God’s Grace is Sufficient

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This past week was my first visit to Houston. It is an incredibly large town and yet while we were at the NRG Park Complex, it seemed very secluded from the rest of the city as our food choices were limited to food trucks and concessions. Which honestly, is not too bad unless you are vegetarian, and your daughter must eat gluten free.

Transportation around town also provided a challenge since we did not have a vehicle. We chose to utilize Uber. It was in these Uber trips that we were able to experience a little of the diversity of the city. Victor’s family came from Mexico before he was born, and he drove to make extra money to support his family. Asomgyee came to the United Stated from the United Kingdom and was a professor at a local college earning extra money during the summer. Desta was our Uber driver on Friday after we decided to eat a nice dinner out before heading to NRG Park for the evening. Desta came to the United States from Ethiopia and is now a United States Citizen. He grew up in the Lutheran church in Ethiopia and now works with the youth of his church in Houston.  All three of them commented on the number of buses that they had seen around town transporting the 31,000 ELCA youth and how incredible it was that we were present in Houston.

I loved hearing their stories and was able to see God’s grace working in each of them. Not only is God’s grace sufficient, it reaches beyond all boundaries and changes everything. In this grace, we experience unending love that resonates in hope for the future.

The disciples were challenged when Jesus sent them out for the first time. He gave them authority over the unclean spirits and urged them to go out and heal. Imagine the apprehension that they had when first given this task. Many of them not too long ago had been out fishing in their boats. They had witnessed the coldness that Jesus received from his own community he grew up and they had to be wondering if he has trouble with those he knows, how can we bring healing to those that do not even know us.

They were placed in unfamiliar surroundings and instructed to do the things that they would not have even dreamed of just a couple of years before. Have you ever been placed in these circumstances? Maybe it is a new job that you have just started. Perhaps it was going off to college and leaving the familiar behind. It may have even been when you found out that you were going to be a parent for the first time. The apprehension can come to us in many different venues and yet we are not alone when we enter these places.

The youth and adult leaders that went to National Gathering were presented with many things to be apprehensive about and questions arose about our place in the world as the church of Jesus Christ. We got to meet new friends, which can be overwhelming when there are over 30,000 people. We heard from speakers with some challenging words on tough subjects, from immigration to hunger, self-harm to addiction, and what it means to be transgender to how race shapes who are you. Remembering, that the theme of the Gathering was, “This Changes Everything!” Let’s take a brief look at the week that was experienced by our group and over 30,000 youth and adult leaders.

Each of the speakers spoke to the love that they found in the church. The people that embraced them and helped them through their rough times. The stories that they shared are stories that we can relate to. Those that shared of their own personal struggles and challenges realized that they were broken and that there is nothing wrong with that. They found out that they are loved, and they were able to find hope in the gospel of Jesus.

Their brokenness is no different than ours. Each of us have our own cracks and bruises. Our own scars and hurts. It is to this brokenness and weakness that Paul writes to in his second letter to the Corinthians. He had his own brokenness and weakness and he confessed to them. It is in this that he hears God saying, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

There is an unbinding hope found in those words. When we find ourselves bound by our own brokenness, Christ is there waiting for us with a message of grace that cleanses everything clean. It is this grace that changes everything. We cannot do any of it on our own, but through Jesus and his love poured out for us on the cross. We are changed by his love forever.

Let us pray, Lord God, you come to us in ways that we are not even aware. We may see you in others, or in those things that surround us. Through it all, we desire to be changed. To live lives that reflect your love and compassion. May we experience your call, love, hope, and grace that changes everything. Amen

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Love Changes Everything!

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June 24, 2018

Mark 4:35-41    

 

The wind picked up and the smell of rain hung in the air as the disciples began to fight the waves that battered the boats. They would soon be drenched by the rain that poured down. Through it all, Jesus remained sleeping in the stern of the boat.

While the storm in our story is physical, we can be battered by storms of all types as we live our lives. The storms ebb and flow as we interact and learn how to live into relationships and community. We can be a witness to the storms that others encounter as we stay in touch with the news.

There are times as a pastor that I struggle to discuss current events. However, I would be failing in my calling to share the gospel and would be complicit to current events if I did not speak to the instances of actions counter to God’s Word in our world. You would have had to be completely unplugged this past week or two to miss the news around the separation of families at the borders of our country. We can argue about specifics, but it is true that families have been torn apart and in the midst of it Jesus weeps.

