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Unprepared for Service

Ezekiel 2:1-5     
Psalm 123    
2 Corinthians 12:2-10     
Mark 6: 1-13    
Proper 9
July 7, 2018
Unprepared for Service
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

    Back in February, I made the executive decision to place every member of the congregation on the Evangelism committee because it is really everyone’s job to evangelize, not just a select group of people.  I haven’t done much with this or pushed you all, but I think today is the day.  I think this text is a good place to talk about evangelism and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  

    Up to this point in the gospel of Mark, we have seen Jesus going from town to town, preaching a message based in Jesus' understanding of Repentance and faith in the good news because the kingdom of God is near (see Mark 1:15).  But now in the 6th chapter of Mark, we begin to see the Jesus movement begin to expand beyond the person of Jesus through the sending out of the disciples 2 by 2.  This is a big risk and with bigger risk comes the increase of danger and dishonor to the disciples and Jesus himself, but also holds great potential. 

    We see this in the first part of our Gospel reading this day.  Jesus comes back home to Nazareth, in the region of Galilee.  And when the day of Sabbath had come, Jesus goes to the town Synagogue for worship.  But he does not sit by as things go on around him, he begins to teach his message as if he is the Rabbi.  

    At first, Mark says the people are astounded at what he is saying, but not astounded in a good way.  - The word we translate as astounded is exeplÄ“ssonto.  It is commonly use to talk about demon possession.  One dictionary defined the word as “to strike one out of self-possession, to strike with panic, shock, astonish; to be struck with amazement, astonished.  I think the people are not saying, "I knew him back when he was in diapers, running around town with the other children..."   Rather, they look at him and say, “A carpenter’s son should not be able to talk like this.”  They ask openly, "Where did he get all of this?  What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!" Is he from heaven, or is he from hell?

    They are astounded by Jesus because they think he is possessed by the devil, or possessed by something that is still very troubling.   "How dare he think he is better than us, he is one of us."  Those deeds that he is doing with his hands are nice, but what about those deeds of caring for his mother, his family - carrying on the family business of being a carpenter; why doesn't Jesus use his hands for the kind of work he was raised and trained to do?

    His neighbors ask, is this not the son of Mary?  Why isn't Jesus caring for his mother like every son is suppose to do?  This is not how a first born son is suppose to act - he doesn't go away, leave his family behind - he takes care of them.  Mark really places Jesus as being estranged from his family, a unique trait of the gospel, and as you can imagine - Jesus' relationship with his family does not sit well with those from his village.  

    Some even suggest that by Mark referring to Jesus as Mary's Son and not Joseph's son, Jesus could be living with the negative stigma of being born without a Father (remember, Mark's gospel does not have the infancy narrative...).  More likely the case is that they are throwing insults towards Jesus and saying he was born without a father.  A word that many of us are associated with but a word I probably should not say from the pulpit.       So, what does Jesus do after this experience?  Does he curl up in a ball and hide?  Does he return back home and take over the family business?  What does he do with the rejection?  He tells his disciples, "It is time for you to go out and do what I have been doing.  It is time for you to cast out some demons and heal some sick.  It is time for you be reject too.”

    He told them they can't take any bread, bag, or money in their belts - just a staff, one tunic and some sandals.  It sounds a little crazy today.  For me to do my job as a pastor, I need a truck; with a communion kit; a bag full of envelopes, paper, pens, brochures; vestments to lead worship; a Bible; a computer with the latest Biblical software and access to the internet so that I can maintain a webpage, multiple facebook accounts and access to email.  And that is only a few things...  
Jesus, though, sends his followers out only with another companion and the clothes on their backs.

    Jesus tells them that they need to rely sole on the hospitality of others - hospitality not shown to him in Nazareth.  And Jesus prepares them for rejection by telling them to be ready to shake the dust off of you.  And it is this rejection that I think we tend to not want to focus on because who really likes to be rejected?  In this particular narrative, they succeed, but what about when they don’t succeed and are rejected by a town or a group of people?     "The gospel is very much a story of failure and opposition as much as they have stories of revelation and success or the realization of hope."  We forget that Jesus was not always successful in what he did. We forget this, but Mark doesn’t forget.  Failure is always option. Rejection is always an option. How a Christian deals with failure and rejection is a whole other story. Are we going to sulk in misery or are we going shake the dust off and move on?

    Discipleship has failure built into the very fabric.  We think about Jesus coming in our world, this being God's plan, we assume that everything has to go our way because it is God's will.  But failure is part of discipleship - it is a part of the mystery of our faith that we can't understand.  I was talking to a friend of mine, Bill, a few years ago.  He was helping me do some evangelism things at my last call.  It seemed like everything always seemed to work so well for him and I told him that...I wanted to know his secret.  Bill’s response back to me, “You only see the things that work, you never get to see the things that failed miserably.  So often we equate numbers with success.  If attendance is down at church, the pastor or someone must be doing something wrong.  Something must be wrong.  But what about the biblical understanding of rejection?  How do we reconcile success with the very real promise from God that we will fail and be rejected at times? "This is where the people of God today need some creativity because the Gospel of Mark never imagined followers of Jesus having power, having a place of cultural privilege at all." Mark never could have imagine a congregation or a Church like the ELCA.  Mark's view of the church was that of meeting in caves and in peoples' home, where those gathering were guests and not hosts. So failure was always a constant. So where do we need to fail?     For starters, I think we need to start failing at being a guest.  I mean, think about it.  What is one thing we can all say about our congregation?  We are great at being nice, we are full of nice people and I think we are very successful at  bringing people into OUR space on OUR terms.  But that is not what Jesus tells his disciples to do.  Jesus nowhere in this gospel says, “Be nice to be people when they come into your church.”  It’s a given and we should do that, but notice what is the focus of Jesus sending his 12 disciples out? 

    Jesus tells his followers to go out and rely on someone else’ hospitality for everything.  That's scary.  Not because we might miss a few meals (I can certainly go without...).  It is scary because we might fail and we hate failing.  

    And I am not saying that we should completely throw out everything about ourselves, that makes us unique, but we can't allow ourselves to be so ridged in what we do.  The most divisive, maybe even the most deadly 8 words for a church to say is, "We have never done it that way before" because we deny creativity; creativity that this church so needs today.  We should not say we want new people to join us but then deny them any kind of creativity or leadership where their creativity can be used because we fear a new, different future or maybe because we fear that they might fail.    
  •     So, step one in evangelism is a very simple rule but a hard rule for us to grasp.  We must be okay with being rejected. Rejection will happen for each of us when we invite someone into our community or visit them on their own turf.  Don’t worry about rejection.
  •     The second rule for evangelism is that we need to offer the hand of forgiveness to our brothers and sisters who try new things and fail.  We need to be forgiving of our leaders when one ministry might fail or produce lack-luster results.  We need to remember that we all screw up, we all make mistakes, we all get rejected, but that there will always be a community where love and forgiveness reign.  A that Gathering last week, the phrase we heard so much, “There is grace for that.” There is grace for when you fail.  
There is grace for when you are rejected.  There is a community that loves and wants the very best for you.  And at the end of the day, even after you have been rejected, remember you went where the Lord sent you, you preached the gospel, and people heard it.  Jesus has faith in you to do what he does and that is our firm foundation which will carry us through all the days of rejection and failure. 

