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
Fifth Sunday in Easter
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
Alleluia Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen indeed, alleluia.
This week our psalm really caught me,
the image of the psalmist
who has taken refuge in God
seemed to speak to our time
when “shelter in place” and “stay at home”
have become everyday phrases,
the psalmists’ crying out to God
“deliver me” in one breath
and “my times are in your hand” in the next
capturing the multiple emotions that envelope us.
As I mulled over the images,
I wondered what images we might use today
and so as an exercise I paraphrased our psalm for today,
seeking to use the images and emotions of 2020,
and here is what I came up with:
In you God I take refuge
Keep me from acting out of selfishness.
Listen to me!
Be my home
That I may shelter in place in you.
For you are where I retreat to safety.
You hold me like the cushions of my couch.
Take me out of the net of fear
That has been woven around us,
For you are my truth.
Into your care I comment by body and spirit
That you created, called good, and redeemed.
Time is in your hands
Save me from fear, anxiety,
Inadequacy, lethargy, numbness
And from the ones who want me to feel this way.
Shine on me like the springtime sun
That each year
Coaxes bare branches back to life.
Part of the power of the psalms
and why we turn to them for comfort
is that they hold so true to life,
contained within many psalms
are both cries of lament
where the psalmist feels abandoned by God,
and in the next breath
proclamations of trust in that same God,
in these seemingly contradictory emotions
we see our own experience reflected,
the times in our lives
where many things are true
even things that seem to be in opposition,
and we see this in psalm 31 today,
the first part a cry of the heart
and the second part reliance on God
in the midst of the unknown,
and both are true at the same time,
And that’s one thing that I think
will help us get through this time of laments and unknowns
the realization that we don’t have to be on one end of the spectrum
or the other,
we can both and,
We can both want to see the whole way before us
and trust that God will guide us,
we can be concerned about the health of our community
and concerned about the health of the economy,
we can both understand why it is important
that large gatherings not take place
and grieve the loss of connection and communal observations,
high school seniors can be both excited to be graduating
and sad that it won’t take place in the traditional way.
In times of turmoil,
we so desperately want to know what’s coming next
that we often grab onto one image of the future
and that is all that we can see,
even though there may be many different options.
That’s the place that the disciples are in
in our gospel for today,
Jesus is on the way to the cross
and is trying to prepare his disciples,
he has told them what is going to happen,
that he will be crucified, die and on the third day rise again
but they are holding on to their own image
of what the messiah will do,
come in as a military leader and wipe out the Romans,
Jesus knows that they will be sorely disappointed
and tries to give them another idea of what is to come..
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” he tells them
“believe in God, believe also in me”
belief in God is the antidote to the troubled heart,
and he knows that their hearts are troubled
and they are wondering where do we go from here?
And so he paints a picture for them,
of his father’s house,
a place with many rooms,
enough rooms for everyone,
and Jesus is going to prepare a place for all of them,
he’ll go and come back
and go again
but where ever he is,
the disciples know that there is a place for them.
ever the practical one
says this all sounds great Jesus
but we don’t know the way,
how will we get there?
and Jesus responds,
“I am the way and the truth and the life”
which is not really what Thomas was looking for,
he wanted something along the lines of
go north for five miles until you reach a tree, then turn left,
that kind of thing.
But Jesus doesn’t give directions like that,
his answers to questions are not easy
but they are backed up by the promise of abundant life.
In his I Am statements,
Jesus is proclaiming that he is one with the father,
when the disciples see Jesus, they see God.
So where do we go from here?
In this time where many things are true
and many things are unknown
we cling to Jesus, the way,
who promises us abundant life
and since, unlike the disciples,
we are hearing this teaching after the resurrection,
we know that Jesus keeps his promises,
that he has been through our ultimate fear, death,
and come out the other side
and promises that we will do the same,
guided by him, the way.
