Sermon for November 9, 2014: “The Waiting IS The Hardest Part”

Reading:

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 5 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words

 

Sermon: “The Waiting IS the Hardest Part”

 

“The waiting is the hardest part

Every day you see one more card

You take it on faith, you take it to the heart

The waiting is the hardest part”

 

What I just read is not from any of our Scriptures today.

It is not from Proverbs.

It’s a song from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

It’s called…appropriately… “The Waiting.”

 

And today the act of waiting is a major theme in our scriptures, especially in the second lesson, which is where I want us to focus.

 

I can be a very impatient man.

I am the kind of guy who will stand in front of the microwave and complain that the Minute Rice is taking too long.

Maybe some of you are that way too.

 

I know that churches can certainly be impatient.

For example, let me share with you some of what I like to call “Grace Waits”:

 

When are we getting a new church sign?

When are we getting new church doors?

How long until we get a new boiler?

Those are some examples of “Grace Waits.”

 

Today in our second lesson, from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, we hear the concerns and “waiting issues” of another church.

 

Before we get into the lesson, there is some context of which you need to be aware:

 

The church in Thessalonica is new.

It has not been around for a hundred years like our congregation.

At the most the Thessalonians’ church is 20 years old.

So they are still in the “diaper” stage (which as the father of a newborn I know a little something of).

Even though they are a young church, Paul is very proud of the work they have accomplished.

In chapter one of this letter Paul praises “their work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3).

 

But by the time we get to the third chapter, while Paul still talks about the congregation’s faith and love, he leaves out one aspect.

Hope.

And that is when we get to the waiting.

The people in Thessalonica are not waiting for something.

They are waiting for someone.

Jesus Christ.

The problem is these Thessalonians, has convinced themselves that Jesus is coming back…now.

Today.

ASAP.

 

And as each day passes with no Second Coming, members of this new church have started to die before the big event.

And so not only are the people mourning the loss of loved ones, they are also mourning what they believe could be their loved ones lost chance at salvation.

 

The people did not know what to do.

Where did the hope go?

 

Sometimes in our lives there are moments when hope seems to…vanish.

Moments of wars, famine, nasty politics, the fragile economy, health concerns, and the like.

When hope disappears (or it looks that way), it’s hard…sometimes impossible…to be told to wait.

Or to keep waiting.

 

So when the Thessalonians are faced with difficult circumstances, Paul stops being “Paul the Apostle” and becomes “Paul the Pastor.”

And what he tells the Thessalonians can give us some peace and comfort.

 

Paul tells them, “You can cry. You can grieve. You can mourn. But don’t lose hope. Let your grieving be defined by hope.”

What Paul means is when a church, a community, confesses Jesus Christ as Lord, there is an interconnectedness between  the profound emotions of grief and hope.

 

Paul is reminding us that death is not how the story will end.

That those who have died before the second coming will not be left behind.

Those who have died are not dead but sleeping.

And they will awake at the sound of the Second Coming.

Talk about a loud alarm clock!

 

And to bring some excitement back to the people, Paul uses images that would be familiar with the Thessalonians.

Paul describes Christ’s arrival with the same pageantry and fanfare that would announce the arrival of an imperial messenger or even the emperor himself, an event that was often accompanied by a declaration of “good news.”

 

So one can hear this description of the coming of Christ as an event that has more power and influence than any Roman emperor.

 

By doing this, in a way, Paul is a steadfastness of hope that is solid, steady, and certain of what and who is to come.

 

Now, another point I want to make this morning.

 

In our world today, there are many Christians who refer to this passage ,especially verse 17 where “being caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air,” as Biblical proof of the Rapture.

 

And they are wrong.

The word meaning “being caught up”in the Greek (“arpozo”) actually means “to snatch away.”

Usually in the New Testament “to snatch away” has a negative connotation of being taken by force (see Matthew 11:12; 12:29; 13:19; John 6:15; 10:12, 28–29; Acts 8:39; 23:10; Revelation 12:5).

But in a few instances, including this one, “being snatched away” conveys a more positive picture of being taken up into something good or out of something bad (2 Corinthians 12:2, 4; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Jude 1:23).

 

For example:

Paul has started crawling.

And he loves to crawl towards our cats.

And our cats, for the most part, are very tolerant of him.

Most times.

Other times, the cats, especially Daisy, are ready to whack him.

And so right before Paul faces the wrath of Daisy I quickly “arpozo” him! I snatch him up from danger and back into my safe arms.

 

So this verse is God snatching us all up from the dead end of sin and bringing us to the Eternal Life that can only be found in him.

 

We want the wait to be over.

We want that Second Coming to happen.

But we talk so much about the future hope, let me assure you that God is in our present as well.

God is present in the waters of baptism, the bread and the wine of communion.

God is present

in the handshakes at the passing of the peace,

in the voices of our prayers,

in the songs we sing, and

in the silence that surrounds us.

God is in the love that is given to us by family and friends,

And in the kindness of strangers.

God is the warmth of a summer breeze and even in the chill of a winter’s day.

 

And while we wait for Jesus to come back, we can live as witnesses to what God has done, is doing, and will do.

We can rest in knowing God is with us.

And we can wait in another way.

 

By serving our neighbors, working for justice, and that those in need have someone looking out for them.

I don’t want you to think that God is only present in your lives.

God is present everywhere.

And we are called to bring that gospel, that good news, to everyone.

 

So while we wait for a new church sign, WE are the church sign.

Tell people about our church, and our community, and what we are doing to bring the Gospel to the world.

While we wait for new church doors, WE are the doors and we can choose to open them or close them.

While we wait for a new boiler, WE are the ones called to warm those who are in the cold.

 

The waiting IS the hardest part.

But it’s only a part of the story.

The final part is yet to come.

 

And that final part is something…someone…worth waiting for.

 

Sermon for All Saints Day 2014: “The Last Song”

First Reading
Revelation 7:9-17

9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Psalm
Psalm 34:1-10, 22

1 I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. 2 My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. 3 O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. 4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. 5 Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed. 6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble. 7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. 8 O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him. 9 O fear the Lord, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want. 10 The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. 22 The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

Second Reading
1 John 3:1-3

1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Gospel
Matthew 5:1-12

1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Sermon for November 2, 2014: “The Last Song”

 

My father passed away September 19 2010.

And four years later, I still find it hard to talk about him.

But as I was reading and praying over the lessons, especially the Revelation text, I felt the need to talk about him.

 

One of the things that I enjoyed the most with my dad was our car rides.

Especially when I was a kid.

Just about every day my dad and I would have little car riding adventures.

Whether it was to the comic book store or to the local Burger King, we were constant companions.

And it was awesome.

Except for one thing.

When we were riding together, my dad gave me free reign on the radio.

Such power!

And when one of my favorite songs came on the air, I would get really excited.

And I might sing along.

But so would my dad.

And I could not stand it!

You see, my dad would sing along and out of tune or very loud.

Or he would make up his own words because he never knew the words.

I would lower my head in the seat thinking that people in the next car over could hear him.

And I know he did this on purpose.

Because he could belt out a song.

So I knew he was playing games with me.

He did it to get a rise out of me, and it worked every time.

