God’s Promise of Forgiveness


May 18, 2018

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Every Master of Divinity student in the ELCA is required to take CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education). Usually this occurs after your first year of seminary. During CPE you become a chaplain, usually in a hospital setting, and care for patients as they encounter various health related issues. I had the opportunity of completing CPE at The Ohio State University Medical Center.

CPE is just as much a part of learning who you are as it is practicing your pastoral skills with patients and residents. One thing that I learned during my ten weeks in the program was that I could stomach many things and was actually quite intrigued by the process of surgery. I was honored by having two different patients let me be in the surgery room while they underwent surgery. The second surgery that I observed was an open heart surgery. I was assigned to the open heart surgical floor and wanted to walk with a patient from the time they entered the hospital through their surgery. Standing in the surgery room, all I could think of was this lesson from Jeremiah, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Now, I realize that this is a very literal interpretation, however, it is the heart that gives us life, and to witness it working outside of the body is an awe-inspiring experience.

God makes a new covenant with the people of Israel, unlike one that they have seen. In this covenant, God will write the law on the people’s hearts and the people will know God and sin will be remembered no more.

There is much that comes before this passage from Jeremiah this morning. We have already heard of three, if not four, different covenants that God has made with the people of Israel during this time of Lent. From Genesis to our reading in Jeremiah this morning, they have spread over many generations and millennia.

We have learned how the people of Israel, from the time of Noah, Abraham, Moses, and now to Jeremiah, have done a poor job of keeping the covenants that God has made with them. They have sinned and have fallen short of the Glory of God. As Jeremiah speaks to the people of Israel, it is no surprise that the covenant God made with their ancestors had been broken. This “old” covenant projects a God that is all powerful and shows little vulnerability. As we have heard these past few weeks, the people of Israel feared God and they would rather deal directly with Moses or another go-between. Yet, sin enters the picture and they are all left wondering where God is in the midst of their own self-loathing and denials. When they think they have followed the covenant, they quite often fall short. The people have not followed the law of God as it was given to them over and over again.

We are fools to not think that this happens today. We have violated the law many times under our own doing. From the very beginning, humankind was given the great gift of creation to care for and protect. Quite often, we fall short of our calling to care for creation. Woody Bartlett encourages us to,

Consider ways that Western humans currently exploit the creation. We walk as if with hobnailed boots on the “fragile earth, our island home.” Through a rapaciously consuming lifestyle, we overuse the earth, leading to global warming, habitat destruction, species extinction, and the general fouling of our nests. We violate the law of God given in Genesis to “till the garden and keep it,” as we threaten to undo the law of God established with Noah and all of the creatures of the earth after the great flood. (Feasting on the Word, Year B Volume 2, 127)

We look beyond one another instead of looking at each other. We fail to listen to one another’s ideas because surely we have the right answer. We are great at this in the church. Did you know that there are over a dozen different Lutheran churches within the United States because at one point or another we disagreed on various issues. If the church cannot fix its own brokenness, how can we expect the world to repair itself. We carry these arguments beyond ourselves and pit our beliefs against those of other faith traditions. Instead of learning to live together and be in conversation we put up walls and segregate ourselves.

Fortunately, God knew what would happen if the people of Israel were left to their own devices. What started in the Garden of Eden carried down to the people of Israel. The sin that pervades the life of humanity is not easily vanished and it is because of this that we receive a “new” covenant from God in the passage from Jeremiah. This “new” covenant could be a precursor to Jesus Christ. In this “new” covenant, God is the grain that dies and bears fruit.

To have the law written on the hearts of the people meant different things for different people. The desire for God, is to be in relationship with all of creation. By having the law written in the hearts of the people, it creates a faithful community that is present for one another as they journey through life. It creates a community for a people that had been broken and lost their spirit while in exile. In the law that is written on their hearts, they get to know God in a deeper and more meaningful way. God has now allowed vulnerability into the equation as God not only gets to know the people, but the people get to know God. “for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” And what is even better yet, is that God, “will forgive their iniquity, and remember sin no more.”

This is a story that we witness ourselves in Jesus Christ. We get to know the law first, and through that we encounter Jesus Christ. This is the reason that Martin Luther sets up his Small Catechism in the order that he does. We encounter the law in the Ten Commandments and find grace in the Lord’s Prayer. The promise of forgiveness that comes to us in the word’s of Jeremiah, is one that speaks to our own baptisms and the forgiveness of sins that occurs in the water. The same forgiveness that we encounter time and time again in our weekly confession and forgiveness. The same forgiveness that washes over us in our repentance.

