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What Does a Scorpion and Prayer Have in Common?

Genesis 18:20-32        
Psalm 138     
Colossians 2:6-15[16-19]    
Luke 10:25-37     
Proper 12
July 28, 2019
What Does a Scorpion and Prayer Have in Common?
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    Luther once said, "For whenever a good Christian prays, 'Dear Father, you will be done,' God replies from above, "yes, dear child, it shall be done indeed in spite of the devil and the entire world."  My brothers and sisters, when we approach the subject of prayer, specifically the Lord's prayer, we should view it this way - that our Father in heaven wishes to provide all we need despite the devil and all the forces that work against us. Our Father in heaven.  Some find great solace in those words, our Father who art in heaven.  Myself, in particular, because when I think of God, images of my dad and mom instantly appear in my mind.  I have great parents, but not everyone has had such wonderful parents.  Images of God as a loving Father may be foreign to some, but that clearly wasn't the case for Jesus who understood God as being like a father, as resembling Joseph.  Luther, who didn't necessarily have a great relationship with his Father, nonetheless, could envision God to be like a father because that was what he strived to do in his own life with his own children.  He strived to have a relationship with his children, to listen to them, and give them an egg when they ask for it instead of a scorpion.  

    In someways, you could make the argument that Luther is a bit to careless in his theology of prayer- it sounds like all you got to do is pray really hard and God will answer your prayer.  Well, what happens when you don't get what you prayed for? Lord knows I have prayed to hit the lottery many times over and here I am, a still humbled, not rich, servant of the church.  Or what about all those times I have prayed for someone to get better and they didn't.  Did I not pray hard enough for God to hear to me? Luther has been accused of touting bad theology but just remember, Luther lost a child.  Luther knows what it means to not have one's prayers answered.  We should never be so quick to judge and say Luther's prayer theology is devoid of theodicy - why do bad things happen; because it's not.  Luther uses prayer as a lifeline to our father in heaven for when the unthinkable might happen. Like, when a friend arrives late at night, and you have nothing to share with them.  What do you do?  

    You can't let your let your friend's reputation be ruined because you don't want to get out of bed.  Or can you? 21st century hearers of this parable gawk at the idea of getting up in the middle of the night to save one’s honor.  A couple of weeks ago, we left the door on the van wide open all night.  At 4am, a wonderful and kind police officer knock on our door to tell us that it was open.  However, at 4am, I was not expecting a police officer.  I was expecting some kid playing a joke on me. In hind sight, answering the door with a baseball bat might not have been the best decision but thankfully the cop was cool about everything.  

    In our day and time, waking up to help someone in need is not a necessity.  Even for a friend, there are boundaries that we have placed to keep them from knocking on our doors at 2am looking for bread.  But in the society of Jesus, this kind of hospitality was not only common, but was expected.  If someone knocked on your door, you helped them especially if they are your friend, and you would never risk bringing shame or dishonor to their name.  The bread that this man is requesting of his friend, would have been baked in the communal ovens.  Everyone shared in the food meaning that the bread one had in their house was not just their loaf, but was the community's loaf.  

    One of the commentaries I read this week wondered where Jesus came up with this parable and speculated that Jesus saw this happen when he was young, when someone knocked on their door in the middle of the night looking for bread, and Joseph and Mary quickly got up to help their friend.  Jesus saw this hospitality, first hand.  He knows the common response out of anyone in the crowd is to get up.

    "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you." It sounds so nice and like something you can cross-stitch into a pillow, but what does it really mean?  You know, last night, I was putting my son to bed.  We have a routine:  read three stories (his choice) say the Lord's prayer, talk about our day, talk about what we will do tomorrow, and then I always say, "The world is a better place because you are in it."  After that, he is usually ready to fall asleep.  Last night, he didn't want to pray.  He wanted to sing "Old McDonald had a farm." He wanted to tell me about trains.  He wanted me to read him another story.  I said, "No, it is time to pray.  Now make the sign of the cross." Of course, he refused so I took his hand and made it the sign of the cross.  And then I started to say the Lord's prayer and he eventually joined in.  When we got the end, he emphatically said, "Amen." After making the sign of the cross, I told him that that it was very important to talk to God every night.  

    God wants to hear about our day.  God wants to know what is bothering us.  God wants to know what makes us happy, what we want, and what we need.  In many ways, I see the verse "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you." As more of a desire on God's part to want to know what is going on in our life.  Just like my parents want me to tell them about what is going on in my life, what I need to have happen in my life to be happy or simply be able to function—God wants to know the same thing about us.  But God wants to hear it from our mouths. 

    And Jesus gives us a prayer to make this happen, but if we only rely on this prayer, think about all that God is missing out on in our lives.  I want you all you all to say the Lord's prayer but I want you also to tell God about the things you are worried about and the things you are excited about.  Do not hold any of it back.  Prayer is not ATM machine, prayer is a phone line to our Father in heaven.  And our Father, this Father, this parent will not allow you to face your difficulties alone.  We should pray for ourselves because if we don't, the devil will do so on our behalf.  What do you want the devil to tell God about you?  
 
   All the lies and hateful things that the devil has said about you—is that what you want God to hear?  God wants honesty, God wants you.  God wants to know you.  God's job isn't to make you happy, rich, and famous.  God want to know about that problems at work, about your kids not doing well in school, about that test you bombed because you didn't study, or about that goal you made on the soccer field, or about that new promotion that you want at work.  God wants to know about what you are afraid of.  God wants to know about those who are sick around you.  God wants you to pray even in hopeless situations because God wants to be with you and give you what you need.  God's very self.  "God wants you to lament and express your needs and concerns, not because God is unaware of them, but in order that you may kindle in your heart stronger and greater desires, and open and spread your apron wide to receive many things." 

    Are you silent in your prayer life because you have lost faith in God listen to your prayers?  Are you here in this place to pray, or simply out of an obligation to yourself or someone else?  Prayer is one of the most important things we do as Christians and it should not only be done in moments of sheer terror or pain, but at the beginning and close of each day.  If we believe that God is alive and active, why is it so difficult to make ample time to earnestly beseech God and wait for guidance from God? If we believe that God is listening and ready to respond to our prayer, then why do we not place a high priority on prayer? Above all else, my brothers and sisters, pray.  Give thanks to God for all that you have received.  Pray for those things that weigh heavy on your heart.  Pray for the Holy Spirit to live, move, and breath in your life, in our church, in our world.  Pray so hard that you do as Luther said, tug on the ears of God.  Demand God hear you and be steadfast and faithful to your baptismal promises.  Pray and trust that you will be heard by God, and God will answer your prayers because our Father loves you and wants to be with you.

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

Jesus Hates Housework

Deuteronomy 30:9-14        
Psalm 25:1-10     
Colossians 1:1-14    
Luke 10:25-37     
Proper 11
July 21, 2019
Jesus Hates Housework
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
 
   Last week, we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Immediately following that exchange with the lawyer and parable is the narrative before us.  The commentary that I read this week talked about the important of the complementary relationship between the parable and this encounter with Mary and Martha.  As the commentary says:

The story of the Good Samaritan develops the meaning of the command to love one’s neighbor, and the story of Mary and Martha highlights the overriding importance of devotion to the Lord’s word as an expression of one’s love for God.”

In other words, Jesus hates housework.  That’s right, if you have have a messy home, you are in much better graces with God.  Okay, not really, but it does spark a very good question:  If you had Jesus standing before you, what would you do?  Are the kind of person who thinks, “I would pull up a cushion!” Or are you the kind of person who feels like a gathering of this importance deserves to have some food? Because, let’s face it, whenever Jesus shows up, there is food.  We need Martha’s. 

