1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9

Steadfast

December 6, 2020 - Advent 2
Isaiah 40:1-11    
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13    
2 Peter 3:8-15a    
Mark 1:1-8    
Steadfast
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    You can’t spell adventure without Advent. It has certainly been an adventure this year, though unfortunately it feels like we are all on some broken down merry-go-round after eating we lunch were we were forced to eat a hot-pocket stuffed with lutefisk.  And if you are not familiar with Lutefisk, it is a Norwegian fish dish where the main ingredient is Liquid Plumber… Last week, we talked about how we are all are angry.  This week, we are talking about steadfastness.  Psalm 85:10 - Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.”

    If we are going to have an authentic Advent and call a thing what it is, it is hard to admit or even feel that God has been steadfast and faithful.  The Hebrew word phrase here, hesed we’emet, is literally translated as Steadfast loyalty.  What does that even mean?  One of my commentaries translated hesed we’emet as kindness and truth.  “Kindness and truth have met, justice and peace have kissed.  Robert Altar talks about how these two terms are “separated and turned into figures, along with another pair, justice in peace, in a kind of allegory of the ideal moment when God’s favor is restored to the land.”  Kindness and truth, steadfast love and faithfulness, a steadfast loyalty and truth have met like two people meeting for the first time and perfect harmony is felt.  Steadfastness and love go hand and hand with each other.  They have taken each other by the hand and are about to encounter something found in a hallmark Christmas movie - harmony.  Kindness and truth have met.  Steadfast love and faithfulness have met and have formed a perfect union with one another. Psalm 85, is used during Advent because of it themes around the coming of God. Psalm 85 is often read in the same vein as Isaiah 40 which speaks as an announcement of the forgiveness of sin and the promise of the in breaking of God. The NRSV translates the verbs in this psalm as a future tense”
Steadfast love and faithfulness WILL meet;
    righteousness and peace WILL kiss each other.
Faithfulness WILL spring up from the ground,
    and righteousness WILL look down from the sky.
But the actual Hebrew has the verbs as in the perfect tense which demonstrates a past action carried over into present.  “Either [the psalmist] is remembering a time in the past when God forgave God’s people and favored the land as a precedent for the present plight, or [the psalmist] is imagining what he is about to pray for as though it were already an accomplished fact.”. Either way, the fact is clear.  God steadfastness is not a past or future event—it will continue to happen as it has in the past.
  
 “Many commentators suggest that this psalm should be understood as a communal prayer for help, perhaps composed in the early post-exilic period. In the first three verses, the psalmist looks back with thanksgiving at Israel’s deliverance from exile. In verse 1b, the psalmist celebrates that God “restored the fortunes” (šûb šĕbît) of Jacob…“The implication is clear: the redemption of the people in the past was alone the benevolent work of their covenant God…Psalm 85 reminds the people that it was God who did such work in the past on their behalf. And like Isaiah 40, such work led to the pardoning of sin.”  What good news that is for us today, but that is all well and good when there is not a global pandemic killing millions of people, crippling world economies, and forever changing human routine—right now it feels as though God has not been faithful.  It feels as though we are are being punished, cursed by this same covenant God spoken so highly of by the psalmist…

    Perhaps we are being punished for something that we did, but as I re-read this psalm, I was reminded that many of these psalms not only serve as a psalm but as a prayer as well.  When Martin Luther talked about prayer, he said we use this time to quote scripture back to God and to rub the ears of God with the promises God made to us.  I think, in many ways, the Psalmist is finding him or herself in a similar situation to us—they feel as though God has abandoned them and instead of turning their back on God, the psalmist has taken a different approach—“God you are a steadfast God.  God, you are a loyal God.  God, in you meets kindness and truth, justice and peace—why dear Lord, why does it feel like you have abandoned us when we know that is not what you do, dear Lord.”

    The psalmist makes this plea and then proclaims a timeless truth:
Truth from the earth will spring up, 
    as justice from the heavens looks down.  
The Lord will grant bounty
    and our Land will grants its yield.    
The psalmist is rubbing the ears of God.  The psalmist knows God to be steadfast, loyal, and kind.  The Psalmist knows that whatever might be falling them will past and God will restore the the people—that heaven’s justice will spill over onto the earth.   

    “This coming of God, however, is not some distant hope, but instead it is “near” (verse 9).  And with this coming of God, “steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other” (verse 10).  In this coming of God, the steadfast love of God and the faithfulness of God will be fully evident.  In this coming of God, the world will be rightly ordered by God, leading to peace. In this coming of God, the world will be consumed by this newly configured arrangement, with the faithfulness of God springing up from the ground and the righteousness of God falling down from the heavens—the whole earth will be radically changed.”  The earth, when this day comes, will be transformed to know only Justice.

    Justice before the Lord goes, that he set his footsteps on the way.  “Justice leads the way, and God, preparing to walk about the earth after having withdrawn from it in his wrath, follows the path marked out by justice.”  We are so desperate for this time of transformation.  Maybe we are desperate more than ever.  Desperate for a time when we can gather safely.  Desperate for a time when we can send our children to school.  Desperate for a time when masks no longer have to cover our faces.  Desperate for a time when family gatherings can be done without the threat of serious illness.  We are desperate and even us Christians, knowing that we have been redeemed and restored by our Lord death on the cross, we still remain desperate for our Lord to come and show up—for our Lord to return.  “We need God to come again, we need Advent yet again, because we know that restoration and redemption lies with this God—the one who promises to speak peace into our midst. The psalmist reminds us continually that this is the work of God alone but the good news is that “his salvation is near.” And so we lean forward expectantly, awaiting the day when the earth is awash with steadfast love … faithfulness … righteousness … and peace.”

    For Advent to be authentic this year, we must admit that life seriously just plain sucks right now and that this time in human history has been filled with many a dark day, but our God is steadfast loyal.  Even when humanity turns their back on God, God does not turn God’s back on us.  But that doesn’t mean, humanity is not allowed to question the role God is taking in the world.  In fact, the psalmist says that should be our prayer: 
    Turn back, pray, God of our rescue
        And undo your anger against us.
Will you forever be incensed with us,
    Will you draw out your fury through all generations?
Why, You—will again give us life,
    And your people will rejoice in you.
You are allowed to feel as though God is angry at you.  It is okay to pray and demand God to stop, to question how much longer God will be enraged, to wonder how long this anger will last—but the gospel truth is that God is steadfast loyal.  In God meets kindness and truth, justice and peace and the harmony that you crave right now, can be found only with God.  

    So with the psalmist, we pray in a similar fashion, “Show us, O Lord your kindness and your rescue grant to us.”   “Show us your kindness and rescue us.” “Show me your kindness and rescue me for I know you are more than capable and able to do so, dear Lord.  You have done it before.  You must do it again.” My brothers and sisters, the world will try to sell you on happiness.  The world will try to tell you that it can indeed grant this justice and kindness that you crave.  But the world lies.  If you are seeking kindness and truth, justice and peace—if you are seeking harmony this day—it can only be found in our God who is steadfast and has promised to return and bring with himself, restoration for all of God’s people.  With that, let us boldly and forever acclaim with one loud, booming voice, so loud that the entire world can hear it even when we are forced to worship isolation, let us boldly proclaim and demand, “Amen.  Come, most steadfast Lord Jesus.”  

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Angry

November 29, 2020 - Advent 1
Isaiah 64:1-9    
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19    
1 Corinthians 1:3-9    
Mark 13:24-37    

Angry
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    Throughout the next four weeks, we are going to be spending our worship time exploring the Psalms appointed for Sundays.  We often overlook the psalms appointed for the day.  I have heard some pastors say things like, “cut the psalms to save on time” while at the same time, add all kinds of superfluous things such as extra music, longer eucharistic prayers, and longer sermons.  I spent a long period of my life unsure how to handle the psalms until I went to seminary and prayed morning prayer three days a week in chapel.  

