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

A little ditty about Simeon and Anna

Second Sunday in Christmas - January 3, 2021
Isaiah 61:10-62:3 
Psalm 148
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:22-40

"A little ditty about Simeon and Anna"

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

I first want to note that if you are a church nerd, you will notice that today’s lessons are not the correct lessons appointed for the Second Sunday after Christmas.  John 1 should be the gospel and not Luke 2:22-40.  However, I already preached on John and I rarely ever get to preach on the lessons appointed for the first Sunday after Christmas.  Typically, I am so exhausted from Christmas that I usually take the Sunday off, like I did last week, and have some of our very talented Lay Leaders take over.  Since I already preached on John 1 on Christmas Day (you can go over to our YouTube page to watch that message), so let’s talk about this little ditty about Simeon and Anna.

Most of us know the story of Simeon.  If not, we at least know the song he sings:  “Now Lord, you let your servant go in peace…your word has been fulfilled.”  Also called the Nunc Dimittius which is latin for “Now you dismiss…” I remember learning this story in Sunday school…Simeon picking the baby Jesus in his arms, so excited that now he could finally die...Or something like that.  When I read this story today, it is hard for me to imagine any parent willingly allowing a complete stranger to hold their newly born son in their arms without a mask on. 

Anna rarely gets any mention.  She doesn’t sing a memorable song like Simeon.  Luke tells us that she is a prophet, of advanced aged, a widow after 70 years of marriage.  She sits and worships in the temple (slow) NIGHT and DAY.  That is a strange phrase…night and day… How do you normally say that phrase?  Day and night, right?  Did you also catch a similar thing that Simeon says?  “This child is destined for the FALLING and the RISING of many in Israel…” Again, how do you say that phrase?  Rising and falling, right?  Had this been any other gospel, I probably would have glanced over this very minor variant.  Had this been Mark, I probably would have just said he was writing to quick to care that he made a mistake.  But Luke is different.  Luke is careful about his word choice.  He tells us this in the very first few lines of the gospel:  I have set down to write an orderly account.  So, why did he reverse these two phrases?  

What is Luke trying to accomplish by telling us that Jesus, on the day he is presented in the temple, is met by these two strangers who speak of their baby as being more than just a baby, but declare him To be the salvation of the world?  We already know what Simeon says to be true.  Mary already sang about Jesus and his role in saving humanity during her magnificat.  And notice what Mary sings?  Again it is a reversal.  The rich sent away empty.  The powerful taken down from their thrones.  Luke is using Simeon as a way to reinforce this idea that God is reversing the way things have always done.  But Simeon takes it one step further.  “Simeon tells Mary that “a sword will pierce” her soul (her psyche). She will experience great pain, thorough agony, and the madness of those who witness injustice and are unable to stop it. When we who live on this side of the crucifixion and resurrection hear Simeon’s words, we have a way to know something of what Mary endures watching her son die. Or maybe we can never know; at least we honor the torment. She is the mother of all the disappeared and oppressed, the imprisoned and tortured protesters throughout history. She stands beside his cross. She watches. Before the rising is the falling. Before the glory of God is the cross.”  Simeon might very well be reinforcing this reversal concept that Luke is using, but we also get a glimpse into the heart of Mary—a mother will one day watch her son die on the cross to save billions of people she will never even know their names.  

Then there is Anna.  She again is reinforcing this reversal, but she takes it to the next level as well.  “We first learn that she is up all night and only then do we learn that she is also in prayer all day. She is keeping vigil at all hours, waiting for the arrival of the one who will redeem Israel. Mirroring the order—down before up, cross before triumph—is the fasting and praying Anna practiced “night and day.” These two prophets know what God is about: salvation comes through confrontation. The sign of the Messiah is opposition. There is no resurrection without the crucifixion. There is no unbinding without the binding. That the hard reality of repentance precedes forgiveness tells us plainly that there is no forgiveness where there is no fault.”

“The fact of injustice, pain, hurt, denigration, want, and death mean that God is eternally at work to bring healing to all facets of our lives. The Lord is at work in the world just as Mary sings about it when the angel announces God’s favor on her. She gives thanks that God brings down the powerful, lifts up the lowly, feeds the hungry, and sends “the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52-53). All these powerful actions mean to reverse normal worldly expectations. Not in spite of, but because of struggle and destruction, the Lord, the Holy Spirit, brings consolation and deliverance. The Holy Spirit guides the faithful to meet the Messiah in order to take on the same mission: to lose ourselves in order to find ourselves. Just as the Spirit “rested” on Simeon, the Spirit rests on the baptized in every age, compelling prayer and fasting, urging us to righteous deeds, calling us to see through or within our failures a pathway to the good. The Lord uses the wicked ways of all creation in order to bring about what nurtures and creates peace, and thus is Simeon able to sing of a peace which has come to him because he has seen the savior.”