    See, I think this is more than just a case of Jesus hating housework, but feel free to quote me when you don’t want to clean your house or someone judges you for not having an immaculate home.  “Jesus hates housework”—Luke 10: 38-42. Don’t worry about the dog hair piling up in the corner. God made dogs. God loves dog hair. Everyone, go home, unplug the vacuum cleaner and enjoy the rest of your day. This story, however, is about Jesus upsetting for the second time, in quick session, the social boundaries of the day. It is not out of realm of possibility that Jesus would have entered the house of Mary and Martha.  Remember Luke 10:8, Jesus instructs the 70 to “eat whatever is set before you.” Jesus is doing exactly what he instructed his disciples to do—be open to the hospitality of strangers.  It is the world behind the text that makes this story come alive and holds radical implications for us today.

    Okay, let’s have some audience participation.  Samaritans—high up on the social class or at the bottom?  Women—high up on the social class or at the bottom? I would argue that a Samaritan, especially a male, could hide behind his gender and therefore was of a higher social class over Israelite women.  Once he spoke, things would most certainly be different.  The culture of the time saw women as beneath men, but notice who is sitting at the feet of Jesus?  Mary.  A woman.  A woman is sitting in the place of one of his disciples and Jesus is not telling her to move, to go help her sister make sandwiches.   Jesus, who is an honored and esteemed guest of high social status, has invited Mary, a woman, to sit in the place of one of his disciples and hear the Word of God.  Rabbinic lore from the time says, “Let thy house be a meeting-house for the sages and sit amid the dust of their feet and drink in their words with thirst...but talk not much with womankind.” The wisdom of the day said that men should be learning from the great sages, not women.  Here, the greatest of all the sages, invites a woman to sit at his feet and refuses to send her away.  

    Social standards of the day say, “Mary is acting like a male. She neglects her duty to assist her sister in the preparation of the meal and by violating a clear social boundary, she is bringing shame upon her house.” But this is Jesus.  The savior of the word.  The one foretold by prophets.  The one who was born in a stable in Bethlehem, whom the angels sang about as the glory of his coming into our world.  The one who constantly tears down social boundaries and replaces them with God grace and mercy. This Jesus is different. St. John calls Jesus the Word made Flesh.  Luke’s Christology helped John develop his theology. 
  • Luke 5:1–Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God,
  • Luke 8:11–Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.
  • Luke 8:21–But he said to them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’ 
Luke believes Jesus’ teachings to be the Word of God—That Jesus speaks on behalf of God the Father.  So, if Jesus is inviting you sit at his feet, you sit because you will hear the word of God.  Nothing else matters in that moment because Jesus is about to speak on God’s behalf.  Yes, eating is important, but that can happen later. Although Martha “is fulfilling the role assigned to her by society, she allows secondary matters to distract her from hear the word of God.”  After all, as Jesus said to the devil as he was tempted in the wilderness, “one does not live by bread alone.” In some ways, Mary is doing exactly what a disciple is suppose to do...leave everything behind and follow Jesus.  

    To understand what is happening here, it is best to view the encounter with Mary and Martha through the parable of the Good Samaritan.  “The story of the Good Samaritan features “a certain man” (v. 30), while Martha is introduced as “a certain woman” (v. 38).” Luke starts these two narratives exactly the same, includes issues surrounding discipleship, and then talks about Jesus’ expectations of his disciples.  “The good Samaritan exemplifies the disciples’ seeing; in a similar way, this narrative exemplifies the virtue of hearing.”  Part of being a disciple means you do things and you listen.  Disciples are not just people who go out each day to make sure that the last, lost, least, little and lifeless are cared for. The church is not a social justice organization with sacraments.  Disciples need to also make time to sit at the feet of their Lord.  We need to make time for the Lord, but we are not oblivious to the suffering of people in our world or community.  God’s word should move us to care for others, but we must first hear it. 

    “Moreover, both the Samaritan and Mary, a woman, represent marginalized persons—unlikely heroes.  As a composite, they are model disciples: “those who hear the word of God and do it’ (8:21)” Marginalized persons have a place around the feet of Jesus.  They are, indeed, heroes because they recognize the importance of hearing the word of God and responding accordingly.  Martha takes it upon herself to tell Jesus what he ought to do.  Mary lets Jesus tell her what she should do.   By choosing to attend to Jesus’ teaching while laying aside everything else, Mary exemplifies what it means to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your souls, and with your strength, and with all your mind.”

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that coming to church is a bad thing—a waste of time.  Don’t let anyone ever tell you that we, Lutherans, are not a Bible-believing church. When you come into this place, you sit at the feet of Jesus. You hear his word; are feed on his body and blood; and then you go out looking to help the last, lost, least, little, lifeless.  You are a disciple of Jesus.  Age does not matter.  Race does not matter.  Gender does not matter. You matter to Jesus.  Do not let worldly social rules, roles, and standards stand in your way of sitting at the feet of Jesus.  As Jesus says about Mary’s decision to sit, “what she has chosen, “will not be taken away from her” and neither will your will decision to sit at the feet of Lord, be taken away from you either.  

    “To love God with all of one’s heart and one neighbor as one self meant then and now that one must often reject society’s rules in favor of the codes of the kingdom—a society without distinctions and boundaries between its members.  The rules of God’s society are just two—to love God and one’s neighbor—but these rules are so radically different from those of the society in which we live that living them invariably calls us to disregard all else, break the rules, and follow Jesus’ example.”  And I guess this all means that the world is going to hate you because you follow Jesus, make time to sit at his feet, and care for you neighbor and that’s okay.  Because this world does not hold the keys to your future.  Our future is radically different and it is near.  Don’t worry about the housework.  Sit at the feet of Jesus for you not only deserve it, but you need it so that you can care for your neighbors.

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

Parable of the Unlikely Helper

Deuteronomy 30:9-14        
Psalm 25:1-10     
Colossians 1:1-14    
Luke 10:25-37     
Proper 10
July 14, 2019
The Parable of the Unlikely Helper
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
    The Shema, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." According to Deuteronomy 6:4-9, it was to be repeated twice a day.

Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. 

The lawyer attempts to ekpeirazo or tempt/test Jesus.  What must I do to inherit eternal life?  The lawyer is an expert in the religious law.  This man makes a living by reading the Torah and delivering his opinion as to what is written.  He knows the answer to the question he is asking Jesus.  One has to wonder, "was the lawyer testing Jesus to see whether he would give the answer the lawyer expected,” or was he tempting Jesus to fully reveal himself as he was on the mountain of transfiguration?  “The lawyer is challenging Jesus' honor but Jesus, who is also an expert in the law, challenges the lawyer with his own question:  "Isn't the answer to your question written in the scriptures [and are you not an expert in the scriptures?], how do you read it?" Jesus knows that this question is a hot-button question of the time.  It has been debated for generations by lawyers and there is no simple answer.  The lawyer gives the answer he has probably given whenever he has been asked this same question.  He quotes the Shema and it is a powerful answer. 

    The lawyer’s answer "plants the flag of God's sovereignty over the whole of one's life.  God's claim on us reaches to every area of our experience, to our innermost being (heart); our lives—what gives us our individual identity (soul); our energy, strength, resolves, and resources (might); and our understanding and intellectual capacities (mind).  No part of ourselves is to be withheld from God." The lawyer gets it right, but notice what Jesus says about his answer, "do this, and you will live." There was a belief at the time by some pharisees and others that it was more important to just think about the laws, to think about the Torah, than to actually do them—to live out the Torah.  It is not clear if this lawyer believed this, but Jesus puts an end to this philosophy—"do this, and you will live."  