The covenant that is made to the people of Israel and the house of Judah is one that carries over to this day. For all of creation. It is a covenant that is fulfilled for us in Jesus Christ. It is a covenant that is written on our hearts from the very beginning to the end of the age. A deep knowing that is already present within us and is just waiting for us to be open to dwelling in it.

The covenants that God has made with the people of Israel can guide us today. The covenants are promises made to the people. In these promises the past five weeks, God has promised commitment in the midst of temptation. In uncertainty and times of challenges there is a promise of new life. God has promised to be with us in community to draw one another together. In the midst of that community we are also called to repentance to experience a promise of healing. All of this culminates in the days to comes as we begin to approach the cross and Holy Week. It is in the upcoming services that we have the opportunity to walk with God and to have God walk with us. To be open to a knowing and loving God that has written the law on our hearts. It is in our hearts that we experience the light of Christ and the truth that leads us to a resurrected life.

Let us pray. Forgiving God, we come to you this Lenten season to repent of those times we have turned away from you and failed to be bold in our faith. We give thanks for being in relationship with you and for your love that beats in our own hearts. As we continue on our path in this season of Lent, may we be guided by your light. Amen


God’s Promise of Healing


Numbers 21:4-9

These past few weeks we have heard the Word of God spoken to the people of Israel through covenants that abound with hope. We have encountered God in the remnants of  the flood and the promise of commitment that has been made with Noah and his family. In Abraham and Sarah there is a promise of new life and God promises them the birth of Isaac. Last week we witnessed the promise of community in the Ten Commandments that Moses gives to the people through God.

This morning we are given Moses and snakes! If this congregation is a good representation of adults in our country, at least a third of you are afraid of snakes. From a large boa constrictor to the smallest garden snake, they are all slimy and engage our flight mechanism to run when we see them. They can also be very fascinating creatures.

We have a creature at home. No it is not a snake! His name is Rabil, and he is a leopard gecko. He does have one thing in common with snakes. Every couple of months or so, he will decide that is time to shed his skin. To watch the process, is both fascinating and disgusting at the same time. We can tell when it is time to shed his skin, because his color will become dull. However, with the shedding of the old skin, he once again appears a bright orange and yellow. In a way, there is a healing that takes place in this process.

A healing not unlike the one that the Israelites encounter this morning. While, God may not come right out and state a covenant this morning, we can find the promise of healing that is found on the cross as we look up.

This may be far one of the strangest stories that we will hear during the season of Lent. Some of you may recall hearing it in the past, while others are just left wondering the weirdness of it. It is a continued reflection on the Israelites quickness to turn away from God. They slip into their old way of doing things and forget of their salvation out of the land of Egypt. Perhaps, the hurt that they are showing in today’s lesson is magnified by the fact that Aaron has recently died. If you recall, Aaron was the mouthpiece for Moses because he was not gifted with speaking like Aaron had been. Aaron had been just as much of a leader for them as Moses and they did not know where to go from here.

However, there is a history of them turning their back on God. It seems at times they have done nothing but complain. They complained because there was no water to drink when coming out of the land of Egypt, and Moses ensures that their thirst is quenched. They complained when they thought God was going to let them die in the wilderness, and God provided bread from heaven. Moses once again provides water for them after more complaints as he strikes a rock with his staff. They complain because they have no meat to eat and God provides quail. Before Aaron dies, they are once again complaining of no water and it is remedied.

You may notice, there is a pattern here. As the people complain, God provides. They are taken out of their comfort zone and are struggling in the wilderness that has now become their lives. While God provides hope, it is soon forgotten. They are getting weary of the traveling and would like to know what the future holds for their families.

Thus we find ourselves this morning in the midst of serpents. Snakes that bite and kill. These serpents that came to move around their camps were their worst fears and they did not know what to expect. It is not necessarily the snakes that are killing them, but their worries, fears, and anxieties that have left them wondering what is next. There does not seem to be an end to the journey that Moses has led them and they do not want to die in the emptiness that they now find themselves.

Surprisingly, in the midst of the snakes, the people have learned to repent of their ways. They come to tell Moses, “We have sinned against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” In this repentance comes the sign of healing for the people. Moses is instructed to take a poisonous serpent and set it on a pole and in it should bring healing. Once again, the weirdness of the story shines through. It’s almost like we are reading Harry Potter instead of the Book of Numbers. This is not an idol that Moses has created. It is a sign of hope. A sign of healing that is placed in front of the people. For those that are bit, all they need to do is look up to it and be healed. With this action Moses wanted them to trust in the healing power that comes to them through God. This is the promise that God brings to them at this time in their suffering.