This is not an easy answer,
it doesn’t lay out every single step that we will take,
like we might wish,
but it does give us something to hold on to,
Jesus the way, the truth and the life,
who promises to be with us
and guide us all along the way,
who holds us when we are afraid
and comforts us in the face of the unknown,
who brings us to life everlasting. Amen
16th Sunday After Pentecost
Amos 6:1a, 4-7
1 Timothey 6:6-19
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who calls us to eternal life. Amen
Over and over
our lessons for today
emphasize the message
that we are to place our hope in Go
and anything else,
will let us down.
This message is present in Jesus’ story
about the rich man and Lazarus,
often Jesus’ stories are confusing
but this one is pretty clear.
There are two characters,
the rich man who has everything in life
and a poor man named Lazarus
who in life longed for even a crumb from the rich man’s table.
Both men die,
Lazarus is taken by angels to Abraham
while the rich man is tormented in hades
and as he’s being tormented
he looks up and sees Abraham,
his ancestor, the original ancestor
and he calls to him
“Father Abraham have mercy”
he longs for even a drip of water to cool his tongue,
“send Lazarus” he says.
And Abraham replies,
“that’s not going to happen,
what you did in life determined your location for eternity
and there’s no going back.”
So the rich man says
“well at least can you send a message
to my brothers who are still living before it’s too late”
and Abraham replies
“they have Moses and the prophets for that”,
but the rich man insists that they will really change their ways
if they see someone from the dead
and here’s the punch line,
Abraham, in the voice of Jesus who is telling the story,
says “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
I sense a little Jesus snark here,
Jesus, who knows that he will rise from the dead,
also knows that not everyone will believe him,
especially those who are comfortable in this life
“Alas for those who are at ease in Zion,
and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria”
the prophet Amos cries out in our first lesson
those that lounge around eating and drinking,
singing idle songs, anointing themselves with oil,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph,
they will be the first ones taken into exile
when the Assyrians come conquering.
And while it seems at first
that Amos is railing against the riches,
the real reason the people he’s addressing
will be taken into exile first
is because they are neglecting the troubles of the nation,
these are presumably the leaders
and instead of taking care of all the people
they focus on their own comforts
and as long as they are comfortable,
nothing else matters
to the point where it will become their ruin.
“Put not your trust in rulers”
the psalmist proclaims
“in mortals in whom there is no help.
When they breathe their last, they return to earth,
and in that day their thoughts perish.”
and here we start getting to the crux of the matter,
human rulers and rules will pass away,
but then the psalmist sings “Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help,
whose hope is in the Lord their God
and goes on to explain all the reasons to trust God:
God created the heavens and the earth
God keeps promises forever
God gives justice, food, freedom, healing to those who need it
God cares for the stranger and the abandoned
God is forever
God is the one in whom we should place our hope,
and when we do,
the concerns of God become our concerns,
justice, food, freedom, healing,
care for the stranger and the abandoned,
and that means that we will probably not be comfortable all the time,
and this is the exact opposite message
than the one that we receive from the world around us
that more is better,
we’re to look out just for ourselves
because comfort even at the expense of others is the goal,
and here we get caught in the in between nature of the kingdom of God,
the one that has already begun
but it not yet completed,
we see the need for justice around us
and we live within the systems of the world
that are designed to maintain injustice
We are caught in the middle,
So what are we to do?
Paul in his first letter to Timothy suggests this:
“As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”
Paul has already acknowledged
that the love of money leads people astray,
it does so by promising security,
a promise it cannot keep
but there is another promise out there
the promise of God of eternal life,
a promise which Christ has already kept
and calls us to accept,
it is ours
place your trust there Paul says,
and if you do happen to have resources,
use the resources as tools to take hold of the life that really is life.
And what is the life that really is life?
