Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Grace and peace to you
from the one who goes to great lengths to keep promises. Amen
The theme running through our readings for today
is that God keeps the promises God makes.
We know this,
we affirm it,
but sometimes, especially in the middle of hardship
it’s hard to trust this,
it’s hard to see anything other than what is right in front of us
and our prayers start to sound like our psalm for the day.
In the face of forces working actively against the psalmist they pray,
and their prayer alternates between statements of trust
almost as if making those statements will help the psalmist
believe that they are true
and acknowledging the reality of the present.
The psalmist starts off
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?”
but behind these words we sense a reason to fear
and sure enough in the very next verse
the psalmist says “when evildoers close in against me”
and goes on to describe bad things that happen in life.
Back and forth the psalm goes,
calling on the Lord’s promises
and seeking reassurance
in the midst of times of trouble
I think we’ve all prayed something like this
where we alternate between
“I know you’re great God and have made these promises”
and in the next breath crying out
“help! Bad things are happening, right now!”
and both are true at the same time.
We need reassurance when the way gets tough,
we need to vent our frustrations and fears
after all of the emotions have been expressed
the psalmist settles on the last two verses
“This I believe--that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord and be strong. Take heart and wait for the Lord!”
And it’s true,
we do believe we will see the goodness of God,
and we catch glimpses of it
but that second part,
is oh so hard,
we’ve experienced that this past week
as we’ve waited and watched the waters rise
not knowing what the future will look like
for communities and families around the state,
and as much as we’ve wanted to do something,
at a certain point all that’s left to do is wait
we’re still waiting.
And the longer the wait the more assurance we need.
God keeps the promises God makes
but our time line and God’s don’t always line up
and so sometimes we question God,
and God responds with reassurance.
We see this in our first reading from Genesis
in the conversation between God and Abram
This scene is actually not the first conversation between the two
earlier when God led Abram from his home
God promised him land and descendants as numerous as grains of sand,
Abram has been faithful in his following of God thus far
but he’s getting older
and he’s not seeing the fruit of those promises,
So Abram questions God
yah you made those promises but what have you done for me lately?
looking for more details
in how this seemingly impossible promise will come true,
and God reassures him
pointing to the night sky and saying
“look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them, so shall your descendants be.”
Then the pattern repeats itself.
God repeats the promise of land to Abram
and Abram questions God
“O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”
and what follows
is possibly one of the stranger passages
that we hear on a regular basis,
specific animals being cut in two,
a smoking fire pot and flaming torch
passing through the animal pieces…
What are we to make of such a scene?
We know from research scholars have done on the ancient middle-east
that though it may have been terrifying for Abram
the actual ritual would have been familiar to him
for this was the ritual of covenant or contract making.
Minus the presence of lawyers and paper and pen
this was how contracts were made,
the ritual of walking through the dismembered animals
signified an important promise.
essentially saying, “if I fail to keep my promise, may the same thing happen to me as to these animals.”
God’s promise to Abram is so important
that God “considers an experience of suffering and death” (NIB 449)
in order to convey the seriousness of the promise.
God keeps the promises God makes
we have cause to know just how far God will go to keep a promise.
In our gospel reading for today
Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem
some Pharisees come
and tell him that he shouldn’t go
because it’s dangerous.
Jesus already knows that,
Jesus already knows what is going to happen
and Jesus knows what lengths God is willing to go to keep promises
all the way to death and back again.
Jesus is the promised messiah
the one the people have longed for, for so long
but true to God’s form
the fulfillment of the promise
is beyond human conception of what it will look like.
Jesus uses the image
of a hen gathering her chicks under her wings,
that is what he longs to do
and in a way will do in his outstretched arms on the cross
but the people,
expecting a hawk or an eagle
have not been willing to come under Jesus
the mother hen’s wings,
in fact like a hawk or eagle
they will attack the mother hen
as they have attacked previous prophets.
the city of God,
is a risky place to go if you are a messenger from God
but Jesus is willing to take those risks in order to keep the promises of God.
God made a promise to Abram,
Abram questioned God
and God reassured Abram
and Abram believed the Lord.
Abram’s faith was possible
because of God’s word and previous actions,
which had all been true and faithful.
At our baptisms
God made a promise to us
that we would always be God’s,
as Paul said in our second reading,
our citizenship would be in heaven.