I’ll admit that the immigration process in the United States is far from perfect. However, nothing justifies separating a family. Doing so, closes our hearts to the sharing of God’s love with our neighbors. When we open our hearts to Jesus, he calms the storms and reminds us that we are not alone.

The storms that the disciples encounter in our gospel text are not the first. While we cannot know for sure, I don’t think that I would be far off from saying that they experienced many other adversities. Life is full of adversities and I am sure that they had experienced deaths and sicknesses where they came to God in their despair. Not only did they encounter those storms, they traveled with Jesus and would occasionally enter villages where they were not welcome. If you recall, Jesus himself was not welcome in Jerusalem and Mary and Joseph had to escape with him to Egypt as refugees. Imagine what would have happened if Jesus had been separated from his parents.

In the storm, the disciples are overwhelmed with a sense of fear. A fear that encompasses their very beings that entices them to call on Jesus. The fear that welled up is not an uncommon emotion. That fear is also visible in the book of Job and our reading from it this morning as God calls out to him and more less asks him, “Who do you think you are?” Job’s fear pushed him to a point that he was not thinking right and thought he could do everything on his own.

Humanity is not too different than Job. Many times, the first inclination is to do it on our own and question those that tell us differently. I know that I have fell into this camp on more than one occasion. We look beyond what God has to say and the call that Jesus has placed upon our hearts as disciples. The fear that pushes us to do so wells up in the storms that disturb our comfortable lives.

There are many children that know nothing but storms. The overwhelming majority that seek safety in the United States are doing so because they are escaping their own deaths. Rosa, 9, and Juan, 12, came from the same village in Honduras. They reported that a gang running in their neighborhood was known to kidnap children, kill them, and sell their organs on the black market. The gang was also known to kidnap children, cut them open, put drugs in their bodies, sew them back up and use the bodies as containers to traffic drugs. Both children said their teachers in Honduras would warn the students about this gang and instructed children to interact with nobody during their walks to and from school. Both children said they knew children from the neighborhood that had been kidnapped and never seen again.[i]

In the meantime, we argue about who should and should not be allowed into the country. We argue over the wrong questions. Instead of being welcome and walking alongside those that are seeking a place to feel safe, they are separated and placed into detention centers, which Michigan has its own share. Battle Creek, Monroe, and even Port Huron all have certain levels of detention centers.

The ELCA is working to walk with these children. To show them that they are loved and not treated like animals that are put into a cage. AMMPARO, or Accompanying Minor Migrants with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities, is a commitment by the ELCA to walk with children that are forced to leave their homes because of violence, the threat of death, and other issues that rob them of their childhood. Because of AMMPARO, both Rosa and Juan are now doing well in transitional foster care, have been connected to legal services, and have been found eligible for relief.

Through the love of Jesus, the ELCA is reaching out to change their lives for the better. I had an opportunity to meet Mary Campbell, the director of AMMPARO, a couple of weeks ago as we toured Southwest Detroit with the Immigration Team of the synod. We shared opportunities of how we could connect with one another in ministry. Our youth and adult leaders going to National Gathering this next week will have an opportunity to learn more about AMMPARO and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. Just yesterday I received notice from Samaritas, that they are seeking support and homes to house some of these children that have been separated from their families with the goal of reuniting them with their parents. This is God’s Work in our world today through our own hands.

Through the love of Jesus, change can happen. It is here that we find the theme of the National Gathering: This Changes Everything! When we come to talk and meet each other with open minds, arms, and hearts, Jesus becomes a part of the equation. It is here that we learn to talk with love for our sisters and brothers and fear starts to vanish. The storms that we had previously encountered are calmed and we find Jesus right beside us, where he has always been.

The disciples also discovered that Jesus changes everything. They knew who to turn to when the storm started battering their boats and the ones that had gathered near them. They may not have fully understood what Jesus could do, but they had faith in him and knew that somehow, he would be able to calm the storm that had engulfed them.

Jesus continued to approach storms throughout his ministry with the disciples and he knew how each one needed to be addressed. Welcoming Jesus into the storm is where true change began to happen. The change did not first happen in the weather that rocked the boats, but in the hearts of those that came to Jesus. They had placed their faith in him.

Jesus chose to weather the ultimate storm to show his love for all of humanity. He did not approach his death on the cross lightly and at times had reservations about it. However, he made the decision to be battered by storms that filled the disciples first with fear. On the other side of the storm, the Resurrection, the disciples are reassured that they do not enter their storms alone. Through Jesus they encountered the ultimate love and hope. A love that changes everything.

