Monday, December 1

Longing and Anticipating a Just World

    • So much emotion, in these texts.  So much is at stake.  Where’s the focus, it is all bewildering.  I’m not only speaking of our scriptures this evening, but also the events in Ferguson Missouri, or rather what the killing of the unarmed Mike Brown by a police officer Darren Wilson and the decision of a grand Jury not to indict the police officer, has awakened.  If you've followed the events since the death of Mike Brown at the hands of the police, you know a movement has grown up around this because Mike Brown’s death is larger than his own death and larger than whether or not Mike Brown’s civil rights were violated in away the Federal Government could act upon, or even whether or not on these same criteria City and it’s police are consistently engaged in violation of the civil rights of its African American citizenry, as important as that reality is.  Rather, the movement has emerged because the killing of Mike Brown by a police officer, Darren Wilson isn't an isolated incident, as a number of similar incidents where police have shot African American men (and most recently a boy of 12) occurred at the same time and have continued to occur, since.  What we are awakened to is that   the U.S. Justice system and policing is unjust and racist.
      Many are awakening to these injustices. Most likely those of us here this evening weren't completely unaware, but if you are like me you have been further roused and more attuned, to the enduring racism that floats mostly unseen, hidden behind laws, and state sponsored violence. In the midst of all this Jesus tells us to stay awake, to be watchful.
      The anger, frustration and grief expressed on our streets in protest and rioting, isn’t far from Isaiah’s wrenching call, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence”, such deep longing and pain behind such a statement.  A longing and desire for justice and for God to act.  For God to act like God did in the past, when God delivered the Israelites at the Red Sea by the complete and total destruction of the structures of the Egyptian law and order that oppressed the Israelites
      If we pay careful attention to Isaiah, we hear a more complex story:  the people of God have moved from victims to being complicit in sinful systems.  There are two movements in this lament and prophesy, a deep longing for God to act and a confession that responsibility for the situation from which there is the need of deliverance is the people of God themselves.  For white Christians in this country that is certainly also true when it comes to systemic racism first as slavery followed by policies of segregation and oppression and Jim Crow, continued now in mass incarceration and policing.
      Isaiah cries out in longing and deep pain for God to act and for justice , echoing the cries from our streets since August  and Isaiah expresses the complicity with these systems of injustice, reflecting for us the place of White Christians in relations to racism in the United States.
      Isaiah though almost seems to throw up his hands, God isn't acting, and this lack of action seems to make matters worse.  In the end we are clay in the potter’s hand, and even what Isaiah sees on the horizon and even being experienced by God’s people is on some level God’s doing.  Our Isaiah text leaves us with deep longing and anguish and helpless in our own sin and failure.
      But our psalm points us toward the hope of being clay in God’s hands: the hope of restoration, or of a remolding.  The Psalmist holds out for us the the hope of God transforming us , renewing us and the whole world.
      And Paul expresses this hope as grounded in the person and work of Jesus Christ
      Where might all this lead? 
      What conclusions if we take Ferguson also as our text, as revelatory of God at work in our midst?
      I want to draw attention to the language of shaking, and of tearing, the disruption of the fabric of what seems unalterable and just the way things are.  But also that this shaking is the shaking of governments, nations, powers.  In these images and if we reflect on the deliverance of the people of Israel from their oppression in Egypt, their liberation and justice doesn't come from the systems and the state, Egypt isn't the source of their liberation, nor even that which cooperates with that liberation.  And if we hear Isaiah well, not even the people, can be the source of justice, transformation, and liberation.  The people of God also fail at justice and righteousness.  The state and the powers can and will be forced to deal justly, but they aren't the source nor the guarantor of justice nor are we the people the source or guarantor of justice.
      Justice comes from beyond, our hope is in that we don’t create justice rather we submit to it.  But what we submit to is a caring and loving reality.  Justice isn’t abstract and cold and unmoving.  Rather the source of justice is a shepherd, an artist, and a lover.
      Lastly Jesus says that when you see systems and the powerful sun and moon and stars shaken and upended, darkened blood red showing their violence, these are simply signs of something else.  That is if we are waiting for the United States to become a place devoid of all injustice and racism we are looking for the wrong thing. We have misinterpreting the signs.  Human government and systems of justice are just that human, mortal, limited and passing away, and fallible.  Our human systems will fail us.
      Our hope is in a more lasting and radical transformation of the world in which the world once again shows forth completely the love and justice of God who is the very source the very life blood of our existence.
      And Tonight I proclaim to you that God did tear open the heavens and come down, and is now forever bound to the physical created universe.  The systems of the world were shaken to their knees, and then went on their merry way because it was just a Jewish Galilean peasant wonder-worker easily dispatched through human justice and state sponsored violence.  But in that the governments and powers exposed themselves for what they were and are systems of violence set against the very source of life.  The good news is we can turn to this one and find God at work transforming us into citizens of a more just and loving world.  Since God became incarnate in the Virgin Mary, God has been at work in matter and the physical world, in our very bodies transforming the world into what it should be. Are you ready for that world? Are you awake to that world?  Wake up stay awake. Be a citizen of the world that is coming in which racism and all forms of oppression and injustice are shaken from the earth.
      Stay awake and watch for that world is coming, the signs of its coming are in the protests even the riots in Ferguson, but also right here in our midst. Right here as we take in each week the justice of God in human flesh, who awakens you to this transformed and transfigured world, slowly making you, in your very body, into a person of love and justice, a citizen of the present and coming reign of God.