I think Dan Erlander paints the picture,
well draws it actually,
at the end of his book “A Place For You: My Communion Book”
it’s the book I use to teach the first communion class,
it traces all the ways Jesus welcomed people,
culminating with the Lord’s Supper,
and the affect that the gift of the Lord’s supper had on the early church community
and he ends speaking directly to us:
With Jesus and your church family you will dream of a day when Jesus will gather all living beings together, creatures that fly in the air, swim in the water, walk on the earth, and crawl underground. This joyful gathering will include people of every kind, both happy people and crabby people (who will no longer be crabby). All will be safe; all will have food; all will have a home; all will worship God; and all will know that God loves everybody”
That friends, is the life that really is life,
the community of creation coming together in the love of God.
That is what we seek when we come to church
and participate in community,
that is what Jesus sends us out to work toward
with whatever resources we have,
whether it is wealth by the standards of the world
or simply ourselves.
God has blessed us,
we celebrate that today,
we give praise and thanksgiving for this community coming together,
for the resources to care for our common ministry,
and now God sends us out,
to use our resources,
to work for justice, feed the hungry,
free the captive, heal the sick,
care for the stranger and the abandoned,
to gather all in community joined together in the love of God,
God sends us out to seek the life that really is life. Amen
Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who is revealed as merciful. Amen
The psalmist cries out to God today,
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
in your great compassion blot out my offenses”
then goes on to acknowledge
that they know they’ve really messed up,
they’ve sinned against God
and they deserve whatever judgement God hands down
and yet they are still bold to call on God to forgive them
and end with the petition
“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.”
a petition which frankly seems pretty bold
given what the psalmist acknowledged earlier.
Who is this person that would be so bold as to ask God
to do these things,
or perhaps the better question is,
who is this God who would hear and consider these requests?
Who is God?
Yep we’re going there this morning,
who is God?
Paul in our reading from 1 Timothy
describes God as “the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God.”
and that is a good general description
of what most monotheists would say about God,
God is the only God,
God is immortal-outside of time
and God is invisible,
we cannot see God,
what we know of God
is only what God has chosen to reveal to us.
And the moments of revelation
upon which we most depend
are found in the scriptures,
the stories of God and people
and while that’s a start,
even these revelations
present a variety of pictures
of who God is
even in just our selections for today
In Exodus we have the all-powerful God
meeting with Moses on the mountain top
and who is acting kind of like a sullen teenager.
God has rescued the Israelites,
the people God chose,
has led them into the desert
and has given them the 10 commandments,
God even let the people approach the mountain
to see the glory of God,
but it was too much for them,
they were content to let Moses do all the talking with God,
so now Moses has been up on the mountain
getting the particulars of the law,
and he’s been gone a long time,
so long that the people think,
well he’s probably dead by now
what with all that glory of the Lord,
it’s time to take matters into our own hands,
so they go to Aaron
and say give us a god to worship,
and Aaron seemingly without questioning the request
takes all their gold
and makes the image of a calf
and says here, go worship this.
Which gets us to our reading for today
where God notices what the people have done,
how quickly they’ve forgotten the covenant they made with God
and “The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”
The people messed up
and God is ready to give up,
change plans, focus on the one who has stayed loyal,
maybe pout a bit
but unlike a teenager,
God’s wrath could actually consume all the people.
But here Moses intercedes for the people,
Moses reminds God of all the promises God has made over the generations,
all the trouble God went to with the plagues,
and on top of that,
what will the Egyptians think of you if you do this?
that you just brought them out to kill them in the mountains.
“And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.”
God can change God’s mind,
God is merciful.
Which is good for us,
because it also seems like God gets really unhappy
when people break the rules
and God has the power to do something about it.
So that’s one picture of God,
one who gets angry but is merciful.
Then we have Jesus in our gospel for today,
we confess that Jesus is God,
and so what Jesus does
reveals who God is
and here he is,
teaching a wide variety of people,
the usual suspects the scribes and Pharisees
who can always be found around a good lecture
but also the unlikely suspects
the tax collectors and sinners,
those whose lives don’t seem to reflect much time spent with God
and this is annoying to the pharisees,
the professional church goers,
who grumble “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
the subtext is that he must not be a very good scholar of the law
if he ignores what it says about associating with sinners.