 

While at the time I was embarrassed, I would give anything to have one more car ride with him.

I miss my dad.

And on this day, I miss the moments we shared together.

And I miss the questions I want to ask him about:

Being a pastor,

being a husband,

being a father.

 

So many questions that are left unanswered.

It hurts.

 

But that is why I am so grateful for passages like we get today from of all places Revelation.

 

The book of Revelation gets a bad rap.

A popular view of Revelation assumes that the book is “history told in advance,” written to warn readers about events that will happen during their lifetimes.

So according to this view, Revelation is a series of hidden clues that reveal exactly what will take place at the end of the world.

Although this is a popular view, it is not mine.

What we have in Revelation is not a horrible book filled with images of fear.

What we have is a book with images of hope.

The writer of Revelation is John.

Is this the same John that wrote the Gospel of John?

Is it the same John who wrote the 3 Letters of John?

That is another topic for another time.

Rather than talking about who wrote the book, I want to talk about is for whom the book is written.

John wrote this book to help seven churches who are struggling to survive a world dominated by the Roman Empire.

As John wrote this book, some Christians faced persecution, other Christians were being corrupted by society, and others just stopped taking their faith seriously.

 

So John addresses those issues in Revelation.

 

This morning, our first lesson paints a picture.

A beautiful picture of a worship service, where the center of attention is The Lamb.

And surrounding the Lamb is “a great multitude that no one could count from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages (7:9).”

And it is the multitude of people where I find hope.

You see, these people, these saints, if you will, make up a gigantic choir.

 

This week I heard some pretty good choirs.

Last Sunday night, at the Joint reformation service held at The Arbor Lutheran Church in Lexington, choirs from 4 Lutheran churches came together and sang beautifully.

Last Tuesday night the High Point University Chamber Choir sang at the Finch Preaching Mission. Another night filled with wonderful music.

Now…multiply that by 1 million fold and you will get a glimpse (not the whole picture) of the choir that is singing the praises of God in our lesson today.

Imagine how LOUD they are!

And consider the reason they sing.

They are in the presence of God.

They are in the presence of the Promise Fulfilled.

They are no longer hungry.

They are no longer thirsty.

They no longer hurt.

They no longer are in need because all that they want and need is right before them in the form of the Lamb, The Lamb, The Shepherd, the One who dries away all the tears.

 

So for the people of the seven churches who are being persecuted

Who are hurting

Who are suffering

They are reminded that the ending is not going to be painful but hopeful because all their pain will be healed.

 

Today for All Saints we look to the scriptures to find hope for the future, but it also a day that can provide us with hope for the present.

Look at our Psalm where the writer talks about the angel of the Lord who encamps around those who fear (or love) God and delivers them.

God “sets up residence” with His people.

He is right there among the good and the bad.

And then in Matthew where we once again read and hear the Beatitudes during our worship time, notice how Jesus bookends all the future promises with promises for the present.

We see Jesus promising many “blessed are’s” and “their’s is” which shows us that his words are for present help, not just future hope.

 

The one thing I want you to hold on to this morning is that we worship, we rely, and we trust in a God, a Savior, who does not only take care of our future, but provides for us a present.

 

As we read in 1 John: “We are God’s children NOW”

By realizing the hope we have now, we can join in the chorus.

And please notice that the choir in our lesson is an active group.

This choir is actively worshipping, praising, and serving God.

And today this choir can be our reminder that we, too, are called to be faithful witnesses.

We are called to sing and praise God on daily basis.

But also on a daily basis, we are to dry the tears of those who hurt.

We are to open the doors for those who have been left out.

We are to pick up those who have been knocked down.

 

I guess what I am trying to say we are invited to sing.

 

Looking back at Revelation, I want you to notice that someone is absent when this choir sings.

Do you know who is not there?

Death.

Death does not have a verse, or a role, anymore.

 

As the choir sings to God, Death is silenced.

God has the last word.

Or in this case, the last song.

 

And so even though this is a day where I miss my dad.

And I miss our time together.

Through the power and the promise of Jesus, I know that I will see him again.

 

And I will hear him sing again.

 

And this time I will be singing with him.

 

For those of you who are hurting because you are mourning.

You are thinking of loved ones who have passed away.

Take comfort in knowing and trusting that they are with God.

Singing and praising God for keeping his promises.

 

And today, as we sing, as we worship, we too are joining with our loved ones as we give praise and thanks to the one who makes sure this song has no end.

 

 

 

Sermon for October 19, 2014: “Jesus vs. Wile E. Coyote”

The Reading comes from Matthew 22:15-22

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

 

When I was studying our Gospel text for this week, I kept coming back to a certain image.

You guessed it.

Wile E Coyote.

Wait. I’m the only one who thought of that?

When I was young every Saturday morning I would watch the Bugs and Daffy Show on CBS.

I loved those cartoons. And every weekend they would show the never-ending battle between the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.

In every battle, Wile E. Coyote would try his best to capture the Road Runner and…well…it never worked.

And just about every time, somehow, someway, Wile E. found himself in the trap he had set while the Road Runner “beep-beeped” to freedom.

 

The reason I thought of Wile E Coyote while looking at our Gospel is we have a trap that has been set for Jesus.

For the previous three Sunday Gospel readings, Jesus uses parables to publicly challenge and accuse the Jewish church leaders of failing God.

Those are some very big and powerful words.

One group that Jesus targets is the Pharisees.

And now it’s their turn to get back at Jesus.

So they set a trap.

Now, they do not set this trap alone.

That is what makes this story very odd.

Because the ones who team up with the Pharisees are a group called The Herodians.

The Herodians were the party of King Herod, the king of Galilee, who was placed there by the Roman government, thus he was the extension of the Roman Emperor: Tiberius Caesar.

What makes this an odd pairing is that under normal circumstances these two parties would be in bitter opposition with one another.

The Pharisees were God worshippers.

The Herodians were worshippers of their Emperor, who claimed to be divine.

The Pharisees hated Roman rule and could not stand the taxes the Jewish people had to pay.

But look at WHO brings these two factions together.

Jesus.

Strange bedfellows indeed.

Both are looking to trap Jesus.

And the trap is to ask Jesus a question that they hope will put him between a rock and a hard place: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

It’s actually a pretty smart trap.

Here is why:

Back in the time of Jesus (we are talking first century Palestine), the Jewish people were subject to the Roman Empire.

There were three regular taxes the Roman government exacted: ground tax, income tax, and the poll tax.

The poll tax was paid by every male from the age of 14 to 65, and every woman from 12 to 65. This tax amounted to one denarius which was the equivalent of the usual day’s wage for the working man.

The tax in question in our lesson is the Poll Tax.

 

If Jesus answers that the taxes are lawful, he will look bad in the eyes of not only the Pharisees but also his disciples and many in the crowd who happen to be Jewish — not to mention the poor Jews who are especially burdened by this type of tax.

On the other hand, if Jesus speaks out against the tax, the Herodians would practically invent email just to get the word back to Herod and Tiberius ASAP that Jesus is preaching an anti-government message.

But just like the Road Runner is always one step ahead of Wile E Coyote, Jesus is a lot smarter than his enemies believe.

 

First he sees through their question by calling the ones asking the question “hypocrites.”

