Posts Tagged With: sermon

Ordination Sermon: Caitlin Trussell

ORDINATION: CAITLIN TRUSSELL

Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 84:1-5a; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40  

Well, Caitlin, it’s no surprise you’ve chosen these texts for today. Not because they are so obvious for an ordination, they aren’t necessarily a battle cry for charging into ministry, but because they are the prescribed lectionary texts for today, February 2nd. The lectionary has a divine rhythm that you’ve discovered, a pulse of spirituality. And that took precedence for you over an event. Even one so long-awaited, so important, so celebrative, and (did I say?) sooo long-awaited as your ordination into the ministry of Word and sacrament. No surprise. Over the years, your life has taken on a new rhythm, Caitlin. Not a rhythm dictated by daily calendar events or life-stresses, but a rhythm called out by the divine. You live the events of your life, celebrating and stressing, but there’s a deeper rhythm pulsing, breathing beneath those things. That is something I’ve been learning from you. So it’s no surprise you’ve chosen for your ordination the texts for February 2, The Presentation of Our Lord. I’m just glad you weren’t ordained on the day when the texts were the woman caught in adultery or Ezekiel burning his dung. Anna and Simeon at the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple? That’s OK; I’m feeling rather fortunate. Many of us have been waiting with you impatiently for this day. But you’ve come to recognize that there’s been a divine rhythm, even to this journey. A deeply spiritual breathing that you’ve come to accept—and even appreciate. That, I believe, is an important gift you bring to the world, Caitlin. Breathing in rhythm with the divine breath in the midst of chaos, stress, impatience, struggles, and calendars. This gospel text, and the other ones today also, reveal for us a divine rhythm present in the world. A rhythm that the people of God have tried to live and ritualize. And that is the blessing and the curse of the church—particularly of rostered leaders in the church. “When the time came,” Luke writes. “When the time came for their purification,” they went to Jerusalem, up to the temple. Part of the rhythm of their lives. 40 days after a male child was born. Timing, rhythm. Breath. Simeon came to the temple then. Called by the divine, according to a promise made to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. He had lived his life according to this promise and was eager to adjust his life, his breathing, to be in time with the divine breath bringing about the consolation of Israel. The prophet Anna was at the temple all the time. She spent every day devoted to the rhythm of God. Worshiping, fasting, praying night and day. These two people, in divine rhythm, were at the temple when Mary and Joseph brought the child Jesus to dedicate him to the Lord. One of the joys and responsibilities of rostered ministry, Caitlin, is to live and to keep this divine rhythm with a community of people. You’ve been called here to Augustana Lutheran Church to do that. A divine rhythm breathing life beneath the calendars, the events, the meetings, the emergencies, the constant demands a pastor’s life. It can be distracting; we can lose the beat. In order to try and live into the divine rhythm all around us, we’ve set up our own rhythms within the church. A three-year lectionary, seasons of the church year, worship every Sunday—complete with sacraments and proclamation of the Word, age-appropriate education leading to the Rite of Confirmation—the Affirmation of Baptism. And if some are really devout, even ongoing education beyond that! Baptisms, weddings, funerals—mile-markers in life; installations of councils, election of leaders, stewardship campaign, adopting a budget. There’s a rhythm to it all. That can be a blessing. God is present in that. The rhythm of the church is part of a pastor’s life, but that must never get confused with the divine rhythm breathing underneath it all. That’s the curse—it’s easy to let the rhythm of our job be confused with the rhythm God. One can point to the other, but can never replace the other. Part of your call as an ordained minister of Word and sacrament in this church is to keep us aware of the divine rhythm. Call us back into it. Remind us of what God is doing and when God is doing it. Proclaim the divine rhythm of forgiveness out of brokenness, mercy out of helplessness, generosity out of poverty, life out of death. Breathe in time with the divine. With Simeon and Anna, recognize the light of God’s salvation, which God has prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to God’s people Israel. And in the face of this world’s (and our church’s) chaos, live in that rhythm. That’s pretty deep, isn’t it? Sounds kind of poetic. Divine breath, holy rhythm, Anna and Simeon. Perhaps it’s a good reminder, and something to be attuned to. But here’s the thing: you won’t do it. Your own out-of-sync rhythm will never be far out of reach. In other words, Caitlin, (and let me use the appropriate theological terminology), you’re going to screw it up. Using all the amazing gifts you have, tapping into all the wonderful theological education you’ve experienced, discerning with the wisest leaders a course of action, taking time to make the most prayer-filled decisions, you will be out of step with the Jesus. That’s one of the hardest things for rostered leaders to get, especially when they are as gifted as you. It’s not about us or our effort or our gifts and talents. It’s not our rhythm, after all. It’s about Jesus. So hooray for Anna and Simeon! How cool they could be in the temple when baby Jesus was brought in. How wonderful they could speak of God’s salvation and revelation and glory. How fulfilling it must have been for them to articulate God’s redemption so magnificently. But it’s not really about them, is it? Your most spirit-filled sermon isn’t about how gifted a preacher you are. Your most comforting pastoral care isn’t about how well you pray at someone’s bedside. It’s not about your rhythm, it’s about God’s. And that will be an ongoing struggle. But God’s rhythm, the very pulse of God, is grace and forgiveness and mercy. So Jesus comes into your broken rhythm and matches his pulse to yours; his breathing to yours. That grace and forgiveness and mercy will continue to wash over you in never-ending waves. It will keep blowing through you as a constant breath. God’s gracious, forgiving pulse is not only for the people with whom you minister—but it is for you too. That’s the rhythm to which you are called—the rhythm of forgiveness and mercy with Jesus. Thank God it’s a rhythm that is underneath all you are and all you do. It’s always there; you can’t get away from it; it’s constantly with you. It can get pretty annoying. Because in our brokenness, we want it to be about our breath and our rhythm. But it’s not our rhythm, not our breath, not our pulse. It is God’s—that comes to us, meets us, and includes us. Thanks be to God for that. God’s rhythm of grace is with you and will include you again and again. A divine breath to which you’ve been awakened. As you take on the challenges and the joys of Word and sacrament ministry here with the people of Augustana, with the larger church, and with the world, may that divine breath meet you, sustain you, fill you, and give you life. The very pulse of God is for you, my friend and my colleague. Amen.

