Sermon for Christ The King Sunday 2013: “Dr. Doom’s Day”

Reading: Luke 23:33-43

Today we come to the end of another Church Year.

We mark the occasion with Christ The King Sunday.

When it comes to other high church days, Christ the King is not very old.

It was started in the early 20th Century by Pope Pius XI as a response to growing nationalism and secularism.

One of the names that became associated with this day was Judgment Sunday and there was a lot of emphasis on the part in the Creed where we proclaim, “He (Jesus) will come again to judge the living and the dead.”

But then I read that the Church of Sweden never took the name instituted by the Pope.

Rather than calling it Christ The King Sunday, they went with Domssoendagen

The Sunday of Doom.

Now, let me admit that when I first read what they called it my mind went to Comic Book Land and I thought of the arch-enemy of the Fantastic Four: Doctor Doom.

And I could not help but think how cool it was that a Church named a Sunday after a comic book villain.

Fortunately, my trip to Comic Book Land did not last too long.

And I started thinking how ominous it sounds to have a Sunday celebration with the word “Doom” in it.

The dictionary defines “doom” as “very bad events or situations that cannot be avoided; death, ruin.”

And in our Gospel lesson we read of a very bad event, one that cannot be avoided.

It is the crucifixion.

Crucifixion was an ancient form of death penalty.

And in Ancient Rome, crucifixion was reserved for slaves, pirates, treason, and enemies of the state.

Crucifixion was an ugly and horrible way to day.

It certainly fits the definition of “doom.”

And so it is here, on a giant piece of wood, in a very public place, that we find Jesus.

Our King.

Not exactly a place one would want to find his or her king.

What does it mean for us to acknowledge and worship a king who was convicted as a criminal?

You have to keep in mind that everything in the life of Jesus has led to this moment.

His words, actions, and mission were all leading to the inevitable: the cross.

Death. Ruin. Bad event.

Doom.

And yet, while all this bad stuff is going down, Jesus, our King, does two incredible acts that can resonate with us today.

Two acts that we, as his subjects, should take to heart.

The first is

“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Throughout the Gospels Jesus does so many things that you would not expect from a Rabbi, a teacher, a Man of God.

He talks to the poor, he eats with sinners, and he heals people on the Sabbath.

And he forgives people even when they are not seeking forgiveness.

In that one statement, Jesus, our God and King, turned certain doom into hope.

Let me tell why this is such an incredible image for me:

When I was in high school, I was hurt by some kids in my church Youth group.

Nothing physical, just mental/emotional.

I held on to that hurt for many years.

I held on to the hate I had for them.

And nowhere, no how did I think about forgiving them.

I wanted to hear them say “We are sorry.”

But years went by, and I moved on.

Made new friends and never saw those people again.

So what was I to do with that hate?

What was I to do with that UN-forgiveness?

It wasn’t until I started seminary and had a chance to study this passage that I came to the realization that Jesus forgave these people even when they didn’t ask for it.

And as I prayed over this passage I could hear God saying, “Forgive them, Jonathan.”

“Forgive and let go.”

And so that night, out loud, I said their names, and then said, “I forgive you.”

And it was like a 800 pound gorilla was lifted off my shoulders.

I let go of the hurt.

I let go of the pain.

 

I invite you today to let go of the hurt that is holding you back.

If Jesus, our KING, can forgive, why can’t we?

Why can’t we be good subjects of the king and follow his lead?

 

Holding on to anger, waiting for an apology before you forgive isn’t doing anyone, especially YOURSELF, any good.

You cannot change the past.

But you can change your present and your future.

You can decide “I am not going to let the hurt define me anymore.”

“I am going to follow my king.”

 

Another way to follow our king, another way he turns doom into hope, is how Jesus talks to the criminal.

The criminal admits to his sins, his wrongs.

He also admits that Jesus is innocent.

He also calls him God.

He comes to Jesus hoping that he is not doomed.

As a man of God, Jesus could have said “You are too late.”

But Jesus does not deny the criminal.

Rather, he says, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

 

At that moment, in this moment of doom, this man is no longer a criminal.

He’s a companion.

And he is a companion of Jesus.

Think about it.

That’s what Jesus has been doing throughout the Gospel of Luke.

“Jesus, remember me”

Jesus has remembered the people that society forgot.

He remembered the poor, the sinners, the sick, and he brought them something they never had before.

A destination.

With God.

 

As his subjects, we are called to follow our king, and remember the people around us.

Remember the people who think they have no hope.

Who think they have been forgotten.

We are called to proclaim to the hurt and lonely “today and every day YOU have a place with God.”

By inviting and remembering we are carrying on God’s plan of taking the ruins of our lives and RE-building them into something wonderful.

And something that lasts forever.

 

Just like Jesus’ reign.

 

 

Sermon for November 17,2013: “The Gospel According to Bob Marley”

Reading: Luke 21:5-19

How many of you watched the World Series this year?

The Boston Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4 games to 2 and it was the Sox’s third championship in 9 years.

The championship helped bring healing to a city still reeling from the Boston Marathon bombings.

It didn’t matter to me who won, but then I started to notice something during the games in Boston.

There is a player for the Sox named Shane Victorino.

And whenever he came up to bat, the crowd would serenade him with a Bob Marley song:

“Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be alright”

The song is called “Three Little Birds” and Victorino, being a huge Bob Marley fan, made that his coming-to-bat song last summer.

And the fans started singing to him.

Which has to be an awesome feeling for a player, having the people not only cheer for you but sing TO you.

What’s interesting is that Victorino did not play particularly well in the playoffs.

He was battling injuries, especially back problems.

But then he would hear that song and the lyrics and the people, and he knew that “Every little thing is gonna be alright.”

And the song’s lyrics turned out to be providential as Victorino hit the deciding grand slam during the American League Championship to propel Boston into the World Series, and then hit the deciding triple that helped win the Series for the Sox.