 

The Greek term for “hypocrite” was someone who played a role, someone who wore a mask.

People who were good at acting but not so much in truth.

 

Jesus proves his enemies, especially the Pharisees, are hypocrites by asking for a certain object.

A coin.

And then he asks whose image is on that coin.

The image was of Tiberius.

And on that coin there was the claim that Tiberius was divine.

So a good practicing God-loving Jew would not have such a possession in his hands, especially within the Temple grounds.

But these Pharisees do!

That is why Jesus calls them “actors.”

 

BUT WHAT IS REALLY COOL is that Jesus STILL answers their question!

 

Just not in the way his enemies were hoping.

 

You see, Jesus goes beyond the question of “payment.”

 

Jesus goes to ownership.

 

In the times of Jesus, coinage was the sign of kingship.

As soon as a king came to the throne, he struck his own coinage and that coinage was held to be the property of the king whose image it bore.

 

So the coin that Jesus holds has Tiberius’ head on it.

So Jesus says, “Well…this has Tiberius’ image on it. It’s his coin. So give to him what is his.”

 

And give what is God’s to God.

 

So while Tiberius can lay claim to a coin.

 

God has a bigger claim.

He claims us.

 

So the question for you today is:

Who do you give yourself to?

Who will you render yourself to?

 

Earlier in Matthew, chapter 6 verse 24, Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (6:24).

 

Jesus is saying our loyalties cannot be divided.

 

Each and every one of us has to make a choice as to who we are going to follow.

 

In the small catechism the very first commandment is You Shall Have No Other Gods.

 

And there are times in our lives when the answer is not so simple.

Someone or something can come into our lives and make claim of ownership.

The latest toys.

The newest cars.

The latest political candidate.

 

But what we cannot forget is that WE HAVE ALREADY BEEN CLAIMED.

 

We were claimed at the cross, where God’s only son paid the ultimate price.

We were claimed before we were born when God said “I knew you.”

We were claimed at our baptism, when we are sealed by the Cross, and the words of Promise are said BY God to us.

We are claimed at communion, where the body and blood are given to us as a sign of his gracious love.

As a sign of a victory that has been won.

As a sign of a life that is worth living.

 

While the coin bore the image of a human king,

We bear the image of God.

What we do with our lives with show whether we are REAL…or if we are just acting.

 

We have been claimed by God.

And God is not going to give us away.

Ever.

 

So are we ready to give ourselves to God?

 

 

Sermon for October 5th, 2014: “In Search Of A Happy Ending”

The Word:

Matthew 21:33-46

(Jesus said)33Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”
42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?
43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”
45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

Sermon for October 5, 2014: “In Search Of A Happy Ending”

Years ago, I had the opportunity to visit New York City.

And while I was there, I went to see a play called “Into The Woods.”

The play was broken into two acts.

And the first act was probably the hardest I had ever laughed in my life.

There were so many jokes, and the actors and actresses delievered so well.

By the time we got to intermission, I could not wait until the second act and laugh some more.

But then the second act came.

And the laughter stopped.

The scenes became darker.

The mood intensified.

And the endings of many of the characters were not happy.

In one night I went from an emotional high to an emotional low.

I left the theater that night complaining, “What kind of ending is that?!”

 

The reason I bring up this memory is because the mood in the Gospel of Matthew is changing.

The tension is rising.

The parables in the later parts of Matthew carry deeper meanings, they carry more bite, and they become darker and uncomfortable for us to hear and to understand.

 

And sometimes the parables do not have happy endings.

 

To be frank with you, they really don’t have much in the way of endings at all.

 

And today we get one of those kinds of parables.

This particular story is called The Parable of the Wicked Tenants, and it is one of the more violent stories you will find in the New Testament.

People are beaten and killed, including the son of the owner of the vineyard.

And at first glance, or first listen, you might notice that there doesn’t seem to be a happy ending or any Good News (“Gospel”).

And you would be right.

 

So what are we to do with a parable like this?

How can we take this parable and fit our lives into it?

What is there to learn from it?

 

Last week also featured a parable about a vineyard.

That story centered on the owner of the vineyard who asked his two sons to go and work in it.

One son said. “No,” but eventually did go to work.

The other said, “Yes,” but ended up not doing any work at all.

 

This week, in another story featuring a vineyard, the action now shifts to the people who are actually working in the vineyard.

And the theme goes from whether or not one starts the work to the motives and actions of the workers.

 

So how do we start to understand this story?

What is the point Jesus is trying to teach us?

First, let us keep in mind that the owner of the vineyard is God.

God is the owner, operator, and creator of the vineyard.

And God has leased the vineyard to the workers.

 

lease is a contractual arrangement calling for the user (in this case the workers) to pay the owner for use of an asset (in this case the vineyard).

I remember my dad would always lease the cars he drove when he was a pastor in Winston-Salem.

So every few years he would get a new car.

But he never owned them.

The car company still owned them.

He was paying for the privilege of driving.

And it works the same way in our lesson.

 

Back in the time of Jesus, the leasing of land to tenant farmers was a common experience.

Landowners could expect tenants to turn over a portion of the crop.

Those who failed to meet the landowner’s demands were removed from the land and…if necessary… landowners would sometimes remove those workers forcefully.

And the owner in the story gives the workers three chances to make their payment.

But the problem occurs when the workers think they are the owners.

And they will stop at nothing to keep “their” vineyard.

Pretty soon it’s not about the work in the vineyard at all.

It’s about ownership.

What makes this parable so powerful is how it affects those who are present in the Gospel to hear it:

the Chief priests and the Pharisees.

This parable really hits home for them.

In a way, this story reminds me of King David and the prophet Nathan.

To confront David with his adultery and other sins,

Nathan weaves a tale that gets David so emotionally involved and gets David so mad at the bad guy in the story he is ready to punish him.

And Nathan says, “YOU, David, are that bad guy!”

 

Jesus does the same trick.

He gets the listeners, including the priests and Pharisees, to answer the question of what will happen to the workers.

And then Jesus says, “YOU are the workers!”

 

And as Jesus makes this connection, the mood in Matthew’s Gospel changes.

Up until Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, there were a lot of stories, miracles, that had happy endings.

Jesus would teach and heal and make so many people feel like they were integral to the mission of God.

 

But now we get to the second act.

 

The issue between Jesus and the leaders is coming to a boil.

And with this issue, there is a lot more tension

Jesus confronts the establishment head on.

Jesus is telling the leaders of the church they have been doing things wrong.

And those actions have consequences.

 

“Well that’s all fine and dandy, Pastor Jonathan, but what does this have to do with us?”

I haven’t forgotten about that.

Last week I asked you which son or daughter you were going to be?

Are you the one who first says no and then goes to work?

Or are you the one who says yes, but then does nothing?

 

Here is the question this week:

 

What if there are times in our lives when WE are the ungrateful workers?

What if WE are the ones who have taken what God has given us and fooled ourselves into think it is OURS?

 

There have been times when we have let OUR wishes and OUR expectations and OUR definitions of who God is and who God wants in His kingdom to cloud our judgment.

Far too often we see ourselves as the owners of the vineyard.

We spend far too much time seeking power and influence in a congregation.

We spend far too much energy making excuses for not being involved in the church.