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Confession of The Terrified, A Sermon for Transfiguration, 2/19/12

Transfiguration of Our Lord

2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9

 What terrifies you?

Peter, James, and John are invited by Jesus to come up a mountain with him. They are the only ones he asks. As they climb higher and higher, they think about how special they must be, what an honor it is to be the only ones who get to spend this time with Jesus apart, by themselves. What a privilege.

As they arrive at the top, they begin to wonder what Jesus has in store. Why did he ask them up here? What secret is he going to impart? What special insights will he share with them? Whatever it is, it must be awesome. Special insider information from Jesus himself. And they will be the only ones to hear it.

In their reverie, they look over at Jesus and see something they didn’t exactly expect. He’s changing right in front of them. His clothes are so dazzlingly white that they are glowing. His face is shining. It’s as if light itself was coming out of him. And in the brightness surrounding him, they can see two other people there with him. They weren’t there a minute ago. Wait a minute. . . those aren’t just people, that’s Moses and Elijah, the two greatest and most faithful people in their whole Bible! The three of them are carrying on a conversation as if nothing out of the ordinary was going on.

Moses and Elijah? That would be like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln both showing up in an American History class. These are the two people in the Hebrew scriptures whose deaths were mysterious, and who it was believed would be sent by God when the end of the world was coming. Is that what this is about? The end of the world? And they are terrified! Moses and Elijah! And they are talking with Jesus like old friends. What do we do? This is it. The end of the world. The day of judgment! Jesus has brought us up the mountain to die.

And they find that they are so intimidated, so frightened, so confused, so terrified, that they could think of nothing to say, nothing to do. But Peter, who never lets anything get in the way of his mouth, asks Jesus if they should quickly build three dwellings, three booths, because Moses and Elijah are supposed to come—the world is supposed to end—during the Festival of Booths. This really is the end. Peter, James, and John are trembling in fear, having no idea what will happen, what’s in store for them. Mark says here that they are not just frightened, not just anxious, but terrified.

Perhaps like them, you’ve had experiences that have terrified you. A fire, an ambulance, a surgical waiting room. Terror can be paralyzing. Sometimes those things that terrify you don’t even make sense. But they don’t have to. The terror is real. In my case, terror is caused by old messages from my childhood that aren’t even relevant any more. What terrifies me is public ridicule. Not just fear, but paralyzing terror.

You see, I experienced that far too often as a kid. I was the skinny smart kid with big ears and tape on my glasses who was always the last one picked for softball in gym class. I had very poor social skills—I never even spoke to a girl until my junior year in high school. I was an easy target for bullies, and came home from school most days with new bruises—either physically or psychologically. I lived through Junior High and much of High School in a constant state of terror.

So I learned how to stay hidden. Because if anyone noticed me, it meant ridicule and humiliation—on a good day. My fear dictated how I lived my life. I ran away from any situation that would draw attention to myself. I felt I had to stay in the background, hidden. That was the only place where I could feel safe. I understood paralyzing terror as Peter, James, and John experience it. Perhaps you have too.

It took me many years before I could begin to address that childhood terror. As I matured, I recognized that people were no longer seeking me out just to beat me up. Their first response to me was no longer finding new ways to offer me up for public ridicule.

