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When the King invites you, Show Up

Isaiah 25:1-9    
Psalm 80:7-15    
Philippians 4:1-9     
Matthew 22:1-14    
Proper 23
October 15, 2017
When the King Invites You, Show Up
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    It is very tempting to preach on Philippians today.  It's a good text.  I wrote my epistle paper on that passage.  20 page exegetical paper, a sermon, a website and a hymn.  I know a lot about that Philippians text and I would have only need to spend maybe an hour on the whole message.  Dr. David Lose wrote, on his website, a letter addressed to preachers for today.  He says, "“Let’s just admit it: this is an ugly parable. No amount of generalizing about God’s hospitality or vulnerability or invitation is going to do away with that. In fact, I think that straying into generalities is a huge mistake, as it glosses over the serious nature and inherent danger in passages like this. So I would urge you either to preach this parable in its distinct and unattractive particularity or to choose one of the other three far more attractive and certainly more edifying passages appointed for this day.”  So that is what I am going to do - we are going to dive into this very ugly parable and hopefully, we will come out on the other side and see the good news, the beautiful news of God.  

    We find ourselves still in this Holy Week narrative that we have been in for the past three weeks.  Jesus is still in the temple and just when you think he has said all that he wants to say, he comes back around again for another blow against the temple and its leaders.  Each parable gets more and more outlandish; over the top.  What king, after all his friends stood him up for his son's wedding, would then go out and invite all the peasants? Yeah, let's call everyone’s attention to the fact that the most powerful people in all the land have just shamed the most powerful man in the whole kingdom.  It is outlandish to think this way, but it is really no different from the other over-the-top parables where the man went out and hired workers at 5pm and paid them the exact same wage that the people who worked all day have received.  

    We also have this strange, Matthian phrase "weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  So far, Matthew has said it three times before today's gospel and will say it two more times before the gospel ends. This very vengeful phrase is used a total of six times.  To put this in context - Mark never says it, John never says, and Luke says it only once.  There is a fear of the imposter that dominates the second half of this parable, and arguably the whole parable.  

    This parable is in its very DNA is unpleasant, vengeful, angry, violent, extreme and down right weird - yet it is the Good News.   The most important thing we need to remember is that we were never the intended audience for this parable.  This is not our situation by any stretch.  This was a parable for Matthew's community - a small, minority group in the Roman Empire, living in a time soon after the temple has been destroyed.  They are a community that has been persecuted by Rome and probably the temple as well.  They have no political influence and worshipping Jesus Christ is probably very dangerous.  

    This is whom this parable is written.  The idea of an intruder getting into our community and doing any kind of damage to us is very rare.  We need to take ourselves out of the picture, take yourself out of the parable and ask, "What does this have to do with the coming dominion of God?"
   So what does it have to do with dominion of God?  A king who gets stood up?  The kingdom of God is like a king who had his messengers either ignored, killed, or mistreated.  A King is not use to feeling shame.  In this honor/shame system - he would not know the latter.  So in a last ditch effort to recover his honor and not have an empty wedding for his son, he sends his servants into his kingdom and they invite everyone in - both the good and the bad.  That is a strange dominion to encounter, but it does match what Jesus has already said.  This description resembles the beatitudes in the fact that these people would never have been invited into the King's court, yet here they are, at a wedding banquet thrown in the honor of the King's son.  The least have become blessed.  

    It also resembles Matthew 28, the great commission where Jesus send out the disciples - Go therefore to all nations.  It really is a beautiful image here that Matthew is painting.  A king who invites those who he has been called to serve into a highly coveted place in his palace.  A king who invited everyone, both the good and the bad.  A king who gave up on those who he thought was his friends and choose to welcome those who he didn't even know their name.  I can get behind that message of God's dominion.  

    I can almost picture it.  But their is a problem.  See, Matthew's community has been tortured by outsiders, by people whom they did not know their names.  They have been infiltrated, in prisoned, and mostly likely killed because they did exactly what this king did.  They tried to live out the Good News in the hope that they would get to see a glimpse, a glimmer of God's dominion but it appears to have bit them.  It bit them pretty hard.  

    Don't allegorize this parable.  Jesus is not the intruder that we have thrown out.  This man was not the unsung hero of the party who dared to redefine social standards.  I think Matthew wants us to read this story as him being a dangerous person.  I think this intruder serves as Matthew's ultimate questions, "Will God ever take offense to things?"  Will God ever take offense to those who don't show up - who shame God by ignoring the messengers whom have been sent out with invites in hand? Will God take offense to people improperly dressed?  This parable does answer these questions with a resounding yes. Yes, God will take offense and will deal with these problems.

    God will find out these persons who disrespect God's name and God's invite.  God will take these retrenched people down with swift action and throw them into the outer darkness where their will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  God will take down those retched and despicable people who send Nazi Swastikas to Jewish bakeries. God will take down all those hate groups that use God's name to justify hatred and murder of innocent people. God's grace is not to be taken lightly.  Don't take our God as someone who you can easily push around and used for your own twisted message of hate. 

    Where the parable before with the generous landowner and the landowner who acted out of vulnerability show us God's grace in a particularly good light- do not confuse God's grace with God's ability to not remember.  God will remember.  

    For Matthew, God does hold a grudge - but before we get too ahead of ourselves, remember whenever we point the finger at someone else, there are four fingers pointing back at you.  We get so caught up in the vengeful part of this parable that we miss the very good news - you have been welcomed to the banquet because others have ignored the invitation.  You have no right to be here, yet the king has invited you and you showed up.  When the king invites you, you show up.  But there are still a lot of good and bad people outside our four walls who haven't gotten the invite.  They need to show up too.  They need to be given a chance to come into the fabulous banquet.

    What we do today is but a foretaste, it is the appetizer course for the wedding banquet to come.  
God wants there to be everyone, people from all nations, people whom God calls blessed.  Invite the good and bad, our God knows how to separate them out and is very good at it.  In a way, the honor of the king lies in our hand.  So when the king invites you, show up. But you the messenger - you gotta bring them their invite.  Today is not the wedding banquet but the banquet is about to begin.  You are one of King's servants so you got bring our neighbors their invite to the King's wedding banquet. 
And when you do this, when you bring both the good and the bad into the wedding hall, your reward is seeing a glimmer of the coming Dominion of God.  My brothers and sisters, when the King invites you to a wedding banquet - show up and bring friends and see the dominion of God is at hand.

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

Parable of the Foolish Landowner

Isaiah 5:1-7    
Psalm 80:7-15    
Philippians 3:4b-14     
Matthew 21:33-46    
Proper 22
October 8, 2017
Parable of the Foolish Landowner
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    As we talked about last week, this gospel text is right in the heart of Holy Week and it seems Matthew has painted this image for us of Jesus walking to the cross using this parable.  He has predicted three times already in the gospel that Jesus would on a cross.  And so, it is very easy to read this parable with that cross in mind.  It seems that is what Matthew wants us to think Cross.

    I was listening to a podcast this week and the one scholar said, "you shouldn't allegorize parables...except this one." And maybe that is true.  It would break one of our parable rules, but we are Lutherans and we know the rules are meant to be broken - sin boldly.  