We spend far too much time building walls within the church rather than tearing them down.

 

We spend far too much time …wasting God’s time.

 

Now, because I am Lutheran, and I believe in Law and Gospel, I will not end the sermon there.

 

Because when we or the Pharisees or the priests are confronted with our sins and our misguided actions,

We need to remember one thing:

The good news is the One who is telling the story.

 

The “Gospel” is that the One who shares this parable and points out our mistakes is the same one makes things right.

 

Jesus Christ IS the Good News.

 

Jesus not only tells parables that cause us to pause,

He also gives us signs of love and grace to show us that even though we are in bondage to sin, that we cannot free ourselves, that Jesus still loves us.

Those signs today are the font and the altar.

The water and the food.

These are signs of his gracious love.

 

Jesus gives the Law in order for us to change and to make a positive change in this world.

 

Sometimes we need to hear our wrongs.

Sometimes we need to hear our sins.

To hear the impact they have.

And that they have consequences.

 

But there is also Christ.

Someone who forgives us.

Someone who has given us new life.

 

Someone who has not thrown us out of the vineyard.

 

Someone who has invited us to care.

To love.

And to work.

 

Someone who is pointing us to a happy ending.

Sermon for September 28, 2014: “Trust”

The Word:

Matthew 21:23-32

When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

 

Sermon for September 28, 2014: “Trust”

When I studied the Gospel for this week, I took a long look at the story, the parable that Jesus shares with his disciples, the chief priests, and the elders of the temple.

As I was reading the responses of the two sons, I felt the Holy Spirit awakening in me a memory of time in my life when I did not trust many people.

That time in my life began in college, when I was introduced to my least-favorite activity.

The group project!

Ugh!

I hated having to depend on others in order to get a good grade.

And in my major, Communication, these projects happened quite a bit.

Here are two examples:

One was my final in-studio television project where one of my camera men, Andy, for some reason, decided that it was on this day, the day of MY project, that he fell in love with the zoom lens on the camera!

I cannot tell you the number of times I had to yell, “Andy! Zoom out! Zoom out! For the love of God almighty, zoom out!”

The other project involved one of my closest and dearest friends.

We were working on a combined audio and video project.

We were getting near the end, but it was slow going.

And for some reason she freaked out.

She was certain that we were never going to finish the project in time and that we would fail miserably.

And this was coming from someone who was a CHEERLEADER in high school!

So now not only did I have a project to finish but I also had to convince my friend that we were not going to fail.

 

When you have friends go crazy on you, or friends who confess they love the zoom lens, you tend to hold on to those feelings of mistrust.

 

You tend to not take people at their word.

 

Things started to change when I was able to get back to church on a regular basis.

It was there that I began to reflect on God.

And I realized that I not only had trouble trusting people, but I had trouble trusting God.

 

I felt like God let me down.

 

And not because of the two incidents I mentioned, but because of the times in my life where I was let down by people who I trusted. People who hurt me.

 

But then the Holy Spirit went to work on me.

As my faith life began to improve, and my involvement with the church became a priority in my life, I began to look back with more clarity about the rough times.

I thought about my mom and dad, my friends, my time in school, especially my college buddies who to this day are still my friends,

And I realized…all of them were (and still are) gifts FROM God.

They were (and still are) all signs pointing to God’s reliability.

They were signs pointing to the promises that God made to me at the time of my baptism:

“Jonathan, you are my child. You are my responsibility. I am going to be with you always.”

And God was not just watching me.

He was loving me.

And he was guiding me through some very rough waters.

 

So as my relationship with God deepened, I realized I really could trust God with my whole heart.

 

In our time, we spend a lot of time in church talking about how we can trust God.

 

BUT

BUT

BUT how often do we consider to the idea of whether God can trust us?

 

Think about it.

 

If you look back to the Bible, think at how many times God entrusted his message to us.

His people.

From Adam and Eve, to Abraham, to Moses, to the Judges and Prophets, to Kings, to Warriors.

And most times those moments ended badly.

Things did not go smoothly.

 

Over time, the one lesson we could teach God is that He could not depend on us.

 

You would think that God would simply give up on us.

 

But he doesn’t.

And he won’t.

 

Please take a moment and look at the cross.

Look at the cross, and remember who was put on it.

Jesus.

Son of God.

God’s only son.

Why did God send Jesus?

God sent Jesus because of He loved us.

And Jesus did what we could not do.

And so look at the Cross.

Then look at The Font and The Altar- all these are signs that point to a God who does not let us down.

 

And they point to a God who gives us a new assignment.

That new assignment can be heard from today’s parable:

“Go and work in the vineyard today.”

Even after all our failures, God STILL entrusts us to this important task.

What is the vineyard?

The vineyard is the world.

The vineyard is the neighbor, the stranger, the poor, the sick, the enemy, and the earth.

God is calling us to work.

 

And that brings me back to the parable and to a question I want to ask you.

 

Which son or daughter will you be?

Will you be the one who says “no” and then does a “yes”?

Or will you be the one says “yes” and then does nothing?

 

To me, this goes back to the issue of trust.

God trusts us with HIS mission.

God believes in us and that WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

God believes in us and that WE CAN MAKE THE KINGDOM A REALITY!

 

Think about that.

God trusts us!

Even after all that we have done to break that trust.

 

God still sees us for who we ARE and CAN BE, not who we WERE.

 

So, folks. The vineyard is waiting.

God is waiting.

 

So what are we going to do with His trust?

Will we do nothing?

Or will we do something?

 

Let’s go and do some good.

Let’s go and spread the good news.

Let’s go and put God’s trust in us to good use.

Sermon for September 21, 2014: “The Unfair God”

The Word:

Jonah 3:10-4:11

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

The Lord God appointed a bush,* and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered.When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’

But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’

Matthew 20:1-16

(Jesus said) ‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage,* he sent them into his vineyard.When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.* Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.* And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?* Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”* So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’

Sermon for September 21, 2014: “The Unfair God”

Sermon for September 21, 2014: “The Unfair God”

Sooner or later, all of us will have to come to the realization that God is unfair.

And that we need to get over it.

Why do I say that?

Well, number one, because it’s true.

And number two: when I look at our scripture today, that is the theme running throughout.

Especially in our Gospel and First Lesson.

And I will mention the Gospel shortly, but this morning I want to talk a lot about Jonah.

I love Jonah: the book AND the prophet.

I love the prophet because of his personality.

Jonah is not a happy go-lucky guy.

In fact, throughout the whole book, Jonah is a jerk, a curmudgeon.

And yet God chooses HIM for a very important task.

God tells Jonah go to Nineveh and “cry out” (1:1) against the city.

To “cry out” was to give heed, warning, and give prophecy.

Jonah’s response to God’s command is something unprecedented for a prophet.

He runs FROM God.

He tries to escape from God’s call.

He boards a ship heading to Spain, which is in the opposite direction of Nineveh.

Why does Jonah go through all this trouble?

Because Jonah hates Nineveh.

Nineveh was the capital of Assyria in the last few decades of the Assyrian empire.

Nineveh was regarded as the seat of the greatest enemy of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

And because Nineveh was the enemy, Jonah will not go and preach to the people he hates.

At this point in the story, God interrupts Jonah’s travel plans.