    "Eternal life is found not just in knowing the commandments but in doing them...Those who live rightly ordered lives now—living out their love for God, others, and self—show that they have been touched by the kingdom of God. They will have the capacity to receive the promised inheritance: life in fellowship with God and others in the age to come."  Because, in the age to come, care for others will be the norm.  The kingdom of God breaks into our daily life whenever we show the love of God to those around us.  The kingdom of God will be fully known when the we no longer put our needs before the needs of others; the needs of the poor; the needs of the last, lost, least, the little, the lifeless will become our main priority and focus in life—in eternal life.

    Jesus has forced the lawyer to answer his own question, and that annoys the lawyer.  The lawyer feels the need to justify himself so he asks a followup question of Jesus, "And who is my neighbor." Now it is Jesus' turn to put a definitive answer onto the man's question.  Yet, in typical Jesus fashion, he tells us a parable so that we could be like this lawyer and debate his definitive answer for the next 2000 plus years.  Jesus tells the lawyer and all those gathered the parable of the Good Samaritan, or as I like to call it, "The Parable of the Unlikely Helper." Jesus tells us about three people who come across a man who has been beaten, stripped of his clothes and money, and left for dead. A priest, a Levite and a Samaritan walk past this man.  This parable fits into the normal story telling of the day. "The audience can expect that in a series of three, the third character will break the pattern created by the first two. Moreover, the expected sequence would be priest, Levite, and then an Israelite."  By making the hero of the story a Samaritan, Jesus challenged the longstanding enmity between Jews and Samaritans...By depicting a Samaritans as the hero of the story...Jesus demolishes all boundary expectations.  Social position—race, religion, & region—count for nothing.  The man in the ditch, from whose perspective the story is told, will not discriminate among potential helpers.  Anyone who has compassion and stops to help is his neighbor...By naming the third character as a Samaritan not only challenges the hearers to examine the stereotype regarding Samaritans, but it also invalidates all stereotypes." 

    The community can no longer see one's neighbor in the person that looks like them, acts like them, or speaks like them.  Our neighbor, according to the lawyer and Jesus, is the one who showed mercy. It should be noted that the lawyer could not even bring himself to admit that a Samaritan would be the hero of the parable.  He simply says, "the one who showed mercy." He tries to circumvent Jesus, but his answer provides an accurate description of a neighbor—one who shows mercy.  Jesus removes race, religion, and regional boundaries of neighborliness to simply include the essential nature of what neighbors must do for each other—show mercy.  

    "Jesus parable...shatters the stereotypes of social boundaries and class division, and renders void any system of religious quid pro quo.  Neighbors do things for each other and expect nothing in return. Neighbors do not recognize social class.  Mercy is neither the conduct of calculating heart, nor is eternal life the reward for doing prescribed duties.  Eternal life—the life of the age to come—is that quality of life characterized by showing mercy for those in need, regardless of their race, religion or region—and with no thought of reward.  Mercy sees only need and responds with compassion regardless of one’s ability to repay the favor." For it would not be mercy if we deserved it.  It is mercy because there is no way for us to return the favor.  

    Part of being a disciples, my brothers and sisters, is proclaiming the kingdom of God.  When Jesus sent out the 70 out, they were instructed to preach the kingdom.  Part of preaching the kingdom is showing others what God's coming kingdom looks like.  It looks like a place where people go out of their way to help someone they do no know.  The kingdom will no longer have boundaries such as race, religion and region to divide the people.  Our job as Christians is to not judge, it is not to figure out if someone deserves our love and affection.  Our job, our holy calling as Christians, is to lift up the fallen, restore the broken, and heal the hurting.  

    People of God, I want you to think long and hard this week about who is your neighbor and where you can bring God's kingdom?  Who needs to hear about God's coming kingdom i. Your life?  Who needs to see God's kingdom in action?  That is your homework this week—preach the kingdom, bring the kingdom to your neighbor and do not let race, religion or region stop you from doing this work.  Go and show mercy. 

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

"And you want me to do what?"

Isaiah 66:10-14       
Psalm 66:1-9    
Galatians 6:[1-6]7-16    
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20     
 Proper 9
July 7, 2019
"And You want me to do what?"
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    I have titled this sermon as "And You want me to do what?" because I can imagine what the 70 followers must have been thinking when Jesus sent them out.  This is the second time that Jesus is sending out his followers.  The first time was in Luke 9 when he sent out the 12.  Apparently, it worked out really well. Luke writes, "They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere." So, Jesus takes it one step further.  He sends out not just the 12 disciples, but the whole church.

    In the Mormon church, each member must do two years of missionary work.  Those guys you see on bikes, knocking on doors, passing out books—they are doing their missionary work.  They go out, two by two and their missionary work has paid off.  At one point in time, the fasted growing faith in America was Mormon and this is a group of people who do not believe in the Trinity; who do not baptize as our Lord commands.  Could you imagine if we added that assignment to the Lutheran Church?  Would you all stick around?  Would you even do it?  Or do we just say that is the Pastor's job to do evangelism?

    This is not just a St. John's mentality.  It is a entire mainline church mentality.  We think evangelism and missionary work should be done by other institutions, agencies, specialty trained pastors.  We have passed the buck away from the congregation and look what it has gotten us.  The job of the church, the congregation, each and every member in the body of Christ is to proclaim "The kingdom of God has come near to you." Plain and simple.  And it is down-right terrifying to send you all out into the midst of wolves.  Often we overlook the ending of the liturgy called "The Sending."  We just see it as something to get through quickly so that we can all go home, but that is a serious moment.  The church is sending you and your neighbor out to preach the kingdom and it is possible that some of you might not be able to return next week.  

    In the days of the early church, the threat of capture was real.  Today, we are blessed to live in a land were such persecution of Christians is rare.  In some ways I believe we as the whole church, have lost our motivation, our desire, to want to tell others about God's kingdom drawing near to us.  We have no urgency.  We are comfortable with the ways things are and we are in no real crunch to make changes to our daily, Christian lifestyle.  We are okay with letting others do our work.

    Luke is the only gospel that has the sending of the 70.  None of the other gospels include this pericope.  I think that is odd and at the same time, I think Luke, Pastor Luke was facing a similar situation that mainline Christianity is facing today—we are afraid to engage outsiders.  We are afraid to go knock on someone else’s door and for good reason.  The news is full of stories of people being killed or mugged.  I think Luke includes this pericope because his church was afraid of outsiders and I think, deep down, we are afraid too.  Maybe some of us are afraid of the bad guys out there, but I think the majority of our fear lies in having a door slammed in our face.  We are all afraid of rejection.  We are afraid of someone making fun of us for inviting them to worship with us.  We are afraid to tell someone about our faith in Jesus Christ because they might make fun of us.  It is like we are all back in the 8th grade, and we forget what Jesus says: “Whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you.’" You move on.  You don't let one person's words set the tone of your ministry.  You go out into the street, you shake it off, and you go to the next house, the next town, and you engage the next person because the kingdom of God has come near regardless of the stranger's willingness to listen and welcome you into their home.  