    I mean, this parable does give us a unique insight into Jesus' Christology.  Why did God send Jesus? Because nothing else was working.  The prophets were being murdered, stoned, or just plain ignored.  That makes sense, right?  But here is the thing, here is the problem with this very simplistic understanding of Jesus and cross - it doesn't paint God in the best of light.  It shows us a foolish God - why would God send his only son to a world that would kill him?  Frankly, it paints the ones who sent Jesus to the cross in a better light.  They knew exactly what they were doing when they handed Jesus over to be crucified.  Judas knew exactly what he was doing when he kissed Jesus in the garden.  Ciaphas knew exactly what he was doing when he sentenced him to death.  Pilate knew exactly what he was doing when he sentenced him to cross.  Humanity was in charge which brought salvation, not the other other way around.

    See, if we follow this mindset here, we remove the very notion that the crucifixion was a divine necessity.  Back on September 4th, we heard from Matthew 16, one of those passion predictions about his death on a cross.  And Peter rebukes Jesus and Jesus says, "get behind me, Satan."  Jesus tells all the disciples that he must go to Jerusalem.  "He must" - It is necessary that Jesus go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  It is a binding agreement that can't be broken.  It has to happen in-order to fulfill all righteousness before God.  There is nothing that Jesus can do to change this binding agreement.  The Divine necessity of Jesus going to the cross is real and therefore cannot be ignored or explained away as this parable might lead us to do.  In a way, this parable really isn't about the cross at all.  Well I mean it is, but isn't, you know it kind of is, but its not quiet (Don't you just love theology?).

    Parables function as metaphors challenging or inviting the audience into a new or deeper understand of God's dominion - a dominion identified with the last, lost, least, little and lifeless.  The parables open to us an image of God's dominion - they are not about predicting future event to come but rather, give us a gateway into seeing what it means to live under God's dominion and not under the world's dominion. 

    I like us to approach this text with instead of asking "why the cross?", we ask "why did the landowner send your only son and what does that have to do with God’s dominion?"  What does this parable teach us about the foolish/desperate/crazy landowner?  I see a vulnerable landowner.  I see a landowner who tried to send others to his tenants in the vineyard to collect what was rightfully his and the tenants wanted no part of it.  I see a landowner who is at his wits ends with his land and tenants, who realizes violence only leads to more violence.   It was out of this realization that the landowner doesn't form an army to take back what was rightfully his but realizes he is in fact very vulnerable.  Nobody likes admitting that they are vulnerable.  It makes us feel week.  The Landowner is honest about his predicament and decides to act within that vulnerability.  He sends his Son because the landowner believes tenants will respect the landowner's vulnerability; he will be reminded the tenants of their humanity and empathy, and hope that they might feel the same in the presence of his vulnerability, repent and come around. Instead, they kill the son. They reject the landowner's vulnerability because that is what the dominion of the world does.

    Jesus asks, "Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’"  The people say,  ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’  Wrong answer.  That is how the world responds.  How does God respond in God’s dominion.  Violence begets violence.  

    "Have you never read in the scriptures..." how God brings about forgiveness instead of destruction?  “Don’t you remember how God brought the people out of exile and back into their land.  Don’t you see that God sent me instead of another flood to destroy all the earth.” Yeah, the parable is about the cross but it is about so much more.  This parable teaches us that our God never intended to meet the world with violence but with vulnerability.  

    When do we meet violence with vulnerability?  When do we send our only sons and daughters to an unruly and angry people?  We normally don’t.  I think this parable reminds us that in God’s dominion, people stand up for what is right, and just, and holy in the world.  They speak as the moral authority and remind our leaders that violence only leads to more violence. The world’s dominion demands strong leaders who will stand up to other leaders and threaten mass destruction.  God's dominion meets violence with people willing to lay down their life for God's harvest - a harvest that is plentiful and needs to be picked before it spoils.  God's dominion has a vineyard bursting with fruit that needs to be picked, but their are some scary people standing in the way.  What do you do?  Are you going to take up a sword or take up a cross?  You going to meet them with violence or vulnerability.  Sword or cross? Your choice really.  Choose wisely.

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

Remembering the L's of the World

Ezekiel 18: 1-4,25-32    
Psalm 25:1-9    
Philippians 2: 1-13     
Matthew 22: 23-32    
Proper 21
October 1, 2017
Remembering the L’s Among Us
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    I think we need to look at the context of our gospel lesson before we start diving into this text.  Last week, we heard the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard who felt they were not paid a fair wage. We then skipped over a bunch of important events in the gospel.  We skipped over the Mother of James and John coming and asking Jesus to put her sons, one at his left and one at his right which upsets the other 10 disciples; we skip over Jesus healing two blind men; over the triumphant entry into Jerusalem (i.e. Palm Sunday), Jesus cleansing the temple which really upset the Sadducees who would have been the chief priests and elders (those questioning Jesus’ authority); and the story before this one is where Jesus curses a fig tree for not producing fruit out of season.  The questioning of Jesus’ authority is directly related to Jesus entering the temple and turning over the tables. 

There is still some scholarly debate over whether or not the temple leaders were as corrupt as Jesus makes them out to be.  The Sadducees were in charge of the temple and making sure that it ran smoothly without incident.  They were empowered by Rome to do so making them seem as to many as collaborators with the enemy.  Jesus has issues with this select group of leaders, not with Judaism as a whole.  Jesus has an issue with the money changers who cheat their patrons.  

     See, the temple required a different coin to purchase sacrifices called a shekel.  These money changers would take your Roman coins and exchange it for a temple coin, and keep a bit for themselves.  Remember how I said the Sadducees in some way were collaborators with Rome, so where these money changers.  They were no different from the Jewish tax collectors who did the exact same thing, but they had to report directly to Rome.  The money changers are hiding behind the curtain of the temple, cheating pilgrims coming to the temple to make themselves right with God.  

    “‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’” You who come into our temple, you who turn over the tables of the money changers; you who quote scripture that says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer”; but you are making it a den of robbers.’; you who the people shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” you who heal the blind and the lame in the temple - who gives you the authority to do any of this? 

    Frankly, I wish Jesus would have given them an answer.  It would have made this sermon a whole lot easier to preach and the text easier for us to hear.  Jesus sees through their line of questioning and instead, demands they answer his question first.  “‘Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’” They know they have been trapped by Jesus because answering either way will put them in an awkward position.  If from heaven, why didn’t they believe him.  Though it should be mentioned that some Sadducees and Pharisees went out to see John and John called them a brood of vipers. John didn’t do that to the Roman Soldiers who came out to see him.  If they say of human origin which would take into question John’s authority, the people would rise up in revolt because the people believed in John’s authority coming from God.  

    They are in a big pickle and are probably smart for answering how they did, even though it doesn’t answer their question.  And it leads me to wonder where exactly do we get our authority as the church?  Where do I get my authority as a pastor?  Does it come from heaven above or is it of human origin.  Or is it both?  I believe my authority comes from God, it is why I am called as your pastor and not just simply a hired employee.  The call I received comes from God and is ratified by the congregation.  So there is some human origin to the claim of authority.  Notice that the chief priest and elders are not scared of Rome or the devil, but they are scared of how the people will react to their answer.  There is a human aspect to all authority from God.  So when does this authority end?  

    Pastor Riley is no longer the pastor here so he can’t do the administrative things that I am required to do, but I know his voice and presence still carries a great deal of weight as does my voice and presence carry a lot of weight at my former parish.  It is why I have stayed away from parish so that they can have the chance to accept a new authority figure.  But we aren’t perfect.  Pastors are not perfect.  Churches are not perfect.  When we take our authority too far, who ends it?  And how do we know we have taken it too far?  

