Monday, January 19

Sermon for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Second Sunday After the Epiphany.

Sermon Texts: Isiaah 55:1-5; 1 Corinthians6:12-20 ; John 1:43-51

Today we have heard texts about God coming to us illuminating us and our union with God in Jesus Christ. Paul says to be in relationship with God in Jesus Christ, is to be freed from the law (all things are lawful), but this doesn’t lead to nihilism or an amorality, (not all things are beneficial).  What this freedom should lead to is seeking to judge oneself and others according to relationship communion and union between oneself, God, and others.

Today is also the beginning of the Week of prayer for Christian Unity.  Divisions among Christians often are not much more than divisions between what to eat or not to eat, some Christians fast and some don’t, some mark out and strictly follow patterns of celebration and penance and fasting others do not.  As Christians come to differing conclusions about human sexuality our divisions are also about the law, or morality.  We are divided over what are Christians allowed to do or not do with their bodies and their sexuality.  Such divisions show we often miss the point, or rather miss what is the true basis and or binding agent and unity of the Church.  If what Paul says here, that all is Lawful but not all is beneficial then the basis of our unity cannot be what we conclude about what is truly beneficial.  Rules, morality, ethics aren’t what bind Christians together.

Our Gospel today gives us a glimpse of how some of the 12 Apostles came to be within the inner Circle of Jesus’s followers.   It’s the story of Philip and Nathaniel.  Jesus comes to Philip and as a good Rabbi calls him to be a disciple, come follow me.  Philip seeks out his friend Nathaniel to tell him of this Rabbi who had called Philip to be his disciple, this Rabbi though is no ordinary rabbi this is the one Israel has been waiting for.  Nathaniel isn’t convinced of the character and respectability of a person from Nazareth.  Interestingly Philip isn’t said to have argued with Nathaniel about how it is possible, that someone from Nazareth could be the Messiah, rather he tells him to just check it, out. Meet this Jesus.  Philip perhaps had the inkling that attempting to convince Nathaniel of the goodness of someone from Nazareth wasn’t the means of Nathaniel and Philp coming into agreement about the Messiah and who he was, he might be or where who his people might be.  Rather, Nathaniel had to meet and encounter this Jesus of Nazareth.  Nathaniel’s agreement with Philip wouldn’t come through argument about the standing of people from Nazareth but through Jesus Christ himself.

The basis of Paul’s radical statement all things are lawful,  as well as his radical teaching of Grace and that is Faith in Christ not works that justifies or makes us righteous, is also the basis of the unity of the Church, namely Jesus Christ.  The basis of human community, of a righteous and just world, then isn’t in the moral or ethical sphere, it isn’t in the Law, it isn’t how good you are, but rather the basis of all this is union with Christ.  To put it another way the source of our unity is our willingness to come and see how God is transforming the world even when we can’t match that up with our moral and ethical prejudices.

Paul’s claim, Philips claim to Nathaniel, and my assertion to us this evening, is that if you want to know about Justice and righteousness , if you want to know how God is transforming and reconciling us and the world and returning it to wholeness, one needs look no further than Jesus of Nazareth.  Admittedly, this is an astounding and wild claim.  How could one person, from one tiny insignificant village in 1st century Palestine, one Jewish Rabbi among countless Jewish Rabbi’s and teachers of his day, be all that?  A good question.  And to answer that question isn’t about arguments and certainty, rather  the answer comes in encounter. 

Of course, we, in 21st century Chicago, can’t meet in person Jesus of Nazareth the Christ, not at least  the way Nathaniel did.  However, we have the witness of what Nathaniel and Philip, Mary the mother of Jesus , Mary of Bethany, Martha,  Lazarus, Peter,  John (the author of our Gospel, ) James, Marry Magdalene, and Photini (the Samaritan woman at the well, and I could go on) encountered.   And to have the full answer one must walk with the Church through the seasons of its feast and fasts, starting with Advent and Christmas.  (we are still in the celebration of the nativity and incarnation).  The church recalls in this current feast cycl,  that God the second person of the Trinity, the logos and wisdom of God became human in Jesus of Nazareth, and is forever united with humanity and the entire universe through the incarnation of God in this one person.

This is interpreted as a Radical act of Love, especially by the Apostle John, “God so loved the world”, You may have heard, but perhaps in  a way that has leached away for you the earth shattering nature of those words.
God didn’t come to make us all agree, but to transform the world to infuse it with divinity, to allow us to meet and encounter God, not through our own efforts but because God came to us.

The way to find the moment of the world’s transformation and of being reconciled to one another, is to hear and act upon Philips words to Nathaniel: “Come and see.”  Yet, that is most difficult in its simplicity, there’s no argument nor proofs, no getting it right or getting it wrong, no means to justify oneself to oneself and or to others, just a simple invitation, to get beyond our moral and ethical prejudices and look beyond how disappointing human beings can be and are, and how awful Christians can be and are, and instead see God, come to us in a Jew who lived over 2000 years ago.  To take a moment and hear Philips, and Photini’s and Mary Magdalen and Mary of Bethany’s witness, that God has dwelt, made a temple, in our midst and is forever human, flesh and blood, now united with the universe. That which is most other than we are, who has no commonality with anything we know or can see or can discover. That one, we often give the name God to, this God creator and origin of all that is or can exist, beyond understanding, comprehension or knowledge comes to us and unites God’s self to God’s creation out of love, and it happened in one person Jesus of Nazareth. From that one person the transforming rejuvenating love and life of God moves out into the whole universe, from person to person, united to Christ. 

This is our unity, this is why all is lawful, but not all is beneficial, this is why to fully know this reconciliation achieved by God in Jesus of Nazareth, we must come and see, to encounter this love, this community of love in Father Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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.