    As I mentioned earlier, there is another sending in Luke’s gospel.  There are three common instructions given to both the 12 and the 70 that are worth noting for us today.  Eat what is provided, heal the sick, and announce the kingdom.  That is what the church is charged to do.  That is what each and everyone one of us is called, equipped, and sent out to do by the Holy Spirit.  We must learn how to be dependent on others.  Put the debit card away and let someone else make you supper.  And I have to tell you, that is something I struggle with today.  

    I went to a boundary workshop and during the workshop, the leader talked about how when he visits shut-ins, he rarely accepts a drink because he doesn’t want to take any time away from his visit nor does he want to place any undue burden on those whom he was visiting to fix him something.  And I have to admit, I feel the same way.  I schedule visits for after lunch so that I do not force a shut-in to have to feed me a meal, though the times I do visit shut-ins and members over lunch have always proved to be wonderful and holy time.  And while I have my reasons, is this current practice against what the Lord commands? Eat what is provide.  In some ways, all of us hate being dependent on someone else.  We all hate group work, yet it group work that our Lord calls us to do.  

    We are also called to heal the sick.  In James 5:13-17, it says:

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 

This is all Biblical.  This is something we believe to be true, but do any of us do it?  Do any of us actually gather the elders of the church together to pray over the sick or in the very least, think to call a Pastor before they call the doctor. And that is not to say that a doctor should not be consulted, but where does faith fit into the treatment of cancer, heart disease, orthopedic needs, or of a simple case of the flu?  The church needs to play a vital role in the health of people, otherwise we are no more than a social justice organization with sacraments.  Prayer matters, it works, and our mission as a church needs to have care of the sick as one of its chief endeavors.  

    I am blessed to serve a congregation who supports me in this work.  Two weeks ago, I went and spent time with a member in Ruby Memorial in Morgantown.  I was gone for two days.  You all could have told me to not go.  You could have refused to pay my milage or demanded that I spend my time doing other things deemed more important.  But you allowed me to go and it was a holy thing to be Wayne; to meet and talk with Colin and Devin about their wedding and their new son still in the NICU at the time; to see Elisabeth, Matthew, Laken at Camp Luther.  It is important and vital to our work that those who cannot make it here each week are told of the kingdom of God.  And you all see this not only as my work but there is a number of you all who take not the work of visitation as well.

    The world is a very different place than what it was 2000 years ago.  In many ways, our world has gotten smaller—it is easier to travel over long distances and cell phones and other technology allow us to communicate with anyone anywhere on the planet.  Multiculturalism, religious pluralism are all welcomed changes to the world.  Diversity is something that we seek out rather than shy away from.  As the world changes around us, we find ourselves looking deep at ourselves and wonder what we have to offer to other people—does our mission still have relevance for people who do not share the same culture and faith as our own.  Do we comprise our mission to meet the needs of those around us?  "It is not that the mission of the church has become unnecessary or impractical, but simply that the changing conditions of the communities in which we live are forcing us to rethink the gospel's teaching about the mission of those who follow Jesus and to find avenues of obedience that are effective and appropriate for our times as well as faithful to Jesus' teaching."  What we preach cannot change—the kingdom of God is near.  But how we go about this work might look different from the days when Jesus sent out his followers two by two.  It might involve social media, digital media, VBS even—but we must still go out and do proclaim the kingdom.  We cannot remain silent.
 
   Regardless of how we proclaim the kingdom, the results will be same. Some will reject us.  Some will welcome us into their private lives and will want to hear more about this Jesus.  Are you ready to go out?  I know you might not feel ready.  I know for some of you that the thought of telling someone about your faith might make you want to throw up, but if our Lord was willing to send a bunch of people out in his name, why should I hold any of you back?  Why should you be afraid?
    And I think you will surprise yourself as the followers of Jesus surprised themselves.  As the the seventy returned with joy, they were saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" If the demons are no threat, nothing is a threat to our mission.   Not even Satan can prevail against those who come in the name of Jesus.  My brothers and sisters, I know things are different from the days of Jesus and it might seem as though the idea of sending followers out seems archaic and downright dangerous, but I beg to differ.  I beg you to reconsider and pray that the Holy Spirit will kindle in your hearts a desire to engage the world around us in the good news of Jesus Christ. "The context, means, and forms of the mission change continually [for the church], but its basis for God's redemptive love remains constant."

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

An Unwavering Commitment is Ahead

1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21        
Psalm 16      
Galatians 5:1, 13-25    
Luke 13:18-21      
Proper 8 (Installation of Mustard Seed)
June 30, 2019
An Unwavering Commitment is Ahead
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    "To what shall I compare the kingdom of God?  It is like a Mustard Seed..." 18 years ago, you all took on a major commitment.  Start a preschool to help nurture the minds of young children.  18 plus years ago, you all had a vision.  Kathy was just telling me about this vision at Mutual Ministry meeting the other morning.  You all had a vision to start a school that would outlast Pastor Riley and other lay leadership.  You all would start a school and here we are, 18 years later, installing Mrs. Christy Costello as 4th director to lead our school.

    The Mustard Seed is a unique place.  Over half of the staff have been with the Mustard Seed for over 10 years.  Christy has been here for 18 years.  Her first class of pre-schoolers graduated High School this past May and for the most part, she still keeps in touch with all of them.  When I came here three years ago, the board took on the hard task of laying out a future for the school.  We prayed for God's Spirt to come upon us and help us determine which direction we need to go.  We developed a vision and mission statement.  We began the hard work of building relationships with parents, students, teachers, and the congregation.  Work that is still ongoing.  

    One thing that Mrs. Christy said in her interview was the importance of having a connection between the congregation and the Mustard Seed—That it is vital to the success of the Mustard Seed that their be connection to the work we do as a Lutheran congregation in downtown Martinsburg and to the work that the school is doing. Coming here together today and publicly committing the office of director to Mrs. Christy during our Sunday Morning worship is just the start of building this relationship.  It is my hope that in the future, we set aside one Sunday a year to celebrate all things Mustard Seed and that we as a congregation continue to pray, lift up, hold accountable, and affirm the work the Mustard Seed is doing.  But Mrs. Christy’s installation is not the only reason we are here this morning.  The Word of God is front and center—the chief reason as to why we gather.  

    Part of the mission of the Mustard Seed is to create a nurturing environment that provides an exceptional Christian education. You can't have Christian Education without the Word of God.  Even the name of the school is named for a particularly meaningful parable.  The text appointed for today, as found in your Celebrate is a good text.  It’s a fine text and had we been doing a regular, Sunday worship I would have preached on this text.  But this appointed text in your Celebrate is a little terrifying for the kids:

"Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."

If we are going to give thanks to God for the Mustard Seed, we need to talk about the Parable of the Mustard Seed.  The name that the school choose was not chosen by accident, but was intended to set the foundation for the future of the school.  The Mustard Seed is a parable about planting seeds.

    But not just any seeds; its about planting weeds.  Yes, weeds.  Pesky weeds.  But Pastor, the text says the Mustard Seed grows into a tree where the birds of the air can dwell and live safe and secure.  Yes, that is exactly what it says.  However, most people today, unless you grew up on a farm, don’t know much about wild mustard.  It is a weed that farmers spray in order to get rid of it.  Jesus is preaching to farmers who know all about wild mustard, the real question here is “why is Jesus describing the Kingdom of God like a weed?”  
 
