Thursday, November 28, 2019

Sermon for Thanksgiving Service

When we look at the vast expanse of the universe, the myriads of stars, the earth within it which is exactly placed in it to shelter living creatures, the minute detail of cellular, atomic, subatomic existence, the fragile complexity of the human body, any person might feel awe, wonder, or curiosity.

But for thanksgiving one needs more than that. For thanksgiving, one needs to add a phrase which is not immediately evident: ‘For me.’

Certainly it would be utterly ridiculous to presume that I am the center of the universe. But Christians believe that all of this is a gift, a gift from God, and one of the intended recipients is ‘me.’ ‘Us’ as human beings, and ‘me’ as an individual. It is not presumptuous to think so, if we think of ourselves as intended by God.

It is because of this that believers can look at the world, at all things, and feel not only awe and wonder but thankfulness. And we express our thankfulness in song, in prayer, in word, in action.

I believe that God has created me together with all creatures. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul; eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock and all property, along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! I therefore owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.

One of the most ancient ways for humankind to give thanks is by feasting. To feast is to receive with gladness that which has been given. It is done not alone but with others, because we never receive anything simply for ourselves alone.

To feast with God in mind, to feast believing that it is his pure, fatherly, goodness and mercy that has not only given the meal but everything leading up to it that has preserved us and protected us from last Thanksgiving to this, to feast like this is more than mere consumption, but is right feasting: is praise and rededication. It is what the Israelites were to do when bringing the first-fruits of the land. They were to remember who they were and whose they were.

So on our national feast, however our fellow citizens honor the day, we as Christians are to remember who we are and whose we are. We are Jesus Christ’s, in life and in death. And whether or not the next year brings prosperity, we feast in thanks, for we have his promise that he will be with us not only in good times, but in bad. Perhaps we will give thanks, not for good health and prosperity, but simply because his Word sustains us in adversity and hardship. And yet can this not be a greater thanksgiving? For Jesus came to dwell with us and will not abandon us if we do not prosper.

I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, and I pray that when you feast, you take time to remember who you are and whose you are, and receive the gifts of the world with gladness, because God means them for you. Amen    

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Thanksgiving Service!

Please feel free to join us this evening, Tuesday, November 26, at 7:30 for a Service of the Word in observance of Thanksgiving.

Sermon 11.24.2019 - Christ the King Sunday

Luke 23:33-43

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

On the crucifix, there is a sign over the corpus, or body of Jesus, with the letters I, N, R, I written upon the sign. It is shorthand for the words Pontius Pilate had put on the cross of Jesus: in Latin, Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.

Can you see a king in this naked, bloody, dying man? Is he one to whom you could or would swear allegiance? Do you see, in him, God’s chosen one to deliver God’s people to freedom?

Before you answer ‘yes’ too quickly, with all the assurance of belief, think about this: Here is someone who cannot save himself from death, much less you. He, in fact, is the most powerless man in the universe, as we think of power.

Where are the signs of his power in the world? Almost two thousand years have gone by since he died upon the cross and the world has seemingly not changed for the better. God’s name is still trampled upon by people acting in his name, the ‘shepherds who destroy the flock,’ of whom Jeremiah speaks. Rulers, politicians, and those with power use it to abuse children, both born and unborn; the elderly; the vulnerable, the disabled. Natural disasters, perhaps aided and abetted by environmental degradation, affect many people, many of whom pray to God to spare their lives and property.

We are born and we die and in between we are up at night, worrying about things we can’t control. We, or our loved ones, may suffer from illness, contract disease, or die by accident at any time. We strive to become better people but we make the same mistakes. We pray to God but sometimes it seems he does not answer.

Again, I ask you, is this the one whom you should call king? Is this the one to whom you should dedicate your life? If you call him king, do not expect anything more, necessarily, than the men crucified on either side of Jesus. Though life is filled with signs of God’s grace and promise, though healing may indeed come, though miracles may happen, we cannot demand them of him. It can sometimes happen that life seems more like death, and sometimes for the most faithful among us.

