Called and Named

January 13, 2019

Isaiah 43:1-7

The art of the handwritten note is one of those practices that has been diminished by easier, quicker options to communicate. I know that I am guilty of it, even though I set the intention to send personalized notes. When we can email, text, or contact through social media, we are able to express our thoughts in an array of quicker, more immediate options.

There is just something about a handwritten note though. It is the next best thing to having the person that wrote it standing right next to you. It can convey a simple message in the voice of the person writing it. It reminds us that someone took the time to reach out to us and remember us. It is something you can keep.

One of my most prized Christmas gifts is an ELW. Yes, you heard me right, an Evangelical Lutheran Worship Hymnal! Just like the ones in the pews in front of you. Why does it mean so much? It is because it was from my pastor a couple years before I started seminary and I was in the midst of starting the candidacy process. It is a prized gift because he wrote a personal note in the front cover. Reminding me that where ever the Spirit may lead me, I am blessed and am a blessing!

I have another note that I have kept for nearly 25 years that I received at my high school graduation from my fourth-grade teacher along with a dictionary. In it, she reminded me that I am part of a very special family. God does the same for us through scripture as we are called and named by a loving God that has come down to earth to accompany us in our daily walk.

Notes like these can touch us and help guide us in times of uncertainty and fear. They give us reassurance when self-doubt creeps in. As we are reminded this morning of Jesus’ baptism, we also rejoice in ours. However, let’s be honest, it is often easy to forget those words that were spoken to us in our own baptisms and as we reaffirm them on different occasions. When we look at the world around us and the evil that persists, we can easily be baptized in fear. A fear that drives us away from everything that Christ stands for. We forget everything in those moments that we are baptized in fear. We forget our heritage. We forget our names, who we are called to be. We forget our purpose. We even forget those resources in which we have been entrusted.

The people of Israel that the prophets spoke to also were no strangers to fear. In Isaiah we are presented with a story of our ancestors living in exile and anticipating a return home, if not for themselves, at least for the generations that follow. They are gripped by fear and a feeling of isolation. Wondering where to turn next and wondering if things will ever get any better. The story in Isaiah spans a couple of hundred years from the time they are taken into exile in Babylon until the time they return to their homeland. They went from an independent people to ones that were conquered. No wonder, they are living in fear and uncertainty.

Amid their exile, they are reminded that they are loved. The beginning of this chapter in Isaiah can be read like one of those personal notes. It reminds them that they are special and that they are very much a part of God’s glorious creation and are personally called. This passage from Isaiah brings hope to a nation that is in turmoil. It gives hope for the time to come.

It not only speaks to those living in exile, it also reaches across millennia and is an incredible reminder for today. We too, are called personally into a life with God. We too have been created. We too have been formed. We too have been redeemed. We too have been called. In these actions by God, we are reminded that we are precious and honored. These are all words that we should be reminded of and listen to daily. Each one of you has been created and called by God and are worthy of the love of God. In this love, you are called to live into a relationship with God that has come down to earth in the form of Jesus Christ.

We should not be overly concerned about what happens when we die. We should be concerned about how we are living our life today! Isaiah reminds the people who they are and whose they are despite their sins. We too should remember who and whose we are when we are confronted with the fears of society and be reminded of the love of God that came down to earth for us in Jesus Christ.

In his baptism, Jesus hears the words, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  In the water of our own baptisms we too were reminded that we are children of God and we are loved, now and forevermore. May these words wash over you every chance they get, so that you remember you are beloved and with you, God is pleased.

Let us pray. God of the waters, we fall prey to shortsightedness every time we let fear guide our thoughts and actions. May you guide us with your love as we affirm our baptisms and walk in your light. Amen.

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Living Our Faith: Sacraments

Water surface
Water surface

October 14, 2018

Hebrews 4:12-16

I would like you to stop and think for a minute about the practices in your life that you have held close to your heart. Those things that you have looked forward to on a regular basis. Perhaps they have even shaped who you are today.

One such practice in my life became an annual tradition while I was still living at home with my parents. I was fortunate enough to grow up with an in-ground pool. The pool was a source of fun and laughter throughout the summer. To take a refreshing dip in the pool after mowing the yard was something that I looked forward to. Having friends over and not having to worry about anything on a hot summer day was glorious. For my family, pool season always opened on Memorial Day! Regardless of the weather. Pool season began when I would boldly jump in and break through the surface of the water for the first time. There were Memorial Days where I would enjoy the water and stay in as long as possible because it was eighty degrees out. There were other days that I would jump in and could not get out quick enough because it was barely in the fifties.