Let us pray. Life changing God, you give us everything we need when we need it. We do not walk alone in our storms and we give thanks for you accompanying us. May you be with us as we learn to accompany those that seek refuge and your love. Amen.

 

[i] AMMPARO, 40 stories for the 40 Day Bible and Prayer Challenge,

http://www.elca.org/ Resources/AMMPARO#ForSynodsAndCongregations

Simply Being

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June 17, 2018

Mark 4:26-34

 

Somewhere along the timeline of civilization an idea was planted that we must get ahead. We must be better than those that came before us. We must have better jobs then our parents. For many, there is the predominant thought that the more toys that they have is surely a sign of how well they are doing in life. Let’s not talk about the debt that many go into to get these toys.

I was not immune to this line of reasoning. The moment that I walked through campus my freshman year of college, I signed up for those credit cards. I had to maintain the lifestyle I was accustomed to before moving a couple of hours away from home. It took me a while to learn differently, and quite frankly, the learning is still happening. In my twenties, I thought I was going to get rich and retire early by being part of a multi-level-marketing company. The only thing that happened was that I went into more debt and almost destroyed my marriage.

We always want more and find it hard to settle for enough. Wendell Berry wrote the following in the forward to a book,

The industrial era at climax…has imposed on us all its ideals of ceaseless pandemonium. The industrial economy, by definition, must never rest….There is no such thing as enough. Our bellies and our wallets must become oceanic, and still they will not be full. Six workdays in a week are not enough. We need a seventh. We need an eighth….Everybody is weary, and there is no rest….Or there is none unless we adopt the paradoxical and radical expedient of just stopping.[i]

When we strive for the things that are not of God, we draw ourselves further from the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is found in the simple and even mundane. The kingdom of God resides in the simplest things that are quite often overlooked and easily neglected.

The gospel of Mark starts sharing Jesus’ parables at the end of chapter 3. We heard the first last week in our gospel lesson. The parables continue into chapter 4 and into our gospel lesson for today. Jesus teaches in parables to help the disciples and others listening to understand how the world that they are currently living relates to the kingdom of God. The parables are comparisons meant to place two things alongside one another to provide analogies, contrast, or reflection. Quite often, that reflection is based on the comparison of two vastly different things.[ii] An outcome is usually present that is not expected. Jesus turns the expectations of those that are listening upside down.

In the first parable of the seed, Jesus concludes, “But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” This is language that is taken from the prophet Joel referring to the final judgement. It can also be found in Revelation. At this point, Jesus does not say who will be on what side of the harvest, but I am sure that he probably caught their attention. The faith that they have grown up in looks towards the judgement day as one where God will separate the goat from the sheep or the chaff from the grain. For the leaders in the synagogue, it is a matter of who is in and who is out. If you recall, this is much about what are gospel lesson brought to us last week.

Like many of his parables, I am sure that Jesus leaves the disciples thinking about this one for a while. And yet, the disciples are probably still having a hard time of coming to an understanding about what Jesus is talking about. Remember, this is still early in our gospel and in Mark’s version, we still have some distance to travel.

You must admit, that as far as stories or parables go, the first one that we hear this morning is pretty boring. It lacks the action that we like to see in stories. It lacks the raw emotion that we could witness in the parable of the prodigal son. It lacks the variety of soils that are present at the beginning of chapter 4 in the parable of the sower.

A simple seed is scattered on the ground. From this point, it is all a mystery! The boringness of it, is probably why the other gospel writers did not include this parable in their gospels.

We are left wanting more. The disciples were probably left wanting more. How can they be left to sit in the mystery and wonder? Yet, this is where Jesus is calling them to as his disciples. He has asked them to leave everything behind and follow him. For the most part, they seem to be following directions fairly well. Sure, they stick their foot in their mouth from time to time, but they are listening to Jesus and trying their hardest to comprehend and contemplate on what he is saying.

There is a lesson in the simplicity of this parable. The kingdom of God is found in the simplicity. Nothing is required on the part of the one scattering the seeds. “The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” Jesus could be easily explaining the growth of corn. It is almost like a science book! You have the seed that is placed in the ground and eventually it starts to grow. As it grows then the husks grow, and the corn is formed, and it can be harvested. God provides everything that is needed in the process, from the rain to the sun to the rich soil. It all comes from God in ways that they do not understand.