    Seminary gave me an appreciation for the psalms, but it was serving as a pastor that I fell in love with the psalms and saw the power that they contained.  About 7 years ago, I was asked to teach a Bible Study on the psalms and of course, I did not take the seminary class on the Psalms.  So, I had to learn about a very large book of the Bible in a very short period of time. So, I got some books and I started reading.  The first thing I should note is that there are probably 150 different authors represented here in Psalms.  Some may share the same writer, but it is very hard to tell.  Two, the Psalms are like our hymns and should provoke a similar feeling as singing say Amazing Grace or Silent Night.  Three, there are a lot more psalms out there that were not included in the book of psalms just like there are a lot more hymns out there than in our ELW.  These 150 psalms were chosen because they spoke to the entire nation of Israel. Fourth, some psalms were written be because they were commissioned by another person going to a psalmist and saying, “Hey, write me a psalm to help me deal with a problem.” Or, “Write me a song because I am happy.” Sometimes a psalmist wrote a song simply because they wanted too.  

    The psalms are beautiful because they are raw and filled with real human emotion.  The Psalmists write from their hearts. If they are sad, they tell you.  If they are happy, they tell you.  If they are angry, they tell you.  If they are angry at God for something they felt God could change, they write that down.  The psalmist are generally very honest about how they are feeling. There have been many times when I was experiencing some kind of problem and so, I turn to the psalms for an answer.

    And I want to let you all in on a little secret…there is more than just one psalm.  While I do love Psalm 23 and can recite if from memory (although I learned it from KVJ and NIV version in the 3rd grade, so sometimes I get the words mixed up), there are so many other great psalms out there and I hope during this season of Advent, to introduce you to a few more and hopefully encourage you include the psalms as a part of your daily devotion. Don’t feel like you have to read all 150 every week…start with a couple and go from there.  
    This week’s psalm is pretty raw and filled with some serious anger.  
O Lord God of hosts,
    how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
    and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbors;
    our enemies laugh among themselves.
Psalm 80 is part of the Asaph collection.  Asaph is mention in in 1 Chronicles as a Levitical worship leader appointed by David (1 Chronicles 6:39; 25:1-2).  The collection includes 12 psalms (Psalms 50, 73-83) and in general, “reflects a strong interest in divine justice, Israel’s history from exodus to exile, and Zion.”

    “While there are notes of thanksgiving in the collection (Psalms 75, 76), its predominant lament form bemoans Israel’s failures to keep the covenant while also asking God why judgment has come upon God’s people. This combination of concerns helps us understand Psalm 80’s contribution to the collection, insofar as it seems to place the onus on God for letting trouble come upon the nation when no particular shortcoming of theirs is condemned. The Asaphite capacity for honest, gut-wrenching prayer works along a spectrum of situations. Psalm 80 happens to reflect a time when the nation’s troubles appeared to have no identifiable source except God’s inexplicable displeasure with them.”  God seems to be punishing the people and the psalmist wants to know what they did to anger God.  The people are angry at God for their situation—they feel like they are being punished like a parent punishes a child for doing something wrong.  Does that sound familiar for today?

    In today’s day and age, pastors are encouraged to not let their anger show.  I have heard stories of pastors in the past blowing up at members for something they did or said—and they are remembered positively for those action.  I can’t imagine any situation where I could be remembered favorably today for  yelling at a member or even a non-member.  It would be a turn off to many and I probably would lose members rather than gain.  Yet, I do get angry.  I do get sad. I experience emotions just like everyone else.  Rarely do I share personal problems, but after reading Psalm 80, I feel compelled to share about some anger I felt back in October.  

    On the day of Isaiah’s baptism, I was angry.  We choose that date because it was a day that worked for Isaiah’s godparents, my brother, and my wife’s family.  It seemed like the perfect date because everything just came together so easily.  From August 23 to October 25, I never had to cancel outdoor worship because of bad weather.  Granted, there were a few hot days and a few chilly ones, but we never had to cancel because of weather.  The week leading up to the baptism, the weather was beautiful.  It was so warm that Thomas even got to go into the ocean while we were away doing some con-ed.  Then, Sunday morning came.  Rainy and cold.  We couldn’t do worship outside.  Forget concerns with Covid, I was afraid of folks catching pneumonia.  Diane and I planned October 25 because we knew its was a day that we could get both congregations together, outside, and celebrate this joyous event.  Remember, we tried to have the baptism back in April and had to cancel.  Canceling again felt like we were being punished—couldn’t we just have one more day of beautiful weather?

    I was angry.  And I am not talking upset or irritated, I am talking angry.  Thank God none of you were here on Saturday when I came to church to set things up.  I came here thinking it would calm me down. It did the opposite.  I was slamming things, throwing things, swearing up and down at God.  Had someone been here, I am afraid my anger would have unintentionally been directed at them.  Come Sunday morning, we got our family here and I was still not feeling it.  Add to the fact that none of the tech was working, I was close to my breaking point. Pastor Jess preached an amazing sermon that day and I am so glad she did because I was just didn’t have it in me. I felt like hanging up my stole and moving on.

    “O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?” “O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with me?” O Lord God of hosts, how long will you continue to punish me, to punish us?”  Months and months of disappointment had boiled up inside me.  I was tired of having to make do.  I was tired of having to let down my son.  I was tired of letting others down.  I was angry.  You know, for months I preached about how the word of God was all that matter—that nothing else mattered—but that is hard accept when one thing after thing another keeps falling apart.  It is hard to put all your trust in God when it feels like you are being punished.  I think that is exactly what the psalmist is saying here in verse 5 and 6—life is pretty miserable but notice what the psalmist says (for a second time even): “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.”  It feels like the psalmist, in the midst of his anger, has a moment of self realization that restoration is possible.

    My moment of self realization of restoration came while I was sitting up at the altar on Reformation Sunday, listening to Mike, Heather, and Drew sing A Mighty Fortress is our God (using the old words) and just weeping at the words:

God's Word forever shall abide,
no thanks to foes, who fear it;
for God himself fights by our side
with weapons of the Spirit.
If they take our house,
goods, fame, child, or spouse,
wrench our life away,
they cannot win the day.
The kingdom's ours forever!

It is amazing that it took a song to bring me some clarity and ultimately, some relief from the anger I had been experiencing.  I wanted to give my son the most perfect day.  I wanted to give my congregation a way to celebrate and join in giving thanks to God for giving us Isaiah.  That perfect day was taken away back in April and I thought we had another chance, and that was taken away too.  And I was angry. Even though I had been preaching the importance flexibility and that God’s Word was more important than our human wants and desires, it is another thing to practice this.  It took hearing those words from Martin Luther to snap me out of my anger. The psalmist is hoping for a similar experience.

    So, today I am giving you permission to be angry.  I want you to name what you are angry about this day.  Write it down.  Better yet, get yourself a stress ball and write it down on that stress ball.  It is okay to be angry and disappointed, but in the words of Daniel Tiger, “but it is not, not, not, okay to hurt someone.”  For it is in acknowledging our angry that we can move to restoration.  And that is something I have noticed throughout these past 9 months—we do not have an avenue to let our anger out because let’s be honest, we have a lot of reasons to be angry and so often, we allow this anger to build up inside us to the point where either explode in rage or fall deeper into depression.  Either way, it is not healthy.  There are healthy ways to deal with this anger.  Some go to the gym (clearly that is not me).  Some do yoga (again, clearly not me).  Some go out to their shop.  Some bake. Some cook (although I am not sure how healthy cooking and baking can be with dealing with anger).  What about prayer and meditation?  

    We all can pray.  How many of us, when we are angry, turn to the psalms or turn to prayer?  Most of the time, we sit at home and write a bad review on Amazon or write some kind of scathing post on Facebook.  I want us to try something different this Advent.  I want you to instead, turn to the book of Psalms, turn to Psalm 80 and read it over and over.  When we allow the things that anger us to control us, they become our gods—they become our sole attention.  That is exactly what Satan wants us to do—to turn our attention away from God and our mission to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.  You have every right to be angry this day, but don’t let that anger control you.  