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

Losing a friend when you are Jesus

Amos 7: 7-15     
Psalm 85: 8-13    
Ephesians 1: 3-14     
Mark 6: 14-29    
Proper 10
July 15, 2018
Losing a friend when you are Jesus
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

    You all know I love Mark's gospel.  People say it is poorly written, lacks details, was written hastily, and is wrong about some historical details, but I love it.  Mark is a brilliant writer who can write in such a way that pulls you in multiple, different ways which forces the reader to slow down to connect the dots.  I talked about this before, Mark writes in a circle and it is necessary that we slow down and connect the dots.  

    So, let's slow down and go back.  Often when I read for fun, I find myself reading sci-fi that using words and descriptions that confuse me.  Often called geek-speak or trekanese, this nerd language is often hard to comprehend and follow, but this way of writing creates drama and pulls you deeper into the story. Will Kathryn Janeway save Voyager from a warp core breach by enabling the magnetic constrictors to avoid micro fractures in the warp core casing?   You have no idea what they are talking about, but all you know is something will go boom boom if Janeway doesn't do something.  Mark writes in a similar fashion.  You might not understand why he is writing something, but it will make sense if you keep reading. And if still doesn't makes sense, go back and re-read it.  So, in looking at this pericope, the big question that I have about this text: why is Mark writing about the beheading of John the Baptist in the midst of sending out the 12 disciples? The placement is odd.

    Let’s look at the beginning of Mark 6.  It starts out with Jesus being rejected in his hometown.  The story then moves to Jesus sending out his disciples two by two with no more than the tunics on their backs and sandals on their feet.  Then Mark springs on us the beheading of John the Baptist.  It comes from left field, or at least it seems that way.  It sounds like a 3 year old is telling us the story, but in reality, Mark is pulling his readers back and forth in a circle talking about discipleship.  

    Let’s start by looking at the bigger picture. You know in TV shows how they show two scenes happening simultaneously at the same time?  That is what I believe Mark is doing.  So while the disciples are sent out two by two, happening at the same time, John is being held in a prison cell because he did the exact same thing that Jesus and his disciples are doing.  But notice the work of the kingdom is not happening in this new scene.  For one thing, Jesus is not mentioned anywhere in this gospel story.  The work of God’s kingdom isn’t going to happen around Herod’s banquet table.  The work of God’s kingdom is being done by poor disciples who travel with nothing on them except the shirt on their backs and the sandals on their feet.  

    What does discipleship look like:  the complete opposite of Mark 6:14-29.  The disciples are traveling from town to town; with no bag, food, money, or extra shirt; preaching the good news and anointing the sick.  The supposed powerful leaders of Israel, Herod Antipas and his family are eating a meal while others in his kingdom go hungry, the king is being charmed by his niece (yes, I doubled checked my math on this one...Herod married his brother’s wife Herodias and this is her daughter by her first marriage so...) and while he is being charmed he offered to give away half of his kingdom.  This guy is a moron.  I know Mark doesn’t portray the disciples as the best and the brightest, but they have way more brains than this guy.  And this girl had the chance of a lifetime.  She could have ruled and made a difference in the lives of so many of her people.  Instead, she runs to mother and says, “what do you want?”  “The head of John the Baptist,” she replies.  The daughter runs back to Herod and tells him her demands.  “The head of John the Baptist on a silver platter.”  You know, just when you think this girl might be just doing the will of her mother, she goes and puts the icing on the cake.  She takes her mother demands one step further.  

    That is what the powerful people like Herod and his cronies do.  They plot against the innocent.  Disciples of Christ rely on the good will of others and of God as well so that the good news of Jesus Christ may be heard by all, including the sick and dying.  Disciples give up a lot for the gospel.  Real leaders will do anything for the people they serve.  Real leaders will lay down their life for the kingdom to which they have been sent to lead.  Real leaders like John and Jesus do just that.  
Illegitimate leaders like Herod twist the gospel, steal from the people they are called to serve, and are foolish with power.  Herod has no control over his impulses.  John was faithful even in death.  Jesus was faithful even in death.  Herod had to come through on the request of his step-daughter/niece in order to avoid dishonor and shame.  Our Lord never once let the sweet taste of power corrupt him or pull his eyes off of following the will of his father in heaven.  

    Herod is a foolish leader, though the argument could be made by people like Herod, Pilate and Caesar about Jesus.  He was crucified.  Rome eventually beat him as well just like they beat John.  But we know the truth.  We know the truth that eluded the Roman leaders.  We know the truth that eluded the people of Nazareth after they rejected Jesus.  We know truth that world sometimes likes to  reject.  We know that even though the world will try to kill you because you preach the good news of Jesus Christ, THAT. THE. WORLD. WILL. NOT. WIN.  

Foolish leaders are not swayed by the gospel and it is our calling as disciples of Jesus to be faithful and strong in preaching this gospel to anyone and everyone who will listen.  And that is probably the hardest part of being a disciple of Jesus.  Like we talked about last week, rejection stings.  I was a teenage boy once...I know rejection.  I know it hurts, but that does mean we stop doing the hard work of the gospel.

    Every, single year we embark on a week long VBS program.  These programs are not cheap.  They take a lot of people working together to make it happen.  From the food, to the education, to the music, to the crafts, to all the behind-the-scenes-work like registration and planning.  And then at the end of the week, we might never see these families.  It happens every year and many have asked me, “Pastor, how do we transfer what happens in this week over to the rest of the year?” And my response has been, “I don’t know.”  But I have been doing a lot of thinking about this gospel all week and I think I finally have answer.  How do we transfer what happens in this week over to the rest of the year?  We keep going out there week after week and proclaim the gospel.  We don’t stop believing that the good we do here in VBS has ended on Thursday night.  We don’t stop believing that God can work impossible miracles during impossible times.  We don’t lose hope, rather we knock the dust of our shoes, off of our clothes after we have been through out of house or a town.  We get back up as Jesus after losing his friend, being rejected by his hometown and we keep going, because that is what Christians do.  

    And God will take care of the foolish.  Herod and his family were exiled from the Roman Empire in 39 CE.  Jesus was raised from the dead and promises us a same future.  Don’t be like the fools of the world who trust in worldly things.  Trust in God to see you through the tough times, through the difficult times, through the exciting times, through the worst-moments-of-your-life times and never lose hope.

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

Raising a Prophet

Malachi 3:1-4    
Psalm 141    
Acts 13:13-26    
 Luke 1:57-67, [68-80]    
The Nativity of John the Baptist
June 23, 2018
Raising a Prophet
    In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    I was searching through some old photos yesterday to try to find a quote to use in my newsletter article.  And as I was searching through the photos, I came across a video of Thomas I took sometime last year.  Last June, he didn't really want to sit with me on the couch, but every once and a while, he would sit with me.  One time, as I held him, he was looking up at me with the biggest smile.  I pull out my phone and started to record a video.  With the biggest, toothless grin he smiled at me.  I called him crazy at one point in the video and his smile went away, but it came back very quickly.  

