Same Story Different Language 8-30-15

This morning’s sermon is based on Mark 7:1-8, 14-23. Within this text, Jesus’ audience changes a couple of times. Likewise, his method for address changes, but his message remains consistent. We can take a lesson from this.

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 from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

If you were previously unaware, you likely noticed on your way into the church this morning that the first phase of our landscaping project, both on the front side as well as the backside of the church, has now been completed.

The initial work happened about a week ago as the dirt was moved around and the concrete footings for the new bell stand were poured…and then the rest of the work happened through the middle of this past week. A crew of 5 or 6 individuals were here, putting the different types of brick in place to create the wall and the bell platform as well as the decorative portion of the sidewalk.

As per usual in a situation like this, they were outside doing their work, while life inside the building went on like usual. Interactions between me and the crew were minimal, limited to a casual hello or a nod as I walked past them headed towards the front door…but there was one that caught my attention. I’d been in the office and was heading out…and as per usual I push open the front door and immediately turn to the right, heading out towards the parking lot…

But this time around, the timing was pretty spot on…and I pushed open the door just as two of the members of the crew spouted off at one another…and as can be pretty typical in situations like this…the language was…well, let’s just say it was pretty colorful on the part of the individual who had his back to the door…the one who didn’t realize that I was in earshot. (pause)
Now the reaction of one of the other crew members was pretty priceless…and as I was walking towards the parking lot I heard “Oh nice man…cussing in front of the pastor.” (pause) I thought about turning around to assure them that it was okay and I didn’t mind…but in all honesty, I was way too busy laughing at the situation to even do that. (pause)

Now for many of you this is no great shock…but I myself have the tendency for colorful language in many different situations…a situation that has gotten me strange looks from individuals on more than one occasion…and if, for whatever reason you haven’t heard me before, yes I will admit it…I have moments when I cuss like a sailor…I hope you don’t hold it against me.

But I bring all this up, because I’ve been thinking a lot about how we talk to each other in our regular day to day lives…or more specifically, I’ve been thinking about how we address one another…and how we have the tendency to present ourselves a little differently in different situations…how the way we talk might change as our audience changes. (pause) I don’t think that this tendency is a bad thing…at least as long as the message remains consistent. (pause)

Now perhaps you’re wondering just what this all has to do with today’s gospel lesson…and as per usual, that’s a fair question…because today’s lesson…at least at face value…doesn’t really seem to have a whole lot to do with language…in fact, it really seems to be aimed at the notion of rules…and that Jesus is discounting the old rules…perhaps calling people out for following the rules a little too closely. (pause)

That was my first thought as I approached this lesson throughout the course of this week…that Jesus is assuring us that faith doesn’t fit in a rule book…and that his harsh words for the Pharisee’s and the scribes are telling that he has abolished the Old Testament Law…in fact it almost seems as if he’s condemning them for relying on it too heavily…That was my first thought. (pause)
But then I read through it a few more times…and not just the broken batch of verses listed in the bulletin, but I read through the entirety of the chapter…and I noticed something important. (pause) Throughout the course of this chapter…at least through the first 23 verses of it…the audience that Jesus is talking to changes…not just once, but twice.

He starts off talking to the Pharisees and the scribes…but then he directly addresses the crowd that is sitting there listening to them…before finally pulling his disciples aside to explain just what it is that he’s been talking about. (pause) Three different audiences…and three different methods of talking to them. (pause)

First off the Pharisees and scribes…members of the group that I tend to call the religious big-wigs…and not only that…but Mark flat out tells us that they have traveled out from Jerusalem…and so, we see that these guys are THE elite…the best of the best…these guys come from headquarters…if they were Catholic, they’d be from the Vatican…they’d be the professors…the experts…and as such…you can bet a pretty penny that they know the scriptures like the back of their hands…the law…the rules…yah…they know what they’re talking about. (pause)

And so, they bring up rules of cleanliness…and honestly, don’t they sound like every dotting parent out there? Why don’t your kids wash their hands before they eat? (pause) That’s literally their question…they take a rule that in all truth only pertains to the Priests in the temple…and they embellish just a touch saying that EVERYONE does it…and in the end, all they’re really doing is trying to discredit Jesus by association.

But the thing to pay attention to here…is how Jesus responds. Keep in mind these are the experts of the law and the scriptures…and Jesus treats them that way…by sitting down and having a debate over those very laws…over those very scriptures…honestly it reminds me of a scene I saw many times at Seminary when two or three professors would be sitting around debating theology in the campus coffee shop.

