Its What You Do 1-15-17

In this sermon from John 1:29-42, I explore the invitation offered to different individuals to come and see. This is how we encounter Christ, and how we offer the invitation to others.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

I have come to the conclusion that if a company wants to make an impression on me, they should advertise with talking animals. This conclusion came to me in a moment when I was thinking about 2 different commercials, both made by the same company, that both feature this sort of thing…and at least in my mind, are unforgettable.

The company is Geico, and the first one features the Geico Gecko attempting to be dramatic as he talks about roadside assistance, and we “SOMEONE HELP ME I HAVE A FLAT TIRE!” The commercial is doing its job because I can instantly tell you both the company and the specific service that it is intended to sell me. (pause)
Now the second commercial, also for Geico, features 3 racoons, snooping around a batch of garbage cans…its mainly an exchange between 2 of the raccoons, with the nervous 3rd making occasional side comments. (pause)
“Woah this is awful…try it.” “Oh no that looks gross, what is that?” “You gotta try it, its terrible.” “I don’t want to try it if its terrible.” “Its like a combination of mango chutney and burnt hair.” “I’ve got a very sensitive pallet.” “JUST TRY IT.”  “Guys, I think we should hurry up.” “I can’t get the taste out of my mouth.” At this point we hear the tag line for the commercial come up…If you taste something bad, you want someone to try it…its what you do…before the raccoons get spooked by a bark and creep off into the night muttering “Dog…dog…dog.” (pause)
Now for those of you laughing out there…I see you share my infinity for Geico commercials…But interestingly enough…that single raccoon’s desire to share this amazingly bad taste with someone else is quite similar to what’s happening within today’s gospel lesson. (pause)
For those of you that were here last week and heard the story of Jesus baptism, then I’m guessing that a portion of this passage seems quite familiar…and that’s understandable. As we find ourselves here in the season of Epiphany, we continue to be reminded of the ways that Christ was revealed to the world.  Last week as we focused on the story of his baptism, the big reveal came straight from the source, as God the father made a big booming proclamation about the identity of Christ…the one who is God’s beloved Son.

But today we get the story from John’s gospel. As per usual here in the 4th gospel, this account of the story is a little different…as we see John the Baptist take the role of witness…bearing testimony to what he has seen and heard and experienced.

Now here in the 4th gospel, that’s how Jesus’ baptism is presented…its past tense…being recalled by John in addition to what God has revealed to him…that’s the thing about John…he knows who he is, and he knows who he isn’t. And we hear in different places that he has come to point the world towards the Messiah…and that God has somehow revealed to John that he would see the Holy Spirit descend upon a man…and the Spirit would abide within that man…and when John sees this, he will know that this is God’s messiah…this is the Lamb of God.

Now we’re familiar with the story of Jesus’ baptism…and we know that’s what happens…and that John was right there when it happened…and so now…as he stands before the crowds who have come out to hear him…and John see’s Jesus walking by…he shares his experience. (pause) BEHOLD…HERE IS THE LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD. (pause)
That’s John’s role…one that he takes quite seriously…to testify to his experience of the Messiah…to point him out to the world…and he does this by sharing what he has seen and heard…and John speaks this truth quite plainly. I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God. (pause)

Now, once John’s recollection and testimony about the baptism is over, the story jumps ahead 24 hours…though the scene sounds pretty similar. John is hanging around yet again…this time he’s got a couple of his followers along with him…when once more Jesus comes walking by…and John makes the very same statement. “BEHOLD…here is the lamb of God.”

Now we don’t know if these two guys had been there the day before or not…probably though we don’t know…but as disciples of John they were likely familiar with his message, so they’d likely heard his testimony about Jesus…and so as they’re standing there and hear John say “There he is!”  It must have been a pretty major moment for them. “THAT’S HIM?  THAT GUY RIGHT THERE?  Let’s follow him.” And they do, trailing along after Jesus. Now who knows why? Maybe they were a little starstruck…maybe they were geeking out…Lord’ knows I’ve had the same experience before…full disclosure, I geeked out on our former Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson once.  I can only imagine what it would be like to have the Savior of the World walk by…someone that your entire culture has been waiting on for centuries.

And so Andrew and this other unnamed guy start tailing Jesus…and somewhere along the way he notices…and turns around…not cranky…not suspicious…just Jesus being Jesus, asking the right question at the right time…something he seems to be pretty good at.  What are you looking for?”

Now we could go all kinds of places with that question…because honestly what are we looking for? Any of us? Love, acceptance…joy…respect…fulfillment…some small glimmer of light in the midst of the darkness that this world is constantly smacking us with…that’s a big question…and maybe these two guys were overwhelmed by it…because their response is a little odd. Teacher…where are you staying? Where are you abiding?

And Jesus…God in the flesh…offers a simple invitation….Come and see. (pause) Come and see. Come check it out…see for yourself…and you’ll abide with me where I’m abiding…we’ll hang out together…and they do. And then…having done just that…having spent time together…Andrew realizes the truth of John’s testimony…that there’s something about this guy…that yes…this is the Messiah…and he is compelled to share it…so he goes to find his brother…Yo…SIMON..DUDE…YOU GOTTA CHECK THIS OUT!!!! Because apparently when you find the messiah, you invite others to find him too…its what you do. (pause)
Now this isn’t the only case either…directly following this passage, Jesus bumps into Philip, and because of this encounter, Philip goes off to invite Nathanael…Dude…we found the Messiah…come check it out.

And the thing that every one of these individuals has in common is that they did in fact, come and see…they spent time with Jesus…they had their own experience and then pointed him out to others. (pause)
You know there’s a name for that sort of thing…one that gets thrown around in the church world pretty regularly…but one that can make us squirm just a touch…Evangelism.

You know that word…it conjures up images of street preachers…and door knocking…of uncomfortable conversations that sound like “If you died tonight would you go to heaven or hell?”

But what if evangelism was as simple as “come and see.” That’s what John the Baptist did. That’s what Andrew did…that’s what Philip did…later on down the road Peter would do it…and Paul would do it…and others would do it too…and at some point a couple thousand years later, someone did the same for you…otherwise what are you doing here today?

