with this conviction we are able to move forward through the wilderness times
and when God comes to us and says,
‘you are my children, have you understood?’
We answer with a resounding. ‘Yes.’ Amen
7th Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who tells us to wait in hope. Amen
It’s hard to wait when we know what is possible.
That’s the reality of our lives right now
and that is the reality that our lessons address today
along with the promise that the waiting is worthwhile, necessary even.
Jesus starts us off with a parable,
a farmer who has prepared their fields for planting
sows good seed.
From the preparations they have made
they have every expectation
that when the seeds sprout
it will be a field full of the best wheat.
But we are told,
an enemy comes in the night
and scatters weeds in the field.
When the plants come up
the workers realize that there are weeds among the wheat,
they are confused,
they say “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then did these weeds come from?”
and the Master, the farmer, responds,
it must have been an enemy who did this,
and at this the workers are galvanized for action,
they are ready to go out into the field
and get those weeds out of there,
defeat the enemy and return the field to the way it was intended
full of only good wheat.
But the Farmer stops them saying “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
It goes against our instincts
to leave the weeds in with the wheat.
When we see something whether it is a field, a garden, or even a community
that is not growing as we know it could be,
or even as we think it should be,
our first instinct is to go in and root out what is not supposed to be there
but the hazard of that is there is often collateral damage,
in our quest to get rid of the weeds
we also rip up some of the wheat,
we cause harm to members of our community.
Weeding disturbs more than just the weeds.
I know in my own garden
I’ve pulled up many a little carrot or beet
that has just barely begun to form
in the process of my weeding,
and I’ve even accidentally stepped on other plants
in my quest to rip out that hunk of crabgrass.
These accidents are not ideal
but I prepared for them,
I planted more than enough seeds,
knowing that some would not grow and some would be pulled with the weeds,
I’m willing to take that risk with my garden.
Jesus is not willing to take that risk in his garden.
Jesus’ grace means that he’d rather let the weeds grow with the wheat
than to risk hurting any of the wheat in the process.
Jesus is willing to settle for less than perfection
to protect the wheat.
But just because he’s willing to let the weeds grow for the sake of the wheat
doesn’t mean that in the end
the weeds will be treated the same as the wheat.
When it’s time for the harvest,
the whole point of growing the field in the first place,
the weeds will be separated out from the wheat
and while the wheat will become food for the world,
the weeds will be burned
but until that time he tells us to wait.
Waiting is hard,
especially when we know what could be
and especially if we think we know a way that we could act,
but Jesus has cautioned us to wait
and promised that at the right time,
God’s time, it will end as it should.
But it’s still frustrating.
That frustration is what Paul is speaking to
when he writes: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”
As children of God we know what God has promised,
the vision for the future
which means that we are even more aware
of how this world falls short of that promise
and in a way that adds to our frustration, our suffering,
it’s almost enough to ask why God would even make us aware of the difference.
Why? Because we come to this awareness through the gift of grace,
God’s love for us that is already transforming our lives.
You see each of us are like the field in the parable,
while God created us good,
the evil one has sown weeds in us,
weeds that tell us that it is okay to only care about ourselves,
weeds that turn us away from God and in on ourselves,
weeds that tell us the lie that we are supposed to be the judge of others.
All these weeds are in us along with the wheat, the gifts of the spirit,
and God refuses to reject us because of our weeds.
This is grace,
that even though we are less than perfect,
less than we could be
and even less than we should be,
God loves us.
and that love gives us hope.
As Paul says “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
Grace leads to hope,
hope leads to patience.
Now remember hope is not optimism,
where optimism says I think things will just turn out okay,
hope looks at the reality of the world,
the despair and seemingly insurmountable obstacles,
and says, nevertheless I believe that God will bring new life.
We have hope because we have Jesus,
who faced the most insurmountable obstacle, death,
and three days later appeared to the disciples,
proclaiming that death had been defeated.
And joined to Christ in our baptisms’
we have been joined to his death and resurrection,
assured that in the end where Christ is, there we will be,
that nothing can separate us from the love of God,
not even the weeds within and around us
and when we have this,
this new life that we get glimpses of along the way,
we can wait.
As Paul says “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.”
We are well aware of the imperfections of the world,
all the things that could be and should be,
and Jesus has promised
that in the end there will be new life,
even if, especially if,
it is nothing like we imagine
and so we have hope,
and in hope we wait. Amen
5th Sunday After Pentecost
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who offers to teach us another way Amen.