This became a spiritual practice for me and the water reinvigorated me after the endless cold of living through another mid-Michigan winter. There is also the obvious connection of the water to our sacramental practice of baptism. In the waters of baptism, we are washed clean and receive the grace of God.

This second week of the Living Our Faith series brings us to the topic of sacraments.

While sacraments are commonly associated with religious ritual, that was not always the case. The word sacrament originally derived from the Latin word, sacramentum, and was used by the Romans when sending soldiers out to war. It was the most serious vow someone could make, to put one’s life up for the empire. There are rituals that happened long before that through the Christian churches own Jewish ancestry. Rituals are important and play an important role in forming community.

It is easy to partake in our modern sacraments. Especially when we don’t always fully understand the promises we are making. We can take them for granted and not fully live into them as God has intended for us. It is through the word of God that the sacraments embody the Holy whenever we baptize or whenever we come to the Lord’s Table to feast. The word of God does not come lightly. In our reading from Hebrews, the author writes, “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before God no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”

When we approach the table every week, we are naked before God.  All our vulnerabilities are laid bare and our actions are not invisible. God knows us and desires for us to be one with the Spirit. God wants us to be vulnerable. Not just with God, but in all our relationships. God wants us to be our true selves and to live into the reign of God.

The sacraments have not always been administered properly in the church and some have chosen to use them to their advantage as leverage or control. However, it is impossible to place limits on God. The moment that we try, God breaks through the fence, knocks down the wall, or clears the way for anything that may lay in God’s path.

God’s call for us this morning is to do the same!

Once again, we hear in the letter to the Hebrews, “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need.” Jesus has led the way for us to approach the sacraments with a boldness that reflects our faith. A faith that lifts Christ up as our companion that can be with us in our weaknesses and cheers us on in our strengths. To be bold and confident as we are reminded of the baptismal waters that washed over us, and to eat and drink of the body and blood of Christ which brings us to full communion with God.

The following clip from the movie, Phenomenon, is an example of how Christ works in us through the power of God’s word in the sacraments.

Like the apple, when we eat of the bread and drink of the wine, Jesus becomes a part of us. Jesus is present with us and restores us. This is the grace of God at work in a world that is often at odds with itself. We are reminded of Christ’s death on the cross and the life that he has given for all of humanity. Through the sacraments, God’s word is active and thriving. God’s word fills our hearts, minds, and souls so that we may fully live into a relationship that is comprised of love and compassion.

The practices that we live in the sacraments are an outward and visible sign of God at work in the world today. All are invited to be a part of that work. To be washed clean in the ever-flowing waters; to feast on the bread of life. In these, we encounter a God that knows no boundaries and has broken down walls so that all may experience the reign of God.

Let us pray. Living and active God, you have initiated the commands for us to be baptized and to share in your body, broken for us. In the waters and at the table, may we be renewed and experience your loving grace in our lives. Amen.

Let Us Join the Dance

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May 27, 2018, Holy Trinity Sunday

John 3:1-17

 

Who likes to dance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Grace in the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

This Calling is Dirty!

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Mark 1:4-11

It is a rarity today for a person to start a career and stay employed with the same employer for their entire working life. I am a testament to that. Prior to my calling to become a pastor, I worked for four different companies. Throughout seminary, I had the opportunity to get experience working in different churches and hospitals. I know that it is true for me, but I am sure it is for you as well, when I say that there are days you wonder what you have gotten yourself into.

I recall a day while working as a chaplain that nothing seemed to be going right. I was assigned to the open heart surgery floor for my rotations and had already had a couple of deaths and it had been a very traumatic day in the emergency room. This was just during the day and I had the night shift as well. As I was settling down later in the evening to eat dinner, I received a page that a patient would like to see a chaplain. I placed my food back in the refrigerator in the sleep room and went to visit the patient. When I arrived on the floor I talked to the evening nursing staff and then went to visit the patient. I knocked on the door with no response. I said hello and as I walked in found the patient standing with their back to the door with not one piece of clothing or hospital gown covering them. Needless to say, I exited that room fairly quickly. After a day of wondering what I had got myself into, there are the lighthearted moments that allow you to laugh. I visited the same patient the next morning and had a wonderful discussion.

I have come to find out over the years that ministry is dirty. There are times when surprises come our way and times when you think that surely things could not get any worse. God is in the midst of it!

