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
12th Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who gives us identity and purpose. Amen
“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks the disciples,
Simon Peter says, “you are the messiah, the Son of the living God”
and in return Jesus gives Peter a new identity and purpose,
he is the rock on whom Jesus will build the church,
Peter’s new identity and purpose
are a direct result of who he says that Jesus is,
and he is able to confess this only with the help of God the creator,
Jesus’ and Peter’s identities are intertwined.
The question of identity is all over our readings for today
These days a lot of people
have a lot to say about who Jesus is,
as a matter of fact
a lot of people have a lot to say about who they think we are
and into that conflicting conversation
Jesus has us pause and asks “but who do you say that I am?”
because who we claim Jesus to be
directly impacts who we understand ourselves to be
and how we live in the world.
But first and foremost God claims us.
As the creator of the universe
God is the source of our lives,
and our relationship with God is formalized at our baptisms
when God says “you are mine, sealed with the holy spirit and marked by the cross of Christ forever no matter what anybody says you are a child of God.”
And while this will never change,
we encounter events in our lives,
whether expected or unexpected
that cause us to question: who is God and who am I?
Our readings for today
model how God suggests that we might begin to answer these questions.
In our reading from Isaiah
God is speaking to people who are seeking the Lord,
they have experienced the tragedy of exile from their homeland
and it has caused them to ask who is God?
God points them back to the past actions of God.
Saying “Look to the rock from which you were hewn…
look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; f
or he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many.”
God recalls to the people
their collective experience with God,
in a way saying ‘if I acted this way in the past I’ll act this way again,
I was with Abraham and Sarah when it was just them
and I grew them into a great nation,
your number might be depleted but if I did it with them I can do it again.”
In many ways who we confess God to be
depends on our experience of God,
both as a community and as individuals.
Which is why it is important that we gather and tell the stories of who God is,
when we tell the story of the exodus
we are proclaiming that God is a God of liberation,
when we tell the story of Jesus
we are saying that God is one who walks with us,
when we hear of the work of Jesus through the disciples
we are confessing that God works through us.
When we tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection
we are saying that God is not stopped by death.
And we each have our own stories of God in our lives
that shape and define who we confess God to be.
When I tell the story of growing up in the church,
I am proclaiming a God that has nurtured me
When I tell the story of how my community took care of me
At the most difficult times in my life
I am proclaiming a God that is loving and works through community
When I marvel at the times when I had nothing to say
and the right words came out of my mouth
I am proclaiming a God that sends the Holy Spirit to assist me
What we say about God
based on the scriptures, the community and our own lives
paints a picture of a God who is intimately involved in our lives
and this realization causes us to ask, if this is so, who am I and what am I to do?
“You are a member of the body of Christ,” says Paul
speaking to a group of people asking that very question,
“and members of the body of Christ are unique,
with various gifts and talents that all come together
to help communicate to others who God is”
because our main mission,
as we hear at the end of the gospel of Matthew
is to go and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing and teaching them of Jesus.
And Jesus has given each of us gifts
that allow us to work together as a community
to live out this mission in the world
and sometimes our gifts are not always obvious
so Paul recommends to the Romans,
who are wondering what role they have to play in the body of Christ
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect”
realizing that it is possible to get caught up in the world around us,
that unless we take time to read scripture, pray and think about it
we might confuse what the world wants with what God wants.
Which is why Who we confess Jesus to be is so important
Because understanding who God is
Helps us interpret how God wants us to live in the world
Our confession directly impacts
how we understand ourselves
and what we do with our lives.
Jesus’ identity and our identity are intertwined
and it can take us in some unexpected directions.
Peter confessed Jesus to be the messiah, the Son of the living God,
and Jesus gave Peter a new identity and purpose,
the foundation of the church
and it took Peter in some un expected direction, the garden of Gethsemane,
the court yard of the high priest,
the empty tomb, breakfast beside the sea of Galilee,
his purpose as the base of the church
even took Peter, a good Jew,
to the gentiles with the message of Jesus
including visions of breaking the dietary laws
for the sake of the gospel
a place he certainly didn’t expect to wind up
but which deepened his understanding of who God is
and expanded who he shared the good new with.
We are at a time in history
where we are being called to reexamine the questions
who is God? and who am I?
and we need to take time to discern what is good and acceptable and perfect
because how we live out our answers is a reflection of who we believe God to be
So we ask: Who do we say God is in the face of Charlottesville? And
How do we live out our answer as the body of Christ?
Who do we say God is in the face of sickness and death?
And How do we live out our answer as a member of the body of Christ?
Who do we say God is in the face of hurricanes and natural disasters?
And How do we live out our answer with the gifts given us by God?
These questions can be daunting
but when we ask them in community,
with the scriptures as witness,
the Holy Spirit our comforter and guide
and Jesus who has claimed us as his own
God will give us identity and purpose.
So, who do you say Jesus is?