You can use whatever word or phrase that you’re comfortable with…but evangelism…or sharing the gospel…or sharing your faith is as simple as sharing your story…and while some are called to go halfway around the world…and others are called to stand up before giant crowds…most of us are called to share our stories with those right there in our backyards.

As I think about these first disciples of Jesus…that’s all they did. Andrew and Peter were brothers…we hear that Philip and Nathanael are from the same home town…these are probably 4 guys that grew up together…and sharing this news “We have found the Messiah” came as easily as “The Cubs won the World Series!” (pause)
You’ve likely heard me use the phrase Cross Generational ministry. Its something we’ve been throwing around quite a bit in the past year here at the church. And this is all it is. Sharing our experience…sharing how we’ve seen God active in the world and in our lives…and realizing that when God encounters us, our story becomes part of His story…and that he desires that we share it…that we embrace the glorious truth of the gospel, that we are seen and claimed by the one who makes us and who loves us…and that God desires everyone to experience the same joy that comes with it…and that God desires it so much that he was willing to become one of us…he was willing to live out life with all of its sorrows and all its joys, and ultimately he was willing to die in order to overcome every obstacle that stands in the way…and in the end…he did it for you….and as amazing as that is…he also did it for your neighbor that lives across the fence…and all God asks of you is that you share it…that you invite them to come and see.

We plant the seeds…that’s all we do…its up to God to give the growth in the lives of others…and I don’t know about you…but remember that really takes the pressure off. Its not up to you to save the world, God’s already done it…its not up to you to change the minds and lives of others…only the Holy Spirit can do that…all we are called to do is live out the truth that we have experienced…that I am loved…and I am accepted…and I am redeemed by the one they call Jesus. (pause)

If you taste something bad, you want someone to try it…its what you do. (pause) If you experience the joy of the Lord, you want to share it…its what you do. Amen

Here We Go Again 1-8-17

In this sermon, taken from Matthew 3:13-17, I explore the Baptism of Jesus and just why its so important for us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

There are a few different things that I do that…admittedly, I start to get a little obsessed with. One of them is running, which I guess is a healthy activity, so maybe that’s not all bad…but over the years that I’ve been running, I’ve gotten more and more obsessed, and this has manifested in different ways.

First was just the running itself. I used to mix it in with several different types of exercise, but eventually the rest kind of phased out leaving me with the running by itself. Then after a while I wanted to know how much I was doing, so I started tracking my runs with an app on my phone…logging the miles and the minutes that I cover.  And eventually that led to yet another step…as the app I utilize offers various challenges to keep a person motivated.

Most recently, I participated in a challenge to cover 1000km over the course of 2016…and as we aren’t European, that translates out to about 620 miles if you’re curious.  And yes…I got obsessive over it…constantly checking and rechecking…doing the conversions and the calculations to see where I was at and how much I had left…and sure enough…I finished up my goal about a week and half before the end of the year.

Once I reached that point I thought to myself “Ahh…now I can relax…just go back to regular running, regular distances…and I don’t have obsess anymore.”  Well that lasted about a week…and then I noticed that 2017…has the very…same…challenge. (Pause) Here we go…again. (pause)
The repetition strikes me as funny…but the notion of doing the very same thing this year as I did last year put me in mind of the church year…and the repeating cycle that we go through as one season leads into the next…and into the next…and we see the same holidays repeated every year…we hear some of the same stories repeated every year…Christmas and Easter are the big two…but also other ones like Pentecost and today’s story…the baptism of Jesus. (pause) Now if you’ve been tracking the church calendar, you know what I’m talking about. We celebrated Christmas 2 weeks ago…and following the proverbial 12 days, we hit Epiphany just two days ago…as the church celebrates the arrival of the magi to worship the baby Jesus…and as that kicks off the season of Epiphany…the time that we continue to recognize how Jesus, as the Messiah, is revealed to the world, we come around to his Baptism, always recognized here on the 1st Sunday of Epiphany. (pause)
Now maybe, you hear this story…and you recognize the way it repeats…and you think to yourself…Here we go again…and like some of those other common stories, this is one that we can list off the details pretty easily. Jesus is about 30 now…and his cousin John the Baptist is out in the wilderness along the Jordan river, living up to his name…as he is of course baptizing…and he’s calling out the brood of vipers and warning of the one coming along after him who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire…and low and behold, here comes Jesus…John is like “Dude…hold on, you need to baptize me.” But Jesus assures him that no, this is all good…let’s do this. (Pause) And Jesus is baptized and the instant that he comes back up above water the heavens rip open…and the Holy Spirit comes fluttering down in full-on bird form, landing on Jesus…and the big booming God voice breaks out “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (pause)

That’s the story…pretty simple isn’t it? Sort of makes you wonder why we need to hear it so often doesn’t it? And honestly…I think there are times that the baptism of Jesus raises more questions that it answers…like why does Jesus need to be baptized in the first place? He’s God right? And we all know that he is without sin…and if baptism, as we understand it, is a cleansing from our sins, then why the heck did Jesus need to do it? (pause) These are good questions…honest questions…questions that many people have wrestled with…and while some of them will try to offer you answers to these questions…and try to explain away everything that’s going on here with the baptism of Jesus…I’m not going to do that…because honestly, I don’t have any good answers to why Jesus had to do it…and what the “fulfillment of all righteousness” that he mentions to John is all about. I honestly don’t know. (Pause)
But I do know that there’s some cool stuff going on here…and Jesus, who is God, is taking something old and making something new out of it. (pause) Maybe you’ve heard me talk about the notion of baptism before…its actually not some newfangled thing that Christians came up with…and for that matter, its not something that John the Baptist came up with either.  The practice of baptism had already been around by the time John came on the scene.

It was a ritual of purification, stemming from an ancient practice that the Jewish people would do when they took spoils of war. They had to purify it. If it could take it, they would put the thing through fire…if not, then water…and since human flesh doesn’t stand up to fire overly well, when the ritual started being used for Jewish converts to symbolize a purifying from their old gentile ways…water.

So by the time Jesus takes a dip in the Jordan and the heavens tear in half so a spirit bird can come fluttering down…this was old news…but we have a God who does some amazing things don’t we?  And for the first time ever, a person is baptized and God…shows…up…in a big way.

