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Did I stutter, Peter?

 Proper 19 - September 13, 2020
Genesis 50:15-21    
Psalm 103:[1-7] 8-13  
Romans 14:1-12    
Matthew 18:21-35    
Did I stutter, Peter?
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    “It is no problem to keep track of the number seven, as if that were all the effort required to forgive a brother or sister who “sins against me.” Seven is a measurable number. Seven seas, seven colors of the rainbow, seven days of the week—even seven loaves to feed a crowd with seven baskets full of leftovers to gather at the end (Matthew 15:32-37)—each of these represents an amount that is easy to trace, even if its referent is something great. However, Jesus’ response to Peter’s question (including the parable) takes forgiveness out of the “countable” category and places it into the realm of the incalculable. The forgiveness to which Jesus points is beyond one’s capacity to keep tabs, beyond one’s capacity to offer on their own strength or ability. It is God’s compassion and abundant mercy that make forgiveness possible, whether transgressions are large or small.”

    God forgiveness can be compared someone owing 7.2 billion dollars to another individual and having that debt completely wiped away. 7.2 billion dollars is more than what some small countries have as their GDP. 7.2 billion dollars is unfathomable by most of us.  There are only 200 people in the world right now worth more than 7.2 billion dollars. In a world were so many people live paycheck to paycheck, it seems unfathomable that someone could have racked up that much debt.  But as someone who has been working intentionally for the past two years to get out of Student Loan Debt and other personal debt, I can tell you how much burden debt has had on my life.

    You know what Diane and I fight about the most?  Money.    It is the thing I tell all new couples to watch out for and be prepared to deal with once they get married.  Debt can cripple people.  You can’t buy a house, you can’t enjoy life, if one thing happens in your life and you miss a paycheck, everything can come crashing down.  Debt, for many Americans, has reach the point of strangulation—people owed the equivalent of 10,000 talents and have no idea how to work themselves out of the hole they have dug.  And here comes Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Direct loans and Sallie Mae—they knock on your door and say, “You owe us 7.2 billion dollars, but don’t worry—your debt is forgiven.  Have a nice day.”

    None of us can imagine that.  I certainly can’t.  I have dealt with most of these lenders; they don’t care.  It is hard to imagine this kind of situation ever happening in the world, right?  Banks don’t forgive loans unless you declare bankruptcy, and even then, you still have to pay something.  Yet, this banker/this king says to one of his slaves who owes 7.2 billion dollars, “forget about.” The kingdom of God can be compared to a king, turning to one of his servants who owes the king more than any of us can even imagine, and says, “Forget about it. You debt is forgiven.”  That is what the kingdom of heaven, the coming dominion of God looks likes.  And what does the world look like?

    This same person who had 7.2 billion dollars forgiven going out, finding someone who owed him 12,000 dollars and says, “pay up.”  The man says, “I just need a few more days, Johnny.  You’ll get your money.  Just have some patience with me, and I will pay you.” But the man who was owed 12 grand doesn’t believe him.  He throws you in jail until he can pay him back everything that he owes.  That sounds a lot like the world I know.  That sounds a lot like the world of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Direct loans and Sallie Mae. Pay now or we throw you in jail—only now we don’t have to throw you jail because debt is so burdensome enough on its own—homes worth less than you owe, student loans which cannot be canceled or forgiven, credit cards with easy ways to just transfer the debt to another card—we have created a new debtor’s prison system; now you are just stuck in life with no way out. That is the world we all know and live with on a daily basis.

    Notice how Jesus presents this parable—which world do you want to live in?  A world were immeasurable debt is forgiven simply because the king took pity on you and your situation?  Or do you want to live in a world where you are thrown in jail because you owe the equivalent of a used car? 

    Peter wants to know specifics, “How often should you forgive someone in the church?” There are days I wish Jesus gave a different answer.  I would love to say to someone, “Ummm.  No.  You’re done.”  Although, If that was the case, I would have been kicked out of the church 20 years ago.  Peter is thinking in worldly terms and ideas.  He is thinking there has to be a limit before we crack the whip and kick someone out.  And Jesus’ reply?   God’s compassion and forgiveness knows no bounds, why should the church not act the same way?  Because if we are going to be the place where heaven is made real for the people here on earth, why would we think and act like the world?   No, instead we should emulate the reality that awaits us.

    We are called to be different.  We are called to think differently.  We are called to act differently.  The world doesn’t forgive your debts.  The world doesn’t treat you with kindness. The world doesn’t love you unless you have something to offer. Yet here, we are different. We are called to act differently and forgive one another.  

    Last week, Jesus told his disciples that they have the choice to forgive sins or continue to hold sins against each other.  And those sins they choose to hold and not forgive, would be remembered in heaven.  If you have the power to forgive, why would you not use it?  Why would we hold that sin against another individual if our debt, our 7.2 billion dollar debt, why would we keep the debt of our neighbor?  

    Confession and forgiveness is a place where we, as the church, live out the coming dominion of God—where we get to experience heaven. Back in June when I was tasked with creating a liturgy to be done in under 30 minutes, I debated long and hard about leaving in the brief order of confession and forgiveness in the liturgy.  On the one hand, if someone really needs forgiveness, they could call me on the phone or I could meet them on their front porch and absolve them of their sins.  But the more I thought about it, taking away this important function of the church meant I was taking away a little bit of heaven for folks.  Other things would have to be cut…heaven is what we do.  Heaven is what we proclaim and give each week; a respite from the world’s unrelenting weight of debt on our shoulders.