8th Sunday After Pentecost
1 Kings 35-12
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
This was a Sunday where I preached without a manuscript but the main point was that Paul, in the reading from Romans makes three assertions about God:
1) The spirit helps us in our weakness
2) God has called us (and part of being called is being justified and glorified by God)
3) Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God
In the many of the various characters in the Bible we hear in their stories how these three points play out, how God calls them, helps them in their weakness and is always with them.
These promises are for us as well, God has called us into relationship through our baptisms, helps us in our weakness and is always with us.
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 will sort everything out. Amen
So It’s always a fun week
when the gospel mentions sinners
burning in a furnace of fire and weeping and gnashing of teeth.
It’s a dramatic image
that captures our imagination
and there is a certain tradition of preachers
who use such images to invoke fear in their audience
with the idea that fear of such an end
or time spent in eternity
will lead heretofore unrepentant sinners to accept Jesus and salvation
and therefore avoid the eternal sauna of dental abuse.
It should not come as a surprise to you
that I am not one of these preachers
it seems to me,
as I have read the scriptures
particularly the teachings of Jesus
that while he did address the question about what happens next
his main concern, the focus of his teaching
is how we live, in this life, now.
And the focus of the parable of the weeds and the wheat
is actually a call to patience and trust in God.
let’s look at this parable again,
Jesus sets up the reality of the world,
that even if what we do is all good
there will always be times when bad is mixed in with the good
just like the weeds get mixed in with the wheat,
and that sometimes it takes awhile for us to notice
because they look so similar,
the weed referred to in the parable
is one that looks so much like wheat
that the distinction only comes when it’s time for the wheat to produce grain.
We have a hard time telling the good from the bad because they look similar.
So it is surprising to us
when it is revealed
that not everything we’ve let grow in our lives is good
just like the slaves who come to the master and exclaim
“did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?”
Again and again we rediscover
that the world is not as trustworthy as we think it is
and it shocks us.
And our next reaction
is often very much that of the slaves
who now that they realize an enemy has sown weeds in with the wheat
want to go into the field and rip out the weeds,
eradicate the false plants,
the bad plants that are intermingling with the good wheat.
And having set up how the world is,
Jesus then tells us his response,
how he works in the world.
The Master in the parable tells the slaves
who are all fired up to go rip out the weeds
to leave them be.
“For in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.”
and he counsels them to let the two plants,
remember they look very similar until the very end,
to grow until the harvest
and in the end, at the harvest
he will have the reapers, the experts
sort out the weeds from the wheat
and only then will the weeds be discarded
as the grain is gathered in.
Jesus wants us to leave the sorting to him
because there are times when the bad looks so similar to the good
that we confuse the two and rip up the wrong plant.
If our lives are any judge of our ability to tell the good from the bad
we don’t have that great a track record
so why would it be any different when sorting with vengeance in mind.
Sometimes plucking out the weed
causes more harm than good,
it uproots the good plants around it too
when, if left alone the good plant matures just fine alongside the weed.
Jesus counsels us to have patience
and to trust that he will take care of everything in the end,
that evil is temporary
while good lasts forever,
all he asks is that we let him do the final sorting.
So where does that leave us in the meantime?
Are we to stand idly by as evil works in the world?
part of our calling is to work for justice and peace in the world
following the example of Jesus
who when he fed the hungry fed everyone,
when he healed the sick healed all the sick,
who when he died on the cross died for everyone.
And it doesn’t always make sense to us,
we have trouble understanding why someone
who may not appear to deserve help
or be appropriately thankful
should be taken care of along with those we deem to be good,
and once again we’ve fallen into the trap
of trying to tell the weeds apart from the wheat.
In this case Jesus doesn’t expect us to understand,
and in fact it’s probably good in a way that we don’t.
as Paul said in our reading from Romans today
“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.”
In the same way, if we claim to completely understand God,
what we understand is not God,
but we trust that God is good
and we wait for the kingdom of God
where all will live under that goodness.
Until then the reality is
that there will always be weeds mixed in with the wheat,
in our society and in ourselves
and we can’t always tell the difference,
which is why we need Jesus
who is all good,
who promises that evil is temporary
while good lasts forever
and who we were joined to in our baptisms
and for Jesus’ sake
God counts us as good
and promises that we will last forever.
We don’t know about others around us,
all we know is that God has promised us life everlasting
and that promise is open to others through Jesus as a free gift.
So focusing on what we know,
we are called to share this joy with others
and leave the judgment to God. 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 lightens our burdens. Amen
Being human is hard.
I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate too much on that statement,
you’re all human, you understand the difficulty.
In his letter to the Romans today
Paul addresses one part,
perhaps the essential part of the human struggle,
the conflict that arises between expectations and reality
particularly the expectations God has for us as given to us by the law.
Often the law is portrayed as a negative thing,
a burden that God placed on us
but Remember the law is a gift from God,
initially given to help the newly freed slaves from Egypt
form life giving community with each other,
relationships that were ordered by personal expectations
rather than forced on them by another power.
the people recognized that the law was good,
and a gift
and they also learned pretty early on
that because of the presence of sin in the world
keeping the law was really hard,
over and over again
they broke God’s expectations for them
as well as their own expectations for themselves.