God is all about doing the unthinkable.  You know, when I was younger, I had a speech problem.  I saw a speech therapist until I was in the 8th grade.  I had some learning disabilities growing up.  A few years ago, I went back and read  some of those reports from school counselors.  I doubt that, at the time, any of my counselors or speech therapist could have ever imagined that I would have went on to receive a Master’s degree and have a job where I get paid to give speeches.  Yet, here I am.  God called 12 of the strangest characters to be his disciples.  One betrayed.  One denied him.  They all abandoned him at the cross.  Yet, look at what God did?  From 12, to over a billion and still going strong.  Not ever a pandemic has stopped us from proclaiming the good news about this babe of Bethlehem.  

Simeon’s song and Anna’s joy lives on today.  Though they are long gone, we still sing of the mysteries we have beheld at the altar.  We leave worship  with joy in our hearts just as Anna had joy in her heart after seeing the salvation of the world wrapped up flesh and blood.  And even though we might not be able to gather around this table and sing Simeon’s song as we have before, “we still receive through God’s Word the promise of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness”—which is exactly what Simeon is proclaiming.  Even in these times when church and worship just don’t feel right, because God’s word is proclaimed, we still witness the salvation.  Despite not being able to receive the sacrament where we are promised to hold Jesus in the palms of our hands just like Simeon held Jesus in his, we still can behold the salvation for all people.  The gospel is salvation for all people and it is why we have never shutdown as a church.  Our work is needed now more than ever.  People need to hear the good news that God knows a thing or two about reversing things—that our God knows how to turn things around.  

Simeon and Anna died a long time ago, yet the world needs people like them.  The world needs people willing to proclaim the good news like Simeon did. The Good news which also includes the harsh truth that we sometimes do not hear—things will get worse before they better.  The world needs more Annas who are willing to keep vigil night and day in the temple as we await the return of our Lord. The spirit of God is at work this day, my brothers and sisters.  Can you feel the Spirit?  Can you hear the Spirit?  This little ditty about Simeon and Anna is actually about you as well.  Preach the gospel with truth and honesty, never stop holding vigil for our Lord’s return, and may God’s favor rest upon you as well. 

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

 

Pitched a Tent

Christmas Day - December 25, 2020
Isaiah 52:7-10 
Psalm 98
Hebrews 1:1-4 [5-12] 
John 1:1-14

“Pitched a Tent"

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

How does one celebrate Christmas when everything that we normally do on Christmas cannot happen?  Normally, I would have had two services last night where over 200 people would have joined together to sing, “O Come all ye faithful.”  Normally I would have gotten home around 1:30 in the morning completely hopped up on adrenaline, country ham sandwiches and coffee.  I left church last night around 9:30pm with only 4 of my live stream committee members and my choir director’s family in the sanctuary.  Each person there had a job and where only there because I could not be in five places at once.  Today, after I leave here, I will go home and spend Christmas Day with just my family and my in-laws.  We will not be traveling over all of creation as we normally do.  We will not get to see extended family.  We will not gather around a large dining room table, stuffing our faces full of ham and turkey.  We will not gather around a tree to watch each other open gifts.  Instead, this Christmas will be very different and unforgettable.  

I remember my first Christmas at St. John’s.  I was running around trying to make sure I had everything ready to go for my first major Christmas Eve here when I got a call that a church member was in Winchester Hospital.  This was back in the day when pastors could actually go and see people in the hospital.  Immediately after I got the phone call, I dropped everything that I was doing and drove down to Winchester Hospital to see Carroll.  I thought it was awful that Carroll, a pastor spouse and one of most beloved shut-ins would have to spend Christmas in the hospital.  Carroll should be with her family, I thought.  She should be with her grandchildren as they open Christmas gifts.  This is not fair, I thought.  It was cruel.  

As I sat down and told her how awful it must be to be stuck in here on Christmas, she responded, "You know, we should celebrate Christmas every day."  And then she went on to tell me, and I am paraphrasing here - she said it better but I didn't think to write it down word for word, "Being in here doesn't mean I will miss Christmas, it just means it will be different." Carroll just recently passed away from Covid19.  I never got to tell her how much she taught me that morning I visited her at Winchester Hospital when she asked she said, “we should really celebrate Christmas every day.”  We should.  And I am not talking about the family gatherings, the ham and turkey, the traditions that each of our families has to celebrate this day.  No, I am talking about the the most basic idea of Christmas - That God is present with us.  That God is present in both the happy moments and in the most difficult of days—when it feels like the darkness is so thick that you can cut it with a knife.  For as John says in the gospel reading for today:  The light shines in the Darkness and the Darkness does not overcome it. 