The simplicity that Jesus brings to the disciples in the parable, is the same simplicity that is available for us to embrace today. We don’t live lives that are meant to be on television or in the movies. Honestly, the stories that we do see on the big or small screens manage to usually weed out the boring and simple things that are usually more dominant in our lives. If you want to see a movie that includes the boring and portrays life in a true manner, watch Manchester by the Sea. Life is in the ordinary. Life is in the mundane. Life at times can be very boring. God meant for us to live our lives as if we are already in the kingdom of heaven.

We choose to create our own kingdoms with our desires and thoughts that we must strive for even more. However, we are like the seed that is scattered on the ground. We are created by God and we will be provided by God’s creation. Our lives are highlighted by school, marriage, children, baptisms, and possibly eventually grandchildren and more baptisms. In the midst of it, we encounter crises as well. Yet, we are called to live in the simplicity of just being. Being created in God’s image, living in the mystery, and rejoicing in the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray. Mysterious and awe-inspired God, how could we ever fully understand the creation that surrounds us. Help us live into the unknown and be comfortable in it. Let us breathe in the very essence of your being and creation so that we may encounter you in every breath we take. Amen.

 

 

[i] Wendell Berry in a forward for Norman Wirzba’s book, Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight

[ii] David Lose, In the Meantime blog

You Are Enough!

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June 10, 2018

Mark 3:20-35

 

I can recall it like it was yesterday. It was summer, and my home congregation was living in the interim as we were waiting for a new pastor. In the meantime, I was helping the congregation bridge the gap from the pastor that was called to a new congregation, to the time that we awaited receiving a new pastor. I was in the pastor’s office and I was going over worship with the supply pastor that was present with us that morning. As we are talking I noticed a Victim’s Advocate for the Sheriff’s Department walking towards the office. She introduced herself and informed us that one of the congregation’s members took his own life over night and was found that morning by his mother in their backyard.

I was left stunned, not quite knowing what to say or do and the supply pastor, not yet called to his first church, was also wondering whom to reach out to. Since worship could not be put on hold, a member of the congregation that was a licensed lay minister went to sit and be with the family in their time of need.

What drives individuals to the point that they feel their last option is to take their own life? I wish I had an answer to this, however, it is not always that clear. Usually, the individual feels like an outsider in one way or another. In our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus welcomes the outsiders in and makes the insiders question what it truly means to be a child of God.

For the scribes, to be a child of God, is to follow the rule of the law. Everything is simply black and white and there is no gray area. There is no room for negotiation. There is no room for a conversation to further one’s understanding of what it means to live in creation and to be in relationship with it. Their understanding of Jesus is one that leaves little room for God.

Thus, they come to the understanding that Jesus has “gone out of his mind.” They are stating that he is just as crazy as some of the demons that he has vanquished from those that are suffering from “unclean spirits.” For them to state that he is crazy, they are trying to discredit him. They are attempting to get the people that are following him to realize that he is not following the rule of the law that was brought down to them from Moses. Yet, there are so many people that have come to listen and hear what he has to say that they can barely move and are not even given enough room to eat dinner.

By making these declarations, the scribes attempt to say who is in and who is out. They look upon those following Jesus as outsiders as well as those that he is reaching out to in love and compassion. It is in the scribes’ declaration that he is out of his mind that his family has came to talk some sense into him. Perhaps, they are afraid of the shame that could come upon the entire family as Jesus continues to heal and proclaim God’s kingdom.  Perhaps, they are afraid of what could happen to Jesus; for Mary must recall everything that has happened up to this point and realize that Jesus is not an ordinary son to her. However, it does not seem to matter their reasoning, Jesus appears to have disowned his family at this point. In their rejection of him, we see the relationship of the Trinity hold fast. In their rejection of Jesus, it means that the rejection continues over to the Holy Spirit. To reject the Holy Spirit, hardens the heart and a darkness sets in.

That same darkness that leads to a hardened heart can project itself in our lives today as despair. A despair that is hard to come out of through your own strength. Unfortunately, those that find themselves in that darkness of despair today are often stated as being out of their mind. At one point or another, I am sure that we have all been in that darkness. Some people just have a much easier time of climbing out of the darkness.