    He has always had a unforgettable smile.  No matter my mood, his smile has a way of making everything better.  As I sat and watched this short little video over and over, I kept thinking about how much he has changed since that day.  His personality has changed so much.  Last June, he refused to let me hold him.  Now, he comes running into our room, jumps up on the bed (with mom's help of course) and will giggle till I wake up.  I remember sitting in the chair a couple hours after he was born, holding my son for the first time, with tears running down my face asking, "What are you going to become?"  "Who are you going to be?"  "I hope you only take after your mom and be nothing like myself." I still ask these questions to Thomas, normally when he is sleeping in my arms or sitting next to me on the couch watching Chuggington.  I thought about these questions a lot this past Friday as we took a day and went to Strasburg, PA to ride on Thomas the Train.  “What is in your future, buddy?”  “What will you do?” “Who will you become?”

    When I told family that I wanted to be a pastor, they all tried to talk me out of it.  They saw how difficult it was and my response was, "You say the church needs good leaders, why not let me go and lead?"  Now that I am here, I pray often that God send my son anywhere but the pulpit.  Dear God, use him anywhere you see fit, just not in the church.  

    I cannot imagine what it must have been like for Zechariah and Elizabeth.  They both waited their whole lives for a son.  Zechariah and Elizabeth were no longer young.  Elizabeth was said to no longer be able to conceive and bear a child.  They had given up on the hope of being parents, then God spoke to Zechariah in the temple through the angel Gabriel.  "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John." The angel goes on to tell Zechariah all that John will do for the Lord.  The angel tells him that he will be the prophet to the Lord, the messiah, the one who will save the people.  "With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

    But Zechariah doesn't believe the angel.  "How can an old woman conceive and bear a son for me?"  Zechariah is a priest.  He knows this is something that God has done before.  His lack of faith angers God and he is made silent.  I think it is a little bit comical that God would make a pastor not talk for 9 months... I am sure his congregation was thrilled with the Lord's punishment.  Fast forward 9 months, Elizabeth has her son and she wants to name him John.  Those gathered suggest that Elizabeth name him after her husband, but Zechariah remembers what the angel said about his son’s name and writes on a tablet, "His name is John." 

    Immediately, God gave him his voice back and he wastes no time in giving praise to God.  The people are afraid of what just happened.  Luke says everyone in the region was talking about what had happened.  And they begin to wonder about John, this little, newborn baby.  They realize he is not your ordinary baby.  He was sent by God with a purpose.  They ask, “What then will this child become?”

    I can almost imagine Zechariah and Elizabeth picking up their child at this point and asking the same question.  I can relate to Zechariah because I have been in that same position.  Holding your newborn son, wishing to God that the path laid out before him would be an easy one; that God would have mercy on my son and keep him safe from all harm.  Knowing all that he knew about the life of a prophet, knowing all that he knows from the angel about his son's future, Zechariah doesn't run away this time, but he sings:

Blessed be the God of Israel who comes to set us free
And raises up new hope for us, a branch from David's tree.

I wish I was this bold. I wish I was this trusting.  I wish I was this brave.  I wish I could with such confidence in my heart when people ask me, "“What then will this child become?” I could respond in a similar fashion—sing praise to God, but I’m scared. I’m scared what the future might hold. 

    The nativity of our Lord brought salvation to our world.  Salvation could be seen in a cave, in a feeding trough, with animals keeping watching and shepherds coming from the hillside.  God saving God's people as God has always done.  A birth that had been foretold by prophets who had come before John.  They described how Jesus would the one who we would know as Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. The prophets described that his "His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom."  The prophets described how he would "establish and uphold [the throne] with justice and with righteousness."  And now that salvation has come, the world needs to know about it.  They needed to be confronted as the prophets had always been able to do it best.  The world needed to see the ugliness of its ways.  The world needed a prophet to prepare the way for Lord. The world needed John who could name the sin and bring people to repentance. But before all that could happen, this prophet first had to be born.  

    He first need to be a child and grow up.  He needed to learn about God.  He needed to learn how to pray, how to speak, how to lead.  John needed his parents to teach him the essentials.  He needed his parents to trust in God to provide for their son, even when they no longer could provide for him.  There is no doubt in my mind the reason John and Jesus were fearless even in the face of death was because their parents taught them about God.  They were brought up in the knowledge that God delivers God's people from all sorts of horrible situations.  Even when the odds are against the people, God finds a way.  With the entire Egyptian army on their trail, God delivered the people and struck a massive blow to a world power.  

    Children need good parents, good role models to become the prophets of tomorrow.  Children need parents like Zechariah and Elizabeth who trust in God and teach the faith, who make mistakes, who are afraid.  Children need people like my Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Pat, who taught me about Jesus.  Children need good parents like my mom and dad who taught me how to pray, to go to church, to not be afraid to ask questions.  Children need good grandparents like mine who took us to church in the summer when we were down visiting them.  

    There are prophets like baby John in our congregation.  Children who need to know about God.  Children who need a good role model.  As Christians, we have an opportunity to make sure the next generation of prophets know about the great and amazing power of our God.  Raising up these prophets is not going to be easy, but honestly it never was.  I can't imagine Zechariah and Elizabeth had that easy of a time with John.  I am sure they had a hard time getting John to eat his locust and wild honey but it eventually paid off.  He grew up and became strong physically and spiritually because his parents, his family, his friends, his local congregation, all had the faith that God would see John through life, and they were willing to teach John about this faith.     To borrow a line from St. Paul in his sermon in Antioch of Pisidia, "My brothers and sister, you descendants of Abraham’s family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent."  The message of salvation has been sent.  It has been heard and received from countless generations of families and children.  It is a messaged passed down.  It is good news.  It is terrifying news, but it is Good News.   The world continues to be changed when children grow up and become adults bold enough to share the good news that a child was born, grew up and became a man, and that he loved the world like nobody has even done—and that his name is Jesus  
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Never heard of a Mustard Tree

Ezekiel 17:22-24    
Psalm 92:1-4, 12-1    
2 Corinthians 5:6-10 [11-13] 14-17    
Mark 4:26-34    
Proper 6/Father's Day
June 17, 2018
Never heard of a Mustard Tree
    In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    Looking ahead at the lectionary, this is the only parable we are going to get from Mark for the the next few weeks, which is sad because parables are cool and fun to preach.  Mark's gospel does not include as many parables when compared to Matthew and Luke, but that does not mean that Mark's parables are not fascinating to study and preach.  Let's talk about parables real quick before we dive into this one from Mark 4.  "Parables are comparisons, meant to cast two things alongside one another to provide analogy, contrast, or reflection -- usually a reflection similar to the distortions that appear in a funhouse mirror. Jesus’ parables, whether they are brief aphorisms or short narratives, have a way of reordering conventional assumptions and values. They don’t explain how one is supposed to recognize the reign of God, but they make it clear that we will need to adopt or receive new ways of perceiving."
 