    Instead, pray for God to act.  Pray to God and remind God of the promises God made to you on the day your baptism.  Pray in such in a way that you tug on God’s ears and remind God of God’s responsibilities, the same way your grandmother tugged on your ears when you were younger to remind you of your responsibilities.  Pray as the Psalmist prays. Psalm 80 lays it all out there—things were not going so great for our writer, yet the psalmist says, “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” 

    The psalmist believes that God cannot abandon us.  “Restore us, O Lord…” is just another way to say, “After all the faithful love that you have shown us, why are you allowing us to suffer?” “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.”  “God loves us so much that God gave us God’s name and the psalmist here “employs the most personal and intense form of God’s name.”  “Our hope rests not in what we have done, nor what we can do, but in all that God is. And so we join Paul, the entire church, and in the words of the psalmist with both anger and joy in our hearts, in a spirit of expectation for what is to come, in confessing that “God is faithful” (1 Corinthians 1:9) to God’s people.  That God is faithful to you, and will calm your anger not because God doesn’t like you being angry, but because God can actually do something about it.  Amen. Come, Lord, Jesus.  

The King Shall Come

Proper 28 (33) - November 15, 2020
- Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
- Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12
- 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
- Matthew 25:14-30
The King Shall Come

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Let’s have a short review of what exactly a talent is worth.  A Denali is roughly one day’s wage.  A talent is worth about 6000 Denali.  So, if we go with 15 dollars an hour for 8 hours a day (one Denali) x 6000 denali to get one talent, we are looking at $720,000 per talent. Essentially, a lifetime of work.    A man has three slaves/servants.  The greek word here can be  translated as either. To one he gives five talents, another he gives two talents, and another he gives one talent. Or in other words $3.6 million, $1.44 million, and $720,000 for a total of 5.76 million dollars.  You know, just your average walking-around-money. The master in this parable is a very wealthy man, wealthier than our Lord could have ever imagined.  And the man’s slaves are also very wealthy themselves.  The whole situation seems a bit ludicrous, but most of Jesus’ parables are ludicrous.  They are suppose to help us question our presumptions about the coming dominion of God.  So, what do we hear that is being question today?

Let’s look at what have heard already from chapter 25. Last week we heard the parable to the ten young bridesmaids where “some are invited to a festival and others are apparently not.”   This is a harsh reality to preach especially in the day and age when we typically preach invitation and acceptance.  Yet, here we are again with another very harsh parable.  “Many are disturbed by the harshness of the judgment against the third slave. Is this the type of God we worship—a God who rewards the rich and makes then richer and condemns the poor, only making them poorer?” Let’s face it, if that is the case, then  the coming dominion of God is no different from our current reality where the rich get richer and poor get poorer.  Yet, we know the kingdom of God is different.  Jesus has said that much.  So, it is safe to assume that there is more to this parable than what we initially hear. There has to be so, upon careful examination, the thing that stands out to me superabundance of wealth so easily handed out at the beginning of the parable. The man trust his slaves so much that he forks over a large sum of money for each; according to each of their abilities.  “Not only is he trusting them with his wealth, he does so over a long period of time. Our culture, which places so much value on things happening immediately, even instantaneously, has become unaccustomed to waiting.  We expect a return on our investment to happen immediately, without delay.  Yet, this master stays away and does not expect a return until a much later time.

The man is patient.  Verse 19 - After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.” The master is willing to allow “the servants to live faithfully in this superabundance. The servants already participate, in a yet incomplete fashion, in the life of their master.” How many of us when we read this parable focus on the first two slaves?  How many of us focus on the last slave?  

I remember when I worked at St. Joe’s hospital in Maryland, I was sitting in the first week’s orientation and they showed us the Hospital’s score card. The document was filled with Green, yellow and red categories.  On areas where the hospital was excelling, it was green.  Where it was faltering, yellow.  Where it needed improvement, red.  The woman leading the orientation asks the group, what do you notice.  A bunch of said the red which was interesting because there was only a few red boxes.  The rest were mostly green with a few yellow.  Yet, our yees are drawn to the red, to the bad.  How many of us are drawn to the last slaves punishment, and not to the superabundant gifts given to all three slaves/servants?  I am guilty of that each time I get into this section of Matthew. “If we…place all the emphasis on the last scene and the judgment of the third servant, the parable becomes merely a story about judgment. If, however, we put more emphasis on the superabundant gifts as described at the beginning of the parable, we are invited into understanding a deeper reality of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Jesus is telling a parable that fits into the genre of apocalyptic literature.  Think, the book of Revelation and while this book has so created so many issues for the church, one thing that it does is present its readers (and we were not the intended audience) with a choice:  Live with Jesus in heaven or face annihilation (Michael and his angels will wipe you off the face of the earth along with Satan and all his little demons). This type of literature was popular in Jesus’ day especially among the many groups of people who lived under the thumb of Rome.  This kind of literature gave them hope that one day their enemies would suffer for their crimes and persecution. Most often, the literal details of the story were not as important as the overall message.  Today, we get bogged down it the details of these kinds of stories. We fixate on the battles described in Revelation rather than on the fact that God wins.  We get stuck on the punishment of the third slave instead of looking at the whole picture of superabundant master who shares a large, huge fortune with his servants.  

"The master, already possessing the gift of the talents, is inviting his servants to share in his joy. When the first two are finally invited to “enter the joy of their master,” they are perhaps not entering a greater fullness than before but rather now are able to recognize the dynamics of joy that undergird the gift of faith. The joy of the master is the joy of the feast that is self-giving, sharing, being distributed into the world. In this sense the interest gained on the talents is like the hundred-fold that the disciple receives when he or she gives everything away to follow Jesus. As Jesus says in Matthew 19:29, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.” The obedience of trust is not a burden or a fearful endeavor but is precisely the joy of discipleship in which everything is given (the gift and the interest!).”

Yet, we simply cannot ignore the third slave and act like he is not there. So, taking into account the genre of this parable, what can we learn from him?  His punishment is indeed very harsh but let’s move past the harshness and think about the parable as a whole.  This parable is about invitation and if we take that perspective into account, we notice a few things about this third slave. 

    • If we think of the master as inviting, “continually inviting into superabundance, grace, and joy (which is nothing other than inviting into discipleship) then the only conclusion that can be drawn is the third servant is not able to hear or accept the invitation.”
    • If the slave/servant cannot see the joy of the master, then the servant might as well bury him or herself just like the talent.  
    • The third servant is condemned to a pretty miserable life.  Can you imagine be given $720,000 dollars and then going out into your back yard, digging a whole, and then leaving the money there because you are a afraid of the guy or gal who gave it to you?

Let me tell you something, if someone gave me that kind of money, I buy an RV, quit my job, and take my family on a epic road trip. I could do a lot with 720,000 dollars.  Imagine the stories I could tell, the experiences my boys would get, the places they would see, thee people they would meet.  

  • Imagine what they cold tell our generous benefactor when they return.  
  • Imagine the ministries we could start with 720,000 dollars. 
  • Imagine al the kids we could send to summer camp.  
  • Imagine all the people we could feed, clean, and clothe.  
  • Imagine the kind of housing projects we could support.

Imagine all the good and fun we could have with just one talent.  Now, imagine burying that amazing gift in the back of your yard.  Imagine hearing someone tell you they did just that.  You probably call them a fool.  “The third servant is not so much condemned as he condemns himself to a place—a life—that knows no joy, that knows only darkness and wailing and grinding of teeth. This place is self-created.”

This parable speaks to our current reality.  God has given us an enormous gift—to each of us a gift that matches our own abilities.  How many of us have dug our head into the sand because we fear that one day our God will come back? And I am not talking fearing this virus.  I have seen the t-shirts, bumper stickers, the memes that say something like, “Fear over faith.” Let me tell you something and let me be very clear.  1.31M worldwide and of that, 245K Americans have died from this virus.  Many of those who did not died and have recovered, will live with the emotional, physical, and mental symptoms of this virus for years, decades to come.  We have every right to be afraid and maybe we should be afraid.  Fear sometimes has the unchaining ability to affect change for the good.  