 

Now what does Bob Marley have to do with us today?

What does a song about three little birds have to do with Jesus?

Well just like the crowd singing a song of hope and comfort to a struggling baseball player,

Jesus is teaching a word of hope and comfort to a very scared group of people.

Now at first it may not look like that.

Jesus came to share the Good News (the Gospel) of God to the people,

But in today’s Gospel it looks like Jesus is sharing the Bad News.

Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem.

They are still in the Temple, where Jesus has been teaching since the beginning of chapter 20.

All the debates Jesus had with the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees in Chapter 20 occurred in the Temple.

And now some of the people (including the disciples) look up and are amazed at the Temple’s beauty.

You see, The Temple was the center of the Jewish world.

And it was huge.

The outer court could hold 400,000 people.

To the Jewish people, The Temple was the perfect building for the perfect God.

While the people are enamored at the Temple, Jesus says it’s all coming to an end.

And for the people this brings back bad memories.

The Temple had fallen before.

The scars, the memories are still there.

Now the people weren’t there when the first destruction happened.

But they have been told about it. And they share in the pain.

That is something to keep in mind about the Jewish people.

They use a lot of “we” language.

I experienced this when I had the chance to visit the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem twelve years ago.

As we were going around this gigantic museum, the tour guide would reference the people who suffered & died in the collective “we.”

So instead of saying “they lost their homes, their dignities, their lives” the host would say “WE lost their homes, etc.”

So that same mindset is present in the Gospel lesson.

The people don’t want to go through all that pain again.

Now notice they don’t ask Jesus WHY it will happen.

They just concentrate on the WHEN.

But Jesus doesn’t answer the WHEN question or the WHY question.

He answers the HOW.

How the destruction will come about.

And there are a lot of bad things that are going to happen.

And you can be certain the people were hanging on every word.

And they are frightened.

As our lessons states they are “terrified.”

Normally, in the Bible, you find the expression, “Do not be afraid (phobeo),” but here you get “Terrified (ptoeeo).”

It’s a different Greek word for “terrified.” And it means a deep fear.

But Jesus’ goal is not to scare the people.

He is making them AWARE of what is to come.

And while he is making them aware of the trials and tribulations, Jesus makes an incredible promise:

Jesus will be there with the people.

He will be there to give the people what they need to survive and (in a way) thrive.

Jesus will give them the Words, the Wisdom in so that they can Witness.

There is something comforting whenever we hear God say “do not be afraid.”

And there is something so strong in hearing God saying not one hair on our heads will perish.”

By saying that, God acknowledges the fear we have, but he also says, “I am here with you.”

And no matter what happens, God is not going to leave you.

 

God is saying, “Every little thing, is gonna be alright.”

 

I remember going down to Mississippi to help after Hurricane Katrina, and I had the opportunity to work with and for people whose lives were devastated.

And yet, in the middle of it, they never blamed God.

They THANKED God for being with them.

To them the signs of God’s presence wasn’t in the storm, the signs were in the people who responded to that storm.

To hear them tell their stories made me see God in a new and better way.

They were witnesses giving testimony to the presence of God during the time they were terrified.

They could hear God saying, “every little thing is gonna be alright.”

 

Think about the people in the Philippines.

Thousands have died due to the typhoon, and thousands more are still missing.

A nation is in ruins.

But this weekend, guess where many of those people are?

In church.

In prayer.

In community.

They are looking to God for comfort and hope.

The Rev. Amadero Alvero, whose church was half-destroyed, was leading worship at the for hundreds of survivors. He said,”Despite what happened, we still believe in God…The church may have been destroyed, but our faith is intact, as believers, as a people of God, our faith has not been destroyed.”

Such an incredible witness for us to hear!

 

I went to a memorial service on Friday in Raleigh.

One of my closest friend’s grandfather had passed away.

And during the celebration of life, the preacher talked about the power of God.

How is can bring healing from hurt

Joy from sorrow

And Life from death.

 

And what that means is that God is not a god who waits until we are hurting to come to us.

 

God is there before

In the middle

And after.

 

And it is God who promises us “every little thing will be alright.”

 

 

Sermon for November 10, 2013: “Here’s Where The Story Ends”

Reading: Luke 20:27-39

If I were to ask you what makes a good story what would your answer be?

I would think most, if not all, would say a story has to have a good beginning, an intriguing middle, and a satisfying ending.

Kristen and I were big fans of the show “Lost” that aired for six seasons on ABC.

“Lost” was a complicated show.

There were great characters, a really neat premise, and once you got sucked into the story you were hooked until the end.

When the final episode aired, I remember thinking to myself I liked it but didn’t love it.

This was a sentiment shared with many of my fellow “Losties.”

Some were even upset at how it ended.

They were angry because in their minds there were so many questions that the show had asked over six years and that were left unresolved.

I think a summary for many fans is: “This wasn’t how it was supposed to end.”

 

The story should have had a better ending.

 

Now let me tell you who was good at stories.

Jesus.

Stories were one of the main ways Jesus taught the Gospel to the people.

He used parables…stories with a point… to make people think and see and experience God in a different way.

And one thing Jesus did very well was to give surprising endings.

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus is confronted by a group of people called the Sadducees.

This group’s beliefs were based on the first five books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch).

This meant they were followers of Moses.

A particular characteristic of this group was they did not believe in a resurrection.

And they wanted to see where Jesus stood on the issue.

So they tell him a strange, out of this world story:

It is a story based on a law found in Deuteronomy called the “brother-in-law marriage,” which kept a deceased husband’s name alive by marrying his wife to the dead husband’s brother.

What’s very interesting is The Sadducees tell him this story of the life to come when THEY don’t believe in the life to come!

Are they trying to trap Jesus like the scribes & the Pharisees attempted to do throughout chapter 20?