The bible, the stories of our ancestors in not neat and clean. It is real. It is earthy. It is full of muck and grime and it calls us, the people of God, to live in the midst of it. The story we hear this morning, is no different. The gospel lesson may sound familiar as we heard from part of it at the beginning of Advent as we were introduced to John the Baptist. John the Baptist, the last person we would expect to be carrying out the call to prepare the way of the Lord. Wearing camel fur, and eating locust and honey. Come to think of it, he kind of sounds like a modern day hipster!

While we heard from the gospel of Mark at the beginning of Advent, we now begin our journey with Mark for the remainder of the year, with the occasional excursion into the gospel of John. This is Mark’s introduction to Jesus. We do not get any of the birth story. We get a thirty year old Jesus that is just about to begin his ministry. Our short lesson this morning brings many questions to mind. Does Jesus need to be baptized? Does Jesus know what the journey ahead of him looks like? Is Jesus the only one that hears the voice coming from the heavens when he is baptized?

The answers to these questions are as numerous as the commentaries that are written to address them. I know one question that I have is: did the dove descend gently upon him, or did it dive bomb him? Now, I am serious about this. If you think about, there are times that we can sense that the Holy Spirit comes upon us when we are least expecting it and we are startled and our first reaction is to run for cover.

The Holy Spirit is always working in our lives, whether we are aware of it or not. Christ works within each of us, and it is up to each of us to acknowledge the movement that occurs within our lives. It may appear stronger at certain times than others. Regardless, Christ is present among and within us.

We fight it. We like to be autonomous and feel that we have complete control over everything. We are not going to let anyone or an inkling of the Holy Spirit guide us when we think we know the right direction. In this sense, we create our own muck and grime. We make things much more difficult for ourselves than what it should really be. We do it individually as well as collectively. We lose sight of the Christ that was born into our world to walk among us and to show us the way of love, and to remind us that we are loved. We look past the Christ that was baptized in the Jordan. We look past the Christ that reaches out to us that live among the messiness of the world and think that we are far better than any of it.

First, Jesus starts out with nothing. When he comes to John in the Jordan, he has no followers. He is following the calling from God to venture out from where he was. In this moment, he lets his guard down. In Mark’s gospel there is no discussion about who should be doing the baptizing. Does John even recognize Jesus right away?

Yesterday was Epiphany. It is the day that the Christ child is revealed to the Magi. Their journey led them to Emmanuel, God with us. In the Incarnation everything is revealed and they have now seen it for themselves. The God that has been revealed to the Magi in the Christ child has been around since the beginning of Creation. In Genesis we hear that the earth was a formless void and God creates out of the muck and grime. God brings the light to the world. A light that journeys with us from the very beginning. A light that brings the truth for all to see and follow. A light that is good! Very good! Jesus is that light.

It is revealed to us, the readers of Mark’s gospel, in the heavens being torn open. God is at work. The dove descending is a sign of the Holy Spirit at work with Jesus. A completion of the Holy Trinity! And Jesus is not one to sit up on a throne or position of leadership to declare himself the best and declare his sovereignty. Jesus comes down to the people. The ones that are hungry and poor. The ones that are looked down upon by those in authority. Jesus comes to bring change to a world so much in need.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible points out that: “Jesus himself is baptized into the renewal movement that began before him.” The journey of Israel and the stories in the Torah, the prophets, and even John the Baptizer all bring us to God working in our midst. Jesus is the continuation of this story. The awesome thing is, that Jesus is not contained to just this one moment. As the heavens are torn open, and God’s son revealed to us, we will again be reminded of this at his crucifixion. If you remember, the curtain is torn in two as Jesus breathes his last. A reminder of God’s love poured out for us.

As God is revealed to us in Jesus’ baptism, we can experience the same thing in ours. While, the majority of you cannot remember your baptism, we are reminded of it every time we come up for communion and dip our fingers into the baptismal font and mark the sign of the cross on ourselves. We are reminded every time we take part in the Thanksgiving for Baptism. There is power in our baptisms. God is being revealed to us. Our own little epiphanies. An epiphany that we are called to go out and share with others.