That is a powerful message and its meaning has been lost because of our modern day technology.  Do you know how blessed we are to have artificial light sources, cheap-artificial-light?  All we got to do is flip a switch and the light shines in the darkness.  Candles can be purchased at the dollar tree.  Oil for candles is not that expensive at all.  Yet in the ancient world in which Jesus was living, in order to have just 15 minutes of artificial light at night, it would cost almost a day's wage (like a $120 in today's world). 

You know, now-a-days, we live in a time when light pollution is a real issue.  Yellow Stone is looking to designate part of their park as "big-sky" which would therefore deny any artificial light sources from taking over the sky.  We live in a time when darkness is not all that big of a problem - yet in the day of Jesus, the phrase, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it" would have been a powerful phrase indeed to say and make.  

That the light from our savior is more valuable than a day's wage, can last for more than 15 minutes, and can outshine any darkness.  This light source has apparently been around since the beginning of time when God created the heavens and the earth—for some reason we rather sit in darkness. Perhaps it is because when one sits in the dark, it is a lot easier to hide ugliness of one’s sin.  But to those who welcomed the light, the light dwelt there and lived among the people.  The Word of God became flesh and lived among us and the glory of God's son shined bright and has lit our world since that fateful night in Bethlehem, when all the world stood still as the savior was born into a very dark stable in Bethlehem.  We were completely unprepared even though prophets had long foretold of his birth and coming.  We made no room, we made no extra effort.  The savior of the world came in the most unglamorous of fashions and lived among us.  As my wife so beautiful summed it up on Christmas Day in 2017, “Phenomenal Cosmic Powers! Itty Bitty Living Space!” Our Lord, who was there when all of creation was formed, who holds the same power of the Father in the palms of his hands, dwells and lives within our midst, taking the form a child. 

That idea of dwelt/living among us gets lost in translation.  Our biblical translations really do a nice job of making those words sound pretty and flow beautifully together but the actual Greek is "pitched a tent."   The Word became flesh and pitched-a-tent among us.  It is very similar to the Israelites traveling in the wilderness for 40 years and carrying around a tent called the tabernacle where the required sacrifices could be made to God in this tent. John uses this this idea of pitching a tent to imply a deep intimacy, not just a passerby or temporary guest. While at the at the same time noting that the coming of the Word-made-flesh was something different, and not fully native.  That his coming would be different and is different.  

To celebrate Christmas every day means that we look for where God is pitching a tent in our world still today.  Where do you see Christ pitching a tent in your life?  Where do we see the tent? The Word of God becoming bread and wine for us to hold and eat.  What about at your home? Around the dinner table?  On that Christmas Tree? The light that God is offering us is so much better than the cheap, artificial light that our current world has to offer.  I have seen God pitching a tent in all kinds of places this past year.  God pitched a tent among the scientists who put in long hours to develop a safe vaccine that might put an end to Covid19.  God has pitch a tent among the medical professionals who continue to risk their lives as to care for complete and utter strangers during this pandemic.  God has pitch a tent among the teachers who work tirelessly to teach children over zoom.  God pitch a tent among the 2600 jeeps that gave a special parade for a little boy named Georgie, who has been at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital since October 2019 and is suffering with Stage 4 neuroblastoma and who has returned home to spend what could be his  Christmas with his family. God has pitch a tent among the waiters or waitresses who has not seen a stable paycheck since the pandemic started.  God has pitch a tent among the countless number of men and women who have lost their jobs during this pandemic.  God has pitch a tent among those who have lost loved ones to Covid19 this past year and have not yet been able to grieve with others their loss. Pitching a tent doesn’t mean things will get better, but it means that God is with us.  Where is God pitching a tent today?  I can assure you, God is not hold up in our church buildings.  Covid19 has taught us that the Word of God cannot be just contained to sanctuaries.  The Word of God is with you, wherever you might go, dwelling with you, shining that light to cut through the darkness that you might find yourself in.  

We live in a world shrouded in darkness this day. Even with so much artificial light, we still lose our way.  We walk around saying that 2020 has been an utter failure of years and yet, we cannot even begin to see that God has been with us this whole time.  We forget the gospel truth that God has pitched a tent in our world. When God is present, failure is never an option. When God is present, even the dead are raised back to life.  When God is present, even the sinner is forgiven.  Christmas teaches us that there is no place our Lord won’t go to be with you.  Whether it be in a cave, a locked room, a classroom, a hospital room—God will be in those places and it is your job, my brothers and sisters, to tell the world that the darkness will end.  It cannot overcome God’s light, God’s promised hope.  Church, even though you find yourselves stuck in your homes this day, you are still tasked with the beautiful and holy obligation to not pitch the tent, but to tell the world God is present, to point to those places where you see God present, that Christmas is not a day we celebrate, but is a way to live—God present with us even in the darkness. Come out of the darkness this Christmas, out of the shadows and see the hope that this season brings because you might be the light that some one might need this Christmas. Be Christ’s candle sticks and go light up the world.