    I think the parable gives us the perfect answer to these questions.  Doing the work of our Father in heaven is what gives us the authority.  Doing the work of our Father in heaven gives me the authority to stand up here, speak and preside over the sacraments, visit the sick, bury the dead, and educate the faithful.  But we also must remember our definition of a parable - they are meant for the last, lost, least, little, and lifeless or simply the L’s of the world.  Doing the work of our Father in heaven means I must do all those things I just listed to not only those who were here first but to the last, lost, least, little and lifeless.  It seems that when we reach out to the L’s, God affirms our authority on earth because we are doing the Father’s work.  

    So, here’s the ultimate question - what does this have to do with us today?  Douglas Hare writes:  “Although the context applies this parable of judgment to Jewish religious leaders, Matthew probably intended a wider application as well. Christians too can become blind to what God is doing in the world around them. How easily “church work” degenerates into little more than simply maintaining the institution, with no excitement concerning what God’s active grace is doing and consequently no enthusiasm for evangelism and renewal. We say that we are going to work in the vineyard, but instead of harvesting the grapes we spend our time rearranging the stones along the path!” We say we want to grow, but if growth is simply to keep the status quo and pay the bills, we are simply rearranging the stones along the path and not picking the harvest.  A friend of mine once said at a pastor’s meeting that she finds it sometimes easier to just stay held up in her office and work on the newsletter rather than going out and bring the good news to her community.  

    I get that and it is a huge temptation for me to just hide in my office upstairs.  I play a good extrovert but I do have my limits and need some alone time.  I find myself sometimes getting caught up in the newsletter, the website, in study while there are many in the community who need to hear the good news.  We are all this way.  It is so easy to become inward focus where we worry only about ourselves and family that we forget we are a part of something so much bigger than ourselves and that our work as Christians should always be centered in caring for the L’s of our world and community.

    Thom Rainer once said that a growing church is a evangelistic church, i.e. A church that shares the good news of Jesus Christ.  The early church grew in great numbers by sharing the good news.  
Share the good news not to pay our bills but because that is what our Father in Heaven wants us to do. We are doing it here at St. John's. Friends Feeding Friends, Feed my Sheep Sunday, and our Sunday School Program but we got to keep looking forward. And don’t just share it with people who look and act like you, share it with your brothers and sisters who the world has painted a giant L on their head instead of a cross.  

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

Unfairly Paid Disciples

Jonah 3:10-4:11    
Psalm 145:1-18    
Philippians 1: 21-30     
Matthew 20: 1-6    
Proper 20
September 24, 2017
Unfairly Paid Disciples
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

    I want you all to remember these words from Jesus as we enter into this parable.  Remember who Jesus calls blessed.  Remember that this parable is meant for the last, lost, least, little, lifeless, and in this case - those not chosen for work.  I haven't seen this practice around here yet but coming from Gettysburg, you would sometimes see day labors standing in front of Home Depot or other hardware store.  Pastor Ron coming from California, probably knows about this practice even more.  Day labors would stand out in front of designated area at an early hour and wait till someone came by and hired them for the day.  Those who look the strongest, who are there the earliest, who are the most eager to jump in the back of a pickup truck without asking questions were always chosen first.  It really is a hard life to live.  I wouldn't make it one day.

    That is life that Jesus is commenting on in his parable.  This land owner went out and found workers early in the morning.  He grabbed the strongest of all the workers and told them he would pay them one denari.  They agree and go.  The land owner leaves behind those who might not be as strong, might not be as able or or as young.  A few hours later he returns and gathers up a few more.  And again, a few hours later, he does the same.  Each time, gathering up those who he left behind from the rounds before; gathering up those who weren't good enough to work.  Finally at the end of the day, he goes back and gathers up all those left.  The aged, the weak, the lazy, the fat, the ugly and says, "Why are you all just standing around?  You also go into the vineyard."  

    The end of the day comes and everyone gets the same pay.  Who, at this point thinks this is unfair?  Clearly everyone did in the Bible yet who does Jesus call blessed?  The wages, which were meant to unify the workers and make them all feel valued, becomes a divider.  Instead of saying the landowner is generous, we call him selfish, unfair, stupid even.  Shouldn't we be calling the Landowner a generous man?  Maybe we can do that when he does this act to someone else and we weren't the ones standing I the heat all day. Imagine if you were one of those who the landowner hired at 5pm.  You would love this guy and probably thank him for being so kind.  Now you can go home and pay for a decent meal for your family.  Pay the rent.  Pay off some of those debts.  Now imagine if you were in the shoes of the workers who have been there all day.  You would be angry.  

    I think we Christians who come week after week, who were baptized as babies and have been brought up in the church feel like this first set of workers.  Lord, we have worked our whole life and yet at the end of the day, we get the same reward that these people who have not worked as hard as we do.  We are the tired and overworked, poorly paid disciples.

    At council this week, we started working on three year goals.  We spent an hour talking about the cottage meetings, the bulletin survey question (yes, we did read them all) and about our own views.  I love the fact that the council is very dedicated to making sure we are fulfilling our mission: to Faithfully worship, to Diligently study his Holy Word, to Regularly participate in Sacraments and Constantly strive to reach out, serve and witness with care and acceptance to all in our community and world. While we are all excited, I also I heard a lot of people say they are getting tired and worn out.  The same few doing the majority of the work here and I tend to think that their tiredness is a good reflection of our entire congregation. 

    You know, I found myself to be very tired too. My hair is getting more grey every day.  I worry about asking people to take on one more thing. I am even having trouble remembering the simplest of things.  The other night I couldn't remember the first commandment - I kept confusing it with the Shema (love the lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength).  It took a few moments for me to get the right words out.  We are all a bit worn out, aren't we?

    You know, I have said this often - I don't know how we get people to become  disciples when the life of a disciple really is miserable.  When you are baptized, we don't promise that your life will get better but in fact, we promise you that people will hate you because of your new found faith in Jesus Christ.  People will hate you because of your faith.  They will not understand your motives or you need to be with your Lord in prayer and worship.  They won't understand why you support an organization that has been hemorrhaging people and money for the past 30 years.   The world will never understand why you choose to give up so much of the world's rewards to be a Christian.  You give up wealth, family, career to be a Christian.  Flat screen tv or feed a homeless family?  The world is going to push you towards that tv.  The world offers some shiny rewards, Jesus offers you some nails, blood and sweat.  Kind of awful don't you think? 

    Well, till you are on your death bed and realize that all these worldly rewards don't matter because you can't take them with you.  The only reward that will matter is your faith because in what will just feel like a short time, you will see the great reward of your faith.  Everything that you have worked your whole life towards.  All those Bible Studies, Sunday Morning worship, VBS, Soup kitchens, council meetings, committee meetings, youth gatherings, lock-ins, etc. will finally pay off because you will get to see your faith come alive.  You will see that you were not a poorly/unfairly paid disciple, but that you were paid more than you ever could have imagine.  You got to be with Jesus all these years on this earth.

    Those people who came late to faith, those noon and three o'clock people, you will see that they missed out on so much but at least they got some time with their Lord in this life time.  And those who came at the end of the day, when their life was just about to end, we will see that they weren't compensated any more than you were - they were paid less because they didn't get to spend an entire lifetime walking with their Lord; having their Lord endure all the pains and sufferings of this world. 