It’s like God says, “Ah! Look at the little fella trying to run away from me. It’s kind of cute, actually. Let’s see how he reacts to this.”

He brings a storm onto the boat, the sailors are going out of their minds, and Jonah jumps out of the boat to save the boat.

And God thanks him in kind by way of a giant fish that swallows Jonah.

 

And when you are in the belly of a fish, you have time to re-think your life.

 

And Jonah re-thinks God’s command.

And he tells God he will go to Nineveh.

 

But Jonah still thinks he is going to outsmart God.

I don’t know how many of you have ever watched Law & Order or pick your favorite crime show,

But you normally get the cops or lawyers confronting a witness who did not give the whole truth.

And the reasoning is “You did not ask me SPECIFICALLY about that detail.”

 

Jonah does the same thing.

When he arrives in Nineveh, Jonah gives the least amount of effort to “preach” to Nineveh.

In English, it’s just 8 words!

In Hebrew, it’s a 5 word sermon!

 

Jonah was Twitter before there was a twitter!

“Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

That’s it.

There is not even a call for repentance in that sermon!

But Jonah’s worst fears are realized, Nineveh repents.

And God changes his mind about destroying the city.

 

This is why I love this story.

 

While prophets like Moses and Jeremiah become angry because their listeners ignore their words, Jonah becomes enraged when the people of Nineveh HEED his!

 

This goes back to the very reason Jonah ran away from God’s call.

Jonah KNEW this would happen!

Jonah knew that God would save the city.

Because Jonah knew that God was…above everything else…a God who was slow to anger and abounding in steadfast.

A God who would even show Grace towards Nineveh.

And even with this faith in God’s good works, Jonah is still angry at God for showing grace to that horrible city Nineveh.

And we get a great ending to the story:

Jonah: “Why do you care?”

God: “Why should I NOT care?”

What a great response by God.

Why should God NOT care about the people in Nineveh?

And that is how the book ends.

The book ends with a question… a cliffhanger.

We never get Jonah’s response.

The matter is left completely open-ended…

which may be the purpose.

 

Because this story gives us pause and it makes us realize God’s love for all people.

 

Earlier in the book God even speaks of the people of Nineveh as His children, just as God speaks of the Israelites in other passages of the scriptures.

 

And for Jonah…and us…that is unfair.

 

But we have to come and realize who we are dealing with.

 

Let me give you a hint.

The first article in the Creed.

We believe in God, Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Let me say that one part again “Creator of heaven and earth.”

We get an example of the Creating God in Jonah.

The wind, the worm, and the weed are part of God’s way to get Jonah’s attention.

To remind him that GOD alone decides to whom He will give mercy.

And for us that is SO hard to take.

And I would say that for us,

For those who have been hurt.

For those of us who have been wounded and scarred,

To think that God could show the same grace to our transgressors is almost unbearable.

 

To the point that we, like Jonah, would rather die than forgive, cling to hate rather than embrace love and mercy.

 

But this goes back to my original point.

 

God’s grace is unfair.

And that is NOT open to debate.

 

Look at our Gospel lesson where an uproar occurs because the landowner gives the same wage to the people who have worked only an hour as the ones who have worked nearly 12 hours.

Those who worked hard all day think it is unjust that those who have hardly worked receive the same pay.

But if we really believe what we profess through the Creed, than we have to believe that God is free to do what He wishes with what is His own.

 

And today when it comes to Jonah, the Gospel, I want you to remember the commandment.

The first one.

You shall have no other Gods before me.

And I believe that ties into the scriptures.

God does not ask us if He can save us.

He also does not ask us if He can save the people we hate.

God just does it.

And the moment we think we can complain, or tell God how things are, we are suddenly taking our word, our power, over His.

And that is wrong.

 

Let me throw this out to you:

The same complaint we may have about God giving grace to someone we don’t like, that same complaint someone might be saying about YOU!

 

Think of the things…the sins… we have done that would be deemed unforgivable in the eyes of another.

And I am sure all of us have done something (known and unknown) that has caused hurt and pain and scarring.

 

I had the privilege of listening to Elizabeth Eaton, the presiding bishop of the ELCA, preach this week at the NC Synod Convocation.
And she asked a very important question: “What makes us so certain that we are the laborers who have worked all day? What if we are the ones who have just arrived?”

 

If you think about it, maybe God’s grace isn’t that unfair after all.

 

Our attention should not be on who gets paid what, because we ALL get the same reward!

Our attention should be to get the Word out!

Our focus should be getting more and more workers to help us with the Vineyard.

We should praise God for all He has done and DOES:

For us.

For others.

 

And we should give thanks to a God who is merciful, gracious,

And…at times…unfair.

Sermon for September 14, 2014: “It Ain’t Easy”

The Word:

Matthew 18:21-35

Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him;and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made.So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

Sermon for September 14, 2014: “It Ain’t Easy”

For the past two weeks, our Gospel lessons have focused on the act of forgiveness.

Last week I spoke about WHY we forgive.

This week I want to focus on the actual act of forgiveness itself.

And the IMPACT it has in our lives.

I want to tell you two stories.

 

When I was young, I loved comic books.

I still do, but back then comic books were my life.

But with that kind of passion, there came a dark side.

I was 9 years old when this happened.

I had a buddy who lived up the street from me.

And we spent just about every day with one another.

Playing sports, games, what have you.

 

And then…

 

Then came the comic book sale a neighbor put together.

He was selling/getting rid of his comic collection.

And for someone my age, that was the mother lode!

Spider-Man comics, Avenger Comics, Marvel Team-Up comics.

They were all there.

And I wanted them all!

But my friend got to them first.

And he chose many of the books I wanted.

Fair and square.

 

But I wanted them.

I needed them.

And I felt like I deserved them.

 

So over a period of two visits to his house, I took them.

I wasn’t really smooth about it.

This was not an Ocean’s 11 situation.

Things did not go as smoothly as they do in the movies.

And I knew that my friend had to have known I had taken them.

Comic books just don’t walk away by themselves.

 

But that kind of act does something to a relationship.

We weren’t that close afterwards.

Over the years, I felt bad.

I felt guilty.

I felt so low.

 

To this day, I still feel horrible about that time in my life.

 

How could I have been so stupid?

How could I have been so blind?

How could I have wasted a friendship over a comic book?!

 

The reality was:

I WAS stupid.

I WAS blind.

I DID waste a friendship.

 

Looking back, I should have confessed.

I should have told my friend what I did.

And return the books.

But that never happened.

I kept them.

And I kept the guilt.

 

Then just a few years ago, I was visiting my mom,

And as I was driving up the road, I saw my friend.

He was visiting his family.

Our eyes met.

And I was so expecting him to look at me, get angry, maybe start chasing me.

But instead…

He smiled.

He waved.

So I waved.

I stopped the car.

I got out of the car,

 

And we hugged.

 

And not a small, quick hug,

But a GOOD LONG, “My goodness it’s good to see you after all these years” hug.

 

We talked about life.

His family.

His awesome kids.

I talked about Kristen and my ministry.

 

And as we talked I felt we were not only talking about the present but also the past.

I could feel my friend through his actions and words was saying, “I forgive you. Friend.”