The whole arc of the story of God and the people of God
turns on the continual struggle
of people to live in abundant life giving relationship with God and one another
and the suffering and alienation that occur
when the law is ignored,
the expectations are broken.
And most of the time,
the people knew what they were doing,
in the beginning of each phase of the story
when the words of the prophet have finally gotten through
they lament their actions,
they realize that to live according to the law leads to a good life
and yet inevitably they break the law and the relationships it protects.
Being human is hard,
Paul expresses the frustration in our reading from Romans today
exclaiming “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate...For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. “
We all have situations in our lives
where we know, without a doubt
what the right course of action is
and yet we continue to do the opposite,
whether it is something small
like knowing that fresh veggies are the healthiest, best option
yet choosing french fries
or something more serious
like knowing that for a relationship to be healthy
open communication is necessary
yet choosing to avoid conflict.
And it’s really annoying isn’t it?
To know even as we’re doing it
that what we’re doing is wrong
and we wonder why is this happening?
It it a lack of will power,
a flaw in our character?
or is something else going on?
this is when we start using the language of sin and temptation,
sin being the insidious force
that works its way into a perfectly reasonable and ordered world
and offers options that bring pleasure in the short term
but death in the end.
On the one hand it is a matter of free will,
we make choices,
on the other hand
there a power at work
that draws us away from God and in on ourselves,
a power that makes choosing the good,
following the law
that much harder in our free will.
So with Paul we ask “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
And Paul of course answers his own question
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
and he goes on to explain,
(now this is dipping a little into the reading for next week so don’t be surprised if it sounds familiar but it’s really the point that Paul is setting up in our reading for today),
that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the spirit.”
God’s response to sin is Jesus.
Basically, When it comes to sin, we need help.
It is beyond our humanity to live up to the expectations set,
even lovingly set, by God.
So God sent Jesus
who in the gospel calls out to us
“Come to me all you that are weary and are 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.”
the yoke is a traditional rabbinical image for the law,
Jesus came to take a load off our shoulders,
to teach us the law of gentleness and humility,
earlier in Matthew
Jesus tells the disciples that he has not come to abolish the law
but to fulfill the law
and to do this, Jesus boils it all down to one word,
some might say the essence of God; love.
Love that is first lived out in the relationship between the father and the son,
that is then shared with the world
This is love that points out that God’s will
is made known in many different ways for different people,
for some the will of God was made known in John
who fasted and lived an ascetic lifestyle,
for some the will of God was made known in Jesus
who ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners
The law of love
allows room for God to be revealed in both ways
and other ways as well
in the relationship that Jesus has with each of us.
And this was not what people expected
so they didn’t see God.
How often do the differences between our expectations for God and reality
prevent us from seeing God in the world?
We keep falling into the old trap
of trying to dictate
how or how not God’s will is make known
to those around us,
and all this trying to keep track of what is God’s business
is a heavy load
Jesus says to us ‘here, let me take that off your shoulders,
I’ll take care of worrying about my relationship with everyone else,
you just focus on our relationship
and remember it’s one of love and forgiveness,
learn how to do it with me
and it will be easier to be in loving, gentle, humble relationships with others,
which is all God has wanted for you all along.’
And that is the gospel,
that in Christ we are freed to live the abundant life that God expects of us.
That with Christ
we are able to do
what we were unable to do under the law.
As I was thinking about all of this this week
I experienced an example of the struggle between the law and the gospel
in my own life.
I hadn’t given blood for a while,
it wasn’t like I didn’t know that giving blood is a fundamentally good thing,
or that blood of my type was urgently needed,
the red cross kept calling to tell me that,
so much so that I learned which number they used
so that I could ignore their calls
and then when I ignored enough of their calls
and they switched numbers on me I learned that number too,
you see where I am going with that.
I knew I should give blood
Yet I persisted in not giving
because the last couple of times when I’ve given blood
I’ve gotten dizzy and almost passed out
and then have kind of wanted my blood back for the next couple of days
because I’ve missed it
and frankly I selfishly did not want to feel like that again.
That’s a classic struggle with the law
I knew what was the right thing to do
but I chose not to do it out of selfish reasons.
But then I went and visited Jacque in the hospital,
and while I was there she was being given a blood transfusion,
with blood that someone had freely given, that was giving life
and it was experiencing that free gift
that called me to give blood once again,
and I’ve got to say it was easier time
because I was giving not out of a sense of obligation or righteousness
but in response to a gift already given.
And that’s how the gospel works in our lives,
it, Jesus, frees us from the requirements and obligations
that make choices of living
seem like personal self sacrifice
and transforms the choices of living
into a grateful response to a gift already given to us,
a gift of life with a light burden,
filled with love
and a relationship with the creator of the universe.
“Come to me” Jesus calls out
“ all you that are weary and are 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.” 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.