Actually, all three members of the trinity are on display here aren’t they? Jesus, the son…he’s of course there…the Holy Spirit shows up…and the voice of the Father…all three here together…and you know what, there’s only one other time that this happens…and its at the tail end of Matthew…in something called the Great Commission…when Jesus instructs the disciples…and us…to go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Now that in itself is amazing enough…but there’s another point to bring up…the Great Commission is the last thing in Matthew’s gospel…and therefore it’s the last thing that Jesus says…but the very first thing that Jesus says here in Matthew’s gospel, is his exchange with John about baptism.

I don’t know about you, but that seems like a pretty big deal to me…that the very first and the very last thing that Jesus talks about is baptism…no wonder we make a big deal out of it…but then, it is a sacrament isn’t it? A time when God comes to us through the simple element of water along with the promise that God makes on our behalf.

A promise that we actually share with Jesus. For in his baptism, the Spirit comes upon him, empowering him, and God claims him as his beloved child…and we profess the very same thing in our own baptism…that we are empowered with the Spirit, and God claims us as his children.  And that’s the spectacular thing…that its all about what God does…what God says, both for us and about us…its NOT about what we do or think or say.  The promises of God are for you…and through the waters of our baptism this promise is given to you and you are brought into the body of Christ. (pause)

Now that’s wonderful…but it raises a question…what comes next? Jesus tells his followers to make disciples and baptize them, but just what does it mean to be a disciple? What does it mean for us to be a follower of Christ? (pause) I often wrestle with this question…and I wish there was a road map…check points that we can achieve and mark off to show ourselves that we are making progress…that we are becoming more Christ-like.

Granted, we do have rituals in the church that sorta of point this direction.  We typically baptize as a baby…and then about 4 years old the child starts Sunday School…and eventually moves into Confirmation and then at the end of 8th grade they stand up front, say a couple things, receive a prayer…and that’s kind of it.

I don’t know about you, but I find that model lacking…and while I don’t know exactly how else to propose that we “map out” the life of a disciple, I do know this…we are called through our Baptism…we are joined with the one body of Christ…we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, and we are all ministers…called to proclaim what Christ has done in our lives…and to live out the truth that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.

And the thing about it…is that we do this…in the grind of life…in the routine…in the stuff that happens over and over again…because that’s where God meets us…and there are times when that might seem kinda daunting. (pause)
I mentioned earlier, that I no more than finished 1000km a couple weeks ago, and then I found myself at the beginning of another challenge…this time, its 1017…and as I face the vast majority of that challenge still ahead of me, I keep thinking “here we go again.” But that’s life…that’s the life we lead…and though at times it might seem repetitious…or boring…that is the path we walk…and what a blessing to realize that God walks it as well…That’s why Jesus entered our reality…that’s why he became one of us…to experience life as we do…and not only that…but to meet us there…and to come along side us as we move through this life as disciples…with no roadmap in front of us…only the knowledge that God is constantly inviting us forward, out of the old, and into something new…and this is true, even in the times when everything might feel the same.

Here we go again. (pause) Yep…but you know what, God’s right here with us. Amen.

Power or Weakness 1-1-17

In this sermon, taken from Matthew 2:13-23, I explore the illusion of power within the world, and just why God entered the world in a powerless fashion.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Considering that my college degree is Horticulture, you’d think that I’d have a lot more plants around than I actually do…at least inside plants. But the fact of the matter is, I don’t have a lot. We have a couple house plants that sit in our front window at the house…and currently, I have one small plant sitting in my office window. And that’s it.

But that being said, the other day I was standing in the kitchen over at the house, looking out over the parking lot, and I could see my plant sitting in the windowsill in the office, just soaking up the sunshine. And in that instant, I got to thinking about just how amazing plants really are.

Plants are pretty much the most passive life that exists on this planet. They are rooted into the ground…meaning they stay put…not a lot of movement in plants…and through the amazing process of photosynthesis, they are able to just soak up the sunshine and somehow get energy…their power…comes from sunlight.  (pause)
Now admittedly, the idea of energy within a plant is a very different meaning than we usually associate with the word power. Power is typically understood as strength or force, or perhaps authority. But yet as I thought about a plant passively living its life, and the power of the sun feeding it…I somehow came around to thinking about today’s gospel story. (pause)
Now admittedly…as we find ourselves 1 week after Christmas Day…still in the midst of the season of Christmas…still in the process of celebrating the savior…the messiah…coming into the world…today’s gospel lesson likely comes across downright shocking doesn’t it? A story known as the slaughter of the innocents…Not exactly something that gives us a lot of warm fuzzy feelings as we are still riding high from the holiday celebrations. (pause)

Now admittedly, chapter 2 of Matthew’s gospel is really the story of Herod the Great. He’s an interesting character…he’s the king of Israel…appointed and authorized by the Roman emperor…a man who literally fought tooth and nail to get himself into this position of authority within Israel…a man who is so obsessed with his own political standing that he literally kills 2 of his own kids and one of his wives who he suspects is conspiring against him…not only, he’s so obsessed with his standings when viewed by the rest of the known world that he commonly bankrupted the nation with his expansive building projects.  Certainly…this is a man consumed and obsessed with his apparent political power.

Matthew chapter 2 starts off with the arrival of the wise men…so yes, today’s story is slightly out of order as we typically celebrate the wise men at Epiphany coming up in a few more days…but we see them arrive in Jerusalem, looking for a newly born king…as they have discerned from a star…and they quite literally end up on Herod’s door step.

Needless to say, this comes as a great shock to him when these foreigners come asking about a new king. (Pause) A NEW KING? I’M THE KING!  And Herod’s alarms are going off…but through some quick thinking, he conspires to use the Wise Men to find this supposed new king…and kill him. That was his MO…if there’s even a slight chance that someone is going to oppose his power…kill him…because they can’t challenge you if they’re dead.