Lenny Kravitz wrote a song titled Baptized. The lyrics can speak to us

I don’t want to look around
And be turned to stone
All my darkest days awoken
I’m looking for a new way
I can’t make it on my own
Lead me to a place wide open

I need a love that takes me higher
So high I’m never coming down

I don’t want to know emptiness
Take me down to the water
want to be baptized in your love
Far away from the loneliness
Take my heart and wash away the fear
Let me be baptized in your love

In our baptisms, we are reminded that we are loved. Loved by a God that came to us in Jesus Christ to be in the same muck and grime that we find ourselves. Not a Jesus that is self-righteous, but a Jesus that is present for sinners that live in a broken world. A Jesus that embraces every little fault that exists with us and loves us regardless. In our baptisms we meet God present within us and that revelation is just the beginning. A reminder of creation from the very beginning where the light shone out of the darkness. Those words we hear proclaimed to Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased,” are also spoken to each one of us in our baptisms. You are loved! Each and everyone of you!

Let us pray. God of the waters, may you wash over us and bring us to new life through the waters of baptism. In the waters may your love be revealed for us and all of humanity. May we be bold to carry the proclamation forward this season of Epiphany as we invite others to join us in discipleship. Amen.

A Multitude Gathers

All-Saints

November 5, 2017

Revelation 7:9-19

Shall we gather at the river, where bright angel feet have trod, with its crystal tide forever flowing by the throne of God. We’ll gather with the saints at the river that flows by the throne of God. The imagery that we receive from our opening hymn this morning as we remember the saints that have lived among us is wonderful. The river of life. The flowing water that we find in our baptismal font. The water that flows over us and cleanses us of our sins. The water that joins us to those saints we now give thanks for.  It is a familiar hymn.

The familiarity does not end there. The gospel lesson should sound familiar as it was read just over six months ago during the season of Easter. A return to the Beatitudes is never a bad thing as we are reminded of those that are blessed among us and what the kingdom of God looks like.

You may have even connected the Revelation reading to our entrance into Holy Week earlier this year. An entrance in which Jesus is paraded into Jerusalem, and only him and possibly us, on this side of the story, are aware of what is about to play out in the days to come. If you recall, Jesus was paraded into Jerusalem as people were shouting, “Hosanna” and waving palm branches.

Once again, we have palm branches in our midst. “There was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”

I find it unusual and amazing that suddenly the author of Revelation forgot how to count. Earlier he counts that there were seven churches and seals. There were twenty-four thrones and elders. In the preceding chapter, we read of 144,000 of Israel being sealed with protection amidst the catastrophe. That is 12,000 from each tribe of Israel.

He is then shocked with such a multitude of people that the number at the throne of God could not be counted. This multitude comes from every nation, tribe, and race. How big could this number be? Everyone that had lived on the earth up to that point? Did you know that today, that number would be well over 108 billion people.

The book of Revelation has been used to scare people into doing. It has been used as a threat. If you don’t follow the law of God to each word, then you will not be among those 144,000. Books and movies have ran with these themes, like the Left Behind series, and left people in fear and an impression of God that does not reflect the God that we witness in Christ Jesus.

When we begin to use the bible as a hammer to try to nail in certain points against those we fear as our opponents, we do not leave much room for God. We do this to ourselves and those that we feel think differently than us. We are quick to raise our palm branches to celebrate what we think is good, and when we are later let down we find it hard at times to get back up.

This morning we remember those saints that have left us in this earthly world this past year. These losses that we have experienced have come expectantly due to long term health issues. Others have been more sudden and we are left wondering and have had little to no chance of getting to say our final goodbyes. That one last, “I love you,” before they died.

Some of us may be still mourning the loss of a friend or family member. Some of you may still be grieving the loss that you have experienced more than a year ago. While the person we have said goodbye to is no longer suffering, we may be suffering in our own hearts. God did not promise that there would be no suffering. God does not promise us an easy life where we receive everything we want and then some.

We seek answers for all of our questions and are still left wondering. People try to comfort us with words from the Bible, which at times are taken out of context and leaves us with even more questions. It is impossible to put God in a box when we do not fully understand the mystery ourselves. It is in that mystery that we find hope and ultimately love.

Salvation belongs to our God as Revelation says. It does not belong to anyone else. It is not something that can be given to us by someone in power. Salvation only comes to us through the love and grace of God and the son, Jesus who came to us incarnate and walked along side us to experience the same suffering that we experience.

It is this same salvation that is revealed to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection on Easter Sunday. The promise of life that we witness is given to us and the believers that are gathered around the throne of God. It is the white robes that have been washed in the blood of the lamb that symbolizes their death in the waters of baptism and the new life that is found there.

This is the reason that we too give thanks for those that have been baptized this past year. They have died their first death to the sins of this life and have been washed clean and now stand side by side with all of the saints of the world. The saints that have gone before us and the ones that are still alive. This is what a saint looks like today. Just like you and me. There is nothing special, just the grace of God that has washed over us in the waters of baptism.