And some days we question that promise,
we turn to God and say
‘you promised that your kingdom would come on earth as in heaven,
Jesus said the kingdom of God has come near
and yet there are still people who are hungry
and countries at war,
And terrorists who shoot people in their place of worship
and loved ones who die,
And rising flood waters
how can your promise come true God?’
and God comes to us,
at the table
Jesus comes to us
reassuring us with his own body and blood
the new covenant shed for us
for the forgiveness of sins
Any time we gather together,
break the bread, drink the wine
Jesus is present,
renewing the promise of abundant life everlasting,
strengthening us in the midst of the waiting
Reminding us that God has kept all of God’s promises
even to the point of dying on a cross
and rising on the third day.
The life of faith is risky.
Risky because though the promises are always kept
we don’t know the particulars,
risky because people expect hawks instead of mother hens to change the world.
Yet The life of faith is secure
because it is founded in the one who keeps their promises
and no matter how often we question
No matter what life throws at us,
God is reaching out
gathering us in like a mother hen gathers her chicks
To safely in the shadow of her wings. Amen
26th Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who shows us the path of life. Amen
This is one of those Sundays
where it seems like there should be a question mark
after the gospel response.
Thanks be to God?
How is it good news that stone shall not be left on stone
and that people will come and pretend to be God
and there will be wars and rumors of wars
before the final end will come?
It sure doesn’t seem good,
And today we have this gospel paired with our first reading,
another passage predicting a time of anguish.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of good news in these apocalyptic passages.
As a side note, apocalyptic refers to a genre of writing that deals with a prophetic revelation, not necessarily but often including descriptions of disasters to come, and only secondarily but more commonly has the term come to be used as a description of an end of the world type scenario.
So we have these apocalyptic texts,
these prophetic passages predicting disasters,
and the question is: what do they have to do with us?
On the face of it,
it seems like not much.
A group of Pastors and I meet at the beginning of each week
to read and discuss the texts for the week,
and this week we pretty much agreed
that our best chance of finding a sermon,
finding good news
lay in the other readings assigned for the week,
we weren’t going to mess with these texts.
And then the other day
I was driving to a meeting
and I was listening to NPR,
and they did a story, an update really
on the wildfires in California,
particularly the Camp Fire
that wiped out the town of Paradise
10,000 homes destroyed,
and the reporter on the ground
interviewed a resident, who’d seen her former house
and the woman said something to the effect of
‘it looks like there’s been an apocalypse.’
I don’t remember the exact quote
but she used the word apocalypse.
And it hit me,
the people of Paradise are in the midst of a catastrophe,
life as they know it is over,
in a sense that world ended
and they are faced with the question: now what?
And as I thought about the people in the midst of world altering catastrophes,
the disasters of our readings began to fade
and the hope began to shine through,
yes Daniel begins
“There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence”
but then he continues
“But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book.”
and sure Jesus says
“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.”
but then he pauses and goes on
“This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”
the birth pangs of what?
Of the new world,
The new way of life that Jesus has promised
he will bring about,
Jesus is saying that the turmoil he is describing,
that the disciples will experience
is not the last say
God will work through it,
and there lies the good news.
For those of us who are relatively safe and secure,
apocalyptic passages sound scary,
we focus on the pain and suffering
that we’d really rather avoid,
but for those in the midst of pain and suffering
they bring hope,
because they describe reality
and a life on the other side of the suffering,
a life brought about by God who goes through the suffering with us
because we have a God who promises never to leave us.
Our God is realistic,
not making promises that won’t come true.
That’s one way you can tell you’re dealing with a false god,
they promise that if you follow them,
give them $9.95 a month
then everything will be okay, your problems will be solved.
Our God does not sugar coat things,
part of life is experiencing pain and suffering
and instead of making false impossible claims
our God promises never to leave our side throughout all of life.
We see this in our psalm,
the psalmist describes different phases of life
and in each God is there.
For those in danger
God is described by the psalmist as a refuge.
This is a familiar image for us,
we turn to God when we’re in trouble.
But the psalmist also assures us
that God is present with those who are content,
at one point the psalmist says
“My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; indeed, I have a rich inheritance.”
God is with us in the times when life is going well,
these are often times
we bless God as a way of giving thanks for the good in our lives.
God is with us in the bad times,
God is with us in the good times,
and God is with us when we are in between,
in need of direction,
The psalmist sings “I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel;”
and speaks with assurance
that because God goes before the psalmist
they will not be shaken by whatever comes their way.