Tuesday, October 7

A Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost - Year A

"I was [initially] sympathetic to the tenant framers because I saw the landowner though their lens; a lens of greed and violence. That’s not the kind of landowner God is. God doesn’t put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants. God keeps sending messages through prophets and the Son, trying to get the tenant framers to repent, to change their mind."

Tuesday, August 5

Sermon for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost

Now when Jesus heard this…

What did Jesus hear? That John the Baptist was murdered. Jesus’ cousin, the one who baptized him, quite probably Jesus’ mentor was dead. Someone close to Jesus was killed for teaching similar things to what Jesus taught. It probably didn’t take the knowledge of God for Jesus to predict his own death at this point. We also know Jesus was not above mourning. Given all this, who would not need to withdraw to a deserted place by themselves?
But the place he got to wasn’t deserted. He saw the great crowd, and found himself moved with compassion for them. We’re at a crucial point in this story now. A point where Jesus’ dual nature can keep us from seeing all that is happening here.

Undoubtedly, the love of God is in operation here. All love comes from God, ultimately. But before you conclude that it is only because Jesus was God that he could overcome his grief and love the crowd, be aware of this. There are times when God’s love for one of Her children will flow through you, love bigger and more powerful than your personal love. And maybe that’s what the human nature of Jesus experienced here; unexpected compassion, compassion that altered his plans.

Another possibility is that Jesus’ reflections on the future helped him to see a crowd that soon might not have any leaders left that can see what he sees. How long does he even have left to be with these people? Of course why Jesus was moved by compassion is all supposition, what we do know is that Jesus acted on that compassion.

The original Greek word translated as compassion literally translates as being moved in the inward parts. Some translations use the word pity rather than compassion. The word pity has bad connotations for us today; usually connotations of superiority and inferiority. Not to suggest that God isn’t superior to us, but the incarnation tells us God wants to be close to us, to be with us. Compassion means to “suffer with” there’s a sense of solidarity in the word that pity is lacking for us today. And compassion isn’t necessarily just an interior experience. Compassion is also a word used to name a spiritual discipline. When used in that case it implies moved into action. 
And so Jesus heals the sick in the crowd. He acts on the compassion he finds instead of the solitude he sought.

Now, I often put myself into the place of the disciples when I reflect on a Gospel story, and sometimes give them more of a break than the text implies. When the disciples say, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." I like to think in part they are trying to get Jesus the solitude he originally sought. I might add the words, “You’ve done enough for them now, it’s time for you to get the rest you need.”
And on some level maybe Jesus partially agreed with my hypothetical words because after he tells them he’s not going to send the crowd away, he says “YOU give them something to eat."

To which the disciples respond by telling him about their own lack of resources for this situation. "We have nothing but…” Their glass is half empty; possibly their hearts too. Some of them may have known John as well and had their own processing to do.