You know who I feel sorry for?

The wife!

She does not get a say in this matter.

She is just handed off from one brother to the next.

So the Sadducees want to find out how Jesus would solve the mystery.

 

Jesus doesn’t solve the mystery.

He changes the story.

 

The story is not about marriage laws.

It is about life.

It is about family.

You see, ALL of them are called by Jesus “children of the resurrection.”

And that includes the widow.

She is no longer “property.”

She is a person.

A person protected by God and welcomed to be a part of the ending that God has planned.

 

This is the God I want you to hear about today.

All of us have a story.

Our stories.

We all have stories of where we have gotten to this point in our lives.

And for some of you that story may be in a bad place.

Your story may feature sickness, unemployment, financial issues, addiction, depression, anger, loneliness.

Your story may feature those things…

 

But your story does not have to END that way.

 

Because there is one person that has been a part of your story from the very beginning:

And He is the Author of your story:

God.

And God began each of your stories with the greatest beginning:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5).

God has known you from the beginning.

God has loved you from the beginning.

God has not forgotten you.

And our story not only has an awesome beginning, it has a wonderful ending…

 

(John 13:1)- Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

 

There is never a moment in the story where God does not love you.

 

That part of the story never ends.

Now what does end can be summarized in one statement:

“On the third day…”

On the third day, God beat Sin and Death, came back, and started a new story with us as new characters.

With new roles.

Roles of being good people, caring for one another, and for those around us.

Roles of being cured and cleaned people, bringing others who need healing to God so they can find out how their story ends.

 

We all play a part in this story.

 

We do not have to worry about how the story ends.

We do not have to be scared of where the story ends.

Because it’s God’s Story.

And God is bound and determined to find a place for you in it.

 

Sermon for All Saints Sunday 2013: “A Title Given, Not Earned”

Reading: Luke 6: (12-19) 20-31

Today is a very special day in the Church Year.

We call it All Saints Day.

In our church culture, this Day is a day of remembrance where we remember loved ones who have passed away.

We remember the impact those people have had in our lives and the lessons they taught us when it came to life and God.

But today is also a day for us, as the Church, to remember that we, too, are called to be Saints;

That we have the opportunity to be Teachers and Examples to the world at large.

But for many of us it is hard to picture us as Saints.

It is hard for us to see ourselves as people worthy of that title.

But it is not a title earned, it is a title given.

And the one who gives us that title is Jesus.

And in our gospel lesson today, Jesus gives people a new name, a new life, and a new understanding of what it means to be a community of faith.

What draws me to this Gospel message is the crowd that is there to listen to Jesus.

Right before our Gospel opens, Jesus names his inner circle, the 12 disciples, or as Luke calls them the Apostles.

We get their names, which might not mean much to you but it does play a part in the message today.

After naming the 12, Jesus is surrounded by the apostles and a crowd of disciples.

And the people have traveled from all over the region to hear Jesus and to be healed by Jesus.

So Jesus makes this a teaching moment.

Now let me draw you a picture of just who is in this crowd:

  • Fishermen
  • A tax collector
  • A zealot
  • A traitor
  • People with unclean spirits
  • The rich
  • The “full-bellies”
  • The “Well-spoken ofs”

You cannot find a more diverse group of people anywhere else because in that society, because just like in our society, you would not find the rich hanging out with the poor, or the well-to-do hanging out with the down-and-outs.

EVER.

 

And yet they are all there.

They are all there for the same reason.

Jesus.

 

We who gather today are made up of a diverse crowd.

Among us are:

  • Single
  • Divorced
  • Married
  • Parents
  • Retirees
  • Healthy
  • Sick
  • Employed
  • Looking for work
  • Conservative
  • Liberal
  • Tar Heel Fan
  • Blue Devil Fan
  • Deacon Fan

 

And yet we all come together for the same reason as the crowd in the Gospel.

We come to hear Jesus.

We come to see and experience Jesus.

Because we can feel Jesus here.

We can get a sense that Jesus is talking directly to each and every one of us.

 

And I believe that is the sense the people in that crowd felt.

Especially for those who were poor.

For the first time in maybe ever, someone (Jesus) is talking TO them, not AT them or ABOUT them.

And this someone doesn’t tell them, “Go away,” he teaches that they have value NOW and LATER.

“Yours IS the Kingdom of God.”

“You WILL be fed.”

By addressing them, by treating them as people, Jesus does something that no one else of his influence had done or would ever think of doing!

He assures them that God has not forgotten them.

 

Now while Jesus talks to the poor I believe he also talks TO the Rich.

Now some might think Jesus is saying being rich or well-fed are bad things.

But I don’t believe that is Jesus’ point.

I believe Jesus is warning the well-offs to reconsider who or what they put their trust in.

If they put their trust in money, or food, or material goods, or rely on the compliments of others, they are going to be let down in the long run.

 

Jesus is not talking to them to condemn them but to change them.

 

Jesus wants the same thing from both groups.

He wants them to be part of the same mission.

And the same family.

A new family, if you will.

 

And in order to be in the same family, there has to be some ground rules.

And Jesus makes the rules and takes the opportunity to tell them how to love and live with one another.

And the word for love Jesus uses is “Agape” which is the deepest most intimate love possible.

And the word Jesus uses for “bless” is actually the word we get “Eulogy.”

To eulogize someone is to compliment them, or remember a person fondly.

Think of it as “putting the best light onto someone.”

And that crowd could not look at a better example of this type of LOVE than Jesus’ apostles where you find a tax collector (Matthew) AND a zealot (Simon).

In any other context, Simon would be at Matthew’s throat.

Literally.

He would be trying to murder Matthew.

Opposite sides of the spectrum and but now UNITED to follow Jesus, and to be examples of what we are called to be.

 

Jesus is giving the people new titles. New roles.