    But how often do we take advantage of this time in worship?  How many of us actually think about all that we have done during the week during that silent time.  I have to admit, not having Bennet reminding us, “silence for reflection” has made that time very difficult.  I sometimes forget to actually think about my sins.  Instead, I am thinking about cameras, microphones, lunch plans, dinner plans, work that needs to be done this week, where is Thomas, who is talking, what is that beeping noise… Or how many of us have ever been to private confession?

    Most Lutherans have not…it’s too Catholic.  I actually got into an argument once with a Lutheran who said, “We don’t do confession in the Lutheran church.” She was shocked when I handed her a small catechism and told her to open up to the section in-between baptism and communion. Even Luther’s lack-of-writing on this subject early on in the Reformation caused confusion within the church.  In Luther’s Babylonian Captivity, he claimed there were only two sacraments, yet in the Augsburg Confession Melanchthon says there are three sacraments—the third being the Sacrament of Penance.  Ultimately, Luther eventually tied Confession and absolution to the sacrament of Baptism.  As Christians, we are called to daily remember our baptism.  And there many ways to do this.  Yet in reality, the best way to remember one’s baptism, and the most Lutheran way, is to confess one’s sins and then have forgiveness proclaimed to you.  Luther said that Christians should be willing to run a 100 miles for confession and compel the church/clergy to offer it to them.  Yet, you don’t have to run a 100 miles.  You don’t have to do crazy acrobatic tricks, have super human powers, be worth 7.2 billion dollars, or even have a penny to your name.  You only need to be baptized and hear the words - You’re sins are forgiven.  

    If anyone ever asks you what heaven looks like, tell them that heaven is full of people who have made 7.2 billion dollars worth of stupid mistakes, broken promises, lousy choices.  And God will come to you, look you right in the eyes, and say, “Forget about it.” Go and do likewise to your neighbors.

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

Did I stutter, Peter?

Proper 19 (24) - September 13, 2020
 - Genesis 50:15-21
- Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13
- Romans 14:1-12
- Matthew 18:21-35

Did I stutter, Peter?

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

“It is no problem to keep track of the number seven, as if that were all the effort required to forgive a brother or sister who “sins against me.” Seven is a measurable number. Seven seas, seven colors of the rainbow, seven days of the week—even seven loaves to feed a crowd with seven baskets full of leftovers to gather at the end (Matthew 15:32-37)—each of these represents an amount that is easy to trace, even if its referent is something great. However, Jesus’ response to Peter’s question (including the parable) takes forgiveness out of the “countable” category and places it into the realm of the incalculable. The forgiveness to which Jesus points is beyond one’s capacity to keep tabs, beyond one’s capacity to offer on their own strength or ability. It is God’s compassion and abundant mercy that make forgiveness possible, whether transgressions are large or small.”

God forgiveness can be compared someone owing 7.2 billion dollars to another individual and having that debt completely wiped away(How did I get this number? 1 Delali equals about a days wage.  To calculate that this would be worth in today's value: 15 dollars an hour (because that is consider to be a standard, living wage) for 8 hours a day= 120 dollars a day.  1 talent equals 6,000 denali.  $120 x 6000 denali per talent=$720,000 x 10,000 talents equals 7,200,000,000). 7.2 billion dollars is more than what some small countries have as their GDP. 7.2 billion dollars is unfathomable by most of us.  There are only 200 people in the world right now worth more than 7.2 billion dollars. In a world were so many people live paycheck to paycheck, it seems unfathomable that someone could have racked up that much debt.  But as someone who has been working intentionally for the past two years to get out of Student Loan Debt and other personal debt, I can tell you how much burden debt has had on my life.

You know what Diane and I fight about the most?  Money.    It is the thing I tell all new couples to watch out for and be prepared to deal with once they get married.  Debt can cripple people.  You can’t buy a house, you can’t enjoy life, if one thing happens in your life and you miss a paycheck, everything can come crashing down.  Debt, for many Americans, has reach the point of strangulation—people owed the equivalent of 10,000 talents and have no idea how to work themselves out of the hole they have dug.  And here comes Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Direct loans and Sallie Mae—they knock on your door and say, “You owe us 7.2 billion dollars, but don’t worry—your debt is forgiven.  Have a nice day.”

None of us can imagine that.  I certainly can’t.  I have dealt with most of these lenders; they don’t care.  It is hard to imagine this kind of situation ever happening in the world, right?  Banks don’t forgive loans unless you declare bankruptcy, and even then, you still have to pay something.  Yet, this banker/this king says to one of his slaves who owes 7.2 billion dollars, “forget about.” The kingdom of God can be compared to a king, turning to one of his servants who owes the king more than any of us can even imagine, and says, “Forget about it. You debt is forgiven.”  That is what the kingdom of heaven, the coming dominion of God looks likes.  And what does the world look like?

This same person who had 7.2 billion dollars forgiven going out, finding someone who owed him 12,000 dollars and says, “pay up.”  The man says, “I just need a few more days, Johnny.  You’ll get your money.  Just have some patience with me, and I will pay you.” But the man who was owed 12 grand doesn’t believe him.  He throws you in jail until he can pay him back everything that he owes.  That sounds a lot like the world I know.  That sounds a lot like the world of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Direct loans and Sallie Mae. Pay now or we throw you in jail—only now we don’t have to throw you jail because debt is so burdensome enough on its own—homes worth less than you owe, student loans which cannot be canceled or forgiven, credit cards with easy ways to just transfer the debt to another card—we have created a new debtor’s prison system; now you are just stuck in life with no way out. That is the world we all know and live with on a daily basis.