And Jesus tells them to bring him what they do have. And Jesus looks up to heaven and blesses the resources available, whether his disciples think they are enough or not.

I want to call your attention to the looking up to heaven part. Really just to point out that even Jesus makes embodied gestures when he prays. And that is one way we can reorient ourselves to the task at hand when we think it’s beyond us. Because our bodies sometimes know what our conscious mind does not, and can redirect our minds appropriately.

The crowd in this story had no clue about the emotional resources that were spent for them, a crowd that big wouldn’t likely even know how limited the material resources were when the disciples began feeding them. Yet all were filled.

And the word all would include Jesus and the disciples. They too were filled by this. Now before we conclude with a clich├ęd use of the quote from acts, “It is better to give than receive,” I want to bring to mind what prompted these acts of generosity; compassion; God’s Love.

I do not believe that self-sacrifice is an end in and of itself. What we didn’t read tonight was the paragraph immediately following this story. Where he does dismiss the crowds and sends the disciples off and has his alone time. It’s necessary.

There will be times when you find yourself depleted and you lift what you have up to God and there is nothing moving within you. It’s important to honor that.

There will be other times, however, when despite your lack of resources, you will find yourself moved; perhaps because it’s important to you, perhaps because you feel the importance of the situation to God. That is the time to take your resources to God and ask for the strength to use those resources and act.

Don’t worry how little you think you’ll accomplish. More may happen than you expect.

Just this past week a taskforce I’m associated with accomplished something spectacular. Though many people don’t know about it or fully understand it. Basically, a subcommittee of lawyers were trying to get the Insurance Board of Illinois to spell out specifically what the Affordable Care Act meant when it said Insurance companies couldn’t discriminate against people based on gender identity. There was some resistance to the specifics we were asking for because that would be seen as “interpreting law” not enforcing it. Much to my surprise, most of what we wanted specified ended up in the final document.

And I announced this victory in a trans* activist group, so that those affected will know about it. I was met with disappointment that it didn’t go far enough. Honestly at first I was miffed, but then I realized they had no way of knowing what went on behind the scenes, of how hard people worked to get as far as we did, farther than we hoped. And the critics have a point. Yet some people will be “filled” by this. People who are suffering, who I personally have “suffered with,” will get some relief.

Our text tells us the crowd was filled, not that it was grateful. Acting from compassion isn’t about seeking reward; whether the reward is accomplishment or gratitude or self-satisfaction. Not that those things are bad, or if you experience them it cheapens your actions.

Nor is acting out of compassion about doing the right thing, being good or moral, it’s about letting love guide your actions. If love is guiding your actions, then you are up to the task.

Trust God and trust when God moves your inward parts.

Sunday, July 27

The Kingdom of God is Hidden: Sermon For the 17th Sunday Ordinary Time:

Have you understood?  The disciples are quite confident, in their understanding.  Yet, oddly the parables Jesus tells here are in part about the inability to fully comprehend and grasp the Kingdom of God.  By contrast, Solomon as he is about to take the throne of the Kingdom of Israel, sees he lacks understanding and is in need of God’s wisdom.  Solomon, doesn’t simply seek conventional wisdom but an understanding that comes from God.  The parables Jesus tells speak of the wisdom of the Kingdom of God as like those things we can’t see and may not predict.  The kingdom of God is this great risk this gamble to obtain what is hidden but invaluable.

Part of the argument for the baptism of infants and those who have yet to gain the ability to assent to the faith as outlined in the Creed and to the story of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, is that God’s wisdom and the kingdom of God our beyond everyone’s comprehension and ability to grasp. 

Our passage in Romans is a difficult passage to comprehend.  On one hand it almost seems to say that nothing bad will happen to believers, or that apparently bad things aren’t really bad in the grand scheme of things.  But if this is what Paul is saying then what of this encouragement that whatever befalls us it can’t mean that we are beyond the care and the protection of God, beyond God’s love.

There is a mystery here,  the Spirit intercedes along with Christ on our behalf yet this doesn’t prevent calamity, or health problems, or being mistreated etc.  Yet, we can be assured that it will all work together for good and God’s purposes. 

What is going on here is perspective. The perspective we are called to is to see from the hidden works of God in our midst.  We are to see God’s real at work in our world like the yeast,  like the hidden treasure, a treasure and store house that has both what is old and new at the same time.

