Baptism of Jesus, January 12, 2020
Campus Pastor Matthew Stuhlmuller
- An interesting question has stumped theologians and curious Christians for almost 2000 years: What was Jesus doing between his birth and the moment that he was baptized as an adult?
- The four Gospels tell us virtually nothing about this period.
- The first time that the Gospel of Mark mentions Jesus, Jesus is an adult approaching John the Baptist at the Jordan River.
- The Gospel of Matthew gives us stories about the birth of Jesus and how Jesus, Mary, and Joseph fled to Egypt to escape the violent rage of King Herod, but then Matthew jumps ahead to Jesus’ baptism.
- The Gospel of John entirely omits any details about Jesus’ childhood.
- And the Gospel of Luke gives us one brief story about Jesus. Luke says that, when Jesus was twelve years old, he astounded the people in the temple with his wisdom.
- But that’s it. We otherwise know nothing about his childhood, teenage years, or twenties.
- It’s certainly tempting to speculate about what Jesus might have been up during those years.
- In the end, though, it’s all conjecture. Nevertheless, I would be willing to venture a guess for one possibility.
- Whatever Jesus was doing during those years, it is highly likely that a significant portion of this time was spent learning.
- In his adult life, Jesus displayed an extraordinary grasp of the law and the prophets, and he frequently quoted the Hebrew Scriptures.
- He clearly was immersed in his Jewish religious heritage, so he must have spent a significant amount of time absorbing the tradition.
- But regardless of whatever happened during those intervening years, one thing is clear throughout multiple Gospel accounts: when the moment was right and Jesus was ready to embark on his mission, he came to John the Baptist to receive the sign of baptism.
- In those days, a man named John the Baptist was living in the desert, preaching a message of repentance in order to prepare people for the coming of the Kingdom of God.
- He was telling people to turn their lives around because God’s promised messiah would soon be coming, and as a sign of this repentance, John was baptizing people in the Jordan River.
- When Jesus first came to John, the Gospel of Matthew reports that John balked at the idea of baptizing Jesus.
- John said, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
- But Jesus said to him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
- Righteousness can be defined in a variety of ways, but most basically, it means doing the will of God. It means being obedient to what God has commanded.
- Jesus saw his baptism as an act of obedience toward his Father in heaven.
- By being baptized, Jesus was publicly demonstrating his obedience, showing his full participation in this message about God’s Kingdom that John was proclaiming.
- John finally consented to performing the baptism, and just as Jesus emerged from the water, the heavens opened up and the Spirit of God descended in the form of a dove upon Jesus.
- A voice from heaven also called out, declaring, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
- With these words, Jesus is receiving an anointing, a mark of distinction.
- The heavenly voice is declaring Jesus to be the Son of God, a title that sets Jesus apart from the crowd.
- And with these words, it’s as if Jesus and everybody around him is receiving a glimpse of God’s Kingdom: the heavens are opened; a voice comes from heaven; the Spirit is given.
- God’s declaration of “my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased” echoes an important passage from the prophet Isaiah: Isaiah 42, which we heard a few minutes ago.
- Jesus here is being identified as God’s chosen servant. As Isaiah says, this servant will bring justice to the nations.
- And by faithfully bringing forth justice, God’s covenant promises with the Israelites will be fulfilled. Israel will be a light to the nations, heralding a new creation: the eyes of the blind will be opened; the prisoners will emerge from their dungeons; light will shine into the dark places.
- In short, Jesus’ baptism is a moment that announces his identity to the world.
- This is God’s Son, the Beloved.
- This is God’s chosen servant, the one in whom God’s plan will be carried out.
- We don’t know what happened to Jesus in those intervening years between his childhood and adulthood, but when the moment was right, when Jesus was ready to embark on his mission, he came for baptism, and in this extraordinary act, he received these words about his identity.
- Think for a moment about your own identity.
- It takes a number of words to describe all aspects of ourselves. What words describe you?
- Husband, wife, or partner?
- Mother, father, sister, uncle?
- It takes a number of words to describe all aspects of ourselves. What words describe you?
- Physician, engineer, homemaker, teacher?
- Extroverted, introverted, gregarious, reserved?
- None of us can be summed up in a single word or phrase. A family member may describe you in one way, while a friend may see you in another way. Both can be right, because we’re all multifaceted beings.
- But whoever we are, each of us possesses a core identity.
- When Jesus came for baptism, he heard these words about his core identity as the Son of God.
- The title “Son of God” is not everything that could be said about Jesus, but it’s the center from which everything exudes.
- Similarly, there are many ways to describe each of us, but we each have a core identity from which everything exudes.
- When we receive the gift of baptism, we hear about our core identity.
- We hear that, above all else and before all else, we are beloved children of God.
- In baptism, we are forever marked and set apart as children of the most high God.
- When we’re washed in the waters of baptism, something life-changing happens.
- That’s not to say that there’s magic in the water, but God uses the water as an occasion to speak a word to us.
- It’s a word about our lives. It’s a word about who we are and whose we are.
- God says, “This is my child. This is my beloved.” But just as important, God says, “This is my This is my beloved.”
- God’s words forever identify us as children of the divine. Whatever else can be said about us, we are defined by the fact that God has reached across eternity to lay hold of our lives and establish a bond of love with us.
- It’s a bond that cuts across every identifying marker that we or the world places upon us.
- And even if we don’t recognize this bond of love or turn away from this bond, the bond is inviolable from God’s perspective. God always regards each of us as a beloved child.
- Over the 2000 years since Jesus was baptized, the church has come to ascribe additional meaning to baptism.
- One of the key ways of talking about baptism is that it’s a cleansing from sin. Baptism washes away the sin that is inherent to our human condition, thus making us a new creation as we’re joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus.
- This is true, but it’s true precisely because baptism is a word about our identity.
- It’s a word about who we are and whose we are. It’s a word that we are beloved children of God, and because we are beloved children of God, God graciously cleanses us from our sin.
- Because we are beloved children of God, God shows us mercy and reconciles our broken relationship with God.
- Whether we’re infants or adults, we constantly need to hear about who we are and whose we are.
- There are plenty of voices and forces in the world that would gladly define our lives for us if we let them, but baptism is God’s gift whereby our entire lives are framed in a new light.
- We no longer see our lives from our perspective or somebody else’s perspective; we now see who we are from God’s
- Amidst the transience and finitude and limitation of life, we now see who we are from the perspective of eternity.
- Whether we are just being baptized or we’re remembering our baptism years ago, we see that there is a part of us that cannot be changed.
- We see that, no matter who we are, or where we go, or what we do, one thing is constant.
- One thing cannot be taken from us. One thing remains: we are beloved.
First Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2019
Pastor Denis Botare Ndoe
Denis is a pastor from Cameroon, pursuing graduate studies at the Lutheran School of Theology, and has been a member at Augustana for many years (usually attending the 8:15 am service). At the completion of his studies in the US, Denis will return home in early 2020.
Ps 122 Is. 2,1-5 Rm 13,11-14 Mt 24,36-44
Prayer: … (moment of silence)
Heavenly Father, we have kept silence before you. This silence means we are ready to receive you in word and want to hear you voice. Come, speak to us. Amen.
This week we begin a new liturgical year with the first week of Advent. The word “Advent” simply means “coming.” Someone will come, and according to the Christian tradition, it is about the coming of Christ. This arrival took place with the historic birth of the baby Jesus. The New Testament tells us the story of the Jesus. And we are preparing to commemorate this historic event. Advent recalls the centuries of waiting that preceded the coming of the Messiah. In the early days of Christianity, Advent was a time of preparation and penance. These two aspects still exist today in some traditions. Protestant churches have kept only the preparation meaning for Advent and have reserved penance for Lent. During Advent and Lent, we dress the church in purple (American Lutheranism also uses blue during Advent).
Four weeks to wait and to prepare for Christmas. Four weeks to wait and prepare to welcome Jesus. Not baby Jesus. Absolutely no! Last Sunday we have celebrated Christ the King. This is the person we are invited to wait for (Is. 2,1-5). We are waiting for Jesus the King, Jesus the live giver, Jesus the peacekeeper, Jesus the justiciary. December 25 is a conventional date set by the Christian traditions to celebrate the birth of Jesus. That we know for sure. The same we know other landmarks of the liturgical calendar of the year: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and so on. But about the second coming of the Son of the Man, nobody knows the date at all. “36About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Jesus describes his second coming as a sudden and turbulent event that will bring about deep change to our normal, day-to-day lives. Therefore, he urges people to stay awake, to be aware, and to wait expectantly, because the Son of Man will come unannounced. “40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.” This is very scary. Isn’t it? This sounds very Presbyterian theology, the doctrine of the predestination where the divine has foreordained and has predetermined the salvation of some and the damnation of others. Lutherans believe that we are save by grace through faith alone.
The Gospel we just heard invites us for an attitude of watchfulness. There are several cameras around video-recording what is going on. When something happened, then the security service goes back to see and to investigate what had happened. This investigation is a post action. Jesus invites us to the opposite attitude; he calls us to be proactive and to be preventive. Friends in Christ, let us not be surprise by the coming of the Son of Man. Let us not behave as people during Noah’s time.
The Son of Man is coming soon to gather us for a life together in the house of peace, of justice, of love. All the readings we have heard this day call for our encounter, our gathering in Jerusalem, God’s house, a place one finds peace (though Jerusalem today is not a place where there is peace). Our “New Jerusalem” is our hearts, our houses, our families, our communities, our schools, our countries, the whole world. While waiting for the coming of the Son of Man, what is our contributions in peace making and peace keeping so that our heart, our house, our family, our neighborhood, our city, our country, the whole world be transformed into a real Jerusalem where peace and justice reign? A place where there is no more hatred, jealousy, crimes; a place where we feel equal and where racism and discrimination have no room; a place where all the baptized are heirs of Christ without any discrimination. Paul to Galatians writes: “You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jews nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3,26-28). The baptism we have received in the name of Jesus must transform us into a new being.
Refrain: Ben no’o zii to, to zekede zekede sii to, to zekede (2x
SNAKE AND CATERPILLAR
One day Snake and Caterpillar realized that every time they met humans, humans ran away from them, afraid. Their fear often led to hate and resulted in death. These two creatures realized that other creatures were not hated by humans like they were hated. So, they decided to find out why they were hated. They discovered that Caterpillar’s poisonous hair and the Snake’s poisonous pouch were the real reasons for their poor relations with humans. So, they decided to change. Caterpillar transformed himself into Butterfly and became humans’ friend. Humans enjoy playing with butterflies because butterflies hurt no one. As for Snake, he chose to shed his skin. He renewed his skin, but he kept his poisonous pouch. On the path, however, he was feared more than ever by humans, as his new skin shone more brilliantly. Snake was astonished to discover that the change he made did not have the desired results. So, Snake visited Caterpillar to ask how he had befriended the human. Caterpillar asked Snake what change he had made. Snake said that he had renewed his skin. Caterpillar scolded Snake, admonishing him, and telling him that as long as he keeps his poisonous pouch in his throat, he could not speak of change. And that’s why Snake continues to frighten humans.
We all are Christians. We have been baptized in Jesus’ name. What result our baptism has produced? Are we just shining like the snake while keeping our poisonous pouch? Or have we been truly transformed just as the caterpillar did and metamorphosed into the butterfly?
“Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, union;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.” (St. Francis of Assisi)
Lord, by granting us peace, make us instruments of your peace in this city of Chicago.
Lord, by granting us justice, make us instruments of your justice in this city of Chicago.
“Let us walk in the light of the Lord!” Amen!
November 17, 2019 Pastor Stuhlmuller
As legend has it, somebody once asked Martin Luther, the 16th-century reformer, what he would do if he knew that the world was going to end tomorrow.
Now you might be able to think of a number of things that somebody would want to do on their very last day.
Maybe spend time with family and friends.
Maybe have a great meal.
Maybe spend some time beholding the beauty of art or nature.
Do you know what Luther is reputed to have said? He said, “If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would plant a tree.”
Plant a tree: giving this kind of answer, and even asking this very question, might seem kind of strange to us.
After all, many of us probably don’t walk around thinking about the end of the world. If anything, we have such a long to-do list every day that we have an overly narrow focus on the present.
We’re barely thinking about what’s coming tomorrow because we’re just trying to get through today.
And, I mean, planting a tree? That hardly sounds like the definition of productivity.
But Jesus suggests that thinking about what’s to come, and how we ought to live in light of that, might not be such a bad idea after all.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus offers a profound challenge to the status quo, inviting us to reconsider our priorities in light of what’s to come.
He reminds us that so many of the things to which we give our time and energy in this life are simply going to pass away.
Jesus is speaking to a crowd of people who are admiring the beauty of the temple, and he says to them, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
So much of what we see around us, even this beautiful church building, will one day pass away.
But in the present, it’s easy to lose sight of that. It’s all too easy to become focused on things that are temporary, instead of what’s lasting and enduring.
That’s why Jesus tells us to watch out for false prophets. He says, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and. “The time is near!” Do not go after them.”
In our day, false prophets are not simply people; they’re ideologies, totalizing systems of thought that assume control of our lives and from which we’re unable to find an exit.
Think of the ideology of consumerism, which encourages us to acquire goods and services in ever-increasing amounts.
Everywhere we look, we see consumerism playing itself out. It’s become such a part of our wider culture that we might even assume that this is just the way that humans have always lived.