    That is why we are tasked with bringing people into the church.  It is why Jesus wants us to spread the good news.  We have Jesus, the greatest reward ever. It is not so that we can  just get more people into the pews to pay the bills.  Stop saying that.  Stop thinking that.  Stop acting that way.  This mentality doesn't help bring people to the good news. We bring Jesus to the people so that they can experience the immense joy of being in relationship with Christ our Lord - that is why we want them here and participating in our community because the gospel is that life changing; that the Lord of the universe is the only thing you really need in this life.  

    Here are the signs that say we believe we are a unfairly paid disciples.  "The church isn't what it use to be, pastor." - that is probably a good thing.  Do we want to do medicine like we use to 50 or 60 years ago?  "Pastor, The church isn't getting any better..." - if we keep thinking this way, it won't get any better.  This will become our reality, not the reality that Jesus is physically present with us.   I said this a couple of months ago - turn our negatives into positive.  In Sunday School last week, we had 28 people participate and we had 117 people worship with us.  I know there are many people who will say, "Well, there use to be more, it was double that a few years ago."  That is a negative statement.  Let's celebrate who is here because we know that the reward is not what the world offers but is the fact that Jesus Christ is with us and will remain with us even through death and that is best compensation package anyone could ever need or hope for.  

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

77 Different Ways to Sin

Genesis 50:15-21    
Psalm 103:1-13    
Romans 14: 1-12     
Matthew 18: 21-35     
Proper 19
September 17, 2017
77 Different Ways to Sin
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    The Kingdom of God is like a King who forgave the enormous debt, of one of his servants; a debt that could never be repaid.  The kingdom of God has very little pity on those who do not help the last, lost, lost, least, little and lifeless.  The kingdom of God is looking like a scarier and scarier place to live, isn't it?  I mean it is if you are looking at from the world's perspective, right?  

    This powerful king forgiving such a massive debt and being able to hold that over you till you mess up and forget.  I mean it sounds a lot like the very creepy Christmas song, "You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm telling you why.  Santa Clause is coming to town."  Are we suppose to be excited or scared that Santa is coming? Should we live in fear that our king is going to find out that we have not forgiven small, trivial debts and then punish us?  

    Seriously, y'all...this is what pastors think about at conferences on the reformation.  Well, this is what I thought about, anyways.  As I listen to Bishop Riegel talk about Martin Luther, I kept thinking about Luther's fear of God.  Luther cowering in the fear that God would come after him and punish him for his sin.  How Luther would sit in the confessional for hours confessing every, single sin he had committed.  And remember, Luther locked away in a monastery - what kind of trouble could he get into?  "Forgive me Father, for I have coveted brother Leon's peas."

    This parable should not make us cower in fear of a angry, judgmental God waiting in the shadows to smash us dead.  I mean, it is a parable about forgiveness and we know that there is a graceful God for all of us.  Rather, I want to think about this parable a bit differently - what if this parable is not just teaching us how to forgive, but is teaching us 77 different ways to commit a sin.

    The gospel pericope starts with Peter asking Jesus a question, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” A good question to ask a Rabbi but Jesus' response is not to quote the law of Moses but rather a new reality.  "Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times."

    I am sure you have all heard that seventy-seven was a large number for Jesus' day.  Seven was revered by the Jews so to hear 77 times meant this astronomical number.  All true and very good preaching.  I remember my dad giving that sermon a few times growing up.  I also remember hearing the adage that we are to forgive and forget because that is what God does for us.  God doesn't just cross out the sin we have committed but wipes the slate completely clean.  Again, good sermon and very true.

    But as I sat at my continuing education conference, I kept thinking about Luther phrase, "Sin Boldly...when you sin, sin boldly."  I never understood that as a child or as a young adult.  Maybe I still don't but I have come understand Luther saying that the more we sin, the more we know God's forgiveness and the bigger we sin, the bigger the forgiveness.  A powerful theological statement from a man who lived in fear of God's wrath.  
   But I notice something about this text for today.  The old adage, forgive and forget, is not a Matthean idea.  Notice what what the king says to the ungrateful servant after he has discovered his actions.  "‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’"  If the king really did practice Forgive and Forget, he would have said, "Hey, I know you did something to me that I didn't like, I can't remember what it was, I think you did something to me..."

    For Matthew, it appears that forgetting someone's action is not part of the forgiveness plot of God.  What does that say about the kingdom of God?  The kingdom of God is a king who does not forget the sins of his servants but forgives them anyways.  The kingdom of God hold its subjects to higher moral compass.  The kingdom of God does not have time for ungrateful servants who do not recognize the amazing gift of the king's forgiveness.  Or maybe, the kingdom of God doesn't forget the iniquities one has owed because in remember the enormous burden of our past failures makes us realize how grateful we are for what God has done for us.  The kingdom of God is looking a little bit sweeter now, isn't it?

    There are 77+ different ways to commit a sin and God will find a way to forgive us, but God will not forget the wrongs we have committed but that won't stop our God.  And we, my brothers and sisters are called to forgive others but here's the thing - it is one thing for God to forgive us, it is a lot harder for us to forgive one another.  I mean, just last week, Jesus gave us a tool to kick someone out of the church when a sin so wrong has been committed.  I think about someone in an abusive relationship.  Many have used this parable to wrongfully commit a person to stay in an abusive relationship.  Yes, we are called to forgive even the ones who beat us, but Jesus never said we had to do it right a way.  In fact, that goes completely against the parable being meant for the last, lost, least, little and lifeless.  The kingdom of God has no tolerance for people who oppress another person or a group of people.  

    I speak from a point of view where I grew up in a wonderful family and never had to deal with someone trying to harm me.  Even today, I don't live in fear but I know there are others out there that do live in fear.  They live in fear of a spouse coming home drunk.  They live in fear of someone abusing them and to ask them to forgive their captor while nothing done to their abuser. That  is simply not right nor tolerable.  As our Lord says in verse 34, "And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt."

    But I also know that it is not healthy to hold such hatred in one's heart for a long time.  Forgiving someone for a heinous crime does not mean we justify their actions but it means you no longer allow them to control you.  And we are not called to forget their wrongs so that it can happen again but we are called to remember so that the forgiveness has even more power on you and other individual.  

    My brothers and sisters, forgiveness is a tricky thing, it's a sticky thing, it's a wonderful thing.  While on the one hand, the more we mess up, the more God can forgive us. However, our actions do have consequences that can sometimes lead to very broken relationship.  Forgive when you can and are ready to do so because when you do forgive, God's kingdom breaks into our world where forgiveness is a rarity.  God has given you a second chance, don't waste it.  

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

Learning to get along is a hard thing to do

Ezekiel 33:7-11    
Psalm 119:33-40    
Romans 13: 8-14     
Matthew 18: 15-20     
Proper 18
September 10, 2017
Learning to Get Along Is a Hard Thing to Do
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    I am not one of those pastors who enjoy congregational conflict. There are some who do and thrive in those situations.  This passage makes my skin crawl a bit. I was almost tempted to not preach on this gospel.  Romans sounded nice and is a good text.  But I don't know, the Holy Spirit kept pushing me back to Matthew.  I found myself asking if this model actually works or this just one of those models that works in a perfect world but has no relevancy in the real world? It would be nice if it did work. Some of you might know that this conflict resolution process is used in our church's constitution as how we are suppose to deal with members who are in conflict.  We take it word for word, but does it work?
   This model from Jesus requires us to be open about how we are feeling.  When I did my chaplaincy training, part of the educational experience was learning how to deal with your feelings in moments of difficulty.  By the end of the summer, we all got really good at and were very open with our feelings in the group...a little to open at times though.  Many of us started having issues with friends and family who had not been through CPE.  They were not as open about how they process their feelings.  
What the experience taught me was that it is best to deal with conflict at the first sign of it or immediately after it is brought to my attention.  I still do this today.  I will either try to have an open and honest conversation and if necessary, I will apologize and admit I am wrong.  I do still try to avoid conflict and worry when it arises.  It's not healthy.  It is not a healthy way to live. Constantly worrying if we are going to lose someone over a conflict or issue.  The church should be a place where we can offer forgiveness against those who wrong us and ask for forgiveness when we have made a mistake.  