Notice how Jesus presents this parable—which world do you want to live in?  A world were immeasurable debt is forgiven simply because the king took pity on you and your situation?  Or do you want to live in a world where you are thrown in jail because you owe the equivalent of a used car? 

Peter wants to know specifics, “How often should you forgive someone in the church?” There are days I wish Jesus gave a different answer.  I would love to say to someone, “Ummm.  No.  You’re done.”  Although, If that was the case, I would have been kicked out of the church 20 years ago.  Peter is thinking in worldly terms and ideas.  He is thinking there has to be a limit before we crack the whip and kick someone out.  And Jesus’ reply?   God’s compassion and forgiveness knows no bounds, why should the church not act the same way?  Because if we are going to be the place where heaven is made real for the people here on earth, why would we think and act like the world?   No, instead we should emulate the reality that awaits us.

We are called to be different.  We are called to think differently.  We are called to act differently.  The world doesn’t forgive your debts.  The world doesn’t treat you with kindness. The world doesn’t love you unless you have something to offer. Yet here, we are different. We are called to act differently and forgive one another.  

Last week, Jesus told his disciples that they have the choice to forgive sins or continue to hold sins against each other.  And those sins they choose to hold and not forgive, would be remembered in heaven.  If you have the power to forgive, why would you not use it?  Why would we hold that sin against another individual if our debt, our 7.2 billion dollar debt, why would we keep the debt of our neighbor?  

Confession and forgiveness is a place where we, as the church, live out the coming dominion of God—where we get to experience heaven. Back in June when I was tasked with creating a liturgy to be done in under 30 minutes, I debated long and hard about leaving in the brief order of confession and forgiveness in the liturgy.  On the one hand, if someone really needs forgiveness, they could call me on the phone or I could meet them on their front porch and absolve them of their sins.  But the more I thought about it, taking away this important function of the church meant I was taking away a little bit of heaven for folks.  Other things would have to be cut…heaven is what we do.  Heaven is what we proclaim and give each week; a respite from the world’s unrelenting weight of debt on our shoulders.

But how often do we take advantage of this time in worship?  How many of us actually think about all that we have done during the week during that silent time.  I have to admit, not having Bennet reminding us, “silence for reflection” has made that time very difficult.  I sometimes forget to actually think about my sins.  Instead, I am thinking about cameras, microphones, lunch plans, dinner plans, work that needs to be done this week, where is Thomas, who is talking, what is that beeping noise… Or how many of us have ever been to private confession?

Most Lutherans have not…it’s too Catholic.  I actually got into an argument once with a Lutheran who said, “We don’t do confession in the Lutheran church.” She was shocked when I handed her a small catechism and told her to open up to the section in-between baptism and communion. Even Luther’s lack-of-writing on this subject early on in the Reformation caused confusion within the church.  In Luther’s Babylonian Captivity, he claimed there were only two sacraments, yet in the Augsburg Confession Melanchthon says there are three sacraments—the third being the Sacrament of Penance.  Ultimately, Luther eventually tied Confession and absolution to the sacrament of Baptism.  As Christians, we are called to daily remember our baptism.  And there many ways to do this.  Yet in reality, the best way to remember one’s baptism, and the most Lutheran way, is to confess one’s sins and then have forgiveness proclaimed to you.  Luther said that Christians should be willing to run a 100 miles for confession and compel the church/clergy to offer it to them.  Yet, you don’t have to run a 100 miles.  You don’t have to do crazy acrobatic tricks, have super human powers, be worth 7.2 billion dollars, or even have a penny to your name.  You only need to be baptized and hear the words - You’re sins are forgiven.  

If anyone ever asks you what heaven looks like, tell them that heaven is full of people who have made 7.2 billion dollars worth of stupid mistakes, broken promises, lousy choices.  And God will come to you, look you right in the eyes, and say, “Forget about it.” Go and do likewise to your neighbors.

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

  

Wanna Change the World? Try Forgiveness.

Proper 18 (23) - September 6, 2020
- Ezekiel 33:7-11
- Psalm 119:33-40
- Romans 13:8-14
- Matthew 18:15-20

Wanna Change the World? Try Forgiveness

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

We go from picking up your cross and following Jesus to instructions on living in community with one another.  This theme that Matthew has us on, very much resembles our normal, every day lives as Christians.  Jesus/Matthew is not making this stuff up.  Matthew knows what it means to live in community and the struggles it can produce.  So, Matthew put together a guide for his the members of his congregation to follow as they live in this very screwed up, messed up, yet beautiful world.  Living in the world is tough.  Living in a community can be tough.  Being in community can sometimes feel like bearing a cross. But being in community with each other is what our Lord intended and wanted for us.  

  Community life is hard.  Anyone who has ever lived with someone else knows what I am talking about.  I felt like I was on an episode of the odd couple in seminary living with my good friend, Robbie.  Sometimes our relationship of living together was complicated.  Learning to live with someone else is one of the hardest things for newly married couples face during their first couple years of marriage.  When my roommate drove me crazy, I would go into my room and shut the door or I would leave the apartment.  That doesn't work for my wife.  I walk out and she is usually throwing a frying pan at me to get back inside and take care of the kids and our relationship.  I never knew how hard marriage could be, particularly living with another person, could be until I got married and I had other roommates before.  No longer could I ignore the problems, ignore what was bothering.  I learned as many married couples do, that it takes work and communication in order to live in any kind of harmony, and even then, harmony is not always achieved. Living in community with others takes work.  It takes work to keep our community of faith together.

It takes hard, hard, hard work for us to live in some kind of harmony.  It takes communication.  It takes time.  It takes love.  When you come into this place, you are not coming into something crafted by human hands, but molded and formed by God.  We don't gather because of this building, we gather because of the community that God established on this corner in Martinsburg.  