And yes, Jesus calls them on their error…pointing out the hypocritical nature of clinging to ritual for the sake of ritual…the thought that how well we follow the rules matters for how righteous or faithful we are…Jesus tells them, in somewhat heated, yet scholarly debate…that they’re wrong…that this has no bearing on matters of faith in their lives. (pause)

And then…Jesus changes, his audience…for having set them straight…or at least sent them packing…Jesus turns his attention back to the crowds who are still present…likely wondering about the outcome of this scholarly conversation…And as Jesus addresses a new group of people…people with different background and understanding…he quite simply takes on the role of teacher…something that he always does with the crowd…and he lays out the same argument…the same truth as before…he just does it a whole lot different. “Guys…trust me, its not what you eat that defiles…its what comes out…your actions, your words…they shine a light on the defilement that resides within the individual.” Short…and to the point.

And then…as he withdraws with the disciples…and they ask him just what it is that he’s talking about…he gets pretty blunt…as I think a lot of us tend to do when we are with those that we know best…those who know us best…and once again…it’s the same topic…just a little more blunt so they get the point.

“Lord, what do you mean it is not what goes in that defiles?” And Jesus looks them straight in the eye “DUDE…SERIOUSLY? We’re talking about food here…you eat it…and eventually it ends up in the toilet.” It’s a natural process how can that defile you…and then in his normal fashion, Jesus gets pretty specific with the disciples…and why? Well because he knows that in the long run these guys are going to become the pillars of the church here on earth…in the long run, these guys need to understand what it is that he’s teaching them.

You notice that he doesn’t change the message…only how he shares it. And that is true regardless of the specific story that we read…as Jesus shares the gospel…as he shares the good news that through him, the kingdom of heaven has come near, the end result is always the same.

Today he’s talking about what defiles a person…and he tells us that what defiles us is the flawed human nature…that a sinful human heart lies within all of us, and that our actions and words reflect it. Period. (pause) And so now comes the million dollar question…what do we do with that?

Well first…we need to hear the gospel…that that sinful human nature…that lies within all of us…it just does…and then we realize that there’s nothing we can do about it…and yet God choses us anyway…through Christ, we are forgiven…we are accepted…just as we are.

And then, we share it…but what we learn today is that the way we share it is going to be different all the time. Because the gospel meets us where we are…and if we’re the one sharing it…then the gospel needs to meet the other individual where they are…and not only that…but we also recognize that each and every individual is going to share the gospel in a different way…because God uses them as they are…with the gifts that they possess…with the voice that they’ve been given.

And I remember when that particular lesson hit home for me…I was in my second year preaching class…spring semester 2011…Now by this point, I was no stranger to preaching…I’d been preaching off and on for several years by this point…and while my own style was certainly evident, I’d also picked up a lot of tendencies from other people…and during the critique phase of about my second sermon in that class…my professor pointed it out to me. These odd little phrases like “And so now I’d like to invite you to consider this possibility…”

And she said “Scott…I’ve listened to you talk…you don’t talk like that. What would you actually say?” I thought about it for a moment…Well in regular conversation I’d say “Think about it.” (pause) And she smiled and said “So say it like that in your sermon.” (pause)
The wonderful nature of the gospel is that its personal. Its personal to the person hearing it because it says that God has chosen you…God, loves…you. (pause) And its also personal to the person sharing it because it says “I have seen God do this, now let me share that with you.” (pause)

Sometimes we share the gospel very bluntly…because that’s what people need to hear…sometimes we share it through our actions…how we treat one another…sometimes the gospel sounds like “I don’t know.” Sometimes it sounds like “I’m so sorry.” And sometimes it sounds like Yes Jesus Loves Me.

We might be speaking a different language…and we might be hearing a different language…but praise be to God that the message is always the same. God loves you, and he died to prove it. Amen.

What Are You Known For 8-23-15

In this sermon, based on John 6:56-69, I explore the “hard teaching” of Jesus that causes many of his disciples to turn away. What is this teaching, and why is it so offensive, even at times, to those of us who follow Christ?

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 from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

We all have something that we’re known for…something that people always associate with us…typically, its something from our past…some memorable event or activity that we will be forever tied to…and for those who are familiar with this situation, its never ending.

Granted, I’ve got a lot of these in my history…different situations that define me within different groups and circles….here in town, its probably the fact that I’m a pastor…when I was in seminary, I became known as the guy in the orange hat…my senior year at Iowa State, the entire Horticulture department called me Red because of a certain episode with some hair dye…my group of close friends dating all the way back to Jr High have a multitude of inside jokes that they can pull out at my expense to make me cringe…but in all likelihood, the one that goes back the farthest…the story that has defined me the longest, well it exists in the context of my extended family on my dad’s side.