No, the fear I speak of is those who are not willing to to a disciple. I speak of those who are not willing to invest in themselves; invest the gifts given to us by our Lord.  I speak of those who who do not see the importance of Baptism.  I speak of those who do not see the need for the Lord’s Supper.  I speak of those who do not feel the need to confess their sins and hear forgiveness.  I speak of those who do not see the joy and importance of worship, of catechetical studies, of those who hoard large sums of money for themselves and do nothing to help their neighbor.  I speak of anyone who does not see the joy and hope found in our Lord, Jesus Christ.  And maybe we all, at times, find ourselves falling into the trap and fear of this third servant.  I know I have many times.  And this is why our Lord tells this parable as a way to check ourselves and make sure we not acting in fear as disciples, but living in joy at the super-abundance of our God.  For the day is coming when our Lord will return—how will our Lord find his church? With our heads in the ground or will our Lord find his church acting and living like the first two servants—willing to take chances, take risks, to sin boldly trusting that our God will love us, love you, no matter what.  

In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Father of the Bride

Proper 27 (32) - November 8, 2020
- Amos 5:18-24 
- Psalm 70
- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
- Matthew 25:1-13
The Parable of the Father and the Bride
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    It has been said that the coming kingdom of God will be like a wedding.  As a pastor, that is not exactly all that appealing.  And after reading the parable, I am not sure that is all that appealing of a reality either.  “Lord, lord, open to us.' 12 But he replied, "Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’” “The fairy tale ending we all hope for does not happen in this parable. In fact, many of the parables contradict our hopes, our expectations, even our values. But surprisingly, they also contradict our deep-seated fears and insecurities. How much easier it would be to preach these Matthean parables if the Bridegroom or the Master were more generous and inviting.”  Instead, the “Lord” is dismissive, uninviting, and defiantly not the warm and fuzzy feeling we 21st century Christians have come to expect from Jesus.  

    How tempting it is to simply allegorize the parable.  How tempting it is to say, “Christians, good Christian, always show up to the wedding on time with lamp for their oils.”  How tempting that is to do especially in a world of “Left Behind” theology that says it is better to be taken than to be left behind.  Yet, where do we always find our Lord?  Do we find him with those who are in on the inside or do we find Jesus with the outcast?  Is that what this parable is trying to point us towards?  Our Lord identifying with those who are not allowed in?  

    Possibly.  I think the answer to this is yes, but what else is this parable speaking to us today? In the world behind the text, “The Matthean community is…dealing with several issues—rupture from the synagogue, a delayed parousia, flagging vigilance.” Matthew has a community that is scared and worried about the future.  Matthew’s people have been taken, they have been beaten, they have been killed.  This small band of followers of Jesus are dreaming of a time when the wise will be welcomed into the party while the foolish ones are kept out.  This parable would sound so very comfortable to a group of people who have suffered so much at the hands of others, but Matthew is not going to let his readers off the hook that easily.

    Notice who in the parable who casts judgement.  The Lord.  Not the wise bridesmaids.  Not the guests.  The Lord does the judging.  And think about the bridesmaids.  “The young women were all waiting for the bridegroom. They all belonged to the same community, the same group of friends. They all fall asleep waiting for the bridegroom to come. Within the community, it is impossible to tell who has enough oil in their lamps, who has been more faithful. The so-called foolish young women also knew the bridegroom, calling out to him "Lord, Lord, open to us!" That they remain unrecognized by the bridegroom raises the question of knowledge in the parable. This parable is not about trying to identify who is wise and who is foolish.  Rather, it is trying to force us to ask the hard question such as, what is it to know the bridegroom? What is it to recognize the one called “Lord?" Will I even know what he looks like?

    Five minutes into the sermon and I feel like I have talked myself into like 10 different circles.  What is up?  What is down?  What is right?  What is wrong? Is it good to be prepared with enough oil?  Are the bridesmaids who didn’t have enough oil—are they never always going to be kept out of the party?  Should the church share with others? Is the accumulation of wealth, or oil in this case, the better way to live?  Perhaps, we are getting to far in the weeds here.  Perhaps we need to go back to the basics of the parable.  

    The kingdom of God is like a group of bridesmaid who are waiting on a very late groom—some are ready…some are not ready.  Some get let into the party.  Some do not.  Maybe instead of concentrating on who is wise and foolish, we look at the oil. "What is the oil?" and "Why would giving up the oil be unwise?"  Apparently, the lesson is that it is not wise to share one’s oil in this instance, and I want to know why.  I have a three year old and sharing is important.  “We should all share”  is the lesson we are trying to instill in Thomas-“Why is sharing in this instance not good? What is the nature of the oil that we are actually called to not share? Notice that the parable doesn't demand I not share oil, it demands I share the most blazing of lights for the longest period of time. We are being asked to bring our full selves to God's table. The sin was asking me to bring only half.” Sacrificing our oil negates the whole point of the party. In the parable, the foolish bridesmaids return to a groom who does not recognize them as participants of the party. They have missed the point about what participating means. Participation in God's Kin-dom never required some of us to be only half on fire for the Gospel.”  It requires us to be on fire.  You are either all in or you are not.  Being a follower of Jesus means you got to be willing to put it all on the line, to turn your lights all the way up and celebrate the coming of the bridegroom.  To be ready...

    Imagine if the bridesmaids, who had been wise, shared their oil.  The procession would not have lasted as long, it would have been rushed, and the party would have ended a whole lot sooner.  The bridesmaids had one job to do…wait for the bridegroom with oil in their lamps.  Instead, they do not do their one and only job.  They were not really bridesmaids.  They were not friends. They were imposters.  They didn’t care about the bride or the groom and making sure that this was an unforgettable night for the couple.  

    What does God want from us today but to be ready.  So often, when we talk about God’s kingdom, we talk about it as as future event.  The parousia is seen as a one-time-event that will happen at the end of time.  What if the Parousia is like living with Schrödinger's cat—A cat that is in a box with a vile of poison that will break at an unknown time.  In the case of the cat, we can consider the cat both dead and alive.  It is only until we open the box do we know the condition of the cat.  What if the parousia is not view as a one-time event, but rather “a continuous event that involves us, the community of Christ, in our baptismal vocation: living in the light of the cross, in mercy not judgment.”  That “the parousia is now and about a far-off event.  That the parousia is Christ's continual presence with us through all of our waiting.” That we live as if Christ is here and that Christ is still to come.  In this state, we sit with oil in our lamps, ready for the moment that we are called, as followers of Jesus, to spring into action, ready to begin the party that awaits and celebrate it properly—not rushed or lacking significance, adequacy, or completeness.  Living in this state means we do not cast judgment on other members, but simply make sure we have oil in our lamp, that everyone understands their job, so that at the when our Lord does come, love and Grace may be set blaze, (END) and the party that we have been waiting a long, long time to experience can finally, finally be celebrated.

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Remembering the Dead

All Saints Day - November 1, 2020
- Revelation 7:9-17
- Psalm 34:1-10, 22
- 1 John 3:1-3
- Matthew 5:1-12
Remembering the Dead

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

It is fitting that on a day when we normally be celebrating, singing hymns of great joy, with shouts of alleluias echoing this room, we sit more silently.  We sit unable to sing in order to protect our neighbor.  Because on this All Saints Day 2020, I don’t feel much like celebrating because I am tired of death—death has won too often this year.  

This is one area that our theology and practice do very little.  Lutherans believe that we are all saints—that we do not need the Pope to declare a person a saint to be a saint.  All Saints day in the Roman Catholic Church is typically reserved to celebrate the lives of the Saints who’s have gone above and beyond—the martyrs, the St. Theresas, the Mother Setons, the Apostles, I.e. the superhero of the faith.  All Souls Day is when they remember everyone else and All Souls Day does not have the joyful hymns, the choruses of Alleluias echoing the room.  All Souls Day is a day of mourning and I need a day to mourn. We all need a day to mourn. 

17 people have died this year.  17 blessed saints are on our necrology.  And not only do we mourn our 17, but we mourn the 457 West Virginias, 230,000 Americans, 1.19 Million world wide have died from Covid19.  I was in the drive-thru at Dairy Queen back in May listening to NPR.  There was a show where they were spotlighting some of the people who have died from the virus.  After about 15 minutes, I am crying, tears flowing down my face listening to story after story of people who I have never met, dying from this virus.  The ones that got me the most were nurses—Nurses who would run into a room of someone coding—having to make the choice between putting on all the protective equipment (if they even had it) or saving the life of patient.  That could easily have been my brother.  I wanted to turn the program off so bad, but I wouldn’t let myself do it because the stories that were being shared were about real people—some of whom were frontline workers while others were simply just normal, every day people just trying to survive.  And so, I listened, crying as I am ordering a small vanilla ice cream cup with sprinkles for my son and chocolate blizzard for my wife.  I listened even after I got home.  I listened in my driveway until the program finished.  And those were just a handful of the stories.  Behind these numbers and statistics lies real people who are no longer with us—someone who has died. Psychologist and theologians have noted that there it good for us to remember the dead.  It helps us learn and grow and move forward.