He is saying, “You are no longer The Poor or The Rich. You are My People. You are My Followers. You are going to be My Examples.”

 

And today we remember the Saints, the Examples in our lives.

And we also are encouraged to be Saints in the lives of others.

If you think you can’t be a saint, I am here to tell you that you already are!

Think about the “Saints” that made up the 12 Apostles:

Saint Peter denied Jesus 3 times

Saint Matthew was a hated tax collector associated with a foreign power

Saint Simon was a zealot who did not know what it meant to be calm

Saints James and John fought over MORE power instead of giving up power

And don’t forget that Saint Paul was an enemy of the church.

These Saints were not perfect.

They were regular people.

They were human.

Just like you and me.

But now they become people who are called to be examples, witnesses to a new life.

 

It is the same call we are hearing today.

And while we certainly want to honor and remember our loved ones, our saints.

I want us to leave today thinking:

“How can I be a saint in the life of someone?”

“How can I show them the same grace Jesus showed the people in our Gospel?”

“How can I show them the same love that the saints in my life showed me?”

 

All Saints Day is a wonderful day to remember.

It is also a day to be reminded that the work of the Saints goes on.

 

Sermon for Reformation Sunday 2013: “The God Who Forgets”

Readings: John 8:31-36 & Jeremiah 31:31-34

 

Recently, I downloaded a new app for my phone.

It’s called “CrazyBrain” and it has Memory games which I like to help improve my memory because as I get older my attention span is not what it used to be.

Over a period of time, I tend to forget things.

 

Memories are very important to us.

 

There are many things or events in our lives we want to remember.

I remember my favorite Christmas when I got not only a Chewbacca stuff toy I got the Death Star.

AND it snowed!

I remember my first day of school, crying as my teacher tore me away from my dad’s legs…

I remember the night I met Kristen.

And the night I asked her to marry me.

And they day she told me she was pregnant.

You get the point.

But there are other events I would rather forget.

The first time my feelings were hurt by a friend.

The night my dad died.

Definitely days I wish I could forget, or at least get out of my head.

But that is the thing with Memory.

Some things stick.

Some things fade.

And then some things are just forgotten.

For instance, like the Gospel lesson today.

Interesting fact, Reformation Sunday is the only Sunday in the three-year lectionary that we get a passage chosen from either John 7 or 8.

Because they are the most polemical sections of John’s Gospel.

They are the ones that cause the most arguments and debates between Jesus and the Jewish Leaders.

The debates center around who Jesus is and what Jesus is about.

And whether these leaders will believe in Jesus.

The setting is important because it is the Festival of Tabernacles or Booths, and during this festival Jesus proclaims he is the Living Water and He is the Light.

Both of which are major components to the festival.

And Jesus is starting to invite people to believe in Him.

And by “believe” I mean see Jesus as God.

That is a very powerful claim to make.

And he says that if you “continue” or “abide” or “remain” in his word, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.

Now this is where the Memory game comes in.

Somehow…

Someway…

The Jewish people hearing this have forgotten their history.

They have forgotten their story.

They have forgotten that they were slaves for a very long time.

And by making such an outlandish claim, in a way, they are forgetting God.

They are forgetting what God has done for them.

As Jeremiah 31:32 says, God took their ancestors by the hand out of Egypt.

In the Old Testament there are constant reminders of what God has done for His people.

But over time, by the time the New Testament comes into play, things change.

Events are forgotten.

God is forgotten.

And by forgetting the role of God in their lives, both past and present, they fall into the traps of sin.

Now in the Gospel of John, Sin is not a moral category, it is a relational one.

So Jesus is saying the people are slaves to sin because they are not in a relationship with God.

In a way, they are in bondage to a bad memory.

 

So Jesus has come as the Light, to show them a new way.

He has come as the Living Water, to give them a taste of a new life.

He has come to remind them of what God has done and what God is doing.

 

You see what God is doing is expanding the family.

 

That is why it is important for us to see where verse 35 is so powerful.

 

A slave did not have a place, a room, in a house.

The slave lived outside of the house.

Away from family.

But now Jesus is saying, that you are not slaves.

You are children of God.

And there is a room for you in God’s house.

 

All they have to do is believe.

 

And belief is more than ASSENT.

It is more than a “yes I know about God”.

It is “Yes I KNOW God (on an intimate level).”

It is being in a deep and meaningful relationship with God.

It is seeing God for what He has done and what He continues to do.

In your life and in the lives of those around.

 

And what does he do?

Go to the last verse from our First Lesson.

 

Where we see God play a different Memory Game.

God not only forgives,

He forgets.

He forgets WHAT we have done,

BUT He remembers WHO we are.

In this verse we are introduced to an utter NEWNESS of the relationship.

We get to start over with God.

In a way, this is what a Reformation is all about.

It is a time to REFORM our lives around the Love God has given us.

It is a time to REFORM and RESHAPE our lives around the grace that God is so determined to show us.

God is about Reforming. Revealing. Revealing His own righteousness.

We celebrate the Reformation because not of something that happened but we celebrate God’s reliability.

 

And that is what Martin Luther re-discovered.

Martin Luther thought God hated him.

And Martin believe that God would not love him until Martin did something to earn that love.

 

And when Martin struggled with this, his Father Confessor (a man named Staupitz) pleaded with Martin to “look to the cross!”

And so Martin did.

And THEN Martin stopped looking at the cross and started looking at the PERSON on the cross.

And that is when Martin realized that God DID love him.

God always loved him.

 

And God always loves us.

And today we celebrate that realization.

 

When we feel bad.

When we sin.

When we feel unworthy.

 

We are blessed with the Memory of a God who Forgets. 

 

Sermon for October 20, 2013: “What’s The Point Of All This?!”

Reading: Luke 18:1-8 (you can start at 17:20)

A few weeks ago I was at the gym getting reading for a workout with my trainer.