    The reason the church should be about forgiveness is because Christ is present.  Matthew 18:20 - Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. Christ is present, even in conflict, in this place.  Christ is present in our council meetings. Christ is present in our Christian Education, social ministry, property and stewardship meetings. How would you act if you were sitting next to Jesus?  Would you think ill of your neighbor?  Would you say those very hurtful things?  Would you think those very hurtful things?  Would you help him find his way in our worship?  Would you tell him where the bathrooms are? Would you ask him to leave if he was being disruptive?  How would you act differently if Jesus was sitting next to you in the pew? Well, he is.  We gather in his name; the name of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Christ is present here in this place just as he was present with the disciples, teaching them, feeding them, loving them even in the midst of conflict.

    Jesus was no fool.  Jesus knew there would be conflict in his holy church.  I mean, there was conflict among the 12 disciples at times, why wouldn't their be conflict in the church today with way more than 12 people.  Jesus never imagined that we be free of conflict ands he gave us a way to help manage the conflict; to make the conflict bearable.  

    Conflict happens in churches.  No church is immune and a church is not bad for having conflict.  Churches are bad or become toxic when they do not deal with the conflict in a healthy way.  Whether we use the Matthew 18 model for dealing with conflict or another model, it doesn't matter.  The bottomline is that the church needs to deal with conflict when it first appears so that it doesn't have a chance to spread because Christ is present.    But here's the kicker. Verse 17 - "if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector."  Okay Jesus, you got me confused.  Is that a good thing or a bad thing to treat someone like a Gentile and/or a tax-collector?

    This very simple message from Jesus is no longer is a simple message.  I asked Dr. Mark Vitalis Hoffman for some help with this message this week.  He sent me a commentary he wrote on Matthew 18 from a few years back.  He writes: “For Matthew, these persons [who won't even listen to church when they are wrong] were no better than Gentiles who by birth had been born outside of God’s promises to Israel and tax collectors who by choice had aligned themselves with the Roman oppressors. For Matthew, the ways were clear: either you were a committed insider among this group of outsider followers of Jesus, or you could go to ‘the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

    But here’s the thing, my brothers and sisters, what does Jesus say about those on the outside?   What does Jesus say about the Gentile?  What does Jesus say about the tax collector?  Pastor Mark goes onto say that Matthew is pulling a literary stunt right before us that forces us, i.e. the church, that when conflict comes up in the church, we deal with it and when it gets to the point that we cannot convince the person that they are in the wrong, we must start all over.

    “Eugene H. Peterson in The Message has expressed a deeper truth in the text. [He translates the verse as] “If [the sinning fellow believer] still won't listen, tell the church. If he won't listen to the church, you'll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God's forgiving love.” Peterson's rendering doesn't deny the reality of sin or minimize the differences we actually have. Peterson does remind Christians, however, that our core principle is unity based on God's love, not exclusion based on someone else's sin.”

    See, the church needs to serve as the moral compass to the rest of the world.  People look to us as to define ethics and ethical treatment of others.  The rest of the world would cast someone out when a wrong has been committed.  In the church, we admit that there are all kind of sinners and that there is all kind of forgiveness, and when someone has committed an act so wrong, we don’t cast them out, but we love them like Jesus would.  

    At our Table Talk the other night, we were talking about Article 7 and 8 of the Augsburg Confession.  In these two articles, Philip Melanchthon defines the church as the “the assembly of saints in which the gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly” but he goes on to say that the church has had evil priests, morons for pastors (my words, not Melanchthon’s) yet God still works through them to sanctify and make holy the word, the sacraments and the people.  

    You know, there are a lot of people my age (Millenials and younger) who think of the church as being filled with these really religious people, “holier than thou” who will judge them for what they have done or not done.  In reality, as our gospel and confessions remind us, we are not a perfect church full of perfect people but sinners who are called to forgive one another when a wrong has been committed. You want to know something, my brothers and sisters - this is how we reach millenials and frankly all groups actually.  We stop pretending that our church is full of perfect people, we stop gossiping, we stop fighting and we start forgiving.  

    We start to tell people, “yeah my church is not perfect and the people there love me for who I am.”  And I know this is easier said than done.  I know it is very easy to look at someone who has committed a serious sin and say, “you don’t deserve to be forgiven” but that is how the world reacts. We need to set the standard.  The world needs an example and we should be the ones who offer it.  I think the way we grow this church is not by making it more perfect but by showing our bruises.  We show the world the marks on our hands and feet from the nails we have endured over the years.  Being a Christian does not mean we don’t suffer.  Being a Christian does not mean our life is perfect.  Being a Christian means we know how to forgive and what forgiveness feels like.  Being a Christians means we live in a community who can forgive our neighbors no matter the circumstance, that we can love even the unlovable sinner.  A sinner like me.  A sinner like you.

    You know something, my brothers and sisters. I know not everything I say in my sermons is the divine word of God. I know I sometimes get it wrong. What I do know is that when I bless you, when I do what Christ has commanded me to do in the liturgy, it is not me saying these words of blessing but it Christ Jesus working through me. It is Christ Jesus our Lord who has blessed you.  If Christ has blessed you, you are blessed. Christ has blessed you, a sinner, a redeemed and blessed sinner. Since then you are blessed and your neighbor is blessed, do what blessed people do and forgive one another, and if that doesn’t work; well, do what your Lord has commanded and try again.  Change the word by loving a sinner.

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

I Gotta Know Something

Isaiah 51: 1-6    
Psalm 138    
Romans 12: 1-8 (sermon text)    
Matthew 16: 13-20     
Proper 16
August 27, 2017
I Gotta Know Something
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    “A living sacrifice.”  That is a strange phrase even for Paul to say in his day.  A sacrifice by its nature means death.  In the ancient near east culture, the temple system was used as a way of making the people right with their god through sacrificing animals.  Judaism used a temple for this very reason - they would offer sacrifices to God in the hopes that the people would be made right in the eyes of God.  

    After the first temple was destroyed and the Israelites were forced into exile, they learned to live without a temple but when the second temple was built by Herod (the same Herod that tried to kill Jesus when he was two), a split occurred in the Jewish nation and when know them as the Samaritans.  They believed that the temple was not needed - the southern kingdom believed it was and they were known as the Sadduccess (and Pharasies to a point).  Paul and Jesus were a part of the southern tradition and were use to going to the temple to offer a sacrifice to God.  We know that Jesus and his parents did just that when Jesus was 7 years old.  Paul understood what the law demanded and what animal he would have had to sacrifice on his behalf. He respected the temple system.  Where Jesus called out the corruption of the temple as hoarding to much back to the priests and not distributing more to the people, Paul (up to the point of his conversion) respected the temple as a way of making us right with God - fulfilling all righteousness.  