Even though I’ve overcome that terror of public abuse and humiliation, it apparently hasn’t fully left me. However, my terror does not make my decisions. One of the outcomes of that is my being here right now. Being called to proclaim the gospel as a pastor means a lot of public speaking, and that is terrifying—because any of you who’ve done public speaking know how vulnerable you are when you do it. But terror will not make my decisions for me. If God has called me to preach, then I will do so. I will attempt to follow Jesus, trusting him, even if that means walking into terror.

I emailed all of you who are on this church’s email list this week, telling you that I am now one of 17 potential candidates for nomination as this synod’s next bishop. And it terrifies me. Having my picture and biographical information posted on the RMS website opened up that childhood terror of being publicly ridiculed. Though I’m a grown up and have gained some respect in the RMS, my childhood terror has surprisingly kicked into full swing.

But the terror will not make my decision for me. I’ve allowed this process to go forward, not because I necessarily want to be bishop, but because God seems to be up to something. To be honest, the odds-makers in Las Vegas have me somewhere in the middle of the pack, but that’s not what this is about for me. It’s about seeing Jesus doing something, in the most unlikely places and unlikely ways, and being there with him. I am not running for bishop. Some unknown person tossed my name in ring. But Jesus is in this somewhere. Perhaps it’s nothing more than this demon of terror being exorcized. Perhaps it’s so I can be some kind of encouragement to those who find themselves living in terror. Maybe I’ll contribute to the bishop conversation in a helpful way. Perhaps I’ll get to see Moses and Elijah. I don’t know. But I know Jesus is there, and I know my terror will not make my decisions for me.

Mark writes further, “Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.”

That’s what I want for me; that’s what I want for you. To listen to Jesus, to follow Jesus, to see Jesus for who he is. And  then to look around—whether terrified or not—and see no one but only Jesus. As baptized people of God, that’s why Jesus takes us up the mountain. Amen.

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What Are Your Flashlights? A Sermon, 2/12/12

6th Epiphany – B

1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Mark 1:40-45

 Imagine you’ve heard a rumor of a new, totally clean, amazingly efficient, absolutely free energy source that is infinitely renewable. It could readily replace all oil, coal, natural gas, solar, wind, nuclear, and any other kind of energy supply you can think of. It is clean, reliable, and safe.

Too good to be true, right? You think so? Imagine it anyway.

You hear that a representative of this energy source is coming to share information. Though she does well, but most of us can’t really comprehend the scope of what she’s trying to tell us. So she brings a small sample of this energy so we can have a little bit of an idea as to what it can do.

As a quick example, she takes the batteries out of a flashlight, waves the empty flashlight near the energy source, and immediately it works! The flashlight is brighter than ever, and according to the rep, will never go dead again. It will never need recharging. That’s nothing, she says.

But before she can say any more, one of the people gathered hands her their flashlight, saying the batteries have died, I can’t afford new ones. Will this energy source work on it? Sure, she says, and it does. Then someone else with another flashlight. Then another person. Soon everyone is running home to get their flashlights and bring them to this energy rep so they won’t need batteries again.

Wait! She cries out. This isn’t all that this energy is about! It will change transportation, housing, business, heating and lighting. Cars will be safer, cheaper. Planes will be faster and there will be no cost to fuel. All the money you’ve been spending on gas, oil, electricity will stay in your pockets! – But no one is hearing her, as she’s being overrun with broken flashlights.

She fixes many of these flashlights with this new energy. After all, that’s a small part of what it can do. But word has spread that she can make flashlights work indefinitely, and so they keep coming.

She needs to explain the bigger picture. She needs to show other examples that might help people realize what this energy really means. She needs to be able to show them how it will change agriculture, housing and development, communication, transportation. Not only will it change all that we know and experience now, but new things will be created that we can’t even imagine now.

Finally she realizes this she won’t get past flashlights here, and so she leaves. She’s on her way to another city, another energy convention, when she meets yet one more man with a broken flashlight. He begs her to fix it, saying it’s the only light he has, the only way his daughter can do her homework after dark. Help me, he pleads.

OK, she says. She waves his flashlight near the energy source and it works. Please, she says to him, Don’t be telling people this is about flashlights, OK? Go show your flashlight to the head of Research and Development at Exxon and British Petroleum.

But he’s already run off, shouting to everyone about his flashlight.

If you haven’t caught on yet, this is a grossly inadequate parable of this text in Mark 1 of Jesus healing the leper. Healing was part of Jesus’ work.

But it makes me wonder—what are our flashlights? What small part of the reign of God do you cling to—maybe even at the expense of the fullness of what Jesus is doing?