“My heart therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also shall rest in hope.
For you will not abandon me to the grave, nor let your holy one see the pit.
You will show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of you, and in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Whether it seems like the world has ended
or life could never get better
or somewhere in between
God is with us
God shows us the path of life,
God travels the path with us.
Whatever comes our way,
God is there,
and we are never alone. Amen
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who is our refuge and strength. Amen
As humans we are familiar with chaos.
Sometimes it is an individual chaos that surrounds us,
the breaking of relationships,
the losing of a job,
health problems or just a really busy time in life.
Sometimes the chaos is experienced as part of a community,
as in times of natural disasters, political transitions,
or acts of violence perpetrated on a community
due to their identity
whether with words or actions.
We’ve experienced this chaos as a country
as recently as yesterday
and even if we try to detach,
even if we don’t pay attention to the news,
we all feel the effects of the chaos
because we are part of the community of creation.
-confirmands I’m looking at you.
have their own particular brand of chaos,
that delightful blend of hormones, forming identities,
social struggles and obligations to activities
all with the future hanging over your heads
in addition to everything else going on around you.
It’s a lot to handle sometimes, it’s chaos.
And into this chaos the Psalmist speaks a word of hope,
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble,
therefore we will not fear,
though the earth be moved… the nations rage and the kingdoms shake;
God speaks and the earth melts away.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
God is with us,
a steady constant
among the shifting sands of change all around us,
a place of peace like the eye of a storm
calm at the center of swirling winds,
an anchor holding us steady.
Whatever chaos threatens,
God is there
offering shelter and hope for the future.
Today is reformation Sunday,
a day when we as Lutherans
take time to remember Martin Luther and the reformers of our heritage,
with their simple questioning of how the church cared for its people
unleashed the chaos that had been bubbling below the surface.
Much of what went on during the reformation was not pretty
nor was all of it helpful,
Luther himself became embittered and anti-semetic
and his writings against the Jewish people
have been used to justify acts of violence
against the Jewish community
much like what happened at Tree of Life Synagogue outside of Pittsburg yesterday
as heirs of the reformer
we as Lutherans have had to confront our role
in the spread of chaos
and have renounced as a church the writings and the ideas
that form the root of anti-semitism,
the Jewish people are our brothers and sisters
children of the same God,
the God who has promised all of us to be a refuge and strength.
Taking shelter in God is an act of resistance
To the chaos around us
but Chaos is nothing if not persistent
so we cling to the gifts of God
brought forward by the reformers,
the emphasis on the fact that we are saved by grace through faith apart from works.
For preaching this Luther was excommunicated from the church he loved
and only wanted to reform
and a price was put on his head,
and in the midst of it all Luther wrote the hymn
A Mighty Fortress,
a paraphrase of Psalm 46,
a reminder that sometimes it is darkest before the dawn
and that God will see us through whatever comes our way.
Professing our faith in God
can unleash unexpected consequences
because our faith runs counter to the ways of the world
but in the midst of it all
God will be there with us
because our faith is a gift from God,
God knows we can’t calm the chaos on our own
any more than we can save ourselves,
the world is just too broken by sin for that,
as Paul says in Romans “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
but thanks be to God for the gift of the justification by grace
through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
because of Christ we are set free,
we are freed from the requirements that chaos places on us,
the need to be perfect,
the need to take care of it all on our own,
to be better than the next person,
to attempt to secure ourselves against whatever might come our way,
we are set free,
even from things we didn’t think we were bound to.
In our gospel
Jesus is speaking to some disciples who believe in him.
Jesus tells them “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”
the disciples are confused by this
insisting that they’d never been slaves,
forgetting it seems
the history of their people in Egypt as slaves,
and the time when Babylon conquered Israel
and took the people into exile as slaves,
and then is was the Persians and then the Romans.
As people we’re good at self-deception,
we insist that we are free
even as we are enslaved
by debt or social expectations or the systems of the world
that we must rely on for the basic necessities of life.
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” Jesus tells the disciples,
continuing in the word of God
we learn the truth,
The truth that we need a savoir,
and we learn the truth that we have a savior,
had one even before we knew we needed it,
Jesus, who on the cross died for all,
so that we might be free from the demands of chaos.
