Jesus is for Everyone?

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Luke 4:21-30

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Tony Campolo, a well known sociologist and pastor, tells a story of a time that he was in Hawaii and could not sleep at night/early morning due to internal clock being use to another time zone. He gets up and is feeling a little hungry, so he decides to see what he can find to eat in the very early morning in Honolulu. Being a busy city and everything you would think he could just walk out of the hotel and find someplace open. That was not the case, however, and it takes him a while until he comes along this little side street and finds this local greasy spoon open.

The gruff owner greets him as he walks into the diner that has no booths and just a long counter with stools. After seeing the gentleman at the counter in his greasy shirt and apron, he is not quite so sure if he is hungry anymore. He sees some donuts at the far end of the counter though and says he will have a donut and coffee.

While he is sitting there eating his dirty donut and drinking his coffee in walks a loud group of eight or nine provocative, loud prostitutes. As he is sitting at the center of the counter, they sit to both sides of him and he is all of a sudden feeling uncomfortable. As the conversation continues amongst them one of the women says that tomorrow is going to be her birthday. After getting some razzing from the group, she says she does not expect anything, she has never had a party for her birthday before, why should she now.

Tony stays until the group leaves and finds out the name of the diner owner is Harry. He suggests to Harry that they should throw a party for Agnes, the prostitute that professed it was her birthday. Harry thought that was a great idea and insisted on making a birthday cake and Tony would get decorations so that they could decorate the diner the following morning before the group came in again. Harry’s wife got the word out to everyone that knew Agnes so that when Tony returned the following morning the place was bursting to the seems with prostitutes. They waited for Agnes to come in with her and friends, and when she did, she could barely stand up that she was so shocked and in awe.

Harry presented her with a cake as she was in tears. It was so beautiful that she did not want to cut but wanted to take it home to show her mother, but promised that she would be right back since she just lived a few doors down. As she left Tony was left standing there in a room full of prostitutes not knowing what to do, until he asked the group to pray. They prayed for Agnes, for her health, for her life, and for her salvation. He prayed that her life would be changed. After he finishes, Harry looks over to him and tells him that he didn’t tell him he was a preacher. Harry asks, “What kind of church to you belong to anyways?”

Tony responds, after thinking about it for a moment, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.” Harry mocking says, “No you don’t. There is no church like that. If there was, I would join it.”

If this message was carried to the people during Jesus’ time it would have most likely incited a riot. After last weeks gospel lesson when Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth to preach we were left hanging to hear the response from the people. At first they are amazed and spoke well of him. Then he speaks again sharing stories from the Hebrew Bible where God was present with Gentiles in the midst of the struggles of the Israelites.

These are not stories that the Israelites want to be reminded of. These are not the stories that build up a nation. This is not the hope and promise that they were expecting when Jesus comes to preach and be with them. This was not a sermon that they were expecting, nor wanting. They were in fact so angered that they nearly drove Jesus off a cliff and yet he managed to get away.

So, what is it that they were looking for? They were expecting a Messiah to come and make everything right. In that moment right there. They wanted people to pay for the wrongs that they had done and for a Messiah to bring them salvation. They sought justice. Perhaps not the justice that is present in Jesus.

Richard Rohr this past week has been discussing justice in our world and where God is within it:

Poor theology has led most people to view God as a sometimes benevolent Santa Claus or as an unforgiving tyrant who is going to burn us in hell for all eternity if we don’t love him. (Who would love, or even trust, a god like that?) Psychologically, humans tend to operate out of a worldview of fear and scarcity rather than trust and abundance. This stingy, calculating worldview makes both grace and mercy unimaginable and difficult to experience. (1)

Many of the people then, and even so today, hope that Jesus comes bearing justice that looks retributive. This justice comes to us with the understanding that if you do this, you will get that. In a way, an eye for an eye justice. This is the justice that is most common in our legal system today.

The biblical notion of justice is much different as can be seen in the stories Jesus shares this morning. During the famine in the time of Elijah, he only was sent to the widow at Zarephath in Sidon to be cared for and her supply of meal to make bread never ceased to empty. Elisha chose to call for Namaan the Syrian to come to him so that he may cure him of his leprosy. God brings healing and wellness to those whom have not necessarily professed their faith in God.

