We Are One Body!

January 27, 2019

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we came out of the womb with instructions on how to live our lives and what we needed to do to fulfill the calling that God has given us? Some of you may find the possibility of that a relief, while others may find it a burden.

In our baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit, yet our individual gifts still elude us. This is all a part of the journey in which we are led. We are however, shaped by the experiences that come are way, even if they are not quite what God had intended. I did not enter seminary until I was in my thirties, however, as I looked back on my previous career in the retail industry, there were many things that I had learned that could benefit me in my calling as a pastor. I also learned the hard way that I could not do everything. I had to learn how to delegate and learn when to step back as I sensed the need to take a deep breath. I would like to say that I have mastered these skills, but it would be a lie. It is part of that constant learning process.

When we are born and start going to school, we start getting ideas of things that we want to do when we grow up. Some kids want to be firemen, chefs, or astronauts. For me, I wanted to be a lawyer! That would eventually evolve to doing something in the business world, which is where I would first end up after graduation from college. It took a while for me to hear God calling me to ministry. Out of the many career routes one could choose to take, we need all of them to function as a society. Being created in the image of God, we are each called to use our gifts and talents to make a whole relationship with one another.

We get into trouble when we think that we can do everything on our own. We either find out that we just simply do not have enough time to do everything required, or we rush through it where you can tell that it was done without care and respect. And let’s admit it, we do not know everything, even if we want to believe we do. There is also the possibility of pushing ourselves to extremes which can lead to burn out and sickness.

We need various parts to function. As Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? …. If all were a single member, where would the body be?” When we fail to communicate with other parts of the body, we can end up with utter chaos.

We witness it played out time and time again in government as different parties fail to listen to one another and decide that their way is the best way without allowing the opportunity for discussion and compromise. Instead we look at others and say, “I have no need of you.”

Paul addresses the Corinthians with these same words when he sees that there are disagreements occurring within their community among those that are following Christ and those that are not too sure yet. His call is for them to work together as one body. They are going to have a hard time living into the body of Christ if they choose not to get along. Their arguing and disregard for those that think differently breaks the body apart.

While we are individual members of the body of Christ, God wants us to live out our calling with one another. We are called to share our gifts and talents so that we can move forward to be God’s hands and feet in the world. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul calls them to strive for the greater gifts. Those gifts that God has given them individually. Those gifts, when combined with the other gifts of the people in the community, will lead them closer to living the kingdom of God in this world. As they do so, Paul will continue to walk with them and show them even greater ways through Jesus Christ.

As we come together this morning as a community of Christ, we each bring our own unique gifts that have been given to us by a God that loves us dearly and wants us to use them to learn to work together and live into relationship. We are reminded of the various gifts of the congregation by looking at our annual report and seeing the varied ministries that take place during the year at Trinity. As we use these gifts to share the love of God with our neighbors, we do our best to be a living example of Jesus Christ in the world. Some of us may still be trying to find the gift that meshes into the fabric of our community, and that is ok. We are not handed a description of what our gifts are on a note card. We are encouraged to enter into prayer to discern those gifts and together we will work to find the most excellent way, as Paul would say.

Working together as one community is how Trinity Lutheran can live out our mission to celebrate God’s Word together and open our arms in service to all. As we live out God’s Word, and open our arms, we share God’s love with all.

Let us pray. Loving God, we give thanks for the varied gifts of this community. We pray that your presence is felt in the continual discernment of those gifts. May we use them to be your hands and feet in this world. Amen.

Advertisements

Being Opened

book book pages browse education
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

September 9, 2018

Mark 7:24-37

Sometimes you just need a good smack upside the head! I don’t think there is an age limit when this option ends.

For me, one such time was while I was on internship as I was preparing to become a pastor. Every spring before my seminary sent out students to begin internship later that summer they would gather the students together and give them a handbook of requirements. This handbook placed in my hands was a very dangerous thing. I now knew what I had to do and when I had to have it done and surely it would help me coast through my year of internship.

About halfway through the year I had a visit from Pastor Jane, the Contextual Education Director at Trinity. We talked about how internship was going with my internship supervisor and what the focus of the rest of my time there should look like. This is when I received a smack upside the head. As I talked about my checklists and getting the requirements done, Jane asked me, “How are you learning to be a pastor?”

Hmm…what a great question. I had learned how to do, but I had just barely scraped the surface of what it meant to be. It was in that little question that I was opened up to a whole new experience.