April of 1988…exactly one week after my 9th birthday…the wedding day of my dad’s youngest sister…and a time when personal video cameras were pretty new…and were unbelievably intriguing to 9 year olds. (pause) After the ceremony was over, the camera operator set up the tripod to record the recession line, as the multitude of guest filed out the sanctuary to greet the wedding party…as is the custom…and low and behold…this little 9 year old spaz case…kept popping up in frame…looking at the camera…turning around to look at the people filing by…turning back around to look at the camera…over and over again. Throughout the course of the entire video…I kept popping into frame…not realizing just how weird it was…nor the lasting effect it would have on my reputation within my extended family.

To this day…people still mock me on that one…anytime there is any sort of event…and there’s a camera present…someone is going to recreate that moment…and everyone laughs…it is…what I am known for. (pause) It is…a vital part of my history.

But isn’t that always the case? And as time marches on…these little aspects of a person’s history really become the defining factor for them…and we have the tendency to gloss over everything else…sometimes in a good way, and sometimes in a bad way.

Think about George Washington…the first president of the United States…remembered fondly…while we forget that he was also a slave-owner and general that nearly starved his own troops to death…Or Henry Ford…father of the American automobile, credited (incorrectly mind you) with pioneering the assembly line…but we forget that he was also a published anti-semite.

This same tendency has carried into how we tend to remember Biblical figures as well…and this has sparked quite a bit of conversation within our current study of The Story as we’ve discussed various Old Testament figures…for instance Abraham…the shining example of faith…was a trickster who tried to pawn off his beloved wife as his sister not just once but twice…and Moses…the great deliverer of the Old Testament…who was also a liar and a murderer who tried his best to weasel out of God’s calling at every turn…or the great king David, an adulterer who was involved with conspiracy to murder.

We find the same thing in the new testament as well, for who can forget Thomas…defined for all time by his doubt…or Peter…ever the one who would deny Christ…or Nathanael who questions anyone that comes out of Nazareth.

But perhaps the one most strongly identified with a single defining moment would have to be…Judas Iscariot…forever known as the one who would betray Jesus…so much so, that within today’s gospel lesson, we find the first introduction to Judas found in John’s Gospel…and we see that he is not even initially called by name…but that he is identified as the one who would betray Jesus…something that he hadn’t even done yet…something that is ultimately motivated by the presence of evil with him…and yet…as we see…it serves as the single defining characteristic that Judas, for all time…will be saddled with…and I find myself wondering…is that fair? (pause)

Is it fair to Judas that history always associates him with betrayal…with the apparent backstabbing that he hands off Jesus’ direction in the closing chapters of the gospel…should that be his one defining moment? Or would it be better for us to lump him in with a different group out of today’s story…that unknown batch of disciples who have been following Jesus…but having sat and listened to this hard teaching…they decide that it’s time to tuck tail and run. (pause)

Because…as we hear…Jesus knew from the start those who would not believe…just as HE knew from the start…that Judas would ultimately be the one to lead the authorities out to the garden…and yet…at the beginning of John chapter 6…in the initial miracle that began this long debate that has raged on throughout the entire chapter…not to mention the past 5 weeks of gospel lessons…when Jesus fed the 5000…guess who was sitting in that crowd…those disciples who turned away…and Judas was sitting there too. (pause)

Now we have the tendency to forget that when John talks about the disciples…its not just the 12 that he’s talking about…in fact…prior to this specific passage…this one point after all those other people turn their backs and walk away…we never even hear about the 12 disciples…they are never set apart…until now…when everyone else has decided that Jesus is asking just a little bit too much of them…that this new teaching is just too much to swallow…its true…up until now…those 12 guys that we tend to put a whole bunch of stock into…they were just a few of a much larger crowd…all of whom…were fed by Jesus…all of whom were in relationship with Jesus…all of whom…at least until now…have liked what Jesus had to say and willingly followed him…willingly found themselves in relationship with him…until now. (pause)
So just what is it about THIS teaching that is SO hard for them? What is it that in the end offends them…makes them lose faith in this man that they’ve been following? (pause)
Is it all the talk of body and blood as food and drink? Maybe…but I kinda don’t think so. In the end, what it seems to be is the truth that is slowly being revealed about the identity of Jesus…that maybe, just maybe this guy really is who he says he is…but if that’s true…and Jesus really is the Son of God…and not just that but that Jesus really is God…well then what does that have to say about the God that they have always known…the God that they were taught about. (pause)

Because what Jesus has to say is going WAY past anything that they can begin to wrap their heads around…way beyond anything that they can justify as being “From God.” First of all…this guy who claims to be God seems to be telling them…not just suggesting it, but flat out instructing them to break their dietary laws…God wouldn’t do that.

