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
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
3rd Sunday After Pentecost
Psalm 69:7-10, 16-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who calls us
to take up the cross and follow him. Amen
Jesus does not hold back in our gospel for today
as he teaches about discipleship,
what it truly means to follow him.
to be a disciple says Jesus
means uncovering the things
that society would rather keep secret,
it means that some will want to do bodily harm to you,
that families will be divided,
That you will lose your life.
Jesus clearly wasn’t working with a PR firm
on his marketing for recruiting disciples.
It is not an attractive picture he paints
and I’ll admit in the past I’ve struggled with this passage.
And yet this year,
in the midst of all that is going on in our society and world,
I found this passage oddly comforting.
perhaps because the world is so uncomfortable now
and at its heart the gospel is meant to comfort the distressed
and to disturb the comfortable
And my life is generally speaking, comfortable.
But Jesus knows
that in the way of the world
comfort of one individual or group is achieved
at the expense of another individual or group
and the systems that are comfortable
will fight to the death to preserve their comfort.
Jesus has come to bring abundant life for all
And that means dismantling the systems that oppress people.
And the first step in that
is to bring out into the open
the things those in power would rather cover up.
“For nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered proclaim from the housetops”
We are in a time of uncovering right now,
what was remarkable about George Flyod’s death
was sadly not the way he was treated
but that it was recorded for all to see.
The holiday Juneteenth
has been observed since 1866
and yet many people are only learning about it this year
Scholars and epidemiologists have studied for years
in preparation for a global pandemic
and now after the proverbial horse has escaped the barn
the results of their studies are being widely disseminated.
And while it may be uncomfortable
for those of us hearing about these things for the first time,
imagine the relief of those who have known all along
who have been reduced to whispering in the past
that now are able to proclaim from the housetops.
Jesus lets us know
that no matter how hard we try to avoid certain topics of conversation,
they will eventually be brought out into the open,
and that is liberating, for everyone.
What we are experiencing is the next step on the arc toward the liberation of all.
And Jesus knows that this will divide people.
That’s what Jesus means when he says
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth, I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
The liberating message of Jesus
has two edges, law and gospel,
the law to show us how we have fallen short
and the gospel to comfort,
and actually these two are often the same message,
how it is understood depends on who hears them,
for those who have been comfortable at the expense of others
Jesus’ message of liberation will sound like law,
for those who have been oppressed
the message will sound like gospel, good news.
Jesus says that to be a disciple
we must take the side of the oppressed,
This is what the call to take up the cross means
the cross, was an instrument of state terror
designed to make a horrifically painful example
of anyone who tried to defy the empire,
Those who were crucified were killed
Because they were seen as a threat to the status quo
A threat to the comfort of those in power.
This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus
To openly talk about the secrets of society
To take the side of the oppressed
To take on the powers of the world.
Why would we want to be a disciple?
Because to be a disciple
Also means that we are known and valued by God
Jesus knows his message is difficult,
three times in this passage he says do not be afraid
and in the end affirms the value of each individual disciples,
“even the hairs of your head are all counted, so do not be afraid.”
to be a part of the Jesus movement
is to be a part of something much larger than yourself
and at the same time be known and valued for your own individual gifts and talents,
and it is because we are so valued
that we are able to take risks for others.
Paul picks up a variation on this theme in his letter to the Romans.
Writing looking back through the lens of the crucifixion and resurrection
He says “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life...The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Christ died and rose for us
To set us free from sin
being turned in on ourselves,
taking care of our own comfort at the expense of others.
In relation to God
the matter of sin has been taken care of by Jesus
but just because God forgives us
does not mean that we keep sinning
rather it means that we try to live without sin
and this is a daily struggle.
This is the essence of the baptismal life
The daily dying to sin
And rising to new life in Christ
All because God has unequivocally claimed us.
Today happens to be my baptism birthday,
33 years ago my parents brought me to the font
And God claimed me.
While it’s hard to believe
that that baby needed to be forgiven for anything,
what that moment did was start a lifelong journey
to live a life bigger than myself
and sometimes that means
setting aside my own comfort and security for the sake of others
just as Jesus set aside his own comfort and security
as he went to the cross for the sake of the whole world.