    But now, after he has been baptized and brought into the church, he sees the importance of a different kind of sacrifice where his congregants do not sacrifice a animal at the temple but offering their very bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.  Present my body to God as a living sacrifice.  As if my body is holy and acceptable.  My body has failed me more times than I like to admit.  My body bears the scars of many surgeries and procedures.  My body’s heart has been damaged, to the point where I need to take daily medication and see a cardiologist on an annual basis.  My back is not what it use to be.  My feet, my ankles have failed me more.  My Achilles' tendon caused me to lose a month with my son: being able to carry him around, play  with him, be a dad.  And let’s be truthful; my Achilles almost cost me my job because it did not allow me to do what I was called to do.  

    My body is overweight.  My mother-in-law took a picture of the three of us in our bathing suits at the beach.  My wife and son look great but I refuse to share that picture on line because I don’t like how I look.  You might say, “Oh pastor, don’t think that bad about your body” but how many of us like our body?  Not to many of us have a positive Body image.  I know it is especially hard for many women.  Those who have disability or handicaps hate their body.  I couldn’t walk for a month - I hated my body.  I look at my body in the mirror and I don’t see a holy and acceptable thing for God or anyone, yet it is.  I know that it is.

    I know this body of mine will never die, that it will be resurrected on the last day just like Jesus was resurrected.  I know that even though this body has failed me in this life, it has not failed God and I must, we all must present our bodies to God because that is how we worship.  The NRSV translates that last part of verse one as spiritual worship.  It is okay, but the literal meaning of the Greek word “logikÄ“n” is logical.  It is probably best translated as reasonable - So present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, that is what reasonable worship looks like.      

    Present your whole self - not just the your skin and bones as many of us might think of our bodies but our whole being because that is reasonable worship to God.  Think of it like this, how many of us feel like worship is just going through the motions.  We confess our sins every week; we have that confession memorized which is important, especially when you are lying in a hospital bed or in a nursing home wanting to make a confession and participate in the body of Christ.  But for us gathered here each week, saying this confession is just going through the motions.  First we confess, than Pastor absolves us, then we sing a hymn, go through our liturgy, listen to four lessons, have a sermon, say the creed, do communion, and then go home.  It is monotonous at times and we forget WHAT we are saying and WHY we are saying it.

    I have been reading a lot of Luther lately in preparation for Reformation Sunday.  He had a lot to say about worship and pray life.  He often said that children should be taught the creed and the Lord’s Prayer but adults should hardly ever pray the Lord’s Prayer.  He said that adults saying the Lord’s Prayer were being lazy in their prayer life.  God wants us to bring before him the very things that bother us and trouble us not just something we memorized.  When Luther wrote his 1526 German Mass, he eliminated it from the ordo and instead, included a commentary on what the Lord’s Prayer means and had it read by the pastor.

    What Paul is calling for is for us to embody our faith on a whole new level.  Paul doesn’t want us to only go to church or tell people about Jesus - to go through the motions, but wants us to be fully present in experiencing our faith.  And that can happen in traditional worship.  Slow down while confessing your sin and think about what is truly troubling your heart.  That is what that silence is meant for at the beginning.  Take advantage of it.  One time when I first started in ministry, I left that silence last a little bit longer than normal and someone asked me after church why and I told them - “I had a lot to confess this week.”

    When you confess your faith this day using the creed, think about what you are saying.  We are confessing a lot in that Creed and while the Spirit might give us the ability to say these things, we often glance over the words.  Don’t glance over them.  Read them, pray over them, reflect on what it means to believe in God almighty, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. (Hint, read your catechism!)

    Your body has been redeemed by God through baptism and it is holy and acceptable to God.  Actually, Paul says “Y’all bodies have been redeemed by God through baptism and they are holy and acceptable to God.” Paul sees the community of faith as a way of leading us in reasonable worship to God.  We all have something that we can learn from each member and we all have a responsibility to lift up our brothers and sisters. You body doesn’t normally attack itself.  When another part of your body attacks another, we call that cancer and we fight it, and we remove it.  The same is true when a member attacks another member in the body of Christ - it is a cancer that has to be removed.     The world will try to conform you and make you believe that you are the only one that matters.  That you need to only worry about yourself not about others.  This world will teach you that your body is not perfect, that it is not holy and acceptable, that you are not beautiful.  Remember, you do not belong to this world but you belong to Christ.  We all belong to Christ.  Realize that in this community of faith, God is present.  That God is present among a bunch sinners with imperfect bodies and guess what, that very fact hasn’t scared our God away.  

    My brothers and sisters, let go of what this world says about your body.  Let go of those earthly desires that cause you to feel pulled away from the church, from our community, from Christ himself.  See that you matter, that you are uniquely important to the function of the body of Christ and that when you are not present with us in this community, we do not function; that we are sick. It is through embodying our faith, being fully present in this holy time of worship and praise to God, that we present our imperfect bodies through logical/reasonable worship to God as a living sacrifice and are made holy and right with God, and that is all that matters to God.  Not your memorization, or your knowledge, but your presence in this holy hour of reasonable worship. 

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

The Unlikely but Faithful Woman

Isaiah 56: 1, 6-8    
Psalm 67: 1-7    
Romans 11: 1-2a, 29-32    
Matthew 15: [10-20] 21-28     
Proper 15
August 20, 2017
The Unlikely but Faithful Woman
 In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    So, my brothers and sisters.  I know I said I love to preach on parables and that is true.  But today, I want to put the parable aside for the most part and focus on the second part of the gospel.  I mean, the parable is good, but how often do we get to talk about Canaanites in church and talk about them in a positive light?

    I googled Canaanites and found Easton’s Bible Dictionary.  Canaanites are descendants of Canaan, Noah’s son. “Migrating from their original home, they seem to have reached the Persian Gulf... They [then] "spread to the west, across the mountain chain of Lebanon to the very edge of the Mediterranean Sea, occupying all the land which later became Palestine, also to the north-west as far as the mountain chain of Taurus…”

    “The "Canaanites," as distinguished from others such as the Amalekites and the Anakim and known as "dwellers in the lowlands" (Numbers 13:29), the great plains and valleys, the richest and most important parts of Palestine. Tyre and Sidon, their famous cities, were the centers of great commercial activity; and hence the name "Canaanite" came to signify a "trader" or "merchant"… The name "Canaanite" is also sometimes used to designate the non-Israelite inhabitants of the land in general (Genesis 12:6; Numbers 21:3; Judges 1:10).”

    Now for the important part, remember when the Israelites are finally brought into the Promise Land…called the land of Canaan.  Remember what God said to the Israelites? They were commanded to destroy the descendants of Canaan then possess it (Exodus 23:23; Numbers 33:52, 53; Deuteronomy 20:16, 17). And that eventually happens many years later under David.  Canaanites are not well liked people by the Jews of Jesus’ day.  Jesus would have grown up being taught they are outsiders and that would probably explain why Jesus is so gruff with the Canaanite woman.  But you know something, while all this is interesting stuff to tell you all, the real reason  why I was drawn to this story was because of the dogs.  

    I watch my dogs, particularly the Beagle, at night search the kitchen.  They smell every, single corner looking for food - something that I might have missed after cleaning the kitchen up from dinner.  Maple will give up after a few minutes of searching. She tends to stay with us at the table and just stare at us with those puppy-dog-eyes, but Louie will search that kitchen, counters and tables  for that one crumb that I missed.

    Sometimes he is lucky.  Sometimes he finds a plate that has little bit of sauce left on it or a few crumbs stuck to it that is still in the sink.  That plate will look clean by the time he is done with it.  And sometimes, when your back is turned for a second, that beautiful turkey and ham sandwich on multigrain bread will be gone.  The dog is persistent in his hunt for food.