   So, what is a parable?  Parables function as metaphors challenging or inviting the audience into a new or deeper understanding of God kingdom/dominion.  A dominion most identified with the last, lost, least, little and lifeless.  Let me stress that last part.  Jesus’s parables, his ministry, his whole life was focused on bring the kingdom of God to the least likely people of the world—the last, the lost, the least, the little and the lifeless.  So, how is this parable teaching us about God’s dominion for the least likely folks of our world?

    The kingdom of God is like “a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth;”  The smallest of all the seeds…I am no farmer.  I wish I was but I’m not. I have seen a lot of seeds in my day.  A mustard seed is not that small.  In fact, there are smaller seeds.  Tomato seeds are smaller.  Lettuce seeds are smaller.  Most herbs are smaller.  A mustard seed is not that small.  In fact, it is pretty normal.  Why would Jesus, who is preaching to a bunch of farmers, say something like this?

    Jesus goes on…”yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all…[the] shrubs.”  Look at verse 12 of Psalm 92.  “The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.”  Cedar trees are big.  “Cedar trees are referred to frequently throughout the Old Testament as a symbol of strength. The comparison of those who follow God with thriving trees is a common one in scripture.”   The Prophet Ezekiel describes a scene where he sees God breaking off a branch of a cedar tree and place the entire nation of Israel on that branch.  The prophet says, “On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar. Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind.”

    These two lesson use strength, big trees, big everything to describe God and God’s actions, and God’s kingdom.  Yet Jesus says,  “yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all…[the] shrubs.”  A shrub.  This is a Markan trait.  Matthew version of this parable first says the plant grows into a shrub and then a tree.  Luke leaves out the word shrub all together.  Why is the kingdom of God like a shrub?

    Shrubs really serve no purpose.  They do create shade and privacy.  They add some nice curb appeal.  They are pretty.  The greek word for shrub is λαχηανον (lakh’-an-on) and it probably is better translated as any pot herb, vegetables.  A mustard seed doesn’t really grow into a shrub which would have been useful for at least shade.  A mustard seed grows into a weed.  And it is not that tall and it certainly cannot support a bird and its nest.  

    This is all a bit too strange for me to simply glance over.  Jesus is preaching to famers and people who work the land.  They know wild mustard and they know how annoying it can when sowing cash crops like wheat and other grains.  The Hebrew Bible’s view of God’s coming dominion or kingdom as a great strength—something to be feared even.  Yet Jesus describes the coming of God’s dominion in the most minuscule, ordinary of ways.  The kingdom of God is like a tomato plant.

    God’s dominion is not necessarily going to come as we might think it should.  God is this magnificent, powerful being who has a leviathan as a pet—a Leviathan being a Canaanite sea monster.  But God’s kingdom is going to come through ordinary moments, such as weeds growing in your garden.  God’s kingdom is ordinary, just likes weeds growing where you wish they would not grow.  God’s kingdom is not as assuming as we might think.  God’s kingdom is like a shrub, a potted vegetable plant, a weed—discarded by the world because of it is not useful.  Yet this same kingdom is important, holy, and something we all strive towards.  We want to be a part of God’s dominion.  We want to be there, to be counted as the chosen by God on the day of resurrection when the graves will be open and the sting of death will be taken away. 

    What unassuming ways is God working in your life?  What unassuming ways is God working in our ministry?  What ordinary things are happening that we are missing because we are expecting big, exciting things from God?  We are taking 6 young people from our congregation to Houston for the ELCA’s youth gathering.  6 young people will have their lives changed by this experience.  Their faith will be strengthened.  They will see the church in a completely different way.  Six young kids are about to have their lives changed and their experience will change our lives as well.  Six young kids who are still learning what it means to be a Christian in the 21st century.  Six young kids who are still trying to figure it all out.  Six young, ordinary kids will see God and experience God in a way that we could never show them.  The ordinary is used by God for extraordinary things.  

    The ordinary worship that we talk about as being out of touch, out of date, out of time with the rest of the world is used by God week after week to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ through the proclamation of this holy word, the administration of the sacraments, and by serving as a gathering place for people who are simultaneously saint and sinner.  A gathering place for ordinary people.  A gathering place for people who are forgotten by the rest of the world.  
A gathering place for the last, the lost, the least, the little, the lifeless who are seeking shelter from a cruel world.  A gathering place for people who need a savior like Jesus—who through he was in the form of God did not regard himself as equal to God but was willing to empty himself, take on our flesh, take on our problems, take on our pains, take on what it means to be human, to die a sinner’s death, but be raised from the grave like a saint.     

 This ordinary man turned out to be extraordinary.  This ordinary place turns extraordinary week after week.  I understand that the church needs to grow and adapt to the community, but we need to be careful when we say worship gives us nothing in return.  We need to be careful when we say, “I get nothing out of worship.”  Maybe we should turn that around and say, “What is God doing in this ordinary thing, this ordinary place and how can 8 show this as extraordinary?” Because we know from this parable, God doesn’t need a giant tree to keep God’s people safe.  God uses ordinary things, people and places to save the world.  Be different.  Be ordinary.  Be a weed but be a weed who is willing to hold innocent creature safe in your care. 

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

What day is it?

Deuteronomy 5: 12-15    
Psalm 81: 1-10    
2 Corinthians 4: 5-12     
Mark 2:23-3:6    
Proper 4
June 3, 2018
What Day Is It?
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    A few weeks ago at the One America Kick-Off event, Rabbi Aaron Alexander was standing in the corner of Luther Hall by the window and happened to pick up a copy of Luther’s Small Catechism and thumb through the pages. I happened to be walking by and stop to chat with him.  I ask him what he thinks of the book and he says, “it is amazing.  So easy to understand.  Easy explanations.”  And of course my response was, “Yeah, and nobody reads it after they get confirmed.  It blows my mind!”  But we got talking and I was curious what he thought about Luther’s explanations of the commandments.  To my surprise, he agreed with Luther except for the 2nd commandment.  Keep the sabbath.  And he wasn’t disagreeing with what Luther wrote.  He disagreed with the simplicity of the answer.  
    I learned that day the Jewish people think about the Sabbath day a lot.  So much has been written about the Sabbath and how it should be honored among the people.  Rabbis for centuries have debated the laws around the Sabbath.  Even the texts themselves debate the issue.  In the book of Exodus, we find a different order of the commandments from that of Deuteronomy.  In Deuteronomy, we get more of an explanation as to why the commandment is necessary and important to God.  
  • For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you...
    • This is directed at you.  This is not meant for others.  You shall observe the sabbath because you are worth more to God than your work is to God. But Moses goes on saying not just you but...
  • your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. 
    • The reason the sabbath day is so important is because the people who were once slaves are now free.  The slaves work every day, but the free people find rest.  
    • Because you were once a slave and were treated harshly, you should also not do the same to those beneath you.  
  • Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
    • Remember that you were sinner in the land, yet the Lord redeemed you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
    I stumbled upon a quote from Abraham Heschel that stands against some of our understanding that the Sabbath is good for us because rest prepares us to serve for the rest of the week. Heschel insists, "To the biblical mind, however, labor is the means toward an end, and the Sabbath as a day of rest, as a day of abstaining from toil. It is not for the purpose of recovering one’s lost strength and becoming fit for the forthcoming labor. The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life. Man is not a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of his work. 'Last in creation, first in intention.'"  Remember in the garden what the curse to man was?  

cursed is the ground because of you;
   in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
   and you shall eat the plants of the field. 
By the sweat of your face
   you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
   for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
   and to dust you shall return.’