All people have really seen from Jesus so far is healing. They keep bringing sick people to him. Now wholeness is part of the reign of God, so Jesus does heal many, but he gets so overwhelmed with people wanting healing that he can’t proclaim the whole picture of what God has in store for us. He can’t invite us to join the fullness of God’s vision for all people. He can’t even move around anymore. He has to stay in the back country, away from towns. And people are still finding him. Rumors are spreading, but not about the new age of God’s rule coming among us, about forgiveness for all, life that death can’t even touch, those shoved aside being included, but rather about a guy who can cure sickness. Though Jesus brings that, he is bringing much more than new energy for flashlights.

So what’s your flashlight? What part of Jesus do you cling to? Have you seen Jesus at work in a particular way, and then quit looking beyond that? Have you experienced God in one part of your life and keep trying to relive that one experience over and over? Perhaps you’ve found significance in his teachings, and don’t consider any more than that. Perhaps Jesus has spoken to you through scripture and now you will only hear him there—even if that means using distorted interpretations. Or maybe you see Jesus caring for the poor, people in the inner city, the homeless, and don’t think about what he’s doing in the suburbs. How many of you consider yourselves financially blessed by God, but don’t hear Jesus inviting  you to primarily use those finances to help others? All of this is of Jesus, but each is only a part.

As we slowly make our way through the first chapter of Mark, I’m sensing the frustration Jesus is feeling. He’s come to bring comfort to those who are living in terror, justice to those who’ve been pushed down, forgiveness to those who are far from God, mercy to those who don’t deserve it, life to those who are dead, and, yes, wholeness to those who are broken. And more.

He comes, inviting us to take part in this new creation that he brings. All of it. It centers on him. It comes in him. Not just in our perceptions of him or experiences of him or even our beliefs in him. The kingdom of God, the hope of creation, comes in him.

So bring broken flashlights to him, sure. But know that Jesus is about more than merely our hope for what he can do. He is the hope of all creation. And he has called us, of all people, to bear witness to that to all the world.

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Pretending to Be a Good Person. A sermon, January 29, 2012

4th Sunday of Epiphany (B)

1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

 This passage of scripture takes place in the synagogue Capernaum. The synagogue is a holy place. Sabbath is a holy day. Those who gather are holy people. But there is one among them who doesn’t belong. A man with unclean spirit.

Unclean. He has a spirit within him that is in opposition to God. It stands in God’s way. It obstructs what God is doing. This man has no business in this place with these people on this day. He’s a pretender. Acting as if he was righteous and worthy. But a spirit possesses him that makes him powerless to be blessed, powerless to be worthy, powerless to be part of God’s holiness in the world.

We know what God’s holiness in the world looks like, right? Forgiveness, mercy and compassion, extravagant generosity, new chances, new lives.

This man in the synagogue is possessed by something that keeps him in opposition to God’s holy activity in the world. Something is keeping him from forgiving, from showing mercy, from giving generously, from something that as a person of God he is called to be.

Does that sound a little familiar? Maybe even uncomfortably familiar? Lack of generosity, of mercy, of forgiveness? Does that maybe sound like us? Because it sounds like me. We are unclean. We sometimes get so possessed by our pain that we’re unable to forgive. We are sometimes so possessed by fear and lack of trust that we keep way too much money for ourselves. We are sometimes so possessed by anger that we say hurtful things we don’t mean. We are unclean. We are possessed by something that is in opposition to what God calls us to be. We call it sin, gospel-writer Mark calls it having an unclean spirit. I think Mark’s way of describing it gets our attention better, but it’s the same thing. That which keeps us from being what God calls us to be. That which keeps us from living as reflections of the holy God in whose image we are created.

But even though he’s got an unclean spirit, even though he can’t forgive, or show mercy, or give away money, or stop hurting people, or whatever it is, he’s there in the synagogue. He knows he doesn’t belong; he’s been pretending to be good and righteous for a long time—hiding his uncleanness. Apparently he’s welcome in the synagogue, which means no one knows. Do you think he feels holier just because he’s in church? Like a better person because he’s trying? I doubt it. He obsessed with his secret, possessed by this spirit of uncleanness. He can’t get rid of it. It possesses him.

But Jesus comes into the synagogue anyway. He’s right there in the same place as this unclean man who is struggling with his money, with mercy, with forgiveness, with anger. Jesus comes and confronts the man who is pretending everything is OK. Jesus is there, and he’s there with authority. Teaching as if the things he is saying are from God himself. It is astounding.

And suddenly the uncleanness in him—that within him that stands fast against living mercifully and generously, preventing forgiveness from flowing out of him—all that he’s been hiding all these years, rises up in protest in the presence of Jesus. Because he knows Jesus threatens all this. Jesus has the authority. The authority of God. And this man’s protests rise up and give voice to his fear. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” This unclean man, this one pretending all is well, is terrified. He is exposed in the presence of Jesus and has no idea what’s going to happen to him.