And here Jesus, God,
turns to them
and tells two parables, two teaching stories
about first a shepherd who had lost a sheep
and then a woman who had lost a coin
both go to great lengths to find what they had lost
and upon finding the sheep and the coin
gather their neighbors together to celebrate.
Often interpretations of these stories
make the shepherd and the woman the characters who represent God
who here is relentless, stubborn, insistent
and tireless in pursuit of what was lost,
but God here is also foolish
because the one who searches in the story
is also the one who loses the sheep and the coin in the first place,
and they are foolish for spending so much time on one sheep
when they had 99 others
or on one coin of moderate value
when they had 9 others,
surely the expense of the party thrown when the lost was found
far outweighed that one sheep or that one coin.
But this is God’s foolishness,
foolishness that shows insistent mercy to the lost,
who others have calculated to be not worth the trouble,
God here, goes to the trouble
in defiance of common sense.
“This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
And the foolishness of God continues on,
for who but a fool
would use someone who is trying to kill a cause to further it.
That’s what Paul was doing,
trying to kill the Jesus movement
through actually killing those involved,
and it’s this person
on the way to expand their terror
that Jesus comes to and calls,
and whose life is changed
to where his travels are then to spread the news of Jesus
and his letters go to various communities around the world
to strengthen their faith in Jesus.
Paul says “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.”
Much like the psalmist
Paul is fully aware
that he deserves whatever judgement
God decides to hand down for his actions as a blasphemer, a persecutor and a man of violence. And he wonders at the grace and mercy of God,
who sought him out
was patient with him,
who changed his life drastically
so that now he lives as an example to others of life in Christ.
God is revealed as one who not only uses
but seeks out
and is patient and persistent with them
as grace and mercy turns their lives upside down.
Who would do something like that?
God, creator of the universe, that’s who,
God who gets angry, and then changes their mind,
God who is relentless, stubborn, insistent, tireless, foolish, patient, confusing,
God, who time after time is revealed as merciful
choosing to forgive rather than judge,
choosing to set aside anger
or what would make the most sense
in favor of life and a fresh start
no matter how angry God is
like with the Israelites,
or how little the person is valued by the world
like the lost sheep and coin,
or even how hopeless a case it seems to be
God can and will forgive
and will create clean hearts
and renew right spirits,
and God has promised us,
that God will treat us in the same way
When we confess our sins knowing we deserve to be judged,
God responds with forgiveness,
when we feel lost and insignificant
God goes great lengths to find us
when we intentionally turn from God,
God pursues us with grace and mercy,
and when God finally finds us,
stuck in a ravine or under the couch covered in dust,
because that’s who God is. Amen
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the Good Shepherd. Amen
Sheep, well shepherds
appear all over our readings for today,
it’s why this Sunday has the nickname,
Good Shepherd Sunday.
I don’t claim to know much of anything about shepherding
other than it is the shepherd’s job to take care of sheep
which generally means leading them to food and water,
finding them when they wander off
and protecting them from things that want eat them, like wolves.
At least this is the portrait of the shepherd
that is painted in the Bible,
a theme that Jesus takes up when he proclaims in John 10:11
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”
which in this Easter season
we are well aware that he does.
Jesus is the good shepherd,
he promises to take care of us
and that is comforting,
no matter how independent or tough we are
or pretend we are,
we all long to be cared for,
to be assured that everything will be okay,
that there is someone looking out for us.
And Jesus does,
but he also has expectations for us
as we follow him
and that leads to the truth
that lies behind all the talk of the tender care of the good shepherd,
the truth there is no guarantee
that life lived in and with God
will be free from dangers or hardships,
in fact Jesus is quite clear
that those who follow him
should expect danger and hardship,
what Jesus does guarantee, promise,
is to be with us,
in the midst of these times.