The justice that comes to the people of God in the bible is one that is restorative. Even when the prophets chastise the Israelites for turning their backs on God, God returns to them in love that is irrefutable. God’s justice comes to us in a way of love that is forgiving.

This justice that Jesus brings into the world is radical! While it has always been present through God, it has now taken physical bodily form in the Son of God. Jesus comes bearing a justice of love for those that are downtrodden and have nearly given up all hope. His purpose of bringing up the justice of Elijah and Elisha is to inform those of Nazareth that he comes not just to them bearing the news of hope and love, but to the entire world!

This is our stumbling block. We stumble over who is in and who is out. We argue for justice to happen, a retributive form of justice. Yet that is not the practice of the kingdom of God. For us to move ever closer to the kingdom of God, we must open our hearts to the restorative justice that can be found in God’s love for us and all people.

Just maybe, we can reach out as Tony Campelo, to a people that are persecuted and hurting. Just maybe, we can be that sign of hope for them in a world that shouts discrimination. Just maybe, we can come bearing the kingdom of God to someone that has not yet experienced it.

(1) Richard Rohr Daily Meditation, https://cac.org/retributive-justice-and-restorative-justice-2016-01-26/

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Prayer for Christian Unity

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Luke 4:14-21

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord, Jesus Christ.

I have to admit that it is a little strange to return to a place where you sensed God calling you into ministry. In a way it is a little intimidating because these are the people that experienced you in the infancy of your faith and walked with you through this strange calling. There is also a bit of reassurance that happens within this as well. They are supportive and grace-filled. Even when you attempt to sing the liturgy and they realize a week later that one of the stain-glass windows is cracked! (I am sure it was just coincidence)

In the gospel of Luke this morning Jesus returns to Nazareth shortly after he was baptized. Jesus, entering the synagogue and standing up to preach, reads from Isaiah and in doing so fulfills the promise in scriptures. This is a life-changing event for Jesus. He boldly proclaims his calling and teaches from the scripture. Everyone is intently listening as all of the eyes in the room are turned towards him and every ear hanging on to each word that came out of his mouth. Is what he was preaching what they expected to hear? We are left hanging until next week!

Jesus sets the example for us of stepping out into the crowd and speaking boldly. He proclaims the scripture that has been placed in his hands. He comes bearing love and reconciliation for a world that is in friction with God’s intentions. Even the leaders within the Jewish church cannot agree on their beliefs and teachings.

Each faith tradition has its own sects which confess to varied beliefs and doctrines. In a way this is a great thing that we are able to do as humans. However, we tend to let these differences get in our way of working towards a better and greater community. Separately we can make little differences in the community around us. It is when we come together that we can multiply the impact upon our community and reach a greater number of people.

Throughout scripture Jesus calls us together to work with one another and to love one another. Jesus is the teacher of our faith and we must listen intently. We too can be teachers as we learn from him and share that with those around our community. This week we celebrate The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. We are called together to be with one another in prayer and love. The theme for this years Prayer for Christian Unity comes from 1 Peter:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10

The World Council of Churches has been celebrating The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity since 1968. Recorded prayers for our brothers and sisters in other churches can go back as far as Scotland in 1740 when prayers were included for all churches. It is a call for churches around the world to reach out with prayers and a sense of ecumenism to other churches in our community, country, and world. Trinity already has a history of coming together with our brothers and sisters at First UCC and First UMC various times throughout the year for services. What a wonderful thing it is for us to come together in unity to celebrate God and give thanks for one another. This week is a reminder to keep those relationships in our prayers as well as those that may be strained.

The churches of Latvia were instrumental in putting the resources together for this years Week of Prayer. Latvia’s churches have come together as it struggled as a new state in the aftermath of World War I until the second World War came and they fell under the rule of Nazism and Communism. It was during these times that it could be dangerous to make it known that you were a Christian. As the countries Christians came together in this time or turmoil they developed deep bonds with one another. After the country regained its independence in 1991, there has been a great renewal within the Christian churches in Latvia. The font that you see in this posting is from the Lutheran Cathedral in Riga, the nations capital. There is a good relationship among the nations largest denominations, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and other smaller Christian churches.

While it may not be perfect, there is a great sense of unity that occurs within the churches of Latvia. While unity seems to be the story in Latvia, at times it appears that in the United States there is more dis-unity. From the number of different denominations that we have to the independent work that is done by each of them.