Now this is where the story picks up today…the wise men get an angelic warning…something that is apparently pretty common right about this time…and they avoid Herod…but he’s still on the warpath and goes after the baby king anyway…and using the information that he’s gathered, he sends his soldiers off to the Bethlehem to kill all the baby boys younger than 2. (pause)
Shocking isn’t it…this abuse of power…that those innocent children would get caught in the middle of one man’s quest to hold on to his power.  It’s a sad reality…that those innocent lives were lost…that those families were shattered by the event…and honestly it raises the question of just why Herod was so paranoid in the first place.

But the more I think about that…the more I realize that the power that Herod possessed…was nothing more than an illusion. (pause) Think about it…because I think we often end up falling into the very same trap don’t we? The illusion of power…of control…this idea that we are in charge.

Maybe it’s a cultural thing for us in this day and age…but we like to be in control don’t we? We like to think that we’ve got everything figured out…and that we can direct the outcome of what’s going to happen. (pause) But let’s be honest for a second…can we?  Despite all the planning…all the prep work that we like to do…all the worrying about what may or may not happen…how much do we actually control? (pause)

I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently…and I’ve had conversations with many of you along the same lines…and I think we can agree that this past year has been rough, especially the past few months…a lot of death…a lot hardships and heartaches.

Now I’ve never been one to say that God does this to us intentionally…or that these things that happen are God’s doing…because I don’t believe that…but hardships do happen…they are a reality…and they do provide us with opportunity to learn and to grow…and if these past few months…have taught me anything…it’s the sober reminder that tomorrow is not guaranteed. We expect it…we plan for it…but the truth of the matter is that we are finite beings and tomorrow may not happen for us.  And no matter how hard we try to fool ourselves into believing the opposite…we are powerless against it. (pause)

And this…is exactly where the Christmas story becomes so vital…because God…the creator of the universe…the absolute epitome of power…enters our reality as one of us…the ultimate power, who comes simply in order to overcome the forces of sin and death and darkness in our reality…does so in utter-powerless-ness. (pause)
Let me say that again. God gives up all power when he enters our world as a helpless baby.

This is on display in today’s story…Herod, the political bigwig…is so threatened by the mere notion of the Messiah, who had traditionally been the one anointed to be the future king…that’s literally what Messiah means…Herod is so paranoid that he tries to kill him…Herod tries to kill a helpless baby.

Now through some angelic intervention, Joseph heads off into Egypt with baby Jesus and Mary in tow…and here’s the thing that I find kinda funny. Several times in this short passage, we hear of Joseph acting, and bringing along “the child and his mother.” 4 times in 10 verses we hear that phrase…and through the repetition, we are reminded that Jesus was utterly passive in this moment…he was helpless…a very small child…utterly dependent…period. The ultimate power in everything…God…was in the world in an utterly dependent powerless fashion. A baby, cared for by political refugee parents, moved around from place to place to avoid death at the hands of those who were threatened by his very existence.

And the funny thing about all this…is that it worked. Herod…died, and Jesus was still alive. Later on, Herod’s decedents would still go after him. And not only that, but the religious power would one day go after Jesus too…because he was a threat to their authority.

It seems that Herod, and later on the Pharisees and Sadducees put too much stock in the authority that was granted to them by other people. Because that’s all this illusion of power is…that other people respect it. When it gets right down to it…power as we like to think of it…is nothing more than another person giving in to you. (pause)
And in contrast, God choses to be revealed to us in the physical sense in utter powerlessness…and why? (pause) Because that is where we are. Maybe you’ve noticed in your own lives…it almost always seems that God is revealed within the absolute worst moments in our lives…in those times when we realize just how powerless we really are…how broken we really are….when the world seems to be throwing absolutely everything at is and we know there’s nothing we can do about it.  It’s in these times that God seems to show up in our lives…though often times in the way we least expect.  (pause)
No one expected the Messiah to be a helpless baby, and yet somehow, some way, that baby defied the power hungry tyrant. (Pause) No one expected the savior of the world to die on a cross…and even more so, once he was dead, no one expected him to be raised up again…but it happened. (pause)

And I’m guessing, that when 2016 started, 1 year ago today…none of us expected that our community…that so many of our families…would be rocked by the loss of loved ones…and yet through each of those deaths…our community gathered around one another…bearing the burdens of one another…and in doing so, shining the light of God into the darkness that is still fighting tooth and nail against his divine light.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it…but not for lack of trying. Just as Herod fought tooth and nail to hold on to his political power….just as the religious elite fought tooth and nail to hold on to their cultural authority…and just like countless different examples of stuff in the world today…the darkness fights tooth and nail to hold on to its power here in our reality…but the glorious truth is that when Light shows up, darkness loses.

Our faith gives us hope to cling to in these times when the darkness looms…and we know that it does…and the amazing thing about the Bible is that it doesn’t sugar coat this. The darkness exists, and we don’t have look very hard to know that’s true…because we see just as much shocking stuff in the world…and on the news, and even right here in our community…shocking events that are right on par with a 1st century tyrant ordering the deaths of innocent babies.

In our weakness there is power…but it not our own…and God in the flesh…a helpless baby, hauled off into political exile in order to save his life against the apparent authority in the world…this is how God reminds us that he is with us always…in the good and the bad…in the triumphs and the struggles…and that this helpless baby would grow up and then be willing to undergo that same powerlessness on the cross in order to prove it…and that’s where God meets us. Amen.

Light 12-25-16

In this Christmas Day sermon, I explore John 1:1-14. God enters into our reality as Light shining in darkness, and as the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Most of you here today have probably heard me talk about John’s gospel being my favorite, simply because it is so different than the other three gospels. Whenever I encounter it, my first inkling is to compare the differences…and that certainly applies today.

The thought in my mind here with the open verses of John is to compare how each gospel begins…and perhaps more specifically, to recognize just where the good news of Christ needs to begin. Mark starts with John the Baptist, the voice crying in the wilderness to be prepared for the coming Messiah, though by that point Jesus was already around.

Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus, going back as far as Abraham. This makes sense with Matthew’s intended Jewish audience, as Abraham represents the beginning of their culture, when he received the covenant from God…a promise that included Christ as a descendant of Abraham, and the way that the entire world would be blessed.  Luke also features a genealogy, but he takes it all the way back to Adam, showing us that the good news of Christ includes all of humanity.