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

Who are we?

Christmas Eve - December 24, 2020
Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-20

Who are we?
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Tonight, is not a birthday celebration for Jesus.  For one thing, as the text reminds us, shepherds would not be sleeping in the fields in the middle of winter.  While Luke doesn’t give us a date, he give us a clue that Jesus was probably born in the spring time.  So, tonight is not a big birthday party. 

Tonight is not about family gatherings.  Out of love and safety, most of these special gatherings have been canceled this year.  If Christmas was about family gatherings, then Christmas would need not be happening…yet here we are…worshipping the newborn king just as we have for hundreds of years.  

Tonight is not about reading your favorite Christmas story  written by people like Charles Dickens or Dr. Seuss.  Christmas involves none of these things society deems a necessity to happen on Christmas.  Tonight, Christmas, is about remembering that God is present in our world.  Tonight is about remembering the time when God

  • the great creator of heaven and earth; 
  • who formed the earth out of nothing; 
  • who took this formless marble floating in space and made something out of nothing; 
  • the same God who delivered the people out of slavery in Egypt; 
  • who spoke to Abraham and Sarah who even though they had no children of their own promised them that God would build a great nation from their offspring; 
  • who spoke to Job in the whirlwind, 
  • who inspired people like Ester to speak up and save God’s people from tyranny; 
  • who promised King David that from his line would forever include great leaders for the people of God
  • tonight is about remember that time when our amazing God was born in the city of Bethlehem, in a cave, placed in a stone feeding trough, and had shepherds come and worship him.

It is a night that needs little fan fair; pomp and circumstance.   For our Lord had very little.  Jesus was born at a time when the world considered his life to be of little to be of no consequence. Born at a time when Augustus was known as savior of the world.  Born in a city known as the home of a deceased and defunct monarch.  Born to a family, even though Joseph shared in King David’s legacy, lacked any of David’s wealth or stature.  Born in a town where the population was no more than 300 people.  It was small and run down that held little to no significance to Rome.  It was not in a particular strategic section of the empire.  Bethlehem was a forgotten place.  The only reason Mary and Joseph are traveling to this place is because Augustus, the great savior of world, wants to find a way to tax people like Mary and Joseph.  This census was a way to count the people and then force them to pay more in taxes to Rome, to support an Empire that cared only about world domination. 

We read this story with rose colored glasses.  We hear the romantic side of our Lord’s birth.  Seriously, I am surprised Hallmark hasn’t tried to make a movie out the birth of Jesus.  This story, the story we heard read here tonight, especially during this year, has the ability to do two things: Make us long for what we use to have or it can help us refocus on the new future that God wants us to move towards.  Nostalgia has a way of creeping in and stealing the power away from this crazy  story.  

Whenever I stand and read this gospel lesson or hear it, I always think about those childhood Christmases.  I think about all those Christmas pageants I was in as a kid.  I think about that time I played Joseph or that time I was the narrator.  I think about those Christmas Eve’s spent as an acolyte at my Dad’s church, with my cousins, aunts and uncles, my grandmother in the pews that evening.  I think about everyone coming back to our house for dinner after church.  I miss those simple days.  I miss that feeling of stability and excitement.  And in 2020, stability and excitement are in short supply.  

Looking around on Social media today, the general consensus is that Christmas is a complete wash.  Nostalgia seems to be winning. All those normal traditions have been put on hold.  Family gatherings canceled or drastically scaled back.  Video calls will replace in-person visits on Christmas Day.  Tonight feels like a complete and utter failure.  We are tailspinning into an ocean of complete despair and the only way to pull ourselves out of this death dive is to dive deep into the story of our Lord’s Birth. 

So, I want you to imagine yourself as either Mary or Joseph.  I want you to picture what it must have felt like for the holy family to leave their home in Nazareth, travel over three days on the back of a donkey, all the while having a very pregnant spouse.  You go to Bethlehem knowing its reputation.  You go there knowing full well that there might not be a place for you to stay.  Remember, Bethlehem is where Joseph is from.  This is his family.  His friends.  He probably left Bethlehem to find better work.  He returns home with a woman who is pregnant and was found to be with child before they could be married.  You know, I have to wonder if all those rooms in Bethlehem were actually full.  