And this is the same guy who told them that they needed to treat their neighbors as themselves…even going so far as to naming Samaritans as their neighbors…which might not seem that crazy to us…but it’s the equivalent of telling us that the very people we need to treat as our neighbors includes Muslims….individuals who claim to follow God, but in a radically different way than we do…so different in fact that countless wars have continuously raged through the ages as to who’s right.

This is the guy, who seems to break every single rule that they have held dear throughout the entirety of their lives with the simple goal of being in relationship with the very individuals that those rules state are unacceptable. (pause) Yes Lord…this is a hard teaching…no wonder they walked away.

But remember this…even knowing what we know now…knowing that these individuals would eventually tuck tail and run…even knowing that Judas would eventually betray him…Jesus not only accepts them…but we hear in the verse immediately following today’s passage, Jesus assuring them “Did I not choose you?” (pause)

Jesus willingly choses to be in relationship with those who he knows aren’t going to go the distance…He choses to feed those who will not reciprocate…and in the end…He will even go so far as to wash the feet of this one that will ultimately betray him. (pause)

And while we ponder on that…its also important to remember that even the ones that seemingly got it…even Peter…the very one to make this marvelous statement “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Even these men who have come to believe and know that Jesus is the holy one of God…will eventually abandon him. Peter himself, who makes this faith filled statement, will eventually deny the relationship with Christ…Peter…is also the one to cry out “I DON’T KNOW HIM.” (pause)
What is it about Jesus that causes so many of us…all of us in fact…at one time or another…what is it that causes us to stumble…what is it that offends us so much? Is it, perhaps the notion that salvation is in fact…offered to the entire world…even to those who we deem in the back of our minds as unworthy…as unfaithful…could it be the fact that Jesus invited each and every one of us into relationship with him despite knowing the eventual outcome of that relationship…even knowing that like the disciples we each have those times when we turn and walk away? (pause)

This is a hard teaching…that the relationship between God and us as individuals…ultimately…isn’t up to us…that in the end, its not about what we think of God…but its what God thinks of us…and in our moments of piety…when we forget that its not what God thinks of those that we think are out…and yet God calls them in. (pause)

I can see how the individuals there that day would have been offended by this teaching…that all of the rules don’t matter…that all the checks and balances don’t matter…that all of our accomplishments mean absolutely nothing…and that we are just as dependent upon the invitation as everyone else.

Do you suppose that hearing Jesus make these bold statements was enough to make them question whether or not this is really God talking? Because in the end, that’s what sin is here in John’s gospel…not believing that Jesus is in fact, who he says he is…whether that meets us with our expectations or not.

This is why Jesus asks them if they are offended…if it makes them stumble…or as the actual translation stated “Does this cause you to stop believing?” (pause)

The gospel is hard…not because we have to do anything to accomplish it…but precisely because the gospel is without prejudice…and no matter what rules we try to apply to who’s got it and who doesn’t God ultimately doesn’t really care about our rules…and God will NOT be hindered by them. God will invite whoever God choses to be in relationship…and the only thing that we can do about it is recognize it…and then we need to be grateful…because to truly hear the gospel is to recognize our own need for it…

To recognize that yes…I am sinful…to recognize that no, there is nothing that I can do about it…and even though humanity might define me by the horrible things in my life…the sin that resides right here…the sinful things that I have done…and then finally to realize that the arms of Jesus are opened to me anyway…and that he accepts me, not as I would like to be or hope to be…not as someone else thinks I need to be…but simply that Jesus accepts me as I am, right here, right now…and there is no power on Earth that can change that.

My past doesn’t define me…not the mistakes I’ve made…not the triumphs I’ve accomplished…not the red hair in college, or the orange hat in seminary…not the old video of me bouncing up and down at my aunt’s wedding. I am defined by how God see’s me…as his beloved child.

And the beauty of the gospel…is that this is true for all of us…YOU…are a beloved child of God…and for all eternity, THAT is what you are known for. Amen.

I Have Come For the Food 8-16-15

In this sermon, based on John 6:51-58, I explore what Jesus is really talking about when he talks about his body and blood being real food and drink. I also discuss how this life changing reality of Christ finds us where we are.

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 from God our Father and Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

So after having been gone on vacation for the past two weeks, I’ve been finding myself in the odd mode of trying to get back into the normal swing of things. Setting alarms, time in the office, household chores…lot of things of that nature.

Additionally, with summer winding down and the school year looming, I’ve been noticing some things here in town that are a little out of the ordinary…like bumping into Jr and Senior High cross country runners when I’m out for my morning jog…or hearing the wonderful sounds of marching band camp drifting down the hill from the high school.