Life is full of contradictions,
some are as simple as the fact
that chocolate cake tastes better than broccoli,
but it is far healthier for us to eat broccoli
than it is to eat chocolate cake.
Other contradictions are more sinister
like the fact that those who gain positions of power
In order to work on behalf of many people
often use that power to work only for themselves.
whatever the example
it seems that as humans,
even if we are aware of the conflict
and which is the better part,
we almost always seem to choose to do more of the thing
that is less beneficial to ourselves
and even when we try to regulate our actions
with outside rules and laws,
we invariably seem to return to that chocolate cake
even though we know we need to eat the broccoli.
This is what Paul is struggling with in our second reading
remarking that even though he logically knows
what he should do, and he wants to do it
when it comes time to do it,
he invariably does the opposite,
he says “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not what is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.”
Here he names the greatest contradiction we experience,
that even as we have free will to act,
there is another force working against us,
that embeds itself in the fabric of life
so even as we try to do what is right,
we are led astray.
The buzz word for this right now is “systemic”
we talk about systemic racism,
where racism is so embedded in how we live
that as individuals we are unable to extract ourselves
because the everyday options available to us
within the established way of life have sin woven into the fabric
such that it is impossible to separate out the individual threads.
Jesus, teaching the disciples
points out another contradiction with humans,
the inability to make everyone happy,
he observes that when John the Baptist came
fasting as part of his religious experience
people claimed he had a demon
and when Jesus himself came eating and drinking
and interacting with normal everyday people
the people say ‘look a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’
These are the two main options for a messianic figure
and yet people have rejected them both.
Lately, the best example of this has to do with face masks,
on the one hand there are people who refuse to go anywhere
they are not required,
on the other hand there are people who refuse to go anywhere
they are required.
Confronted with the contradictions within ourselves and humanity,
it’s enough to drive us mad,
so what are we to do?
Paul himself throws up his hands and cries
“Wretched man that I am, who will save me from this body of death?”
and there is the key,
to acknowledge that we need help,
and Paul immediately follows with
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord”
Jesus is God’s answer to the contradictions of life.
Jesus himself is a living contradiction,
God and human,
who lived among and experienced first hand
the contradictions of humanity
the reality that it’s impossible to please everyone.
Observing the contradictions in the gospel
he concludes ‘yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds’
he knows that time will tell
who was wise and made the better choice
and which was the wrong decision
and then he offers to help in making those choices
“He says all things have been handed over to me by my father”
Jesus has the inside scoop
and he offers to share that with everyone,
but unlike those get rich quick scheme infomercials
Jesus offers this for free:
He says “come to me all, you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon, you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
What Jesus is offering is not a quick fix scheme,
a magic wand that with a flick of the wrist makes all trouble disappear,
what he offers is an invitation to self-reflection and the pursuit of wisdom,
he offers to teach us another way
to deal with the contradictions of life.
The yoke, was a common image in rabbinic literature
that referred to obeying the Torah (working preacher),
the law that God gave as a gift
to help humans live with one another.
Jesus is a teacher of the law,
and he has said that he’s not come to abolish the law,
but he has seen how the pharisees and sadducees
have taken to following the law for the sake of following the rules
and not for the original intent of the gift of the law,
for abundant life of the people.
Following the letter of the law
has gotten in the way with the spirit of the law
and so Jesus offers another way,
one that is lighter, that can be summed up as
“love the lord your God with all your heart and soul and might, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus offers a gentler way,
and even then
he sees how impossible it is
for humans to do the right thing,
which is why Jesus goes to the cross for us,
to make us right with God,
to offer us forgiveness
for when despite our best efforts we mess up,
when we continually choose the chocolate cake instead of the broccoli.
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Paul has named it,
we can’t dig ourselves out of the hole we’ve created,
we need help,
and Jesus is that help.
Now that doesn’t mean that we should keep intentionally digging holes
for Jesus to get us out of,
but when we invariably do
Jesus is gentle with us,
and again and again helps us out of the pit
and shows us another way,
one where burdens are shared and wisdom is revealed.
This doesn’t mean that life will be easy
or without contradictions,
Jesus did after all instruct his disciples
to take up the cross and follow him,
but what it does mean
is that we have a way to navigate the contradictions of life,
One where we share one another’s burdens,
where we strive to live lives turned toward God and neighbor,
where we know that because we live in Christ
we are not condemned by our failures
no matter how deeply entwined they are.
We have been set free,
free to live the lighter path of gentleness and humility,
of wisdom that carries on
through the midst of the contradictions of life. 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.