As I sat up the 17 candles this year for those who have died, I realized that the table I normally use was hardly big enough.  There was not much space left.  Some of these individuals died without much pomp and circumstance.  Some of these blessed saints simply had a small graveside service.  Some still are waiting for a time when it is safe to gather.  Death loses its sting when we have a time to mourn and hear the good news.  This year, that was simply not possible. Each year as I prepare for this day, I think about those who have died.  

    • Clarence Michael Rector
    • Ann Elizabeth Cloud
    • Donna K. Lamp 
    • Douglas Wayne Lamp
    • Jean D. Compton
    • Barbara Beasley
    • Denise Widmeyer 
    • Barb Lou Beard
    • John Haarman 
    • Karen Kelley
    • Oliver Pete Long 
    • Mildred Noll
    • Elaine Bennett
    • Betty Mason Calahan
    • Teddy Roberts
    • Shirley Ann Boomer
    • Bernice K. Windholz

I could tell you a story about each and everyone one of them, but that would unfortunately take all day.  Some of these people I got to know very well, some I never met.

People have asked how I can go and preach a funeral for someone I have never met and I will admit, it is a challenge.  There are funeral sermons that are easier to write especially if I was really close, though, those are usually some of the hardest to preach. At the funeral service for Shirley Boomer right before we began, Shirley’s great granddaughter, Bailey, walks up to her casket and says simply, “Bye gram.  I love you.”  I could barely hold it together.  I kept thinking back to when my grandmother died and Thomas waving my grandmother as we said our final goodbye.  Bailey displayed the purest of faith.  She said goodbye to her great-grandmother like she normally would have done any old day because she knew there would be another time to see her.  Yet, this was not any old day.  This was the day of her funeral.  Logic says that this is the end, but Bailey’s faith was stronger than anyone else’s faith in that room and I was a witness to that moment. For she knew in her heart that this would not be the last time she saw her grandmother. The job of a preacher at a funeral is not to eulogize the deceased, but rather to preach the gospel.  And Bailey was one amazing preacher that day.  At a funeral, it is the job of the preacher to simply preach the gospel in its purest and sometimes you talk about how the deceased lived out the gospel, but you must always preach the gospel because that is what we need to hear at moments when tears are running down our face, when we all hope seems to be lost, when the death toll keeps going up rather than down.  You preach the gospel and remind people of the future that is a come.

A future where a great multitude of people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, are standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands and singing  “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Where angels stand around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures fall on their faces before the throne and worshiped God singing,  “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

You preach the great future that awaits us all with the same faith and determination that Bailey showed at her grandmother’s casket.  You preach with determination and conviction so that those who are sitting in the congregation have something to cling to as they leave to go bury their love one.  You remember the dead while proclaiming Christ crucified and resurrected.  People don’t need to hear how great or how imperfect of a person their loved one was—they already know that.  People need you tell them about heaven and the future that awaits us.  And we Christians so often forget this vital job.  We make up cute sayings like, “God needed her more in heaven than on earth” or “God just needed another angel.”  That she got her angel wings... When we die, we don’t become angels but we declared a saint. People need to hear the truth—that one day they will all be reunited with our loved ones, that they can encounter our loved ones each we week we gather in worship when the church, even though it is divided, when the church comes together around word and sacraments, the saints of old join us as well.  Christians need to stop preaching Hallmark and start preaching the good news of Jesus Christ.  And what a year to preach the good news…

2020 has been one hell of a year.  Am I right, my brothers and sisters?  There has been a lot of good that happened, but we have also lost a great deal.  Today is the day we remember those 17 people who we have lost.  We remember them by reading their names, cherishing their memory, and by telling future generations about their struggles, about their faith, and about how much they meant to us.  Today, we celebrate their lives.  Tomorrow we mourn the loss of their lives.  And the day after that, we get up and we do what these blessed saints did every, single day:  we live out our baptismal covenants by serving God in thought, word, and deed.  Some of these blessed saints today were nurses.  Some were mechanics.  Some were teachers.  Some were moms. Some were dads.  But they were all children of God.  They were all baptized, claimed by God and made equal with all of us. They have “come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. And it for this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.”

Today we celebrate.  Tomorrow we mourn.  And day after that, we go out with the same fervor and dedication they once shown and we proclaimed Christ crucified, died and resurrected.  We proclaim the future that awaits us—that can await everyone who believes and is washed in the waters of baptism.  May we always remember the lives of these blessed saints who now worship with us in the great church triumphant.  May we never forget those who have died from this virus. May we never forget their faithful acts of courage, their deep and darkest sins, and the fact they were no different than any of us.  May we not forget them.  May we live as they have taught us but only better.  May we learn from them. May we grow up to be better than them.  And may we have the faith to trust in the power of God to resurrect and bring back from the dead all those who have fallen asleep in the faith.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Here I stand...you stand over there.

Reformation Sunday - October 25, 2020
- Jeremiah 31:31-34
- Psalm 46 (7)
- Romans 3:19-28
- John 8:31-36
Here I stand...you stand over there

From Doctor to Evangelist

October 18, 2020 - Feast of St. Luke
- Isaiah 43:8-13    
- Psalm 124    
- 2 Timothy 4:5-11    
- Luke 1:1-4; 24:44-53    
From Doctor to Evangelist
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    Who was the man that we know as St. Luke?  We know that Luke’s name means "bringer of light” and he is mentioned in Paul’s letter as a fellow companion and co-worker in the gospel.  That is about all we know Biblically.  Of course, the third gospel is named after him, but he probably didn’t write it.  If he had been a companion with Paul, we know Paul died around 50 CE.  The gospel of Luke has been dated to 85 CE. That a long time in between especially at a time when people didn’t live past the age of 40.  According to St. Jerome, St. Luke died in Achaia (Greece) at the age of 84, and it is unknown whether or not he died a martyr's death. Unfortunately, St. Jerome is basing much of this claim on legends handed down through the ages.  He might be right, but there is no way to prove any of it.

    What we know from the Bible is clear—"St. Luke did not personally know our Lord, and like St. Mark, the author of the second Gospel, he is not included among the apostles.” He may have been a part of the crowds that followed Jesus, but his name is not recorded in any of the lists of disciples.  

    You might also know, especially if you are a liturgical nerd like me, that the Lutheran Church has transferred this feast day off of today (the day of the feast is Oct 18) to October 19.  The reason is that reformation brought a tradition where we no longer celebrate post-biblical saints on Sunday.  If you want to do this sort of thing, you do it during the week.  The reason is the practice of remember non-biblical saints was being over-done during the 1500’s and people would end up hearing more about the saint and less about Jesus.  The sermon would turn into a Sunday school lesson about the saint rather than a time to worshipping Jesus. 

    So on this day, when we remember a man who was known for his focus on Jesus’ healing and caring for the sick, how do we hold Luke’s legacy in balance of our worship of Jesus Christ?  You dive into the text and see what comes out of it.  So when I dove in, the first thing I notice about this text is that this gospel was written to an individual name Theophilus.  There has been so much debate over this person’s identity.  Who was he?  Some say he was a Roman official who converted to Christianity.  Others say he was Paul’s Lawyer in Rome and likely tried to help Paul with his defense before the emperor.  "A growing belief among scholars is that Theophilus was short for Theophilus ben Ananus, High Priest of the Temple in Jerusalem from 37 to 41.  This theory would explain a lot of Luke’s focus in the gospel. Notice some of the major focuses of the third gospel:  He begins the story with an account of Zacharias the righteous priest who had a vision while in the Temple of an angel coming to him and telling him that they would a have a child and he would be the prophet that foretells of Jesus. Luke quickly moves to account Mary's purification, Jesus' Temple redemption, and then to Jesus' pilgrimage to the Temple when he was twelve. Luke also makes no mention of Caiaphas' role in Jesus' crucifixion and emphasizes Jesus’ literal resurrection, including an ascension into heaven as a realm of spiritual existence (24:52; Acts 1:1). Luke also seems to stress Jesus' arguments with the Sadducees on points like legal grounds for divorce, the existence of angels, spirits, and an afterlife.  If Theophilus was indeed Theophilus ben Ananus, some scholars argue that Luke was trying to use Jesus' rebuttals and teachings to break down Theophilus' Sadducean philosophy, maybe with the hope that Theophilus would use his influence and try to win over the Sadducees and cease their persecution of the Christians.”