But perhaps the strangest adjustment that I’ve been dealing with the past 7 days since we got home has been the feeling of being hungry. (pause) As per usual, during the second half of our family vacation this year we were at family camp at Rainbow Trail Lutheran Bible Camp in the mountains of Southern Colorado…and among the multitude of wonderful aspects that we experience while we are on the mountain, there are two that really stand out. The first is the overabundance of amazing views. Mountains, valleys, amazingly colorful sunrises, blazing starfilled night skies…the views are endless…and admittedly I can’t do them justice by just talking about them…but one blessing has been the fact that Jay and Linda Ackland visited Rainbow Trail about a week before we got there so they could see their granddaughter who is on the summer staff…and so at least two other people here at Underwood have now seen what we see every year…and we can sit and talk about it together.

Now the second amazing aspect of family camp at Rainbow, is an overabundance of amazing food….and when I say overabundance, I mean it…You don’t have time to get hungry. Breakfast 8am…a huge spread…then there’s snacks at 10:15, typically a mixture of fruit along with cookies or other assorted baked goodness. Next is lunch at noon…afternoon snacks available in the camp store…supper comes up at 6…and the evening is capped off with various goodies that show up during whatever camp activity is happening that day…oh not to mention chips and salsa in the main lodge for the adults once the kiddos are tucked into bed.

You eat all day…and you don’t have to think about it…it just shows up…but then we got home, and I got back into my normal routine where breakfast typically consists of a cup of coffee…and so each and every day this week, as lunch time approaches, my stomach has been rumbling…and admittedly its been a little disconcerting for me.

I was thinking about that very thing late morning on Friday as I was starting to work on this message, and then I remembered a brief snippet from a wonderful movie…A Muppet Christmas Carol…when Gonzo reports “I have come to tell a story.” Immediately followed up by Rizzo the Rat reporting “And I have come for the food.” (pause) And that, my friends, is where my brain finally managed to enter into the gospel story for today.

If you’ve noticed, we’ve been stuck in John chapter 6 for several weeks now. The lectionary takes this time in late summer to fill out the shorter aspect of Mark’s gospel with 5 consecutive weeks in John 6…allowing us the continued opportunity to try and make heads or tails of just what Jesus is accomplishing when he feeds the 5000 with the loaves and fish…and then proceeds to spend the entire rest of a rather lengthy chapter continuing to talk about it…a chapter known in the scholarly circles as the bread of life discourse…essentially, as is common in John’s gospel…Jesus performs a miracle…and then he talks about it at great length…and just as we struggle to wrap our minds around just what is going on…often times we find that the people who witnessed the miracles…those sitting there listening to Jesus explain himself…well they struggle just as much as we do. (pause)
Now as per usual…when Jesus does something miraculous…it tends to attract a crowd and this one is of course, no different…as the great crowds of people continue to follow Jesus around throughout the entirety of John 6…and they continue to hound Jesus wherever he ends up…until at one seemingly exasperated moment He barks at them “You aren’t looking for me because of a miracle…you’re hanging around because you ate your fill…you ate of the abundance that I provided.” Might as well be Rizzo the Rat as Jesus calls them out “You are just here for the food.” (pause)

And now here’s the thing. Food…its wonderful…one of my favorite things in day to day life…but…every time we eat…we end up hungry again don’t we? We need that sustenance…we eat…our bodies go through the amazing process of turning that food into energy to fuel our daily activities…but then it runs out and we need more. Its an amazing and wonderful thing…but its doomed to repeat itself day after day.

And Jesus’ words today point out that fact…You’re ancestors ate bread in the wilderness…and they…died. (pause) Now Jesus isn’t saying that this is a bad thing…only that the things of this world, including the food that we eat and drink…is fleeting…its not lasting. (pause)

But…in the midst of this entire chapter, as well as this small portion that we are sharing today…Jesus reminds us of the amazing notion that God is offering us so much more…if we can simply get out of our way to realize it. (pause)
I am the LIVING bread that has come down from heaven…eat the bread that I give and live forever…Eat my flesh and drink my blood…for they are real food and real drink. (long pause)

Now what’s the first thing that pops to mind here? I’m going to venture a guess that hearing that takes your mind directly to…wait for it…Holy Communion…and that’s understandable…here in the Lutheran tradition we take the sacraments pretty seriously…and one could certainly argue that communion seems to be the more important of the two…as we do it a whole lot more often over the course of our lives.