Whenever disagreements sprout up within the church it appears to be another reason to split off and create a different church or denomination. It is my believe that it is much better to stay and enter into conversation with one another and be in relationship. During my second year of seminary I had the experience of having a congregation that I was working with decide to leave the ELCA. It was not a healthy time in the life of the church and left many split with differing viewpoints.

As a church we can accomplish much more as we work together in unity as a royal priesthood as 1 Peter states. We are not only called to live with God in our lives and actions, but also to live with our brothers and sisters. As we are called as God’s people, we must rejoice in the light that has brightened our darkness.  There is no better way than to rejoice together and lift one another up in prayer. One such instance that happened these past couple of days were Finnish Lutherans were welcomed at the table and received Holy Communion at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

As we pray and work together we multiply the love of Christ throughout our communities and neighborhoods. We are called to proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord, not individually, but communally. May we continue to pray for Christian Unity throughout our community, country, and world. By coming together may our prayers reverberate and may the saving Grace of Christ be experienced by all.

Apathy is Alive and Well

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Isaiah 62:1-5

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

I had the opportunity to meet Joe while doing a J-term class in Washington D.C. which revolved around hunger and caring for the oppressed within our society. Joe had quite the story and he was not afraid to share it with our group that was learning about the many ministries taking part in Washington D.C. to assist the homeless and those that lived in poverty.

Joe had quite the story to share with our group. He himself had recently been homeless and was not in a position where he could assist others and advocate for their care and well-being. Joe moved around the country being homeless. Starting in Colorado and then transitioning to Florida where it was just a little bit warmer. He found that Florida was not to his liking and moved to New York City. He would have to really search for a spot to sleep at night and if he took someone else’s spot he would be sure to pay for it, either by having his stuff stolen and/or being beat up. He struggled to keep himself looking like he belonged with everyone else in the city by keeping clean. Eventually it got to the point where he did not care about what he looked like or what most people thought. Some of his mental health issues he had began to overrun his life. He eventually hopped on a train and headed to Washington D.C. It was here that he found the help that he needed and would start to pull himself out of the deep hole that he was in by people that truly showed their love for him. Now he had the opportunity to be a voice for those whose struggles matched his.

When there is a voice that can step up amongst a group that is experiencing much of the same struggles and challenges it is a wonderful thing. Quite often though many of these voices go unheard or are silenced by those that are just a little bit louder. There also comes a time when it is easier for us to go about our own business and let others worry about the problems facing others in our state, country and world.

Our lack of interest in or concern for those things that interest others or the ability to just look past their struggles with no emotion is Apathy. If Jesus expressed apathy for all of those around him we would not even know who Jesus was today. Jesus was born into this world to show God’s love in a physical form and to squash those same ideas of apathy 2000 years ago. As Jesus shares the story of the good Samaritan it is those that just walk right by that are apathetic.

In our reading from the Old Testament this morning, Isaiah steps up for the people of Israel and Zion.

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give.  Isaiah 62:1-2

Isaiah remains persistent that he will walk with Zion through their time in the wilderness and now their return to their homeland. It is not an easy return. It is one that takes time and adjusting back to a way of living that they are not familiar with. This is now a new generation that has returned and are once again returning to the land that was given to them by God and which Moses began a journey to. Isaiah will not remain silent! He speaks up for those that are oppressed and for those that are mistreated by others and feeling no love. God made a promise to the people of Israel and Isaiah is present to make sure that God holds fast to that promise. He will not remain silent! God is capable of doing wonderful and miraculous things because this is a God of the oppressed first. God comes bearing hope and a promise for those whose hope has vanished.

Mary, mother of Jesus, does not remain silent in our gospel lesson this morning because she knows Jesus can do wonderful things in the midst of the guests at the wedding. This is an opportunity for Jesus to begin his ministry in the gospel of John and to begin to share with people the miraculous things he can do. She speaks boldly and does not remain silent because God has made a promise in his son Jesus.

History is ripe with people that have not remained silent. People that have passionately spoke up for those things that they believe in and to ensure that others are cared for and loved as Jesus would have loved them and does love them. Martin Luther did not remain silent when it came to his belief that the Roman Catholic church had step outside of its boundaries. There have also been other numerous church leaders that have stepped up in times of conflict and struggle throughout the history of the church.