We are not exempt from suffering. Like the Israelites looking toward an end to their journey in the wilderness, we too look with longing and anticipation on those things that are just outside of our grasp. We too grumble when things do not go our way. We grumble because we had different expectations and those expectations were not met. We grumble when we do not think we have enough.

We are surrounded by our own serpents. Those warnings that reach up to bite us to make us aware that we may not be quite going down the right path. These are signs that we have detoured and have found ourselves headed down a dead-end path instead of on a path to redemption in which we are called to by Jesus. Instead of praying for help and guidance we wallow in our own self-pity and fall into a complacency. I am sure that if we think about it, we can name those serpents in our lives. It could be be an addiction. It could be greed. It could be anger and self-righteousness. Serpents can come in all types and forms. The challenge is not to give those serpents any power.

Phyllis Tickle, referring to this passage, writes:

“And what the story recognizes is that all of us are going to be bitten—painfully bitten—in this life. Most of us learn that truth fairly quickly just from experience. But, according to the story, it is not the being bitten that we in this imperfect world can do anything about; it is only the how we respond to being bitten that we can control. When we look up, usually we are saved by that very act of faith for it is when we look down and struggle with what is tormenting us that we most often empower it by the very attention we are going to give it.” [“A Serpent in the Desert”]

This season of Lent calls us to repentance. To repent of the sins in our lives that have led us down the wrong path; those serpents that have struck out to bite us. We don’t have to understand how the snake on the pole worked in the wilderness; nor do we have to fully understand the complexities of Jesus’ death on the cross. What we are called to is faith. A faith in our Lord and savior Jesus Christ that vanishes all of our fears, uncertainties, and anxieties. A Christ, whose story does not end on the cross, but whose eternal life is fully revealed to us in the resurrection.

The Wisdom of Solomon, from the Apocrypha, refers to the pole Moses lifts up in the wilderness and says, “For the one who turned toward it was saved, not by the thing that was beheld, but by you, the Savior of all” (Wis 16:7). Jesus Christ was lifted up on the cross in a sign of power by the leaders, but for Christians, it is a sign of hope and a promise of healing.

Let us pray. Healing God, as we continue down the path to Holy Week, may we be reminded of your love for us that you died on the cross. May your healing come not only to us in our own wildernesses and suffering, but also be extended beyond us to all of creation. Amen

God’s Promise of Community


Exodus 20:1-17

I don’t know about you, but the weather that we have had this past couple of weeks has lifted my spirits and fostered the notion that it is about time to start some spring cleaning. A chance to get rid of those things that are unnecessary and distract. A chance to focus on the things that truly matter in our lives.

Jesus does his own spring cleaning as he enters the temple and turns over the tables. He chases all of the livestock out with a whip. He empties the money changers bags. It is a call to keep the temple a holy place and not be distracted by those seeking personal gain.

God calls Moses to do a little spring cleaning as well. The people of Israel are reminded that they are God’s children when Moses is called upon to consecrate them. This prepares them to encounter God through Moses and the Word that he will share with them after speaking to the Lord on the mountain. This third covenant that we encounter during Lent is God’s promise of community revealed to us in the Ten Commandments. It is the promise of Community, showing a way for us to live in relationship with God and our fellow sisters and brothers.

When we read past our lesson in Exodus, we read of the trembling and fear that grips the people of Israel.

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20:18-21)

God knows the way of the people, and God knows how easily humanity can be tempted and turn away from their faith. It is in the law that is given to them at this point that they shall live their days. There will be constant reminders for them as they continue on so that they will not forget the Lord. It has been easy for them to do that in the past and God knows that they will easily fall into the same trap in the future. Hopefully, these laws that are given will be a sense for them to remain faithful and seek righteousness. Yet, the reality is that God, knows very well that every single one of these commandments will be broken sooner rather than later. The breaking of these commandments leads to a lack of community. The very thing that God is hoping to instill.

We witness a breakdown in community when we fail to be open to conversation with one another. When we fail to listen to one another or choose simply not to hear the other side of the story. We easily do this by surrounding ourselves with friends that are like minded and write off those that we disagree. We listen halfheartedly and then continue on without truly stopping to contemplate what we have heard. Our society fosters this way of interacting.