Take our beloved Psalm 23
even as the psalmist describes the green pastures
and still waters provided by the shepherd,
what sounds like a pretty cushy life for a sheep,
the psalmist acknowledges walking through the valley of the shadow of death
and the presence of enemies,
what makes the difference for the psalmist
is the presence of God in the midst of these experiences.
The danger is there
but the psalmist does not fear
because of the comfort of the Lord.
These themes are present as well in our reading from Revelation,
Revelation or the Apocalypse of John
is an odd book
but rather than being a prediction of the future to come
as so many have thought,
it falls more into the category of resistance fiction.
A story written to convey truths
to an oppressed group of people
in a way that will not bring down the wrath of the empire upon their heads.
The Christians to whom John wrote in Revelation
were living under the Roman Empire,
their proclaimed belief that Jesus is Lord
rather than the Caesar
placed them at the margins of society at best
and subject to death for treason at worst
things were going to get worse before they got better
this is the setting for our reading from Revelation,
where John in his vision
sees a great multitude around the throne of God in heaven,
from every nation and language praising God
John finds out that this crowd
are the people who have come through the “great ordeal”
they have suffered on behalf of Jesus
so now they get to spend all their time worshiping God
“and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat, for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
These are images are familiar,
they are the words of the prophet Isaiah
to the Israelites in exile,
God promised to bring them out of exile and God did,
now God promises to bring the people out of the tribulation to shelter,
but God will do this as a shepherd,
walking with the people,
through the danger
to the promised land of safety and security.
Once again God does not promise that there will be no suffering or hardships,
what God does promise is to be there with the people through the hardships.
It’s the way God works,
Jesus is the good shepherd
And we follow him because he knows us.
“My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.”
Jesus says today in our gospel reading,
and that is the key to the good of the shepherd,
the knowing of the sheep.
This knowing is a heart knowing
rather than a head knowing,
the kind of knowing that means the shepherd can pick individual sheep
out of what looks to the rest of us like an undifferentiated mass.
It’s the kind of knowing that anticipates
that some sheep like this kind of grass,
while others favor another
so the shepherd makes sure to frequent both pastures,
it’s a knowing that heads off that one sheep
that always wanders away from the rest,
And the sheep,
knowing they are loved and cared for
follow the voice of the one who loves and cares for them.
Even if it means going through some dangerous spots,
they follow because they know the shepherd will go with them
and take care of them.
Jesus is the good shepherd,
he knows us with the knowledge of love,
a knowing so deep we cannot help but respond
in the good times and in the times of trouble,
and when we wander away
Jesus comes to find us
and bring us back into the fold.
And now some of you are sitting there thinking
‘that’s a pretty message pastor but how’s that going to work out?”
In this Easter season we’ve been spending time with the disciples
who have been saying pretty much the same thing,
Jesus has appeared to them post resurrection
and given them the good news
and they wonder ‘how’s that going to work if you’re ascending to your father Jesus?’
and Jesus has told them,
you’re going to do it,
I will be present in you.
Last week we heard the final conversation between Jesus and Peter
where Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep and tend his flock
and in that instance the lamb became the shepherd.
Just like in Revelation where the lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
we lambs are to be shepherds to one another.
It sounds kind of funny
but again that’s how God works,
so here we are,
lambs that are cared for
and shepherds that care for others,
we have both roles to play.
Sometimes we’re more lamb
and sometimes we’re more shepherd
but we are always bound by love.
We’ve been lambs this morning,
we have heard we are loved and known,
and now it’s time to put on our shepherd hats,
I want you to look around
and notice who is missing this morning,
think about who you haven’t seen for a while,
this isn’t a rhetorical point
I want you to take a moment and pick one person or family
you haven’t seen here for a while.
Everyone got someone in mind?
Okay, now it’s your turn to be the shepherd
this week I want you to reach out to that person,
write them a note,
give them a call.
It doesn’t have to be complicated
just a simple I noticed you were gone,
I missed you
And in this way they will know they are cared for,
that they are known,
that Jesus is with them wherever they are in life,
just like he promised. Amen
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.