But John, he goes all the way back…starting off with a direct reference to Genesis and the creation of the world. In the beginning. We hear John say that in the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God…which mirrors our account of the start of our reality through God’s creation…that in the beginning was God.

So it would seem, that the gospel of Jesus Christ starts at the very instant our reality became reality. But its important that we think just a little bit deeper as well. This is, of course, Christmas Day, when we celebrate God entering the world as human…when God physically enters our reality…something that scholars like to call the Incarnation.

Now Matthew and Luke both feature the birth of Jesus…that moment when, as John puts it…the Word becomes flesh, dwelling among us. But some would argue, me included that the incarnation here in John’s gospel…the moment when God enters our reality occurs when the light shines in the darkness…that the light is the presence of God…and the connection between John and Genesis starts to make a little more sense.

When creation began, we hear that the world was formless and void. Now that doesn’t mean that the world was a big mess of stuff, nor does it mean that it was just empty space…rather, reality just wasn’t…but then God said a Word…there’s that Word with God thing…The first thing God said was let there be light…and there was.

The first thing in our reality as we know it, was light…the first step that God took in bringing order to chaos…was light…and if John’s gospel is to be believed, and that everything that has come into being is through this divine word of God, who is God…then the first step that God took towards the ultimate unity, the ultimate togetherness that we will one day experience…the first step was light.

Now here’s the thing about light shining in the darkness. When one occurs, the other doesn’t. Darkness is in essence the absence of light, so if light is there, darkness loses…it retreats. I discovered this first hand about a year and a half ago. We were in Colorado at family camp, and I woke up in the middle of the night…at it was utter darkness in our cabin…and for the first time ever, I experience claustrophobia…fear simply because I could not see. But then I grabbed my phone and turned on the screen for just a brief moment…and that gave enough light to drive that fear right out of me…it gave me hope…and the amazing thing is that even after I shut my phone off again, and I was still in the darkness…the hope that light gave me remained.

I’ve thought a lot about that notion in recent weeks…because I don’t know about you, but it really seems as if our community…both here at church, as well as here in town and the surrounding area…has had a really rough year. 2016 has been a tough one…a lot of death…a lot of broken relationships…a lot of hardships…and I know a lot of people are struggling…but it is in the midst of this very thing that we remember the promise, that the light of God shines in the darkness of this world, and though the darkness is not yet gone, it cannot overcome the light of God…the light of Christ which began at the first instant of creation in the beginning, and then literally…physically entered our world when the word became flesh and dwells among us.

I love that both of those statements include active verbs. The light SHINES…and the Word made flesh DWELLS…and this action is ongoing…still…right here right now…and I’ve seen it…I’ve seen the way that our community has gathered around one another…sharing joys and sorrows…being in community…in relationship with one another…in short…being the body of Christ right here right now.

But since we are one body together, its important that we share our collective experience. And so I’d like to give you the opportunity to share ways that you have seen light shining in the darkness…How do you see God in the here and now?

(Individuals shared various examples).

The Word became flesh and dwells among us…and we have seen his glory. Let us cling to the hope that we find in one another…as the face of God is reflected within your faces…and may that hope that we find in the light of God shining through one another give us strength to face the darkness still present in our world. Amen.

The Old and the New 12-24-16

Merry Christmas. In this sermon for Christmas Eve, taken from the normal Christmas reading of Luke 2:1-20, I explore the way that the birth of Christ has become so familiar that it can seem mundane. Yet God meets us in the midst of the mundane to invite us into something amazing.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

On this most special of nights, grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Traditions are an important thing…but they’re also a funny thing. I often times find myself wondering just where different traditions come from…and I also find myself chuckling at some of the traditions that I’ve become a part of.

If I were to list an example of what I’m talking about…it would be something that happens each and every year…several times over, as my wife’s family participates in Christmas gift opening. At least one time every year…and probably more like a dozen times during this process, the following will happen…an individual opens a gift…looks at it for a brief moment as their mind begins to comprehend just what they are looking at…and someone else…almost always the person who gave them the gift says “If you don’t like it you can take it back.” (pause)

For several years, upon hearing this phrase, I would just inwardly grimace…of course you can take it back…that’s how the notion of return and exchanges work…but we don’t need to say it to each other…and we certainly don’t need to say it over and over again.

Finally we made a little switch about 2 or 3 years back by agreeing…all together…that we weren’t going to say it anymore…but…of course, it still happens. (pause) However…this year…that phrase took on a little bit of new meaning, as our Christmas decorating and preparation took an odd turn.

We’ve gotten real Christmas Trees in my family for as long as my wife and I have been married…sometimes you get a great one, sometimes you get one that’s not so great. There have been times when we’ve found nice ones really reasonably priced…and there’s been times when it has cost an arm and a leg. But without exception, each and every year, the tree we’ve brought home has lasted through the holiday season until such time as we were ready to take it down. (pause) Until this year. (pause) This year we brought home a tree…and after about a week we started noticing the needles falling off…A LOT. As in, we’d sit in the living room and it sounded like a light rain falling as the needles continued dropping off onto the floor.

It got so bad that my wife ended up calling the store to complain about it…and they told us that if we wanted to, we could bring it back and exchange it for a new one…and so…for the first time ever…I found myself returning a Christmas Tree. (pause) If you’re wondering, our second tree of this year is faring much better. (pause) But all that being said, I find it almost laughable that this year, that old phrase that we know so well came into play with our tree.

But that’s how traditions work don’t they? And we all have them at this time of year…things that we do each and every year that help to shape the season…that help it all feel real…but isn’t it true that sometimes… those traditions might start to feel a little stale? (pause)
Now admittedly…there have been times when I’ve started to feel that way about the story of the Nativity that we’ve shared tonight.  In my 37 years, I’ve heard this story many times…as we all have. Its “tradition” to hear the story on Christmas Eve…and most of us can probably recite it…but if not, we can certainly list off the details of what goes on.

The Roman emperor decides he needs to check up on everyone, so he orders a census. Everyone needs to register in the town of their ancestors, so we’ve got Jewish people traveling all over the place…including a young couple…a carpenter from Nazareth and his fiancé, who just happens to be pregnant…a situation that was quite scandalous of course…they make their way south to Bethlehem as he’s a descendent of the great king David.