Unfortunately, I have been a witness of despair taken to the point of death. A pastoral colleague, whose spouse took their own life. A pastoral colleague who took his own life the day before his installation in a new church. I have also been a witness to family members that have come back from that despair. It affects us all.

The darkness that we encounter today are not physical demons (a devil with horns), but demons that haunt our mental acuity. Evil exists and it attacks us in ways that highlight our weaknesses and at times leaves us gasping for breath. We argue over how to care for those that need emotional and mental help. Many times, that help is not available or very hard to attain. The Center for Disease Control just released some staggering numbers that the instances of suicide are up nearly 30% over the last two decades. These numbers should be a call for us to do something different.

This past week there have been two prominent suicides in the celebrity community, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. While these celebrity deaths highlight the growing concerns in our society, there are approximately 121 people in our country that decide to take their own lives every day. It is something that tends to get swept under the rug and rarely talked about. In the past, those that have taken their own lives were looked down upon and brought shame to their families. Because that is what society does!!! Those that think they know better quite often have the loudest voice and it becomes the prevailing understanding.

As society places groups of people on the outside, Jesus stands there to welcome them. When we begin to reject children of God, we begin to create our own kingdoms. Ones that are not the kingdom that God has intended for us. We reject the ideas and people that we fail to understand, or simply do not want to understand. We leave no room for the holy Spirit to work in our midst and refuse to see the good that is present in all of God’s creation.

It is in the middle of rejection that Jesus places himself. He knew that there were going to be struggles and that change was not going to come easily. The scribes and other authorities are not going to let him simply walk in and set everything in order. Their rejection did not start with Jesus. The rejection came to anything that they deemed fell outside of the law of God. Those things that fell outside of the religious rule as they heard not only from Moses, but also those laws that established themselves over the years.

It is here that Jesus brings a message of love and hope. A love and hope that welcomed the outsiders to be a part of the beautiful creation. A creation that encompasses the entire world. A creation that God called good.

While the scribes were busy drawing a line in the sand, Jesus was busy stepping over that line, or simply erasing it. While they were busy deciding who was in and who was out, Jesus was on the other side identifying with those that were marked as out. He was caring for them and loving them.

That same love washes over us today. A love that knows no bounds and welcomes all into the restoration of creation. Jesus calls us to action by calling us to do things that do not make sense. Things that are counter to our culture, just as they were counter to 1st century Israel. We too may be called out of our minds when proclaiming the love of Christ and the hope that he provides. If we are, then we are in good company. We are in company with Jesus and the disciples that carried his message forward into a world that needed a sign of hope and a promise that all will be made new.

The church needs to be a place of welcome for those that feel that they are on the outside. It needs to welcome those that feel they have nowhere else to turn. It needs to be a sanctuary for all of creation. If you have ever felt that despair and darkness, where depression has set in and hope has vanished, know that: You are important, and God made you just the way you are! You are pretty enough. You are smart enough. And you are good enough! You are loved! Loved by those that surround you and embrace you. You are loved, and you matter. You never have to face your challenges alone! There is always someone to turn to or a person that will walk with you to find that help.

For those that have lost a friend or family member to suicide, they are not alone. They are welcomed into the arms of our Lord. Probably with even a few more tears on Jesus’ part, but they are not lost and forsaken. They are a beloved child of God. Created in God’s image.

Jesus welcomes those that are outside of the peripheries. His wide-angle lens brings all into view as a son and daughter of God. He welcomes all of us into the greater family of God. We are called together as one family to share in the body and blood of Christ. We are called together as we are, where we are. Jesus welcomes us all to the table and loves us all. In this love we are restored and experience the grace of God.

Let us pray. Boundary breaking Christ, we give thanks for the families we are born into. More importantly, we give thanks for the family that is called to you in baptism. Through the waters we come together glorifying your word and receiving grace upon grace. Amen.

 

The Sabbath is for Us!

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June 3, 2018

Mark 2:23 – 3:6

 

Many of us may know the 3rd Commandment, but are we following it? Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. Rolf Jacobson, professor at Luther Seminary, thought this seemed a little too polite and rewrote the commandment for us living in the present:

What is wrong with you people? 168  hours in a week is not enough for you? I ask you to set aside just one day so that you can rest up long enough to be renewed for the coming week, and what do you do? Double overtime, 80-hour work weeks, and super centers open 24/7! How are you ever going to slow down long enough so that you can gather together in Christian worship and sit still long enough to hear the Word that I have to share with you? Stop! Listen!”[i]

I know, probably a little too in-your-face, yet it attracts our attention. Jesus reminds us that “the sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” (v. 2:27). The sabbath is created for us. For those that are overworked and underpaid. For those that are so stressed out they get ulcers and high blood pressure. For those that don’t know where to turn. The sabbath is created for humankind. It is a time to rest and be renewed so that we can reset and go back out and be God’s hands and feet in the world, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ through our words and actions.

