A Servant Love

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March 29, 2018 Maundy Thursday

I left you this past Sunday with the words of Paul from his letter to the people of Philipi:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave. (Philippians 2:5-7)

This evening we enter into the Three Days. The opportunity to listen to our gospel stories of Jesus’ final days. The opportunity to see how in our own deaths, we too rise to new life.

Let us take a moment, and pause. Let us take inventory of where we are.

  • Where we are physically
  • Where we are mentally and emotionally
  • Where we are in our relationships with one another
  • Where we are in our relationship with Christ
  • Where we are this very evening as we begin to contemplate on the cross and our own beings

Physically we are all present in body, in this sanctuary. We are able to reach out and embrace one another. We can feel the pews beneath us. We can see the lectern, the altar, the cross. How are we physically? It is a little later in the evening, after most of us have ate dinner. Perhaps you are tired from a long day of work, completing chores around the house, or running countless errands. Yet, you have made the conscious decision to come and worship this evening.

How are you mentally and emotionally? Are you hurting and trying to overcome loss? Are you living in denial of things that are happening around you and are not quite ready to confront those things? You may be happy, sad, angry. All very human emotions. Emotions that Jesus experienced himself. It could be possible that you are just present. Feeling as though you are just going through the motions.

All are very acceptable realities. It is a reality of who we are. A reality of the human experience. You may have come here this evening seeking an answer to your relationship with Christ. Wondering what these three days have in store. You may very well know what these three days mean, and are looking forward to living every one of them out. You may not know where God is at in your life currently; longing for an experience with the living God that so many others have spoke of.

As we look towards the cross, we may see our own brokenness. In these three days, it is possible to be broken even more. In that brokenness we can be left wondering where to turn.

Your brokenness. My brokenness. They are not unique. It is a part of the human experience. It is part of who we are as God’s children. The disciples place their full brokenness on display. Once again, Peter speaks before he thinks and is corrected by Jesus. His perceptions that he has of Jesus are not correct and he believes that Jesus is above those things that he is about to do. Surely, he is too good to be getting down on his hands and knees to wash feet. Surely, he can find someone else to serve and feed them. We are left wondering, will Peter ever get it.

The disciples that have followed Jesus around for the last few years are not any different from us. They have their own flaws and idiosyncrasies. They think that they are too good to do some of the mission work that Jesus has called them to do. They are left wondering if they have heard him correctly. They have a set picture in their mind of what the Messiah is suppose to look like, and when Jesus speaks of his pending death, they are left in denial.

One of the twelve’s brokenness plays through the betrayal that we will witness during these three days. Judas, out of greed or something entirely different, is propelled to betray Jesus. To turn him over to the very authorities that he knows will lead Jesus to his death. The disciples are far from perfect. Yet, they still follow in Jesus’ path.

It is in this path that they are brought to the upper room during this last Passover feast in which Jesus will participate. Jesus could have easily kicked back and let the others serve him. There most likely was a servant nearby that could have washed everyone’s feet. Surely, there were people to serve the food.

This was not just another Passover meal. This was the last meal that Jesus would eat with his disciples here on earth. This was an opportunity for him to show them what it truly meant to love. To love them so deeply, he was willing to get down on his hands and knees to wash their feet. To show them what it truly meant to be a disciple. There is no job that is below them. By washing their feet, the water is a sign of the community that he has established with them. A community that has been washed clean and loved fully. A community that now is called to lean on each other and to go out and do the same for others. James Lamkin speaks to this love:

Holy Thursday is a call to a juxtaposed life: one of commanded love. In the uniform of a towel, Jesus gives a command, a mandate. “Maundy” comes from the Latin, mandatum. Jesus commands, mandates us to love; but not only to love, but to love as Christ loves. How can this be? Is love not a feeling? Can feelings be commanded? Of course not. However, choices–the choices of loving behaviors, Christlike actions–can be chosen in the strength of Jesus, the towel-girded Christ. (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2)

We are not just observers to this love that Jesus has displayed.

We are called to do the same in this time and place in which we live today. I think that we can all easily agree that the divisions that we witness more and more are not a good thing. People hold so steadfast to their beliefs that they are not willing to listen to the other side of things and love is the last action in their mind.

Yet, that is the very thing that Jesus is calling us to do for our sisters and brothers. We are called to love. We are called to serve. It is first in the loving and serving of Jesus that we are able to see what it truly means to become a disciple. As we continue to walk in these three days, we walk with Jesus. We listen to the gospels, and we are invited to place ourselves in the stories. Allow them to be a part of who you are as a Christian. There is a mystery that resides in the gospels that we will hear over the next few days. A mystery that calls us to love one another. A mystery that cannot be conquered. A mystery that brings light to the darkness and brokenness of our own souls. It is in this outpouring of love through Jesus that we are prepared to encounter the cross.

Let us pray…Loving God, as we enter these three days, may our hearts, minds, and souls be open to the love that you have poured out abundantly for us. A love that comes to us through our repentance and your forgiveness. A love that comes to us through the waters that cleanse us. A love that resides in the very elements that are broken for us in the bread and the wine. May we embrace and share the love that you have so freely given. Amen

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Living into Holy Week

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Mark 14:1-15:47

We have traveled many miles and through the millennia these past five weeks to reach our Passion Narrative from Mark today. It is a narrative that has its roots in the promises of our Jewish ancestors. It is a narrative that shatters expectations and bares the brokenness for all to see. It is a narrative that invites us to become a part of the living God that was, is, and is to come.

Are you ready?