What is the purpose of the sabbath?  Can one work on the Sabbath?  Is working in a restaurant on the sabbath a bad thing while working in the hospital a good thing?  Where do we draw the line?  Mowing my lawn is relaxing but for some it is work.  Can I mow my lawn on a Sunday afternoon or have broken the law?  Can we move the Sabbath?  If we work weekends, should we take a day off during the week?  Is that missing the point of the sabbath?  Is the sabbath suppose to be a communal action so that we are all held accountable?  Or is it more important to God that we find one day to rest? No wonder the rabbis have been writing about the sabbath for centuries.

    You know, what Jesus says is not all the controversial.  “In fact, when he notes that the purpose of the sabbath has always been to serve humankind, he is essentially restating Deuteronomy 5:12-15...Rabbinic traditions dating to a century after Jesus if not earlier expressed opinions similar to his words in Mark 2:27, including: “The Sabbath is handed over to you, not you to it” and “Profane one Sabbath for a person’s sake, so that he may keep many Sabbaths.”1 The proper function of the sabbath is to promote life and extol God as a liberator. Everyone knew that.”

    “Where Jesus definitely would have caught their attention was in his assumption that somehow he and his calling were comparable to David and David’s calling. Also, declaring himself the “lord” or “master” of the sabbath itself could be tantamount to claiming that the law’s ultimate purpose is to serve Jesus. The scandal resides here: he presents himself as no ordinary teacher.”

    That is what upsets the Pharisees.  The fact that he says the law fulfills the Son of Man’s purpose means Jesus has equated himself on a different level.  He is no mere man or Rabbi, he is the son of man and all the laws given to us by God serve our Lord and nothing more.  Ultimately, it would be the law that leads Jesus to his death, where his arms were forcibly outstretched so that he could redeem the world.  There are rules to be followed, even regarding healing.

    When is lawful to dispense with rules of our Lord?  Why is okay for a nurse to work on a Sunday but not for Chick-fil-a to be open?  Why can’t the man with the wither hand come back tomorrow to be cured?  It is just one more day.  What is the harm in waiting?  As someone who was stuck on a couch for two weeks, unable to walk because of a ruptured tendon—yes, waiting just more day would have not been acceptable.  One more day spent in an existence where the world looks down on you because you have a disability is not acceptable.  It would not be tolerable for this man to wait even one more day to be healed, to be able to lift up his hands to God in worship and praise.  

    “Mark casts Jesus as honoring the purpose of the sabbath commandment. It is as if Jesus is saying that the chief objective of the law, in general, is to save and preserve life (see also Deuteronomy 30:19-20). Indeed, therefore, what better day is there to heal than the sabbath, a day meant to promote God’s commitment to humanity’s well-being, for the restoration of a man’s malformed hand?” “Jesus’ determination illuminates the urgency of his life-giving work; after all, the reign of God is near (Mark 1:15) and so people are experiencing liberty. With the restoration of his hand, the man brought back into the Galilean economy. In receiving that ability, the man may recover his ability to provide for a family. In other words, we need to avoid seeing the miracle in an ableist vein as an act of merely “fixing” something that had gone “wrong” with the man, but see this as a act of resurrection.  The event represents a restoration to wholeness and dignity. It is a means to promote life and human flourishing. It is a foretaste of resurrection and these acts of resurrection cannot wait. The people have waiting far too long for this relief.“

    Instead of arguing what constitutes as work, maybe we should be looking at how this law of observing the sabbath gives glory to our Lord.  Maybe we should focus your attention of how you/we can give God glory on the sabbath.  And if that means you wash your car so that you have some alone time with God, then do.  If watching football or baseball on a Sunday helps you rest, then do it (but baseball or football is interfering with your worship, then you should probably think twice...”).  The law is meant for our benefit and for the benefit of those who beneath us.  Instead of arguing about what constitutes work or what day the sabbath should be held, we should be contemplating how our work or lack there of helps glorify our Lord.    

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

Against Doctrine

Acts 2:1-21    
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b    
Romans 8:22-27     
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15    
Holy Trinity Sunday
May 27, 2018
Against Doctrine
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    There is one Sunday a year when I feel like I dance on the line of being in line with church teachings and being declared a heretic.  Today is that day.  The only Sunday where we celebrate a doctrine rather than a story from our Lord’s life.  I went back and looked at some of my past sermons that I wrote thinking that I might steal some ideas from things I have said in the past.  
Most of what I have said in the past was a little bit heretical, though it did sound good at the time.  
 
   I went and look at notes from seminary and didn’t find any great insights.  I went and read some of my most trusted theologians and didn’t find anything useful as to how to preach for this day.  I happened to be listening to a podcast on my way down to Washington on Tuesday.  It was 5 in the morning and I was half asleep and half listening to what was being said, but Ralf Jacobsonen started talking about the Isaiah passage and something clicked. 

    You know, it is so easy to be heretical on Holy Trinity Sunday that the most logical course of action for dealing with this feast day is to not talk about the Holy Trinity at all; avoid the subject all together.  Romans and John both are trying to describe this relationship, but they are writing at time when  Trinitarian theology has not been fully developed.  The trinity exists, but Christians were just beginning to understand God in three persons. So, instead of talking about these two texts and risk heresy, let’s stick with the text that seems to be completely devoid of all Trinitarian theology, but yet it is not.  

    Isaiah 6 is describing the call story of the prophet Isaiah.  And often, we read this story with rose-colored glasses.  We make pretty songs about it. 
  • Holy, Holy, Holy. Lord God almighty...
  • Martin Luther wrote a version of this as a Sanctus for his German mass.
  • Every Sanctus in our settings include this vision from Isaiah.
  • And then there is the all to famous, “Here I am, Lord.”  One of those good feeling hymns that sound all to pretty.
These songs and hymns are beautiful, but they do not do all that great of a job of describing the Hebrew text.  The vision Isiah is having is not of comfort, but it is terrifying.

    Notice the main character.  The Seraphs.  We often hear them paired with Cherubs.  If you google these angels, you will find cute little statues that resemble babies or young children.  That is not how the Biblical writers imagined them.  These are the warriors of God.  They are the highest and most holy of all the angels.  A Cherub is described as a Lion with wings.  A Seraph is described as Snake with wings.  Imagine a giant snake flying around the church.   