    For in his mind, that next meal might not come.  He doesn’t understand that my wife and I would rather let him eat our own food than let him or Maple ever go hungry.  He doesn’t quiet understand that we love him more than ourselves and will make sure he always has food in his bowl.  

    But alas, every night, almost like clockwork around 8 p.m., you know the snack hour, Louie begins his hunt for crumbs from his master's table.  And what I have noticed is that, to Louie, the leftover crumbs are just as good as that beautiful ham and turkey sandwich on multigrain bread.
   Just a crumb.  Just a little, insignificant crumb to a dog is like eating the tasty sandwich.  It is enough to satisfy him for the night in his hunt for food,  Just a crumb.  Just a insignificant crumb of Jesus is still enough to defeat this demon.  That is all this women wants.  She just wants a crumb.  She doesn't need Jesus to come into her house or stop what he is doing, she just needs a crumb.  A small, miniscue bit of Jesus because she believes "a crumb is powerful enough to defeat the demon that has possessed her daughter."

    You want to talk about faith?  This women gets it.  This outsider gets it. Jesus was just in a dispute with the Pharisees. They believe faith can be summed in the keeping the law.  Jesus believed faith was not about what you do, but your need for God.   

    "It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles."   "Evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander" are examples are what God does not want us to do; this is how are become unclean in the sight of God. 
"To eat with unwashed hands does not defile” and it won't save you from your sin. The only way to save one self from our sin is turn to God for help - to have a little bit of faith.
    For us, this makes sense, but to a law-abiding Pharisee, Jesus has just committed an act of heresy.  But Jesus' point is valid - From the heart can either come purity or uncleanliness.  In the Jewish world, this Canaanite women would never be pure in their eyes because of her decent.  But her words are holy and pure.  They are real and express a faith that even a fragment of Jesus is enough to bring healing to her daughter.  The faith from this women came from the heart.  Yes "Evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander" do as well but so what. 
The savior of the world has the power to over come all of our failings.  

    This world tends to think big.  Big-mac, big house, big car, big bank account, big everything.  Maybe we need to take a page out of Louie's and this  Canaanite women's book, you just need a crumb.  

    Will you be like Louie this day?  Will you be like this Canaanite women?  Will you take but just a crumb from the Lord's table?  Come, we got some crumbs for you.  If there is room for a dog-lover-sinner like me at our table, then is a plenty of room for you as well, because all you need is but a crumb.  And if you can't even find a crumb of faith in yourself well, we got plenty on the plate and Jesus loves to share. Just hold out your hands and receive your savior. (May your faith, my friends, be strengthen by the crumbs with which your are about to receive and whatever those demons in your life you might face, may they lose their grip on you at the first sign of our Lord’s presence)

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

Jesus and the sea monsters

1 Kings 19: 9-18   
Psalm 85: 8-13    
Romans 10: 5-15    
Matthew 14: 22-33     
Proper 14
August 13, 2017
Jesus and the sea monsters
 In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    I want to say that I wrote this sermon on Thursday.  After the events of yesterday in Charlottesville, VA I was tempted to rewrite this message, but I was not successful. I felt that Holy Spirit had inspired this sermon on me on Thursday and I need to say them.  But I also feel the need to say that what happened in Charlottesville was awful.  That this kind of hatred and bigotry still exists in 2017 is despicable. There were many clergy there yesterday who kept saying to keep then in prayer so instead of a message, let us pray for an end to violence and this hatred.  That we find some peace and that God might heal those divisions that divide us.  So, let us pray…

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work or watch or weep, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, comfort the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may move every human heart; that the barriers dividing us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; and that, with our divisions healed, we might live in justice and peace; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

    At the congregation that I grew up, we had these beautiful stain glass windows depicting the many different  scenes of Jesus life and one window had Jesus calming the storm.  The Matthew version of this story is not included in this year’s lectionary.  We only hear this story once every three years during Year B - The gospel of Mark.  And what is really fascinating about this story whether you are looking at it in either Matthew, Mark or Luke is the theological power of this story.  

    See, in the Hebrew Bible, one of the powers of God is the ability to control the weather.  It was the mark of a god in the ancient world.  So, the disciples should be freaking out because they are in a terrible storm (like the one today) and Jesus (who they think is just another man) is just sleeping - he is sleeping because he knows God won’t let anything to him.  The disciples don’t know this because they don’t get who Jesus is.  When they wake him up and pretty much say, “start ditching some water, man” Jesus calms the storm instead  Their response is very fitting…”What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?’” And now they say, “Truly you are the son of God.”

    They might not understand what it means to have Jesus as the son of God, but at least they recognize him.  And this recognition comes after a very long day of work.  It started with last week’s story when Jesus retreated to a secluded and deserted place to escape reality.  The crowd followed him for a variety of reasons and he has compassion on them, he heals them, and then he feed all 5000 plus of them.  The disciples wanted to send the mob of people away hungry because they are use to their own reality of scarcity and not use to the new reality of God’s abundance. The disciples work hard going around and collecting up all the scraps of food and fill 12 baskets.  They have seen things that nobody else has ever seen.  They are starting to connect the dots to see Jesus is more than just a wise man. They put in a full days work and now Jesus has sent them on a head of him so that he can finally get that alone time and pray.  

    They are out on the Sea of Galilee when a storm blows in and they are up all night battling the wind and the waves.  I have been out on the water when a storm has blown in and it is terrifying. But unlike the disciples, we were on a fairly large boat with some massive engines and a captain who knew what he was doing.  I have been on smaller boats in choppy water but our boats always had powerful engines and lights so that we can see what is coming.  The disciples are on a small boat, with just sails to power them and no lights.  My brothers and sisters, I challenge any of you not to be scared and tired on this boat.  And then, the guy a few chapters back once calmed a storm, is now walking on the water.

    Now Jesus has never done this…well maybe he did when he was younger and his mom was trying to give him a bath.  I don’t know of any other biblical character who has walked on water.  I know Moses parted the Red Sea and the Israelites walked on dry land, but walking on water.  That’s new and I would probably think Jesus is a ghost myself.  They are spiritually spent, physically spent, stuck in a storm, and now a ghost is walking towards them.

    But he speaks and they think he is Jesus, though these ghost are not always trustworthy.  Jesus says, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus tells him to come and miraculously Peter is able to walk on water for a bit, but he begins to sink when he realizes what he is able to do in this crazy storm.  And how many of us have then heard a preacher say here, “If Peter had only kept his eyes on Jesus, he would have been fine…
Peter’s faith wavered and that is why he sank.” How many have heard a preacher say that?  I think it is fine and it does work but it is a bit too simple; it sounds like something you can cross-stitch into a pillow - keep your eyes on Jesus.  I even heard this week on a podcast that Peter’s mistake did not happen when he took his eyes off Jesus but when he got out of the boat - that Peter should have just trust that this person walking on the water was Jesus.

    But here is the thing, my brothers and sisters.  PEOPLE DON’T WALK ON THE WATER IN THE BIBLE! I tell you what, I do exactly what Peter would have done, exactly! Peter is not at fault nor should we question his faith.  Rather’s Peter example shows us how we are suppose to act when we are spiritually spent.  