This morning in our gospel lesson, we have two stories that are stacked upon each other. They are more connected than one may think at first glance. First, they are both stories of healing. Second, the people that are asking for the healing are not the ones that need the healing. The Syrophoenician woman asks for her daughter and the deaf man’s friends ask Jesus that he be healed. They are both outsiders. The Syrophoenician woman is a Gentile and we can’t say if the deaf man was, but he definitely was on the outside looking in as someone with a disability. In a culture that relies on oral tradition and few people being literate, not being able to hear or speak puts you at a major disadvantage.

What is Jesus supposed to do with these two that come to him seeking restoration and healing? The conversation that occurs between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman is one that does not seem to highlight Jesus’ people skills very well. He is combative and the love that we have got to know Jesus through seems to be lacking. You could say that he even comes off as a jerk. We are left wondering what must be going on in his mind. Maybe he is tired and just needs to take a sabbath. Maybe he needs to get away and pray.

It is easy to get stuck in a rut and keep on doing what has always been done. When we do this, it is not uncommon to react negatively when we are challenged. When things do not go the way that we expect them.

To live in our own insular lives blocks others out that are different from us. The outsiders that we hear of in the gospels. The outsiders that usually get welcomed to have a seat at the table with Jesus to break bread and join in conversation. When we do this, we also close ourselves off to the possibilities that lay before us in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God that is unfolding before our very eyes. When we fail to welcome the outsider as Jesus does, we close ourselves off from the Spirit acting and moving in our lives to show us new ways to encounter Christ.

We first hear the promise in our reading from Isaiah this morning.

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy (31:6).

There is one word that Jesus speaks this week that changes everything!

It is in Jesus’ natural tongue and it is, “Ephphatha!” Fortunately, for those of us that do not know Aramaic, it is translated for us within the text, “Be opened!” It is in this word that Jesus heals the deaf man so that he can hear once again and speak so that people can understand him. The man that was deaf and could not speak was now opened to the world around him. His ears were opened to hear the sounds all around him and his vocal cords were made alive so that he was able to fully communicate with friends and family.

When Jesus speaks “Ephphatha” to the deaf man, it is also reflective of the previous scene when he is approached by the Syrophoenician woman. In this encounter, it is Jesus that is opened up! His way of thinking and the way that he views the woman. While his words first come across as hard to hear, even hard to imagine they are coming from Jesus, the woman provides him with the smack upside the head that he seems to need at that moment. She opens him up to even healing Gentiles, and expanding his ministry to all of God’s creation, beyond the people of Israel. It is in her words that Jesus ears are opened and his compassion for others is expanded.

The call of Jesus for the deaf man’s ears to be opened is a call that speaks to us today. As we close ourselves off from others and stick to the things that need to be done, how are we being opened to encounter Christ and the Spirit that leads us?

That smack upside the head that I received in seminary was enough for me to be opened to more and to learn how to be. Of course, I do slip back into the doing probably more often than I would like, but the Spirit is powerful and pulls me back into being.

How have your eyes, ears, hearts, and hands been opened to the Spirit working in your life? How are we as a community opened up to serving one another and being available in times of need? I believe we have listened to God calling us to be open through many efforts as a community, including the Food Pantry at St. Augustine’s, the Good Samaritan Fund, and the Backpack Blessings program. We have also worked together for Kids Against Hunger that provides food not just locally, but throughout the world.

It is in these many ministries that we are open to the Spirit. Our denominations are called to be open as well, which is reflective in some of our taglines. The ELCA is called to serve with open hands as we realize it is God’s Work. Our Hands. The UCC encourages us to be open to hearing the Spirit guide us as we are reminded that God is Still Speaking. And the United Methodist Church could not be clearer as their tagline is Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.

To witness God working in the Richmond Community is wonderful and when we are able to come together to worship and serve, the love of Christ is multiplied, and we are able to expand our voices and welcome people in to be open to a movement of the Spirit that changes lives. Together, we come to the cross and give our thanks to God for the love that was poured out for us and all of humanity through Jesus and the saving grace that we find in the waters of baptism and the meal that is served at the Lord’s table.

Let us pray. God of Community, you have knitted us together as sisters and brothers in Christ. May we walk with one another as you open up our ears, eyes, hearts, and hands to serve our neighbors and learn to love the stranger. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Let Us Join the Dance

F144-holy-trinity-rublev-legacy-icons__46339.1499796809.500.750

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

 

Breath of Life

pentecost-mosaic-690x353

May 20, 2018, Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21, Romans 8:22-27

 

Nature has both peaceful and destructive tendencies. It can be peaceful after a fresh snow or spring rain shower. The spring brings new flowers and babies of all kinds. However, the power of nature can destroy and changes lives forever. We witness this in the destructive power of hurricane force winds and floods that wipe out neighborhoods and communities.