God knows we will not always be perfect.  You put two people in a room and sooner or later, they are going to find something they disagree with—just ask Diane.  Now imagine putting together 100-150 people all from different backgrounds, different family structures, different educational backgrounds. Keeping a community together like a church, like our community, is a full-time job.  But we are different.  We are God’s people and therefore we must learn to forgive if we are ever going to have a chance to hold this community together. 

Forgiveness is radical in its nature.  Offering Forgiveness, according to the world, is something that weak people do.  You never want to apologize first because it will make you look weak. You never offer forgiveness because it takes power away from you and gives it to the person who wrongs you.  We, as Christians are called to practice radical hospitality—we are called to offer forgiveness.

You know, there is a buzz phrase in the church—“radical hospitality."  You hear it all the time among some circles in the church.  Radical hospitality has come to mean doing whatever is necessary to welcome people into church—change everything, even your identity in-order to welcome to everyone.  Leave behind century of traditions and rules in the vain hope of maybe keeping someone in our congregation.  In preparing for this sermon, I came across many who thought this passage from Matthew 18 fit into their theological framework to offer their view of radical hospitality.

Jesus is calling us into "radical hospitality" but the radicalness is far bigger than just making change for the sake of making a change in how we do things.  Radical hospitality does not involve changing or eliminating the liturgy in the hope of welcoming a few newcomers. It does not involve changing our mission to be more flashy, glitzy, or edgy in the hopes of attracting a few more members is not what Jesus is imagining.  Jesus wants us to be radical by doing what nobody else does—confessing ones offensives and then offering forgiveness. 

"The reason forgiveness is so important is simple: we screw up. Whether out of insecurity, bad training, habit or simply because we sin daily; we all too often put our wants, needs, and desires ahead of those of others. We hurt the people around us and they hurt us. There is not a single person here who has not been hurt in some way by another individual and at the same time, who hasn’t also been hurt someone else. That’s just life in this world. We screw up. Which means forgiveness is perhaps the essential ingredient in keeping our community, something that our Lord desired, in tact.”

Matthew makes it very clear: Being a Christian means we confess our sins and then receive forgiveness.  If we go through this life thinking we don’t need confession or never offer forgiveness, we are no different from the world.  Christians are different.  We confess our sins, we seek out forgiveness, we offer absolution. Martin Luther said in the Large Catechsim, “if you are a Christian you should be glad to run more than a hundred miles for confession, not under compulsion but that coming and compelling us to offer it.”  Christians, by our very nature, cannot hold a grudge against each other.  That is what makes us so radically different.  

Imagine if we didn't hold grudges in this community.  Imagine if we didn't let grudges shape who we are.  Imagine if we were known as the community that is so radically different from the world because we forgave each other.  

Offering forgiveness to someone is a hard thing to do.  The world sees it as a weakness—the world says you should never back down, that you should stand your ground, fight to the bitter end and never look back.  What if we showed the world that there is a different way to live and it is available to them in this community?  What if we practice radical hospitality and offered forgiveness with no string attached?  That they can come to a place, screw up, say the wrong things, do the wrong things and we still say, "We forgive you...I forgive you."  In some ways, it is not hard to imagine a community like this because we do these very things all the time—we offer forgiveness to one another all the time, but we can always strive to do more—we can always strive to be more radical.

My brothers and sisters, be fearless in this regard.  Speak the truth in love and offer forgiveness when possible.  This is the cross we need to begin to bear.  Jesus was fearless when it came to forgiving others and speaking the truth in love.  That fearless attitude radically change the world, but it ultimately lead him to a cross.  Because he forgave, because he spoke truth to power, because he practiced radical hospitality—the world crucified him. And the world might crucify you as well, but our Lord did not stay dead for all that long.  The world might crucify and try to overcome you with death for showing forgiveness, but Jesus knows a thing or two about overcoming a cross.  

Your task this week is to practice radical hospitality by offer forgiveness.  Do this and the world will take notice.  The world will see your actions and will take notice.  And they might call you weak.  The world might even try to throw you on a cross.  However, “Jesus promises not to desert his disciples as they face that difficult truth and practice living more fully into the communities that God calls into being. After all, he is present wherever two or three are gathered in his name, a name that means “God with us,” who saves people from their sins (Matthew 1:21, 23). The power for his followers to be transformed is available for the asking, as promised. “Truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).”  My brothers and sisters, do you want to change the world? Be a radical—offer forgiveness.

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

"Well, that didn't last long, Peter."

Proper 17 (22) - August 30, 2020 
- Jeremiah 15:15-21
- Psalm 26:1-8
- Romans 12:9-21
- Matthew 16:21-28
"Well, that didn't last long, Peter."

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

Did I ever tell you all about this class I took in college called Sociology of Family?  It was a summer course so I had a lot of extra time to study and do all the assigned reading.  I was also fairly late into my college career so, I knew enough to be dangerous in class.  So, I prepped for the discussion we were going to have on divorce.  The professor, a young, very intelligent woman who just completed here doctorate work in sociology, gets up and asks, “Why are divorce rates rising in the country?” So, I was the first to raise to my hand.  I shot my hand right up in the air.  I was excited.  I read the material.  I had a backlog of facts in my head from other classes that I knew I could use in sparring with the professor and win any counterpoint she made.  I was prepped.  I was going to Ace this class.  I could feel it. She called on me.  I say, “Divorce rates are rising because it is no longer taboo for people to live together before marriage.  Therefore, once a couple does get married, nothing feels different and creates a strain on their relationship because they thought things would change in marriage and possibly get better in their relationship.  When that doesn’t happen, divorce typically happens.  Bam.  Textbook answer based upon fact and relevant data.  I sat back in my chair thinking, “I’ll take my A for today’s class.”  The professor, looks at me and after a few seconds says, “I just moved in with my boyfriend of two years last week. Are we doomed to get a divorce if we get married?”  I seriously felt this tall. I felt like Peter (with the exception that I was right...mostly).  