    And in these angelic beings are standing before the throne of God singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory."  As they sing, their wings cover their faces because they cannot stand in the presence of the holiness of God.  The holiest of the holiest of the holy angels cannot stand in the presence of God.  These angels are struck by the transcendence and holiness of God.

    Notice that they sing the word “Holy” three times.  I often think of Heather working with our choir to help us sing my smoothly.  Musicians call this legato.  But in Hebrew when something is repeated, it is like adding a exclamation point.  And if something is repeated three times, we move from singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy...” to HOLY! HOLY!! HOLY!!!  Choir directors like Heather would be going crazy as these angelic beings scream at the top of their lungs their song to God. 

    The prophet, who grew up in priestly family and who probably spent most of his life in and around the temple, has never encounter God in this way.  Isaiah sees God’s presence through intense sound and light as overwhelming.  Isaiah is overwhelmed to be standing in such a holy place, at such a holy moment.  He is overcome with his own sin and declares that he is not worthy.  He says, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!"  

    The seraphs hear his words and one of them goes over to the altar and removes a hot coal and touches Isaiah’s lips with it.  The angel anoints his mouth to symbolically burn the sin out of his mouth so that when he talks in the future, his words will have come from God, who sits on his throne, high and lofty in the temple.  

    I think any talk of the Holy Trinity should probably always include the transcendence and holiness of God. I think we as Christians sometimes get a little too chummy with God, and that is not our fault.  We have Jesus, born of a human mother.  Our theology informs us that Jesus knows what it means to be human.  He knows pain and suffering just as well as happiness.  We say Jesus is both fully divine and fully human, but we often forget the part of the fully divine.  Healthy, Trinitarian theology has to include an understanding of the eminence of God being so overwhelming, but at the same time is relatable by mere mortals like ourselves.  The Church’s response to marking Holy Trinity Sunday should be done in a little fear and trembling, but always rooted in forgiveness, just like the Cali god Isiah.  

    Holy Trinity Sunday is not about explaining the very nature of God or God’s relationship to God’s self in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Holy Trinity Sunday is meant to inspire and create a sense of awe and wonder of our God. This call story of Isaiah might be terrifying, but can you imagine standing before the throne of God, a room filled with the smell of incense, with angels praising God with song, and the hem of our God’s clothing filling the whole sanctuary.  In some ways, we don’t have to imagine this because we experience this vision week after week.  Do you see why coming to church is so important?  We encounter the holiness, the transcendence, the eminence of God week after week.  We, the church, must help people name their sinfulness as Isaiah did before the throne of God.  Self-righteousness has no place at the throne of God.  Rather, naming our sin allows God to work so that we might be cleansed and forgiven just as Isaiah was cleansed and forgiven by God, anointed to do the work of our Lord.  

    This vision of Isaiah is a challenge for us.  How do we help people encounter the holiness of God?  How do we help people recognize their own sinfulness?  How do we provide forgiveness without judgment? How do we do ministry with integrity while the rest of world does not?  Ministry where we are not in competition with other churches to gain members.  Ministry where we lift up the poor and lowly, rather than the mighty and powerful.  Ministry rooted in the holy worship of the most high God.  
Ministry that empowers people speak on God’s behalf.  Ministry that is rooted in the forgiving nature of our God, rather than in God’s wrath.  We might never be able to understand the nature God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—but we can do ministry with integrity, we can help people encounter the holiness of God, we can help people see their sin, and we can bring people to know the forgiveness that our God alone offers.  

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

Welcome to the Church

Acts 2:1-21    
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b    
Romans 8:22-27     
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15    
Pentecost/Confirmation
May 13, 2018
Welcome to the Church
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    "When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf."  When the Paraclete comes... Paraclete is the Greek word that John uses to describe the Holy Spirit.  It is a special word because it has multiple meanings:  Advocate, comforter, aider, intercessor, guardian, teacher, helper.  John understood the Holy Spirit to be many things but is chiefly meant to the be one who is called to be along side of you.  For sometimes we need a comforter, sometimes we need an advocate, sometimes we assistance, sometimes we need someone to carry our prayers to God, sometimes we need to be kept safe, sometimes we need to learn, sometimes we just need a hand in life.  

    The Paraclete is the link between the historical Jesus/the ministry of Jesus and the church, but sometimes it feels like we are on the wrong side of that link.  Another school shooting in Texas this week.  A shooting two nights in Georgia at a graduation.  A young man named Avery lost his life in a car accident just a few days before graduation while on his way to school.  It seems as though our Lord has left us and given us a poor excuse for a link back to our Lord, back to the Father.  But remember I said last week that the Holy Spirit is not a consolation prize for the church.  It is not that we lost Jesus and all we got was this annoying Spirit that hasn't made our life better.  

    That is not how any of this works.  In John 14:12 Jesus says, "I tell you the solemn truth, the person who believes in me will perform the miraculous deeds that I am doing, and will perform greater deeds than these, because I am going to the Father." And will perform greater deeds than these...How are we able to preform greater deeds than what our Lord has done, without our Lord being present for that matter?  It is because of the Paraclete that we will do this.  In John 20:17 Jesus says to Mary at the tomb, "“Do not hold onto me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”  "Do not hold onto me" because you will do greater things than me, Mary.  You will tell my brothers/you will be the first evangelist of the good news that the Lord is not dead; that he is risen.  For John, the resurrection is not greatest thing to happen to the world rather, that a human could be charged with telling this divine message to the world that death is no longer something that we must fear.  And we can do this because of the Paraclete.

    It is easy to look at us being on the wrong side of the link, but the church has always found itself being in difficult situations and thrive.  We are the ones who tell the world that there is something better out there than the reality that they are currently facing.  We are the ones who preach hope in despair.   We tell the world that the evil which was in that school in Texas last week won't win.  We grieve with those mothers and fathers who lost a child this week. We show that we are not devoid of suffering but that God can be with us and them in the midst of our despair, of their pain and grief; and that god never meant for this to happen.  We show the world that bad things happen to even followers of Jesus, but it is because of the Paraclete, we know we will never have to face these perils in life alone.  The Paraclete will come along side of each and every one of us and do whatever is necessary to bring us safely through; reminding us always that our Lord is near to us, near to you.
    The Paraclete has been walking along side of us since the day of our baptism:  
  • The Holy Spirit has been walking along side of you Nathaniel Alexander Edwards since your baptism.
  • The Holy Spirit has been walking along side of you Trey Austin Voorhees since your baptism.
  • The Holy Spirit has been walking along side of you Benjamin Hunter McQuaid since your baptism.
  • The Holy Spirit has been walking along side of you Ian James Fleming since your baptism.
  • The Holy Spirit has been walking along side of you Abigail Madison McBee since your baptism.
  • The Holy Spirit has been walking along side of you Hunter James Thatcher since your baptism.
It was the Holy Spirit who brought you back to church week after week.  It was the Holy Spirit who instilled in you a faith in our Lord.  It was the Holy Spirit who helped you say the Lord Prayer and the Creed and believe what you were saying.  It was the Holy Spirit who led you forward to receive Holy Communion.  And it was the Holy Spirit who kept making you come back to Confirmation these past two years.  It wasn't your mom or your dad...blame the Holy Spirit for all the pain you have had to endure. 