Gandhi refused to remain silent when it came to the fight for independence from Great Britain in India. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu refused to remain silent in the fight to end apartheid in South Africa, which we are finding is still an ongoing struggle. Bishop Oscar Romero refused to remain silents as he stood up for the rights of those that he served in El Salvador. Even the current #Blacklivesmatter movement within our own country refuses to remain silent and brings to light the struggles that we are quite often apathetic towards.

This close to Martin Luther King, Jr. day I cannot forget him. He refused to remain silent as he fought to end segregation and proclaim God’s Word at the same time. In his letter from a Birmingham Jail, King addresses the church’s calling at that time and honestly I don’t believe it has changed to this day

But the judgement of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the 20th century, (or today, the 21st century).

Part of our call from God is to listen to where those that are oppressed need help in their time of struggle. We must not remain silent! We must reach out with love and care to those that are in need. One such area for us to reach out today is to the city of Flint through the Southeast Michigan Synod and assist Salem Lutheran Church in caring for and loving their neighbors through this time of uncertainty. We must not remain silent! It is my hope that you have prayed about assisting them financially, in prayers or both as they shine the light of Christ for all to see in a city that is angry and upset over what has transpired. May we help them in sharing the love of God with people that feel oppressed and not heard.

May we all continue to proclaim God’s Word for all to hear. May we refuse to remain silent when we see our brothers and sisters silenced in their own struggles and challenges. May Jesus be with us in all that we do as we spread love wherever we go.

 

Ground Control to Major Tom

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Those were some of the first words that I recall hearing while attending U2’s 360° Tour a few years ago. If my memory serves me right it kicked off the wonderful evening that was about to ensue as Bono, The Edge, Adam, and Larry took the stage to commence in an incredible concert.

I have to admit that I have followed David Bowie very little throughout my life. I am of course familiar with some of his top songs. I truly enjoyed the article that Rolling Stone released yesterday following his death. This offering from Lyndsey Parker at Yahoo Music also was incredible and highlights some of Bowie’s best videos. Both of these reminded me of some his great songs as well as some that I were not quite familiar with and will be added to my playlist.

My first impression that I had of David Bowie was from my older brother who included him in the constant mix of music that came from his room. It is the image that leads off this blog that is the first image of Bowie that comes to my mind because it was from an album my brother owned.

Bowie was never afraid to reinvent himself and step beyond expected boundaries. What an example for people that feel as though they are hemmed in. Throughout his music career he was constantly changing his persona and truly was an incredible musician and actor.

There are also parts of the spiritual that resides within much of his music from the very beginning with Space Oddity to the release of his last album just a few days ago, Blackstar. There was something about the title track that moved me when I viewed the video after it was first released. The lyrics speaking to a solitary candle that reminds me of the light that is within us all.

His swan song, Lazarus, is even more moving after his death on Sunday. It definitely could be seen as a prophecy of what was to come. He knew his time was short and the message that he leaves with his listeners is one of hope. The late night shows all touched upon his death last night and I really enjoyed the clip that Trevor Noah shared on the Daily Show in which David Bowie speaks to pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. May you rest in peace David Bowie.

“If you feel safe in the area that you are working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you are capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you are just about in the right place to do something exciting.” ~David Bowie

Book Review: On Writing by Stephen King

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I have had this book for many years. I believe I bought it thinking that one day I may become a writer and it would be useful. While I am not a big follower of Stephen King, even though my Mother has read every single one of his books, I have enjoyed many of his books. I pulled this book out over a month ago after the recommendation in one of the clergy groups I am a member of on FaceBook.

This book is part memoir and part instruction. King shares with the reader the story of his childhood and the many experiences he had while growing up. It was not an easy childhood, and within it many stories may have had their basis. He shares from his early days as a teacher and the letters of rejection that he would receive, yet also the more positive acceptance letters that started coming his way.

The last two-thirds of the book is directed to writing in general. As a pastor there are a lot of articles that I write throughout the course of a month as well as a sermon every week. The instructions that he gives to writers can be very much directed towards the profession of a pastor. His pointers for cutting out unnecessary conversation and words can be very much relatable to the weekly sermon preached to the congregation on a weekly basis.