"Get behind me, Satan!”  Do you all remember what Jesus said of Peter last week? ”And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." That was last week.  Peter was the rock on which Christ would build his church.  Now it’s, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  But see, the narrative timeline is different from our timeline.  Mere moments after being declared a rock and solid foundation, Peter has said the wrong thing, he is called Satan and declared a stumbling block to Jesus.  For anyone who thinks Jesus is all warm and fuzzy, full of butterfly kiss, and oozing with all things cute and cuddly, I give you Matthew 16.  Get behind me Satan. 

Has Jesus just lost all hope in his rock of a disciple?  Has Jesus failed to take into account that his star pupil, first chosen, top of the class disciple might not be all that good at this following Jesus? I sure hope not because if that is the case, we are all doom, myself most of all.  I am unfortunate in the sense that I have saved every, single one of my sermons since seminary.  Some of them I can’t even bring myself to read.  And if reading were not enough, I have been recording myself preaching for about 6 years now.  You know how actors say they can’t watch themselves on tv?  I get that.  I have to force myself to listen to my sermons only to make sure I didn’t say anything too stupid—I listen to make sure I don’t have to do damage control during the week.  We all say things that we wish we didn’t say.  Peter was not wrong for wanting to protect his friend, but Peter doesn’t yet grasp the fact that Jesus  must “go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” It is a divine necessity because if Jesus doesn’t do it, we are all done for.  

Peter’s rebuking Jesus was done out love for his friend.  “Forbid it, Lord. this must never happen to you.” His love for his friend is greater than his love of the messiah.  I get that.  Sometime I think I love the church more than I love Jesus.  I am willing to sacrifice myself for the church’s sake, but not for my Lord’s sake. It is our way as humans.  Of course Peter is going to set his mind on human things rather than on divine things.  That is what he has done his entire life.  That is what all have done:  we prioritize Self-preservation over the care of the greater good.  Spock is always quoted as saying, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” There is a reason it is called Vulcan logic and not human logic.  That is not how we are wired to think.  To save Jesus would benefit Peter and his merry band of misfit disciples.  To sacrifice Jesus would mean salvation for all the world.  Of course Peter is going to think about himself because why should he care about the rest of the world?  They don’t care about him?  Why should he?  That is human logic and that is the rock on which Christ will build his church?!?!

The rock that Jesus is going to build his church seems a bit…ummmmm…unstable, doesn’t it?  But remember that Jesus didn’t build his church on the back of his disciple. He built his church on the confession that Peter made, on the words that Peter spoke.  You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Peter might not get it, but the church will still stands.  We might not get it at times, but the church will still stand.  The church Christ built is not dependent on my work, on your work, on the congregation being able to pay its bills, have an amazing Sunday school program, have the best youth group around.  The church of Christ is dependent upon our savior, Jesus Christ.  He is our Messiah.  He is the son of the living God.  He alone is where we place our foundation in this world.  He’s our leader.  He’s the one we follow.

That’s what he reminded Peter when he said, “Get behind me” “In Matthew 4:10 at the end of the temptation, Jesus expels Satan from his presence: Go [away]! (hypage). But to Peter, Jesus adds words that remind him of his place as a disciple: Go behind me (hypage opiso mou, emphasis added). In Matthew, the words opiso mou (“behind me” or “after me”) signify discipleship. The proper place for a disciple is behind Jesus, in the place of a follower.” Peter “is putting his own thoughts ahead of the ways of God, which makes him a stumbling block—a hindrance to Jesus’ mission... but Jesus does not break relationship with him. Instead, he reminds Peter of the proper place for a follower.” Jesus, in fact, never broke that relationship with Peter.  Not once.  Not even in the courtyard when he denied knowing him or being a disciple.  To break that relationship would break his promise—God with us. It is not just God with us when we say the right things or believe the right things. Jesus is with us, even when we are complete morons and make fools out ourselves.  

You know, how many of us put all our faith into idols and human things other than Jesus.  How many times have we heard this election season, “I alone can save you.”  And how many times are we let down by politicians, leaders, parents, friends, pastors who promise great things and then fail to do these impossible tasks?  How many times do we place our trust in others, in human things, in mere mortals to save us rather than in Jesus who actually can and does it? 

Every day.  Every, single day we constant trip over broken promises, broken visions, broken dreams because human things are what we know.  Human things are easier to trust in. Divine things, though, are still such a mystery.  And the only one who knows how to navigate this mystery is begging you to follow him.  Follow Jesus.  To Get behind him.  Take up your cross and follow him. For “The One who is called “God with us” (Matthew 1:23), promising to be “with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20), is already and always going ahead of his followers.  He was the first one to face the worst that the world can do.” So, when the world hands you your cross and you feel like you are going to face death all alone, know the one you have been following, has his cross too and is leading the way to Calvary, and there you will see God redeem you just as God redeemed Jesus.

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

"What did you say, Peter?"

Proper 16 (21) - August 23, 2020
- Isaiah 51:1-6
- Psalm 138
- Romans 12:1-8
- Matthew 16:13-20
"What did you say, Peter?"