Do you remember when the people of Israel received the Ten Commandments? After Moses led them out of the land of Egypt. A land where they had been enslaved and did not know what rest looked like. In the commandment to rest on the sabbath day, the Israelites were not only instructed to rest, but also their servants and animals as well. It was meant to be a day of renewal for all of God’s creation.

While this may have been the intention of the sabbath, this is not necessarily the way that the people of Israel viewed it in the 1st century. Jesus was not afraid to call them out on this fact either. He did not step out of his way to make sure he did not cause any waves. He did what he was called to do. He came with love and compassion that encompassed his entire ministry. When writing of the sabbath, N.T. Wright says that,

“It had become a weapon. It had become a sign of his fellow Jew’s commitment to a fierce and exclusive nationalism. Along with other badges and flags, it spoke now not of Israel as the light of the world but of Israel as the children of light and rest of the world as remaining in darkness. And this attitude, as so easily happens when religion and nationalism are wedded tightly together, spilled over into popular attitudes even towards fellow-Jews. For many groups, it wasn’t enough to be a loyal Jew; one had to be a better loyal Jew than the other lot. And in this no-win situation the whole point of the commandment – celebrating God’s creation and redemption, past, present and future – had been lost sight of. The rule mattered more than the reality.[ii]

This is where the Pharisees are when they keep watchful tabs on Jesus, hoping that he makes one wrong move, in their eyes, so that they can set the train into motion that will ultimately lead to the cross. The Pharisees believe that they have the only answer when it pertains to God and Jesus is stepping out of their preconceived notions. This is not only a challenge to their understanding of God, but it could impact the entire world!

We are now two thousand years removed from 1st century Israel, yet as humanity, we are not too far removed from the same sins. We continue to lift up our own righteousness over others and believe that we know everything. In the past couple of years, we have heard from the so-called evangelicals and their belief system that has drastically changed from the likes of Billy Graham. We have the word evangelical in our name, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. To be evangelical, we share the promise of the good news of Jesus Christ. To be evangelical, means that we should be excited around worship and the sharing of not only our faith, but the ministries we are doing. To be evangelical means welcoming all people in no matter where they are.

The evangelical that you hear of today, has nationalism so tied up within it that it speaks to the understanding of today’s gospel lesson that N.T. Wright comments. Our struggles and challenges that we face as part of the body of Christ, are not much different than the struggles and challenges that Jesus and the first disciples experienced two thousand years ago.

Jesus knew that whatever he chose to do on the sabbath would be criticized. He knew that the leaders of the synagogue and the Roman authorities would be keeping close tabs on him. He knew that they would be looking for ways to catch him in violation of anything they came up with. So, you might as well be bold in what you do.

First, he stands up for his disciples that are gleaning on the sabbath. To glean, means that they are picking from the harvest that was left behind. This was also a Jewish law. Those harvesting were to leave ten percent of their crops for those that are not as unfortunate. Almost like a 1st century food pantry. Jesus’ disciples were not doing anything wrong. They were not working. They were gathering what was needed to feed themselves. Again, as Jesus enters the synagogue, he challenges those that are watching by healing the man with the withered hand. What he does is not against the intention of the sabbath, yet the authorities have made their own rules and are looking for anything to squash this movement of Jesus.

The actions of Jesus’ disciples and the healing by Jesus that takes place in these passages are ones that are meant to highlight the sabbath. The disciples are being renewed and replenished in their well-being through the gleaning of the grains of wheat from the field. Creation is being fed and renewed! Again, in Jesus healing the man with the withered hand, he is restoring creation. He is bringing a sign of life to a man that has been seen as less by those that pass him by. Jesus’ love and compassion that shows through this gospel lesson is one that we can learn from today.

It is hard to find Jesus in the midst of our disagreements and bickering with one another. When we take up sides, we leave little room for Jesus and the Holy Spirt to work in our midst. We have become a society that is overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the options that are available to us and in our reaction to draw back, we go to extremes and strip everything away. In this stripping away, we manage to strip away Jesus as well.