But these kinds of false prophets lure us away from what is lasting and enduring.
So what is lasting? What is enduring?
Jesus says that even our temples and houses of worship will be thrown down, but that doesn’t mean that the church itself, the people of God, will be thrown down.
If anything, the fellowship and the faith that we share here is precisely what is lasting and enduring.
This morning is our yearly stewardship Sunday here at Augustana, and we’re gathering under the theme of Fellowship and Formation.
Our theme encourages us to reflect on why we support and participate in this congregation, when there are so many worthy causes and communities which compete for our attention.
The pairing of both fellowship and formation together is a reminder that communities of faith offer something unique that can’t be found elsewhere.
When we gather together, our fellowship here is more than just a social gathering; it’s a participation in what is holy, in what is eternal.
When we gather with one another, we gather in the name of Jesus, whose love persists even beyond the bounds of this temporal world.
And this fellowship that we share is an important part of how we grow in our faith.
On both individual and communal levels, our fellowship at Augustana gives us opportunities to grow in ways that are simply not available elsewhere.
In a consumeristic culture that likes to focus on fleeting matters, our fellowship at Augustana may be the most countercultural thing that we could possibly do.
Gathering in the name of Jesus is a defiant act that calls into question the value structure of our wider society.
And that’s precisely why Jesus has given us one another and called us together as a community in this time and place.
In the midst of a world that prefers to focus on trivialities, Jesus says, “This will give you an opportunity to testify.”
Friends, gathering in the name of Jesus…that is our testimony.
When we gather in the name of Jesus, we participate in what is lasting and enduring.
When we gather in the name of Jesus, we are doing precisely what Luther was talking about: we’re planting trees, trees of hope that blossom into eternity.
The roots of our Christian fellowship run deep, and those roots keep us grounded in what is lasting and enduring.
Even as we’re tempted to participate in consumerism and other ideologies, these roots keep us grounded in the love of God, a love which reaches across space and time and whose power has outlasted even the greatest earthly powers in every age.
Friends, will we accept the status quo, or will we courageously follow Jesus’ lead and reimagine what our lives, both individual and collective, can look like?
In light of the passing of this world into the next, will we invest our time, talents, and money into something that is eternal?
Through Christ, God has taken hold of us for all eternity, and that eternal relationship between us and our creator frees us to give all that we are and all that we have to what matters most.
In Christ, we’re free to participate in those things whose roots run deep. In Christ, we’re free to give our efforts to those things which will bear good fruit into eternity.
Friends, in the name of Jesus, what trees will we plant today?
All Saints Day 2019 – Pastor Goede
You might already know that the cemetery business in the United States is in big trouble. Forty years ago, if you wanted to list businesses that would never go belly-up, cemeteries would have been one of them. People are always going to die, everybody used to say. They were right, but nobody anticipated that within a very short period of time, just a few decades, almost everybody would choose cremation rather than burial. They really didn’t foresee just how many paper mache boxes of ashes would find their final resting places in drawers and closets and cabinets in the homes of loved ones.
I get it. People don’t want to lose forever those who have died. But it speaks to a larger problem when people are very afraid to even say those words, those who have died. Almost everyone now says, they’ve passed away. And it’s very common to hear people say, my loved one is not far away, they’re right there in that drawer, with me. They come back to me sometimes in another form, a butterfly, a rainbow. I know they’re here in the room with me right now, watching over me. They’re not really gone.
More people speak in this way now because many fewer people have faith in God and resurrection from the dead and life everlasting. If you believe that death is the end, then it is unbearable to let go of a loved one who has died. Faith allows us to speak about death without fear, because for us, death is just another step in our journey through life and death and into everlasting life. We have hope for the life to come, a sure and certain hope we say.
If we want to be a witness of hope to those who are in mourning and to those who live in fear of death, it’s helpful to spend time reflecting on how we imagine this life everlasting. It’s important to know what the church teaches about death and life after death. It’s helpful to know how other people have imagined the afterlife. But it’s equally important to spend time making that hope your own by imagining what you feel everlasting life might be like.
For me, I love the idea of the communion of saints, that company of heaven, all of those who have gone before us surrounding God, communing with God. American Christians tend to focus on very individual images of themselves in heaven, concerned with what’s around them. I’m more inspired by the idea of communing with God and communing with the saints.
When it comes to the communion of saints, many still use the language that Martin Luther knew in his time, the church militant and the church triumphant. This might explain for you all of the language that we hear in our hymns about fortresses and soldiers and marching. The church militant is all of the living saints, those of us still on our journey through life. The church triumphant is all those saints who have gone before us into everlasting life. The military language imagery rings true for those who like to feel a part of something bigger than themselves. As many veterans can attest, this is something in which the military excels, and the saints marching is a very physical image that works for a lot of people.
I like the image of communing with God around a banquet table. We sometimes call Holy Communion “a foretaste of the feast to come,” because when we’re around the table, we are saints communing with each other and with God. Like any good dinner party, the food and drink are good, but what’s really compelling is the conversation and stories and laughter. What’s really good is the spirit around the table, the collective spirit that arises in the midst of fellowship. We have fellowship with each other because of all of the things we share as a congregation, the remembrance of baptism at the font, the holy supper, Oktoberfest, singing hymns about the marching saints. We do things together because we not only commune with God but we commune with the saints.
Someday, we’ll find that fellowship, that communion, with all the saints in light, as we say, all those who have gone before us in faith. What we hope, what we have to look forward to, is communing with God and other believers in spirit. It’s hard to imagine what that looks like. A dinner party is a pretty good image of that.
After the hymn, you’ll have time to walk around the nave, light a candle or more than one if you’d like, read names as we read names aloud. Exercise your imagination. Try to put your hope into images or words. As the communion of saints, we need to sustain the hope and the faith of each other, and build faith in those who are uncertain, afraid and hopeless.
Reformation Sunday, 2019 – Pastor Goede
Metanoia is such a useful word for a day like Reformation when we consider not only the structure of the church but also the structure of our spiritual lives. Your spiritual life is that intersection between your physical and mental and emotional lives, and metanoia involves all of those. Metanoia means a complete change, turning fully to God, a total yes. When I told Padraig that I was going to preach about metanoia, he immediately did a 180 in place. Metanoia is a change, a return, a transformation, a reconversion that Christians need to go through every day.
Everyone always thinks that they don’t know anything about theology, but with metanoia, untrue, you know it all. Theology is all of the thinking about God and faith that believers have done over the centuries. You can be reassured that whatever could be thought about God, it had been thought within the first century of the Church. We have the same questions about faith that Christians through the centuries before us have had. With the word metanoia, all the options about faith are clear.
For instance, some people seem to have faith like a gift, it’s effortless. For them, metanoia seems like a graceful turn with every part of their being toward someone calling their name, and they do it easily again and again. Many of us have had some experience of this, of feeling like God has called our name, and we turn towards God with joy. Of course we respond, because we hear God’s voice, we perceive a call.
But it’s possible to hear and not respond. This idea of metanoia as a complete turn means that we can stand with our backs to God. We can be oblivious, we can ignore God even if we’re pretty sure we can discern a call, we can be engaged in work to defy or undermine God. Whatever the reason, if we’re turned with our backs to God, we might feel alone, not sure there is anyone to turn to or if God would welcome us. We might be fearful about turning towards God, fearing judgement. We might be completely unwilling to turn. The gospel message is meant to reassure us that if we turn to God, we will never be rejected.
Christians over the centuries have talked a lot about how turning to and away from God happens. If the ability to turn to God easily, to have faith is a gift, can we ask God to give it to us? Some would say, we’re never able to turn ourselves, God is the one who turns us. But we also know that we can seek God. Jesus says, ask and it will be given, knock and the door will be opened. Can we ask God, please turn us towards you? Give us faith.
In our time and place, so many people know so little about faith, and what they do know about church, like clergy abuse and conversion therapy, they rightly distrust. If, despite all of this they manage to see that faith seems to be of value to people they know and trust, can they hope to find it? Agnes Callard, who teaches philosophy at the University of Chicago, says yes and she calls this “aspirational faith.” She says that even if you think it might be a good idea to have faith just in case, it’s not like buying fire insurance. You can’t just go through the motions and get a certificate of faith.
But you can start to do things that you might not completely understand, in hopes that you will understand and acquire something of great value. So if you see other people doing things like praying, and because they see value in it, you give it a try. Basically, she advocates cognitive behavioral therapy for the spirit, and that would be hopeful. Just as cognitive behavioral therapy often works for people trying to change their social and emotional lives, it seems likely that it could help build a spiritual life, too. We see others turning towards God, and we begin to wonder if there might be something to that. In our time and place, when so many have no spiritual touchstones, that’s a helpful idea of metanoia, I’m going to turn myself towards this unknown God and hope. That is the beginning of faith, and it grows from there.
Reformation is a day when we all consider our faith and we practice it, strengthen it, by practicing metanoia. It’s a time to think about where you are, about how you are or are not turning to and from God. It’s a day to celebrate with a leap in the air, a 180 turn towards God and a renewal of the faith that God has given you.
Lazarus and the rich man – Luke 16:19-31 – September 28, 2019 – Pastor Goede
Did you know that we have a memorial in our building from Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church? Anybody know what it memorializes? For the last couple of weeks in adult forum, we’ve been talking about what it means to memorialize or commemorate, and one part of memorializing is to remember. Esther Menn and Bruce Tammen and Carolyn Lawrence talked about the long process in Germany and Poland to come to terms with the Holocaust. “Never forget” is a slogan we recognize, but as we can see from the plaque from Gustavus Adolphus in our own church, you can’t remember if you never knew in the first place. Why, you might ask, would we have that Lutheran Church’s plaque hanging in our building? Because Gustavus Adolphus used to be a congregation in Woodlawn, they were our neighbors to the south until they merged with us, about the time this building was built. Almost no one remembers that event from fifty years ago.
We remember there was a Second World War, but no one remembers any of the people named on the plaque in our hallway. No one remembers the people on the signs in the pews in front of us, those who were killed not far from here. They died one hundred years ago, so long ago. In this centennial year, there have been a couple of genealogy groups who have attempted to trace descendants from each victim, to reconnect those long ago people to their current descendants. That’s a very cool project. But it’s impossible for all of us to remember them all, to name them all, to know them all.
Jesus does remember. Jesus does know each of us by name. When we talk about faithfulness, we’re usually talking about ourselves or someone else we know, but God is the one who is truly faithful. I always think the most important part of the story that Jesus tells about Lazarus is that God knows Lazarus by name. This is a very poor man whom no one knows by name. Lazarus is alone, he’s without friends. He’s a homeless guy who is blocking the gate of the rich man, who has to step over him every day. Lazarus is an annoyance, but he never attracts the rich man’s true attention. But Lazarus has God’s attention. As promised over and over again in scripture, God claims him as his own.
We never learn the rich man’s name. He has never called on the name of the Lord. When he finally does, God does not call him by name or offer to claim him. To know God is a relationship for life that carries us into death. That kind of salvation is not just fire insurance that you buy.
In Christian life, we not only call on the name of the Lord, but we bring the name of the Lord to bear on situations of injustice and cruelty, like the non-relationship between the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man finds there really was something to all that talk about God loving the poor and the need to act justly and love your neighbor.
In this installation, we bring the name of Jesus to bear on a situation of great injustice. There’s no way to walk into this space and not realize that the whole installation is located in a church. The artists were interested in a resonant space that’s like a beautiful blank canvas. But as Christians, our interest is in crossing human life with the name of Jesus, and all that’s behind that. Our interest is in shining the light of Christ on a sinful situation, so that everyone knows about it and can do something about it.
“Blood Lines” is all about just one week in the life of our city. But the timeline names out loud what we know, that it didn’t just happen out of the blue. More than four hundred years of history led to that one week, that one summer, and that injustice continues. You’ve probably noticed that a couple of words run throughout the timeline, light lettered, hard to see but words with a lasting impact. We have not always named things in our national history like slavery and colonialism. Many people all along this timeline have put a lot of energy into stopping their fellow citizens from naming these things. We have not named them even though they have followed us into our own century and our own decade.
Part of the work of building justice and peace is naming everything, bringing everything into the open. The basis for the score of “Blood Lines” is a report of the investigation that the city conducted after the riots. That seems like such a small thing, knowing the names of every person who was killed, but in Elaine, Arkansas, the site of the last massacre of the Red Summer, no one even knows for sure how many people were killed, much less their names. What we’ll do on Thursday is commemorate those who were killed. We can trust that God knows their names. We’ll shine a light on what happened to them. We’ll remember them, because now we all know about them. We’ll be able to resolve, never again, because we know how to name our own past.
God knows Lazarus by name. We can trust that God knows us by name, knows our situation down to the last detail. We can trust that God is with us, shining a light of truth and peace in our lives.
Luke 15:1-10 – September 15, 2019 – Pastor Goede
To really appreciate what Jesus is saying about the one lost sheep, you really need to be able to see yourself as that one who is lost. I think a barrier to this is hearing Jesus talking about the one lost sheep as a “sinner.” It’s not always so easy to label yourself as a “sinner,” and sometimes it’s not a good idea. Sometimes people incorrectly take on that label. For instance, children often assume that they are at fault if they are neglected or abused. Adult sexual assault victims often feel like this, and sometimes they have people around them telling them, yes, you’re right, that’s the correct label, you are a sinner, you were at fault. When anyone is sexually assaulted, not only does the victim often feel at fault, but others around often say, yes, you were at fault, why did you…?