Jesus has come to where the man is. He has authority over the uncleanness in the man—and in us. He comes into the places in our lives where we have to pretend everything is fine. He comes with the authority of God. Jesus exposes all our pretending. And that can be terrifying.

And Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit. He commands that it be silent, and that it come out of the man. And it does. Not peacefully, not gently, not nicely. It comes out of him with convulsions and screaming. It is ugly.

But Jesus does have authority over the uncleanness. He casts it out. It doesn’t come out easily—we may continue to struggle with forgiving. It doesn’t come out nicely—we might continue to have difficulty being generous. It doesn’t come out peacefully—we may continue to have a hard time showing mercy. It doesn’t come out cleanly—we might continue to have a hard time relinquishing our anger or resentment.

But Jesus comes anyway. And he has authority anyway. And he casts out our uncleanness anyway. He loves us anyway.

The man asks, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” No, not to destroy, but renew. Not do away with, but make whole.

“I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” Yes, the One who comes among us with the power of God. The One who meets us in those places where we have to pretend. The One who knows the uncleanness that possesses us. And the One who has authority over all of it. He commands even our unclean spirits, and they obey him.

That is amazing.

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The Kingdom of God Breaks Into Our Lives In Ordinary Ways

3rd Sunday of Epiphany (B)

1 Cor 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

 And Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. . . . Follow me.”

It was an ordinary day. I was in my office just finishing up a sermon, Bible study, Confirmation class plan, council report, or maybe something really important. Linda, our office manager, comes back and says someone wants to talk with me. Nothing unusual, this happens every day. So I go out in the hall and meet “Luke,” a man I’ve never met before. He’s African American, wearing clothes indicating he was probably used to working outdoors. I introduce myself, invite him in to the office, and he begins to tell me why he needs money to feed his two children. Again, this isn’t so unusual, it can happen several times a week.

Usually in this situation, I struggle to balance someone needing help vs. me being conned. There are almost always elements of both. As I generally do, I invited “Luke” to share his story. I ask questions in order to figure out what’s really going on and if we really can help. I’m asking questions and Luke is answering them. This goes on for several minutes until he stop me.

“I don’t mean any disrespect, Pastor Moss, but as hard as it is for me to come here and ask for help, it’s even harder for me as a black man to come to a white church, and to put the fate of my family into the hands of a white man.”

This isn’t my first rodeo, I’ve heard all kinds of approaches. I figured I’d push back a little and see where this went. “Luke, I’m wondering if you’re playing the race card on me here. Here’s my concern; if I don’t provide you with the help you want, you’ll chalk it up as one more white racist holding power over black people.”

He was quiet for a few moments, then said, “Well, to be honest pastor, yeah, that’s probably what I’ll think.”

We spent the next 45 minutes sharing our experiences as two human beings who happened to be different colors. We gained deeper understanding of one another. Now, I consider myself relatively aware racially, but I realized during this conversation that in ways I either forgotten or never knew, I am quite content to reap the benefits of being white in a white-power culture. I have continued doing that without questioning it or challenging it; in so doing I have been contributing to a racist society. Now it’s not all my fault, but I haven’t put any effort into reconciliation either. If the Bible is clear about anything, it’s that God is about the business of reconciliation, of peace, or repairing that which is torn.

Luke, sitting there in my office had brought an opportunity for a small piece of reconciliation. Here was an opportunity to take part in what God was doing right in front of me. The kingdom of God broke in without warning, in the middle of an otherwise ordinary day. I was being offered a chance to repent, to believe in good news of reconciliation. Jesus was here, and was inviting me to join him in this kingdom work.

And Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. . . . Follow me.”

It was an ordinary day for James and John, in their boats on the shore of the Sea of Galilee fixing the tears in their fishing nets. A man walks by and shouts at them. Well, people do that all the time, giving advice on how to fish and where to fish—as if James and John hadn’t been doing this all their lives. Amazing how everyone believes they can do your job better than you.

The shouting man kept coming, and they saw fellow fishermen Simon and Andrew right behind him. The man came right up to them, looked first at James, then at John, and said, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

They looked at each other, this didn’t really make a lot of sense to them. But they realized, that in ways they weren’t even aware of, that their lives were going to go in a completely different direction. The kingdom of God had broken in without warning, in the middle of an otherwise ordinary day. They were being offered a chance to change direction, to believe the good news that God was making a difference in the world. Jesus was there, and was inviting them to join him in this kingdom work.

And Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. . . . Follow me.”

It’s an ordinary day at Lutheran Church of the Master. The kingdom of God breaks in without warning, in the middle of an otherwise ordinary day. We are being offered a chance to change direction, to believe the good news that God is making a difference in the world. Jesus is here, and is inviting us to join him in this kingdom work.

And Jesus came to Lakewood, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. . . Follow me.”