These same winds blow through our times of uncertainty and desperation. Uncertainty about that job that we may be waiting to hear about. Uncertainty about the diagnoses from the doctor that we are awaiting. Uncertainty about what the future may bring for our children and grandchildren. A wind that swirls around our desperation and longing for a sign of hope that may bring peace and understanding.

These winds blow through our lives where there is darkness and death. In the darkness we tend to blame and point fingers instead of being present to the wind that brings fresh air. In the darkness it is difficult to see the light when we are sulking and throwing our own personal pity party. However, the wind is ever present, blowing this way and that.

The wind blows through our nation and world where it seems at times we have come to an impasse. It appears at times that we are more split than ever. Many languages are being spoken and it appears that no one can understand the other. The Republicans and Democrats are speaking a different language. People of color and the white majority are speaking a different language. Men and women are speaking a different language. The rich and the poor are speaking a different language.  Yet, the wind continues to blow.

 Paul in his letter to the Romans says,

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Sprit, groan inwardly while we await adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:22-23

The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains! There is a bit of reassurance that comes in this statement from Paul.

We tend to do a lot of groaning of our own when things do not go as expected. God’s creation is an amazing thing that never stops growing. Physically and inwardly. The Hebrew Bible is nothing but stories of creation and humanity groaning as they find their way. Every turn that is taken brings something new and exciting.  There are signs of God working in and among the people of Israel and the wind never stops blowing.

The apostles are experiencing their first Pentecost after Jesus’ death and resurrection. There are already numerous crowds gathered in the city because Pentecost was a festival day. A day in which the Jewish people celebrated the Feast of Weeks, or it could also be found to be called the Feast of the First Fruits, or the Feast of Harvest.

It does not take long for confusion to break out as the wind rushes through the apostles gathering and in response they are found to be speaking the languages of their ancestors. There is a stir of suspicion among those that have ran to examine the noise. There confusion is wrapped up in what is happening among Jesus’ apostles, for surely, they are drunk. Peter reassures them that they are not.

 The rush of the wind brings great power to them and is a reminder of the promises that Jesus had made to them before he ascended into the heavens. In the first chapter of Acts, before Jesus ascends, he tells the apostles,

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8

This is the same wind that blew through creation at the very beginning. We find this wind in Genesis in the creation story and we find it throughout the lives of the Israelites and their ancestral stories. The wind that comes through the gathering of the apostles is the wind that breathed life into creation. It is the wind that blew through the Garden of Eden as Adam and Eve walked among the flora and fauna. It is the breath of life that was in every animal that entered the ark. It is the same wind that separated the waters of the Red Sea so that the Israelites could get safely to the other side and escape the Egyptians. It is the same Spirit that came upon David and made him king of the Israelites.

This breath of life, this Ruach in the Hebrew language, is a powerful word. It connects the Spirit of God to the breath and life of all creation. That breath of life is in the wind that blows through the apostles on this first Pentecost after Jesus has died, was raised, and ascended into the heavens. This is the Spirit that Jesus promised to them. A Spirit that will guide them from this day forward. The Holy Spirit that is one with him and his Father.

 This breath of life, this Ruach, has never stopped moving and working its way into all the nooks and crannies of creation. It brings life to the dead and fills us with hope. This breath of life is the Holy Spirit that is among us from the very beginning of our existence to direct and guide us.

Paul reminds us in Romans that the Holy Spirit is also present with us to

Help us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that every Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26-27

We are the saints of God. In our baptisms we are marked with the sign of the cross of Christ forever and in this we are reminded that we receive the same promise as the apostles. The Spirit will be with us to guide, lead, and intercede on our behalf. While the Spirit is ever present with us, it is does not mean that everything is going to go just the way that we want it to. The Spirit can be sneaky, and it does not bend to our will. In his reflection on the Holy Spirit, David Lose writes,

The Spirit doesn’t solve our problems but invites us to see possibilities we would not have seen otherwise. Rather than remove our fear, the Spirit grants us courage to move forward. Rather than promise safety, the Spirit promises God’s presence. Rather than remove us from a turbulent world, or even settle the turbulence, the Spirit enables us to keep our footing amid the tremors. Keep in mind that after the Spirit is given to Jesus at his Baptism, it immediately drives him into the wilderness. The same Spirit![i]

Where is the Spirit guiding you in your life? Today in this present moment. Tomorrow as you go back to work. In the life of your friends and family.