   To understand this strange comparison, we first must understand why Jesus would use a parable in the first place.  If you have been coming to St. John's for a while, you probably know this parable definition and are about to roll your eyes as I repeat for the 50th time, but none-the-less it is always helpful to have a refresher and very important for anyone joining us for the first time:  
Parables function as metaphors, metaphors challenging or inviting the audience into a new or deeper experience of God’s dominion, a dominion identified with those who are the LAST, LOST, LEAST, LITTLE, & LIFELESS.`

When Jesus uses a parable, his intent is to remind the people that the Kingdom of God is not for the powerful and prestigious, but can be found in the last, lost, least, little, and lifeless; the kingdom of God has the most power for people who have nothing left to give; for people who are powerless; for people who have no voice; for people who have no way to take care of themselves. People like 2 years old, 3 years olds, 4 years old.  People who like to shove things up their noses, who could not make their own meals or even go to the bathroom on their own.  The kingdom of God is for people like our children at the Mustard Seed just as much it is for us adults, just as much as it is for the poor, neglected, despised, hated people of our community and world.  

    Often when we think of the kingdom of God, we think big.  We think of the pearly gates, streets covered in gold, huge mansions.  In the Old Testament, the kings (who are often portrayed as bumbling fools the further down the line they went) described the kingdom of God as a mighty and tall cedar where the birds of the air can make their nest and dwell safely on the trees branches.  Mustards plants are by no means as tall as a cedar tree.  They can hardly stand up on their own. Maybe you will find a mature one that is about the size of the shrub, but a shrub is no cedar.  With that knowledge of the true nature of a Mustard plant, "Jesus' emphasis is, therefore, not on the glory of the future kingdom but on the present sign of its presence.  The mustard seed is a parable of the kingdom’s beginnings, not its final manifestation."  How fitting that the name chosen for our school, a place where we walk and educate children in the very beginning of their life, is called the Mustard Seed.  How fitting of a name for a school that might be small when compared to others, but in this smallness is able to create an environment where children are introduced to the love of God at a very early age, through a program where we seek to provide an exceptional Christian educational experience, plant seeds for a love of learning, and meet a children’s developmental needs.  How fitting of a name for a school which serves as such a humble beginning in a child's life but has the potential to effect a child's future for many years to come.  

    We often expect the kingdom of God to come in like a mighty cedar.  We often read the Bible and see Jesus as this mighty, powerful, towering figure.  This parable reminds us that even though Jesus ministry might have been accompanied by mighty deeds, "it was like a mustard seed, merely a promise of a mature plant.  Had [Jesus’] opponents read the scriptures more closely, they might have recognized that they should have been looking for the sprig God had promised to plant rather than a full-grown cedar."  

    Christy, 18 years ago you started here as a teacher.  18 years later, those children are all grown up into adults, about to face a world that can be a wonderful place to live and at other times a terrifying place. 18 years later, these children are about to go out into the world and change the world.  Some will be teachers, some will be HVAC technicians, some will be college students, maybe one or two might be a pastor.  Their future is not yet set, but you, this entire institution, and this congregation played a vital role in setting them up to face this world.  You planted a weed and look at what God can do with weeds—create a place where we might safely dwell with the Lord, God almighty.  

    The seeds we plant today might not produce mighty cedar trees.  The seeds we plant today might very well be consider as weeds by the world—weeds that the world tells us to pull and destroy, but we, as Christians, as educators, as fellow heirs of God’s kingdom see the potential that these weeds have for world.  That these weeds will one day grow into a shrub and be a safe, dwelling place for all of God's people, from the smallest to the oldest, the richest to the poorest, and everything in between. For God’s Kingdom knows no bounds Christy, Nicki, Melissa, Megan, Wendy, Jenny, Angel, Sonja, Shannon and people of God: do not worry about planting cedar trees. Do as your Lord commands and continue to plant weeds and watch what God can do with them.

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

Do we still believe in demons?

Isaiah 65:1-9       
Psalm 22:19-28      
Galatians 3:23-29    
Luke 8:26-39      
Proper 7
June 23, 2019
Do we still believe in Demons?

Pastor Diane joined us this morning for pulpit exchange.  Click the link above to hear her message.  

Where are we being guided?

Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31        
Psalm 8       
Romans 5:1-5    
John 116: 12-15      
Holy Trinity Sunday
June 16, 2019
Where are we being guided?
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    When I sat down to plan out this summer's sermon titles, I envisioned Pentecost and Holy Trinity Sunday being a two part sermon.  Last week, I wanted to focus on how the Holy Spirit, the paraklet, comes along side each of us, guides you, leads you, sanctify you.  I thought it was a fitting reminder as seven of our young adults made a profession of their faith that we be reminded that the Holy Spirit does this for each of us.  That these young people are not our future, that Christ Jesus is our future and the Holy Spirit is the one who is doing the leading and stop turning to people like Rebekah, Jordyn, Danica, Justin, Christian, Matthew, or Dylan or even myself to save the church, that we stop electing human saviors and trust in the one who was actually named our savior, Jesus Christ. 

    So, in my way of thinking, last week I wanted to focus on where God was leading us individually and this week, focus on where God is leading us collectively as a church.  What part does the church play in God's new reality?  How can we come together as a community of many voices and speak as one, loud booming voice and what we will we say? So, hopefully I accomplish this by the end of the sermon.  I leave that determination in your hands.

    Bishop Kallistos Ware, a bishop in the Eastern Orthodox Church once said, "...it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery.  God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder." Something that I admire greatly about the eastern liturgy is the wonder that it creates.  Their liturgy is absolutely foreign to what we do here in the western church.  I have been a couple times to churches that uses this rite and I have absolutely no idea what is happening most of the time, but yet I can't seem to turn away.  Their liturgy has a way of drawing people that makes one want to know more.  I want to know what it all means, what is happening, but more important, I want to know what is happening in those places hidden to the congregation’s eyes.

    Eastern churches have this large iconostasis in front of the altar and in this wall there are three sets of doors.  The door in the middle allows you to see the altar.  On either side of main door is a door for the priest and on the other side is a door for the deacon. The doors stay close till worship begins. When worship begins, the priest or deacon enters thrOugh the side doors and opens the middle door allowing you to see the altar. The Iconostasis blocks off parts of the altar area.  You can't see all that happens during worship.  Things are often said in sotto voce by the priest and deacon making it hard to understand what is going on.  Often you catch a glimpse of what is happening but then they move back and you can't see anything until all of a sudden, the priest is standing before you with the bread and wine, beckoning you to come forward and receive the blessed sacrament.  As Bishop Ware said, it is not our job to answer questions, but it is our job to show forth the mystery of our God.  The Eastern Rite, in some ways, does a much better job of this.  Things do not always have to make sense, what is important is that in the midst of things we cannot understand, the presence of our Lord comes into midst and we are invited to come forward and become more like the thing that we eat—the body of Christ in the world.

    We should not be afraid to leave people with unanswered questions about God.  In the Western Rite, we often feel like we need to explain everything that happening.  While I think it is helpful to a point, eventually it is best to just let the actions and the words speak for themselves.  Holy Trinity Sunday teaches us that a healthy dose of wonder and awe is good for us all to have because if we think we understand everything there is about God, why then should any of us continue to come here?  Why should any of us bother to read the Bible?  Why should any of us bother with sending kids to camp, or working for months to plan one week of VBS, or going through the hoops to be confirmed, or do anything to deepen our faith?  