Categories: Church in Context, faith practices, hospitality, kingdom of God, racism, Sermon, suburban church | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Are You Spiritual or Religious?

1 Christmas (B)

Isa 61:10—62:3; Gal 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40

 Are you spiritual or religious?

I was driving home one evening a few weeks ago, coming west on Alameda, complaining to myself about the glare from having to look right into the sun. But then the sun dipped below the mountains and a spectacular color show appeared in the sky. The light was streaking through these layers of wispy clouds in a way I’ve never seen before. It was breathtaking. I pulled out a camera and took a couple of pictures of it—which, of course, don’t do justice to this scene. Maybe because it was a camera on a phone, and maybe because I was taking the pictures through the windshield while I was still driving. But the majesty of that image was beyond description. I’ve driven west on Alameda at sunset hundreds of times, but I’ve not seen anything like that before. It was like beholding the glory of God right there in front of me. I happened to be coming home at just the right time. It was a spiritual moment.

Have you ever chanced on a spiritual experience like that? Coincidentally being at the right place at the right time?

Anna and Simeon, I think, had a spiritual experience kind of like that, but bigger, more profound, more dramatic, more global in scale. And in another way, their experience was quite a different one altogether. It was religious.

They were hanging out at the temple, seeing all kinds of people coming in for all kinds of reasons; including bunches of babies and mothers coming in both to dedicate the baby (at 8 days old) and for the rites of purification for the mother (either 40 or 80 days after giving birth)—the same every day. So what’s one more poor couple coming in with yet another infant? How did they know this was the Savior of the world? How did they recognize him? To everyone else who saw them, this was simply another non-descript little Jewish family, bringing the sacrifice required by the law for the poor. To date in Luke, only Mary, Joseph, and some shepherds knew that this baby was God’s salvation for all of us; hardly a brought or respectable audience. And this was before the days of texting, email, or twitter. But to eyes of faith, this was the glory of the Lord right in front of them.

How did they know this was the Savior of the world? How did they recognize him? Apparently, seeing this baby made all the difference in the world for them. They had been waiting, watching, longing to see the salvation God was bringing into the world. Now, upon seeing this new baby, their lives are fulfilled. It’s such a big deal that Simeon says that now he can die in peace.

So, how do we know when we see the Savior of the world? How do we recognize him? God’s salvation has come, it is present, whether we see him or not. Our recognizing him doesn’t change what God does in the world. However, it does change us. It is spiritual, yes, but not only that.

I’m here to tell you that we can see the glory of the Lord among us. It’s not just luck or coincidence or being in the right place at the right time. And it’s not just spiritual. Anna and Simeon were prepared. It’s more than just the chance of being on West Alameda on a certain evening. It’s knowing where to look. It’s more than just spiritual; it’s religious.

That’s how Anna and Simeon’s experience is different. They didn’t just happen to be in the Temple on the day Jesus came in, and just happened to recognize him—like chancing on a beautiful sunset. They were expecting him to show up every day. And they were prepared for him to come—every day.

That’s the part that we don’t always want to admit. They were ready for God’s salvation to come to them and to the world. We aren’t prepared for it to be so close and accessible. And we aren’t ready because we have fallen into a cultural trap.

There’s a cultural movement now, where people proclaim, sometime with great pride, they are spiritual but not religious. Horse-hockey. Not only is that quitting, it’s spiritually dangerous. The best it gives you is a bland hope that you can be in the right place at the right time, a hope that you can recognize a great spiritual movement if you chance on it. Being spiritual without being religious is like trying fad diets. You might chance on one that works, but why not practice eating habits that have proven to work over long periods of time? Being only spiritual leaves you blind and vulnerable. But being spiritual as shaped by our religious practices gives us a context to see God at work, the preparation to recognize God’s salvation in our midst, the ability to concede God’s grace in the hardships of a broken world.

Anna and Simeon were each ready. They had been preparing for many years to see God’s salvation come into the world. They were ready not just because they were spiritual, but because they were religious. Simeon was moved by the Holy Spirit. But he knew it was the Holy Spirit and not his own inner desires because of the rites and practices of his Jewish faith, which pointed to the Messiah. He was able to recognize the movement of the Spirit.

Anna was in the temple all the time, worshiping, praying and fasting according to the particularities of her Jewish faith (she was a prophet, of the tribe of Asher). It was within the context of practicing their religion that they were ready for God’s salvation to come to them—to recognize God’s movement in the world. They had practiced their religion, and so they were ready. And in being prepared, they recognized hope and life when it came to them.

So be ready for God to show mercy. Be ready to accept forgiveness. Be ready to be made new by grace. Be ready to see God in the midst of pain.