In that situation, someone should assume the label of sinner, but it wouldn’t be the person who was assaulted. Rather, the sin belongs to the one who said, you were at fault. It could be that the victim acted unwisely. For instance, it’s not wise to get extremely drunk and then walk home late at night. You’re exposed to all kinds of danger in that situation, it’s unwise. But nobody deserves to be sexually assaulted, and to tell someone that an assault is their fault is to say, you deserved to be injured and violated. It’s sin to say that to someone, but not many accusers are willing to take on the label of “sinner” for themselves.
Assault is always a sin for the predator, even though very few who are convicted are willing to accept the label of “criminal” let alone the label of “sinner.” At the same time, most of us would acknowledge that behind someone who has become a predator there is probably a lot of sin. We all know that many predators were themselves assaulted. We have all heard reports of testimony at trials about the abuse and neglect that the accused has suffered. It seems depressingly familiar and widespread. We’re much more surprised when there doesn’t seem to be any obvious reason for someone becoming a predator.
There’s so much sin in a situation like sexual assault. Think about the size and complexity of the web we’ve been considering. Whenever anyone suffers rape, there are so many people who have contributed to the situation. There’s often such a huge web of previous sexual assault and abuse and neglect and shame and anger. There is so much sin involved, even if nobody is anxious to take on a label like “sinner.”
Jesus always stands with those who suffer, like those who might feel that they are all alone in the midst of a sinful situation. Assault victims can feel very alone, like one sheep standing apart from the herd. We can always be very sure that Jesus searches out those overwhelmed by sin. They are his first concern.
But what about all the other sheep? Jesus talks about the shepherd going after one lost sheep while the other ninety-nine stay behind. What about the ninety-nine?
When Jesus talks about the one lost sheep, it’s a paradox that the lost sheep is also the found sheep. There’s a big herd of sheep, but Jesus is interested in the one who is willing to say, I am lost, but I want to be found. When we consider that big web of sin around sexual assault, what that means is that the one who is willing to take a step forward and confess sin is the one who is able to be freed from the bonds of sin. All that interconnected sin is like chains, and the way to loosen them is to turn from sin, confess it and receive forgiveness. In so many situations, no one wants to be called a “sinner,” but once one person accepts that label, the bonds begin to break. That works in all kinds of situations that involve sin stretching in every direction. When we accept that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves, it’s a paradox that that is the moment when we are freed from that bondage to sin. That’s the moment when we can begin to change our situation. That’s when we begin to experience redemption.
Anyone caught up in that web could be freed from sin. Jesus doesn’t set a limit, sorry, only one found sheep per herd. Any of the ninety-nine could seek that freedom from sin, but humans are not so good at saying, I am lost and I want to be found. I am caught up in a life that is a web of sin. I can’t escape it. Sometimes I suffer from the sin of others. Sometimes I sin against others. I want to be free. Jesus is very interested in rescuing anyone who is willing to accept that they are sinners, in bondage to sin, in need of redemption.
Hebrews 11:13-16 – August 11, 2019 – Pastor Goede
This past week, I had the strong feeling that I live in between two very different countries. Our church community lives in the country that is devastated by three mass shootings in a short space of time and the steady barrage of gun deaths in our own city. We ache to think of the suffering that’s been unleashed, we pray for help for our country, for peace.
I worry that so many of my fellow Americans have moved to another country that is truly foreign to me. To them, the events of the past week are not tragedies, they’re steps. Very sad they might say, but such violent incidents are all just necessary steps towards remaking the world. They are not praying for peace, they are praying for more violence.
In a lot of ways, this other country is very religious. It’s certainly drawn in a lot of our fellow Christians. It’s not surprising to me that white supremacy seeks to draw in religious people and institutions, and that they go, because as a movement it is inherently religious. For instance, every religion helps followers to define and maintain purity. Purity is a basic human concern, and every religion offers a framework for dealing with it. A desire for purity is why we confess sin and seek forgiveness. Purification is an important aspect of the waters of baptism, drowning the old self, washing away sin.
All humans have some interest in purity, but the kind of purity that Christian nationalists are looking for has nothing to do with Jesus. They want to live in a world created in their own image, white, wealthy, straight, Christian. They want to feel safe, like they belong, like they are in control. To achieve that, they want to live in a world that has been cleansed of complexity, and that might include things like scientific expertise as well as people with different cultural assumptions and expectations.
Those who want to live in this kind of a country look at the ongoing violence in Chicago as a useful process. The people who are polluting this city are wiping each other out, cleansing it. Citizens of this other country look at mass shootings as steps towards apocalyptic ending and beginning. They aren’t devastated, they aren’t hoping for peace, they’re hoping for an end to this world and the birth of a radically different world of their own making, and they believe that to achieve this, violence is necessary. They think of it as cleansing fire.
What they envision is so different from the beautiful language of Hebrews that we heard this morning:
“All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.”
The passage is about Abraham and his descendants, which include us. It’s about all of us who want to live as citizens of heaven, even while we’re still citizens of the United States. We long to live in a very different country than many of our fellow passport-holders. We want to live in the same way as Abraham. We’ve been invited to journey with God, we’ve accepted the invitation and we’ve been blessed. We’ve been welcomed by God as strangers and turned into heirs of the divine household, so we in turn welcome other strangers to come and live among us. We desire a better country, a heavenly one.
This week, our national church met in churchwide assembly, and the vision they laid out in policy was striking. The date and agenda of this gathering was planned long ago, but in the wake of so much violence in the U.S., the timing couldn’t have been better. We declared, here is the national policy of our heavenly country where we live in both the kingdom of God and among our neighbors. We apologized as a denomination for our complicity in the ongoing legacy of slavery, and representatives of Lutherans of African descent responded with their own statement. We declared the ELCA to be a sanctuary denomination, welcoming of migrants and immigrants and refugees, condemning of violent tactics to terrorize them. We celebrated fifty years since the first ordination of women and ten years since the first ordination of lgbtq pastors.
It was a very bold agenda, and it spoke to the kind of church I hope we can be. But as I had the rest of the week, I felt pressed between the two countries. The ELCA is as divided as the United States. I’m not sure the declarations from Churchwide Assembly will lead to congregations or even people officially leaving. But I think it will lead to more drifting, separating themselves from the denomination step by step, finding their way to the other country, which offers a competing vision of heaven here on earth that many find very attractive.
People of good will in the U.S. need to know that there are sanctuaries where life is being lived with tent stakes in both city and state and in the kingdom of God. People, religious or not, need reassurance that what they see and hear constantly in the news is not the last word, but that God is still speaking. They need to see places where all are welcomed, where hospitality is a first concern, where dignity and respect are valued. Most, I think, still desire a better country. We citizens of that country need to be bold in living out our lives as a witness and invitation to it.
Pentecost 22, October 21, 2018 – Pastor Goede
Fall is the time of year when I think about both stewardship and the Lutheran Reformation. This summer, I got into an interesting discussion I didn’t expect that connected the two things.
At synod assembly, I went to a workshop on the statement about women that our national church, the ELCA, is preparing to make. You can go online and find dozens of statements that the ELCA has issued over the years on just about any social issue you can imagine. The statements always include insight from our teaching theologians, but they are also the product of lots of discussion in workshops and hearings.
A couple of ELCA staff members walked us through the many parts of the statement. It was mostly what you’d expect of the ELCA, except that I noticed there was one thing that wasn’t included – birth control. Here was a statement about women that did not touch on one of the most important parts of social and family life for both women and men. There was no plan to say anything about an issue that is extremely controversial for most of the world and is still controversial in the United States. It looked like we were not going to make a statement on an issue where Lutherans have a lot to say that is very different from the rest of the religious world.
If you don’t think that birth control is controversial, you may not know that contraceptives were illegal in the United States until after World War II, when some states began to decriminalize their sale. In 1965, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the government to prohibit married couples from using birth control. But that left 26 states where it was illegal for unmarried couples. So in civil society, legal contraception in wide use is a very new thing.
It’s still controversial for the vast majority of people who are religious in the United States, because now they hear a teaching from their religious leaders that is way out of step with society. Anyone who is a member of a Catholic or Orthodox or evangelical or Pentecostal church, or is Muslim or is an Orthodox Jew, learns that it is a sin to use birth control, yet, many of them do use it. That religious objection to birth control plays out in the lives of non-religious people here in Chicago, where there are still many ob-gyns who will not prescribe pills or do office procedures because of their faith objections. It affects our foreign policy, for instance when aid to poor countries can’t include birth control.
But Lutherans, and other mainline Protestant Christians like Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Disciples, we don’t object to birth control. In fact, we’re in a position to say, you should use birth control as a part of your stewardship of your family and this earth. So how did we get to such a different point as so many other churches and religions in the United States? Did we just cave to social pressure? Or is this a faithful response to a new technology?
Part of it is our Reformation heritage. Martin Luther dove into the letters written by Paul, and he rediscovered some things that had been lost over the centuries. For instance, he rediscovered God to be a gracious creator who cares as much about our lives as our deaths. So Lutherans have always been a church with one foot solidly planted in the spiritual kingdom of God, but the other just as solidly planted on earth. We care about the stewardship of creation because we think that God continues to create, and that creation continues to delight God. We find the spiritual within the earthly world.
Part of that stewardship is caring for our health. I visited Rebekah and Tyler in the hospital a couple of weeks ago to see baby Otto, and I told them that’s one of the joys of being a pastor, visiting new babies and moms and dads. Pastors did that one hundred years ago, too, but they went so that they could baptize dying newborns and comfort grieving husbands whose wives died in childbirth.
In a time when most of us have not known anyone personally who died in childbirth, or a child who died in the first month after birth, we forget that until the 1920s, most families were in grief at some point in their lives over dead mothers and wives, children and siblings who never survived to become part of the family. Birth control is one of many advances that has changed maternal health for the better.
Lutherans look at Jesus and Paul’s relationships with women, and from there, we reason that women are just as important to God as men. We see that women are just as much partners with God in caring for creation. That partnership with God means that we are responsible for stewardship of things like our health, but it also means that we value women’s lives in a way that people in other churches do not. Birth control opens up a lot of possibilities for women. I wouldn’t be able to be a pastor with ten children. I wouldn’t be able to work anywhere except at home, caring for my enormous family. If my church believed that women only belonged at home and that decisions about children had to be left to God, my life would be very different.
So many Christians from other traditions and so many people of other faiths struggle against scientific endeavor because of their understanding of God, their theology. It has concrete consequences as so many Americans now deny science, distain academics and distrust education. It has concrete consequences as many of their members feel that their church is out of touch with things that have become everyday and indispensable, like birth control. Believers become former believers, because life and faith seem to be disconnected.
Our Lutheran heritage and our understanding of stewardship often divides us from other believers. But it also means we bring a unique witness of God as a creator interested in all of our lives, as well as our deaths. We bring an understanding that our lives are lived as partners with this God, and that things like scientific discovery and technological innovation are not necessary evils but part of the lives we create with God’s help.
So I hope that the crafters of the statement take my suggestion to heart, to add a section about birth control. Most importantly, I hope we don’t lose sight of the important witness we offer as Lutherans, that modern life can be lived faithfully, and that faith is essential to living in our place and time.
September 2, 2018 – Pastor Goede
1 Kings 17:8-16
Then the word of the Lord came to [Elijah], saying, ‘Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.’ So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.’ As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.’ But she said, ‘As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.’ Elijah said to her, ‘Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.’ She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.
[Jesus said,] “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
It’s not obvious why anyone would be offended by Jesus’ words. Jesus has been talking about bread from heaven and the spirit giving life, not the tangible world that we know so well. It’s not obvious why that would be offensive. He may seem harmless to some, an unmarried drifter content to couch surf with people he meets and eat with shady people who invite him to eat with them.
Some of the people listening to Jesus, now that they’ve gotten to know him better, might think that Jesus is really different, and not in a good way. He’s really strange, not in touch with the reality of raising a family, taking care of a home and making a living. Some are beginning to realize that Jesus is not giving them what they are looking for, which is freedom from Roman rule, prosperity, real bread, money, real comfort. They believe in God, but there’s no reason to go overboard. Jesus is way overboard, talking about being the bread of life, ascending, going to the place from which he came before their eyes.
Elijah was like this. He was a way-overboard kind of guy. In the story we heard today, about the widow of Zarephath, Elijah was a hungry, desperate drifter who befriended a woman so poverty-stricken that she was down to her last bit of grain and oil. This would seem like a blind-leading-the-blind sort of encounter, but Elijah was also a prophet of God. That was not bringing him any tangible prosperity. Remember that last week, we heard how Elijah had to hide in the wilderness from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, so God sent the ravens to bring him bread and meat in the cave where he was sleeping. When you have to depend on ravens to bring you food and you live in a cave, that would seem to be the definition of seriously strange and way-overboard.
But Elijah realized that in his time and place, way-overboard was the only option. Israel was in crisis. It didn’t feel like crisis. The king had converted to his wife’s religion, and so he had encouraged the people to take down altars to the God of Israel and put up poles on the high places devoted to the god Baal. The people didn’t mind. Baal was widely worshiped by Israel’s neighbors, and the people of Israel were fascinated by their neighbors and their perceived wealth and power. This didn’t feel like crisis, it just seemed exotic and fun and full of possibility.