And a gigantic burden was lifted from my shoulders.

 

My friend had every right to hold on to what happened.

And he chose not to.

Besides we were 10 and 9 years old at the time.

We had a LOT of living still to do.

 

My friend’s act of forgiveness made an impact in my life.

I felt new.

I felt relieved.

 

Why did I share my story with you today?

To me, the act of forgiveness is relational.

It’s building a life with another person.

A life built on trust, honesty, and peace.

And second chances.

 

And in our Gospel lesson, Jesus answers a very important question raised by Peter.

“How many times do I forgive someone?”

Peter suggested 7 times.

Many commentaries will point out that in First Century Judaism there was a LIMIT to the number of times you forgave someone.

The practice was to forgive someone once, twice, three times.

That’s it.

So Peter is being generous.

BUT Jesus blows that out of the water!

Jesus says to forgive not seven times, but 77 times!

Now before you start a list of the number of times you get to forgive someone before you reach that 77th time, please hear this:

For Jesus, “77” does not represent a number.

It represents the unlimited and almost absurd quantity of forgiveness.

But unlimited forgiveness is not just something we receive.

 

It is something we give.

 

Several years ago, I had a few members of another congregation get mad at me because I had forgotten to mention an event they were involved in during the announcements.

They took it REALLY personally.

And these were the kind of people who remembered EVERY LITTLE THING done to them.

Ironically, they never seem to remember the wrongs they had done to others.

Anyway…

After the church service, these members let me have it in front of other members.

It was real embarrassing and infuriating moment for me.

I had forgotten an ANNOUNCEMENT and you would have thought I had insulted them with the worst names possible.

Well I knew that there had to be a way to resolve this issue.

So within the week I called them and set up a meeting at their place.

And we had a very powerful and deep conversation.

I would say it was one of those “Come to Jesus moments.”

And somehow, thanks be to God, they realized that my mistake was just that.

A mistake.

Not intentional.

 

A few days after this “Jesus moment” the wife of this duo came by my office and she came as close to saying “I am sorry” as I had ever known her to do.

Then she asked me to forgive her.

The moment of truth.

 

And I said, “I forgave you when you said it.”

 

And she was shocked.

“You did?”

“Yes, I did.”

 

In that moment I showed her (at least I hope) what forgiveness looks like.

She was expecting me to have a grudge.

She was expecting me to make her feel like dirt.

She was expecting me to hold their actions over their heads for the rest of time.

 

But that is not how forgiveness works.

 

Forgiveness is an active process.

Forgiveness is an of progress.

 

And do not fool yourselves thinking that forgiveness is easy.

 

Is it easy for the one spouse to forgive the other when adultery has occurred?

Is it easy for the two to work on reconciliation?

To work on rebuilding trust?

 

Is it easy for an Amish Community called Nickel Mines to forgive the man who came in one morning and shot 10 young girls, killing five before turning the gun on himself?

Is it easy for a young man life Joseph who was abandoned and sold into slavery by his own brothers to forgive them?

Is it easy for a group of followers like the disciples to find forgiveness to a man like Paul who once persecuted them?

 

Do you think that is easy?

Do you think unlimited forgiveness is absurd?

 

Be honest.

That’s fine.

 

But then let me ask you how many times have you asked or sought forgiveness from God?

When has there NOT been a day that you haven’t asked for forgiveness?

That’s a LOT of days!

Suddenly, unlimited forgiveness doesn’t sound so bad does it?

 

When we hear the story of God, the story of Jesus, and we look to the cross, we do not see a number on the cross.

And there are no business hours when it comes to Holy Communion.

 

There is no limit to the Grace we have been freely given.

 

Forgiveness is not easy.

And it takes practice.

A LOT of practice.

 

How many times do you forgive?

 

As many times as it takes until you mean it.

 

 

Until YOU are transformed.

 

Until you live it.

 

And then you do it again.

 

Sermon for September 7, 2014: “Forgiveness Sunday”

Opening Prayer

O Lord God, enliven and preserve your church with your perpetual mercy. Without your help, we mortals will fail; remove far from us everything that is harmful, and lead us toward all that gives life and salvation, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

 

The Word

Matthew 18:15-20

15 (Jesus said) ‘If another member of the church* sins against you,* go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.* 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’”

Sermon for September 7, 2014 “Forgiveness Sunday”

 

Today we celebrated Rally Day.

Rally Day is the kick-off to a new year of Sunday school activities.

But if we look at the Gospel we could call this day by another name:

“Forgiveness Sunday”

I mean…I am sure all of us…from the little ones to the seasoned ones…have had to forgive someone.

At least once in our lives, right?

But this morning, I want to talk about WHY we forgive.

And WHY we MUST forgive.

Our Gospel lesson opens up with Jesus in the middle of a sermon.

Being that he is a rabbi, a “teacher,” I think it is more appropriate to call it a lecture.

It is a lecture that has its origins in the beginning of Matthew 18.

 

And I believe what Jesus has said prior to our Gospel is vital to our understanding of our reading.

 

Matthew 18 begins with the disciples asking Jesus a rather peculiar question: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

By that they are asking which among THEM is the greatest.

I have a feeling that Peter, James, and John were in the middle of that debate.

After all, Peter’s confession is “the rock” that the church will be built on.

And Peter, James, and John all were witnesses to Jesus’ transfiguration back in Chapter 17.

So those three would be looking around at the other disciples and comparing notes.

And they want to know where they rank with Jesus.

So Jesus answers with a lecture focuses NOT on greatness and superiority but on humility and forgiveness.

 

Jesus says one must be HUMBLE…like a child… in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

By that he is teaching humility and selflessness.

 

Those are the characteristics of someone who is “Great” in the kingdom.

 

And Jesus teaches how we treat one another is a part of the kingdom talk.

So then Jesus says a disciples is one who:

  • Welcomes one such child (or a humble)
  • Does not become a stumbling block to a child (think back to Jesus’ rebuke of Peter)
  • Does not despise one of the little ones.

 

By doing those three things the little ones know you mean what you believe.

 

But what Jesus wants and expects from us is not how to deal just with the OUTSIDE world.

It’s also what he expects from us when dealing with one another IN the church.

This is what I refer to as why we MUST forgive.

Why we MUST practice forgiveness not just outside of these walls, but from within.

 

And by that I mean, THIS congregation.

 

In the 4 Gospels, the term “church” is used only in Matthew (16:18 & 18:17).

In the latter verse, the reference is to the local congregation, not to the church-at-large.

So let us see how Jesus teaches US to deal with sin and forgiveness…

IF A MEMBER SINS…

Go

Point out the fault

If that should fail…

Go again

Point out the fault

If that should fail…

Go again

Point out the fault

 

Do you see a pattern?

I hope you do, because this is about reconciliation.

 

Not once does Jesus say that if a member sins close the door as he or she leaves.

But that about the line about treating the person who sinned as a gentile or tax collector?

Well let me answer that question with my own questions…

In the Gospels, where do we find the gentile?

Where do we find the tax collector?

Better yet, where do we find Jesus?

We find Jesus WITH the Gentiles.

We find Jesus WITH the tax collectors.

We even see Jesus invite a tax collector to be one of his disciples!