    Understand that today, you do not receive the Holy Spirit.  That came when you baptized when either Pastor Riley or another Pastor (not me because I was still in High School) laid his or her hands on your head and prayed that the Holy Spirit would come along side of you.  You were made members of the Body of Christ on the day of your baptism.  Rather today, the affirmation of Baptism is a way of saying "yes" to baptism.  This can be a repeatable act.  And I mean that for everyone.  We don't only have to confirm teenagers and if you have already been confirmed, you can do it again.  

    Baptism has lifelong implications.  The daily dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ is just the start.  God started something in you many years ago and it is not completed today.  Your confirmation experience is just the start.  I could not possibly teach you everything you need to know as a Christian.  I have a Master's degree in this field and I tell you that daily I learn something new about faith, about God, about being the church.   

    Nathaniel, Trey, Ben, Ian, Abigail, Hunter--you all have a lot more to learn.  Notice that I did not have you memorize the Small Catechism.  Notice I didn't have you memorize passages of the Bible.  Notice that Ms. Bess and I, though, put in your hands a Small Catechism.  Notice that Mr. Pete and I taught you how to read and understand a text.  I hope that see that being a Christians is not just about memorizing facts and stories but is more about critically answering the question, "Where is God in the midst of this text/in the midst of this painful situation/in the midst of this amazing time in your life?"  I also hope that you have seen what a good Christian community looks like.  I hope you see that we are not perfect.  I hope you see our scares.  I hope you see the though we are not always right, that we will always love you.  And no matter wherever you might go, we will always be here for you.  

    When you go off to college and do not wake up and go to church on Sundays, know that it is okay.  You should try to go every once and awhile but I think the creator of the universe has better things to do than to keep attendance.  I know you will all probably drift away from our community as has been the trend of 90% of confirmands since the dawn of time, just know we will always be here for you and while we hope you don't drift too far, know that we will always keep you in our prayers.  And if this place might cease to exist, know that I will remember you all in my prayers till the day I am called home to our Lord.

    My brothers and sisters, my little children who are not so little any more, you will never, ever be alone.  You might feel alone.  You might physically be in a place where nobody can get to you.  But one person will always be with you. The Advocate, comforter, Aider, intercessor, guarder, teacher, helper, that annoying and loving Paraclete--the Holy Spirit will keep you safe and bring you at last to the joy of Lord.  
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Quit Staring

Acts 1:1-11    
Psalm 47    
Ephesians 1:115-23     
Luke 24:44-53  
Ascension of our Lord Sunday
May 13, 2018
Quit Staring
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    I think I will go on record as saying the feast of the Ascension of our Lord is probably one of the least understood of all the feast days.  For many of us, it is the conclusion, the nice ending to the story of Jesus.  It takes Jesus out of the picture so that when others asked, “Well since he has been raised from the dead, when can I meet him?” The church can reply by saying, “Well, he’s not here these days.”  We can point to where he is at.  “He’s up there.” Wherever up there is.

    Theologically speaking, assumptions into heaven like this happen else where in the Bible.  The prophet Elijah ascends into heaven so that he might never know the sting or pain of death.  And there are even some non-Christian/non-judeo stories from this time period that have certain people ascending into heaven.

    Ascending into heaven, theologically speaking anyways, can mean a whole bunch of things, but one thing it does not mean is that Jesus left us for good.  Jesus didn’t leave us down here to fend for ourselves, but the Ascension story can leave us with that impression.  It is why I think Luke is the only who felt the need to give us this account:  Mark’s gospel ends at the tomb with the women running away in fear; Matthew’s gospel ends with the great commissioning and Jesus promising to always be his disciples—to the end of the age I might add; John’s gospel ends with Jesus cooking the disciples breakfast on the beach after they returned back to their old lives as fishermen to remind his disciples that life has changed for the church post-resurrection—you can’t go back to the way things use to be. 

    Only Luke gives us the Ascension.  I think the other gospels assume that the church knew this happened, but didn’t want to dwell on the idea that Jesus could be absent from his people.  Paul understood baptism as the believer putting on Christ presence and in his Eucharistic understanding, believed that our Lord would be present in the meal.  

    I cannot imagine that Luke believes that with the Ascension comes an absence of the Lord.  For one thing, in Luke 24:49 Jesus says, “And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." I am sending upon you...If anyone believes that our Lord left us to go rule in heaven, not concerned with the problems that still plague us, why would he send us the Spirit?  The spirit is not a consolation prize; it is a new life. 

    Luke is a very talented writer and what he is doing here is subtle but brilliant.  So, we are like 99% sure that the writer of the gospel of Luke also wrote the book of Acts.  Often, we refer to the writer as Luke-Acts or simply Luke.  In volume one (I.e. the gospel of Luke), Luke focuses on Jesus.  The gospel is all about Jesus and what Jesus did.  But there are two characters that have important, reoccurring roles.  At the mount of transfiguration, Jesus clothes become a brilliant white/λευκοσ (lyoo-kos') and Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus.  Luke says that they appeared in glory/δοξα (dox'-ah).  Moses and Elijah speak with Jesus about his departure.  

    Later on in Luke 24 at the tomb, two men appear to the women in dazzling/αστραπτο (as-trap'-to) apparel.  They tell the women “He is not here, but has been raised!” An then they remind the women that “the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” And in Acts 1:4, two men appear as the disciples stare off into the heaven trying to locate Jesus.  Luke says, “two men in white clothing/λευκοσ (lyoo-kos').  

    Do you notice the theme?  Two men, dazzling, brilliant/bright white clothes.  Rule 54, there are no such things as coincidences.  Luke has tied this all together.  It started at the mount of transfiguration when Moses and Elijah tell Jesus what his “departure” would like.  Moses and Elijah show up again at the tomb and tell the disciples that this was all a part of God’s plan.  And then these same two individuals show back up in Acts 1 and reminds the church that this was all necessary and to quit staring.

    Volume 1 is all about Jesus.  Volume 2 is all about the spirit working in the church—all about the church.  Volume 1 we heard how all that happen to Jesus was necessary and had to be fulfilled, and that the Holy Spirit would come to the church.  Yet in volume 2, it seems that church forgets this.  Instead of racing back to Jerusalem to wait on the Holy Spirit, the church stares into the heavens looking for Jesus.

    The church stares off into space...The church stares back in time, dreams of being back to when things were normal, back to good olde days. We stare at the sky and tell stories about how good it use to be when Jesus was here.  The churches talks about when things were at its best, when the place was packed, when lives were being changed.  We talk about how things were better as a country way back when.  We stare into the heavens looking at our past with nastoligic and longing eyes for what use to be, yet the embodiment of the word of God and prophets reminds the church to quit staring.  