He also shares the processes that he has went through in writing many of his novels. Writing is a process and it takes time to refine to a point which is eventually presentable. It feels at times as a pastor that you have to do this on a much quicker basis. While I find this useful for many areas of writing, maybe one day I will even write the book that I am envisioning using these similar processes.

Baptized in Your Love

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Aren’t the many attributes of water amazing? There are not too many elements that are stronger and have the power that water does. Water gives us life, and it can also take it away. From the story of the flood in Genesis to our present day floods down south where we can witness houses swept away, the destructive power of water is made very evident and real. Yet, what is it that we turn towards to quench us and refresh our spirit? It cleanses us and gives us new life.

Water can quench us on a hot day or while in the midst of exercising. It is also used as we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This isn’t just any old baptism that we are speaking about this morning. This is Jesus’ baptism! This is the Son of God being baptized before he is about to begin his ministry! There is power in this action and the water that washes over him. In Jesus’ baptism he acknowledges that he was born into a world that is full of sin and is in solidarity with it.

Many of you, if not the majority of you, do not remember the day that you were baptized. You may have a certificate of that day, possibly even pictures of the actual event or celebration that took place afterwards. In the Lutheran Church we baptize infants and it is a joyous event, as well as any baptism at any age. It is just much easier to carry an infant around the sanctuary welcoming them to the family of Christ than it is an adult.

I guess the one thing that I like to think I have in common with Jesus is that we were baptized at about the same age. Many of you know my story or have heard bits and pieces of it along the way. Our celebration today of the Baptism of our Lord is actually the Tenth Anniversary of my families baptism. I have the ability to remember the events and reflect upon the pictures that were taken. The funny thing is though, I was a little disappointed.

I truly wanted to see some doves or experience them descending upon me. I wanted a huge AHA! moment to happen within my baptism. Yes, it brought tears and I was happy. However, where were the fireworks? I had high expectations. Not much different than those that were following John the Baptist. They were looking for a Messiah and they were hoping that he was it. In a way I expected a total life change in that moment, right there! It does not happen quite like that though, unless by chance you are the Son of God.

Even post-baptism there is still a lot of stuff that goes on in our lives and at times a lot of the stuff we wish did not happen. It is in our baptism though that we may start to see a few more glimpses of Christ and the burning away of the old. As John says, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” We all carry around some chaff. Some crap that we would just like to be rid of. The promise that comes in our baptisms is not one of perfection. We are not suddenly in this utopian wonder place where everything is neat and clean and we get everything we want. There is a promise that we receive in our baptism!

The promise that comes in our baptism is a promise of love. No matter what mistakes we make in life or what fools we make of ourselves. Christ is present in all of them. Lenny Kravitz sings a song titled Baptized. It speaks to this love and the redemption that comes in the cleansing waters.

I don’t wanna look around
And be turned to stone
All my darkest days awoken
I’m looking for a new way
I can’t make it on my own
Lead me to a place wide open
I need a love that takes me higher
So high I’m never coming down
I don’t wanna know emptiness
Take me down to the water
Wanna be baptized in your love
Far away from the loneliness
Take my heart and wash away the fear
Let me be baptized in your love (1)

The story of Jesus’ baptism in Luke is slightly different than our other gospel writers. He is not singled out. He does not have a conversation with John the Baptist. Jesus is baptized with many other people. People that are broken and in need of healing. People that are weighed down by the pressures in their lives. I picture them lining up as John baptizes each person individually, eventually coming to Jesus. That same love is bestowed upon Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

That love is multiplied as we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is in our one baptism that we are surrounded by God’s love with is perpetual; even when it feels we are surrounded by darkness.

We find Jesus praying after he is baptized and this should be an example for us. What begins in our baptism is lived out through our daily life and in prayer as we continually ask for the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. Jesus was empowered and guided through prayer throughout his entire ministry, so too should we embody the same life of prayer.

It is here that Jesus’ ministry begins.

So, Now What? Where are we called to go? For our ministry has already begun. In everything that we say and do we reflect what is important in our lives and where our heart resides.

How do your words and actions reflect the water that washed over you in baptism?  How do you reflect that never-ending love that you receive? May you always remember that love.

 

(1) Baptized written by Terry Britten, Gerry DeVeaux, Lenny Kravitz)