 

The art of forgiveness,

The art of reconciliation,

Is that there is no end point.

 

And the point of forgiveness is not to focus on the sin, but the grace that comes, that is offered.

The concern is never to point a condemning finger at others, but to point others to Jesus as forgiving Savior and Servant Lord.

 

The “church” is not just a place, but it is a community filled with caring SERVANTS.

 

And as servants we do not point out the sins of the sinner,

We point to the one who forgives, who renews, and the one who does not stop loving us.

As God says in our first lesson, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and LIVE!”

 

Today I ask all of you not to take for granted the power of forgiveness.

 

WHY do we forgive?

So that we can live.

 

Why forgive at all?

Quite simply, because Jesus told us to.

He commanded to forgive.

As Paul writes in our second lesson, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

 

So today we do celebrate Rally Day.

But we also give attention to the Gospel, to Forgiveness Sunday.

 

Where there is FORGIVENESS,

where there is HONESTY,

there is PEACE,

and there is God.

 

 

Closing Prayer:

Pour out upon us the spirit of your love, O Lord, and unite the wills of those whom you have fed with one heavenly food; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sermon for August 31, 2014: “The Big Reveal”

Opening Prayer

O God, we thank you for your Son, who chose the path of suffering for the sake of the world. Humble us by his example, point us to the path of obedience, and give us strength to follow your commands, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

 

The Word

Matthew 16: (15-20) 21-28

(15He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 16Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ 17And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.)

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

 

The Sermon – “The Big Reveal”

 

Growing up I was a big fan of Scooby-Doo.

Loved that show, loved the dog, and I loved that each episode had a pretty good mystery.

My favorite part was the ending which I call “The Big Reveal,” where we discover the identity of the ghost or bad guy.

And the bad guy would always say, “And I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids.”

Today in our Gospel lesson we get a big reveal.

Our lesson is actually a continuation of last week’s Gospel where Jesus and his disciples have arrived at Caesarea Philippi.

CP was the location of many religions.

People could worship deities such as Baal, the Syrian god, Pan, the Greek god of nature, and Caesar the Emperor (who deemed himself a living god).

And it is in this backdrop that Jesus asks the disciples who they think Jesus really is.

In my last sermon I compared Jesus’ question to a Mid-Term exam, where the disciples, the “students,” now have to review all they have seen and heard in order to answer Jesus.

And we get the answer from Simon Peter: “Jesus, you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Peter, the ever trying student, gets a gold star for that answer!

Now you might think that this is the Big Reveal that I teased at the beginning.

 

But it’s not.

 

The Big Reveal comes after Jesus shows Peter and the disciples just what the Messiah has come to do.

Today is the first of three passion predictions we get in Matthew’s Gospel.

That means Jesus starts to explain that the Messiah would not be celebrated and cheered, but rather be rejected and executed.

This is NOT what Peter and the disciples wanted to hear.

The Messiah is supposed to be kingly and usher in a new Jewish age free from Gentile occupation and once again the superpower of the Ancient World.

And with everything Jesus has done up to this point, all that has to lead to SOMETHING good right?!

But in the eyes and mind of Peter, nothing good can come out of what Jesus just said.

Peter, who was the star pupil last week, now starts to lose that hard-earned gold star.

He is so shocked that he does two things a STUDENT would never do to a TEACHER.

First, Peter actually pulls Jesus aside.

This is an act you would do when someone embarrasses themselves and YOU.

So Peter is dragging Jesus because “Jesus, you are embarrassing me!”

And the other no-no Peter does is he rebukes Jesus.

To rebuke someone was to “reprimand that person severely” and “to take him or her to task.”

Again this is the STUDENT doing this!

Peter believes, even after he has confessed WHO Jesus is, that he can tell Jesus what to do.

Now…here is what I believe is going on.

While Peter is saying these words of rebuke, there is another force at play.

 

There is another who is speaking through Peter.

 

Someone who thinks he has power and influence over Jesus.

Someone who has tried and failed before to turn Jesus away from Jesus’ appointed task.

But rather than giving up, this someone has stayed around, just off stage, keeping an eye on what this Jesus says and does.

Ready for a moment to strike again.

But it’s someone that Jesus always knew was there.

And that someone is revealed in verse 23.

“Get behind me, SATAN!”

I believe Jesus is not only rebuking Peter, he is rebuking Satan as well.

Now what Jesus is doing is putting into action what he said just a few short verses prior to this Passion Prediction:

“18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

Satan even tries to use Peter, the star pupil, to be a stumbling block to Jesus’ mission.

And in the past this is a strategy that has worked for Satan.

It worked on Adam and Eve, Saul, David, and…well…everyone!

But Jesus knows what Satan is trying to do.

So Jesus takes this moment to show Peter, the disciples, and US today, that Satan is not messing with another Adam or David.

The Devil is now dealing with the SON OF GOD!

 

And that is a battle that the Devil cannot win.

 

But that doesn’t mean the Devil has stopped trying.

To this day, the Devil continues to speak through people.

The Devil continues to put up stumbling blocks that hinder the faith journey of millions of Christians.

Martin Luther wrote that “(The Devil is) here, among us, he is struggling and striving to turn us out of the heaven in which we are through Christ.”

The Devil still at work in our lives, in our world:

And just like he tried to work his power through Jesus’ inner circle, he does the same today in our churches:

Here are some examples:

Think about-

How some churches close their doors and arms to people who are of different races, sexuality, politics, and social class.

How some churches fight over worship times and styles.

How some Christians will threaten to withhold money from a church or ministry if they don’t get their way.

How Christians complain about the lack of God in schools and yet do not spend the time to pray, read the Bible, and talk about God in their own homes!

This is how the Devil works.

And he is really good at what he does.

 

But our God is better!

 

The Devil cannot get Jesus to turn away from saving us.

The Devil cannot get Jesus to stop loving us.

 

Need an example?

Look at how Jesus rebukes Peter, but he does not send Peter away.

Jesus still looks to Peter to be one of the cornerstones of the Faith.

 

And for us,

Despite all the times the Devil can get a hold on us,

God’s hold on us is stronger.

God’s love for us is stronger.

It is so strong that each and every week, we are given the gift of the words “I forgive you” in our Confession.

We get the gift of the Meal where grace is given to us.

Let me quote Martin Luther again: “To be sure, the devil considers us weak, impotent, and faint; but when the battle begins, God says, I AM HERE.”

And the Devil cannot win.

THAT is the Big Reveal!

The Big Reveal is Satan the so-called “powerful tempter,” is very power-less when it comes to Jesus.

For us that means:

We do not face the Devil alone.

We are never alone.

We have a God who fights for us.

A God who loves us.

 

And that is no mystery.

 

Closing Prayer:

We thank you, Lord of heaven and earth,

That you have fed us in a way our hearts can understand, with the saving body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Enliven us by your presence in this meal, that we may be your presence in the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Sermon for August 17, 2014: “Lip Service”

The Weekly Word for August 17-23

Opening Prayer

God of all people, your arms reach out to embrace all those who call upon you.