King Ahab had married Jezebel, and to her, this didn’t feel like crisis either, this felt like doing her duty. Jezebel was the daughter of another king, who had started his career as the high priest of his temple devoted to Baal. Jezebel was equally devoted. She couldn’t understand why anyone would follow the God of Israel, who didn’t seem to be doing anything to prevent a takeover by Baal, the god who gave people what they wanted, power and prestige and wealth.
Eventually, though, Elijah came out of hiding, and he confronted the people of Israel. Look, he said, if the Lord is God, then follow him. If Baal is god, follow him. But you can’t follow both.
You can’t have a god on the side just in case. Just as God had told Moses on the mountaintop as the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, if you’re going to be my people, you can only have me. You can’t have any other gods. You can’t turn anything or anyone else into an idol. There can only be me.
Confronted by Elijah, the people of Israel chose God. They built an altar to the God who had led their ancestors out of the wilderness and into the promised land. They took down the poles and they turned back to the one true God.
Jezebel was furious at this. She was furious that Elijah challenged her power and her place, and killed hundreds of her prophets. She was offended that Ahab’s people would turn their backs on the god she offered to them. She was offended that this stupid nation of Israel would continue to follow their loser God, who wanted them to walk in the ways of justice and peace. Jezebel couldn’t believe anyone could really want these namby-pamby things.
Some people do get offended when a prophet of God tells them that their lives are not real, not of enduring value, not of first importance. Some people get offended when they hear that the spiritual is what matters, that the true bread from heaven can be had from a man who is one step from hippy. To make it worse, this man says that there is only one way to live that matters, his way, and his way of justice and peace cuts out so many things that are materially rewarding. Other gods are meant to serve life in the world, but with Jesus, you can’t just grab a slice of this bread from heaven and bring it along with you to power your day doing really important things. To those who have devoted everything to building a material life, this is an affront.
If Jesus is Lord, then follow him. If you are the lord of your own life, then don’t follow him. But you can’t have both things. You can’t be the ruler of your own life and follow Jesus. Here is God made real for us in this Jesus. Saying this offends some people. Jesus knows it will offend some people so much that they will seek to kill him. The same thing can happen to his disciples who follow him overboard. But we also follow him into a life like his, one that offers the true bread that brings life to the world.
2 Kings 4:1-7, 42-44, John 6:1-21 – Pentecost 11, 2018 – Pastor Goede
These incidents of Elisha and Jesus multiplying the oil and bread and fish have been on my mind these past weeks. I’ve been thinking a lot these past weeks about abundance and deprivation and need. I spent the last two weeks clearing out my parents’ house. My mom lives in a nursing home, but my dad is still in his house. He’s 91, and for the moment, he’s fine staying in his house. Still, he won’t be there forever, and there’s a lot of stuff to sort through. He was not keen on my suggestion last year that we have a yard sale. Soon enough, we’ll auction the house and contents, he would say. But, he was feeling weighed down by all the stuff, so he decided that a sale was a good interim step.
My parents have a lot of stuff. They’ve never had a sale or brought anything to Goodwill or even thrown much away. My mom inherited the hoarder gene from her mother. My grandma was a “saver,” and she wasn’t the only one in her family. I remember going to her sister Bea’s house on Sunday afternoons and boggling at all the boxes and bags stacked in every corner. Now, Bea’s daughter Virginia lives in the house she inherited from her parents, which has gone from boxes and bags in the corners to candidate for reality television show. She parks in the driveway because the garage is full of stuff. She can’t watch TV anymore because hers broke years ago, and there was no way a repairman could get to it. She sleeps on the couch just inside the front door, because she can’t reach her bedroom. Her brother came and dug her out several years ago, and her church did it again a few years after that. Now, there’s just as much stuff as ever, and no one is anxious to dig her out again. My dad and I had some serious discussion about what to do if Virginia shows up at our sale, which she probably will, and wants to load up her car with stuff.
Hoarders are such a puzzle, because they turn ideas about abundance and deprivation on their head. They have so much stuff, which seems like it should be abundance, but it’s so overwhelming that someone like Virginia is deprived of the most basic things, like a bed to sleep in and food made in a kitchen and a bathroom where you can shower. All the stuff can hide some real emotional deprivation; some parts of your life must feel very barren to be so obsessed by such disordered acquisition and possession. Hoarders are no longer the master of their stuff, but enslaved by it.
Remember that the widow comes to Elisha in danger of enslavement. Her children are on the brink of being carried into slavery to pay her husband’s debts. She’s desperate for Elisha’s help, because she has nothing left but a jar of oil. She seems to live in great deprivation, but Elisha takes the little she has and multiplies it to abundance. The children keep finding empty vessels in their house, and the jar of oil keeps pouring and filling them up, until they can’t find anything else to hold it. Then the oil stops, when there is plenty. It doesn’t keep pouring and creating problems of too much oil. It’s enough for them to pay their debts and live on for some amount of time. In the same way, all of the people listening to Jesus eat until they’re satisfied.
There’s plenty left over, but no one keeps breaking the loaves trying to wring out more to sell or to keep for the next day.
What the widow and the crowds have in abundance is faith that God will provide, and God meets their faith. God provides enough oil and fish and bread, for the moment. God provides a response to real need, which meets some real deprivation in lives. For instance, the widow is alone. She has children, and she still lives among the company of prophets and their families. But in this society, where it’s so crucial to have a husband, she struggles on without her husband, and that must feel like deprivation, to be without her crucial protector. But God works through Elisha and fills that need, and the widow is fed, satisfied.
These passages were on my mind these past weeks, as I cleared out the house and thought about abundance and deprivation. They made me think about what it is that I hunger for. What do I have in abundance? Where is there deprivation in my life? How is God providing for me? For all of us?
Sabbath – June 3, 2018 – Pastor Goede
In our time and place, the problem isn’t too much enforcement of sabbath. Our problem is the aggressive destruction of sabbath. Sabbath in the United States has changed a lot in the last forty years. Not everyone can remember a time when there was Sabbath enforcement, but when I was growing up, you couldn’t plan to shop on Sunday because almost nothing was open. If you would be driving some distance on Sunday, you had to make sure you filled your tank on Saturday. You couldn’t buy alcohol on Sunday until I was out of college.
Those seem like quaint restrictions now. Sometimes people remember the blue laws, as they were called, with nostalgia, a longing for an idyllic era that never existed for most people. An important, lasting consequence of this shift away from sabbath, however, is that lots of people now work on Sundays, and Saturdays and evenings and all night. Giving up sabbath restrictions led to not only commerce rushing into Sundays, but to every moment of every day. And that’s a problem for a lot of workers.
Moses tells the Israelites that the reason they should observe the sabbath is because they could remember when they were slaves in Egypt. The people had only left Egypt forty years before, so a few people could still remember what it was like to be treated as disposable, used for a while and then discarded when used up. Many families remembered what it was to see people worked to death, and they could remember the indifference of their Egyptian overseers to the suffering of their slaves.
Workers in the United States today are not slaves, they’re employees, and that’s a big difference. American workers are compensated for their work, however poorly, and free to leave if they choose, even though that would bring hardship. Americans aren’t slaves, but without the limits that sabbath brings, both employees and employers are diminished as lives are blighted, shortened, hardened.
Sabbath puts a fence around things. It keeps some things in, and keeps others out. It fences in things like human dignity and makes it untouchable, sacred. Sabbath fences in rest, recreation, time for worship. When many people aggressively rip up that fencing and trespass without consequence, then you can see how sin is involved in violating the sabbath. When you see many people suffering because they’re being exploited by employers, then you begin to understand why God makes sabbath-keeping one of the Ten Commandments, Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
To observe sabbath for workers requires those with power to do things that are against their economic interests, and that’s not something humans do naturally. That feels like heresy to a lot of employers who have heard all their working lives the gospel of the free market. What are the limits? Whatever the market will bear, and apparently, people can and will work insane hours for poverty wages, until they drop.
Jesus, however, calls everyone to a much more expansive life. Jesus pushes against the boundaries of sabbath laws to expand Israel’s living out of sabbath. He wants to recover the original meaning of Sabbath, to allow people to live a good and healthy life. In that way, we’re called to push, too. Wherever we stand in life, there’s someplace we can push, to make space for everyone to enjoy a more expansive life.
It’s not easy. For instance, small business owners have a lot of opportunity to offer sabbath to their employees. They have a lot of control over conditions for their employees, and they have some latitude to offer sane hours, living wages.
But if you work within a large corporate structure, you know how hard it can be to change the culture to allow for sabbath. Remember I said that breaking sabbath diminishes employers. If you’ve been a boss in a place that doesn’t treat employees like human beings, you know you’re impacted by all they suffer. Such a setting tells you, you’re only worth as much as you can produce. You should work harder, because everybody’s expendable. You should be realistic, and know that if you get sick and can’t work, you’re of course going to lose your insurance and disability, because you only deserve those benefits if you’re working for them.
Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath for a reason. Sabbath is that place where we find our true dignity as humans, and where we practice the justice that Jesus teaches.
Jesus heals the woman who touches him and raises Jairus’ daughter – Mark 5:21-43 – Pentecost 6, 2018 – Pastor Goede
You need to know that either being touched by a bleeding woman or touching a dead body would make Jesus ritually unclean. Jewish law laid out lots of things that could pollute you spiritually, things you had to avoid to remain able to approach God in prayer.
Jesus sets aside this concern with ritual purity and blesses the woman. He takes the girl’s hand without a fuss and raises her from her deathbed. When Jesus crosses the barriers that keep some perpetually unclean, untouchable, he heals more than just a medical condition. People’s relationship to God is also healed when they see that God accepts and loves them despite their circumstances.
It’s easy to imagine all kinds of barriers in our own time and place. But sometimes, it’s more useful to concentrate on the verbs than on the nouns. We can imagine the barriers in our lives, we know them well. Now imagine how Jesus might cross them, and how you might follow him in crossing barriers.
Sometimes you need a verb that conveys more passion than “cross.” Sometimes we need to see Jesus kickboxing an addiction that is limiting and blighting our lives. Sometimes we need to give rein to our anger like Jesus overturning tables in the Temple and push back hard during an Individual Educational Plan consultation that threatens to limit a child’s future.
Most of the time, Jesus isn’t like an action hero, but he isn’t passive, either. Most of the time, Jesus sees the barriers in people’s lives more clearly than they can see them. He can see what’s holding them back, cutting them off, and because he has exceptional vision, he has a lot of scope for action.
For instance, everyone knew the woman who touched him threatened his ritual purity. But people seemed blind to the bigger picture. People must have realized that being perpetually unclean kept this woman walled off from most of life, but they couldn’t imagine daring to break down that wall. Jesus sees the woman’s need clearly, and blesses her in front of everyone. That’s just as important for healing her as stopping the flow of blood. Blessing is the action that brings down the wall around her life.
How might Jesus break down barriers in your life? How can you follow him and be like him and break down barriers yourself? Jesus confronts, kickboxes, tears down, pushes aside. He finds all kinds of creative ways to break down the barriers that stop us from living life fully. Resurrection is all about breaching that final barrier, death, and opening for us the way to everlasting life.
In prayer this week, consider the barriers in your life, in the lives of those around you, and start listing the verbs, the holy action needed to break down the walls that stop you and others from really living.
Jesus and the disciples on the lake in a storm – Mark 4:35-41 – June 24, 2018 – Pastor Goede
There are a few different perspectives from which you can view this incident with Jesus and the disciples. The one that’s most obvious to us is the perspective of those on the boat, who are terrorized by the storm. Jesus called several of his disciples to follow him while they were working along the shores of the lake, so some of the men have weathered severe storms before. Storms can gather over the Sea of Galilee very quickly, and so everyone surely had a few big storm stories. But despite their experience, the disciples are caught out on the lake in a bad one, one that really scares them.
You can imagine that there are probably people on the shore who see the boat. There are a lot of towns along the lake, and some people are probably looking out their windows, watching the boat from a distance. You know how it is when you drive along Lake Shore Drive on a windy day. You look out at the white caps, and if you see a boat in the distance, you wonder how they’re doing out there.
Now, I ask you to imagine that the boat is filled with migrants from Central America, and that we are standing on the shore watching their boat flounder. I don’t think that’s too hard to imagine, because these past couple of weeks, we’ve seen a lot of photos of children in obvious distress. Most of us have felt distress seeing them, but also a feeling of helplessness, like we’re standing on the shore, watching from a distance as children and families are tossed in the deep end.
Now imagine where Jesus is. We can be sure that he is with those who are in peril on the boat, because he is always with those in need who call on his name. Our hope is that he’ll still the waves for them, but remember his reaction when the disciples wake him during the storm. He does calm the wind, but he doesn’t say, oh, I’m really glad you woke me up, you shouldn’t have to live through a storm like this. He doesn’t promise the disciples that they would never face another storm. He doesn’t magically end all storms, because rain and lightening and thunder, they’re all necessary for creation in our beautiful world, you wouldn’t want to stop them, you just want to weather them.
We can be sure that Jesus is on the shore also, with us, but he’s not standing with us to take away our discomfort. No one benefits from that. Rather, he’s urging us on in all the things we can do to help save those who are in peril. There are a lot of things that happen on shore to keep people in boats safe. There’s a Coast Guard and fire departments with rescue boats and rescue swimmers and lighthouses. There are safety standards for boats builders and safety training for sailors. There are transponders and radios and life jackets.