When Thomas and Isaiah were born, we had a plan, and expectation of what it would be like.  Because of the amazing medical team at Jefferson Hospital, from the doctors, nurses, tech, Cooks, maintenance staff and house cleaning crews, they made the experience even better than we could have imagined.  One month before Diane was due with Isaiah, we decided to skip a synod con-ed event because we didn’t want to travel that close to Diane’s due date.  Yet we live in a time when hospitals are within a reasonable driving distance, where medical staffs are well trained, and where giving birth has relatively low risk because of the entire medical team’s training.  

Now, put yourself in the shoes of Mary and Joseph.  Forced to leave their home and family in Nazareth to go to the middle of nowhere while being nine months pregnant.  Mary’s whole birthing experience, her life up this point could be classified in today’s 2020 terms as an utter failure.  Yet, it was a night where God fulfilled the prophecy of Haggai - “I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land.”  God shook the heavens, the earth, and the sea on the night of our Lord’s birth.  God forever changed the world on that night, God forever changed a town forgotten by time.  God shook the world, an empire, a town, in need of a good shaking.  Rome was trying to replace the need for God.  Rome was trying to rewrite reality where they were the mediators of peace and their leader, Augustus was the savior of the world. Yet, God shook the world out of its complacency.  God re-righted things that night in Bethlehem.  For our Lord was not born in a palace as Augustus was.  He was not born to a wealthy family.  He was not born in power or privilege.  He was born in a town filled the most despised of all people — Mary and Joseph.  

“Nobody notices or understands what God performs in the stable…Oh, what a dark night it must have been over Bethlehem and they did not see such a light! Yet God, in this moment, reminds us that he pays no attention at all to what the world is or has or can do, and on the other hand the world proves that it knows nothing at all of, and pays no attention to, what God is or has or does. …Christ puts to shame the world and indicates that all of its doing, knowledge, and being are contemptible to us, that its greatest wisdom is in reality foolishness, that its best performance is wrongdoing, and that its greatest good is evil.”  The birth of Christ, by the world's standards, by 2020 standards, would be an utter failure.  Yet, God shows the world what God can do with utter failures.  But notice that God places angels in the sky, awakens shepherds sleeping in the fields and tells them that an utter failure has taken place and they are welcome to go and see it for themselves—only it is not a utter failure; it is good news for all people.  God sent angels to proclaim a wondrous and most splendid surprise—the word of God has been made flesh and they: poor, despised, and outcast shepherds are invited to see this thing which has taken place.   

The angels sing of God’s new and wondrous idea—The idea of Emmanuel—God with us.  They sing of peace coming down to the earth.  They tell the shepherds that they need to only go into town, find the holy family and they themselves can hold God’s gift of peace in the palm of their hands.  And on this most holy of nights, in the midst of another year deemed by the world as an utter failure, the angels sing to us once again - they proclaim the good news that the peace we long to feel, the peace we long to experience, the peace that has evaded us all year is within our reach—it is within our grasp.  For centuries, the world has never been able to experience or offer such a gift as God gave to us many years ago in the most unlikely of places; A cave, a stone feeding trough, a baby wrapped in scraps of cloth.  At the time, I am sure Mary and Joseph could not have envision that in a similar place, many years later, our Lord would emerge from a cave after laying a stone bed and wrapped in burial cloths—completing God’s plan of Salvation for God’s people.  

Our Lord’s birth is a reminder of what is to come and so we meet our Lord at the stable tonight.  We hold a vigil of sorts with a joyful spirit in hearts, but we also hold the reality of what awaits our Lord in the future.  We gather on this night and remember that with God, there is no such thing as utter failure.  That with God, nothing is impossible. We gather on this night forever reminded that the message the angels proclaimed to shepherds, remains true today - (END) that peace has come down from heaven to the earth and we, as followers of Christ, each have the chance to hold God’s most precious gift of peace in the palm of our hands.    

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

Magnify

Advent 4 - December 20, 2020
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Luke 1:46b-55
Romans 16:25-27 
Luke 1:26-38

Magnify

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

We started this sermon series on the Psalms appointed for the Sundays in Advent.  Yet, you will notice that today’s psalm is not from the book of Psalms but is from Luke…a gospel…in the New Testament.  Is this a case of Marcionism where the lectionary believes the God of the New Testament is different from the God of the Old Testament?  Marcionism is a heresy which was condemned in the 2nd century, so I think we can safely assume that an ecumenical committee set up by mainline churches would not be propagating a 1800 year old heresy in their choice of psalm.  In fact, if you remember from what I said on November 29, the first Sunday in Advent, not all the Biblical psalms are in the book of the Psalms.  In fact, there are other psalms in the Bible such as Exodus 15 (the Song of Moses), nearly 75% of the book of Revelation, Philippians 4 (the Christ Hymn) and Luke 1:46-55, otherwise known as the Magnificat.  