Are you ready to embrace this narrative that we have heard this morning? Are you ready to travel with it and let it become part of you for this next week? We are quick to move beyond the suffering, because we know what is going to happen on the other side of the tomb. Perhaps, that is where we fall short. We look beyond the pain that happens in our lives and want to quickly move on. We want to brush it under the rug and forget that it ever happened. We wish to not talk about it. Now, this pain and suffering could be anything that is holding us back. Anything that is holding us back from encountering Christ.

God invites us into this story so that we can be present. Not distant. We are invited to travel with a heart that has had the law written on it to remember whose we are. In that promise, we also are known deeply by a loving and compassionate God.

We have trouble finding God in the suffering and brokenness.

In this story we encounter many people, and perhaps you can find yourself in the story. Do you feed into the mob mentality, or are you bold enough to carry the cross bar in which Jesus will be crucified, like Simon of Cyrene? Have you denied Jesus as Peter has, or do you stand by with the women that Jesus has come to know throughout his ministry? Does your sense of compassion come forward as you relate to Joseph of Arimathea and his desire to treat Jesus’ body with the utmost respect and provide him with a proper burial?

Now that we are here, are we open to revealing our hearts to God? There is a love that flows from God and Jesus’ death on the cross that we cannot fully comprehend. It is not yet fully revealed to us. This is a love that fully brings the kingdom of God down to earth. A love that washes over all of creation with grace.

We would not be able to come to our Celebration on Easter Morning if it were not for the pain and the agony that we must travel through on the way to the cross. Deep within that suffering is the love that permeates all things.

While we have heard the Passion Narrative according to Mark this morning, there is so much more. There is so much more that God invites us to be a part of. We are invited into the Holiness of this week as we remember the washing of feet, breaking of bread, and traveling through a crowd that has been worked up into a mob and is eager for a crucifixion.

We are invited into our services this week on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Saturday Easter Vigil to be a witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We live into Holy Week by traveling this well worn road. A road that has been laid out before us. A road that leads us to hope and an empty tomb. May we listen and be transformed through Paul’s words in Philippians as we enter into this Holy Week.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave. (Philippians 2:5-7)

God’s Promise of Forgiveness

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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

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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

A Review: Wounds Are Where Light Enters by Walter Wangerin, Jr.

Thanks to Englewood Review of Books for the advance copy and publishing this review.

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Walter Wangerin Jr. has become one of the quintessential story tellers of this day and age. His stories break through the mundane and add a personal touch to everything that he shares. Whether his stories are based upon scripture or from his own personal collection reflecting upon his own experiences, he can connect with his readers and listeners as he offers the opportunity to enter the story as well.

In his newest collection of stories, Wangerin Jr. shares stories from his own family. Stories that helped shape him as a person of God. In these stories, the reader witnesses humanity. A humanity that resides in the ordinary. A humanity that resides in the sin and the brokenness of life. The stories are endearing and are a witness that Walter Wangerin Jr. is a human being just like anyone else. Too often, pastors are put upon pedestals in the eyes of their parishioners, forgetting that they too sin just like everyone else.

He makes it clear that each and everyone of us has a brokenness that leads to the wounds that share who we are as people of God. These wounds are exactly where we see the light of God breaking through. The subtitle of the book calls it God’s intrusive grace. A grace that breaks through when it is least expected. A grace that reminds us who we are and whose we are. The grace breaks through in every one of the twenty-two stories that are shared. The stories range from Wangerin Jr.’s childhood of dreading Christmas to stories he shares of his neighbors as he pastored a church in Evansville. Some of the most personal stories that he shares are the ones of his own children. Being a parent is a tough job, and through the stories that he shares, shows that he struggles just as much as any other parent.

One instance of God’s intrusive grace can be seen in his son, Joseph. It is in the wise words of Joseph that Wangerin Jr. is brought to the realization that he too can make mistakes and bring some of his frustrations from work, home to the dinner table. As he flicks the hand of his daughter Talitha, because she is fidgeting a little too much, she starts to cry. It is Joseph that highlights the wound and encourages the light to shine through. “Sometimes Daddy spanks us and we don’t mind. It doesn’t hurt. We laugh and have fun, because it’s a birthday spanking and he’s counting the years since we were born. He says, ‘A pinch to grow an inch.’” . . . “But when Daddy is angry, even a little flick hurts.”

It is these little insights into his life that Wangerin Jr. reveals a light that shines for all to see amid our personal wounds. While there is a sense that these stories have been collected over the past several decades, they still speak boldly today. They speak to our wounds and the wounds that we encounter in others.

Over the past year and a half, we have been reminded that race relations in our country are not what we thought they were. The story of his son Matthew, can break the readers heart. It is a story of hurt and a father’s love. When he was young, Matthew was friends with the neighbor girl. The only problem, is that in the neighbor’s eyes, “black and white do not marry.” The love that Wangerin Jr. shows for his son in this moment, is the same love that God shows for each and everyone of God’s children. A love that moves beyond race, nationality, or anything else that is used to separate one from the other. Unfortunately, there are still some people that have this opinion today. Matthew was not the perfect child. In another story it is shared that he had the tendency to steal comic books. It was Wangerin Jr.’s own response to his son’s thefts that actually made him stop. It was the sight and sound of his father crying that brought him to the realization that the theft of comic books must stop.

The stories that are shared within this quickly read volume can be life changing. Life changing for the author and for those that are in the story. The stories touch upon the reader’s heart and reveal the in-breaking of God in our own lives. We are all wounded in this life and some choose to dwell in the wounds and some choose to let the light break through for all to see. In sharing these personal stories of God’s love embracing humanity, Walter Wangerin Jr. once again reminds us that God is much greater than the wounds that scar.

This review is posted on Englewood Review of Books

God’s Promise of Community

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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

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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.