As I was signing in this woman came up to Tray and started talking to him.

She was another of Tray’s clients.

So she started talking and talking and…

I started looking at the clock

… and then I made a stunning realization…

She was never going to make a point.

There was no “The End” coming.

So I did the right thing…and told Tray I was going to warm up so he had to listen to her so more.

And if we are honest with one another we all have been in that scenario where we are listening to a story and hoping there is a point.

A parable is a story.

It’s goal is not to be entertaining.

It’s goal is to have a point.

Many of the parables in the Bible have a point to make.

Sometimes, it comes in the form of the Surprise:

Nathan surprising David with his “you are that man!” (SURPRISE!)

Jesus with the man who helped the beaten man was a Samaritan. (SURPRISE!)

Or the Father who confronted his Prodigal Son with LOVE and not HATRED. (SURPRISE!)

All these stories make a point.

They make an impact on our lives.

And that brings me to the parable today from Luke.

And while this parable can stand on its own for its teaching, it is being told in the middle of a bigger story.

That story begins in 17:20 with the Pharisees asking Jesus WHEN the Kingdom of God was coming.

And Jesus says, the Kingdom is already among you!

And then he talks about the coming days…a preview of what is to come.

He prepares them for…

A time of suffering and pain.

And a time of waiting.

A lot of waiting.

And then Jesus shares with the Pharisees and the disciples this parable of the unjust judge and the persistent widow.

When you think of power and privilege in first century Jerusalem, you cannot find two more opposite people.

A true odd couple.

Now what makes Jesus call the judge “unjust”?

He is not a God-fearer

He did not respect the people.

Back then, established Jewish principles stated judges were to defend widows, especially against unfair adversaries.

But this judge doesn’t care.

This judge is not known for his compassion

His refusal to act is why Jesus calls him “unjust.”

Now I believe Jesus can teach us some very important lessons in this parable.

One lesson is comparing the actions of the judge with God.

The judge cannot stand this widow.

She is persistent, which is a nice way of saying she is getting on his nerves!

And the judge has just about had it with her.

He is going to give her justice so that she will not wear him out.

She is really getting on his nerves!

But here’s an interesting little Did You Know…

The phrase “wear me out” is actually associated with…of all things…boxing!

Another way to translate the phrase is “to give a black eye.”

And by using this phrase the judge does not want to be cornered and slugged by the least powerful in society and “Giving him a black eye.”

So the judge gives her justice in order for her to go away and to keep his face all pretty.

 

And Jesus says God is NOT like that judge.

 

While the judge answers out of exasperation, God answers us out of patience.

God never gets tired of you.

Now He might get tired of your actions or Inactions, but He never gets tired of you.

God has endless patience.

God waits for us.

But do we wait for God?

Do we have the same patience for God?

Or do we show the same kind of patience we show someone who never gets to the point?

Do we look at our watches when it comes to God?

Do we lose heart when we lose our patience?

 

Or can we learn to put our watch away?

Can we learn to not put God on a timer?

Where we count down the seconds until God answers our prayers?

 

Can we learn to wait?

 

There will be good days and bad days.

There will be days the world is on our side.

And then there will be days when we are in the same place as the widow.

Injustice and unfairness all around.

And when those things happened to the widow she did not give up.

She kept going back to the one person who could make things right.

The one person who could stop the pain, and stop the injustice.

She had to go through a lot of NO’s until she got to her YES.

She showed a lot of patience.

She showed a lot of courage.

She showed a lot of faith.

 

So my question to you is:

Do you have that same patience?

Do you have that same courage?

Do you have that same faith?

 

The kind of faith that can wait.

The kind of faith that can hold on.

The kind of faith that can keep your head up when the world brings you down?

 

Maybe some of you can say yes.

Maybe some of you can say “no, but I wish I did.”

“I WANT that kind of faith!”
Well I am here to tell you that you can have that kind of faith.

You can have that kind of belief.

But it takes work.

 

But all that hard work is worth it because of what we have been given by God.

 

I had the chance this week to hear Vance Hanner, the head coach of East Davidson football.

This team has gone from being down-and-out the past few years to a good team.

They already have twice as many wins as they did last year.

When he talked about what his staff has done differently he said that the team, the players, always had the talent.

What the staff did was give them HOPE.

They started talking to them and encouraging them.

“You CAN do this!”

“You CAN win this game!”

 

And what God gives us is HOPE.

And that is what Jesus is saying to the people in this passage.

In the end, God will grant justice and help his people.

 

Jesus is telling us that there IS a point to the story.

 

The point is made in the waters of baptism.

“You are mine, child. Now and forever.”

 

The point is made on the cross.

On the cross, justice was served.

We call it Grace.

 

The point is made at the Table where we are given the signs of love and forgiveness.

 

And the point is made whenever we pray.

Because when we pray, God never says, “Oh, it’s YOU again (sound exasperated).”

God says, “OH! It’s YOU again! (joy)”

 

Because the God we worship is a God who hears and answers doesn’t do it to get rid of us.

He does it to make a point.

Sermon for October 13, 2013: “No no. Thank YOU!”

Reading: Luke 17:11-19

There are two points I want to talk about today:

Jesus’ care for the marginalized

&

The appropriate response to Jesus, which is a faithful recognition and gratitude.

Let’s look at what Jesus does to the 10 lepers.

Leprosy was a serious issue.

It was not only a disabling health issue,

It was a debilitating social issue.

It was a stigma.

Once you were diagnosed with leprosy, you were no longer known for who you were, but what you were.

For example:

In our first reading we hear of Naaman, the mighty warrior.

We have Naaman’s name and occupation.

But then we read of his leprosy.

And so Naaman goes from being known as a great warrior to a leper who happens to be a warrior.

So there is a loss of identity.