    Quit looking to the sky and wonder when things will go back to normal, back to the way things use to be.  Life has changed and if the church stares at the sky looking for Jesus to return, we will miss the fact that our Lord has sent us out with the Holy Spirit to continue the work of the gospel.  That is the message of the Law of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms.  That is the message of Moses and Elijah.  That is the message from our Lord.  All that happened to Jesus had to be done so that the world could know the Holy Spirit and the ever-present power of our God.

    A power that changes people.  A power that transforms people.  A power that gives ordinary people, extraordinary abilities to proclaim the good news of our Lord.  But that can’t happen if the church continues to stare at the sky and wonder why our Lord left us.  Our Lord hasn’t left us.  He gave us the Holy Spirit.  And on this day, when we turn our thoughts and attention on our Lord’s glorious ascension, let’s quit staring and longing for what use to be and embrace the story that has yet to be written.  

    What story do we want told?  Do we want told the story of how our community took down racial stereotypes?  Do we want told the story of how we rebuilt our downtown?  Do we want told the story of how we made sure no child ever went home hungry from school?  Do we want told the story of how we mentor children away from drugs.  Do we want told the story of how our community took on the opioid epidemic?  Because we believe that the Holy Spirit is still working.  Still writing our story.  

    Last week, about a hundred of us witness the Holy Spirit working when people from DC and the Eastern Panhandle came together to talk about the drug problems plaguing our area.  And one of the solutions brought up the most is a community’s connectiveness and being willing to embrace everyone.  That is a part I think we can all play.   The church’s glory days did not end in book of Acts.  The story of the church’s glory days did not end in the 1950’s.  The story of the church’s glory has yet to be written and will certainly let never be written as long as we are staring at the sky.

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

Can't Stop It

Acts 10:44-48    
Psalm 98    
1 John 5:1-6    
John 15:9-17  
Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 6, 2018
Can't Stop It
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    The reading from Acts this morning is only four verses long, but it the very end of a monumental shift of how the church will do ministry. Acts 10 is monumental and to understand how monumental it is, we need to go back to the beginning of the chapter t o understand what is happening in these last four verses.
    
    Chapter 10, we hear that in Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort.  We are told he was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.  

"One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, ‘Cornelius.’ ‘Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; 6he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.’

So, Cornelius sends two slaves and his most trusted soldier to bring Peter to his house.  

    Meanwhile, Peter is on a rooftop praying when "He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 14But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ 15The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 

    Peter is confused by this vision and what it meant.  And while he is thinking about it, the men from Cornelius arrive at Simon the Tanner's house and want to see Peter.  The Holy Spirit then says to Peter:

    ‘Look, three men are searching for you. 20Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.’ 21So Peter went down to the men and said, ‘I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?’ 22They answered, ‘Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.’ 23So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging.

    The next day, Peter, some Christians from Joppa, and the three soldiers begin the journey back to Caesarea.  Cornelius sees Peter, falls down, and then worship him.  Peter makes the man stand.  Now remember, there are rules about Jews being around Gentiles.  Peter might have just had that strange vision about eating food that he was taught from a child to never touch, but that doesn't mean he is okay with it.  He says in verse 28 and following:

‘You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. 29So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?’

Can you imagine a pastor saying that to a visitor today?  My brothers and sisters, if I ever says anything like that, please throw a hymnal or a Bible at me.  But in Peter's defense, this is not how the church has been doing ministry up to this point.  The Gentiles were still outside the realm of God's grace or love.  They were not apart of the Abrahamic Covenant.  Jesus was a Jewish Messiah...But then Cornelius speaks.  
    He tells Peter how a man in dazzling clothes appears to him in a vision and to send for Peter.  In verse 33 Cornelius says,

“‘Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.’”

Peter then responds by giving a sermon.  “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” This very statement about God not showing partiality changes who the “we” is in Acts. 

    Up to this point in book of Acts, the “we” has been the Jewish-converts.  Now God shows no partiality.  Those who were once outside the kingdom, Peter realizes are now on the inside.  The words spoke by Jesus in Acts 1 when he says,  “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’”  Jesus told them that this was going to happen and now it has.  The church has gone through a seismic shift in the way we would ministry.

    And Peter is moved by the whole experience.  He starts preaching and 90 seconds into his sermon, the Holy Spirit shows up.  The Holy Spirit interrupts his sermon and just as on the day of Pentecost, those in the room, those being GENTILES, are able to speak in different tongues.  Peter says, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”  Peter gets it.  He saw this once before.  He knows that once the Holy Spirit has decided to move, we best be ready.  Because God keeps God’s promises, the church needs to be ready react.  Because God keeps God’s keeps God’s promises, we need to recognize these seismic shifts as not punishment or more work to do, but is a sign that everything God promised would come true, is coming true.  

    The church wasn’t ready for this, even though our Lord told them that this very thing would happen.  They were not prepared and they did not lead the charge to let outsiders in.  The church is not the one who breaks down the barriers.  That is the consequence for the Holy Spirit’s actions.  Rather this is a Escatological act that took, no...that is taking place, where God’s vision of all people being brought into God’s dominion could begin. Meaning, this changes our future.  All people will hear the good news that changed the world, that can change their lives.

    The church needs to remember that the Holy Spirit will move whether we like it or not, whether we are ready for it or not.  Peter wasn’t ready for the Gentiles to be allowed into the church.  The Holy Spirit said it was time and fell on the Gentiles in Cornelius’s house.  The Holy Spirit is the church’s check and balance.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit will decide the church is not moving fast enough or in the direction that is needed and the Spirit will move—the Holy Spirit will interrupt the preacher/deacon/leader.

    In this case, we look back on Acts 10 and see that this was the best thing for the church.  We read this story with rose color glasses, but this doesn’t mean everyone was on board with allowing Gentiles into the church and Peter will have many in the church in Jerusalem up-in-arms over this action by the Holy Spirit.

    You know, my brothers and sister, I cannot promise you that the plans of the Holy Spirit will always be well received. I can’t promise you that we are going to have experiences like Peter had a Cornelius‘s house. We very well might find ourselves  facing harder times, more difficult ministry, possibly even death. The Holy Spirit will lead us through. The Holy Spirit will guide us. Th Holy Spirit will bring us through these times and lead us to the new Jerusalem where there will be no more tears and where the city gate is never closed. That is for certain. 

    The church can trust that when the Holy Spirit wants to move, the Holy Spirit will do so.  The Holy Spirit is not going to punish us, but is leading us—leading us where we need to go. So, before the Holy Spirit has a chance to interrupt me like the Spirit did to Peter because I have gone to long, I am going to trust that I have said what needed to be said and sit down.

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

Let's Go Camping

This week, we welcomed the executive director of Caroline Furnace, Tom Powell, to deliever the message and talk about Outdoor Ministry in the ELCA.  Tom gave a fascinating and uplifting message.  To listen to the message, click on the player below. 
 
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