But how did Mary get to this point? Her story begins in a town called Nazareth.  She was a virgin and was engaged to man named Joseph.  In those days, an angel named Gabriel appeared to her and told her what God was planning to do. He says, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” What an interesting way to say hello. No wonder she is feeling perplexed by Gabriel’s greeting.  And then Gabriel says to Mary, “Do not be afraid…” Why tell someone not to be afraid if you are not scary looking or the news you bring would cause fear? 

Mary is obviously frighten.  It is either his appearance or his message that terrifies her.  Angels are terrifying creatures.  Remember, they are the warriors of heaven.  Gabriel is a part of the Marines.  Think of a guy dressed like Rambo appearing in your room…Lurking in the shadows. Judging by the way Luke writes, I am assuming that Mary is scared of Gabriel’s appearance but the news he brings her would cause alarm as well.  “You have found favor with God...” is never good thing to hear from an angel. It means God has some crazy adventure that God wants you to do.  Any hopes and dreams of Mary getting rich and living the easy life have gone out the window at this point—not that she ever really had any of those plans to begin with.  Yet, what God has planned for her will simply blow her mind.  

“You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” The virgin will conceive a son and she will name him Jesus.  A virgin engaged to another man will conceive a son.  This sort of thing does not happen.  Nowhere in Hebrew Bible has a virgin conceived a child.  An older woman, yes.  It happens a few times, but never a virgin.  It sounds something out a fairytale that nobody would ever believe.  You don’t need to be a biology major to understand how one conceives and bears a child.  And to have this happen at a period in human history where a woman had no rights, where women were seen as property of either their Father or spouse, when a woman convicted of adultery could face death and be thrown out of the family—I am not sure if Mary is more afraid of Gabriel or at the news that he brings.   Yet, Mary does not shriek from the responsibility thrusted upon her by God.  Perhaps that is why God choose her—God knew she could handle this.  Mary does not tell the angel she needs time to think it over.  She says to the angel, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’

But then she leaves home to visit her cousin.  Luke doesn’t tell us why.  So, many people have speculated and wondered if Mary was trying to run away.  Luke, though, gives us some clues—mainly that Mary wanted to see this other miracle which has taken place:  Elizabeth, an older woman, giving birth to a child.  That is most likely the answer, but our biblical imaginations sometimes run a bit wild here, and that’s okay.  Mary leaves at once for the Judean town where Elizabeth and Zechariah live.  Upon entering the house, the child in Elizabeth’#s belly leaps for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice.  The Holy Spirit speaks through Elizabeth and she proclaims, “‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy.” Elizabeth is a proclaimer of the good news just like Mary Magdalene was on the day of Christ’ resurrection.  (START MUSIC) She reveals to Mary the good news that awaits in the world in her belly.  And then Mary sings…

In the midst of such horrible, bad news for Mary, she proclaims that God will not act in the future, but is acting now.  I don’t know how she does it.  Around the time of our Lord’s birth, there was a Jewish rebellion against Rome. This particular rebellion was squelched “when The Syrian legions under the direction of Rome crashed the Jewish rebellions and burned the city of Sepphoris in Galilee and reduced its inhabitants to slavery…Those who could not hide from the Syrian legions “were killed, raped, and enslaved. Those who survived had lost everything.” Nazareth was about 4 miles from Sepphoris. Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth must witness this horrific act.  

Mary knew first hand the power that Rome possessed in the world.  She also knew that because she was not a citizen, she had none of the protections that came from being a Roman citizen.  She also knew that because she was a woman, she had no rights within her own community.  Elizabeth sees in Mary the hope for her people and the world.  Elizabeth knows that in Mary’s belly was the salvation promised to Abraham and Sarah many years ago.  She recognized that Mary was carrying the savior of the world and God had entrusted her with the duties of caring for her son who would be God’s salvation for the world.

“The Magnificat demonstrates that God is concerned with the social and political realities of the daily life of Jews, and God acts on behalf of the oppressed and against the proud and powerful. God brings down the powerful and lifts the lowly. God is God of this moment and the moment to come. God’s salvation is present here on earth and in the coming future. According to Mary, God’s salvific action is present-already and not just future reality. Here we can understand that Jesus’ salvation starts at the moment of the Annunciation and ends at the cross. Salvation is not limited to crucifixion, but the whole life of Jesus was salvific action. God is ruling on earth as in heaven. God rules instead of Caesar. The Magnificat is inviting us to imagine how the world would look like if Jesus sat on Augustus’ throne and ruled with peace and justice. Jesus, the new King, rules on earth without Caesar’s permission. He rules not through violence, but he rules with mercy.”