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

"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." Not even the gates of Hades will prevail against it.  Not even the gates of Hades.  If these past few months are not the gates of Hades, then I don't even want to know what they will look like.  6 months, 6 months of isolation. 6 months of being together only via our computer screens and cell phones,

But not even the gates of Hades will prevail.  

Yet it doesn’t feel that way.  It feels like we have been on a rudderless ship and a rogue wave has capsized our boat.  We don't know which way is up or down any more.  All we know is that if feels like we are sinking.  We are all scared.  We are all scared because we do not know what tomorrow holds.  Frankly though, we have never known what tomorrow might bring but it seems like in these times of so much uncertainty, where the only certainty is that everything is uncertain, it feels even more terrifying.  

Will there be a faith community here at St. John's in a year from now?  In two? In Five?  Are we even viable as a congregation or have we lost too much—lost too many people over these past 6 months? The truth of the matter, I don't know.  I really don't.  I keep thinking back to my installation.  What an amazing day that way.  To have so many of you all gathering inside our congregation, singing, worshipping, being the church.  It was an amazing day.  But I think about all that I promised to do as your pastor.  To care for the people of St. John's—to serve as your pastor.  I think about those vows and I wonder constantly, "Have I made the right decision?  Should we have stayed online?  Should we have gathered together back in May when the restrictions were lifted?”  You all may think I have all the answers and have things together, but I am here to tell you that I have no idea what I am doing most days.  And what makes all my self-doubt even worse, in Matthew 16:8 Jesus says  one of his disciples, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it."  So, I have to wonder, am I missing something?  Will I ever have the kind of conviction that Peter had when doing ministry?

Yet we know, or we will know (spoiler alert) Peter is not the guy who has it all together.  He might look like he does, but he says some pretty dumb stuff—stuff what we will talk about next week.  And Jesus knows this about his friend.  He knows Peter.  He has spent time with Peter.  Intimate time. Jesus knows that Peter has a tendency to not see the bigger picture, but to live in the moment. But more than Peter, Jesus knows a thing or two about humans and some of our not-so-good tendencies.  Why would Jesus make it sound like he is putting all his trust in one single, man—a mere mortal who sometimes says brilliant things while at other times, fails to comprehend the role Jesus is fulfilling as the Messiah? 

The simplest answer here is that Jesus is not saying that at all.  The thing that Jesus is going to build his church on is Peter's words—"You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  That is the foundation on which Christ will build his church. Jesus even says “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” It is very similar to Luther’s explanation of the third article of the creed that simply says, I believe that I cannot believe...but the Holy Spirit has made it possible.  But there is also something going on here that is just so subtle and to understand it, we need to go into the world behind the text for a bit.  

Notice where Matthew places Jesus asking the question. “Jesus asks his questions once they have arrived in Caesarea Philippi rather than during the journey to get there”, as he does in Mark’s account.  It is a subtle difference but one that I notice and other biblical commentators notice as well. “The place matters."

"Situated about 25 to 30 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, Caesarea Philippi was near a trade route that connected Tyre in the West to Damascus in the Northeast. A nearby cave housed a great spring that fed one of the sources of the Jordan River. The cave and spring had long served as a sanctuary dedicated to the Greek god, Pan. Greek inscriptions and niches carved into the rock, still visible today, suggest dedications to other pagan gods as well. In addition to the polytheism represented at the site, signs of power and authority were on display as well. A couple of decades before Jesus’ birth, Herod the Great had built a temple near the spring in honor of Caesar Augustus. By the time Jesus and his disciples visited the region, Caesarea Philippi had been given over to the auspices of Herod’s son, Philip the tetrarch, who established the city as the administrative center of his government. By the time the Gospel of Matthew was written, people were likely aware that the Roman commander who led the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE had returned with his troops to Caesarea Philippi in celebration of their victory. Thus, Jesus’ question—“Who do you say that I am?”—hangs in the air at the intersection of economic trade, religion, and the power of the Empire. It is a question not simply about Jesus’ identity, as if getting the titles right would earn somebody an “A” on a messianic quiz. It is a question about allegiance."

"In what or in whom will the followers of Jesus place their trust? Will it be in the privileges deriving from access to opportunity and wealth? In the worship of a prevailing culture’s latest idols? In allegiance to the dominant power of earthly rulers? Or will they trust, instead, in the One whose life, death, and resurrection reveal the mercy and justice of the living God?"

Peter told us where he was going to put his trust.  "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." In a world of so much uncertainty; in a world where we question if we made the right decision; in a world where people are suffering from isolation, loneliness, and despair at a far greater rate than ever before; in a world were people are afraid to leave their homes; in a world where others chastise these same people who are legitimately afraid; in a world where the only certainty left is uncertainty—Peter's words ring out all the more true.  "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." This is the place that Christ will build and has built his church

I am not afraid that the gospel will disappear or no longer be proclaimed 6 months from now or a year from now.  I am confident that the church is bigger than this virus and that God will not allow anything to prevail against our work.  But I know the church Jesus is referring to is church with a little c or what Martin Luther called the church invisible.  I am quiet certain that many congregations that are around today might not make it.  That makes me very sad but I am okay with that.  None of St. Paul's congregations are around today, yet here we are.  In a parking lot or in our homes, TOGETHER, worship and proclaiming the good news.  

I do not know what the future holds for us, my brothers and sisters.  I don't and I would be lying to you if I said it was going to be a piece of cake.  All I know is that is this: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. And not even the Gates of Hades will prevail against the church when we proclaim that message; if we build our foundations on that truth.  That I am most certain of this day. 