Paul is speaking form the point of view of the crucified and risen Christ who is Jesus of Nazareth and the Son the Word of God.

What is being worked out is the slow and hidden transformation of the world, what is according  To God’s purposes and what is good for us is this unknown, incomprehensible work of God in the world.  God’s action in the world works like yeast and seeds and plants, and is like a treasure hidden whose value is unknown until one attains it and finds it is beyond price and value.  It is the hidden love of God, not our life circumstances from which we are to see the world.

It is different  wisdom than conventional wisdom, we must be schooled in this wisdom, and so schooled when we become masters and Ph.D’s, so to speak, in this hidden wisdom of God, we become like someone who has a treasury of what is both old and new.  We are to see things for their true value, not based on circumstance whether it is old or new. 

The world tells us that our circumstances are the most important thing, that our wealth, our prestige, our health tell us who we are.  Paul and Christ says that true value, even the true value of God’s work in the world, the Kingdom of heaven remains hidden, unbidden often unnoticed and unappreciated, yet it is what makes the world livable.  We are to see ourselves from this hidden perspective that isn't dictated by circumstance of false values.  So that we can say with confidence that we are Christ’s and held in the palm of God’s hand.  God works silently, under the surface free of the tyranny of circumstance and daily cares.

The point of all this is not to leave the world as it is, but to transform it like yeast transforms dough, like a seed planted that becomes a tree exponentially larger than it’s seed.  It’s not that what happens to us doesn’t matter, but that what can be found underneath the surface is so much more astounding and beyond imagination that there is no comparison, and God isn't thwarted by circumstance, the Resurrection of Christ shows that, the incarnation shows that.  God has you, God loves you, God is at work in you and the world, nothing not the worst calamity not the hugest success will change this reality.  We are called to rest and live in that matrix, the mystery of the unknown hidden beyond value workings of God in the world.  We are called to enter into this astounding risk, to risk it all to get what lies hidden beneath the surface.

Sunday, July 20

Our Next Worship Serice will be Sunday July 27th

On Sunday July 27th we will worship at the New Digs, the apartment of the Community of the Holy Trinity 5 pm.
The service of worship will be a Vespers with Eucharist, and there will be a baptism.

Sunday, July 6

Next Worship Service Sunday July 13

No worship today.
We have begun our new pattern of meeting every other Sunday.
We next meet Sunday July 13th.
Visit our Facebook Event page for details and location.
We are no longer worshiping at Immanuel Lutheran Church.

Sunday, June 29

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost

I know a lot of people who will stop listening to anyone the minute the word sin is used. And that is hardly the only word in this passage from Paul that will turn folks off. Let’s tackle these words though and try to get past the connotations that have been attached to them and see if we can hear some of the profound things Paul is saying to us today.

For many sin is seen as a list of forbidden behaviors. The trouble is, the same behavior can bring death or life. Let’s take an activity that isn’t usually on such a list; working hard for example. Workaholics use work to avoid their lives, to not deal with something they need to deal with, to escape responsibility for their life outside of work, killing any life they have and becoming mere drones in the workforce.  In contrast, people who may have struggled with depression or despair and could not find motivation in their lives, are suddenly given inspiration and they throw themselves into work, reviving them to life.

And far too often sin is talked about with no mention of grace at all. Notice that Paul is not doing that here. Without grace, the word sin becomes a weapon. It is used to control others behaviors, combined with threats of hell. It is used to shame people, to get them to feel horrid about themselves. It is used to remove all hope from people, to the point that even hearing the word drives them deep into self-loathing (or reactionary anger.) I know people who believe they are such sinners that they can’t approach God, can’t even enter a church. I know people who have been driven to atheism by a belief of their inevitable eternity in hell.

Note, though, how Paul uses the word shame in today’s passage; he speaks of the THINGS of which we now are ashamed. He does not say you should be ashamed of yourself. And honestly, unless you’ve been driven into such a deep victim mentality that you can’t see your part in anything, or unless you’re a sociopath, then there are things that you know in your heart that you’ve done wrong. And those are the things Paul is talking about – not the things others have told you you’ve done wrong. Do remember that time and time again Jesus tells us it’s our own sins we need to worry about, not the sins of others. It’s ultimately your own conscience you have to listen to. Or as Paul puts it elsewhere “the law God has written in your own heart.”