This is Jesus’ call to all of us,
to face discomfort, division and fear,
not because it might save us,
but that it might save someone else.
Jesus expects this of us
because it is exactly what Jesus himself did
but we do this
secure in the fact that we are known by God,
who values us and knows every last detail about us,
down to the number of hairs on our head.
We are in a moment in time
where we are being called to set aside our own comfort
and act for the sake of others
whether it is wearing a mask in public,
or taking the time to learn about
how the sin of racism infects the ways of the world,
challenging the powers that say some are more valuable than others.
And we are up for the challenge
Not because we are particularly brave
But because we are so thoroughly loved by God. Amen
2nd Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who dared to die for us. Amen
Welcome to the time after pentecost,
often called ordinary time,
symbolized by the color green.
In this green season
our scriptures and prayers
will point us in the direction of growth,
growth in faith, in discipleship, in understanding,
in what it takes to build the kingdom of God.
And this season will stretch on and on,
for the next few months,
it will be fall before we see a color on the altar
other than green
and that too holds true to the theme of the season
because growth takes time.
And growth is difficult at times,
do you remember growing up,
when you hit a growth spurt
and literally felt growing pains,
aches in your bones as they stretched toward your full height?
In his letters
Paul writes to a church experiencing growing pains,
to many he writes of specific difficulties,
the Thessalonians were afraid of church members dying
before the return of Christ,
the Corinthians had all sorts of conflict
and it seems like he just missed the Philippians,
in his letter to the Romans,
Paul is writing to a church
that he has never met
but whom he wishes to visit,
and because he’s never met them,
and realizes that he might never meet them
he presents his rationale for the gospel in a more measured tone,
Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham
and his main point
is that God does the work,
all Abraham did was trust in the promise, had faith.
For us, Jesus does all the work
and our role is to trust the promise, have faith.
That’s what is leading up to our reading for today
where Paul concludes: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”
We have peace with God! Paul proclaims,
given our sinful and broken relationship with God
it would be reasonable (using human logic)
for God to want to even the score,
punish us, make us hurt in the same way we made God hurt
“But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
God settled the score or however you want to put it,
and the end result
is that God has promised that through Christ
we will share in the glory of God.
We have been set free in our relationship with God
but that freedom does not absolve us of responsibilities,
rather it allows us to turn our attention
to the broken relationships of the world,
relationships that will insist that they are fine the way they are,
relationships that will resent and push back
against even the suggestion that they need to be examined,
which is why Paul says
that even as we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God “we also boast in our sufferings”
(asking our pentecost question)
what does this mean?
What does this mean for us today?
What it means is that we have work to do,
examining the broken relationships in this world,
to acknowledge them, understand them
and work toward healing them.
Sadly there are many candidates for this work,
but at the forefront right now
is the relationship between the white community
and the black community within this country.
It is a relationship that is broken
and has been broken for hundreds of years,
and it is also one that some will insist is fine
and will resent even the call to examine the relationship.
But this is exactly what Jesus has set us free to do,
it is what he did and calls us to do,
to go to the places that are hurting and in need of good news.
We heard in our gospel
that as Jesus went around all the cities and villages
proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God
he encountered whole crowds of people
that needed healing and hope
and “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few”
One person teaching and healing is not enough,
so Jesus sends the disciples out to do the same things
that he has just been doing,
and he knows it’s not going to be easy
or that everyone will receive their message
but that it is important work to be done
and he promises that whatever happens
they are loved and cared for by God,
they are free to take risks because God is their safety net.
We are free to take risks
since we are justified by faith,
we have peace with God,
which means that nothing can separate us from the love of God,
even if the work we do
in working on human relationships is difficult
and produces suffering,
but we know that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Hope does not disappoint us.
It may be hard to look around the world right now and have hope.
But that’s only if we confuse hope with optimism.
Optimism looks at all the hard and difficult things of the world
and says, ‘I don’t know how but it will all turn out okay.’
Hope takes a hard look at the realities,
the seemingly insurmountable obstacles,
and says ‘nevertheless I trust that there will be new life.’