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

 

Healing Foreigners

Proper 15 (20) - August 16, 2020
- Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
- Psalm 67
- Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
- Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28
Healing Foreigners

Sink or Swim

Proper 14 (19) - August 9, 2020
- 1 Kings 19:9-18
- Psalm 85:8-13
- Romans 10:5-15
- Matthew 14:22-33
Sink or Swim
 

A Meal Where Everyone Leaves Happy

Proper 13 (18) - August 2, 2020 
- Isaiah 55:1-5
- Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
- Romans 9:1-5
- Matthew 14:13-21
A Meal Where Everyone Leaves Happy

Five Parables for One Low Price

Proper 12 (17) - July 26, 2020
-1 Kings 3:5-12
- Psalm 119:129-136
- Romans 8:26-39
- Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
5 Parables For One Low Price

The Parable of Weed Killer

Proper 11 (16) - July 19, 2020
- Isaiah 44:6-8
- Psalm 86:11-17
- Romans 8:12-25
- Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
The Parable of Weed Killer
A dialog sermon by Pastors Matt and Diane Day

 

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

The Parable of Weeds among the Wheat. That is a horrible title for a parable.  That is not going to get you a spot on the New York Times Best Seller List.  Weeds among the wheat.  Like, no kidding.  We ordered take out on Thursday night from the Dining Room in Inwood.  Driving down 51, past a number of the farms, a number of those fields have a bunch of volunteer crops from last year popping up among their good seeds.  Depending on how you look at these volunteers, they are either a cash crop or weeds.  If you allow them to continue to grow, they steal nutrients from your plants (your cash), they contaminate your final product, and they generally do not produce all that well.  This happens all the time. When you harvest the corn, or you harvest the beans, or you harvest the wheat, some of your harvest is going to fall into the field and lie dormant all winter, and if the conditions present themselves, will pop up in the next growing season.  Mother Nature is always going to do this. Weeds are a fact of life for farmers and gardeners.  No matter how hard you work at tilling the fields, spraying the fields, and physically pulling the weeds, you will have to contend with volunteers and other weeds popping up amongst your good seed.

Weeds among wheat.  Let’s talk about this title for a bit.  I don’t like the traditional title for this parable. Weeds among the Wheat. I have thought about a couple other options:

    • The Gospel accord to Roundup Weed Control.
    • The Losing Battle of Weed Control
    • (my favorite) The Parable of Killing Volunteers 
    • Or probably the most realistic title - The Parable of the Foolish Farmer Who Has No Idea What He is Doing…

Not that catchy of a name as the original but much more in line with reality. Maybe we should just stick with the title the NRSV assigned it…Weeds among Wheat. The reality of the matter is that this parable should not be read like “awww…that is such a great story.” Rather, it is suppose to make question all our previous notions and ideas of the dominion of God and we can best do this by putting ourselves into the same mindset that 1st century hearers would have heard it. And mind you—Jesus’ original audience were most likely farmers… 

But before we do this, let us remember the working definition of what a parable is.  The word parable comes from the greek word parabole.  That Greek word is a translation of the Hebrew word mashal which means "to be similar, to be comparable.” So, the best definition of a parable that I have ever found came from MGVH and my wife beautifully quoted it last week but I will say it again as a reminder.  “Parables function as metaphors, metaphors challenging or inviting the audience into a new or deeper experience of God’s dominion, a dominion identified with those who are the LAST, LOST, LEAST, LITTLE, & LIFELESS.`” 

Please note, Parables are not allegories, though Matthew 13:36-43 might make us think it is.  An allegory is a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one. Often, allegories have characters that we compare ourselves and each other.  Such as in the parable of the prodigal son, many of us can identify with the older son and see others, especially those who we don’t like, as the younger son.  But an allegory really cheapens a parable into this simple little story and totally misses the bigger picture of the coming dominion of God being associated with the last, LAST, LOST, LEAST, LITTLE, & LIFELESS.`” Often times, allegories can be summed up by those cute, little sayings you find crotched onto a pillow or stuck onto a meme.  

These past few months, I have heard so many people say, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” Seriously, my brothers and sisters, I am so incredibly tired of hearing it.  Clearly y’all, if you think God caused this pandemic, we need to have a chat and I will be in my office tomorrow morning ready to chat by phone or video.  603,000 people from across the world have died from Covid19. 141,000 are from the US and 100 people in our great state of West Virginia.  Clearly this is more than any of us can handle!?!? How do you tell someone who lost a love one to this horrible, wretched virus, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”  To people who have lost parents too son, children who can’t see grandparents they love.  It is no wonder why people have been turning away from Christianity.  We have cheapened this life-giving gospel to a bunch of stupid-memes, idiotic-crotchet-sayings and it has to stop.  We must call a thing what it is and stop the nonsense.  This virus is a horrible thing, but our God knows a thing or two about dealing with hopeless situations—our God knows how to deal with death.

So, let’s look at this parable and try to read it from the perspective of the 1st century hearers, and try to avoid those homiletical traps that are so easy to fall into.  

The kingdom of God is like a someone who sowed good seed in his field…that’s not exactly right.

The kingdom of God is like a farmer who sowed good seed in his field…that’s not exactly right either.

The kingdom of God is like a wasteful, moronic farmer who has no idea how nature and farming works, sowed good seed in his field… and while everybody was asleep, an enemy, I.e. mother nature, came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 

So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well, just like normal. And so the workers of the fields (otherwise known as the slaves who work for free and are treated as property of the master) come to the moronic farmer and say to him, "Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?' And the farmer says, “It’s called mother nature…” Wait, no he’s still pretty clueless so instead he SAYS, "An enemy has done this.’ Because that is the best way to really sock-it to your enemies…plant dandelions in your neighbor’s field.  That will show them! 