All of these things represent a will to help those who are in peril. That’s what’s been most disturbing about the news lately, that so many of our leaders and fellow citizens are not just indifferent to the suffering of others, but they obviously and actively hate them and wish them harm. So many have been quoted this week as saying, this isn’t who we are, but if we’re honest, we can see that, for the moment, this is who we are.
Many years ago, I was part of a delegation that visited with El Salvador’s equivalent of the Chamber of Commerce. Just like here, many of the members were also part of the conservative political party that led El Salvador. We were there to talk about CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which was finally adopted by the U.S. in 2005. As we sat in their beautiful, comfortable offices in San Salvador, sipping coffee, we talked about the free flow of labor, one of the ideological goals of free trade. The chamber members’ attitudes were stunning. Everybody knew, they said, that CAFTA would further impoverish El Salvador. They knew that it would drive even more people north out of El Salvador, to the United States. They were fine with that, it wouldn’t impact them and their wealthy families. The unspoken message, which the poor majority of Salvadorans had heard for centuries, was that these migrants were just poor people, and El Salvador’s ruling class was glad to see the back of them, as long as they sent money back home from their jobs in the U.S. to support the young and old and sick who stayed behind.
If you’ve ever wondered, what does that word, “oligarchy,” mean, this is oligarchy. It’s government by and for self-interest and corruption. The most effective counter to oligarchy is spiritual reawakening among the people. That’s why the El Salvadoran government killed Archbishop Oscar Romero, because he was waking people up, empowering them. To talk about resistance here in the U.S., we have to talk in spiritual terms, as well as political. For instance, there is a long, horrible history of U. S. exploitation of Central America. We need to know and acknowledge that history so that we can repent of it and make amends and seek reconciliation. We need to engage those around us who are wary of organized religion and start talking in a shared vocabulary about mercy and hope. Advocacy for legislation and regulation only go so far. They’re like radios and life jackets – they only appear on boats when there’s a will to save lives. We have to help people build compassion for others that can translate into political will.
We need to imagine we’re standing on the shore doing more than just hoping the people out there on the water are okay. The one in this scene who works all the angles is Jesus. We find solidarity with others because of him. Left to our own devices, we stand on the shore and watch the boat and think how we’re glad that’s not us. With Jesus, we have someone who works with us to save others, and ourselves.
At some point soon, news coverage will move on, but migrants and refugees will keep coming. They have for a long time, and every indication is that people will continue to be on the move for decades to come. What also is certain is that many politicians will continue to make them a red flag, and many Americans will take the bait. We have to counter that by building solidarity and inviting our fellow citizens to build themselves up with mercy and hope, to build justice and peace.
Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch – Easter 5, 2018 – Pastor Goede
If you’re not quite sure what it means in our first reading that the Ethiopian man is a eunuch, it means he was castrated at some point. We don’t know when that happened, but it could have been when he was an adult, or at a very early age. Eunuchs were intentionally created all over the ancient world. Ancient people knew that without testicles, a baby boy would grow and develop to a point, but would never go through puberty or be able to father children or have as much drive as other men, and they knew there were advantages to this.
This might seem horrific, but the family of this Ethiopian man might have also seen castration as a way to give the boy advantages. Eunuchs were in demand by kings, who knew that they could be trusted to oversee their wives and concubines and other women in their households. That they never developed as much drive as most men was seen as an advantage. You could trust a eunuch with your household economy or your treasury, because they weren’t constitutionally as able to be as greedy and ambitious and deceptive as most men. It was like putting a really brilliant and competent twelve-year-old in charge of everything. Some things you didn’t have to worry about.
The confirmands and I talked about this lesson, which was interesting because they’re just at that critical stage that the eunuch never knew. The hormones your body creates during puberty not only affect your body, they affect your brain, and you are suddenly able to think in ways you didn’t before. For most people, you hit puberty and then you’re able to think abstractly. You can stand back and reflect on your life in a way you didn’t before. Teens begin to question everything in their lives and the world around them because they’re brains are growing. They can stand back, get some mental distance, and begin to think about their lives, their circumstances, to make judgements on those circumstances.
The Ethiopian’s life was different. On one hand, he had a very full life that was satisfying in many ways. Ironically, without the drive that came from testosterone, he had risen to become the chief steward of the queen’s household, trusted, esteemed. He lived a life of luxury. He was driving a chariot, which was probably one of the very few on the road anywhere in Israel during that time. It was like he was stopped on the shoulder in his Porsche convertible, reading from Isaiah.
But the Ethiopian understood that despite a life that seemed good in many ways, he was different from other men. He could see that for other men, having wives and children was important. He could see, even if he couldn’t fully feel, that there was a lot missing from his life, a lot taken from his life.
All of us compare ourselves to others, and sometimes that reflection shows us what we have, and sometimes it shows us what we lack. For instance, I’ve had lots of conversations with men who are alcoholics who wonder what’s wrong with them. Why am I like this? Why am I constitutionally unable to be like other men? Why can’t I have what loads of other men want and have, romance and a relationship, kids who love me, a good job, a mortgage and a retirement account? Why do I trash everything? Why is God punishing me? Why doesn’t God help me?
You can imagine why this passage from Isaiah might mean so much to the Ethiopian: “‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.’” Nobody can say for sure why the Ethiopians is stopped along the side of the road reading from Isaiah in the middle of nowhere, but you can imagine that this is a passage that he might spend a lot of time thinking about. He could see himself and his life being described. “Justice was denied him.” Me, him, me. Who was this? Who was this person who lived a life so much like his, this person who could understand his life?
Nobody can say how Philip explained the good news about Jesus to the Ethiopian. But we know he told him about baptism, and we can imagine he told him that in baptism, we’re joined to Jesus. Jesus knows what it’s like to be humiliated. He knows what it’s like to be betrayed by everyone who said they would defend him. He knows what it’s like to be denied justice. He knows what it is to suffer, and when we’re joined to Jesus in baptism, we join him in suffering, and he joins us in suffering. We’re joined to one who survives soul-stripping abuse and pain, joined to one who not only survives abuse but overcomes it and transforms it into something that feel like new life. When Philip tells the Ethiopian that he can be joined to such a healer and survivor and thriver, of course he says, here’s water, let’s do it right now. When the Ethiopian hears the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and decides to be joined to that, of course he goes on his way rejoicing.
We’re joined in this way to Jesus. Whatever we’ve endured or done, we bring it with us, and we hope that this bond with Jesus will transform our suffering. We have that hope because of those who have gone before us and testified to the power of Jesus, like this man who brings such a powerful witness.
Mark’s account of the resurrection – Easter 2018 – Pastor Goede
And that’s the end of Mark’s gospel. “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Wait a minute, you might say, that’s not all there is. I remember the women go and tell the men and the men run to the tomb, and somewhere in there, Mary meets Jesus but she doesn’t recognize him and she thinks he’s the gardener. You’re not making that up, there are four gospel stories in the Bible, Matthew, Luke and John as well as Mark, and they all include different details about the women’s encounter with the empty tomb and an angel. The other three gospel writers added accounts of the women running to tell the disciples what they had seen, accounts of the men running to the tomb, encounters with the risen Christ on the road or on the beach. Luke wrote a whole other book about the time after the resurrection, the Book of Acts, from which we’ll read throughout the Easter season.
But Mark, this was his witness. His entire gospel is like this, matter-of-fact, to the point, brief, much shorter than the others. Most scholars believe that it was the first one written. Within a century, someone had added on an ending to his gospel, but nobody was fooled into thinking that it was written by Mark. No, Mark had his own style, his own witness that he gave in his own way. You can almost imagine other believers saying to him, but you can’t leave it like this, it makes it sound like nothing else happened, everyone will think he just died! But Mark didn’t give in, and his gospel ends here, at our gospel witness for the day.
It’s the perfect ending for our time, so fraught with disbelief and unbelief. Many in our time can’t or won’t believe what they can’t see or hear for themselves (unless it’s fake news on Facebook). Mark’s gospel is perfect for this moment when we’ve seen the empty tomb, and we’re ready to set out from here. We have a task, and that is to go in our own direction, on our own path, and witness to the truth and power of this gospel as we go, in our own way. You might remember that last week, I talked about all of us falling into step behind Jesus as we converged on the gates of Jerusalem. We came from different directions, and followed Jesus into the city and to the cross. Now, we’ve seen the empty tomb and heard the angel’s words, and it’s time to fan out again, all of us going out into the world in different directions, with our own witness.
You might be worried that you don’t have a witness. Don’t worry, you do, or you wouldn’t be here. This is the moment when all of us stop listening passively to the many accounts, the many strands of witness, and begin to claim our own story of this resurrection. We bring our own point of view to events. For instance, when we speak the Apostles’ Creed, I’m fascinated by the idea that Jesus descended to the dead during these Three Days. I love the idea that the resurrection not only frees us from the power of death, it also reaches back in time and in a thousand directions and rescues those of every time. To me, that speaks of God’s desire to redeem that whole creation. That’s one strand of tradition that I’ve woven into my account of Jesus’ death and resurrection and why it matters.
What grabs you about the sweep of the Easter story? If you’re afraid that you’ll get it wrong and pick the wrong things, be reassured by the fact that there are so many people of so many times and places who have given their witness to us, and they don’t mind one bit if we borrow their words and ideas. For instance, on Good Friday, while we sang, I noticed that one of the hymns was written by a believer in the fifth century. His powerful, beautiful words, his witness, have survived until our own time. Christian tradition is so big and deep and wide. As soon as the word spread of Jesus resurrected from the dead, interest and ideas about him exploded. That’s one of the best things about our Christian tradition, there are so many accounts and strands of belief that support us in our witness, or help us deal with our doubt or confusion about what to say.
There is a whole cloud of witnesses to walk with us through a world that is deep in denial about the reality of death and the possibility of redemption. As we set out from this point, all going off in our own directions, it’s such a strength that we carry different witnesses to so many places. This is an important part of resurrected life, that we are part of the living body of Christ in the world, helping to write the continuation of the story.
Isaiah 64:1-9 & Mark 13:24-37 – Advent 1, 2017 – Pastor Goede
Both of the confirmation classes have been listening to parents talk about their faith recently. A couple of parents have met with the kids in each of the two classes to talk about their own faith journeys. So far, Dorothy Pytel and Esther Menn have shared, and in some ways, their journeys have been similar. They were both baptized as babies, drifted away from the church as young adults, then came back to eventually build careers and families rooted in faith.
The kids could identify with some of these points on their own spiritual journeys. In the second-year class, we each took a piece of paper and drew what our journeys look like so far. All but one of the kids had been baptized as a baby and grown up in a family that went to church. They put a lot of marks on their timelines that adults might have forgotten about. For instance, some of them remembered being in the Augustana nursery and making handprints that stayed on the wall for years. Erik could remember putting his hand over it when he was older and marveling at how small his hand had been. They had memories of Sunday School, of receiving Spark Bibles when they were in the third grade, of communing with wine instead of grape juice for the first time.
Hearing them reminded me of some long-ago memories, a moment in my home church’s nursery, a book about kids playing church that I loved, the moment when I got to set fire to the church’s mortgage when I was an acolyte. You might think that those kinds of moments are insignificant, but hearing the kids talk about them reminded me that we are formed as Christians, we grow in faith, we don’t just pop up ready to go as people deeply engaged with spirit. As Isaiah puts it, we are like clay formed by the potter, carefully made for something.
You might envy that kind of formation if you feel like you haven’t had much of a spiritual journey. Many people grow up without any kind of organized faith experience, and they feel like they don’t have a spiritual life. They feel they haven’t journeyed anywhere. But everybody has a spiritual life, and everybody has a faith journey.
You might not like what that life and journey has been before, or you might feel that you just need to give your experience some shape and find a way to talk about it. Advent is a great season for making a commitment to yourself and to God to form yourself in a different way. It’s a good time to renew, and start again.
Formation matters. For instance, our gospel talks about the world as we know it ripped apart. Jesus says the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Keep awake, Jesus says, because you don’t know when the master of the house will return.
These can be unsettling words, but for those who are poor and brokenhearted in so many ways, seeing the world as we know it ripped in this way, ripped open to usher in the kingdom of God, is good news. We have hope that God’s kingdom can break into our world, because in Advent, we remember that God has broken into our world before, in the form of the little child, Jesus. This kind of wrenching of the world is good news.
But sometimes it feels like the world as we know it is being ripped apart only to destroy it, by a much different kind of spirit. Sometimes it feels like division and chaos have taken on a life of their own in our world and our country, and that is not good news.
Discerning the difference is part of formation. When people caught up in political discussion talk about “creative destruction,” sometimes they mean challenging and opening up and completely transforming old, unjust systems.
But sometimes, they mean burn it all to the ground, everybody for themselves. Those are very different visions of endtimes and the establishment of a new kingdom. Without an ability to discern, you can be led to hope for your own destruction.
You need to be formed, in secular life by an education that helps you think and weigh and decide, and you need to be formed in your spiritual life, to know how to look at a situation and decide if it is of God, or not.
We can see what happens when people have no ability to discern; they end up listening to voices that tell them that there are no facts, no truth, no right or wrong, no one they can trust. They end up being at the mercy of anyone who wants to prey on them.