This week in my reading
I came across a passage which speaks directly to this kind of hope,
I have returned to a book I read in seminary
“The Cross and the Lynching Tree” by James H. Cone,
a prominent black theologian,
reading it is part of my own work
examining the broken relationships in this world
and working to acknowledge them,
understand them and work toward healing them.
I invite you to join me in this work
and will in the near future be offering some ideas for how you can join me.
In one part Dr.Cone describes hope in the black experience
as expressed through the spiritual “Nobody Knows”
He says “The first three lines accent despair;
Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen,
Nobody knows my sorrow.
Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen,
But the last line accents hope with an exclamation:
“Nobody Knows” reaches the peak of despair in its repetition of the first line in the third.
African Americans did not doubt that their lives were filled with trouble...Trouble followed them everywhere, like a shadow they could not shake. But the ‘Glory Hallelujah’ in the last line speaks of hope that trouble would not sink them down into permanent despair...In another version of ‘Nobody Know,’ the dialectic of doubt and faith is expressed with a focus on Jesus’ solidarity with the one in trouble.
“Nobody knows the trouble I see,
Nobody knows but Jesus,
Nobody knows the trouble I see,
...In the second version of “Nobody Know,” the source of the hope is Jesus, for he is a friend who knows about the trouble of the little ones, and he is the reason for their ‘Hallelujah.’ His divine presence is the most important message about black existence.” (pg 20-21)
Hope is the belief
that the future will triumph over
the often seemingly insurmountable hardships of the present.
Jesus is the source of hope.
He had compassion on the crowds,
he pointed out and preached against a broken system
and for his trouble he was crucified on a cross
he rose from the dead on the third day,
he is new life in spite of death.
And he did it all for us,
his life and death and life again,
so that we too could have new life,
peace with God.
As we look around our world
and see the brokenness and suffering,
Jesus, who has set us free,
calls out to us, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few”
and sends us out to work for new life
grounded in the hope of the resurrection,
the hope of Jesus.
Hope that does not disappoint. Amen
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who draws us to God. Amen
Welcome to the beginning of a new church year,
as always we start off with Advent and waiting.
For what do we wait?
We wait for the day of the Lord,
Jesus’ return that will fulfill God’s will on earth as in heaven.
When will this come?
We don’t know,
not even Jesus knows
he tells the disciples in our gospel from Matthew today,
the time is unexpected
Jesus uses the example of the homeowner
who, if he knew his house was going to be broken into
would have stayed up all night
to prevent the thief from breaking in,
which while true
is an unrealistic way of preparing
for an event occurring at an unknown time.
This is the way we usually think of preparation,
that last minute house cleaning
for the guests arriving in the next few days,
the bustle of preparations made
when we know that the time of the special occasion is at hand.
But that kind of preparation
is not possible when we don’t know when it’s going to happen.
Yet Jesus still tells the disciples
to be ready for the coming of the Lord,
and the readiness he is talking about
is more a way of life
than a last minute shoving of things into closets.
It’s living as if the Lord were coming tomorrow
all the time.
Paul in Romans
uses the image of clothing,
“put on the Lord Jesus Christ”
he tells the waiting community,
clothing is something separate from us
that becomes a part of who we are
since we generally speaking wear clothing all the time.
and it impacts how we live our lives
choosing to put on sweatpants
leads to something very different
than donning a three piece suit.
And sure sometimes a new pair of pants feel uncomfortable
but the more we wear them
the more comfortable they become
and soon we don’t even notice them.
Putting on Christ is similar,
at first it may seem strange and uncomfortable
but like with many things,
the more we do it
the easier or more natural it becomes
like putting on a comfortable sweater.
Much like the sweater Mr. Rogers puts on
at the beginning of his show.
Fred Rogers, is someone who lived a life
prepared to meet Jesus in everyone he met.
There’s a movie based on his life out now
so there’s been a lot of talk about him again,
how he genuinely loved people
in a way that people didn’t expect,
that love was the love of Christ,
an ordained Presbyterian minister
Fred Rogers clothed himself in Christ,
and lived the love of neighbor taught by Jesus.
He didn’t advertise his show as ministry
(though for him it was)
and people weren’t drawn to him
because of a title of position,
they were drawn to him
because of his love for people,
and his love changed the lives of the children who watched his show
and the people with whom he came in contact.