    But what do I think?  Granted, my Greek is a little bit rusty and I don’t have a PhD in Biblical history, but I am a pastor in Christ’s Church.  I tend to think that Theophilus being a Sadducee is just too easy.  It seems all too perfect.  What I do know is that Theophilus was not that common of a name. Granted, as I just demonstrated, there were some people called Theophilus but very few.  However, when you look at the name itself, Theophilus in Greek means, Lover of God or Beloved by God or even friend of God.  Is that not a description of yourself?  Are you not, a lover of God?  A beloved Child of God?  Do you, when you hear Randy Newman sing, “you got a friend of me” think about God and yours friendship?  Okay, that one might only be me and my three-year-old who is dressing up as Buzz Light year for Halloween this year.  What if this book was written to you?  Beloved child of God, the evangelist writes to YOU, “after investigating everything carefully from the very first, [I have set] to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” 

    The evangelist is writing to you.  An orderly account.  An account focused on telling you about Jesus being able to heal; teach in parables; and fulfilling prophecy. Luke wrote all these things down in one book, my dear-dear Theophilus so that YOU might have the psychological confidence to be an evangelist and proclaim this message that Luke has so thoughtfully recorded for you.

    A message of God fulfilling prophecy—of setting a prophet in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord.  A message of the messiah being born and nobody was ready. A message of calling 12 of the strangest characters to be his disciples— who have no clue what they were getting themselves into other than that they were called to leave everything behind and they did.  A message of love for the poor, the sick, the lowly.  A message of God’s kingdom coming to the last, lost, least, little, and lifeless.  Luke writes with passion, fervor and the certainty that what he was writing is truth—That God did indeed send his son to the world; he ate with sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes; he touch the uncleaned and healed them, he raised the dead back to life, gave sight to the blind and fed the multitudes. Luke wrote this all for YOU, to help prepare YOU for YOUR work in spreading the gospel to all nations and all peoples of the world.  Luke even records Jesus saying, “You are witnesses of these things.” You, dear sweet Theophilus, you are a witness to these things which have taken place.  

    And perhaps, you now feel the weight this burden now placed on your shoulders this day.  Perhaps you are thinking:
  • “I didn’t ask for Luke to write this for me…” 
  • “I don’t have time to be an evangelist.”  
  • “I work two jobs, have 3 kids, a spouse, car loans, student loan debt, a house that is falling a part.  I didn’t ask for you to lay this all on me, dear sweet, annoying Luke.”  
And just like that, we find ourselves back in Bethlehem, with no room left for the theotoakas (the bearer of God’s word)—our Lord’s mother and mother of us all—to give birth to her child.  Just like that, the world is not yet ready for Jesus, yet he still comes, into your busy, stressed out, pulled-in-too-many-directions-lives with a message of salvation for people just like you, my dear, sweet Theophilus.  

    And just like that, Jesus is gone.  It like, we just got him back from the dead and he only stayed for a short time; now he is gone, but that was the point. “The time of Jesus on earth has ended. The time of the believers living, speaking, and acting in the power of the Spirit has begun. If the ministries and the salvation offered by Jesus is to continue, it has to come through the believers who have been empowered from on High.”

    The commentator R. Alan Culpepper states it well:
Where the Lord's physical hands and feet are no longer present, the ministry of the hands of countless saints in simple and sincere ministries continues to bear witness to the Lord's living presence. Although he may not appear in our midst to eat broiled fish, his presence is tangible in soup kitchens, around the kitchen table, and around the altar table. We see him "in the breaking of bread." As in the first century so now the most convincing proof of the resurrection is the daily testimony of the faithful that the Christ still lives and the work of his kingdom continues...

    “Luke's story of Jesus ends as it began. The infant Jesus is brought to the temple. Simeon, guided by the Spirit, comes in and praises God. Now the disciples are in the temple, blessing God after having been blessed by Jesus. In some ways, the response of the disciples is ironic—there should be more sadness than joy. Jesus is leaving again. Jesus is  making them responsible now.  But Jesus will not leave them empty handed.”  

    Our Lord has not left you alone.  Luke has told us the hard truth—our Lord is no longer with us, but “it is not all we have to go on. There is the promise of his coming again [and] we are anxiously waiting that day. [Until that day], there is the promise of the Spirit's power being with us now. Jesus may be absent, but God continues to be present through the Spirit.” The work of the evangelist never ends, my brothers and sisters.  Luke may have died a long time ago, but the call and the challenge to proclaim this message still exist today, my dear sweet Theophilus.  Luke teaches us, throughout his gospel, that we are the body of Christ in the world today, Christ presence in his absence.  May these words from Luke bring you sweet and holy comfort, and the certainty to know the truth—that everything written about Jesus in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms has been fulfilled in your hearing.  That it was necessary that our Lord suffer, die and be resurrected on the third day; and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins will continue to be be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You, my dear sweet Theophilus— you are a witness and now also an evangelist of these things.”

    In the name of the Father, at the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

If you cook it, they will come.

Proper 23 (28) - October 11, 2020
- Isaiah 25:1-9
- Psalm 23
- Philippians 4:1-9
- Matthew 22:1-14
If you cook it, they will come.
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    Philippians 4 is hands down, one of my favorite chapters of scripture.  In particular, this passage, verses 1-9, is one that I come back to again and again when I need a little pick-me-up; when I need some encouragement.  This passage has it all: Paul’s view of women in the church, the importance of rejoice, peace, and a list of wholesome-Christian virtues (and they are not exclusive to Christianity...they were originally Roman values).  Seriously, what is there not to love about Philippians 4:1-9?!?!

    This final chapter is really the conclusion of Paul’s Letter and the conclusion of his life.  Think when you are writing a long email and you want to wrap everything up—sometimes you write in stand alone clauses that sort of make sense together but are best seen as these independent ideas.  Paul begins his concluding remarks by talking about two people:  Euodia and Syntyche.  He is essentially reminding the church that Euodia and Syntyche are the leaders that Paul left in-charge once he left town to continue on his missionary journey. These are two women are named co-workers in the gospel.  That use of of the word co-workers is important because Paul is saying that these two women share in his authority.  Paul calls them co-workers.  For anyone who questions whether women have a right or a duty to serve the church in the same capacity that I a male-pastor, share, I point you this passage.  Paul could have used a whole host of other Greek words to describe Euodia and Syntyche—he choose co-workers.  To anyone little girls, young women, middle age or mature women out there in the internet-land or even those sitting in the congregation today—you have a place in Christ’s church and you can serve as a co-workers with me just as Euodia and Syntyche served as a co-worker with Paul.  You can grow up and become a deacon, a pastor, or even a bishop. And I look forward to one day seeing a women stand in this pulpit as your duly called and elected Pastor.  I look forward to calling a woman a fellow co-worker in the body of Christ. Don’t let anyone ever tell you differently and if they do, tell them to read Philippians 4.

    After absolving the congregation to listen their female pastors, Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  And what powerful words for him to say.  Remember where Paul is sitting at his home under house arrest, awaiting his trail and ultimately his death.  Paul is in a very hopeless situation but yet he writes with such hope: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  Unfortunately, I have seen this passage of scripture misconstrue and mis-used so many times it is not even funny.  People assume that Paul is saying, “Oh just be happy.  Smile all the time.” You know, I have sat at many bed sides of people who are dying.  I have held a little girl in my arms who only lived for about an hour after she was born.  I have been very sick myself.  Many have lost their jobs.  Over 250,000 people have died from this virus.  Life will never go back to the way things use to be…Is Paul demanding that we just walk around smiling even though the world is falling in and around us?  No.  