Formation gives us enough wisdom to hear the master’s voice, and know when he might be on the verge of breaking through the door and into our lives. Formation makes us strong enough to use our discernment to protect those who are poor and brokenhearted. That all makes for a good and godly way to live.
The slave with one talent – Matthew 25:14-30 – Pentecost 24 – Pastor Goede
The slave who buried his one talent needed to play the zero-sum game. It’s easy to get caught up in what Gianfranco Grande last Sunday called the cycle of scarcity. At our stewardship luncheon last week, he talked about his experience with churches that find themselves with too little money to continue as they have.
Gianfranco says that they want to be good stewards, but they get scared. They pull back at every turn, trying to save money by trying to do as little as possible, sort of like the slave with one talent. This isn’t enough, we have to hold on to what we have, and things keep shrinking and shrinking. Even that one buried talent shrinks in value as time goes on.
Gianfranco didn’t bring up this parable when he spoke, but it’s a good illustration of the cycle of scarcity. In his experience, churches that take risks and try to find ways to expand the pie often enter a cycle of abundance, a time when they find that their opportunities expand rather than contract. It isn’t magic, they just don’t let fear overcome them at a time when being all in and taking risks is what’s needed.
In Jesus’ story, that’s what makes the master angry, that the slave wouldn’t take any personal risk. The slave doesn’t care about possibilities raised by having this talent, he doesn’t care about the master’s fortunes or even the wider economy that might benefit him from a lift in that master’s fortunes. He just fears taking the risk to do something unknown. It’s hard to know what this slave really wants, rather than just knowing what he fears.
Certainly, lots of people might agree with this slave that God is a hard master. A lot of people would say, yes, that slave is right, you should fear God, because God seems to love making good people suffer. God must be an angry God, because all I see is judgement and punishment.
That kind of understanding of God can be contagious in a time and place when the future looks very uncertain. Lots of people see automation threatening their jobs, climate change and gun violence threatening their homes and way of life, political leadership that seems to be driving the train as fast as possible over the cliff, and they wonder,
why is God doing this to me and mine? Am I being punished? What do I have to do to stop this? If that’s what God in the world looks like to you, you can understand why you might decide to just keep your head down and go stand in the corner quietly. Don’t move and hopefully at least nothing bad will happen.
The gospel of grace that we know is like a bright light in the midst of this very dark picture of God and the world that many people share. We Lutherans believe that the powers of death don’t have the last word in our lives. We see ourselves as God’s partners in transforming a world that is enslaved by sin. And as partners, we extend a hand of invitation and hospitality to people who would like to live a different life. If you see that things can be different, better, you have hope, which begins that virtuous cycle of abundance.
What the slave with one talent needed was for someone to say to him, this is no good, hiding in the corner, knowing that nothing good is going to happen but just hoping that nothing bad will. Come out, come walk with me, come walk in the light and let’s live in hope. I know God is full of grace and mercy, and I want you to find that, too.
Matthew 25:1-13 – Pentecost 23, 2017 – Pastor Goede
There are aspects of being prepared that are important to a healthy spiritual life. For instance, good relationships depend on being all in. What I mean by all in is you need to be committed to the relationship, for better or for worse, so that you’re ready to respond the way you want at every crisis point, rather than react. If there’s a possibility you might back off or back out, that will quickly crack your relationships. For instance, if you feel ambivalent about a child, if you find your child difficult or disappointing, at some point they’re going to sense that, and that can fracture their sense of self-esteem and their relationship with you. The love and affection that should be between a parent and child can be strained if your child is difficult or disappointing, and it gets to be a vicious cycle if you can’t commit to being all in as a parent.
A few lucky parents skate through without serious challenges from their children, but most parents at some point are challenged to be as mature as they can be by their children. If you have a difficult child, you find you have to sacrifice things that are dear to you. Difficult children can cost a lot of money and a lot of time and effort. Your difficult child can lead to endless difficult encounters with teachers and principals, doctors and therapists, police officers and judges, neighbors, in-laws. Many of them probably believe that your child’s problems are caused by you, and that sets up its own ambivalence and more cracked relationships.
It might seem like the best way to deal with this is to try to put as much distance as possible between you and your child, between you and the rest of the world. But this is a moment when your relationship with Jesus can be a help. Jesus goes all in for his disciples, friends for whom he is willing to lay down his life, even when they abandon him.
That seems nonsensical to much of the world. But it turns out to be the way in which the forces of sin and death are overcome. Love has the last word because God is all in with us, completely invested in us, willing to keep trying with us.
In the same way, parents who are all in for their children end up sacrificing what seems like an insane amount in their lives, but sometimes they find that sets up a virtuous cycle, very different from the one that ambivalence can fuel. You may be at odds with a lot of people over your child, but you find solidarity with so many other suffering parents. You may spend insane amounts of time dealing with your child, but you may never know another person who needs your help more. You end up ministering to those most despised and in need, which sounds very much like someone we know.
We’re thinking about stewardship right now in our congregation, and this example of dealing with a difficult kid is stewardship in action. Stewardship is a huge part of our lives, because it involves the big questions, what’s the purpose of my life? how should I live? Those big questions are stewardship questions, how should I use the hand I’ve been dealt to serve God and serve others? What am I called to do? Answering these questions often involves contemplating the most difficult parts of our lives.
For most of us, the most important stewardship in our lives takes place away from this building, maybe apart from this community. We’re dealing with children, marriages, jobs, difficult and disappointing things, big things. We come here to recharge our spirits, to commune with God, to walk with other people who also seek God. When we come together in worship, in service, in fellowship, we make a public witness, we tell people, this is life-giving for me, my hope for you is that you will begin to feel God moving in your life.
Next week, we’ll bring our offerings forward to the altar, both our offerings for the day and our pledges for what we’ll offer in the year ahead. This week is a time to reflect on our commitments to support this place and this congregation. It’s a time to think about what it means for us to be all in, to commit to God and to one another, to give back what we’ve first been given.
Pentecost 19, 2017 – Pastor Pitts,
Grace and peace to you,
My sisters and brothers and siblings in Christ
As seasons wane,
And Creation draws its energy inward
To sustain life
In these days of stillness
May we turn towards the One,
In these days of chaos and uncertainty
Who will shepherd us O God,
Beyond our wants
Beyond our needs
From Death into Life
As time transforms from the end of the day,
Morphing into something new
I sit in the silence,
I lament to the Holy Spirit
My struggles with the small
But mighty number of students
That gather for a Word and a Meal.
And in conversations with fellow colleagues,
It seems my experience
Is not isolated.
And the why’s begin to reverberate
Perhaps its due to the beginning of the academic year,
Perhaps the word that comes from within,
That they are receiving,
Along their spiritual journey
Is just to remain still,
Is because they see the flaws
Of the rhetoric that we subscribe to,
Instead of the WORD from GOD we should cling to.
We profess publicly
That we believe in this life altering
This movement which opened up a starving people
To the life renewing Spirit of truth,
Giving them life,
Through the Scriptures
But did we leave
That transforming revival moment,
Nailed to that ancient door?
Such a juxtaposition
in our Scriptures
that causes me
how would someone who is still wondering about faith
about how Grace
In the Psalms,
Words spill out from within
A nameless poet and singer
Of an ever present Hope
Regardless of what we are facing
At the state of this,
Outside our door.
The Creator God,
Sealing us as God’s Own
And we can imagine
That this Psalm
Is being chanted
In many sacred and ordinary places
Like in the tattered remains
Of the echoes of thriving life
In Puerto Rico, and many other places,
Where we, here in these “united” States
Have long deemed as
are giving comfort to those gathered
In living rooms
And around dining room tables
Trying not to acknowledge the void left,
The empty chair,
The light diminished,
Emulating from a sister or brother,
A parent or a friend
Who simply wanted to enjoy a night out,
Dancing at a club
Or listening to a concert
Or simply walking down a street,
Enjoying the last bit
Of a fading summer’s breath.
That we should not fear,
Because the comforter is among us,
Is spoken during weeping
Outside of doctor’s offices
And hospital rooms
Where families are caught between
The care that needs to be given,
And the emptiness in their pockets
And the absence of access
To health insurance,
So much so
That their bodies will
We should not be surprised,
When people shy away from the proverbial four walls
Because if we are confessional,
We have built up a façade
Of what it means
To be Christian
Because it seems,
As the collective body of believers,
And if we are bold to say,
Especially as confessing that
This is a Christian nation,
Christians have abandoned the Table
Where the gift of Life,
The Bread and Wine
The Body and Blood
For us FREELY
We have replaced it
With an ideology
Of the dominant, oppressing culture
That offers grace,
With narrow conditions
We have replaced the shepherd
With a callous King,
Who seemingly has no patience
Instead of teaching,
He demands obedience
Instead of freedom to experience life
He demands perfection
And those that he gathers at his table,
Is merely just for show
Parading his brute force
And false might
There is no room for error,
with this king,
I cannot see this king
In our Gospel
As Jesus nor the One,
Who loves us
In spite of everything that we do.
Because we have allowed ourselves,
A dysfunctional body of faith
We have preferred to segregate ourselves,
With people that we are comfortable with
Instead of those that express their righteous anger
Jolting us back to kneeling at Jesus’s feet,
To do the work that we are called to do,
Because of the forgotten commandment
Of loving one another,
Working for wholeness
Equaling wellness and health care
Equaling restorative justice
Forgiveness of those who break the law,
Not reluctance and apathy
We have replaced
A theology of the Cross
A Theology of Glory,
As one Elder stated on Facebook yesterday,
“is Jesus without the wounds of suffering
That depiction of Jesus
Ignores real suffering
In the world.”
In our constricted understanding
Of the liberation
Of God’s Word
Projecting this miseducation out
From these collective spaces
Becomes this desperate CRY
Of where is Our Shepherd
When we don’t hear an answer?
For many of us
Is a constant chant
We are not ashamed
But even here,
In these words
There is Good News
It is because the Creator
We have NO REASON TO FEAR
It is because the Creator
Calls ALL OF US
To the Banquet
Of our shortcomings
It is because
We are shown love
Through being FED
We should be MOVED
To do what we have been commanded
THIS important work of building one another UP
That lies before us.
DID NOT END
500 years ago
It is a battle CRY FOR THE HERE AND NOW
IT is what we need NOW
Becomes a prophetic proclamation
“The Lord is my Shepherd
I will never,
Be in want!”
Thanks Be to God.
Philippians 2:1-13 Pentecost 17, 2017 – Pastor Goede
This is one of my favorite pieces of scripture. We hear it every
Palm Sunday, and at a couple of points through our lectionary years. Our second reading is part of a very brief letter that Paul writes to the church at Philippi on the coast of northeastern Greece, but it’s not really Paul writing. Rather he’s quoting a hymn that he knows, perhaps one that the Christians at Philippi know as well.
Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of why we gather for church each Sunday. This passage reminds me why. We gather to praise God and to move through the cycle of contrition and confession, forgiveness and reconciliation. We gather so that we can pray with other people and for other people. We gather to learn from Christians who have gone before us and the saints all around us, and we gather to learn from Jesus. This hymn outlines one of the most important things that Jesus teaches us through his example, to empty ourselves for the sake of others.
We often talk about being filled up by worship. Filled with energy, filled with the Holy Spirit. We don’t often think about the value of emptying ourselves. But it makes a lot of sense when you think about what Jesus does during his last few hours before death. He could be, should be we might think, filled with bitterness to find that his former trusted friend, Judas, betrayed him for money. His best friend, Peter, denies him when it counts most. He faces torture alone, and only his mother and a couple of her friends stay with him until he dies. It seems like everything he’s done has been for naught, and he could easily be bitter and angry. But Jesus emptied himself. He not only gave up his life to accomplish God’s plan to overcome death. He also let go of all of his understandable feelings, so that there was room for forgiveness and acceptance. He didn’t let his feelings consume him, he didn’t let anger overcome him.
This doesn’t mean that being unfeeling is a good thing. But sometimes, you have to let go of some feelings for the sake of others, to make room for other people. For instance, at funerals when I preside, I need to hold it together so that other people have room to grieve. So I find it’s helpful to imagine my grief flowing out down through my feet and into the ground. I don’t try to suppress my feelings, but I need to put them aside for a time, for the sake of others.
This idea of emptying is just good spiritual practice, so other faiths use it, too. Many Buddhist practices are aimed at helping you let go of desire, emptying yourself. Christian Benedictines talk about staying in the moment, not allowing yourself to be overwhelmed with all of the feelings that go with remembering the past and peering into the future. In Benedictine meditation, you empty yourself of everything but what you need in the moment, so that you can really listen to a passage of scripture, or pay close attention to someone talking to you, without thinking about everything you have to do later today, or obsessing about past mistakes.
If Jesus’ teaching ended there, it would just be self-help. It would be good self-help, but it would be all about us, which, ironically, is not so good for us. Instead, letting go helps us to face ourselves outward, so that we can forget ourselves and serve our neighbors. This is one of the things about Jesus that makes him such a good teacher for us, such a good example. Jesus is always faced outward, which is very hard for us to do. He’s not self-absorbed. We’re usually self-absorbed, which leads to a lot of sin and misery for us.
I hope you’ll take your bulletin home with you today and leave it out where you can see it. Read through the hymn a couple of times this week. Think about emptying yourself and about turning outward. Sometimes it’s helpful to physically turn, while you pray for God’s help to keep you pointed in the right direction, following the one who is a master of spiritual practice.