It’s that kind of love and lifestyle
that we are to put on,
to live in a way that draws people to God
because they want to experience the life we have in God.
This is the image in Isaiah,
the purpose for the chosen people,
they are to live with God
and it will change their lives in such a way
that the rest of the nations will say:
“we want to live like that! Let’s go to the house of the Lord,
let’s learn what the secret to that life is”
and the result will be peace,
not just the absence of war
but harmony that erases even the need for the tools of war.
And yes that may sound too good to be true,
in the same way many people thought that Mr. Rogers
was too good to be true,
that he was playing a character
when in reality the gentle, curious, brave, loving man seen on tv
was the same one that people met in real life,
and they were transformed by knowing him.
Even now after his passing
people are still drawn to him and his message of love.
Put on Christ,
This is how we are to wait and be ready
and in the process spread the good news of God,
something we are also called by Jesus to do.
And the best way is not by focusing on the church
or advertising or having the hippest music
or the coolest pastor
but by living lives oriented toward God,
lives that have been transformed by God
and transform the lives of those around us.
We have all have these people in our lives
whether we’ve been aware of them or not,
who have shared their faith with us
by way that they lived out their faith,
and when they invited us deeper into faith
we were glad,
as the psalm says “I was glad when they said to me let us go to the house of the Lord”
at text study this week
we there were talking about how hesitant Lutheran Christians are
to invite someone to church,
mostly because we don’t anticipate
that invitation being me with joy.
But if we are glad to go to the house of the Lord,
to be in relationship with God
why wouldn’t others?
they need the peace that a relationship with God brings
and they might just realize it by watching us,
we might be the one
whose life the holy spirit uses
to draw them to God
and when we live like this,
we are prepared for the day of the Lord
whenever that comes,
we won’t need to hide things in closets
because we have nothing to hide.
Now this lifestyle of advent preparedness
is not perfected overnight
but over the course of a lifetime,
washed in the waters of baptism
we are called to daily put on Christ,
and sure sometimes it will feel like a new pair of pants
that need breaking in,
or like that coat that we are really tired of wearing come April,
but Christ keeps reaching out to us,
through the holy spirit and those around us
with love and forgiveness,
drawing us to himself,
sustaining us with his body and blood at the table
and every advent
calling us to wake up,
to renew the practice of preparation,
to be ready by being clothed in Christ. Amen
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who sees us through the eyes of Christ. Amen
This month my bookclub
read one of the best books I’ve read in awhile,
Wonder by R.J. Palacio,
yes there was a movie made of it with Julia Roberts
a couple of years ago.
The book centers around the character of August Pullman
who is starting 5th grade at a new school,
actually it’s his first school,
he’s been homeschooled up to this point
because he was born with some genetic mutations
that wreaked havoc with his face,
from how it’s described in the book,
nothing is quite where it should be
and is quite startling
to people who have never seen him before
he’s come to expect that people will stare and react
but even the expected isn’t easy
when he is the center of attention for looking so different,
when really he is just another smart, funny kid.
Which is why August’s favorite holiday is Halloween.
He gets to dress up and put a mask on
and when he does
he becomes just another kid celebrating Halloween,
there is no longer any distinction between him and everyone else
he is free to just be a kid.
It’s this kind of freedom Jesus proclaims to us today.
The freedom to be what we truly are.
all of us want this freedom
And when we think of it from our human perspective
Sometimes it looks like being like everyone else.
Because there are so many ways to be divided and categorized,
and while not all of them are bad,
it seems like we humans are obsessed
with figuring out just which box everyone including ourselves fits into,
and if we’ve been placed in a box
we’re not happy with
we go to great lengths
to try and change how people see and categorize us,
we go into credit card debt to get those things that will make us fit in,
we exclude certain other groups of people to fit in,
we constantly try to figure out where people fit in and where we fit in,
and in our quest for freedom
we become bound to these things
and it’s exhausting.
But of course we don’t stop there,
we take this logic and apply it to God.