Practice religion. Start with corporate worship every week. Receive the bread and wine of holy communion. Spend time each day with some scripture; you can start with a small devotional booklet like “Christ in Our Home.” Pray often and at times that aren’t emergencies. Give away more than seems prudent. Practice forgiving those who’ve hurt you. Talk to other religious people about how they are seeing God’s salvation in the world. Do this every day. Again and again. As if you were preparing to see God do amazing things in the world—and in your life. God’s salvation comes—even to us. God is at work in the world—even in our lives. Be ready. Practice. In other words, be religious.

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Breaking a 1700 Year Paradigm

2nd Pentecost (A)

Jeremiah 28:5-9; Matthew 10:40-42

 I’m starting my sabbatical in five days. I’ll be resting, writing, and researching during the next twelve weeks. Most of that time will be spent in Scotland and Ireland. I’ll be a guest in a foreign country for eight weeks. I’m mindful that everything I do and say represents not only the U.S., but Christianity, Lutheranism, and this congregation. These communities are all parts of my identity, and I want to reflect well on them. That makes me think that I’ll be pretty careful about what I say, what I do, how I treat people.

I will be a guest. That means I need to obey their laws and follow their customs. I will be somewhat vulnerable, because I’m a guest there. If I miss something, say something wrong, or do something that by their customs is really stupid, I risk reflecting badly on all of you. I will be careful, but if you hear anything untoward, try to remember to listen to my side before you rush to judgment.

My anticipation of being a guest in foreign countries makes me somewhat sensitive to the situation of the disciples in Matthew here. Jesus is sending them to other towns and villages on their own. They are being sent and will therefore be guests. They will need to obey local laws and follow local customs. They will be somewhat vulnerable, because they will be guests. If they do or say something stupid they risk  reflecting badly on each other and on Jesus.

Never in the last 1600-1700 years has this text been a more appropriate description of the church today. We’re no longer the hosts in our neighborhood, we are guests. We don’t dictate laws or customs, our culture does. We’ve got to accept the reality that we, as church, are guests in our own culture. We are being sent into this culture and are therefore guests. We will need to obey local laws and follow local customs. We will be somewhat vulnerable, because we are guests. If we do or say something stupid we risk reflecting badly on each other and on Jesus.

For the early church, that was understood. The concept of the disciples of Jesus being guests in the surrounding culture was normal. And however the culture treats us is, well, how they’re going to treat us. Whoever goes out representing God gets whatever the host culture gives them. Prophets speak for God, and sometimes their “reward” wasn’t too terrific. Righteous people act for God, and sometimes their “reward” was better. But however the surrounding culture responds to us is how they’re going to respond—both good and not so good. Getting them to respond one way or another isn’t the point. The point is that we are sent.

That’s what Jesus is making clear to his early disciples; and making clear to us. We are sent to be guests in a different culture—revealing the forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love of the kingdom of God. Sometimes the response will be great; other times not so much. Regardless, go. Rather than putting so much effort into controlling the response (conversion, joining the church), we in today’s church might want to try putting effort into revealing Christ to our host culture regardless of the response.

I wonder what would happen if we really took that to heart. What would be different if we quit emphasizing people coming here to us, and instead emphasized our being sent to them. Instead of them joining us, it should be us joining them. The ultimate goal is not membership here, but forgiveness there. We are given the name of Jesus and sent to bear his presence to every person we meet out there. Not in order to convert them. Not in order to get them to come to church. But to make sure they meet Jesus who has made us his own in baptism; who has filled us with the Holy Spirit so that we can reveal him in the world.

This doesn’t make us better than our hosts, any more than I will be better than the Scots and the Irish I’ll be meeting. We are called by God, given the name of Jesus Christ, and equipped by the Holy Spirit to expose Jesus present in the world. We are sent into what amounts to a foreign land to bear the reality of Jesus. That may be accepted, or it may be rejected. The response is not so much our concern.

Think about it this way. There’s a huge difference between approaching a friend with, “If you were to die tonight, do you know what would happen to your eternal soul?” and, “I’m sorry that I hurt you.” Which reveals Jesus?

There’s a huge difference between spending time passing out Gideon Bibles in hotels and spending time volunteering at the Jeffco Action Center, a hospital, or Habitat for Humanity. Which reveals Jesus?

There’s a huge difference between feeding a poker table in Blackhawk and feeding a homeless child recovering from the tornado in Joplin, MO. Both will cost you $100: which reveals Jesus?

There’s a huge difference between saying, “I’ll get you for that,” and “I forgive you for that.” Which reveals Jesus?

The Holy Spirit gives us the name of Jesus, gives us a new identity in him, gives us a new-and-forgiven life in order be sent. And we are sent in order to reveal the nature of Christ. Accepted or rejected. Believed or not believed. Welcomed or turned away. We are made new, equipped, and sent to reveal the nature, the reality, the person of Jesus to those we meet in the world this week.