Speaking of Identity: did you notice what the 10 lepers call Jesus?

They call him “Master,” which is an interesting title because in every other place in the Gospels, it is the DISCIPLES who call Jesus that name.

So what do we make out of that?

The Lepers saw something in Jesus.

They saw the living-breathing answer to their sickness.

They saw their last hope.

And Jesus doesn’t disappoint.

He tells them to go the priests and all ten do what they are told.

And as they walk away they are healed.

What does this mean to them?

It means they get their identity back.

It means they get their life back.

And they can get their place in society back.

By that I mean they will no longer be seen as outsiders.

But in the eyes of Jesus, they never were outsiders.

They were those who Jesus came to heal, to talk to, to see for WHO they are and not WHAT they are.

Jesus sees them as people.

He does not see them as ONLY lepers, or ONLY Samaritans, or ONLY a foreigner.

God sees more in them than the world does.

So what can you take away from this?

God sees you for who are you.

And whose you are.

You are a child of God.

You are HIS child.

You are his BELOVED child.

No matter what happens to you,

No matter what you do,

God’s love is always there for you.

And for that we give thanks.

Speaking of giving THANKS…

That brings us to the next part of the sermon.

This is an ATM card.

Whenever I need some money, I can go to my back, drive up to the ATM, put my card in, and within seconds get some money.

To tell you how much of a risk taker I am, I don’t even ask for a receipt!

But when I get my money, do you think I thank the ATM?

No, I don’t.

Can you guess why?

It’s a machine.

It has no feelings (unless you watch a lot of Science Fiction movies).

Also, the person behind me would think I am out of my mind.

We don’t give thanks to the machine.

We take what we want from it and go on with our lives.

But what happens when we take from God?

How many of us thank God when we use him?

How many of us take an extra moment, thank him, and then go back to our lives?

If we are honest, the number is not that good.

We have a major problem.

We have become a THANK-less people.

We look at God as if He was an ATM, ready to give whatever we ask for.

At times, we take advantage of God.

We see God as always loving, always giving…so why not ask God for a little more?

Or why not assume that God will forgive when we do something wrong?

 

When we think God only as a spiritual ATM, we eventually become bankrupt.

And I find it very telling that Jesus points out how there were 10 lepers healed, but only one came back to thank him.

Now Jesus does not un-heal the other 9.

Show me a place where Jesus took away a miracle.

The problem is that the 9 lepers know they have received SOMETHING.

But they fail to see the SOMEONE who gave it to them.

But there is one who does.

And when he runs back to Jesus, he THANKS him big time!

He praises him.

He worships him.

And by doing that, Jesus gives him another gift.

While the other lepers are healed,

This one is made whole.

What do I mean by that?

I mean Jesus acknowledges him.

He talks about him in front of other people.

He says THIS man has faith.

THIS man has been healed.

THIS man knows what it looks like to give thanks.

And this seems to come easiest to the people who have received most from Jesus, the ones who are otherwise ignored, scorned, untouched.

So this man goes from being an exile to being an EXAMPLE.

To the disciples and to us.

 

Every week, during our WORSHIP, we say:

“It is RIGHT to give him THANKS and PRAISE!”

 

We do not say it is necessary.

But we do say it is the right thing to do.

It is the right thing to not treat God as an ATM.

We treat him as the one who gives, who loves, who saves, who forgives.

And a thank you can go a long way.

 

 

Sermon for October 6, 2013: “Who’s The Boss?”

Reading: Luke 17:5-10

This morning we get a very interesting and confusing passage from Luke.

First we get the disciples commanding Jesus (not asking) to increase their faith.

Then you have Jesus question just how much faith they really have.

And then you have this strange…Table Talk…where we hear the word “slaves” appears several times.

It’s a lot to digest in only 5 verses.

And it feels incomplete, in a way.

But even though our Gospel is short, there is some powerful imagery that can shape our faith today.

First let’s look at this command from the disciples (the apostles).

“Increase our faith!”

Now they did not demand this out of thin air.

Jesus opens up chapter 17 by warning his disciples not to be stumbling blocks.

By that he really means causing people to trip in their walks of faith.

In a way, Jesus is foreshadowing the days when Jesus is no longer going to be around to their teacher.

Let me remind you that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem as he talks to the disciples.

He is on his way to die.

So the future of the mission is going to fall into the hands, the feet, and the actions of his disciples (his students).

And Jesus warns them if they cause someone to lose their (spiritual) way.

That warning still is true today.

I can’t tell you the number of people who I have met who ONCE were Christian before they were hurt by another Christian or (even worse) a congregation.

That kind of hurt stays with someone for a long time.

So Jesus is teaching the disciples and us to take our roles seriously.

And to take it seriously means they would have to learn the power of forgiveness.

In verses 3-4, Jesus teaches if another disciple sins, the disciples MUST rebuke, and if there is repentance, it leads to forgiveness.

And then Jesus says if this person sins against you 7 times a day, and turns back (repents) you must forgive 7 times.

NOTE: this does not mean Sin#8 gives you free reign to not forgive. Just making that clear.

And since Jesus says you MUST do this, this is going to take a LOT of faith on the part of the disciples.

And that AMOUNT of faith is something they feel they lack.

So they want MORE faith. They want an INCREASE in their faith.

But they should have ASKED, not DEMANDED.

And that leads to Jesus’ response in verses 7-10.

I believe Jesus is putting the disciples back in their place.

I remember a few years ago watching a Braves-Cubs baseball game, when a Cub player started to get in the face of his manager.

It was pretty intense, and you could tell the Cub player thought he ran the team, that he called the shots.

But the Manager looked right at him and said, “I am the Shotcaller. You do what I say or you are gone.”

Another example…

When Kristen and I started dating, I thought it was important to lay down some rules for our relationship.