We want to know just where we fit in with God
and we think we can determine that
based on our own actions,
which is why people are attracted to interpretations of religion
with a lot of rules or strict codes of ethics
so they know where they stand,
if they do everything right then they are clearly on God’s good side
and as an added bonus
feel justified pointing out to others
when they break the rules
and therefore logically are on God’s bad side.
And this too is an exhausting way to live
because no matter how many rules we follow
or things we do right
the law will always end up showing us
just how short we fall of perfection.
This is what Paul is talking about in Romans
when he says “through the law comes knowledge of sin”
the law shows us that if it is up to us,
we will never be good enough
and that quickly leads to despair.
So it’s a good thing it’s not up to us,
Paul continues: “But now apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”
There is no distinction,
just like August Pullman on Halloween,
we are all the same,
according to the law we’re sinners,
according to Christ we’re saints.
God knows that the system of the law only takes us so far,
it gives us structure for living with one another,
and it shows us how much we need God
but that’s about it,
humans need more than the law
and God loves humans
so God sent Jesus to do whatever needed to be done
to bring God and humans together,
and that’s what Jesus did on the cross
a free gift given in love
so that now there is no distinction
when God sees us, God sees us through the eyes of Christ
and Christ sees us each as we are,
fearfully and wonderfully made by God.
Thinking about this reminds me of an experience
that I had the summer after my first year in college.
I taught swim lessons as part of my summer job
and in one class that I had,
I had a very energetic little boy,
he loved swim lessons and the water,
though he struggled with holding on to the wall
and waiting his turn while the other kids had their turns
but I could see that he really wanted to be there
and I was happy to teach him
but the other kids rejected him,
they didn’t want to be near him on the wall
and were impatient with his struggles to hold on,
and I was struck by the contrast,
his peers saw him as annoying,
someone to be avoided,
who they wished weren’t there,
and I saw him as an energetic little kid
who wanted to learn how to swim,
who was worthy of being there.
When God looks at us through the eyes of Christ,
God sees that little kid in all of us,
the one who is excited to participate in life,
who is worthy of being here in our own way.
In Christ we are set free from distinctions
and allowed to be fully ourselves,
not because of anything we have done but as a gift
and we accept that gift by trusting that it is so,
by having faith that God keeps the promises God makes.
Jesus tells his disciples
“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 word of Jesus
is that nothing can separate us from the love of God
we have been set free,
free from the distinctions that others place on us,
free from the distinctions that we place on ourselves,
and Christ invites us to continue living in this freedom through faith.
Confirmands, this is the faith you publicly proclaim today
the faith that you are freed from sin
to love and serve your neighbors,
not because of anything you’ve done
but because of Christ
and as you stand before us, you are saying
you intend to continue in this faith,
to continue in the gift of freedom
living as Christ sees you, with no distinctions.
And it’s true,
there will be times when you feel different,
when you feel bound by the distinctions the world places on you,
but that’s why we gather as a community
where we hear the proclamation that there is no distinction,
and Jesus brings us to the table,
feeds us with his body and blood,
forgives us and reminds us of the gift that is already ours,
and strengthened we go out to live in freedom once again.
So dear confirmands,
dear people of Christ,
in whom there is no distinction,
continue in the word of God,
you know the truth and the truth has set you free. Amen
Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who gives life to the dead
and brings into existence the things that do not exist. Amen
Let’s talk about suffering.
Not a cheerful topic I know
and something we like to avoid,
sometimes at all costs.
And yet, we live in a world
where most of what is worthwhile
is accomplished through some suffering.
I mean think of all the Olympic athletes
and the amount of pain that they have endured
while building up their muscles and minds
to bring them to the point
where they are able to compete,
and all the injuries that we hear about,
I was watching the other night
and they brought up a diagram of Lindsey Vonn
the downhill skier
and they pointed to all the things she’d injured over the past few years,
there was a broken arm, a torn acl, a concussion,
a sliced tendon and several other things,
all that she’d had to heal from and rehabilitate
before going to the Olympics.
Or there’s childbirth,
the great deal of suffering
that goes into bringing new life into the world.
And then there is the suffering that we don’t seek out,
The suffering from being in the wrong place at the wrong time
or when the brokenness of the world breaks into our lives
but out of which, strangely
comes something good,
maybe a healed relationship,
or a new purpose in life,
motivation for finding a cure.