And isn’t listening to what others tell you you’ve done wrong and not what God has told your heart; isn’t that the reason why Paul confronted Peter? Peter, who we are told in Acts received a vision from the Lord telling him the right thing to do was to eat with gentiles, stopped listening to his own heart and started doing what the representatives from Jerusalem said he should do. For fear of them, Paul says in Galatians, but I’d suggest due to shame which did not come from Peter’s own conscience. I mean, Peter didn’t do humility very well, so often in the Gospels panicking, doubting or going straight into self-denigration. He seems particularly vulnerable to shame, even before the denial weighed so heavily on his heart. But when he is on fire with the spirit, connected to it, channeling what God wants to say through him, he can reach thousands of hearts!

Another of our challenging words today is righteousness. For many, righteousness has similar connotations to pious these days. One dictionary definition I’ve come across for pious is “making a hypocritical display of virtue.” I think this is due to thinking of righteousness as someone’s character rather than a process. One translation of today’s passage uses “being right with God” rather than the word righteousness. Being right with God is where authentic virtue comes from. Being virtuous doesn’t get you right with God. We can’t win God’s favor. We don’t earn God’s love.    

In the previous chapter of Romans, Paul tells us that “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Paul is talking about that reality, that we don’t get the free gift of grace because we’ve been virtuous. The gift comes despite our sin. That’s where the question “well, can’t we still sin then?” comes from.

When Paul tells us the wages of sin is death, I believe he is pointing out to us that any punishment we receive is from the sin itself, our actions have consequences. And also from the trouble we find in our own conscience. The punishment is not from God, it is from the thing itself. From God we receive a free gift. The question is how do we respond to this gift?

Can people admit to being wrong? Yes. Can people aspire to being right with God? I’d hope so. But can people embrace being obedient slaves? Obedience and slave are by far the most difficult words in this passage. Even Paul is a bit uncomfortable with them. He gives us the caveat, “I am speaking in human terms here.”

Anyone who has had to deal with an out of control addiction, though, can tell you about slavery and bondage in spiritual terms. Slavery to sin is a phenomenon. And it is a death sentence.
“No one’s gonna tell me what I’ve got to do!” is, I think, a popular understanding of the USA’s concept of freedom. Obedience IS slavery in the minds of many. I also think tied to that is the idea that one only obeys when they are told to do something they don’t want to do. It is doing something against one’s will.

And haven’t we abolished slavery for good reason? Haven’t we established that this is a wrong and terrible thing? Hasn’t it become anathema? Wouldn’t even thinking of ourselves as slaves be degradation of the worst kind? 

In reading and re-reading this passage, I’m convinced Paul is NOT using obedience in a non-consensual sense here.  It’s a free choice made by people who want to do something. He’s speaking to adults who have been baptized as adults. The preparation of baptism is the form of teaching to which they were entrusted. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” They have made a commitment to Christ that amounts (in human terms) to voluntary slavery, they have claimed (as Paul puts it in Galatians,) “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

As I said in the beginning of tonight’s sermon, the same activity can bring death or life. There are people who identify as love addicts or co-dependents. In such cases, people find themselves loosing themselves in another person. They try to get from a fallible human what they can only get from God. Losing one’s self in one’s lover, giving them all your power is ultimately annihilation, a death of the soul. Loosing oneself in God becomes a source of self-discovery, one finds out who one really is. One comes to life, maybe for the very first time.

We must make this choice free of shame. We must do this returning love we have already been given. Not grasping for love we think we don’t already have. We must believe we are loved and loveable! That our faults can be the very thing God can use for the best. As Paul discovered when he begged God to have one of his own faults removed. God refused, telling him “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” And remember what Peter could do when he surrendered to the Holy Spirit!

In closing, let’s turn to our Gospel. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” It’s one of those moments in the synoptic Gospels that Jesus is speaking as he does so often in John. It’s a reminder of what we are ultimately seeking. Not merely being right with God, but union with God! The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. The gift of tapping into the origin of life, and the sustaining life force itself!