Where is the Spirit guiding Trinity Lutheran Church as a congregation? Being reminded of the life of the past as we move into a new future where church is not seen as essential as it once was. Are we willing to let the Spirit guide us into some new and exciting ministries? Are we willing to fall flat on our faces, only to get back up with the help of the Holy Spirit to try something new? The Spirit has called us all together to worship and praise God. The Holy Spirit also calls us to go out into the world to proclaim the good news.

The Spirit, the mighty wind that blows through our lives, sometimes like the force of a hurricane, shapes us and prepares us to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. How can we best share that good news with our friends and neighbors in Richmond and the surrounding area?

Let us pray. Spirit that blows through our gathering and rests upon each and everyone of us, may we be guided in the truth and love of Jesus Christ. May we be called forth in our lives of faith to serve our friends and neighbors, and as a gathered congregation may we be open to the Spirit calling to new and exciting ministries. Amen

 

[i] David Lose, In the Meantime, http://www.davidlose.net/2018/05/pentecost-b-2018-pentecost-possiblities/

God With Us!

pentecost20

June 4, 2017 (Pentecost)

Acts 2:1-21

What is it that makes you passionate? Is it the love that you have for your children and family? Is it a hobby that keeps you engaged with others? Perhaps it is an issue that is very close to your heart. Quite often, the Holy Spirit will help guide our passions. Sometimes it may even take many years to see the results of our passion. Joan Chittister writes, “We must see the injustice, the difficulties before us, the unfavorable conditions in which we live and then work for years, if necessary, to make the future safe for others. That sense of purpose alone makes life rich and worthwhile, successful and significant, however limited the gains, however long the journey.”

As we celebrate the day of Pentecost, we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit stirring up the crowd in Jerusalem. They hear a sound from heaven like a violent rush of wind. If this does not want to send the crowds gathered for cover, I am not sure what will. I imagine it sounding like the roar of a jet engine and just as fierce. Everyone begins speaking in different languages, and for some reason they can all understand one another. A few onlookers assume that there must be some pretty good wine that is being shared amongst them and surely, they are drunk.

As Peter addresses the crowd, he reminds them that it is only 9 a.m., and that is way too early to be getting drunk. That verse has to make you chuckle a little. In the midst of this first Pentecost celebration is an excitement that cannot be contained. An excitement that is filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit which comes and rests on each of those gathered fulfilling the promise that Jesus made to all of God’s people.

Let’s not forget the fire. “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them” (vs. 3). The image of the Holy Spirit as fire is one that is ripe with meaning. Fire has a certain power to it. Fire could almost be deemed as important as water for survival. For tens of thousands of years, humans gathered around fire to keep warm, to cook food, to provide light. The fire provided an opportunity for community, protection, and better safer food.

Fire plays an important role in our stories from the Bible.

  • It was God that appeared to the people on Sinai as flames of fire.
  • Moses experienced God in the fire of the burning bush. When the Israelites presented their offerings to God it was through the fire.
  • As God led the people out of the wilderness, it was with a pillar of fire.
  • The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being delivered through the flames of the furnace with a fourth person being present, points to God.
  • The Seraphim that we speak of and sing of in hymns are fire-spirits, an extension of the divine.
  • Fire was seen as divine even by the Romans of the first century. One of their coins depicted Caesar with flames above his head as a sign of royalty.

Fire is not always a good thing in scripture. It can be seen as a sign of divine judgement. The angel in Eden hides the tree of life from humanity with a sword of fire. John the Baptist prophesizes that fire will consume the chaff. Fire accompanies humanity on its journey in the world, yet it also has the power to destroy.

We have seen what fire can do. We have witnessed it or unfortunately may have experienced it ourselves as fire can quickly consume a house. However, out of the fire, can come the reminder of life.

We all may have stories to share of the power of fire. Fire can also refine. It can help shape and mold beautiful pieces of art out of glass like Chihuly. Fire in a kiln helps preserve pottery. Forestry workers do controlled burns to bring about new life and vegetation.

It is in the tongues of fire that we encounter the Holy Spirit and are refined ourselves. We don’t run away from it, because we trust the Holy Spirit. It is in the fire that we can be empowered to reach out proclaiming the Good News. We may not always understand the Holy Spirit, if we ever do. We just have to trust in it.