We do it often enough that I’m guessing many of you sitting out there can probably recite the whole deal from memory…I remember my younger days of sitting in church, typically beside a friend of mine who was the son of the pastor at the time, and we would both recite the vast majority of the Sunday morning liturgy under our breath right along with the pastor…perhaps some of you do the same…including the well-known words “This is my body broken for you…and this is the new covenant in my blood shed for all people…”

In fact, perhaps we hear it so often that we’ve grown immune to the life-altering reality that is present within Holy Communion…a life altering reality that Jesus tells about today when he says that if you eat my flesh and drink my blood you will have life eternal…something that those present today can’t seem to wrap their heads around…something that seems just a little too drastic for them to accept…something that is just too far out of the box. Eat his flesh, drink his blood…BY NO MEANS…for that would be breaking the Jewish dietary laws…and likewise for us today, the notion of cannibalism is just a little too out there…and perhaps we’ve shunted that very notion to the back of our minds when we receive the bread and wine…and sure, those words of institution are wonderful…but by the time we receive our portion, its only bread and wine. (pause)

But that’s not what Jesus tells us today is it? (pause) My flesh is REAL food…and my blood is REAL drink…and in perhaps the most important statement that Jesus makes throughout this entire chapter…the bread that I give for the life of the world is…my…flesh…not body…flesh. (pause)
And when I thought about that specific statement I couldn’t help but remember what is admittedly my favorite passage in the entire Bible…And the word became FLESH…and dwelled among us. (long pause)

The bread that Jesus gives us…this real food…it is the physical embodiment of God…the word of God…the will of God…whatever you want to call it…that aspect of God that was present within the creation of the world has entered into our reality…as one of us…and God has done this for a specific reason…to give us life beyond anything that we can achieve on our own…

Think about that again…the sustainer and author and creator of the entire universe and everything in it…the creator of life as we know it and all that is lifegiving has put on flesh and dwelled among us…and why? So that we might dwell…so that we might ABIDE right along with him. (pause)

Now here’s the kicker…within the other three gospels…we hear communion type language at the last supper…and as such we tend to connect it to the death of Jesus…to the crucifixion…and there’s nothing wrong with that…our communion liturgy support it when we talk about Jesus body being broken and his blood poured out.

But here in John…you’ll notice that this all happens in the midst of Jesus’ life…in the midst of his ministry…we aren’t even half way through yet…and his death isn’t even on the radar screen yet. (pause)

Jesus came into our reality…the LIVING bread…the LIVING Lord…He came to show us that we have a God who is invested in us…right here…right now…and though we tend to talk a lot about the resurrection…and we tend to focus on the life that is to come in some unknown future after God claims us back from the power of death…it is also vital to note that our LIVING Lord desires us to abide in him right here…right now…and as such he promises us that by doing so…by being in relationship…by receiving that which he has offered us this relationship will not end, but will go on into eternity.

That’s what is happening when we receive that bread and that wine…and we hear those words that this IS the body of Christ…and this IS the blood of Christ…and so today, in just a few minutes when you hear those words spoken to you as an individual, remember that it is FOR you. (pause) Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that life altering? (pause) That we have a God who loves us so much that he will enter into our flawed, weird…strange reality just to be with us?

Imagine how the people there would have taken this…and maybe that’s not so hard…because this same earth shattering reality is true for us today…and even though the crowds were following Jesus around because they got some bread and they wanted some more…maybe, just maybe, their motivation for coming doesn’t really matter…and maybe ours doesn’t either.

Maybe…just coming for the food is enough…because it doesn’t matter why or how we come…what really matters…is how we leave? (pause) And we leave this table…each and every time…assured of the promise that God loves us…and God accepts us…and that God desires that we spend eternity with him…so much that he will do that which we cannot do ourselves….so much that through Christ…he’ll make coming back from death possible…and not only possible…but he’ll make it a reality.

So in the end…I think its safe to say that whatever brought you here today…whatever motivation caused you to get out of bed and mosey through the parking lot to come inside and sit down…whatever it is…I want you to know that it doesn’t matter…good, bad, otherwise…because whatever our intentions they’re never good enough, because sooner or later we’re gonna screw them up anyway…but praise be to God that he can…and does…take our messes, and turns them into miracles…and He does it whether we understand it or not. (pause)
And whether we understand it or not…it doesn’t diminish the truth that this IS his body…and this IS his blood…and it IS…for you. Amen.

Pay No Attention 7-26-15

In this sermon, based on John 6:1-21, I explore two of Jesus well known miracles; the feeding of the 5000 and walking on water. I then explore the common notion of trying to explain them away and why we should never underestimate the power of God.

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 from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Most of you probably know that I’m a lover of movies…and I really have been since a pretty early age. I can tell you that the first movie I saw in the theater was Lady and the Tramp…and one of the earliest movies that I watched repeatedly was The Wizard of Oz…that 1939 classic which features a bunch of great quotes like “There’s no place like home” and “I’ll get you my pretty” and “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

I was think about that last line quite a bit the other day…and how the line was intended to serve as misdirection so the 4 main characters wouldn’t realize the truth behind the illusion…that the wizard was just some guy with a projector and really loud speakers.