But because we are human
even as we can logically lay out an argument
for the necessity of some suffering
our instinct rejects the premise,
our heart tells us that it should not be necessary
and our gut tells us to distrust anyone who says otherwise.
In other words, we react like Peter.
In our gospel for today Jesus is with his disciples,
Peter has just blurted out that Jesus is the messiah
“then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priest, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”
Peter rejects Jesus’ teaching,
he thinks Jesus has gone crazy,
actually he thinks that Jesus has been possessed by a demon
so he takes him aside and tries to exorcise the demon
that is clearly making Jesus say these things.
The messiah is not supposed to suffer.
And how does Jesus respond?
“But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said ‘Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
The human way is self-centered,
Peter is thinking about himself
when he tries to rebuke Jesus,
he’s found the messiah,
he doesn’t want to lose him,
he doesn’t want that suffering.
The divine way is other-centered,
what is done,
anything that is suffered
is for the sake of others.
What Jesus does on the cross
is done for the sake of the world,
And here’s the irony of Christianity,
in a world where things are accomplished through suffering,
we do not have to suffer to be saved.
We are saved by grace through faith,
faith in the God,
who, as Paul says in our second reading
“gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”
And this makes no sense by our human logic,
in this instance we could understand
how repairing our broken relationship with God
could involve some suffering on our part,
in fact we often feel like we need to do something
to make amends
but there is nothing that we can do,
there is no way we can contribute
because Jesus has done it all,
And having taken care of the most important part
Jesus extends an invitation,
an invitation to set our mind on divine things,
to be other-centered.
“He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘if any want to become my followers let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’”
Here’s the key, crosses are picked up for other people.
We often misuse this statement,
for instance “oh my bum knee, that’s my cross to bear”
or “oh she has a wild child, that’s her cross to bear”
but crosses are not imposed suffering,
they are picked up for the sake of others
in the same way that Jesus picked up the cross for us.
Jesus, in teaching his disciples how to follow him
is preparing them for the fact
that when they testify to the gospel
they can expect to suffer.
Because the gospel message
is contrary to what society says we should want and do,
it is a challenge to the way of the world
which is self-centered
and when self-centered people,
especially self-centered people in power
they respond swiftly and harshly.
To follow Jesus,
to not be ashamed of him,
for his disciples is a life and death decision.
And we know that many of Jesus’ disciples
ended up martyred, killed in various gruesome and public ways
to deter the message they were sharing.
In some parts of the world today,
to be openly unashamed of Christ
is still a life and death decision
but for those of us who live in relative safety
in places where Christianity is the rule rather than the exception
remaining faithful and unashamed of Christ
tends to happen in the smaller moments of life.
I like the analogy used by preaching professor of blessed memory Fred Craddock- he said:
“We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,00 bill and laying it on the table—‘Here’s my life, lord. I’m giving it all.’
But the reality for most of us is that he sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there… Usually giving our life to Christ isn’t glorious. It’s done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at a time.” (New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII, 629).
Those are those little moments,
where you find the strength to disagree with someone
who says if you pray enough or in the right way
Jesus will make you rich,
no, that’s the world talking using Jesus as a front.
Or the times when you refuse to believe it
when someone says Jesus hates_fill in the blank
and even more importantly
when you refuse to act on it.
It’s the times when you set your mind on divine things,
not on human things,
the times when you put aside your own self-interests
for the sake of others,
for the sake of loving your neighbor
We live in a time of fear mongering,
the messages of the world
tell us to avoid suffering,
our own suffering,
at all costs
regardless of the effects it has on others,
even those closest to us.
Fear makes us turn in on ourselves,
the definition of sin.