    Psalm 69:1 says, “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.” What does Peter say, “Lord save me.” Now does Jesus go over and say, “Peter, just pull yourself up.  You are fine.  Come on, work for your faith!” No, Peter calls out for help, and then Jesus reaches out his hand and pulls Peter up before the water can overcome him.  Jesus then says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” And this is where most preachers can be correct by saying Peter should have trusted in Jesus.  But what if this is not a question but a statement - that Jesus is wanting his disciples to learn  that even when you doubt or waiver, only call out as the psalmist did and as Peter said, “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck” - “Lord, Save me!” And God will save you.

    Faith is not like airline miles - you can’t just rack up a bunch of miles through purchases - faith is given to us by the Holy Spirit.  We nurture it and try to build on it but it is ultimately left up to the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us in our daily life.  Martin Luther writes in his explanation of the Third Article of the Creed:

I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.

I believe that I cannot believe… We cannot have faith unless the Holy Spirit gives it to us.  What if Peter was meant to not have faith so at that very moment, he would call out to Jesus to save him? What if this whole thing was a set up and Peter’s lack of faith was necessary to teach us that when we are spiritually spent, emotionally spent, or physically spent and when you feel like can’t handle one more thing and then that thing happens, we are to call out to Jesus, “Lord, save me” and Jesus will save you.

    You know, how many of us, truthfully, have felt like they can never measure up to God or deserve God’s love?  We might not like to admit it to ourselves or others but it happens.  You feel like God is punishing you for something you have done or for your lack of faith.  In those moments, have we ever thought to just say, “Lord, save me”? Jesus saved Peter, why won’t he save you.  You are a disciple.  You are a baptized child of God.  God has promised from the day that you had that water pour over your head and the mark of the cross etched into your forehead, that you would never be alone—that God would never abandon you.  I think we need to get better at asking God, asking Jesus to save us when the water is up to our neck and we can’t swim to save our life.  

That is the true test of faith - God doesn’t care if you can memorize all these different Bible verses or recite Christians prayers from memory.  What God cares about and what Jesus wants us to do is to be so utterly dependent on God for everything; that you should call out for help when you need it, so that Jesus can save you.  Jesus saved you on the day of your baptism. Jesus will save you when your are sinking fast and the water is up to your neck.  And Jesus will save you on that glorious day when all the dead shall rise and we shall be reunite.  But until that day, don’t be afraid to ask for help.   
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  

Jesus, The Bread Machine

Isaiah 55:1-5 
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21    
Romans 9:1-5   
Matthew 14:13-21     
Proper 13
August 6, 2017
Jesus, The Bread Machine
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    Matthew’s gospel is very subversive yet you would never  know it.  I mean, you see it in the parables more clearly than in other places especially when we you read the parable in light of it being focused on the last, lost, least, little and lifeless.  Yet, it is subversive and it comes across in this miracle, in the very first line of the gospel.  “Now when Jesus heard…” In your celebrates, you get this bracketed phrase “about the beheading of John the Baptist” but in the Bible, it simply says, “When Jesus heard this…” The part the word “this” is referencing Matthew 14:1-12 where Matthew talks about how Herod murdered John in cold blood because his wife didn’t like how John spoke of her.  It is upon learning this awful news about his cousin, his friend, and his prophet that Jesus decides he needs a break.

    Life got a bit too real for him.  It seems as though Jesus can’t fix this.  He can’t bring John back from life.  Matthew says, “he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard IT, they followed him on foot from the towns.” Now for many years, I have read this sentence as, “When the crowds heard that Jesus went to a deserted place, they followed him…” Well, that may not be correct.

    In Greek, the wording is a bit confusing.  The Greek doesn’t tell us what the “it” is.  Traditionally, we assume that the crowds just want to go where Jesus is, but it could also mean “they, too, may have just been hearing of John’s death and their sojourn may have also been an act of grief or bewilderment or something else desperate enough to end up in the wilderness with no food. One reason Herod was holding John in prison and did not put him to death immediately was because he feared the crowd (v.5).” What if the crowd is not just going out to the wilderness to pray and grieve.  What if the crowd was a mob who went to find Jesus because they want him to lead the revolt.  Remember I said, Matthew is a subversive gospel.

    It is not out of the realm of possibilities.  Just a chapter ago (2 weeks ago in church) we heard the Parable of Weeds among the Wheat.  Remember that parable where the land owner accuses his enemy of sowing bad seed among his good seed. Matthew was the only gospel to include this parable.  We talked about how  Matthew's community could have been invaded and the community was trying to deal with the loss and breach of trust of someone who appeared to be one of their own.  We know Matthew likes to deal with these tough questions, “what should we do when someone commits a horrible crime against us or one of our own - how should we respond?”  “Jesus, they just killed John, how should we respond?”

    Subversive, right?  But not subversive like the world might be, subversive in God’s reality.  How does Jesus respond?  Does he get the crowds riled up for battle? Does he send the crowd away hungry?  No, he tells the disciples, “You give them something to eat.”  And when the disciples don’t realize that they got the ultimate bread machine standing in front of them and present just five loaves and two fish, Jesus is able to feed over 5000 people.  But this isn’t the first time that the people doubted God’s ability to provide.  

    God rescued the Israelites from Egypt and the people complain about the lack of food and water.  They say, “Moses, did you free us from Egypt to just die out here in the wilderness?  At least in Egypt they fed us.” And what does God do but provide manna from heaven, quail at dusk and water from a rock.  This is what God does - Jesus does what God has always done - that is provide sustinence in impossible places.   This is what Lordship means:  Even though you have an army who is upset enough to retaliate over Herod murdering a prophet of the most high God, you don’t lead them into battle but instead you have compassion on them, you heal them, and you feed them.  

    You know, we love talking about waging war or battle on our enemies or opponents. I mean, you can’t even turn on the Food Network and not hear how one chef is doing battle against another.  Because apparently sautéing a chicken breast is just like joining the army.  We talk about our politicians doing battle against each other because apparently it it not good for them to work together - they are just supposed to lob misses at each other instead of extending the olive branch of peace.  I get it, drama sells but we aren’t talking about a midday soap opera - we are talking about our daily life.  

    You know, there are a lot of angry people in Martinsburg: Jobs are lost, poverty is on the rise, drugs are cheap, our downtown is not what it used to be - we talked about this all last week.  Last week I said that we need to realize that God’s presence is overflowing and bursting at the seams - that God’s presence is overflowing in Martinsburg.  So if that is the case, my brothers and sisters, if God’s presence is bursting at the seams here, how should we respond to our neighbors?  Should we gather up an army and take back our town?  Appoint a revolutionist and gather up an arsenal of weapons?  Or do we show compassion to those most disenfranchised and then we feed them?

    What would Jesus do?  Jesus would celebrate the work of Friends feeding friends.  Jesus would lift up the work being done by organizations like Catholic Charities, CCAP and Loaves and Fishes.  Jesus would support groups that provide safe place for children like YoungLife or our own Mustard Seed School. I know we haven’t talked about this for a while but did you know that every month on the first Sunday, we collect food for a local organization.  It is not the same as Jesus feeding over 5000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fish, but it is still feeding people and it still showing compassion on the most disenfranchised.  We do this not because we have to do so or because we are obligated but we do it because feeding people is a way to show that Jesus is present.  And isn't that our jobs as disciples to do that? We don’t need to wage war on drugs.  We don’t need to wage war on our politicians, on teachers, on our local businesses.  We need to love our neighbors as we love ourselves and we need to provide them with food so that  all might leave full, so that all might see Jesus is present, here in this place and in this town, and in our lives. That is how you be subversive in God’s reality - you bring the ultimate bread machine to the people. 

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