When we have individuals that step in to question the status quo they are chastised and berated. This drives us even farther from community. A community in which God is encouraging us to live into. The Ten Commandments, we take as nice suggestions, but truly we are not suppose to adhere to all of them, are we?

As we focus less on living into community and more on our personal lives, we forget what it is like to embrace the other. To embrace our sisters and brothers that are different from us. Instead of becoming worldly, we become self-centered.

In the Ten Commandments, the Israelites, now have a road map, on how to live into relationship. That relationship starts with God as we can witness in the the first commandments. That is just the foundation, because the rest direct them how to be in relationship with one another. Walter Brueggemann writes, “The commandments might be taken not as a series of rules, but as a proclamation in God’s own mouth of who God is and how God shall be ‘practiced’ by this community of liberated slaves.”

The commandments come with no judgement attached to them. The people attach their own judgement. The onus for following the law is on the individual, not on any outside source. Now, of course in a civilized culture, we have attached punishments that align with many of the commandments.

The commandments are actually given with a reminder that the Israelites are saved people. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”  It is in this redemption that God now calls the people into a relationship that begins with the Divine. The relationship with God, or the Divine, then extends to the rest of humanity.

In the spring cleaning, God reminds the people that their way of being in conflict before should now be focused on relationship and living into community.

This same promise of community flows down for us today. The Ten Commandments are part of Luther’s Catechism and he deemed that they were a necessity for us to know and practice. In the Large Catechism, Luther writes,

This much is certain: those who know the Ten Commandments perfectly know the entire scriptures and in all affairs and circumstances are able to counsel, help, comfort, judge, and make decisions in both spiritual and temporal matters.

God desires to be in relationship with us. We are created in the very image of God and thus as we foster and grow our relationship first with God, our relationships with others will begin to blossom as well. The way that we attend to our relationship with God is the model for which we attend to our relationships with our neighbors.

Lent is a opportune time to focus on our relationships as we take the intentional time to be in prayer. We can choose to do our own internal spring cleaning as we repent of those sins that we have committed against God and our neighbors, both known and unknown. Like Jesus in the temple, we too are encouraged to scatter those things that deter us so that we can focus on our relationship with God. Those things that distract us from living into community. Those things that give us a false sense of hope.

As we get closer to approaching the cross on Good Friday, we are reminded that to do so as a community only strengthens us and our relationship with a Christ that is willing to be crucified to show us God’s love. On the other side of the cross, we know that we are a redeemed people whom God’s covenant continues for us today. One part of that, is that in God, we will ultimately find community. A community that loves and supports one another. A community that not only celebrates one another’s joys, but a community that lifts each other up in the brokenness and suffering.

Let us pray. Welcoming God, you call us into community with the Trinity. A community in which we are surrounded by love and grace. May this relationship and community we foster in you, be the starting point for community with our neighbors. Amen.


God’s Promise of New Life


Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

What’s in a name?

Companies will spend millions of dollars in research and product testing to determine what names will get the best reaction and eventually make them the most money.

Now, we don’t do that when we are choosing the names of our children. We may float them by a few people, and more often than not, there is a story behind why we pick the names that we do. Names can connect us to our ancestors. Names can also connect us to events in the lives of our parents. There are many reasons why names are chosen.

When I was born, my parents named me Alex Nathan. I was named after two of my great grandfathers, one on each side of the family. However, their names were Alexander and Nathaniel. My parents were not quite sure if I could handle those big names and thought it may be a lot to write. Once I found this out, I protested and requested that my name be officially changed to reflect the ancestors that I had descended from. So, for my twelfth birthday, I found myself along side my parents in probate court having my name officially changed. My birth certificate now reflects the proper names of my great grandfathers.

To hear one’s name triggers something in your being. To hear one’s name elicits in a person a sense that people care enough to know your name and signifies a relationship.

Our selection from Genesis opens up with Abram and Sarai. Two people that have been attempting to walk faithfully for the majority of their lives. The covenant we hear this morning from God for Abram is a covenant that Abram has been waiting for. It reflects the covenant that God made with him twenty-four years earlier and is reiterated a second time and again for a third time in our reading today. The covenant does not make Abram and Sarai without sin. They have also been human the past twenty-four years. While God chooses to bless them with favor and promises to make their family abundant, they have lied and cheated. They have been impatient in waiting for God to fulfill the promise. In those years since the first covenant, Abram and Sarai go into Egypt and attempt to pass Sarai off as Abram’s sister. Then in their impatience of waiting for God to act, Abram has a son, Ishmael, with Sarai’s slave girl, Hagar.