Teach s as disciples of your Son to love the world with compassion and constancy, that your name may be known throughout the earth, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

The Word

Matthew 15: (1-9) 10-28

Part 1: The Tradition of the Elders

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said,[a] ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’[b] then that person need not honor the father.[c] So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word[d] of God. You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said:

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’”

Part 2: Things That Defile

10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.[e] And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16 Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

 

Part 3: The Canaanite Woman’s Faith

21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

The Sermon – “Lip Service”

This morning I want to talk about faith.

And the role it plays in our lives.

Not just our Sunday morning lives, but every single day.

And the reason I want to talk about faith is this incredible story we get in today’s Gospel.

This week we get another story that goes deeper than what it appears on the surface.

Last week I talked about how the Gospel wasn’t Jesus walking on the water, but the Gospel was that Jesus does not wait for us to come to him.

That he meets us where we are, whether it’s on the land or in the middle of our toughest storms.

And this week, the Gospel is more than the healing of some woman’s daughter.

The Gospel is the amazing and inspiring faith that this woman shows, and how Jesus acknowledges that faith.

At first it appears like Jesus does not want to have anything to do with this woman.

To me, if you take the verses at face value, Jesus comes off as a big…jerk.

There. I said.

And I can’t help but feel that way when I see how Jesus responds to the pleas of the Canaanite woman.

And I would bet that Jesus’ actions do not sit well with you either.

Because those actions sound so…unlike…the Jesus was have come to know and to worship.

We have seen Jesus preach, teach, welcome the outsider, heal the sick, feed the thousands, and even walk on water.

But today, we see Jesus treat this woman like… a nobody.

I hope you are asking, “Why?”

“Why does Jesus act this way toward this woman?”

Today I will tell you why.

He is making a point.

The point Jesus is making has its origins at the beginning of chapter 15 when Jesus has a pretty intense confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees.

Scribes and Pharisees are the lawkeepers and lawmakers of the day.

They studied the Torah.

They interpreted the Torah.

And these groups confront Jesus over his disciples who do not wash their hands before they eat.

Now in our time, washing hands is a case of cleanliness and health.

But back then, washing one’s hands was tied into one’s faith in God.

If you did not was your hands, you could be deemed “dirty” or “unclean” which would bring serious consequences in the eyes of the faith community and society.

Once you were marked “unclean” you were almost never going to get that title removed.

And that is what the Pharisees and Scribes are doing.

They want to label Jesus’ disciples as “dirty” because they are breaking the tradition of the elders.

But Jesus defends his disciples and turns the tables and says, “Let’s not talk about traditions. Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”

Jesus is charging the lawmakers and law keepers with breaking the law, specifically the Fourth Commandment which dealt with honoring one’s father and mother.

While the Pharisees were hung up on tradition, and concentrating on telling others how to live, they were not taking care of their own parents!

Tradition trumped commandment. That’s not good!

Jesus claims the lawmakers voided the word of God for the sake of tradition.

So what Jesus does is a very SERIOUS judgment!

I don’t even say accusation because it is God himself making the claim.

God does not accuse. He testifies.

And to top off this judgment, Jesus insults the Lawmakers.

He calls them “hypocrites.”

Which comes from the Greek word meaning “Actors in a play”

And later on he calls them “blind.”

“The blind leading the blind.”

 

These so-called Lawmakers were only TALKING a good game.

This is why Jesus focuses on what comes OUT of the mouths of people.

It’s not what goes in.

It’s what comes out.

For what comes out comes from the heart.

Jesus quotes from the prophet Isaiah and says:

“(They) honor with lips not hearts

(They) Worship in vain.

Teaching human precepts as doctrines.”

 

What Jesus is saying is that these so-called leaders of the church were not providing FAITH.

They were only providing Lip Service.

 

And those lips were causing pain, not providing healing.

And so here comes this woman.

This Gentile.

This Foreigner.

Because she was a woman and a foreigner, the so-called leaders of the church would have already deemed her “dirty.”

She would already be considered “unclean” and “unworthy” of the attention of someone like Jesus.

I believe the way Jesus first reacts to the woman is what would happen if Jesus were to follow the so-called Traditions of the Elders.

He wants to show people (and us) what it would be like to give “lip service.”

First he ignores her.

They he tries to shut her out of his “mission field.”

And then he insults her.

Remember: It’s what comes out of the mouth that is unclean.

And so Jesus calls this woman a “dog.”

And he is not referring to the cute fluffy woof woofs of our time.

A “dog” was a derogatory remark.

I would say it had the same effect as a racial slur.

It was an insult, and it was a way to put this woman in her so-called place.

 

But here is where FAITH and not lip service comes into play.

Here is where this woman becomes an example for us all!

First her faith is persistent.

In the face of tradition and controversy, she is determined to get God’s attention.

Second, her faith is respectable.

She addresses Jesus as “Lord” each time she speaks to him.

This is a title that even the disciples don’t use for Jesus!

So at this point of the Gospel this woman, this foreigner, demonstrates a better grasp of Jesus’ identity than his own disciples!

This woman also shows respect by kneeling before Jesus.

Matthew’s Gospel uses this action as one befitting a king.

A couple of examples:

The magi, who are also foreigners, are the first to worship to Jesus in this way (Matthew 2:2, 8, 11).

The mother of James and John kneel before Jesus as a king of a kingdom (Matthew 20:20).

Kneeling is not only a sign of kingship, but also recognition of power.

There is a connection between those who kneel before Jesus and the healings that Jesus performs.

For instance:

A leper kneels before Jesus and asks to be made clean (Matt 8:2).

A ruler kneels and asks for his daughter’s healing (9:18). This woman kneels before one whom she recognizes as having authority not only to sit on the throne of David, but to wield power over evil.

Then we get ultimate sign and the ultimate lesson of Faith:

Even after she is insulted by Jesus, this woman says,

“I’ll take your crumbs.”

“Your crumbs are enough.”

Jesus’ crumbs are enough to satisfy her hunger and heal her daughter.

 

And just as soon as Jesus insults her, he gives her the THREE BIGGEST PRAISES he can heap on one person.

He calls her “Woman” a title of respect.

He acknowledges her FAITH (even though she is not a Jew)

And He answers her prayers.

For this woman, for the crowd, for the so-called experts the Pharisees, Jesus points out what REAL FAITH looks like.

REAL FAITH is a FAITH that is put into action.

REAL FAITH is a FAITH that does not fold at the first sign of trouble.

REAL FAITH is a FAITH that knows one’s true hope rests in the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

REAL FAITH is a FAITH that knows that Jesus’ mission goes beyond all expectations, and all borders.

 

And it is a FAITH that knows God does not offer crumbs.

He offers a seat at the table.

The table that awaits us now and tomorrow.

A table where we receive not the crumbs of Jesus, but his body and blood.

Jesus does not offer us crumbs, he gives us a gift.

A gift that is also an invitation.

An invitation that is even offered to those who others have deemed unworthy.

 

So today, I invite you…I challenge you…to put your faith into action.

I challenge you to look at the faith of this woman.

Let her be your example.

 

Do not just talk about faith.

BE the faith.

LIVE the faith.

SHARE the faith.

 

Do not pay lip service.

 

Just serve.

 

Closing Prayer:

We thank you, Lord of heaven and earth,

That you have fed us in a way our hearts can understand, with the saving body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Enliven us by your presence in this meal, that we may be your presence in the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.