Maybe this doesn’t seem like a very hopeful sermon to this point. But what I find convincing about faith in Christ is that it’s realistic. It doesn’t offer me false hope. So many people and so many products, so many ideologies and so many religions offer me hope that ends up being false hope. Hope that my life will magically change or that the world will magically change. Jesus has nothing to offer me except to be with me in my suffering. That is how he was on the cross with the two on either side of him. He was with them.

If we put our faith in him, if we believe that he is the king, what does that look like? The rulers, the scribes, and the first of the two crucified to speak mock him, saying, ‘he saved others, he cannot save himself.’ Today people mock God in refusing to live by his Word, for can his Word save? Can it fulfill our lives in the way we expect? If God is with us, should not he be able to remove our suffering, meet our needs, fulfill our desires, establish justice? Or, at least, he should be able to take revenge against those who mock him. But the man who is on the central cross is silent in the face of human derision. He does not summon legions of angels or consume those who scoff at him with fire from heaven. This only seems to confirm the opinion of those who mock him.

But if we are looking to him not with derision but with hope, we use the words of the man on the other cross. ‘This man has done nothing wrong.’ I know my misdeeds and I know the misdeeds of others. But if I look to Jesus, I look to him as one who is worthy to be a king, the only one worthy to be a king. I recognize the true king not by his ability to seize power, but by his worthiness to be entrusted with it.

Then I say, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ I see that the man who is worthy, despite all appearances, will be the one through whom God rescues the world and his faithful ones. He will be so because he is worthy to be so. His silence in the face of mockery reveals God’s patience, God’s love, God’s mercy. And his resurrection reveals that he is the one whom God vindicates. He receives honor and glory from God, and to him God gives the kingship of the world. God gives him ‘the name above every name; so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth; and  every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’

And to the one who sees in Jesus the one worthy to receive the kingdom, to the one who asks to be remembered when his kingdom finally comes, Jesus says, ‘Today you shall be with me in paradise.’ Me, a sinner, a rebel, do I deserve a place with Jesus? No, but since Jesus comes to share in our suffering, we will also share in his kingdom. He receives what is ours, our sin, our death – we receive what is his: his righteousness and life. And it is this word alone which gives us strength to wait for his kingdom to come in its fullness; this promise which is for us the one thing which sustains us in our journey.

Christ the King – where is his kingdom? It is present here and now - because he is the one who is worthy to be king, the one who is exalted by God;, the one who is with us in our suffering, living in our hearts by the power of the Spirit, and the one who will come to judge the living and the dead.  The words Pontius Pilate wrote on the cross are true: Jesus of Nazareth, King – of his people, of all people, of the world. Lord, remember us when you come into your kingdom. Amen

Monday, September 16, 2019

Sermon 9/15/2019 Luke 15:1-10 (Lost Sheep, Lost Coin)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

I physically feel something when I look at the picture to the left. I feel the tiredness of my eyes looking into the dim light of the house, lit only by the candle which I hold in my outstretched hand. I feel the strain of my arms as I hold the candle down lower to the ground. I feel its weight and the weight of the broom I hold in my hands. I feel the stress in my old back and my old neck as I bend close to the ground, scanning the floor with my tired eyes, the weariness of my heavy feet.

It’s hard work looking for that which is lost. It’s long work looking for that which is lost.

Patience is a virtue. It’s not one of my strengths. That’s not to say that I’m not patient with others. But to patiently and methodically and systematically look for something, going from place to place in the house, to find one thing. My brain is most likely going to be flooded with messages, ‘You’re never going to find it.’ I’m likely to get overwhelmed with the sheer variety of things in the house, and quickly distracted. I must admit that whenever I’ve looked at this parable of the lost, I’ve been most apt to think, ‘He’s got ninety-nine sheep! She’s got nine other coins!’