    Wonder and awe of God led the Psalmist to write, "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?" Imagine the psalmist going out into a field late at night.  Going out into a field where their is no light pollution, where most of the world is still unknown and unexplored, looking up into the heavens, seeing so many stars, seeing so many that we cannot see today because of the artificial light that surrounds us.  Imagine being that psalmist, looking into the heavens, without the knowledge that we have of the universe now, imagine how small you feel but yet God cares about the psalmist, God cares about you and me, God cares about humanity, that God makes us into God's own image and in the words of the psalmist, "made [us] a little lower than God, and crowned [us] with glory and honour." If the psalmist knew God fully, he would not have wrote Psalm 8.  

    If humanity knew God fully, we would not need Jesus or the Holy Spirit.  Humanity needs Jesus and it is for this very reason that the mystery of God exist.  God remains a mystery, but God choose to reveal to the world part of God's self through sending us Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh; and Holy Spirit, the one who comes along side of us.  

    But even having Jesus and the Holy Spirit does not mean we fully understand God.  As Jesus says in verse 12 of the gospel lesson, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now."  Jesus did not tell the disciples all the mysteries of God because we cannot comprehend or maybe even bear to know God as Jesus knows God.  Our minds could not handle it. Maybe there are things about God that we rather not know or understand.  A great example of this revolves around the questions of theodicy, of why do bad things happen to good people.  This past week, John Stewart gave a very impassioned speech on Capital Hill about the 9/11 fund. In doing so, he reminded us of a day 18 years ago when 3000 individuals lost their lives.  Why did God not stop those planes from hitting those buildings or from crashing into that field?  Many have asked that question over these past 18 years with no clear answer ever given but what is for sure is that the Holy Spirit has remained with us throughout these years and helped us see that God was not absent on that fateful day but was present in the pain and suffering of all those who felt lose and continue to feel the effects of that fateful day.  

    God remains a mystery, but we are not completely stumped on the person of God.  For 2000 years, theologians, pastors, lay people have explored the God-head, three in one, and have notice some characteristics.  St. Paul notes in his letter to the Romans that because we are justified by faith, we have peace with God. The phrase, “peace of God” is not a phrase in other parts of the scriptures.  Peace in Paul's day was often played along side Roman peace.  Peace if you kept your mouth shut and let Rome do whatever Rome wanted to do.  Paul identifies peace coming from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.  And this peace does not mean everything will go our way.  In fact, God's peace is not devoid of suffering.  Paul says, "suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us." Peace from God does not mean suffering is no more but it does leads us to hope.  Hope that God can take down the evil one.  Hope that God can bring even the dead back to life.  Hope that God cares about a sinner as bad myself.  It is in this hope that we rest assured God will save us. God's very nature cannot be understood outside of the care for us, the care for you and me.  

    God so infinitely powerful, whose mysteries cannot ever be fully understood, loves you, me, us, this world, and offers us real peace.  Other gods in Paul day were not known for their peace.  The Greco-Roman gods were often avoided by others.  Infinitely powerful beings have a lot of time on their hands and the people believed that these gods would come and mess with humanity when they got bored.  Logic of the day would say that the gods should not be sought out but Paul rewrites the logic of the day and says our God, the real God, should be sought out because our God gives us peace. An infinitely powerful being is on our side and we are called to continue to explore God's nature and seek out God's love and peace. And when we take on this work of exploring who God is, we can stand with confidence knowing the Holy Spirit will come along side us, will come along side the church and lead us down the right path.  It should be our fervent prayer that we pray to God to continue to lead us, to continue to speak to us through the spirit, and give us the peace that can only come from our God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  

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

Where are you being guided?

Acts 2:1-21         
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b       
Romans 8:12-17    
John 14:8-17, 25-27      
Pentecost (Confirmation Sunday)
June 9, 2019
Where are you being guided?
 
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    It was about a year ago that the news was all a buzz over the Royal Wedding. Prince Harry and Megan Markle were married on the 19th of May, 2018.  And they asked an American Bishop by the name of Michael Curry to preach at their wedding.  He gave a powerful sermon that stunned the world.  The sermon was so good that it got him a place on the Today Show where the host were asking him questions about his message: how did he craft it, what was his inspiration, where did he learn how to preach that way?  

    I must admit, I did not watch the wedding.  I really do not enjoy weddings so the thought of watching one on TV was not high on my list of things to do.  But I do remember being on facebook and seeing everyone posting about Bishop Curry’s message.  So I went on YouTube and watched it.  If you have not heard his message, go home and listen to it.  It is a powerful message; a message that you don’t normally get to hear at a wedding because we are all to often focused on other things, the least of them being worship of the most high God.  Bishop Curry preached: 

    Someone once said that Jesus began the most revolutionary movement in human history.
    A movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world - and a movement mandating people to live that love, and in so doing to change not only their lives but the very life of the world itself.
    When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.
    When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.
    When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.
    When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.
    When love is the way, there's plenty good room - plenty good room - for all of God's children.
    "Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well... like we are actually family.

What I admire most about this message is that Bishop Curry didn’t neglect the gospel on this day.  On a day when the world was more concerned with who Megan Markle’s was wearing and about the flowers, and the parties that followed,Bishop Curry did what he was called to do—preach the gospel.  He had a microphone and he used it.  He didn’t back down to the pressure to just get up and say a few words and sit back down.  He used the microphone given to him and he preached a message that impact more lives than just the two who had come into that church to make marriage vows to each other.  It was a once in a lifetime moment and  Bishop Curry used it well.  So well in fact, that after Bishop Curry returned to his seat, you can see Prince Harry say to his wife, “Wow.”

    As we gather here today to ponder the mystery of Holy Spirit moving in the church 2000 year ago, I am drawn to how the Spirit led people like Peter to preach such memorable messages.  I think about the words from the gospel of John that say, “...the paraklet, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”  The Holy Spirit is who gave Peter the ability to stand before that group assembled outside where the disciples were meeting in prayer and worship.  The Holy Spirit empowered Peter to speak a powerful message, a powerful sermon on God’s new reality long foretold by prophets.  He used the microphone that day and the people gathered, the world as it seems according to Acts 2:6, the world gathered outside the first church’s door, and heard a message of hope—hope that can only come through faith in Jesus Christ. 

    Peter used the microphone that God gave him that day and changed the world with his message. Bishop Curry used the microphone that God gave him on May 19, 2018 and preached a message of love that forever changed the world.  Rebekah, Jordyn, Danica, Justin, Christian, Matthew, Dylan what has the Holy Spirit placed in your heart this day?  Are you just grateful to be done with confirmation.  “Oh thank God its over.” I hate to tell you this, you are not done today.  Well, you don’t have to come back for classes in the fall, unless you really want to.  You still, though, need to continue in your study of the scriptures, the creed, and the 10 commandments.  You still need to come to worship and receive the body and blood of Christ.  You don’t get to stop being a faithful member of this community because of the affirmation of faith that you will make today.  No, your confirmation today is not a get out of church free card.  I still expect great things out of you, not because you received the best confirmation experience that money could buy, not because Bess and I are like the coolest confirmation teachers in the whole world, not because you do well in school or sports or other extra-curricula activities.  No, I expect amazing things to come from you because I know the paraklet is with you.  I know the Holy Spirit is with you. The one who will be your Advocate, your comforter, your counselor, you helper will be with you.  The Holy Spirit will hand you what you need to do God’s work whether it be a microphone, a pen, a computer keyboard, or whatever tool it might be and you will do will of God.  The only reason I am in this pulpit, or any pulpit for the matter, is because of the Holy Spirit. When I was a child, I had difficultly speaking, I  had to see a speech pathologist all the way through middle school, and now I am  preacher of the word of God.  My brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit makes the impossible, possible.  Never forget that.