But that’s the thing about illusions isn’t it? All questions of misdirection and wonder aside…in our present time we no longer have magicians…we have masters of illusion…which speaks to the truth of the situation…that there’s nothing overly supernatural happening…but rather a trick…something done that only appears to be magical. (pause)

Now undoubtedly, when we are young, we still believe in the magic when we see it…but at a certain point as we grow up…the reality sets in and we accept that there’s a trick to it. But honestly…when we know the trick…isn’t it a little bit of a let-down? (pause)

I remember sitting in art class when I was about a freshman or sophomore in high school…and the art teacher was showing us various card tricks…and one in particular…it was the usual trick of being able to take a card out of the deck, put it back in, then cut the cards and still be able to find the right card…and as the teacher continued to show us this trick over and over again…one by one the various students figured out the trick…except me.

I could not get it…no matter how hard I tried and how many times he’d give me a pretty major hint, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that if you already know what the bottom card is, then when the deck is cut, that bottom card will now be sitting on top of the right card…(pause then with flourish) ABRA CADABRA!!!

But finally I got it…finally I realized what he was showing me…and from that moment on…the trick just wasn’t as cool anymore. I don’t know why…but maybe we just like being fooled…maybe deep down we don’t really want to know the secret, because that removes the mystery…it takes away from the effect…it takes away the fun. (pause)
But isn’t that telling of the world that we live in these days? Truly we live in a society that loves to explain…everything. Advances in science and technology and understanding…it seems like we have done a pretty excellent job of explaining away the mystery of just about everything…and if we bump into a situation where we can’t definitively figure out what’s going on, then we’ll make our best hypothesis…we’ll present the most promising theory as a means explaining that which we can’t quite grasp.

I was thinking a lot about that tendency this week as I approached our gospel lesson…which as you heard a moment ago includes 2 different stories…both likely familiar…as Jesus feeds the crowd of 5000 people with a few loaves and fish…and then a little while later as he takes a hike across the surface of the water to get to the boat carrying his disciples.

2 amazing situations…2 moments that defy everything that we think can or should happen…2 experiences that can only be described as…miraculous…and here’s the thing…as I was working with the text of these two stories…I was quite surprised to read…in Biblical commentaries mind you…possible physical explanations for both miracles…or signs as John likes to call them.

First off, the feeding of the 5,000…the only miracle to be found in all 4 gospels mind you…when the disciples and Jesus face the immense need to provide food for this enormous crowd who have followed them out into the middle of nowhere…and all they have available is 5 loaves of barley…and 2 fish…and somehow…some way Jesus manages to provide enough for everyone to be satisfied, and then they pick up 12 baskets full of left over scraps.

Within the context of this story…two possible explanations were offered as to just how Jesus managed to pull off this amazing feat. First off that the tiny amount of food was used to give each and every person a tiny morsel…nowhere close to a mouthful…but because it had been given to them freely they were fulfilled or satisfied in the “spiritual” sense. (pause) Interesting theory…though if you listen to the language of the text and hear that everyone ate as much as they wanted, that seems to shoot a hole in this first theory…and so onto the second. (pause)
The second possibility…that once the small boy brought out his 5 loaves and 2 fish to willingly share…then everyone else was moved to share what they had…and in the first ever Lutheran Potluck supper…many different sources of food were shared in order to feed everyone…thus resulting in the 12 baskets of left overs…nothing miraculous…just inspiring…which sounds an awful lot like the story of Stone Soup…if you happen to be familiar. (pause) 2 different explanations…plausible? Perhaps…but miraculous? Well, not so much. (pause)

And so now…what about the second story of Jesus walking on the water…we find that the first story feeds directly into the second…as Jesus works to send the people away, the disciples head off in a boat to cross the sea…something that we hear of them doing a lot in scripture…and as the night passes…and the wind and waves pick up…we hear that the disciples have traveled a few miles, but that they are struggling against the oars…until Jesus comes walking out to them. (pause)
And once again…the commentaries attempted to explain it away…citing ambiguity in the Greek translation…that perhaps the disciples had been traveling along the shoreline…and that Jesus was approaching them from the shore line…or that he was walking IN the water…rather than ON the water…and that this explains why the instant he joins them at the boat they happen to arrive at their destination. (pause)

Now…is all this possible? (pause) Certainly…I wasn’t there…so who am I to say that these theories of explanation aren’t accurate…but if they are…and the miracles of Jesus can simply be explained away…then I pose the question…are they really miracles? (pause) Are they really signs performed by God to display His power…are they signs performed by God so that living breathing people can witness the power of God present here within our reality? (pause) Are they signs performed and then written down so that we as readers may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah…the Son of God, and that through believing we may have life in his name? (pause)