So I told her, “Look. Let’s get one thing straight. I’m the man. And you’re the BOSS. So if you just remember that things will work out well for both of us.”

Every once in a while, people need to be reminded of their rightful place.

And that is what Jesus is doing.

Jesus is reminding the disciples they are not the shotcallers.

They do not give the orders.

They take them.

And Jesus is very specific when he uses the term “slave.”

And in our culture, “slave” has an ugly connotation (As it should) but when Jesus is saying this he is reminding the disciples “YOU GUYS DO WHAT I SAY.”

You see, they are more than disciples (or “students”) they are going to be the ones sent out to bring the message of God to the world.

They need to be reminded of their place.

As do we.

You see, our problem today is we sometimes get too big for our britches.

We think we can tell God what to do.

We think we can force God’s hand.

“If I do this, God will reward me.”

“God, send me a new car. Send me a new job. ASAP.”

“God, I’m not going to church today. No reason. I just don’t want to.”

Or remember last year when Harold Camping proclaimed HE knew when the end of the world was happening, even though Jesus said he didn’t know?

We fool ourselves into thinking we are the BOSS.

And that is why we need passages like this one in Luke and parts in our liturgy where we are REMINDED of our roles and our titles.

Just look at our Confession or as I call it our “Weekly Reality Check”:

We are “shallow,” “neglectful,” “lost,” “weak,” and “sinners.”

In the Kyrie we remember God is the subject of our sentences. God is our direct object. We pray TO God for peace, for our salvation, for our unity.

We look to God to show how to act, how to love, how to forgive, and how to live.

In a way, we are in the shoes of the disciples, we look to God to increase our faith.

And God says, “Yes.”

Because even though we see titles like “sinner” “slave” and “weak” we have another title.

It is a title we get to hear out loud today in Connor’s baptism:

“Child of God.”

Child of God.

A child of God, a brother in the same body with us, and a worker in the field that God has given us.

You see, even though God has to remind us of our human nature, he also reminds us that WE ARE HIS, NOW AND FOREVER.

He reminds us in the Water, The Word, The Bread, The Wine, and The Cross.

Signs of HIS gracious love.

A love that knows no end.

So what do I want you to remember about this day?

About this passage?

You are not the boss.

You are a worker. A servant.

But thanks be to God we have a pretty awesome Boss.

 

 

Sermon for September 29, 2013: “Don’t Forget the But (…with one “t”)”

Readings: Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3  &  Revelation 12:7-12

This morning we are celebrating a church festival day.

A festival is an event centers on and celebrates some unique aspect of a community.

We just had a great example yesterday in Thomasville as it was Everybody’s Day.

I believe that festival is over 100 years old and is one of if not THE oldest festival in the state.

For the Christian Church, our biggest festivals are Easter and Christmas.

During the church year, there are other festivals that celebrate saints, events, and doctrines.

All the festivals in the Church Year serve one purpose: To Celebrate God.

By celebrating, we remember God’s promises and actions.

And today, our festival centers on St. Michael and All The Angels.

Let me share with you the role of angels in the Lutheran tradition.

Angels, both good and bad, were very real to Martin Luther.

He defined an angel as a spiritual creature appointed for the service of the divine church.

Luther also believed that angels were not just waiting for us at the end of our earthly lives, but that they were around in this life, providing for and guiding our affairs.

Luther wrote that, “we should learn that our best and most loyal friends are invisible.”

 

So today we lift up all Angels of God, especially Michael.

Who is St. Michael?

Well, the first thing that comes to my mind is it’s the name of my first parish in Unionville, PA.

But St. Michael refers to a particular angel that appears in the bible.

In the New Testament, you find mention of Michael in two books:

Jude & Revelation.

We hear from the Revelation passage today.

In the NT,  Michael is described as a warrior of God against Lucifer, the devil.

Actually, he is THE warrior of God.

In the Old Testament, Michael appears in Daniel.

Now in the early church, Michael went from being a warrior to a healer.

But if you read the scriptures, Michael is more ready to fight than he is to heal.

 

But that is where we get some good news today.

 

You see, Michael is fighting FOR US.

 

And that means so much for the people of Israel, who are reading and hearing Daniel, in their context.

Because Israel has been through wars, exile, rebuilding.

And there are times when it would seem no matter what they do, something or someone is going to come and ruin it.

Isn’t that something we can relate to?

Have you ever had that moment where it seems like things in your life is going well but you start to think that the good CAN’T last for long.

That something bad is around the corner.

And that is a hard way to live.

That feeling of constant…dread.

 

And that is why it is so important for us to look at books like Daniel and Revelation from a different perspective.

Those books fall into the category we call Apocalyptic Literature.

Now when we think of “apocalypse” we think of Left Behind, the End Times, the Worst of Times.

 

But Apocalyptic Literature in the Bible served a very specific purpose: to give hope.

 

So when we read today’s passage from Daniel, it is important that you DON’T FORGET THE BUT!

And that is BUT with ONE “t”!

Because as our passage opens, Daniel is overcome with a vision.

Daniel has been fasting for three weeks.

And he has this vision that leaves Daniel weakened, sick, and feeling alone.

 

And then Hope arrives.

It arrives in a simple touch.

A hand placed on Daniel.

And this touch “rouses” him up.

Listen to the words of hope:

  • “Daniel, you are greatly beloved.”
  • “Do not be afraid.”
  • “I have heard you!”
  • “You will not have to fight anymore.
  • I will fight FOR you.”

And the “hope talk” continues in Chapter 12 where the people will experience a time of anguish.

And once again, Daniel reminds us to DON’T FORGET THE BUT!

One “t”.

“But at that time” you will be delivered!

“But at that time” a great protector, Michael, shall arise.

 

And on this day where we celebrate Michael and the work of the angels, it is important that we remember the hope that God has promised us.

 

And that we REMEMBER THE BUT!

One “t”.