    And my other brothers and sisters, I need you to do me a huge favor this day.  I need you to stop saying that these young people are the future of the church.  They are not our future.  Jesus Christ is our future.  These young people will make mistakes.  They will fail despite the Holy Spirit coming along side of them and leading them.  Peter and Paul were not perfect after the Holy Spirit rested on them and neither will these fine young people be perfect either.  We can’t keeping putting our faith in humanity to save the church.  The church has already been saved by Jesus Christ.  He is our future. That is the message that Peter preached—God pouring out God’s Spirit on all flesh:  Young and old, man and female, slave and free.  God is our future, not Rebekah, Jordyn, Danica, Justin, Christian, Matthew, or Dylan.  They are, however, a vital part of our future along with you, and me, and all those who gather in the name of the Lord.  The future God is laying out is going to have its ups and downs, but the one who comes along side us, the Paraclete, won’t leave us or abandoned us.  The Holy Spirit won’t ever leave you seven alone to fend for yourselves in the faith.  

    And it is my fervent prayer and I hope yours as well, that the Holy Spirit will give you the words to speak when you are called to do so, will give you the strength to speak out against injustice, will give you hope to see that nothing in all of creation can separate us from our God’s Love.  And may each and everyone of you, gathered here today before the almighty God, find the peace that can only come from our Lord Jesus, and trust God is moving and breathing among us this day and forever more.  

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

Wait, is that Him?

Acts 1:1-11        
Psalm 47       
Ephesians 1:15-23    
Luke 24:44-53      
Ascension of our Lord (transferred)
June 2, 2019
Wait, Is that Him?
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    43 days ago, we gathered in this room, in this holy place.  Some of us gathered very early in the morning.  Some of us came later.  We gathered here three days after we remembered our Lord's death on the cross.  We gathered in a hollowed out shell of a sanctuary and remembered that it is not the things that we place in this holy of place that matter but the word of God.  43 days ago, we said for the first time, "Alleluia, Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed, Alleluia." And if you came to the late service, you will remember that we had noise makers that we shook and made sing every time we said the word "Alleluia."(And I intentionally handed them out to anyone I thought was under the age of 20).

    Easter was so much fun this year.  It was beautiful coming into the church with the sun just beginning to rise.  We lit candles and turned the lights down low to remember that it was only three days ago that all hope seemed lost.  The sunrise was a wonderful way to start Easter.  Quietly pondering the paschal mystery.  And then after we had some breakfast and coffee, coming back into this space and singing, "Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!". It felt like old times, right? When the church was so full with people, we were running out of seats for them.  Right? The good old days of the church.  The days when we had hope for the future.  

    The Sunday after Easter, it sure felt like back to normal.  Back to the same old, same old stuff.  And maybe for the past few weeks, it has not felt the same. Maybe you feel like the energy of Easter morning has quickly dissipated.  Maybe you are wondering as the disciples wondered, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?"  "Back to us..."  Return us back to the days when we couldn't fit everyone into the sanctuary worship on a Sunday? 
    You know, is it not strange how the same writer of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts would record the same story of Jesus ascending into heaven, but tell it differently two different times.  I mean, it would make sense if we had two different authors, but all the evidence suggest the same author.  

    Look in Luke for second.  Open up your celebrate inserts to the gospel.  Let's look at the order of events and what is said by Jesus and the disciples.
  • First, Jesus reminds them that everything written about him in the law, the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.
  • Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 
  • Then Jesus reminds them that the cross was necessary in order to fulfill God's plans for salvation.  He says, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 
  • He tells the disciples, "48You are witnesses of these things." 
  • Then he talks about the coming of the Holy Spirit.  
  • After all of this, he takes them on a walk and while they are on the walk, he ascends into heaven and the disciples are celebrating.  Luke tells us that they "returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God."
It is a really nice way to wrap up the gospel.  No cliffhangers.  No need for imagining what happened.  Luke tells it plainly and simply. The last thing Jesus tell the disciples is to be on the look out for the Holy Spirit.  That the Spirit will come and take over the work.  

    Okay, turn to the front page of your celebrate.  Look at the reading from Acts.  
  •     Verses 1-5 look relatively the same as the ending of the gospel.  It is a little bit different but nothing super different.  
  • Notice verse 6.  They ask Jesus 6 “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” It sounds like the disciples are a bit worried about their future and we didn’t hear that worry in the gospel.
  • Jesus goes on to say, "8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 
  • That is a change in mission statements.  Judea and Samaria is a much larger territory, much larger missionary field than Jerusalem.  And those territories are filled with, you know, "those people."
  • Now before they have a chance to process any what Jesus has just said, "he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight." They still have so many questions.  Jesus leaves them hanging a bit before they have a chance to prepare for what lies a head of them.  They stare up into the sky.  You can probably imagine a couple of them are yelling, "Wait, come back.  Don't leave us hanging! You're Jesus, not the president.  There are no term limits."
    So, if you are writing a two part book, do you need to restate what happened in the first book?  

    I am one who reads a lot of Star Trek Fan Fiction.  I especially love the books that continue a narrative left off from the show or another book.  None of those authors spend time or the paper telling me what happens in the last book.  They tell you to make sure to read the previous book so you know where we left off.  Why does Luke waste valuable space, costly space, on a story he has already told?  And if I were to read this in my fan fiction, I wonder why the author changed the ending. It is really confusing.
 
   I have seen many theories there is a different ascension account in Luke and Acts and they all have some valid points.  But I am a parish pastor and I have to wonder if Pastor Luke saw something in his congregation.  I have to wonder if Pastor Luke saw that his congregation were feeling a bit hopeless in those days after he wrote his gospel.  Maybe he found a bunch of his parishioners longingly staring into the heavens wondering when will he come back?  Why did he leave us?  Maybe they are looking at their congregation and are seeing a drop in attendance or participation.  Maybe they are facing a whole new oppression  from Rome.  They are begging God for release, for help, for our Lord to return and make things all better.  

    And here is Pastor Luke, standing before his congregation, a congregation who is feeling a bit stuck and maybe even a bit depressed.  What do you say to them? “Men [and Women] of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  You tell them the truth.  You tell them to stop staring into the sky, wondering if that cloud up there will bring Jesus back.  You tell them to stop staring into the past and see that the Holy Spirit is next in God's ultimate plan.

    And you also tell them that Jesus never left them.   I think there is Reason that none of the other gospels include this narrative of Jesus ascending into heaven because they want their people to remember that Jesus is with us.  And I believe that is a part of Luke's narrative that we often miss. 

    My brother and sisters, we can't keep looking back to the time when the church was at its quote unquote height.  We can't keep staring up into heaven wondering, "When are we finally going to get our revenge on all those who have hurt us or persecuted us because of our faith, on those who don’t show up on Sunday morning.  For if we keep turning our backs and staring, we are going to miss the beautiful things God has laid out in front of us.  We will miss out on Athena being baptized and welcomed into our church family.  We will miss out on her growing up and becoming one of God's beloved daughters.  We will miss on all she has to offer to us, to our community, and to our world.  

    Christ will return, that is for sure.  The two men in white remind us of this good news.  But these angels also tell us that we still have work to do.  The past is in the past and that cannot be changed.  But what can be changed is what lies ahead of us.  And what lies ahead is a people who need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  What lies ahead of us is people like Athena, McKensize, people like Jordyn and Megan, people like Kristen and Josh, people like Bev and Pat, People like Doug and his son Scott.  What lies ahead of us are the people in this room who come seeking the hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ.  