The Holy Spirit is alive and around us all the time. It is constantly burning with a mysterious power to reach out in love and change lives. Rob Bell says, “The bush was always burning. It just took some one moving slow enough to notice it.” Have you had your own burning bush encounter, like Moses?

Where is the fire burning within your life? Where is it that the Holy Spirit is calling you to reach out and share Jesus Christ and the love that he has so freely shared with you? Where is it that you feel compelled to proclaim God’s amazing grace?

Once again, the Holy Spirit was at work in our midst this past week. As humanity, we are called to care for the creation that God has given to us. While the decision was made at the national level to remove the United States from the Paris Agreement, the Spirit was at work. Individual states and cities were stepping up to say that regardless of this announcement, they believed it was their responsibility to care for the earth and ensure that future generations will be able to revel in its mystery and beauty.

As in Moses case, the Holy Spirit does not always make things comfortable and convenient. It does not remove us from challenges and hardships. In the Holy Spirit, we are equipped to persevere and even flourish. Martin Luther came to understand that as human beings, we are incapable of living up to what Jesus wants us to be, the Holy Spirit makes this possible. It is in the Holy Spirit that God comes to be with us.

 

 

Are You an Advocate?

advocate

John 14:15-21

When you grow up as a white heterosexual male in a middle-class family most everything you need is within your grasp. You are in the majority and there is very little that you can do to erase that privilege you receive when you are born.

Therefore, in the first half of my life, the idea of an advocate was foreign to me. I honestly did not face any struggles or challenges that I didn’t think I couldn’t handle. I had no need for an advocate. I am not saying this because I am lifting myself up. I am saying this because I was naïve. An advocate is someone that walks alongside you to comfort you. An advocate is someone that walks alongside you to help. An advocate is someone that speaks for you when your voice is not being heard and encourages you to raise your voice.

The first time I truly remember hearing that word was in my home congregation when I was assisting in worship one Sunday. While preparing for worship with the supply pastor, an Eaton County Sheriff’s Victim Advocate walked into the church. She informed us that one of our member’s sons took his own life in the early hours of the morning. I did not know what it meant to be an advocate at that time and since I was the first connection to the members of the church, I was left speechless. I had no clue what to say or do. I had not been to seminary yet and felt immobilized by fear of what to say. Fortunately, there was a member in the congregation that was a trained lay minister and he went to sit alongside the family and be their advocate.

How naïve we are to think that we can do everything on our own. That is what our dominant culture would like us to believe. The truth is, that in the midst of trying to hide our true selves, and putting on the mask of our false selves, we can feel abandoned and orphaned. There comes a point when we realize that we cannot do everything on our own and are then afraid to ask for help. We do not want to appear weak. We do not want to be looked down upon. Yet, this happens in our work lives. It happens in our political lives. It happens in our social lives and with family. I am sure that we all have at least one experience of this that we can recall. Being abandoned. Being orphaned. It hurts.

This is when we must be open to the inbreaking of the Spirit. Jesus tells us, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live” (vs. 18-19). In this, the light breaks through the darkness. It is not God’s will to leave us orphaned or abandoned. God’s will is to love. A love for all of creation. For every plant and animal. For every bird of the sky and creature in the sea. For all of humanity as we are created in the image of God.

It is because of this love that God is not done with us yet. God’s love is continuously gracious and generative. There is no deadline that we have to meet or no requirements of being perfect in any way.

It is because God loves us so, that Jesus knows we cannot carry-on in this world without some help. As he professes that he will be leaving the disciples soon, he promises to send an advocate. Not just any advocate, but the Holy Spirit. This Spirit of truth abides with us and is in us. Are we open to the workings of this advocate that Jesus sends to walk alongside us, comfort us, encourage us, and intercess on our behalf?

The Holy Spirit is a reminder of God’s love. How do we respond to this love? Jesus says in the first verse of our gospel lesson, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Out of God’s graciousness we should be compelled to share that love with our friends and neighbors. One way to share this love is to follow the Holy Spirit and be an advocate for someone else. Just like the victims advocate that came to my home congregation looking for support for a family in need.

To advocate is to walk alongside our brothers and sisters. Be present to comfort them. Give them words of encouragement. Help when we can. This past Thursday, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton called on members of the ELCA to join her and Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church in making the 21st of every month a day of prayer, fasting, and advocacy for those living in hunger and poverty in our country. Why the 21st? Because this is when 90% of the money runs out each month for families receiving support from the SNAP food program, and with recent proposed cuts in the federal budget, this could get much worse. One in five children in the United States are already wondering where their next meal is going to come from.