In the repeated promises that come from God, Abram and Sarai begin to wonder what is going to happen. God has yet to reveal to them when the promise will be fulfilled and they feel that they are left to their own devices. As they get older and older they begin to believe that Sarai will never conceive children and if she doesn’t, how is God’s promise going to come true. They must be able to fix it themselves and explore other options.

We are guilty of the same thing as Abram and Sarai. We become impatient waiting for God and want to make things happen along our own time frames. We force things to happen with little to nothing to show for it and we abruptly bring things to a close when we don’t think God is in our efforts.

When we pray and feel as though our prayers are not heard or neglected to be answered, we get angry at God. We get impatient in waiting for an answer and at times ignore the answer because that is not the answer that we wanted. We fail to learn from these mistakes and continue to make them over and over again. We fail to see our mistakes, or choose to ignore them. In the brokenness of our world, sin is abundant, and we are not exempt from it.

It is during the season of Lent that we are called to come face to face with our own sin. We are called to repent, or turn back to God, and be reminded of the baptismal waters and the promises made in the water.

God’s promise did not vanish over the twenty-four years from the first time that Abram received it to receiving it in our lesson today. It is not until Abram is 99 and Sarai is 90 that the covenant that God has promised in the birth of Isaac will begin to be realized. Imagine having a baby when you are in your early nineties. In reality, Abram and Sarah have an entire lifetime ahead of them. We learn in scripture that Abram lives until he is 175 and Sarai dies when she is 127.

They are called to leave behind those things that they clung to and the way that they viewed themselves. They are not barren, used up, and past the point of change as many would have thought. Instead in the promise that God reveals to them, they can see themselves as full of newness and new life. They are full of potential that will also be carried down to the newborn, Isaac.

What makes the covenant we hear today different from the two previous ones that are made with Abram, is that they are marked with signs. The first is the renaming. Abram becomes Abraham and Sarai becomes Sarah. The names reflect the covenant that God has chosen to make with them. Abraham means the father of a multitude, or the father of nations. God even receives a new name in our lesson, El Shaddai, or God Almighty! While our lesson leaves it out, another sign pointing toward the covenant is the institution of circumcision being a sign of the covenant of God’s people at the time of Abraham. Later, Peter and Paul will get in an argument over the necessity of this and we realize that grace is enough.

It is in this fulfillment of the covenant that Abraham is lifted up as the father of three faithful peoples; Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. The promise that God has fulfilled in this covenant is one that will carry on to this very day and encourages us in our inter-faith dialogues.  It is a promise that extends to all of God’s people.

The covenant speaks to us today in the waters of baptism. In the waters we are washed clean and marked and sealed with the cross of Christ forever. Being marked and sealed does not exclude us from sin and does not promise an easy life. It is a promise of new life and a promise that no matter where we go or where ever we end up, God is present with us. We receive new identities in our baptism, just as Abraham and Sarah received in the covenant. While we do not usually practice it, some churches have the practice of picking a biblical name for those being baptized or confirmed. This is an outward sign, for our time, of the covenant that is made with Abraham.

We can begin to understand Israel’s life with God through the covenant that God makes with the people. It is an event that continues to be part of our faith today. Through it, we too are drawn into the divine promise of forgiveness that God makes readily available to Abraham and Sarah. In that forgiveness, we have a sense of belonging that is fulfilled and a freedom that we cannot find anywhere else. It is in the covenant that we are reconciled to the one true God. A God that is willing to go to the cross to show an endless love that is poured out for us in Christ’s blood. A God that promises new life through the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting.

Let us pray. God, you continue to be faithful to Abraham and Sarah through the years where at times they have questioned if you will answer your promise. May your faithfulness be a continuous sign of hope for us in this world of uncertainty. May we be patient as we wait in the silence of this Lenten season and be open to the Holy Spirit calling us in new directions. Amen.