We leave little room for Christ in our gathering because we think we know what it is right, and we do not need him to show us any different. And it is in this that we disregard the sabbath and become overwhelmed.

The sabbath was created for us too! The sabbath is meant for us to be renewed in the saving grace of God. The sabbath is meant for us to be reminded of the waters that we find in the baptismal font that wash over us and make us new. The sabbath is meant for us to be fed by the body and blood of Jesus Christ so that we may go out into the world and continue to be the hands and feet of Christ in a world that so much needs to hear of the saving grace of our lord and savior.

Let us pray. God of the sabbath, you have created a time of rest and renewal for us to find strength in you. May we take time, when we need it, to sit in the silence and welcome you into the craziness of our hectic lives. May our sabbath, whenever it may be, renew and refresh us to continue in the calling you have placed in our lives. Amen.

 

[i] Rolf Jacobson, Crazy Talk, pg. 150

[ii] Tom Wright, Mark for Everyone pg. 30

Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

childrenofbloodandbone

I’ll be honest, I probably would not have picked this book up if it had not been featured in a recent edition of BookPage. The one description that pulled me in was that it was the next Harry Potter.

I believe that statement may be a stretch, but it does draw ones attention and is a page turner. The book follows Zélie and her brother Tzain as they seek to restore magic to the Maji that had it taken from the several years ago. This hits close to home for them as their mother was a Maji and so is Zélie. In their journey they encounter the children of the king that had the magic destroyed and killed many of the adult maji, including their mother.

Does the apple fall far from the tree? The king’s daughter, Amari, has a close connection to the maji as her best friend and servant was a maji and also killed by her father. The jury may still be out on the king’s son, Inan.

The author’s writing style is easy to read and shows much promise as she is only in her mid-twenties. I imagine as the series continues for it to only get better and better. For being classified as a young adult book, the intimacy that is contained within it, may be pushing the boundaries for some. Not much more than many of the other young adult novels that are currently on the market.

It is a story that has been told over and over again in many books, movies and throughout time. It is ultimately a story of good against evil. It is also a story that speaks to the current events of our time in America. The voices of white privilege quite often prevail in our society and silence the voices of persons of color. Her author’s note is a must read as she shares that she “shed many tears before I wrote this book.” In light of the Black Lives Matter movement and the senseless killings of unarmed black men, women, and children. You can hear this coming through her writing and it pulls you into the heartache that each character experiences. A heartache that is not devoid of hope.

Let Us Join the Dance

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May 27, 2018, Holy Trinity Sunday

John 3:1-17

 

Who likes to dance?

I know that I witnessed some members of the congregation dancing a couple of weeks ago during Michael and Jessica’s wedding reception. That is about the time that I decided to leave!

I will admit, that I do have the high scores on some of the songs on our collection of Just Dance video games. That is about the only time you will find me dancing, in the privacy of my home. Or perhaps, out in public if the opportunity provides itself to embarrass my children.

There is power in dance, to invoke embarrassment, but more importantly to connect with those around you. That is why the language of dance is a great metaphor to connect to the relationship of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity is the image of relationship that we are called to live into as humanity. It is a dance that requires moving in time with one another and opening ourselves up to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, that does not mean that we won’t step on each other’s toes from time to time.

Sometimes, it is not just stepping on toes, it is stumbling and wondering where we are going to land. Within John’s words, come a mystery that is hard to define and fully understand. While Nicodemus appears just as dense as the apostles do throughout the gospels, we are left feeling for him and his lack of understanding. Jesus’ words are not necessarily easy to understand. His words appear to be a riddle where one must be standing on the same side of Jesus to fully understand. In a way this is true. “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit” (vs. 6). Jesus is on the side of the Spirit.

Nicodemus’ understanding of God still resides in the flesh. He has yet come to know the Spirit and the power that it yields in the very life of all humanity. If you recall, Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. The mystery that surrounded Jesus was very intriguing for this Pharisee. He truly had a desire to understand what Jesus’ purpose was and how he related to God. He knew that he came from God yet was still at a loss for a complete understanding. However, he cannot quite wrap his mind around what Jesus is saying.

Apparently, he was not the only one. When he first approaches Jesus, he tells him, “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” His coming at night is a reflection of where he is in his faith and understanding of Jesus. Yes, it is good to study the Torah in the evening, but the evening also provides a good cover so that those that want to see Jesus quieted, do not see Nicodemus interacting with the one that is soon to turn Jerusalem upside down.