But it’s not about that, really. It’s not about how much as a percentage the person has lost, it’s not about the economic value, whether it’s worth it from a cost-benefit point of view. It’s about what one does when something precious is lost. It’s about the patience and persistence and the strain you go through until the thing is found.

And it’s not even mostly about an object lesson, as if these images of careful searching should teach me how to be patient. It’s about the character of Jesus. About who he is. Why he is sharing his joy with others who have no right to expect it. It’s because he sees them as precious in the eyes of God. Why he will be willing to search them out, and to endure the stress of the journey and the strain of the cross to restore them to his Father.

This is what the scribes and Pharisees just don’t understand. They see these people as throwaways, as failures, perhaps even as active rebels against God. Perhaps they are. But Jesus doesn’t see that. He sees lost creatures, lost children of God, precious children who need to be found. These have been found, and so there is joy.

Because that’s what it’s for, right? The patience and the persistence and the strain and stress are for the sake of joy.

Maybe Jesus got through to them. Maybe one or two of them or even more got what he was saying. Maybe they grumbled a little bit less, they rejoiced a little bit more. Maybe none of them did. Maybe all of them, secure in their righteousness, were there grumbling when Jesus passed through Jericho on his way up to Jerusalem, and found another lost person, a tax collector to whom the Gospel of Luke gives a name: Zacchaeus. You remember, the little guy who climbs a tree to see Jesus because he can’t see him. But Jesus sees him and sees him as one of God’s lost ones. And invites himself over. And celebrates with Zacchaeus when he finally gets it and restores the money he’s gotten by cheating and gives half of the rest to the poor. Maybe they were all grumbling, but Zacchaeus too is a son of Abraham. ‘The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’ (Luke 19:1-10)

As lost ones ourselves, these parables give us comfort. How do we know we were lost? Because we’re far too comfortable with our own sin which cuts us off from God and hurts others. Because we’re the ones who grumble at other people, being far more willing to condemn their mistakes, wrongdoings and sins than bewail our own. Because we’re the ones whose favorite image of God is the bearded angry old guy (not an image of God our Father, but an image of the Greek god Zeus); rather than the patient woman or, more completely, the Jewish man on the cross. Because we’re the ones who look at people from a cost-benefit perspective rather than as God’s precious children.

As long as we are clear about that, we’re halfway there. For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. Jesus seeks us out like a tender shepherd, like a patient mistress of the house, and like a father who waits for both his wayward sons, the roving younger and the dutiful elder, to come home and live in the joy which belongs to them both. Jesus seeks us out so that we may live in that joy.

But that joy comes not without its costs. For part of living in that joy is to embrace living with the broad shoulders of the shepherd and the tired eyes and aching back of the mistress of the house. Jesus saves us for faith, for living in his kingdom, and that means celebrating with him but also ministering with him, searching with him. When Zacchaeus celebrated with Jesus in his house, it was not simply the end of a story but the beginning of a new one. You think tracking down all those people he’d defrauded and giving to the poor was easy? Stress, strain and maybe a few mistakes along the way – but we presume Zacchaeus kept at it because of the joy of which he’d tasted.

And having tasted joy, having been found, we embrace the life of faith – the life of the kingdom, with all its stress, strain and sadness, for the sake of the greater joy which is to come. Let us again taste that joy as we share peace, as we are found again at the altar. Let the sins of anger and impatience be quenched; the tired eyes be renewed; the aching back and neck be relaxed, the soul refreshed. There is work ahead, patient and slow, but for now and for ever there is joy.  

Monday, July 22, 2019

Sermon July 21, 2019 (Mary and Martha)

So it is jarring to me when one woman plunks herself down at Jesus’ feet and just sits there listening. It was jarring then and it’s jarring today, not so much anymore because a woman is sitting where the men are supposed to be, but just because anyone is sitting down and listening.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Sermon July 14, 2019

That’s what a parable does – it’s an imaginative story which illuminates reality, getting around our own mental barriers to cut to the heart of the matter. We are not told, you should do this; we are shown what reality is and who we are to be.