So, the slaves said to him, "Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he replied, "No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. SO, Both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn and by the way, I need more cow bell.”

1st century farmers listening to Jesus’ parable would have been scratching their heads, probably even laughing, as Jesus told this parable and I think that is the point.  Parables are suppose to help us question our presuppositions of God’s dominion.  So, how then does this parable help us think about the coming dominion of God? 

  • (DIANE) The kingdom of God is not what we expect it to be. The kingdom of God is good soil with lots of weeds. The kingdom of God has both wheat and weeds growing up along side of each other.
  • (MATT) The kingdom of God has a moronic farmer in charge of operations.
  • (DIANE) The kingdom of God still has to deal with mother nature messing up even the best laid crops.
  • (MATT) The kingdom of God has dandelions…but Dandelions are not all that bad.

Dandelions spread their seeds by little kids running around and blowing the seeds all over the yard (and if you don’t have kids, the wind does it).  They are tough, hearty plants.  By the way, did you know Dandelions were not indigenous to North America.  They probably arrived in "North America on the Mayflower—not as stowaways, but brought on purpose for their medicinal benefits.” Dandelions are completely edible…every part.  During the great depression, many people went and picked them so that their family could have green food to eat.  They help loosen up tough soil.  Now-a-days, we create poisons to get rid of them… What exactly is a weed?  Is a weed not a living plant fighting for survival just like my tomatoes?  Do we not like weeds because of the way they look or because someone told us that this is a weed and therefore we must destroy it.  I think we should be careful who we listen to because there are a lot of weed controls companies out there that have made millions off our fear of the dandelion—a fear that was created by their desire to profit off our fear and desire to have that perfect lawn.

  • (DIANE) The kingdom of God still has our enemies…but how does Jesus tell us to deal with our enemies. (Pray, they may be people close to us, ultimately cast out from God’s presence) 
  • (MATT) The kingdom of God has slaves?!?!

During the 1800’s, many people used the Bible to support their twisted, inhumane views of slavery.  “Most studies of slavery in Greco-Roman antiquity suggest that it was not the same as slavery in the pre-Civil War period of the United States. ‘Ancient slavery was not based on race, for example. One could become a slave by being born into slavery, being captured in war, falling into debt, selling oneself (or family members) into slavery, or being "rescued" from infant exposure and then raised as a slave. Moreover, poorer folk sometimes had slaves; even slaves sometimes had slaves! Many slaves, especially those enslaved as a result of war, were more educated than their masters, and they were often encouraged to continue their education in order to benefit their masters… Slaves could also accumulate property and wealth and buy their freedom, although they normally remained indebted to their former masters…Most slaves in Greco-Roman society could expect to be emancipated by the age of thirty, from which masters normally benefited economically.’” 

However, I am by no means endorsing slavery of any kind and even slavery during the days of Jesus was not a pleasant life to live.  “Since honor was the focal value of Mediterranean society, slavery was always bad, since it thoroughly deprived a person of honor. Slaves worked on plantations and alongside persons condemned to death by working in mines or rowing galley ships. Their life was harsh and brutal. Slaves were property (like animals) and did not enjoy the same legal status as free persons… Slaves were not legally married, their families were sometimes broken up, and disreputable table masters sometimes sexually abused female and young male slaves. Fugitive slaves had to be returned, and debts were to be paid to their owners by anyone who harbored them.”

Will the coming dominion of God include slaves?  No.  So why use this imagery?  Remember I said a parable was a metaphor?  In order for it to be a metaphor, you have to liken your topic that your audience will get.  Slavery was well imbedded into the social fabric of the 1st century world and it was something that people could all understand.  So does that mean, God endorsed slavery?  No.  Will the coming dominion of God include slaves?  No.  St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatian’s,  “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”

  • (DIANE) Why does Jesus turn this parable into an allegory in verses 36-43?

Simple answer, the disciples are just like us and want a simple answer.  Jesus gives them a simple answer.  But how many of us feel satisfied with just a simple answer?  Isn't faith more than just a simple answer that you can crochet onto a pillow or put onto a meme? I don't think that we should ignore 36-43 because it does give us an insight into our Lord's thought process and thinking, but I do think Jesus wants us to think more deeply about this parable and how it changes our presupposed assumption about the present dominion of God. It also makes us think about the necessity of judgment and how it can impact our lives and the fruit we produce now as participants in God’s dominion.

  • (MATT) Are we to fear the reaper? 

Luther starts each one of his explanations of the 10 commandments by saying, "We are fear and love God..." We are to fear and love God.  It is a strange dichotomy that Luther presents us with and not something that he just came up with.  He read scripture like this, parables just like this one that really makes us ask the question are we to fear the reaper?

I once read this great little proverb by a seminary professor who said, "Whenever you draw a line in the sand to say who is on the inside of the kingdom of God and who is on the outside, remember this, Jesus is always on the other side of that line.  Jesus is always with the outsiders.  What exactly is bad—the wheat or the weeds?  We assume the weeds are bad, but with if they are not?  The band, Blue Oyster Cult, got it right.  Don't fear the reaper. I don't fear the reaper, I fear that I made the wrong choice and sided with the people who are not on the side of Jesus.  

*****

(Diane) So, what the solution?  Let the reaper figure it out.  That is the reapers job, isn't it? Our role in the coming dominion of God is to to do the growing and the planting knowing full well that even with great soil, good seeds, we still need the work of the reaper, that we aren’t going to figure it out ourselves.

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

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