I will be very mindful of that in Scotland and Ireland as I’m a guest in those countries.

This text is reminding you to be mindful of the same thing right here. We bear the name of Christ. We are sent. As guests in the world, we cannot control the response we get. But whoever welcomes us welcomes Christ. And whoever welcomes Christ welcomes the one who sent Christ. Truly, none of these will lose their reward. Amen.

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Message for May 22, 2011

Easter 5–A

Acts 7:55-60; John 14:1-14

 First of all,  I see none of you were taken in the rapture.

We need to take a teaching moment here. Besides the fact that the rapture is a made-up concept that didn’t even exist until about 150 years ago, think a minute about where–through all of scripture–God takes a stand. God is always with the outcast, the poor, the powerless, the sinful, those who are left behind. If there ever is a rapture (which there won’t be), God will be with those still here. So, congratulations! God is with us, and we are with God!

Now, on to the gospel.

Typical of the passages in the gospel of John, there’s a ton of stuff in here, more than I can preach on in one day—and certainly more than you want to listen to in one day. So what I have to do with John is pick one small part of it, open it up and dig in. Usually for me, it’s a part that is troublesome for me.

That’s the case here. Verse 12 bugs me. More than that, it’s a problem for me. “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

I’ve never done greater works than Jesus. I’ve never healed anyone of leprosy, never fed 1000s of people with one kid’s lunch, never turned water into wine, never raised anyone from the dead. Yet I believe in Jesus—at least I though I did. . “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

So what’s wrong? Is it that I really don’t believe? Am I not praying right? Do I have too much doubt? Has my sarcasm finally caught up with me? Or is this text just wrong?

Most of us tend to just ignore verses that are too hard or don’t seem to fit with our experience.

  • Love your enemies,
  • Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor,
  • Forgive everyone everytime,
  • The last shall be first,
  • Turn the other cheek,
  • The meek shall inherit the earth.

Generally we ignore these rather than seek to understand them. This one in John too.

But before we write this off because it seems contrary to experience, we owe it to ourselves, to God, and to the world to take a closer look.

The setting in John is Thursday night, at the Last Supper. The last night Jesus is alive. He told his disciples that one of them would betray him, that one would vehemently deny they knew him, that he’d be arrested, put on trial, tortured, and killed.

The irony is that for Jesus, this is the best thing. In John, everything points to the cross. Everything leads up to Jesus’ death. It is his crowning glory, his highest achievement, his greatest work. It’s this that Jesus says we will do better than. We will do better things than dying on a cross for the sake of the world.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not finding a lot of comfort in that. Do you see why John is so not my favorite?

But as always, there are more layers in John. We have to take this gospel in small bites and chew a long time. . “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

We’ll do great things, Jesus says, because he is going to the Father. Because of the relationship they have. Because he is in the Father and the Father is in him. They are one in purpose, one in mission—because of their relationship. That’s where he’s going—to dwell in relationship with God the Father. And because of that we will do greater things.

He said at the beginning of this text that where he’s going—a complete, whole, perfect relationship with God the Father—he’ll take us there too. Into a relationship. His relationship with God and our relationship with him is the foundational piece here.

Us doing greater things doesn’t mean a miracle contest with Jesus. He feeds 5k with 5 loaves/2 fish, we don’t have to feed 6k with ½ loaf and some leftover shrimp. He turns water into wine, we don’t have to turn water into 12 year old single malt scotch. This isn’t a measure of our Christianity, our faith, or our discipleship. NO! It’s not a contest—it’s a relationship.

Jesus and God the Father are united in love, purpose, and mission. Everything that God does, Jesus reveals. Everything that Jesus does is the will of God. Their very identity is found in the relationship they share. Because Jesus is being killed and going back to completeness in his relationship with God the Father, he can offer that relationship to us too. He can come to us, sweep us up, open for us that kind of perfect, unified relationship with God. He takes us there. So that just as Christ’s identity reveals the will of God, ours does too. Again, this is less about what we do and more about who we are. In Christ we have this relationship with God. In Christ our identity is made new in God. In Christ all the barriers that get in the way of a life-giving relationship with God are overcome. Because Jesus comes and takes us to himself, we are thereby united in a relationship with God.

In Jesus we are the body of Christ. In Jesus we reveal God in the world. In Jesus God’s very nature is the core of our identity. And so in Jesus, God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness have flesh in the world. Us. It’s who we are. In Jesus. Because he brings us to where he is. Through us, in Jesus, with God, all of us together, greater things continue to be done in the world. Grace and mercy, kindness and compassion, love and forgiveness are more real in Green Mountain, in Jefferson County, in the world. Because Jesus bring us into his relationship with God. . “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

Jesus brings us into his relationship with God the Father. Everything is new.

Amen.

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