    What also lies ahead of us are people outside these four walls who do not even know how much they need Jesus and his gospel in their life, people like Lydia and her family who we heard about in Acts 16.  She was a believer in God but had no idea she needed Jesus in her life till Paul spoke to her and her entire family was baptized and became the church in Philippi.  Something that has been said to me and my wife time and time again is to not blink or we will miss Thomas growing up.  I think that is good advice for the church as well.  People of God, don’t blink because you will miss all lie ahead of you.  There are people who need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and we need to stop staring, worrying about things that do no matter, doing things that have no meaning, driving ourselves crazy with wanting to return things as they use to be and see all that can be done through the power and the work of the Holy Spirit. 

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

Hey, You're Saved!

Acts 11:1-18         
Psalm 148       
Revelation 21:1-6     
John 13:31-35      
Easter 5
May 19, 2019
Hey, You're Saved
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    I need to tell you this funny story.  On Tuesday, Aaron sent me a text asking for a sermon title.  Originally, this was suppose to be a pulpit swap day but with the work day, we decided to move the pulpit swap to June.  So I needed to come up with a title.  A quick glance at the text and I thought, "Hey, You're Saved."  Aaron's response back to me, "I sure hope so."

    But to be honest with you for a second, I have been doing ordained ministry for 7 years now.  I started seminary 11 years ago this August.  I have grown up in the church.  I have met countless, countless individuals who believe that there is no possible way that God would ever bring them salvation.  And many of them are Lutheran.  We are the ones who have promoted since 1530 when the Augsburg Confession was presented at the Diet in Augsburg to the Emperor, "Justification by grace through faith." Yet, so many question their standing before God.  

    And I see it in the most obvious of ways when someone tells me flat out that God does not love them or in the most minuscule way when someone says something like, "Pastor, you have a direct line with God.  Your prayers reach God fast than mine." Let me set the record straight, if I was suppose to get a special phone line to God installed when I was ordained, I am still waiting on it.  There are a lot of people out there who do not feel as though they are worthy of salvation and that is something that we as a church can deal with.  We can preach better.  We can teach better, but this belief that one is not worthy of God's love will never go away because Satan loves this theology.  I truly believe it is the work of Satan when a believer lies in fear or terror of God.  Luther says we are to fear and love God, not hide from God.  God didn't destroy Adam and Eve in the Garden after they ate the forbidden fruit. God isn't going to destroy you because you're not perfect either.

    So, we have this problem with people on the inside not feeling worthy of God's love.  We also have a similar problem today that the Early church was dealing with as well.  Insiders afraid to let outsiders in.  

    In the case of the Early Church, there was a great divide between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.  And we can see this divide not only in Paul's Letters where he talks about this Gentile Christians issue in great depth, but also subtly in the Gospels where these writers try to stretch their audience's perception of God's new reality.  For example, in Matthew's gospel, the inclusion of the Magi, those Gentile-palm-readers who get and understand who Jesus is and will travel for years to just bow down in worship. They, the Gentiles, get Jesus while the insider-Jewish King, Herod, tries to kill him after he learns Jesus' true identity.  

    Matthew's community, we believe was more Jewish than Luke's community mainly because Matthew has many more of these types of Gentile stories than Luke, but Luke does deal with the great Jewish/Gentile divide in the church and we see such an example in our first lesson from Acts.

    What we first must remember when reading this story is that Peter had this vision somewhere around 30 CE.  Luke wrote the book of Acts somewhere around 85 CE.  We are talking about 50 years passing since that vision, the way the scripture sounds, verse 18 says, “when they heard this, they were silenced.  And They prayed God, saying, “Then God has given even to the the Gentile the repentance that leads to life.”  One could read this and assume the issue was close but we know from other historical documents that it was not a closed issue.  I believe Luke is using a literary technique to say to his church that look, this was not an issue back then, why are you STILL making this an issue today.   So the phrase, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Was probably a question that many were asking Luke and it less of a question of inquiry and more of statement of judgement and condemnation - "What gives you the right to go and break our laws, our customs and eat with THOSE people?"

    Peter is called before the apostles and the believers in Judea.  It would be the same as I being called before the pastors and members of all the churches in the Potomac Conference and questioned for something I have done.  Peter's credentials, his Apostolic membership is being called into question.  The one who was the first to make a confession of who Jesus was in Luke 9:20 "You are the Messiah" when all the others are too afraid to answer, when all the others were confused as to who Jesus was, Peter was the one who was willing to take a chance and be wrong.  Now he stands before the others and he is being questioned, accused of preaching a message counter to what Jesus preached—Of preaching heresy.

    But Peter, and us as well, know that he was justified in ministering to the Gentiles, to the uncircumcised.  In the 10th chapter, we hear in much more detail the events that Luke is describing again for the reader in chapter 11.  Peter's vision to eat "unclean animals" and to baptize a Roman official was justified and in fact, deemed necessary by the Holy Spirit.  God TOLD Peter to do this.  But that doesn't mean Peter was okay with this new avenue of ministry.  In his vision, he tells the Lord, "'By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’" Peter knows the law and he knows what he was taught since a child, you do not eat certain animals but yet, this voice from heaven is telling him to ignore those laws, to ignore those customs, to ignore what he knows to be true, "to get up, kill, and eat."

    And immediately after this vision, he sees three men who are coming for him, to bring him to an unnamed Gentile.  We are privy to more information in Acts 10, but nobody on the council knows the identity of the man who has sent for Peter.  Which is probably good because judging from the tone of this council, they probably would have lost their minds to know that a Roman official was now just like them, and knows what they know.

    Peter tells them that he went with the men even through they were Gentiles and was amazed to find a man and his family, a Gentile man and family, ready to hear the word of God.  And before he could even prepare them for baptism and do his baptism consult meeting, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it did to those gathered in the upper room on Pentecost.  It was at that moment that Peter realized God wanted the church to move in a different direction and that the gospel message was not just for the Jews but for the Gentiles.  "If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 

    My brothers and sisters, while there might be a Jewish Christian and Gentile Christian divide today, we still find ways to separate ourselves.  Martin Luther King once said that most segregated hour of the week was at 11 am on Sunday morning.  It was not too long ago that we had signs on bathrooms that said whites only, colored only.  The same was true for restaurants, water fountains, schools, for buses. And if it isn't race, there is plenty out there to divide us.

    Peter was given a sign from God to know that God is signaling a new era for the church in its work of ministry.  God showed Peter a vision.  What sign is God showing us? What vision have you seen?  For we are a community that welcomes, that prays, that worries, who calls up those who are missing from our worship.  We are community that cares and we need to look at the barriers we have placed around ourselves, whether they be physical or perceived, and take them down.  To be brave like Peter and describe a new vision that God has for the church.              

If it only takes a sign/a vision for the church to change directions then let that sign be of love and service to our brothers and sisters.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  That is the vision that God has for us, my brothers and sisters.  A world where you are not identified by your clothes, or your race, your class, your gender, by whether you grew up in Baltimore or in the hills of Appalachia but by the baptismal cloth you were given when Christ clothed you with the Holy Spirit.  

    This loved-soaked vision is a good vision, but a hard vision for our world to get behind, especially when it is just so easy to put up signs, put up divisions that do not unite us but divide.  If we don't start with the love, nobody will.  If we don't start tearing down these barriers that divide us, nobody will. As Christian, my brothers and sisters, let us be the ones who set the bar for what is accepted and dare others to be like us.

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