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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.  
    

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
 
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