We were given this freedom at our baptism
The moment when God named and claimed us
Took us under the shadow of God’s wing
Into the refuge of our God
when you publicly profess your faith in a few minutes,
what you are doing is acknowledging the freedom you have in Christ,
you along with the rest of the congregation
will renounce the devil,
and embrace the freedom that has been yours since your baptism,
the freedom of being loved so deeply
that nothing can separate you from God.
And having been set free
you are able to live your lives focused on God
rather than on yourselves.
How this will play out
is yet to be seen,
each of you has been given gifts by God,
gifts that will help you share the love of God with others,
you will find them as you continue in your faith
and explore your freedom in Christ
but all the while, whatever comes your way
you will be anchored by God who is our refuge and strength. Amen
10th Sunday after Pentecost
2 Kings 4:42-44
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who is faithful in all words and loving in all works. Amen
We have a God whose love and works
surpass human understanding.
We can’t explain how Elisha
was able to feed a hundred men
with a little bit of bread and corn
let alone Jesus feeding five thousand
with five loaves of bread and two fish
Jesus’ walking across the top of the sea of Galilee in a storm
defies the laws of nature that God set in place,
and these are only the examples
we have from the readings for today,
the Bible is filled with stories that we can’t explain,
at least with head knowledge,
logic and reason
But with heart knowledge,
our ability to accept the reality of mysteries
we know that these stories tell us the truth,
the truth about God and what it means to be a child of God.
As a society,
we’ve come to depend almost entirely on head knowledge,
for something to be true it must be able to be proven.
Now I’m not discounting science and measurable outcomes,
the ability to understand the world around us
is a gift from God and has done much good,
but we limit our experience of life
if we rely only on head knowledge
and dismiss the power and truth of heart knowledge,
truth that defies explanation
and yet exists in the world.
So what do we who live in a world of logic do
with truth that defies explanation?
I think our best course
is to follow the lead of the psalmists
who in the face of the inexplicable
takes the time to describe their experience,
Have you ever noticed that about the psalms?
Especially the psalms of lament,
the psalmist goes on and on about how awful life is
and then at very end they give praise to God,
and it seems to go against everything that came before,
but we recognize the truth in these psalms
because that’s how people of faith live,
with the ability to tell God everything that’s going wrong
and at the same time still praise and trust God.
Our psalm for today is a psalm of praise,
in praising God,
the psalmist describes the actions of God,
who upholds all who fall and lifts those who are bowed down,
who satisfies the desire of every living thing,
who is near to all who call,
and throughout this litany of what God does
there is a kind of refrain
as the psalmist says: “You Lord, are faithful in all your words and loving in all your works.”
and later again “you are righteous in all your ways and loving in all your works.”
Even if we don’t understand what God is doing with our head knowledge,
we know with our heart knowledge
that God is faithful to God’s promises
and God acts in love.
And so we live into that truth.
It’s why we baptize babies like Royce.
Yes she doesn’t understand what that splash of water was about,
and if we’re honest we don’t always fully understand either,
but she does understand love
and ultimately that’s what is at the root of what happens at the font,
God loved the world so much
that God sent Jesus,
and in his death and resurrection
Jesus bridged the gap between God and humanity
and God who is faithful in all words
claims us as children of God,
and God who is loving in all works
gave us a sign of that promise
so that on the days when we have doubts
we have a moment in time to point to and can say
I am baptized! I am a child of God! I am loved!
And though we only baptize once,
the water and the word are just the beginning of the baptismal life,
a life where we live into the love and identity that God has given us,
which is why we all promised to continue to live in community with Royce
and we promised that as she grows
to bring her to the table
and to teach her the creed and the ten commandments, and the lord’s prayer,
and when she can read we’ll place the scriptures in her hands,
all the while continuing to surround her with love,
as we strive to do with all God’s children.
And we pray with Paul
that God work through this community
to strengthen her inner being with the power of the spirit,
that Christ may dwell in her heart
as she is rooted and grounded in love,
and we pray that she grows into some understanding
but most of all
that she knows with head and heart
the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.
That is our prayer for Royce,
and for all God’s children,
including those of us gathered here,
that we may be filled with all the fullness of God
and that secure in our beloved identity as children of God
we may overflow with praise for the one who is faithful in all words
and loving in all works. Amen
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from our very present help in trouble. Amen
Today is the Sunday we, as Lutherans,
have set aside to remember our origins
in the protestant reformation,
beginning when the priest and professor Martin Luther
posted some topics he wanted to debate
about certain points of theology and practices of the church.