God’s Promise of Commitment

Genesis 9:8-17

I had the opportunity while being a counselor for the Summer Sampler program at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, to explore and hear stories about The Ark and how it had changed the lives of many young people where it was located. The Ark was an after school program located in an under served neighborhood in Springfield, Ohio. The Ark was a place of safety and it provided the opportunity for transformation. When we witness the Ark in this light, many things could take on the same being. The church could be the Ark; actually where you are all sitting is called the nave, a term derived from the Latin word for ship. Lent is the Ark as we take these forty days to prepare and be transformed. Wisdom is the Ark as it changes us from the inside out. Our hearts can even be an Ark, where we find safety and are yet transformed. While these Arks provide safety, we are still tossed upon tumultuous seas of sin and chaos in an ever changing culture. (Ideas from Suzanne Guthrie, http://www.edgeofenclosure.org)

During Lent this year, our assigned readings take us on a journey through the Hebrew scriptures and the covenants that have come to define our faith today. Over the next five weeks, we will be hearing of God’s promise revealed to us. This Sunday we heard the conclusion of Noah and his families time on the Ark. In death and destruction, we find a God that is transformed and makes a commitment to all of creation that God will be unconditionally faithful for eternity.

It truly astounds me that the story of Noah and the Ark has turned into one of the most prevalent of bible stories that our children hear and remember throughout the church. There are always nice, sweet pictures of cute animals depicting the Ark. You can even buy nursery bedding and decorations that depict Noah’s Ark. The story that comes to us from the bible before the rainbow, is one of death and destruction. The earth is populated with people that have no regard for God and live only for themselves. Genesis tells us that God saw the wickedness of the people and their thoughts were evil. God decides to call for a mulligan, or do over. Noah has found favor in the sight of God and God chooses him to build the Ark and to eventually repopulate the world along with his family. We could even argue that Noah was only thinking about himself and his family at this point. Noah and his wife along with his three sons and their wives were going to be safe on the Ark and that is all that mattered. He may have warned the people, but he did not protest to God to save them.

It appears at first that the flood that has overtaken the earth and brought about death and destruction has in essence brought new life to what was broken and full of sin. Noah and his family do not take too long to prove otherwise. Noah is found in a drunken sleep laying naked while his sons are disrespectful. The brokenness continues.

The brokenness continues to this day. Once again, we do not have to turn far to witness or hear of it. We have been at war with each other from the beginning of time. World War I was suppose to be “the war to end all wars,” and look where we have been since then. War has seemed to escalate as we find more effective ways to kill people. The death and destruction is all around us.

This week we are once again mourning another school shooting. This time seventeen people lost their lives to senseless violence that we have seemed to become accustomed to and do very little to create change so that our children do not have to live in fear of going to school. One thing we cannot deny, is that school shootings are on the rise in our country. Not to say it does not happen in other countries, but it is far more prevalent in the United States. Our government would rather make issues out of things that are in reality not as big of a deal. They are failing to listen to their constituents and are bowing to corporate greed. Sounds a little like the wickedness of the people in Noah’s time to me.

We witness the brokenness as our wives and daughters are being ridiculed for finally breaking though the patriarchy and making their voices heard. While many applauded the women that came forward during the Larry Nasser sexual assault hearings, others questioned their authenticity. Once again, the brokenness of the world swallows us up. The sin that carried through the flood, continues to flow through to us today. That is because we are human and we make mistakes. Why should we attempt to be transformed when we think we are right already?

Transformation can and does happen. We even witness a transformation within God in the story of the flood. God was so upset with the wickedness of the people that the option to start over brought death and destruction. Raging waters brought a violent death and the destruction of everything on the earth. The waters also resemble our baptism as it cleanses us from sin and makes all things new. We witness the transformation that takes place in the promise that God makes to Noah and his family. That promise is a commitment to protect and save the earth and all of humanity.

That promise is marked with God placing the bow in the clouds. Since it is among the clouds, we assume it is a rainbow. The Hebrew word used for bow is also the same as to denote a weapon of war. God could have easily been saying that with the bow placed in the clouds, the anger in which the earth had been destroyed with the flood waters, is now relinquished and God is revealing a transformation of God-self.

It is in the image of the Ark that is given to provide safety and a place of transformation that points towards the transformation of God. The promise that God has now given to Noah and his family is unconditional. This promise is not only for humanity, it is for all of creation. A humanity that is created in the very image of God, and a creation that is very good.

We too need to be reminded of this promise. We are reminded of it, every time that we see a rainbow in the clouds after the rain. A promise that is for all people, no exceptions.

In the midst of our own death and destruction that we are surrounded by, the promise that God is committed to us is a reassurance for the kingdom to come. In the midst of sexual assault and violence in our schools and throughout our country, God is present with a reminder that we are loved and loved for all of eternity.