    For Paul, the true meaning of his words are found in the grammar— In verse 4, Paul uses the Greek work xαίρετε which we translate as rejoice.  This present tense imperative shows ongoing action.  By using this tense, Paul is reminding the ENTIRE COMMUNITY, not just individuals, of the importance of rejoicing so that when a particular member cannot rejoice, the rest of the community can surround that individual (or individuals), remind them of the gospel and walk with them through their suffering.  Paul is by no means suggesting that it is wrong to grieve, but rather stresses the importance of the Christian community in times of sorrow and suffering.  When we think about the Christian community, the body of Christ, we must remember that one of our chief duties is to support one another.  One joins a church not to be entertained, but joins a family..  We support one another, pray for one another, rejoice when times are good, console when times are bad.  This community, the body of Christ, is not devoid of suffering, for suffering is a mark of a Christian community. 

    “We are too often focused on sin instead of celebrating that we are forgiven. We complain too often about the lack of holiness instead of remembering what we are as children of God. We are too often frustrated by feelings of weakness instead of being delighted about the strength of the Holy Spirit working in us. Yes, we too probably need a periodic reminder to “rejoice in the Lord.” “The joy Paul has in mind is not superficial; it has little in common with the obligatory laughter of invisible  audiences in TV sitcoms. There is a difference between something funny and deep joy, which has a lasting effect and the power to change us. Specifically, this joy is not the same as “fun,” and following Jesus is certainly not always “fun.” 

    So, what is there to rejoice? Real and lasting joy comes from the confidence that, no matter what happens, we are inseparably connected to God and saved. It has to do with where the focus of one’s life is or, to employ a famous phrase by Paul Tillich, with one’s “ultimate concern.” The Apostle Paul could rejoice because he did not fear death. A few years before penning his Letter to the Philippians, he wrote to the congregations in Rome: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Romans 8:35). The knowledge that Christ has overcome death gave Paul this certainty.” That is why we rejoice—because we can. We have this freedom which only comes to us through Jesus Christ.
    Paul goes on to offer some more concluding remarks:
  • Let your gentleness be known to everyone. 
  • The Lord is near. 
  • Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
    And then Paul writes this line:  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” εἰρήνη τοῦ θεοῦ in Greek and in Latin, Pax Domini.  The Peace of God.  If you go home and do a quick google search, you will find that this phrase occurs nowhere else in the Bible outside of Paul’s letters.  No where, yet it seems so very much a Christian idea—God gives us peace.  Being in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ offers peace.  It sounds like something you can cross-stitch onto a pillow and you know how I feel about that kind of stuff.  Most scholars believe that Paul is borrowing the phrase, “Peace of God” from the Roman phrase “Pax Romana” (Pax Domini).  Since Philippi was a Roman colony, this phrase would have been common among the people.  It is like the Army’s phrase today, “Be all you can be.”   Yet, Rome used the phrase Pax Romana as a way to silence insurrection and keep the peace.  Essentially, Pax Romano only became a reality for you if you did what you were told, never tried to upset things, and never demand that the elite care for the weak.  Upset the status quo and your world would know no peace.  Paul is borrowing this Roman theology and repurposing it for Christianity.  Essentially, Paul saying that real peace does not come from being a part of a Roman government but comes from God alone and this kind of peace surpasses all our human understanding and comes to us freely through our baptism in Jesus Christ.

    You know, these past few months have been filled with a lot of unknowns and stress.  A couple of weeks ago as I sat in the Barbers chair, my barber Jason says that my hair is a whole lot more gray than when I was in last—and he was right.  I have notice the scale starting to tick up slowly each day.  The more stressed I become, the more I over eat and the whiter my hair becomes.  I know many of you have experienced great turmoil and distressed these past seven months and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.  “The focus on God is the best remedy when no longer ultimate, but preliminary concerns start to dominate our agendas. It alone guarantees “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (4:7) and hence empowers us to overcome human differences.“  We often look to the world around us to offer peace in these most troubled times.  We put more faith in other institutions, in other people, in doctors, in experimental treatments, in sports even rather than in God.  Yet, who offers us peace?  Real peace? 

    I don’t know about you, but after the roller coster of these past 7 months, I could use some real peace because I am tired of being let down by others, but the world—nobody seems to be making my life better even though others promise they will make it better.  Do you feel that way too, my brothers and sisters?  Are you tired of being let down?  If you are, then:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  
 
    

Taking the Kingdom of God away

Proper 22 (27) - October 4, 2020
- Isaiah 5:1-7
- Psalm 80:7-15
- Philippians 3:4b-14
- Matthew 21:33-46

Taking the Kingdom of God away

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

When we first got married, I wanted to buy a house so badly.  I kept finding places that I thought we could afford.  I was saving everything little bit of money that I could for a downpayment.  I wanted this because this was what I was told, from my childhood, was my destiny as an successful person.  Successful people buy houses.  Really successful people buy bigger houses.  Successful people go to college.  Really successful people go to grad school. Successful people take out car loans.  Successful people get the platinum credit cards that have that mirror finish.  Successful people go on lavish trips in order to treat themselves for all their hard work.  When I was 27 years old, I had just spent the last 8 years of my life working my butt off to get through school and I was determined do the next successful thing—buy a house.  But we just didn’t have the money and my wife wasn’t ready.  So begrudgingly, I  waited a year to see what might happen with Diane’s call and see if she could find another part-time call.  Once she did get another part time call, we were ready.  I was excited.  I called a real estate agent and we set out to find the perfect property.  This beautiful, little farmette right off 134.  Beautiful piece of land with a barn, cool old house.  We looked at a bunch of other houses before this one, but we knew this was the one.  It was at the very top of our budget, but we could afford it on paper.  Eventually, after spending 1,000 dollars, we learned that the house was caving in on itself and we backed out of the deal.  But, we were undeterred (mostly).  We eventually found a beautiful house in downtown Bonneauville, PA—where the Hardware store also doubled as a grocery story.  Finally, I could cross off that next thing on my list that successful people do—we bought our first house.

And we loved that house, and that house was fairly new.  But homeownership was not what we expected.  It was, quite frankly, annoying most days.  Every weekend, I was doing a project around the house.  The people at Ace Hardware knew my name because I was there so much—and I had a newer house.  It was at that moment that started to realize this list of things successful people do that I had been taught by society was not really true.  

You know, I have met a lot of really successful people who never stepped foot onto a university campus.  You have met them too.  Think about all those electricians, plumbers, carpenters, builders,  who we depend on to make the stuff we depend on to work.  I was told by my high school teachers that the only way I could make it in life was to go to a four year college.  “Don’t worry about the price tag, just take out the loans.  They are worth it.” That was horrible, horrible advice. And it has taken me a long time to learn that what society tells you is a mark of success is really not.  

What is a true mark of success?  Paul had a similar experience.  Paul rambles off, yet again, things he use to find pride in claiming: “circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” This was where he found his success.  Yet, he says in the very next verse, “whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.” “We see here that Paul considers himself to be living in a state of in-between-ness. He is trapped or suspended in the middle of a journey. The longing for arrival is strong, but what he has in front of him is the journey. He can only press on, stay the course.”

Now, we must be careful in how we read and understand these words from Paul. “To be clear, it is not his Jewishness that he considers as “rubbish” (verse 8), but the “gains” that he mentions in verse 7. The idea that he is blameless, that he has achieved his goal, that he has arrived, is rubbish.”  The idea is that Paul abandons his particularistic Jewish background and consider it as “rubbish” for the sake of a universalist Christian identity is deeply problematic for being supersessionist—the idea that the New Covenant Jesus made with his disciples replaces the covenant God made with Abraham. And for anyone who thinks that is the case, that is a scary and terrifying proposition—you are saying then, that God breaks promises.  Does that mean if we don’t act in a way or believe in a way that God wants us, will God break our covenant made between us and Jesus, and find another group of people more worthy?