The magnificat magnifies God’s new plan for the world.  A plan where the mighty have fallen and the lowly are lifted up.  A plan where mercy rules the land and not violence.  A plan where the hungry are fed and and the rich are sent away empty—the complete opposite of what the world offers.  And so my question this day, on this last Sunday in Advent, what needs to be magnified in your life?  What do we need to magnify in order welcome the return of Christ? 

If we are to be truly authentic, then we must acknowledge the role that women play in the early part of the gospel.  The women are the ones who proclaim the good news.  In fact, the only man in the first chapter of the Luke is made mute by God because he doubts God’s ability to give him and his wife a child.  He doesn’t believe God and this guy is a priest—you would think a priest would know and understand that God knows how to help older women get pregnant—he has done it before.  The men are speechless…the women are the evangelist.  A woman who could hav been killed for being found with a child out of wedlock. A woman who spent her entire life being ridiculed for not having a child while younger—who was told by many religious elite that her barrenness was because God was punishing her.  God entrust two women, coming from completely different generations, with the task of proclaiming the good news and bearing the Word of God made flesh.  

If we are going to be authentic this Advent, we must magnify and shine light on the role women play on proclaiming the gospel.  If we are going to be authentic this Advent, we must magnify and shine light on the role that the-least-likely-people have in defining the coming of our Lord: The hungry, the meek, those who show mercy, a nation of people who are being held as nothing more than slaves to the empire.  If we are going to be authentic this Advent season, we must also be willing To our young women when they speak just as we listen to a young, 14 year old Mary sing of the greatness of her God. If we are going to be authentic this Advent season, we must also be willing to condemn the spending of billions of dollars to make Christmas more magical. If we are going to be authentic this advent, we need to promote the idea of the powerful be thrown out of their thrones and the lowly put in their place.  If we are going to be authentic, we need to proclaim the radical nature of the gospel— The gospel is suppose to make us feel uneasy.  God has come to scatter the proud, bring down the powerful, and send the rich away with nothing to eat just like when the rich send the poor away with nothing to eat.  The gospel is good news for some and bad news for others. If you are hearing this message as bad news, then you might need to reconsider your place and role in the world. 

So, what are you going to magnify this day? Who are you going to magnify this day?  What do you want to see changed in your life and in the world around you?  What is God already doing that you couldn’t see until now, this moment?  If Mary has nothing to fear, neither do you.  Mary faced death.  She faced being kicked out of her family.  She faced a lifetime of public ridicule for being that girl who had a child out of marriage.  She risked it all and God blessed her. Why can’t the same be done for you?  What is holding you back?  Not much has changed since Mary first sang this song:  “People are still anticipating deliverance from unjust rulers and unjust law.”  People are still waiting on Christ to return.  How can you be like Mary and Elizabeth this day?  How can you proclaim and magnify the good news of God?  Who can you call blessed?

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

 

Restore

December 13, 2020 - Advent 3
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 
Psalm 126
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

Restore

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

This is one instance where the NRSV translation of Psalm 126 is a bit misleading. The NRSV begins with verbs in the past tense “When the LORD RESTORED the fortunes of Zion…” but as Robert Altar points out, this is very much a prayer to God for restoration to come about.  “When the Lord restores Zion’s fortunes…” The fortunes that the psalmist speaks of is the return of Israel out of exile and back to their land—the land promised to Moses;  to Sarah and  Abraham.  The promised land taken from them by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.  These exilic psalms often dream of that day when the Babylonians would one day be punished for their actions and Israel would be restored to its place in the world.  The psalmist is dreaming of a better day much like Louis Armstrong did when he sang, “What a wonderful world…”. Perhaps, you can relate to the psalmist this day…dreaming of a day when we can come out of our caves and return to a normal existence.  

But with all respect to Louis Armstrong and our psalmist, I don’t know if I can ever just forget these past months. To illustrate my reasoning, I like to turn our attention to the book of Job. In the book of Job, we hear a man from the land of Uz was “sincere and upright, God-fearing and shunning evil.” He was married and had seven sons and three daughters.  Not only that, he had “seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of cattle, five hundred she- donkeys, and very much production; and the man was greater than all the children of the East.” Job did all the right sacrifices and burnt offerings to God.  But unbeknownst to Job, the day came when the angels of God, the Lord, and the Adversary known as the Ha-Satan—not Satan (or Lucifer), came together for a meeting.  

“The Lord said to the Adversary, "Where are you coming from?" And the Adversary answered the Lord and said, "From going to and fro on the earth and from walking in it.”

Now the Lord said to the Adversary, "Have you paid attention to My servant Job? For there is none like him on earth, a sincere and upright man, God-fearing and shunning evil.”