 

How many times in our lives have we been comforted with someone saying, “My friend, I know this is a rough time, BUT you will get through it.”

And how many times in our lives have we been “roused” by the touch of a hand, the work of an angel?

 

The Greek word for “angel” really means “a messenger,” not a like a mail man, but one who is sent to deliver a message by word of mouth.

And this name is applied in Scripture to ALL messengers of God in heaven and on earth, whether they are holy angels or prophets or apostles…So all who proclaim His Word are God’s angels and messengers.

 

These angels can come in all shapes and sizes.

They can come in the form of Sandwich Ministry, Open Arms, CCM, and Food Pantries.

They can come in the form of our pets, or animals like Patriot Rovers who are specifically trained to help soldiers who are battling PTSD.

They can come in the form of Nicholas Lowinger.

Who at the age of 5 went with his mom to a homeless shelter and wanted to show off his new light-up sneakers.

But his mom told him not to do that because these children did not have such luxuries.

And Nicholas was so moved by what he saw in that shelter that he started donating all the shoes he’d outgrown to local shelters.

And then at age 12, he started a program that donates new shoes to homeless children.

The program has a great name: Gotta Have Sole!

And in just 3 years, Nicholas and his organization has donated shoes to more than 10,000 homeless children in 21 states.

And as Nicholas says, “No one is ever too young or old to help others.”

 

Martin Luther said that the angels are hard at work for us.

The angels, like Michael, are fighting FOR us.

 

And today we celebrate the work of the angels.

And WHO they work for.

 

And we remember the BUT… one “t”…

 

We celebrate the Hope that we have been promised, and the Hope we have received.

And WHO gives us that Hope.

 

Thanks be to God.

Sermon for Sunday, September 22, 2013: “The Puzzling Parable”

Reading: Luke 16:1-13

How many of you like puzzles?

I like puzzles, but am not very good at them.

Kristen is really good at them.

My family usually has a puzzle out when we have family vacations.

 

There is a comedy on the Fox Network called The New Girl.
And on the show, there is a character named Winston.

And this past week he decided to start a puzzle.

The problem with this is Winston is TERRIBLE at puzzles.

He cannot get the pieces to connect.

He actually asks one of his friends “what do you think the puzzle will look like when it’s done?”

He actually starts to use almonds and other non-pieces to fit into the puzzle.

It is a disaster.

 

And I am glad I saw that episode because it got me to think about this week’s parable from Luke.

 

One thing you need to keep in mind is that parables are not meant to explain the whole of the gospel.

They are not summaries of gospel.

They illustrate certain points.

 

You can look at parables as pieces of a puzzle.

But sometimes, it feels like a piece just doesn’t fit.

And that is how I feel whenever I read and study this Gospel lesson.

Theologian Rudolf Bultmann calls this particular parable the “Problem Child of Parables” because it just won’t behave.

 

What in the world is Jesus talking about?!

What is his point?

 

Because on the surface, it looks like Jesus is making this dishonest manager into some type of role model.

And it looks like Jesus is telling us to make as many dishonest friends as possible.

 

But that doesn’t sound like something Jesus would do.

 

So what is his point?

 

The point Jesus makes can be found at the end of our passage:

“You cannot serve God and Wealth.”

What does this mean?

Wealth is not some inanimate object.

 

It is not something we possess.

But it is something that can possess us.

 

Wealth isn’t something we use; it demands allegiances.

It means that Wealth (mammon) can be a rival to God.

Wealth can be a rival for our affections, our attention, and our hearts.

 

And God is calling us to give all our hearts to Him.

 

If you were to make a puzzle out of your life, what kind of piece would God have?

Would He have a big piece?

Or a small piece?

Or would He even be in the picture at all?

 

What are the big pieces in our lives?

What do we give our hearts to?

What other rivals to God are in our lives?

What are the other Powers that demand our allegiance?

What are the Powers that we will follow before we follow God?

 

I can think of a few:

For some, it’s “free time.” They want “free time” so much they will ignore other responsibilities or their jobs.

Others make their jobs the most important things in their lives.

Usually at the cost of family and friendship.

You can also mention allegiance to sports teams which is big this time of year.

I can think of big one:

The Smartphone.

We love being connected.

Who would have thought that the smartphone like iPhone would have the impact it has had on us?

 

We don’t even use it to call people anymore!

 

We text.

We surf.

We…don’t seem to pay attention to the tasks at hand.

 

We would rather have our heads down and texting someone else than looking at the person we are with.

 

That is the Power the iPhone can have over us.

This week, all over the world, people lined up for the new iPhone.

In Tokyo, Japan, 800 people waiting in line for FOUR days for the new iPhone!

 

That is what Power can do.

 

Please understand, I am not saying that iPhones or smartphones are bad in and of themselves.

I have an iPhone.

And trust me, I find it incredibly hard not to look down at it every few minutes.

 

But things like phones and wealth demand our attention.

 

They demand our allegiance.

 

So Jesus is asking you one question:

Who are YOU going to serve?

You have two choices: God or Wealth.

You can choose SOMEONE

Or

You can choose SOMETHING.

What is your choice going to be?

 

And to help you make the right decision, let me end with this:

I asked you earlier where God fits in your life puzzle.

Does He have a piece?

 

Now I want you to think about God’s puzzle.

Think about the number of pieces that make up THAT puzzle!

 

And even with that number of pieces, God promises us that each of us has a piece in His puzzle.

The puzzle is big enough for everyone.

God does not want to leave someone out of His picture.

 

I invite you to look at the cross that hangs in our sanctuary.

And think of your piece, fitting into that cross.

 

Because then you can picture yourself as one of the reasons for what Jesus did.

 

You see Jesus made a choice.

 

He chose death over life.

 

He chose you.

 

He chose me.

 

Jesus has made his choice.

 

Now I ask you to make yours.