In drawing up his list
Luther did not foresee or plan
the great upheaval that followed,
he simply wanted to discuss ways
that the church, the primary way that people interacted with God,
could be more faithful,
could do a better job at sharing the grace of God with the people of God.
Now Luther was not the first to make suggestions along these lines
but like a bolt of lightening striking dry grass and setting off a wild fire
his ideas for debate hit at just the right time and place
and set off a fire of their own,
one which shook the foundations of church and society
with great change and the violence that comes with something old resisting something new.
So happy birthday to us?
This heritage of division
is why we commemorate,
rather than celebrate the reformation.
Even as we recognize all the good that came from the time as well.
In the history of the reformation
we are reminded that as Christians
we believe that out of death comes new life,
our faith and salvation are dependent on this belief,
that Christ died and three days later rose from the dead,
we take time to remember our reformation heritage
because the way we encounter God
in worship, song, church structure and history
is based on the new life
that came from the deaths of 500 years ago,
a renewed emphasis on the gift of grace given to us by God through Christ Jesus,
the belief that all people should understand and participate in worship and Bible study,
that Christ comes to us in water, bread and wine offering forgiveness and new life.
With God new life is always springing up all over the place,
or to put it another way,
God is constantly reforming,
working to bring about the kingdom of God
and because this world will not be perfect until the end
reformation is an ongoing process,
yes that means something is always changing,
and with that change comes fear and loss,
resistance and violence
and yes even new life,
and at the center of it all is God,
constantly calling us to ways of faithfulness and sharing the grace of God
with the people of God for our time and place.
While we recognized so called reformers like Luther
the true reformer,
the one at work in all of this and all of us is God,
the one who brings new life out of death.
And in the midst of all this constant reforming
we often wonder where exactly is God and what is God doing?
This is a common response to the workings of God,
we see people all throughout scripture asking these questions
as change swirls around them.
The Psalmists in particular
manage to capture, in the verses of their hymns, t
he truth of upheaval in the world
and the presence of God in the midst of it all.
Somehow they have found a way
to hold two conflicting truths together,
the truth that there is chaos and the truth that God is present.
This is the case for our psalm of the day, Psalm 46,
which describes the rebellion of nature and humanity
at the same time as acclaiming the presence of God,
God who is present in the midst of trouble,
God who is more powerful than the trouble,
God who is a mighty fortress.
“A mighty fortress is our God, a sword and shield victorious;
He breaks the cruel oppressor’s rod and wins salvation glorious.”
Luther penned the words to his famous hymn
as a loose paraphrase of psalm 46,
hopping to apply the message of the psalm
to the situation of his time,
interestingly on one of the earliest copies of the hymn
it is titled “A Hymn of Comfort”
instead of the fight song of the reformation,
which is how we tend to think of this hymn today
it was intended, as was the original psalm,
to comfort and provide hope
during a time of turmoil
when the very foundation of society seemed to be shifting underfoot.
As in the day of Luther
we too are in a time of turmoil,
everyday it seems we hear of another disaster
either natural or political or interpersonal,
and it seems the foundations on which we have long built
are no longer as steady as they once were,
and from across the ages the psalm speaks to our reality,
reflecting the chaos of creation
“though the earth be moved and though the mountains shake in the depth of the sea;”
and people “the nations rage and the kingdoms shake”
and throughout it all a word of hope,
“The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our stronghold”
Whatever changes God is making,
whatever changes we are resisting,
God is present working for good,
offering forgiveness, grace and yes even peace,
calling us to be still
and know who is our true foundation, our fortress.
In reflecting on all of this,
I began to wonder what a paraphrase of psalm 46 for our time might sound like,
And so I will close with my humble offering, thought I didn’t set it to music.
God is our security
A present calm in the midst of chaos
From God we draw our confidence
Even as hurricanes destroy,
Waters rise, and fire consumes the land.
Like the eye of a storm
God’s peace is in the center
the winds swirl around it
But the calm is not shaken
God is present in the center of human winds
Words that stir up storms separating people
One from another, giving into the chaos that divides
But these words are no match for God’s word, Jesus
The word made flesh who makes his home among the people
Though at times it seems hopeless
God will have the last word,
And that word will be peace.
Peace among nations,
peace among peoples,
peace in creation
Be still and know peace,
Experience the security of God
Who is greater than the most powerful person
Who is greatest in all the earth
Though life at times is difficult
God is with us making all things new.
A present calm in the midst of chaos.
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.