“And the Adversary answered the Lord and said, "Does Job fear God for nothing? Haven't You made a hedge around him, his household, and all that he has on all sides? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock has spread out in the land? But now, stretch forth Your hand and touch all that he has, will he not blaspheme You to Your face?”

The Lord said to the Adversary, "Behold, all that he has is in your hands; only upon him do not stretch forth your hand." And in a blink of an eye, everything that was of value and worth to Job was taken away.  Job was left with nothing.  No livestock.  His home destroyed.  His children all killed.  Job was left with only ashes of the life he once knew and loved.  Job spends the next 38 chapters arguing with his so-called friends who argue that Job must have done something to anger God.  Job defends himself the entire time.  Yet, his friends keep blaming him.  Eventually, God shows up, but does not tell him the truth.  The Lord does not tell him about the bet he made with the Adversary that Job would never blaspheme the Lord even if he were to lose all that he had.  Instead, the Lord says, “Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell if you know understanding…” Eventually, Job’s wealth is restored: "he now has fourteen thousand flocks and six thousand camels and a thousand yoke of cattle and a thousand she-donkeys, And he had fourteen sons and three daughters.” Job lives a very long life and was able to see four generations born. It appears that life has returned back to normal for Job and I have often read the story of job this way, but then then 2020 happen.  I realized this year that Job’s children from the beginning of the story.  They have no names and their lives came to an veery abrupt and violent end all because of a bet made between God and the Ha-Satan.  So much loss of life.  

Back in April, I told of the time when Thomas passed out in the back of my dad’s car and was not responsive.  I still get very choked up when I think about that day—a day when I nearly car jacked a person because I didn’t have a way to get home and rescue my son.  I think about that day and it makes me sick to my stomach knowing that we were so lucky that he was okay.  Even during this virus, my wife and I have taken so many extra precautions to protect our two boys.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose them.  I could not function.  I certainly could not be like Job who just seems to return to his old life unscathed by the past.  Job might have had the things taken away from him restored, he certainly would never have forgotten the day that he learned his life was in ashes. 

When the LORD restores Zion's fortunes.
we should be like dreamers.
Then will our mouth fill with laughter
and our tongue with glad song.
Then will they say in the nations: 
Great things has the LORD done with these."
Great things has the LORD done with us.
We shall rejoice.

If we are going to have an authentic Advent, we need to have an honest conversation—restoration does not mean things return back to normal.  The things taken from us, even if they are restored at double the rate they were taken, will never truly be replaced.  296,000 people have died in the United States.  1.6M worldwide.  You simply cannot replace the life of a loved one who died at the hands of an invisible disease.  Our world, our nation, our community will feel this loss for generations to come.  Every time I see someone walk into a store without a mask on, I shake my head and mumble under my breath.  It will take some time for all of us to no longer look with anger and suspicion at our neighbor.  It will take some time to get use to not wearing a mask.  For anyone expecting God to come down and bring a Job-like Restoration is going to be in for a rude awakening.  Job did grieve the loss of his children until the day of his death.  Job lived with the scars of his loss and there was no amount of restoration that could ever fix the pain the he would always feel.  

God will bring restoration, my brothers and sisters.  Covid19 will be in the rear-view mirror hopefully sooner rather than later.  But we will always have the scars of this time just like our Lord carried his scars from the cross in his hands and feet from the cross even as he was lifted up into heaven to take his rightful place on the throne of God.  To forget what has happened during this time is the same as denying our Lord was crucified.  To only focus on the resurrection means we forget the fact that on the cross our Lord died for you and me.  Restoration means living with the past as a constant reminder so that the future might be filled with less pain and misery. Restoration means we allow the mistakes of the past to educate us in all future endeavors.  Restoration means life, but it also means we will never forget the loss of life felt in the past.  As the psalmist reminds us, “what began in tears and weeping will end with shouts of joy and arms filled with proof of God’s great work in their midst… We are called to live expectantly, fully convinced that the tears and weeping of our day will not have the last word. The God we serve is the God of restoration and reversal…and as Advent reminds us, our waiting is not in vain.”

And so we wait, holed up in my homes, scared of what the future might well hold for us, for you, but we wait because we know God knows how to restore what has been tarnished and destroyed.  God knows how to fix this.  The pain you might be feeling today, the loneliness that you might be feeling today, the fear that you might feel today—God knows how to fix this.  But we must wait and be patient.  Yet, we are not a patient people and that is exactly why we need Advent, each and every year, to remind us of of the importance of waiting on our Lord.  Advent reminds us of this timeless truth - restoration will come and we will be glad indeed on that day.  Amen.  Come, Lord, Jesus.  

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

Steadfast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Angry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The King Shall Come

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father of the Bride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering the Dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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