Today Jesus calls us to set our minds on divine things,
To turn toward others
embracing the reality
that to accomplish something worthwhile
we will go through some suffering
and we are able to do this,
to set aside our own self-interests
because of our faith,
faith that is grounded in the God who gives life to the dead
and calls into existence the things that do not exist,
the God who finds a way out of no way,
the God who has already saved you,
who has set you free to live for others
and who promises that death is always followed by new life. Amen
14th Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who offers a path to forgiveness. Amen
Our lessons for today
offer up a contrast,
the ideal versus reality.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans
he exhorts them to
“Owe no one anything except to love one another,
for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law,”
all of the law is summed up in the teaching
“love your neighbor as yourself”
and he tells them
that now is the time to put on the armor of light,
to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Reading this leads us to expect
that those who have put on Christ,
who call themselves Christian
will do as Paul says,
who out of love will do no wrong to a neighbor.
This is the ideal.
then we have Jesus teaching the disciples in Matthew
beginning “If another member of the church sins against you…”
as he lays out a way to deal with conflict within the church,
taking into account
that it may not be easy
and even impossible
to reconcile a relationship broken by sin.
This is the reality,
and thank God,
Jesus is the one that is realistic,
he knows that when people gather together in community
there will be conflict,
and rather than simply condemning conflict
he provides a way to move through it,
to forgiveness and a stronger community.
One of the greatest complaints
of critics of religion and religious people
is that it is and they are hypocritical.
People say one thing and then go and do another,
they preach love of one another
and then go ahead and stab each other in the back,
or do things that do not look like love,
we constantly fail to live up to the ideal
and it makes people not want to be a part of it.
when the ideal is the only measure used,
we are hypocritical
because part of being human
is failing to love one another perfectly,
and contrary to what some on the outside, or even inside may think,
we are aware of our failings,
we know the painful truth that while God made us saints at our baptism
we are also still sinners,
which is why we come to church,
confess our sins in search of forgiveness
and to praise the God that does forgive.
This all reminds me of an episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
It’s a tv show on Netflix and the premise is that the main character was kidnapped by an apocalyptic cult leader and kept in an underground bunker for 15 years before being rescued.
The show starts when Kimmy leaves the bunker and begins to rebuild her life, many 90s references and comedy of errors follow as well as genuine revelations about what it means to live in the world.
In season three Kimmy encounters a person who decides they want to be a Pastor and she freaks out, and she realizes that the only religion she has experienced is the underground bunker kind, so she gets her friend to take her to church.
At first she’s all excited about the nice people she meets who give her hugs at the passing of the peace and offer to pray for her, and who knew that churches did great things like feed and clothe the poor?
Then she gets to know the individuals a little better, particularly Ms. Clara, an older lady who takes cell phones from kids in church, knows everybody’s business and gossips about it
Kimmy’s ideal is shattered and she sets out to expose Ms. Clara as a bad person, when she accuses Ms. Clara in front of the whole congregation she is floored at the response, the minister affirms that everybody there is a born sinner but “as the old folks used to say, when you know better, you do better.”
Ms. Clara tells her “I know I’m a gossip and a scold, but I pray everyday for the strength to do better, I got to do better.” at this Kimmy has a revelation, “So I guess real religion is about knowing we’re not perfect but trying to be better, together.”
And that’s what Matthew 18 is about,
recognizing that we’re not perfect
but trying to be better together,
particularly through instruction.
Teaching was a huge part of Jesus’ ministry,
and the command at the end of the gospel of Matthew,
as Jesus is about to ascend into heaven,
is to baptize in the name of the father, son and holy spirit
and to teach everything that Jesus commanded.
Jesus know that we’re not perfect,
but when you know better,
you do better.
Today we’re kicking off our Sunday School ministry for the year,
we’re obeying Jesus’ last command,
gathering as a community
to teach and to learn,
it is important that we pass this knowledge on to our kids,
we promised we would do this when they were baptized,
to help them learn to love their neighbor as themselves
and what to do when that just doesn’t happen.
and it’s important that we keep learning as adults
because we know we’re not perfect
but we’re trying to do better,
a task that takes up our whole lives
and requires a community to hold us accountable.
Jesus doesn’t expect us to be perfect
but he does expect us to try,
and to hold ourselves and others in the community accountable,
and throughout all this
Jesus promises to be with us,
to be among us when we gather as a community and invoke his name,
to meet us at the table in bread and wine
offering forgiveness and strength
and in the very end
when we stand before God
because we have been joined to Christ,
God will look on us as perfect
for the sake of Jesus our Savior. 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.