Nicodemus asks the question, “How can these things be?” (vs 9) Now, if you are a good Lutheran, this question may sound somewhat familiar. As Luther walks through his catechism, each section he asks, “What does this mean?”

We are inquisitive people and it is nice to know why we believe what we do. However, when it comes to the Holy Trinity, we are often caught up in the mystery with few answers in sight. While the number of Americans that do not claim a specific faith tradition as their own continues to grow, that does not mean that they are not inquisitive. There is still a longing for connection.  A longing to dance with people and practices that fulfill the desire within our hearts.

Perhaps you have heard people say, “Well, I consider myself Spiritual, but I am not religious.” First, I am not fully aware what this means, and I am not sure if they fully know what it means. I do not think it is too off base to equate people that place themselves in this category with Nicodemus. There is an intrigue within both to discover more about the mystery of God and how it relates to their lives as they interact with others. Being spiritual is not a bad thing in itself. Neither is being religious. There are times when both can be taken to extremes and we lose our focus on the center of it all, Jesus Christ.

Nicodemus had an inkling that Jesus knew something that he did not. He sensed that there was more to Jesus then just what he saw in the signs that he performed. He desired to be closer to Jesus and learn from him. He recognized him as a teacher and he wanted to become the student. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night hoping to find something or hear something that he hoped would unveil the mystery. It was Jesus that came to him though.

Jesus came to Nicodemus bringing a hope that he had only dreamed of. While he stumbled along the way, stepping on Jesus’ feet and even over his own words, Jesus shared with him that dance. The mystery that plays out with God the father, himself, and the Spirit. Jesus uses baptismal language to connect with Nicodemus, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (vs 5). Nicodemus came to see Jesus in the cover of night only to have the light revealed to him that can only be found in Jesus Christ. A light that vanishes all darkness. A light that begins to reveal the kingdom of God. A light that is full of hope and love.

 

Grace in the World

The same mystery is with us today. We do not fully understand the Holy Trinity and the complexity that surrounds it. The light that was revealed to Nicodemus shines through all time and places as we wait to encounter the kingdom of God ourselves. You know what though? The kingdom of God has already started to come. In the water and the Spirit that Jesus speaks of, we find new life in the mystery that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the waters we are reminded of our baptisms and the saving grace that washed over us. The Spirit is present with us as we learned last week to intercede on our behalves whenever we need comfort and peace. At times that same Spirit even pushes us out into the wilderness to challenge us to live our lives more fully in Christ.

Each of you, by coming to worship, have made the conscious decision to enter the Holy Trinity School of Dance. In this school we learn how to let the Holy Trinity take the lead and be led by the Spirit. Richard Rohr, in one of his latest books The Divine Dance, reveals how this dance became visible in the incarnation.

          Jesus became incarnate to reveal the image of the invisible God. The personal Incarnation is the logical conclusion of God’s love affair with creation. Do you know why I can say this? Do you know why I can believe this?  Because I see it in human beings: over a period of time, we all become what we love. God in Jesus became what God loves—everything human.

          Jesus dramatically exemplified the oft-quoted line of the Latin poet Terence: “I am a human being, and nothing human is foreign to me.”

          Just show me what you love, and I’ll show you what you’re going to be like five years from now. Show me what you give time to, what your treasure is, what you give energy to—and I’ll show you what you’ll become.

          God had to become human once the love affair began, because—strictly speaking—love implies some level of likeness of even equality. The Incarnation was an inevitable conclusion, not an accident or an anomaly. It shouldn’t have been a complete surprise to us.

He goes on to state that humanity has failed to keep the Trinity intact. We easily look past the Spirit and even past Jesus for that matter. We put everything on God without a second thought and think that we need to appease God. However, it is a dance. A divine dance that takes our entire lives to learn and begin to understand.

In just a moment, we will sing Come, Join the Dance of Trinity. Just don’t sing the lyrics, listen to them and breath them in. For it is in love and hope that Jesus came to dance with us as the Spirit steps in to take the lead. Shall we dance?

Let us pray. Loving God, we may not be Fred and Ginger on the dance floor, but we invite you into our lives to dance and unveil your kingdom. Christ our brother, we give thanks for your flesh that bled to remind us of the love you have for us. May the Spirit lead us and guide us on this path, missteps and all, as we attempt to follow your will. Amen