We began Lent with Ash Wednesday this week. It is a time to remember our own mortality and that we are not made to stay in our earthly bodies forever. It is a reminder that God creates us out of dust and it is to dust that we will return. The ashen cross mirrors the cross that was marked on our foreheads when we were baptized. In our baptisms we die to the sins of the world. It is a death that brings us to new life where we are marked with the cross of Christ forever. If you caught the news this week in the aftermath of the school shooting that happened on Ash Wednesday, there was an image of a mother mourning the shooting in Parkland. She had an ashen cross on her forehead from earlier in the day. To be reminded with your own mortality that morning to only be confronted with the mortality of loved ones that afternoon.

We struggle to find God in this reality. However, it is the sign of the bow that God places in the clouds that points toward a resurrected life that is shown to us in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May you remember that promise and the commitment that God has made to us to provide us safe passage and protection.

Let us pray. Devoted God, you have set your bow among the clouds as a sign that you are present among us. Be with us in the times that we are afraid and questioning where to turn. In the death and destruction of our current world, we pray for Jesus to be that sign of love and peace that is promised to us in the kingdom of heaven. Amen.


Create in Me a Clean Heart


February 14, 2018 Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. These words from Psalm 51 this evening should sound familiar. It is one of the songs we quite often use for our offering. We’ll have the opportunity to sing it in just a little while.

Lent is a time for us to return to God. A time for us to repent of our sins and to pray that God creates in us a clean heart. Ash Wednesday is our entrance into this sacred season of the church year. It is a chance for us to re-center our lives and hopefully create new habits that we will carry into the season of Easter. However, we are human, and often we fall short. It is a good thing that Lent comes around every year to keep reminding us of the love that comes to us from our grace-filled God.

The gospel text from Matthew is one that has been used quite regularly on Ash Wednesday since the Medieval Ages. It points towards the disciplines that we are called to during these next forty days. First, we are called to Almsgiving. How are we being charitable in our lives and giving to those that are not as fortunate as we are? One way that we have chosen to do so as a community this Lent is to give to the Backpack Blessings program that assists families with meals for the weekend. Our Wednesday offerings will go to support ELCA World Hunger.

Prayer is the next discipline that Jesus calls us to in the Sermon on the Mount. Living a life that is centered in prayer is one that will strengthen our relationship with God. It is here that Jesus teaches us how to pray, what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. There is no right way or wrong way to pray. God’s heart is already open to us, Jesus would like us to open our heart to God.

Jesus fasted in the desert for forty days right after he was baptized. Fasting is the third discipline. We too can fast. Lent has been known to be a time that many choose to give something up. A time to give up chocolate, sugar, pop, beer, or you fill in the blank. What if we were willing to go much deeper than that. Pope Francis made these suggestions this year for fasting:

  • Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
  • Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
  • Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
  • Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
  • Fast from worries and trust in God.
  • Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
  • Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
  • Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.
  • Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
  • Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
  • Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.

These disciplines that Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount are ones that have the possibility to bring us into a much closer relationship with God.

It is through our faith that we encounter Jesus Christ and the saving grace that is bestowed freely. By almsgiving, prayer, and fasting we are given a way to relate to Jesus. It is here that we repent to God and ask that God create in us clean hearts. Hearts that reveal where our treasures lie. A treasure that is filled with love and compassion for God and our sisters and brothers in humanity.

Let us pray. Loving God, we repent this evening. We seek out clean hearts so that we may be your sign of love and compassion in this world. Be with us in these next forty days as we walk towards your cross and the promise of a resurrected life. Amen.



To What are We Listening?


February 11, 2018

Mark 9:2-9

Who remembers playing telephone when you were younger?

Perhaps, you weren’t that young when you played it the last time. I have participated in playing telephone during leadership retreats. I have had the confirmation students play it before. It is a great exercise to determine who is really listening to the message that is being shared. It is a great game that creates laughs because the message that gets to the end of the line is almost never the same message that started the process. There are many factors that affect the transmission of the message. We are affected by the noise around us and the many distractions that vie for our time. The message can also be very different depending upon the source.

In the commotion of our lives and the constant clatter of noise that occurs in our society, we are reminded that God has sent Jesus and it is in Jesus that we are called to listen.

Jesus comes bearing a message of good news in a time of uncertainty. There is upheaval in Israel and concern for the occupation by the Romans. Jesus Christ is the good news. Born incarnate in a world that needs a sign of hope. A sign of hope that darkness will not vanquish the light. A sign of hope that the light will illuminate even the darkest corner.

It is on the mountain that Peter, James, and John are caught by surprise. They are in awe of the sights and sounds. Jesus is transfigured, or changed, right before them. They then encounter Moses and Elijah. Peter is so caught up in the whole event that he wants to stay on that mountain top. It is a glimpse of things to come, yet there is still much to be accomplished in Jesus’ ministry in his earthly life.