Pentecost 15, 2017 – Pastor Pitts
This is going to be
One of those sermons,
Where the only thing
That the Good News
Of Jesus Christ
Points us towards,
That no matter what we have done,
We are always
When we mock Jesus
Is one of those tricky concepts in life
Where we have not quite mastered
Does not flow as freely
From deep within our very being.
It is our pride,
Our honor which crowds that space,
Sacred space deep within
Where the Creator first
And those seeds
Seeds of Grace,
That should transfer into our open hands,
As we embrace (word/line)
If another member of the church
Sins against me,
How often shall I forgive?”
Is counter-cultural because
When someone breaks a vow,
When someone deliberately
Does not honor an agreement
Stand by their word,
Must be rectified
And when they refuse to respond,
Out of their selfishness
As simple as cutting off a switch
We cut them out of our lives.
Who have you not forgiven?
Now that I have officially been installed,
Are stuck with me,
And my weirdness
(pause for laughter)
A bit of trivia
About your Campus Pastor,
My favorite type of genre,
Is Japanese anime
The Crunchyroll app,
Is on my phone,
I watch this,
More than I do
Whatever “regular” TV is.
Anime indeed has evolved
From the days of me watching
Robotech and Captain Harlock,
And recently I have been intrigued
By the theological theme,
Of the absence of forgiveness
The subject of revenge,
And the consequence of it all,
Through an anime series called
It centers around human emotion
To what happens when,
Because we are bullied,
Being perceived weak by others
Whether it is because of our gender,
Or the broken relationships within our family
Or that achieving and cementing our place
At the top of the food chain,
Means pushing others,
Down into the dust,
Our pride sullied,
Our spirit shattered,
We must have compensation
For our pain,
These are not simple cases either.
These are rather most horrific situations that people find themselves in,
The question of forgiveness
At this point,
When these actors have reached their limit,
In the anime,
They log onto this website,
And type the name of the one who has offended them
As she is called,
She hands them a straw doll with a red string,
That if they want revenge,
By pulling the red string,
They send that person,
There is a price,
Enacting vengeance upon one person,
Means that they too,
Have damned their own soul
When their life is over.
If another member of the church
Sins against me,
How often shall I forgive?”
That seems to be unjust,
And even as they demand of Hell Girl of answers,
She cannot comment
Or pass judgement.
What is this conveying to us?
That the idea of justice is fleeting to us in this life?
That it is not up to us?
That we truly should lean upon the one,
Because we are God’s children?
That the responsibility
Of making the determination
Of whether we are worthy
Even those who hurt us,
Can this be Good News,
To an entire Nation of Peoples,
Whose Ancestors were mocked,
Sacredness of land
And stolen from them?
Can this be Good News
Who because simply their children spoke out,
Government officials for neglecting their duties
To secure equality
Whether it was socio-economics
For all people,
Those voices of protest
Have gone missing
How can this be
That we must forgive
And not squeeze our reparations
Out of the very hands,
That sometimes attempts,
To deny us
Our ability to breathe?
How can it be
When you tell
An oppressed people
That they must forgive
About how we treat one another
Is too unbearable
Is too uncomfortable
And the road into accountability
Is too long,
And too harsh?
If another member of the church
Sins against me,
WHY are you telling me,
I have to forgive?”
Are two different things,
Is this a deeper rooted missing piece
Of this question posed of Jesus,
Because it’s the norm, right?
We are told we must forgive
So that we are not carrying the weight
Of bitterness within us.
Are two different things.
In these words,
Does Jesus say,
We should not express
The human emotion
When the temple
With economic greed.
Did Jesus forgive them,
in their human foolishness?
Matthew 18:15-20 – Pentecost 14, 2017 – Pastor Goede
Some things about our modern life are indeed very different from Reformation times, and from Jesus’ time, but some things never change. For instance, we still spend a lot of our time, every day, binding and loosing. Jesus’ words today might sound formal and foreign, but we still all bind and loose. For instance, if a waiter is inattentive and rude when you visit a restaurant, you have choices to make. You can say nothing while you’re there, go home fuming and blast the place on Yelp. You can write a review that many people will see and, depending on how many people review the restaurant online, could really put a dent in the restaurant’s rating. Or, you could rewind to the restaurant, say something gentle to the waiter, like, we’ve been waiting a long time for our food, and they might say, oh, sorry, we’re so busy but shorthanded in the kitchen and out here, I’m so sorry, I’ll go see what I can do. That doesn’t always work, there are rude waiters in the world, but you might speak to a manager before you go, and complain in a way that might have more impact than a nasty review.
Restaurants and waiters and Yelp are part of our world, not Jesus’, but even in the small, very modern interactions in our lives, we’re still binding and loosing, just as Jesus’ is trying to teach the disciples to do. You might think, those words binding and loosing sound familiar. We heard them a couple of weeks ago, when Peter confessed that he believed Jesus was the messiah. Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon…I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
We’ll hear a similar passage next Saturday, during Pastor Pitts’ installation service. When we ordain or install pastors, we usually hear a passage from John. Jesus appears to the disciples’ as a resurrected being, and John says “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” Slightly different words, in both our English translation and in the Greek of the New Testament, but a similar meaning.
Jesus doesn’t make this up, this idea of binding and loosing. He and all of the disciples are familiar with this idea as Jews who observe the Law. Binding and loosing were powers exercised by religious authorities in Jesus’ time, like the Pharisees. If you’ve ever wondered, why does Jesus keep engaging the Pharisees, it’s because they hold the power of binding and loosing sin.
Jesus teaches his disciples that the power of binding and loosing doesn’t just belong to the Pharisees, it belongs to them as well. As they move from town to town, encountering people who gladly receive them and others who are hostile, as they deal with Pharisees and Jesus groupies and waiters in inns, Jesus’ followers have the power to forgive or to condemn.
I love the scope that those terms binding and loosing have. You can bind, and then pull a bit tighter, or you can loosen by degrees. You have a lot of decisions to make about how your wield your power to bind and loose sin. We don’t often think of forgiveness as a power, but it is. You can withhold it, or you can let go of your anger and be free with your forgiveness. You can see what long-term anger does to you or others. We say it eats you up, because it’s truly corrosive. That doesn’t make it easier to deal with or control, but it’s helpful to recognize how powerful anger is. It helps you recognize the wisdom of trying to be intentionally free with forgiveness.
Likewise, it’s useful to understand the value of binding sin, of retaining it. That’s an important part of the process of seeking justice. We’re rightly outraged when sinners are let off the hook too easily. That’s the dynamic behind police violence and large protests and legal action right now in our country. Police officers hold a position of authority, but for a long time, some abused that authority and no one brought them to account. Now, they are being held, rightly, to a higher standard. Now their sins are being retained. Forgiveness is possible, newness of life for both officers and the community are possible, but the sin can’t be forgotten or ignored any longer. Binding and loosing have real power.
Jesus knew that many of the Pharisees had a very developed sense of the power of binding and loosing sin. They wielded forgiveness of sin like a weapon, using it to keep people in line. Jesus handed it back to the disciples, and for awhile in the early church, the power of forgiveness was widely shared. But because humans love to consolidate and exercise power, it didn’t take long before the power of the keys was taken from the many and only given to a few.
Remember that Jesus told Peter, I’m giving you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and so this power to bind and loose is called the power of the keys. Peter was the leader of the church at Rome until he was killed by the Romans, but he was not called a bishop in his own time. As one person and then another stepped into his place, those men were named bishops, until eventually, in the middle of the 400s, Peter’s spiritual descendant, the bishop of Rome, began to be known as the pope, a leader of the church that had spread far beyond Rome. Bishops ordained priests, and the keys were again back in the hands of just a few religious authorities.
The Reformation was all about taking those keys and handing them out to the many once again. That’s how you know you’re a member of the household, you have a key. Lutherans say, we are part of the priesthood of all believers. We are all priests as we move through our lives, binding and loosing, forgiving or not. Sometimes we exercise that power to bind and loose on a large scale, as we do when we confront police violence, or climate change or any other issue that involves power and money and which is vulnerable to sin and injustice. We often exercise that power on a smaller scale, in our neighborhood, our family, in the restaurants we visit. We are all priests who have the authority to bind and loose, and so we all need to continually look to our master, Jesus, for guidance in how to wield this awesome power.
Matthew 16:21-28 – Pentecost 13, 2017 – Pastor Goede
You probably heard this week about the Nashville Statement. It’s a document with fourteen short points, issued by a fundamentalist theological group and signed by conservative pastors and religious leaders all over the country. It’s a statement about sexuality that condemns anything that’s not one man and one woman in marriage, but it especially addresses transgender people. All the signers are hoping that the Nashville Statement will become their 95-Theses moment as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. They’re hoping that it will be a stand that defines them and mobilizes Christians to follow behind them.
Like us, fundamentalist Christians are products of the Reformation. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that we’re all evangelicals together, but the Reformation unleashed a huge spectrum of belief. When the heavy hand of the Roman Catholic Church was lifted, Christianity exploded in all directions. If you try to draw a map of what happened to the Christian Church after the Reformation, it looks like a family tree, growing exponentially in every direction, until you end up with the thousands of denominations and sects and cults and independent churches that are the American religious landscape today.
The Reformation period was exciting, exhilarating and edgy and violent. In a few weeks, we’re going to celebrate the anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. It’s a scene that lends itself to reenactment but which was probably not as dramatic as we now imagine. In just a few years, though, we will likely skip celebrating the start of the Peasants War, in which 100,000 peasants were slaughtered in just a couple of years all over German-speaking Europe.
We’ll have lots of similar opportunity in the next few years to remember all the violence of the Counter Reformation. Martin Luther started a movement that burned across Europe, but it didn’t burn everything to the ground. The Roman Catholic Church didn’t disappear. Rather, it doubled down and launched the Counter Reformation, another movement that’s written about with a capital C and a capital R. The Counter Reformation produced the Inquisition and the Thirty Years War, and lots of other violent horrors. Luther pushed, gently at first, then harder, and more and more people kept pushing behind him, but of course the Roman Catholic Church pushed back, hard, and the reformers had to decide how to respond.
It’s as important for us to know this part of Reformation history as Martin Luther nailing his document to the door, because we are experiencing the same kind of pushback, the same kind of religious conflict, in our time and place. The Roman Catholic Church pushed back after the Reformation, of course. They had a lot to lose in terms of money and land and power, as we always remember when we celebrate the Reformation. But there were also faithful Catholics who saw themselves as the keepers of a 1,500-year-old tradition, and they were willing to do anything to defend it.
Likewise, today we have a lot of fellow evangelicals, our sisters and brothers of the Reformation, who are fearful of what they see around them on the American religious landscape. They see themselves as the keepers of a religious tradition, and they are dedicated to defending it. If you identify as lgbtq, it probably feels to you like change has been agonizingly slow. But in the bigger picture, events have moved at an amazing speed.
Ten years ago in the United States, only a tiny sliver of people could explain accurately what the t and q of lgbtq meant. Today, the writers of the Nashville Statement didn’t even bother to define “transgender,” because they realize that now everyone know what that means, and most people accept it with a shrug. Conservative evangelicals are trying to push back, hard, because they feel, rightly, that they are the keepers of a tradition that is under attack, and of course, they’re pushing back, hard.
When Peter confesses, you’re the messiah, that was the easy part. Peter and the disciples are busy thinking about the glory ahead, for them, as others realize who Jesus is and begin to follow. But as usual, Jesus sees the bigger picture.
He’s pushed the religious establishment, again and again, harder and harder, with more and more people behind him, and he knows that of course the establishment is going to push back. When Peter says, this cannot happen to you, Jesus tells him to get real. Of course, the religious authorities are going to push back.
Jesus can see that the disciples aren’t ready for what he can see ahead. They might want to fight back, to lead their fellow Jews in a revolt against the Romans, but they aren’t ready to engage in the way Jesus is asking them to engage. Take up your cross and follow me, Jesus says. Get ready to confront enemies who will use violence, and get ready to withstand them by only returning evil with love, which might kill you, but will save your life. Everything that Jesus teaches the disciples is to get them to understand this kind of divine love and be ready to proclaim it and live it, confess it. It’s so hard.
The most heartbreaking thing I read about the Nashville Statement was in an article in the Jackson, Tennessee, Sun, which included a short interview with a woman named Elizabeth Waibel. She was upset that the president of her college had signed the statement, and so she signed a petition circulated by a fellow alum saying, we’re upset. She said she didn’t realize when she started college that the institution was so conservative, even though it’s a school of the Southern Baptist Convention. She didn’t know what that meant. She couldn’t believe the president was being so mean, and she was sure he was wrong.
‘“I’ve become, I guess, more liberal in the past few years, and it’s disheartening to see the statement on gay relationships are wrong,” [sic] Waibel said. “The Bible allows for homosexual relationships and transgender rights and affirms gay marriage.”
‘Waibel said she was unable to provide specific examples of passages from the Bible that supported her view.
‘“I can’t see how Union or any institution of higher learning can be successful if they don’t allow different viewpoints to be allowed in dialogue on campus,” Waibel said. “And there were parts of this statement that indicated there’s no room for discussion with the administration on this.”’