Does the grace of God end there?

I can’t tell you. That is the mystery that is our God. A mystery that we will not fully experience until the kingdom of God comes into our own view. The Beatitudes that Jesus preaches this morning speaks to not just a time to come, but the time that we are presently in, and the time that was. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” and on and on.

In Revelation, hear the hope of the kingdom to come and the promise that God has made. “The one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Jesus will indeed wipe away every tear from every eye. Indeed Jesus is there in the present as well as the grace of God bringing us to the multitude that worships and praises God. As we join in the multitude this morning, we are surrounded by the saints, both living and dead. We gather for communion in the promise that we are communing with all of the saints of heaven. It is here that we find comfort and love.

Let us pray. God, our savior, we give thanks for all the saints. The saints that have guided us through our lives and continue to do so today. We pray for those still mourning, that you may bring peace to them and the love you share abundantly. You are the God who was, is, and is to come, and in this we receive your grace and are gathered into the multitude. Amen.

We are the Image of God

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October 22, 2017

Matthew 22:15-22, Genesis 1:26

In my previous call, I had the opportunity to sit among fellow pastors and leaders in the community as we came together in an effort to be ecumenical. The intention had mostly been to see how we can best serve the community in which we lived. How, as a varied group of Christians, could we reach out to the needs of the community and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Our own personal theologies would begin to show at this time and honestly, my beliefs did not always line up with their beliefs. This is where it got difficult for me. I was left struggling with this internal debate about how we could possibly do ministry together. While we all seemed to end up at the cross, we all had very different means of getting there. It was difficult to participate is some of the activities when you did support the means. At times, these meetings were more stressful than they were rewarding.

Fortunately, the congregations in Richmond work well together. We have opportunities to worship together and opportunities to serve alongside on another.

However, the stinging rebuke that Jesus gives to the leaders in the temple makes us wonder. This rebuke is one that makes us look within our own lives. “You hypocrites,” he says. A word that seems to be thrown around so easily today whenever we do not agree with the beliefs of another person, or that person is not following our beliefs. We may even hear the word ourselves from others that question our belief system.

We are seen as hypocrites when we do not follow our own beliefs to the tee. Despite the fact that we are broken people living in a broken world. We struggle with many of the things that happen within our world and are left wondering where our Christian faith is getting us. There are Christians on every side of a debate using the bible to back up their side. This leaves little room for the Holy Spirit to work in our midst and the love of God seems to vanish.

The leaders attempt to put Jesus in an uncomfortable place when they ask him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” They find themselves pretty clever because surely Jesus has been backed into the corner now. His response though is inspired as he calls them out. Whose image is on the coin? Oh, Caesar’s? Then give to the emperor what is his and to God, what is God’s.

The Pharisee’s are hypocrites, because they are carrying around a coin with the emperor’s face on it. Not only that, but it also speaks of his divinity! A divinity that we know can only be found in God and the Son, Jesus Christ. They are breaking the first commandment, you shall have no other gods.

What is it then that we should share with God? Perhaps, returning to Genesis may help. Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

As we should hand over to the emperor, what is the emperors, then we should hand over to God what is emblazoned with God’s image.

In Jesus’ words, we have been challenged. Challenged to live up to the image that we bear ourselves. The image of God, imago Dei, that is with us all of our days and within it we are called to love and serve one another.

This morning we have eight youth that are affirming this image they were born with. Not only that, they have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the sign of a cross in their baptisms. A baptism in which their parents and sponsors promised to lead and teach them in the faith that they are now affirming in their own words and making public profession of that faith.

Imagine what would happen if we were all so public in boldly professing this faith that our youth are professing this morning!

Imagine the difference that we would make in the world if we lived out the image that we bear of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Imagine if we were to truly live into the words of our baptisms and those that we hear in the affirmation of baptism and continue in the covenant God made with us: to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and strive for justice and peace in all the earth?

If we were to truly live out the calling that God has placed upon our hearts and to live out those baptismal promises, the kingdom of God would be in our midst.

Let us pray, God of all, you work in and among us when we are not even aware. May we be open to the words you have placed upon us in our baptisms and strive to live a life worthy of your image in the midst of our brokenness. Amen.