Peter is fooled into the temptation that everything has been accomplished. There is nothing more to do. His concern for the disciples that did not come up the mountain does not even exist. He is so eager to set up shop and stay here for eternity. He is listening to his own inner desire to live in the present moment and is not even contemplating the things to come.

Can you think of those moments in your life that you thought you had reached the top of the mountain and did not want to look down? Like Peter, it would have been nice to just build a dwelling and stay there for all of eternity. We have so many voices coming at us today that it is hard to decipher to what or to whom we should be listening. We are surrounded by the media (print, television, social) as well as very vocal individuals that want to make sure their voices are heard. Some of these voices are valid and others we have to sift through.

Advice maybe coming from those around us, however, we often want to do things our way. We fail to listen to those in our lives that may actually have some words of wisdom to share. There are two experiences I can point to in life when you do truly feel like you are on top of the mountain. Life could not get any better at that moment.

One instance is on your wedding day. It is something that you have been preparing for and the excitement builds up until the very day of the ceremony. Standing in front of the officiant and hearing the words that you are now married empowers you with the notion that you can conquer the world. That is, until you take off the rose-colored glasses. As those of us that are married can attest, marriage is not easy. It requires work. We do not stay up on that mountain top. Sure you may, for a short period of time. During the honeymoon period. Then life comes at you full blast and you must learn to listen to one another and build upon the foundation of your relationship.

The birth of a child can also be one of those times that you think you have reached the mountain top. I was present for the birth, by cesarean section, of both of our children. I recall having the same emotions each time. After a little scare during labor, seeing Emali being born healthy and full of life put me on top of the world. I made sure to hand out cigars, both real and bubblegum. The same emotions ran through me 18 months later when Kiefer was born. Let me tell you, babies remind you how real life is much sooner than coming off from the honeymoon! Then they become teenagers before you know it!

If we could have just went back up to that mountain top and stayed there.

Peter wants to stay on the mountain top as well. While a little unnerving to see Moses and Elijah at first, it is also pretty awesome. A glimpse of the kingdom of heaven that will come down to us.

Jesus does not let him stay. This glimpse that he has seen has forever changed him as well. While Jesus was being transfigured, I am sure that Peter started to experience a transformation in his own heart and mind once he fully got to understand the occasion.

We hear the voice from the cloud say, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” A beautiful book end to our time after Epiphany. We first heard the voice from the cloud when Jesus was baptized, and once again it guides and instructs us to listen to Jesus.

It is in the listening that the disciples will continue walking with Jesus. In the listening they will begin to sense where their ministries will lead after Jesus has been crucified and resurrected three days later. The voice of the Trinity will not leave them. It is forever present and they must still their minds and hearts to listen to where they are being called in their ministry and begin fulfilling the great commission.

Jesus does not let us stay on that mountain either. The voice coming from the clouds to listen to Jesus is the same for us. It is a promise that God will be with us. What a reassuring fact as we prepare to enter the season of Lent. A season of repentance and turning back towards God.

We are called to come down from the mountain top and be the hands and feet of God in our world today. We come down to the valleys to walk with our brothers and sisters that need help.  We come down to be a voice for those whose voices are not being heard. When we come down, we must listen. When we listen, we must do it with our whole heart, mind, and soul. We must listen to our sisters and brothers that have been affected by racism. We must listen to our sisters and brothers that are dreamers and grew up with us. There are so many people that we can listen to. It is in these conversations that we can hear Jesus speaking. God is present among us, especially where we fail to look.

Igor Stravinsky said, “To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also.”

Ernest Hemingway said, “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”

Part of being in relationship with others is listening. Actually, we should be listening much more than we choose to open our mouths. We find God in our relationships when we are open to the Spirit moving in and among us as we listen. The love that God shows for us through Jesus is a love that can grow exponentially through our relationship with others.

God not only loves us enough to send Jesus to bear the cross with unending love, but God loves us so much to listen as well. To listen to our struggles and challenges. To listen to our celebrations of joy. To listen to all that we raise up in our prayers and even in our anger. It is in that love that grace abounds.

Let us pray. Transforming God, you call us to listen. May we hear in your words, a prophetic message of love that transforms all of your children. May your call to listen provide the opportunity to open hearts and minds. May we listen more and be slow to judgement. May you continue to be the light that shines within us. Amen.