No, there’s no room for discussion on the basic confessions of the Southern Baptist Convention if you go in armed like this, with an assertion about the Bible that you can’t back up and some weak-kneed talk about different viewpoints and dialogue. What Ms. Waibel needs before trying to go another round is to arm herself. Yes, I’ve signed a petition, a blow for justice. Now what?
Now, she needs to learn to confess, like the disciples. She needs to learn how to state what she believes in a credible way. Fundamentalist proof-texting is not going to help her here. Our Lutheran engagement with Scripture over decades of wrestling with sexuality might help her.
She needs to live as though she believes what she says. No more enrolling in a college as if that doesn’t endorse everything they stand for. She needs to make every decision as if she really believes in a Jesus who counts transgendered people among his followers.
She needs to be ready for pushback, and think ahead about how she’ll respond. Paul offers good advice today:
“Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good…be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer…Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Paul took Jesus’ teaching seriously. He became a formidable confessor, but he defended himself without getting physical. He lived in a way that spoke volumes about Jesus, without words. That’s the way we want to live in the face of Christianity that we find not very Christian. We want to learn how to confess Jesus Christ in a credible way, and we want our lives to speak for us without words.
12th Day of Pentecost, August 20th 2017, Pastor Pitts
Grace and Peace to you,
My sisters, brothers and siblings in Christ
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon us,
because the Lord has anointed all of us
Through the waters of Baptism
Through the sign of the Cross
Through Jesus’s ultimate gift
So therefore our Call now more than ever;
Is to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners”
“What if God Was one of US?”
Caused quite the controversy
When the song debuted in the mid-1990s
Because of the questions that it posed,
And if we as followers of Christ
Understand and are rooted in the fact,
That Jesus indeed came among us
To live with us
And experience every aspect of humanity
Then Joan’s song should have provoked
Deeper theological and spiritual conversations
People were angry
Especially by the lyrics in the chorus
“Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home”
We are faced with some uncomfortable truths,
And the Words
That come from Jesus’s lips
We as humanity
Can no longer ignore
The hatred that comes
From humanity’s collective lips
For those who are hurting
Living into shame
For those who are oppressed,
Simply because of how God Created Them,
And using the LAW,
To back up our excuses,
Leads to a disconnect
And the fragmented relationships
That seem to be acceptable by our society
Is the elephant in the room,
In this sacred space,
As beloved Children of the Creator God
Because of what is continually unfolding before us,
Out in the wider expression of the community,
What is our call,
What do we do,
As followers of the One,
Who calls us into the Light,
Who gives us new Life?
Practicing what we preach,
It’s a mantra that many of us cling to-
But it is hard for us to execute,
We, as humanity
By what ultimately consumes us,
Especially that which does not come from God.
Practicing what we preach,
Was an accusation laid at the feet
When I attended several #BLM marches
And Police Brutality actions,
Especially from young people of color,
Angered of having to now hold memories
Of those who had perished
At the hands,
Of officers who reacted out of fear.
“Practice what you preach,
You-you pastors and ministers,
Otherwise what comes out of your mouth,
Are nothing more than lies,
And we cannot trust you,
Because you will not publicly put yourselves on the line,
Standing in a crowd of other Seminarians and Clergy figures,
In my clerical
What do I do?
But this was indeed valid-
Because if we as followers of Christ believe
Of Loving One Another
Calls us to actually DO LOVE
And not just lip service,
Then we would indeed
Be practicing what we preach.
And this is so needed right now,
Because there is too much preaching,
And not enough practicing.
There is too much condemning
And not enough accompanying
There is too much quietism,
And not enough activism.
So that the Holy Spirit can root even deeper within us,
So that we are bold enough
To do the work that Jesus left for us
To be good stewards of one another’s lives.
Along the way,
We as People of Faith,
Have to deal with the ugly cracks,
Especially as Christians,
Are not practicing what is being preached.
There are ugly cracks,
That we can no longer ignore,
That are eroding the foundation
And no amount of duct tape,
Is going to make anything new again
We cannot hide it anymore
This is unfortunately what has happened,
So amplified so, in the past week-
If we claim as Christians,
That we follow Jesus,
Then we must do what He calls us to do.
Sometimes that is difficult, right?
Even Jesus had that difficulty,
It’s uncomfortable to think about,
Making a mistake
“What if God was One of Us?”
And Jesus indeed was one of us,
Lived like us
Weaved into community,
Just as we do
And was influenced and exposed
Just like we have.
That’s uncomfortable isn’t it, right?
Jesus is perfect!
Jesus would not let the world,
Which was imperfect
But He did.
Jesus contradicts Himself
In our Gospel this morning
Because Jesus is teaching His disciples,
About the dangers
Of allowing the world to influence them
Allowing humanity’s judgement of one another
To the point where
They would be blinded
To the needs
Of those Gentiles,
Who were struggling as much as they were
That they too were from the Creator God
Whether they knew them
Is teaching us something important
That simply because we are
Of African Descent,
Or struggling with Bipolar
Or have ADHD
Or that we identify
Or that we call God Allah
Or Great Spirit
These are things that make us wholly unique
And wholly the Creator’s
Because our bodies,
What defiles us,
What defiles us,
Is when we allow the world
To take root,
Where only the Holy Spirit
And God’s Love
Even Jesus would be impacted by this.
If we believe that Jesus Christ,
Came to live among us
Then the racism that existed
Between those who were “God’s Chosen People”
And the Gentiles-
Those who did not believe in what the Israelites believed
Or followed the traditions
Or could boast of the lineage from the line of David,
Hearing the stories
Being taught the stereotypes
More than likely,
Jesus experienced all of this.
And we witness this contradiction,
When an unknown woman,
An indigenous Canaanite woman
Falls at Jesus’s feet
And what does He say?
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Are we shocked?
Are we confused?
Jesus rejecting one who cries out for mercy?
Rejecting her simply because
Of her ethnicity
And how she worships God.
That is uncomfortable for us to witness
Sometimes we as People of Faith,
Refuse to help others
Refuse to advocate for our neighbors
Because we misinterpret
Because we forget,
Humanity writes rules and laws
Without any grace extended.
That is the elephant in the room,
Just as those women before her:
Just as those women before us,
yet even the dogs eat the crumbs
that fall from their masters’ table.”
All this indigenous and unknown woman wanted
She wanted to know,
That God indeed
Stood with the oppressed and afflicted
Regardless of the systemic hatred she knew she would face,
That she was not of the House of Israel
She is even of another FAITH,
SHE REMINDS JESUS,
That the Creator gave life to all of US,
And that God’s Love,
Surpassing anything we can fathom
She also recognizes that through Jesus,
The Son of God
God indeed does heal,
Will never forget us
Always forgives us
Even when we falter
Even if we are rooted in faith-
We are HUMAN,
Isn’t it Good News,
That Jesus Christ was sent here,
To be just like one of us?
So that Jesus,
Because of the Creator God,
Could, and does
And the Good News is,
Sometimes we will experience the Gospel
Through other people
It breaks down what the world has been force-feeding us.
12th Sunday of Pentecost, 2017 – Pastor Pitts
Peace to you,
My Sisters, Brothers and Siblings in Christ
Even when we are questioning
Who the Son of Man is
That we are always invited
To lay our burdens
When we are weary,
Because Jesus is always there
To give us rest
During my routine visits to my Grandmother,
While a Seminarian,
Her deepest concern was that,
Did not attend church regularly
Granny, I am sure
Had a direct line to Jesus
But in all seriously was rooted in her faith,
And taught her children this,
And was a model for those of us
Who were proudly her Grandchildren
So she did not understand,
When my Aunt
Or my cousin
Didn’t attend church.
I shared with her that,
Sometimes the wider Church
Was as corrupt
As the world could be.
Adding to that argument,
My Mother would disavow that answer-
That we are all to have a relationship with the Triune God,
That not attending church was an excuse.
As one who follows the Risen Christ,
I really can’t blame people,
Especially at the mixed messages
That the institution of Christianity pours out
To the brokenness
Of our society.
There are so many people who claim to follow Christ!
They proudly declare their membership in well known Churches
As if that’s all it takes to cement their relationship with God
But ignore the poor as they are leaving.
Spouting scriptures that “the poor are always with us,
Therefore they just don’t want health care!”
They LOVE that verse,
That Jesus states the poor will always be with us,
And that poverty is a moral failing,
And not the result of us
Failing to live out the commandment of Jesus
That we are to love one another,
They proclaim loudly that they worship Jesus Christ,
And not Mother Earth,
That they are good stewards,
So that they don’t have to care about global warming,
Not acknowledging our complacentcy
In inflicting damage upon Creation,
Because of the misinterpretation
That domination meant we had free reign
To take from Creation.
So imbedded in American culture,
It was the same thought pattern
Immersed in the upbringing and teaching
Of the dominant culture,
That people were taught by the Church
If they led chaste lives,
Through the 10 Commandment,
And believed in Jesus Christ,
That it would be okay
To own slaves,
To baptize slaves so that they would be saved
But not seen,
As their sister or brother
As Baptism bonds us,
Making us one
Beneath the Cross
And that it was okay,
To label Black bodies
Who was Jesus to them,
And what did Jesus Christ mean for them?
Accompanies throughout the week,
As I am discerning
The Holy Spirit
As how the Word
Is leading me,
And so this question that is continually raised
“Who do you say the Son of God is?”
Found me humming the song,
“Who is He
And what is He to you?”
By Meschelle Ndegeocello
Who covered the original
Bill Withers hit.
If you know the song,
You realize quickly that it has nothing to do with the Gospel,
We cannot ignore
“Who is Jesus,
And what is Jesus
Is important for us
As People of Faith
To really determine
What the presence of Jesus Christ means in our lives
In these times
When the institution of Christianity
Is on trial,
Because of the contradictions
The world is seeing
A people who confess every Sunday,
That we, believe in the Creator God
And in Jesus Christ,
Our Savior and Lord.
We pray the Lord’s Prayer
We come to the Table,
To receive substance
But is that for our own personal salvation?
Do we think that Jesus Christ,
Will absolve our sins,
Simply because we follow the rules?
When we leave this place
We ignore those outside who are wandering
We dismiss when statistics
Are made public,
We are silent
When legislation further digs us into the systemic racism
That this country was founded on
And instead blame those victims
That they weren’t strong enough
Or didn’t pray hard enough
Or pull themselves up by their bootstraps
That Jesus was only speaking metaphorically
About welcoming in the stranger,
Caring for the sick
Feeding the poor.
That when it clearly says in Scriptures
That Jesus Christ healed,
It literally means all of humanity
And all of Creation,
Not just those of the House of David,
Or those who stood up in Church
And profess that Jesus Christ
Was their Lord and Savior.
Who is Jesus,
And what is Jesus to us?
My own relationship with Jesus,
Has always been rather complicated
Because although I clung to the feet,
Of the Creator
I was conflicted in cementing a relationship
With a Man,
Whose very name,
Guaranteed someone passage into heaven,
While ignoring the vast throng of Ancestors
Did not know Jesus,
Merely because that is not how they related to Him
Favorite Gospel hymns,
Which boldly proclaimed
The only way to get into the door,
Was through Jesus
And that you had to be saved,
Because of the ways we have learned to condemn people
There are those who will never step into a church
And we ignore that
Even if they have never been baptized,
They are still
A beloved Child of the Creator God,
And that they will return to the Creator God,
Regardless of our verdict that we cast upon them.
My only struggle with Jesus,
Is that the knowledge that if we do indeed
Confess our shortcomings and our failings,
In our moments alone,
With the One,
Who continually calls us into the Light,
When we fall back
In that second,
We are forgiven
Regardless of what the world says.
And I think this question that Jesus places before Peter,
Of “Who do you say the Son of Man is?”
Is not about stating who Jesus is,
But where we place ourselves
If we allow the Holy Spirit to move,
And freely live into the LIBERATION
Of what the Gospel is calling us into.
Does stand with the oppressed,
And the (word/line)
And the (word/line)
Jesus is the one,
Who I shamelessly fall before the Cross
And submit of myself
Because Jesus calls us,
To then turn around,
And to actually DO
Jesus is more than just a figurehead of holiness
Or a prophet that spouts morality and perfection,
Jesus calls us to break boundaries
To flip tables
To express righteous anger,
When families are separated because of unjust immigration laws
When bodies are battered because of unfair policing practices
When the mentally ill are forced out into the streets to die,
When its okay for the poor to perish since that means we are sacrificing them
So we don’t have to feel the (word/line) of
By a society,
That is selfish,
By the wider Church,
Who has run to Calvary
To do what Christ has called us,
Jesus is not some figurehead
The Charleston Nine,
Every unknown leper in the scriptures
Every unknown Palestine who has been attacked for who they are
Every victim of poverty,
The One who comforts those,
Battling disease and illnesses,
Never leaving their side
The One who comes to those,
Because of trauma and the ugliness of life,
Take their own lives,
And Jesus then,
Gives them LIFE
And the One who I submitted to
When my Bishop laid his hands on my head
Because of the power of the CROSS,
Jesus cannot be shoved in our theological boxes for our comfort,
the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation;
for in Jesus all things in heaven and on earth were created,
things visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers
all things have been created through him and for him.
Jesus came for us,
To love us
And to Transform us
So in turn,
We would share that Good News,
And continue the work,
That Jesus gives to us.
Who is Jesus
And what is Jesus
Thanks Be to God.