Set Within God’s Word

Bread and wine

April 2, 2017

John 11:1-41

I don’t know about you, but there are times throughout the week that I long to gather for worship. Times when I feel drained and know that I need to be fed by God’s Word in community and to be with you as we break the bread and drink the wine. It is in this that my longing, our longing, for God in our lives is fulfilled. We are renewed in the elements at the table, where all are welcome.

The worship planning team chose to have us sing All Are Welcome as a gathering song throughout the entirety of the Lenten season for a reason. Our gospel lessons this season have spoken of inclusion and are an invitation for all people. After Jesus exits the wilderness, he encounters Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well, the man born blind, and this morning Lazarus. All of them could be thought of as outcasts at one point. Yet, Jesus welcomes them into his flock and reminds them that they are loved. The hymn, All Are Welcome, is a wonderful witness to the love that flows in the community of Christ. In the third verse, we have the promise that comes to us in the sacraments.

Let us build a house where love is found in water, wine, and wheat: a banquet hall on holy ground where peace and justice meet. Here the love of God, through Jesus, is revealed in time and space; as we share in Christ the feast that frees us: All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

We have used four weeks to wind our way through, the briefest understanding of the Small Catechism. If we wanted to, we could have entire sermon series’ that focus on just the Ten Commandments, or the Apostles Creed, or the Lord’s Prayer. We have yet to touch upon the sacraments that Luther raises up in the catechism. The sacrament of Baptism and the sacrament of the Altar could also have a sermon series devoted to them alone. However, I will try to do justice to them both in this sermon.

When we encounter water, and when we encounter bread and wine, it is simply that. However, when we encounter them within our setting of worship it is not just mere water or mere bread and wine. In the sacraments of Baptism and the Altar, the water, bread, and wine are set within God’s word and are bound to it.

The majority of us, encounter the waters of baptism first. In the water we are reminded of the saving grace of God and are born again into a life with Christ. A baptism that can never be invalidated, regardless of the errors that we make along the way. It is not our faith that makes baptism, rather our faith receives the baptism, and it is in this that we baptize our children when they are yet infants. In this, baptism is built upon God’s word and command. The significance in baptism with water is stated in Luther’s explanation that, “It signifies that the old person in us with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned and die through daily sorrow for sin and through repentance, and on the other hand that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

While we only encounter the waters of baptism once in our lives, we can be reminded of it on a daily basis. In the morning as we take a shower and let the water run over our heads, we can be reminded that we too were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can be reminded when we wash our face. We can be reminded when we allow our inner child to come out and play in the rain! These are all reminders of God’s word that works in the baptismal waters.

It is at the altar too, that we encounter the Word of God working in the midst of ordinary elements. In the bread and wine we find that Christ has never abandoned us. He is there present in the bread and the wine as we come forward, even when we don’t feel worthy. As in baptism, all are welcome at the Lord’s table. This was not always the case. In late medieval-time, the Lord’s Supper was a feast for the eyes and a ceremony for the dead around a mass. Luther brought the meal back to the people and insisted that it was a feast for all, meant to be eaten and drunk while hearing the word and Christ’s forgiving presence.

It has been funny to hear of the transition of the Lord’s Supper throughout the history of the Lutheran church. There were times that people would only receive it once a year. There would be times that maybe it was once a quarter, or even a couple of times a month. In Wittenberg, Luther made sure that communion was celebrated on a weekly basis! Why? Because it is needed!!!

While we are saints, we are also sinners. It is in the Lord’s Supper that we are truly able to encounter Christ on a weekly basis. It is “for times like these, when our heart feels too sorely pressed, this comfort of the Lord’s Supper is given to bring us strength and refreshment.” It is in the words “given for you,” and “shed for you,” that “show us that forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation are given to us in the sacrament through these words, because there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

This journey with the small Catechism during our Lenten days has gave us the opportunity to worship and proclaim God’s Word through the lens of Martin Luther. It is in his questions of “what is this,” and “what does this mean” that we are able to pause and think about our common Christian belief and practices that we may perhaps take for granted. The Catechism became the basis of one’s education in the Christian faith and it would quickly be translated into several different languages with each printer sometimes adding their own personal touch. In 1542, a Liepzig printer included Luther’s “children’s hymn” as a fitting conclusion to the small Catechism:

 

Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word;

Curb those who by great craft or sword

Would wrest the kingdom from your Son

And set at naught all he has done.

Lord Jesus Christ, your power make known,

For you are Lord of lords alone.

Defend your lowly church that we

May sing your praise eternally.

O Comforter of priceless worth,

Send peace, send unity on earth.

Support us in our final strife,

And lead us out of death to life. Amen.