Low and behold…there’s not a lot of room for them in town, so they find themselves crammed in around the animals as the baby is born…and he ends up sleeping in the feed trough. But of course, this is no ordinary baby…and pretty quick a batch of nearby shepherds get the surprise of a lifetime when an angel shows up spouting off something about a new savior being born, who’s also the Messiah, and not only that, he’s the Lord too.  As quick as they get the message, a whole slug of extra angels show up singing…and as the shepherds get over the initial shock and fear that comes with this angelic territory…they decide to head on into town to see if this message and story they’ve heard is true. Sure enough it is, and they share the amazing angel experience with Mary and Joseph and anyone else they run into…and then once its over they head back out into the fields…probably singing the popular song Go Tell it on the Mountain for the very first time. (pause)
That’s the story right? We’ve heard it more times than we can count…and I fear…that maybe its become routine…plain…mundane even….perhaps even to the point where you find youself saying “okay, we’ve gotta hear the story…then pastor’s gonna talk for a few minutes…and we’ve got to get through this so we can light the candles and sing silent night.”

Sound about right? That’s the real tradition here this evening isn’t it? If we’re honest with ourselves…we find this joyous event…something that’s been relived every year for the last 2 millenia…dulled down through simple familiarity to the point of being ho-hum. (pause)
But…its…not. The story of Jesus’ birth was…is…and forever will be…a very…big…deal. There’s all kinds of amazing stuff going on…all kinds of incredible points that I could focus on.

God becomes human…the Messiah, who is the anointed leader of God’s people is born…and he’s a savior…an even bigger deal than Moses in the Old Testament…this baby will lead all of God’s people…which by the way includes all of us…out of bondage and into something new…into a new reality…that in itself is amazing.

And the circumstances…not only does the Lord enter into our reality…it happens as a helpless baby…born in the MOST humble of means…and announced to shepherds…a bunch of shifty low-lifes who weren’t exactly the movers and shakers of society….his parents faced impossible odds…risking ridicule and even being cast out of their community because of the circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy…and all of this happened without any human fanfare.  The savior of the world was born…and hardly anyone noticed…at least not at first.

But after a few years…the celebration of Jesus’ birth was celebrated…and as the body of Christ grew through the following generations…his birth became one of the most important events in our church year…one that, like tonight…we celebrate yearly…we remember yearly…we keep coming back to it. (pause)
And it is worth remembering…it is worthy of celebration…because it is a very big deal…Had God not chosen to take on flesh…had the Lord not entered into our existence in the same way we do…then this broken reality, twisted by the power of sin and death would continue in the same way that it has ever since the beginning. (pause)
But the fact of the matter is…that it did happen. There are few little hints within the story that remind of this. Luke starts off the whole thing by telling us who the emperor is…and who the governor is…and so right away we find that this story is rooted in a specific point in history…and then another thing happens…this time with the angel and the shepherds…something that I almost find laughable.

The angel shows up…calms the shepherds down and tells them…unto you a child is born…he is a savior, the Messiah, the Lord. And then to reassure them, the angels offers a sign.  You will find a baby, wrapped in clothes and laying in a manger…which by that point had already happened in Bethlehem.

Did you catch that…the proof…the sign for the shepherds that the Messiah had been born…is that the messiah had been born. Its weird right but that’s the proof…and when they go to see…that’s exactly what they find.

And so when we look back and this amazing story…this story that we’ve heard year after year…time after time…and perhaps have grown tired of…we are reminded that the evidence that God entered our reality was found that day…this is something that has already happened…its not just some feel good story…its not just some myth…but this is something that has already happened. (pause)

Now I bring all this up because of the way that its fits into the amazing overarching story of what God is up to in our reality. And that’s the story that’s found in the narrative of the Bible…going all the way back to the beginning. Time after time…instance after instance…we hear of ways that God has invited humanity forward…into something new. A new way of thinking…a new way of acting…a new way of being in relationship with God and with one another. (pause)
The invitation of God is always into something new…always moving reality forward…and so tonight I pose a question…as we gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ…God’s only son our Lord and Savior…as we revisit this wonderful event that has already happened…what might God be inviting us into tonight? (pause)

This is always the big question…even in times when we revisit something from the past…because each and every time our experiences have changed…we have changed…and our lives have changed.

Tonight we hear the same old story…but everyone here is different than they were last year.  Some are experiencing a new life together. Others are experiencing the holiday for the first time without someone they love. I look around this room tonight and I know some of the changes that have occurred in your lives…and I also know that there are changes that I’m not aware of…and only you can reflect on how your life is different tonight, as opposed to the last time you heard the story of Christ’s birth.

But rest assured…however your life is different on this night…that same old story still holds vital importance…for God…the maker of the universe and all that is in it…from that which is so large that we cannot begin to fathom it, to that which is so small that we can’t begin to see or experience it….that same God chose to enter into our broken reality…and not only that but into our own brokenness in order to do something new.  We have a God who creates new life out of death…who creates a sense of unity where there was only division…and God has done all of this simply in order to get your attention…and once that happens…then God invites each of us into something glorious…a reality where sin and death and pain don’t get the last word…a reality that in many ways we can only imagine…but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t real…and we gather tonight around this story…and we share a meal offered freely to each of us…and in doing so we realize that God has done all of this intentionally…with a specific purpose…and a specific goal in mind…to show you that there is no length that God will not to in order to show you just how much you are loved…and that this perfect love of God, expressed physically in our realty through Jesus Christ…invites you into something new…into a reality where your brokenness does not hinder you…but that you are loved and accepted just as you are.

That’s what this old story means…and so tonight we experience the old and familiar…and we look forward with anticipation to the new reality that God has invited us into. Amen.

Vaya Con Dios My Friend


As we move through this funny thing called life, we become something to other people. There are words that describe the sense of the relationship that exists between us. I could use many different words to describe the relationship that I held with the man in this picture with me. Pastor, Teacher, Supervisor, just to name a few. Eventually, this shifted over to the notion of Mentor…and as the years went on we added Colleague to the mix.