That is not what Paul is saying at all.  In reality, Paul seems to understand himself and his life as an ongoing process. His existence is in between “what lies behind” and “what lies ahead” (verse 13). Think of Paul standing in the middle of a staircase.  He is neither at the top of the stair case (the next floor) or at the bottom.  He is simply in between.  He is neither up nor down.  “In other words, every identity (religious identity, ethnic identity, racial identity, gender identity, and whatnot) is a play, a dance, in between this binary of beginning and end/goal.”  Paul finds success in the fact that his work is never done—he is successful because he keeps climbing the stairs. Stopping, for Paul, is a dangerous thought because Paul remembers what happened years before when he did stop?  “The moment someone declares that they have arrived at an end, such rhetoric can turn into a violent negation. That is precisely what Paul did. He was “a persecutor of the church” because he thought that he was “blameless” (verse 6). Again, retrospectively, he looks back and says that this behavior, this way of thinking, is rubbish.”

If we are to know Christ, as Paul came to know Christ, then we must live in way that prevents us from settling down think we have made it.  We need get out of the habit of saying, “there is nothing more for me to learn as a Christian, I learned it all when I was confirmed.” Or “I don’t need to pray, someone else will take care of praying for me and my needs.” When we allow our past successes to define our future, we suddenly get off the staircase, the stairway, and will never get back on.  We will fall back into our old ways, our old misunderstandings, and we will be like Paul use to be—the guy who was always right and everyone who disagreed with him must be destroyed.  

We need to stop listening to what the world says is the marking of of success and look to our Lord for success.  To know Christ is to live on a staircase—constantly climbing and never there just yet. It is to realize that no one has arrived yet—that settling down as a Christian is either a sign of premature death. And while death might be the end goal so that we can live and be with Christ, Paul reminded us in the first chapter “While dying is far better, living is “more necessary” because the community, this community, depends on you and your presence.  Just as the church in Philippi depended on Paul living as long as possible, we also depend on you to do the same—each and everyone one you.

So, do not stop climbing the stairs this day.  Keep taking one step at time and if you find yourself stuck, if you find yourself feeling and looking a lot like Paul did before his experience on the road to Damascus, know there is healing and forgiveness here in this community.  The church forgave Paul, a persecutor of the church.  We can forgive you as well.  

Keep climbing.  Keep taking that next step. Everyone is on a journey, in the process of making.  You are not alone.  You will never be alone.  We got you. Our Lord has you and until that day you are called to be with the Lord, (END) never stop climbing up those stairs 

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

 

The Christian Motto

Proper 21 (26) - September 27, 2020
- Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
- Psalm 25:1-9
- Philippians 2:1-13
- Matthew 21:23-32
The Christian Motto
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    Anyone know the traditional Motto for the US?  E pluribus unum. Maybe the more important question, does anyone know what it means?  Out of many, one.  It was adopted by congress in 1782.  In 1956, the US adopted “in God we trust” as the official motto, but the traditional motto never went away.  The traditional Motto was adopted because out of 13 colonies, a single nation was born.  A nation that would eventually grow into 50 states and 5 territories.  This union was nearly divided permanently in the 1860’s during the civil war. But out of the ashes, our nation was reborn.  And every generation since those early days of the colonies, has helped America  re-invent herself to meet the needs of her citizens.  It’s the story of our past that we tell our children.  How our ancestors, though they were not perfect, worked together to create a nation governed by the people, for the people.  And though, it has taken many years for ALL the people to be included in that dream, this dream is what inspires so many around the world to come to our shores, looking for a better life.  When Hamilton was released on July 3, 2020, how many of us tuned in to see this epic, broadway show.  And even though that show wasn’t able to capture all the complexities of that moment in history, it pulled on many of our heart strings—it reminded us that despite all of America’s problems and sins, that America can rise to the occasion.  E pluribus unum - Out of many, one.  
    So, that is America.  But we are church and our church has been around a lot longer than the US or any other government for that matter. Our story as the church is far more important than our nation’s story.  So, what is our motto?  What’s our Christian motto?  What is that idea that binds us together as Christians—followers of Christ? Depending on who you ask, read, or listen to, some might say it’s: God helps those who help themselves.  Although, that was Benjamin Franklin, and while I have a lot of respect for the man, he was no theologian.  That statement is nowhere in the Bible. Others might say that our motto says, “If you pray really hard, God will help you.”  “If you are suffering, that means God is punishing you.  You just need to pray harder.”  For some, that is the Christian motto—suffering bad...pray harder, yet none of these statements have any kind of scriptural basis whatsoever.  

    In fact, as we talked about last week, suffering is what we do as the Body of Christ.  So, our Christian motto then, must be rooted in suffering.  You know, throughout the Pauline corpus, one main theme at the heart and center of everything he wrote was the cross.  The cross changed everything and had major implications on the entire universe.  The cross changed everything through something called Co-morphotology.

    Co-morphotology is actually a term made up by my seminary professor, Dr. Richard Carlson.  Co-morphotology, “is God’s transformative power by which we were morphed into the dominion of Christ, have been morphed into cruciform reality, will be morphed into resurrected reality and how we co-participate in the reality which is Christ.”  Paul constantly talks about the importance of living “in Christ” as being the reality of our lives in Christ’s dominion into which we have been made morphed-Christians.  Through the power of the gospel, Paul believes that we have been co-morphed into the reality which is Jesus Christ by the activity/agency of the Spirit.   This means that because we are morphed into Christ, we will experience the same joy and suffering of Jesus.    

    That is what Paul is saying when he quotes this hymn—let the same mind be in you that is in Christ Jesus.  Through our baptism, we are co-morphed and therefore we seek ways to imitate, mirror our Lord—to be in the same mind as our Lord.  As Christians, we desire to be in the same mindset as Jesus.  These words Paul writes here in Philippians 2 are important and fundamental to understanding the entirety of the Pauline Corpus.  These words are the foundation on which Paul builds his theological framework in all of his letters.  But what I find most interesting about these words are they were most likely a hymn, a familiar hymn probably sung often, probably as beloved as Amazing grace, I love to the tell the story or how great thou art.  The words from this beautiful hymn tell us our Christian motto: 
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

    That is our motto:  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ.  Christ’s mind was focus on not regarding himself as equal to God, but rather was on emptying himself for humanity, to be a servant/a slave, and be obedient even unto death.  Our motto is to be in the same mind as Christ—To be rooted in the cross.  That is what a godly life looks like. A godly life is not rooted in burnt offerings, fasting, or other human endeavors.  Rather, a godly life is found in the suffering death of Jesus on the cross.  To understand God first means we must look to the cross and do as Christ did. No longer are we to view God as all powerful, but as both a crucified slave who God redeemed and granted the gift of resurrection. This what unites as the body of Christ—being in the same mind as Christ. 

    Unity, though, does not equal uniformity.  In fact, it is quiet the opposite.  “Paul’s statement on unity in verse 3 has to be understood not as a call for uniformity, but as making a space for others, as opening oneself for otherness. It is about being hospitable.”  Paul tells the church in Philippi, reminding them through this beautiful hymn, to prioritize others, to put others first.” To offer absolute hospitality,” which means that when the other knocks at the door, one does not even need to ask the name or the origin of the other; one simply opens the door to welcome the other in.”

    Can you imagine a place like that, my brothers and sisters?  A place where the needs are all met?  A place where we don’t even have to ask, “What is wrong?”  That is what it means to be in the same mind of our Lord.  For this is what unites us as one.

    How are we, as the church, going to respond to the when “others” come: when they do not speak English, when they dress differently, smell differently, worship differently, sing differently? Will the church look not to own interests but to the interests of the others? Will the church open its door to otherness?

    Let the same mind be in you that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  That is our Motto. This is where we find our unity and our strength.  And just as the United States continues to explore what "E pluribus unum" means, we must continue to explore our motto as well.  What does it look like to be in the same mind as Christ Jesus, our Lord?  May you feel and recognized that you have been co-morphed into God’s transformative power as seen through the lens of this cruciform reality and resurrection reality—and may you realize that you are a co-participant in this motto Christ presented to the world on cross.  May your mindset be that in same mindset of our Lord, and may you bring a little glimmer of the kingdom to the world around you.

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  
    
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