In caring for one another, through fasting, prayers, and advocacy, we show Jesus how much we love him. While the world may not be awake to the Spirit at work, we the church know that the Spirit helps, comforts and encourages us to share the love of Christ with our sisters and brothers.

Let us pray,

In God’s everlasting promise, may the Spirit of Truth continue to guide us in ways yet seen. May the Spirit of Truth evoke us to reach out and love our neighbors. May the Spirit of Truth be a constant presence of comfort. Amen

 

I Believe that I Cannot Believe

apostles-creed

March 12, 2017

John 3:1-17

Have you ever wondered what it would be like living in a different time and place? Perhaps thinking that you may get away from some of the terror and fear we experience today. In reality though, the sin that occurs today is no greater than the sin that has occurred throughout the history of the world.

Imagine what it would be like living in Germany back in 1529 when Martin Luther published the Small catechism. There was tyranny and discomfort then, just as there is today around the world. We would have had little clue of what was happening within the church because we would not have known Latin. We may have a real basic understanding, but that may even be a stretch. This is what Martin Luther encountered as he visited churches throughout the country. The thing is, it just was not the lay people that had no clue, it was many of the priests and pastors as well. Out of these observations, a desire built within him to teach the faith to the lay people as well as the teachers themselves. The Small Catechism was published to be used in the house for both parents to learn from and to teach their children. The Large Catechism, which goes into greater depth on each chief part, was published to teach pastors.

As we heard last week, the Ten commandments as Moses presents them from God are what points to our sin in the world. As our confession points out, we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. The law points to our sin and the gospel of Jesus Christ is what saves us.

It is in this that we confess our faith. This faith is confessed in a creed that is over eighteen hundred years old. The Apostles Creed as we know it today was first put together in Rome around the year 150. At that time, it was known as the “symbol of faith,” and would be mostly used at the time of baptisms. The Nicene Creed as we recite it was established in the year 325 to help combat heresies that were occurring throughout the church.

Our creeds are the confession of our faith and regardless of which one we speak on Sunday, we join with our sisters and brothers around the world that confess the same faith. This community of believers is what constitutes the Christian church in the world today. The creeds are divided into three parts. Sound a little familiar? Possibly like the Trinity!

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

Creator of heaven and earth.

 

In the first article, we declare our faith in God the creator. A God that has made the heaven and the earth. A God that is still creating. In Luther’s response to the first article in the Large Catechism, he writes, “This article would humble and terrify us all, if we believed it!” The realization that we as human beings, are the creatures, and not the creators comes with quite a burden. The spirit-filled grace that God has bestowed upon us is a wonderful and terrifying thing when we take into account the ways that we have harmed creation. In this first article, we should be compelled to care for creation as it has been gifted to us.

Not only has God gifted to us once, God continues to gift us the things that we need on a daily basis. From the Small Catechism, “God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property.” God gives freely without any merit or worthiness of our own! Everything that we have comes from the creator God.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried;

he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again;

he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father,

and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

 

What does it mean to be Lord? Traditionally, a Lord was someone that has authority over the people and land of a given territory either by appointment or inheritance.  Jesus has come to turn that definition on its head. We call Jesus Lord, because he has come to defeat sin and death. In this we are freed and able to experience eternal life. In this we encounter the gospel for the first time in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. Timothy Wengert says, “the whole gospel is summarized in the [second article]. For the gospel is nothing other than the preaching of conception, birth, etc. of Christ.” Because of this we learn that Jesus Christ is “Our Lord.”

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

“I believe that I cannot believe!” The third article of the creed reminds us of what we cannot do on our own. Luther’s answer to what does this mean in the third article is, “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel.”

While the liturgy of baptism is familiar to many of us, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” Luther turns the order around. We would never come to know God, the Father, if not for Jesus Christ. We could not know Christ if it wasn’t for the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that leads us to Christ in the first place and it is through Christ that we come to know the Father. While the Holy Spirit is the one part of the Trinity that we seem to talk about least in the Lutheran church, it is the one that leads us to our faith. “I believe that I cannot believe.” Our faith is rooted in the work of the Holy Spirit.

In the creeds, we confess the faith that was given to us by the Holy Spirit. Without it, the words of John’s gospel would be meaningless. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Amen.