But above all, the word that meant the most to me to describe this man…he was my friend.

Bob Vaage might have started off as my pastor, but over the years he became much more than that. Mine was one of many lives that Bob influenced, but looking back it is very apparent to me just how important he thought that this was. Bob recognized gifts and talents within individuals, and then he worked to find opportunities for that individual to put the gifts to work.

One of the ways he did this was to encourage a 22 year old kid to take on the role of Council Secretary…an opportunity that would eventually provide the chance for a joke “Hey Scott, go to seminary.” It wasn’t long after that meeting, that Bob preached a sermon illustrating how we are all called to be “pastors.” We are all called to make a difference and live out the gospel in our day to day lives. That sermon had literal illustrations as well, as Bob walked around the sanctuary placing his stoles on different individuals.

I got the blue one if you’re wondering.

That moment stuck with me…and after several years of discernment, and many…MANY conversations with Bob, eventually I began seminary and the process towards ordained ministry. It was a long road with a lot of ups and downs. But eventually that chapter came to a close, and in addition to preaching the message at my ordination, Bob repeated the action of placing a stole around my neck…this time in a more official manner.


In the years since, Bob continued to be my guide. Whenever something came up that threw me for a loop, I’d call him. He had this knack for asking the right questions to help me talk my way through the situation.

In many different ways, and in many different situations, Bob modeled what it means to be a pastor. He has shown me how to be a caring leader. And as I sit here, it strikes me with a touch of irony that he taught me what to do in this situation…and yet my role today is not pastor…and so what Bob taught me doesn’t really apply. And so I sit here, confused and hurting…wondering just what I should be doing, and my first thought is “Call Bob.”

But I can’t call Bob anymore, and in realizing this I have to accept the painful truth, that death has claimed my mentor…death has claimed my friend. And that hurts and I can’t make heads or tails out of it…but Bob taught me that when you can’t make sense of a situation, preach the gospel. Get yourself out of the way to let the gospel be the gospel and let God be God.

And the gospel tells us that there is another name that applies to Bob…one that describes the relationship that he holds with the Lord…Beloved Child of God. This is a name given to him in the waters of his baptism…and that’s a name that death doesn’t beat. That name means that Bob joined with Christ in a baptism like his…and now Bob has joined with Christ in a death like his…but the promise tells us that Bob will join with Christ in a resurrection like his.  We might not understand how…but that doesn’t take away the truth…while we were sinners, Christ died for us…because of his great love for us.

The apostle Paul writes about this in Romans chapter 8. He opens up by asking the question “what then are we to say about these things?” I often ask myself that same question, and I pose it to begin most funeral sermons that I preach. I think its a good thing to ponder on…but the promise of the gospel is revealed in Paul’s words, and they apply here. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Nothing separates us from the love of God…not one thing…not pain, not suffering…not anger or sadness or confusion…and most importantly, not even death.  And today I cling to the promise that God has given us, that is made real in the life and the death and the resurrection of Christ. That promise says that God will be with us and we will be with God and nothing will stand in the way of that. That’s what we say about these things.

That’s what we say, because that’s the gospel, even in moments when the pain we feel tries to hide it, it doesn’t change. And I cling to the hope that Bob is now in a place where he wants us to know that its true…I believe that Bob is held in the arms of his savior. He has now crossed a barrier, and we can no longer see him. But…we remember that death is not the end, because God’s love for us is bigger than that.

Painful as it is, we say goodbye to Bob…and as much as I hate the idea of moving forward without him in my corner, I know that I am a better person because of his influence on my life. I am proud to call him my friend, and I know that where ever it is that he has gone, that God is with him.

Vaya Con Dios my friend.


Its Not About Death But Life 11-20-16

In this sermon for Christ the King Sunday, taken from Luke 23:33-43, I explore the crucifixion of Jesus. This is an odd place to look for our king, yet we realize that the ultimate display of his power is the acceptable of weakness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Have you ever had a time when you happened to be standing in just the right spot in a restaurant or a store…and from where you were standing you could see the back side of the counter? (pause) Admittedly, I’ve always been fascinated by little things like this…to see the things that most people aren’t supposed to see…in short…to see behind the scenes, or from the opposite perspective.

I was thinking about this very notion last Friday as I walked into the Presbyterian church up in Shelby in order to lead a funeral. I spent a moment just scoping things out, getting familiar with the layout, including the backside of the pulpit…and in my head it was just one of those moments in a restaurant, seeing what most people don’t see.

Now its worth noting that this was the 6 funeral I’ve led in the past couple of months…and if this rather regular schedule has done anything, its given me something of sense of routine…and while every single funeral is, of course, different…there are things that I can pretty count on happening.

One is actually the way I chose to open pretty much every funeral sermon…by acknowledging the hard reality of the day, and by commenting on how those who gather look to one another for support, recognizing in one instant we can offer support to another, and in the next the pain of the day catches us and we in turn need to be supported. (pause)
And that builds on the next thing that I expect to see…I’ve got a pretty unique perspective, either from a chair or standing in the pulpit…and I’ve grown accustomed to seeing the emotion catch people…sadness and pain…evidenced by tears and often gasps or sobs…but what isn’t routine, and what often surprises me, is who that individual actually is…the person who is overcome by painful emotion.

The first experience I have with something of this nature actually occurred in a completely different setting…my older brother’s wedding. I remember it is a similar fashion though, because as his best man I was standing right up next to him facing out towards the congregation, and so the perspective of my observation was pretty similar to how it is now as the pastor…Now about midway through the service, my late grandfather was overcome by emotion and he broke down crying. I honestly don’t know what prompted it…but it happened…and that moment seared itself into my memory.

Now my grandfather died just a couple of years later…and due to circumstances, I wasn’t able to get to his memorial service…and a couple more years went by…and finally I traveled to Arizona to visit my grandma, and one of the things we did was go see Grandpa’s grave…and I had a very unexpected reaction…I looked at his gravestone, and I lost it…the pain and sorrow that I’d been feeling for more than 5 years at that point came rushing out…and I learned in that moment, just as I have seen in many different situations as pastor…pain, sorrow, emotion, weakness, whatever you want to call….it demands our attention…it demands to be felt. (pause)
Now this notion of weakness…and pain…this is where we jump into our gospel today.  Today is Christ the King Sunday…and strangely enough…as we have already heard, our gospel features the crucifixion of Jesus…a strange place to think about a king right? In the midst of torture and weakness?

Downstairs in the confirmation class we’ve been talking about the history of Israel…and in recent weeks we explored the establishment of the monarchy through their first three kings, Saul then David then Solomon…and how each of those these men managed to expand the kingdom, bringing more territory under their control…and we talked about just what that meant at the time…that as king, you could control as much area as you were strong enough to defend…and so the tougher you were, the more you had…but we’ve also seen the flip side…and that as soon as someone bigger and stronger comes in…you are out of luck…and if you happened to be the king of the conquered nation, chances are you’d end up dead…maybe even crucified at certain points in history. (pause)
And so, how strange is it to hear about the crucifixion of Jesus on the day when we celebrate him being king. Admittedly, it seems like total nonsense…like a total reversal of all logic…and yet that’s exactly where we find him.

Jesus is nailed to the cross…and he suffers…and throughout the entire time…he is continually mocked…and interestingly enough that mockery carries a theme…three different groups of people, all with a very similar message.

First the leaders…He saved others, let him save himself. (pause) But he doesn’t.  (pause) Then the soldiers start in…If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself. (pause) But he doesn’t. (pause) And then finally, one of the fellow condemned…one of the guys hanging right next to him…suffering the same fate…this guy throws it at him too, along with a little personal venom…Are you not the messiah? Save yourself…and us. (pause)

In addition, his opponent keep dredging up the past…he has saved others…he has performed miracles…he has even brought the dead back to life…SURELY he is able to save himself….so why…won’t…he…prove it.

I think in the end, that’s what they’re all looking for. They don’t really believe the claims that Jesus is the Messiah, nor do they understand what it means…and so as far as they can tell, if he can’t save himself from the cross…then all that stuff they’ve heard is nothing more than rumors…there’s no truth to it at all…and perhaps as they mock him….they are thinking to themselves “he’s going to be dead soon…and all this, will be over.” (pause)

But that, right there, that raises a pretty important point today…when our passage end, Jesus is still alive…we don’t hear about his death today, even if we know that it happens shortly after this…when we leave off, Jesus is alive…and so as we consider Christ as King, our entire context…the entire story given to us to try and understand this idea involves Jesus ALIVE on the cross. (pause)

Christ the King is found in the midst of ultimate weakness…in the midst of pain…in the midst of sorrow and suffering…and this is a very Lutheran idea…we don’t look for our king in the same way that the world looks…we find true strength in the midst of that weakness…when we acknowledge the truth of it…when we acknowledge that it exists…and that we are equally broken. (pause)

This is the important and yet subtle truth of the gospel…and the cross…its not about death, but life. (pause) The gospel doesn’t work simply because Jesus died on the cross…but rather because Jesus lived on the cross…Jesus suffered on the cross…Jesus endured the cross in the midst of ultimate weakness…and all the while, HE…DIDN’T…HAVE TO.

If you are the Messiah, save yourself…and he could have. At any time, Jesus could have come down off that cross, healed his wounds, and passed through the people, ensuring his own safety…but Jesus wasn’t up there for himself…and his example opens our eyes to the truth…

Jesus was mocked for not saving himself…and in doing so we realize that we are not able to save ourselves…and so, just as the people stood by watching…we stand by as well, watching the one who lived on the cross…who lived in the pain…because we recognize that in our brokenness, pain and sorrow demands our attention…we cannot deny it, because it is our reality.

But the glory of the gospel, is that while we were sinners Christ died for us…we don’t have to clean all our junk out before it becomes true…its already true…its already done…Christ has already lived the pain of the cross…that penalty, that wage of sin, whatever you want to call it…has already been experienced for us. (pause) And by Jesus living on the cross, we are saved from it.

Here’s the thing…all too often we think of Christianity…or faith, or religion as the idea that I’m switching away from doing all the bad stuff to now only doing the good stuff…this isn’t some social club where we’ve got a list of moral attributes that we have to achieve…rather, living by faith is recognizing that Christ did all that in order to save us from that which causes our pain and suffering in the first place…broken relationship and the mental anguish that it causes us.

We are broken people, living a broken life, in a broken reality…one that is so broken that the good relationship…the good interaction that happened between God and Humanity way back in the garden can no longer occur…and yet in the midst of this, God does something about it.

That’s what the cross is all about…its God’s way of showing us “There is nothing I will not do to prove to you how much I love you, and to show you that I claim you as my own, even if the world refuses to acknowledge you.” (pause)
Luke’s account of the crucifixion is unique, as we hear about the one I’ve come to call the “good criminal.”  At the mocking of the other man, he cries out “Do you not fear God, since we are under the same sentence? We deserve what we receive but not him.”  With this first statement, the good criminal acknowledges the truth of his existence, that he is rightly condemned…sorta sounds like confession right? (pause) But then after that, he recognizes the Lordship of Jesus…Jesus, when you come into your kingdom, remember me.

This man sees the king in the midst of the pain…he sees the true display of Christ’s power in the midst of the weakness…and that power is on full display as Jesus answers. You ask me to remember you, I’m going one giant step farther…for today you’ll be with me in paradise. (pause)
Now paradise is an interesting word. We usually think of it as heaven…or eternal life…but remember that paradise is the word that was given to the garden, when Humanity was able to walk and talk with God directly…and so perhaps through all this, we see that the cross of Christ is not about death, but life…the good life with God that Jesus has made possible…and not just out there in some unknown future, but the hope we find in this truth…allows us to live in the joy of the kingdom today. (pause)

Jesus wasn’t dead when this story stopped today…because the kingdom isn’t about death, its about life…and the glory of God…the power of Christ…the Lordship of Jesus is something that we discover in the midst of our brokenness and pain, because it demands to be felt.  It commands our attention and pulls us away from any false notion of strength that we posses, and turns our attention to the one who was powerful enough…NOT to act…He was strong enough to NOT…save himself…because in his weakness, he was too busy saving us. Amen.