I don’t know about you…but honestly…I don’t want to know how Jesus pulled off feeding that crowd…because I’m afraid that if I witness the power of God at work, its going to be more than I can handle…because I believe that God is more than I can handle…at least now in this limited, frail human existence that I am living. And in all honesty…when I encounter an individual who wants to explain away the power of God, then I fear that I’m encountering an individual who’s sole purpose, whether they realize it or not…is to bring God under control. Because if we can explain how God does a miracle then we can stop it…and if we can stop it then we can control it…and if we can control it then maybe this work of salvation that Christ is up to in the world…this work of reconciliation between God and humanity…between God and Me…if we can control it…then I guess we don’t really need God do we…and perhaps what the atheists continue to profess is true…that we have this life and that’s it. (pause)

Well I don’t know about you…but I don’t buy it…because I have seen things in this life that point me towards a power that is bigger than me…a love in this world that is far greater than any unselfish grace filled love that I am capable of sharing…and I have stood in hospital rooms watching individuals literally breathe their final breaths and to see the look of joy and peace on their faces or to hear words describing what they are seeing as they cross from one existence into the next has left me with little doubt that there is more out there than what we are currently experiencing…and that there is power out there that is bigger than we can control or explain away. (pause)

Now does that mean that faith has given us all the answers? Of course not…and acknowledging that is to be honest about just what faith is…believing what is promised even without having physical evidence to support it…that’s faith. (pause)

And while I am saying all this perhaps you are asking the question of just what we are called to have faith in…and that’s a valid question…and as I think about it, I think this is why John chose to include the brief portion of today’s story about Jesus walking ON the water…because the rest of John chapter 6 is tied to the feeding of the 5000…first the miracle itself…and then Jesus teaching about it…talking about it…butting heads with people over it…and so why is this unneeded…seemingly unrelated snippet of a story included? Well…because Jesus reminds us…in this moment…just who he is. Many of you have heard me talk about John’s gospel and Jesus’ tendency to call himself I am…the name of God given to Moses…and you know what…John chapter 5 talks about Moses…and so does a lot of chapter 6…and in the midst of walking on water, Jesus doesn’t say It is I? He says in Greek…ego emi…translated literally I am.

Who is it that can take 5 loaves and 2 fish and feed 5000 in abundance…with an abundance left over? I Am. Who is it that can defy the laws of physics and walk on water? I am…Who is it that is willing to enter into our reality and die so that we might be with him? I am….that’s who.

And so, the next time you encounter someone who wants to explain away the miracle, whether its one recorded in the Bible…or a miracle that you witness within your own life, just remember…that whether we believe it or not…God’s power is not limited to our feeble explanations…and I don’t know about you…but I for one…am grateful that its not just some trick…that where God is concerned…there’s no man behind the curtain that we need to ignore…because through Jesus…we have a God who’s power is out here in the open for all to see. Amen.

What I Need or What I Want 7-19-15

In this sermon I explore Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 as Jesus meets the needs of various individuals. Within the sermon I explore how our wants don’t always match up to our needs.

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 from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Last weekend, Emily and I, along with my older brother and sister and their respective spouses engaged in a tradition going back a few years that we have joking named “Wino weekend.” We travel around an area, making four or five stops at various wineries where we sample their wares…and purchase a bottle or two before packing up and heading off to the next one.

We’ve done this in a few different general locations, and this time around we hit 4 of our local wineries here in the SW portion of the state. 1 was amazing…2 were pretty great…and the final one…which will remain nameless…well from the moment we drove into the parking lot…it was a little lacking.

It didn’t get much better as we went inside to sample what they had…but the most memorable part of that single location was when my brother asked for one variety…only to have the gentleman behind the counter reply with “Umm…I’m gonna go ahead and recommend that you…not…try that one.” We were all a little dumbfounded…but once the guy explained his reasoning…we understood. (pause)
Has that sort of thing ever happened to you before? As I think about it…I think I’ve bumped into this sort of thing the most when I’m in a restaurant of some sort…and the server takes it upon themselves to make a suggestion…they make a recommendation based on their opinion.

Now this same sort of thing actually just happened to me on Friday at lunch time…I was sitting in my office, as I usually do, working on the sermon…and it got to be lunchtime…and so being too lazy to walk across the parking lot and attempt to scrounge up something to eat…I hopped in my car and buzzed out to Subway…and once I made my request, I got the normal question of “So would you like that toasted?” And as I almost always do…I responded by saying no, I didn’t want it toasted…and then the girl behind the counter just sorta gave me this look…and then she responded “Well sir…when you get flatbread…we ALWAYS recommend that you get it toasted.” (pause) My response…well, okay…go ahead…which she did…and then she finished my sandwich, I paid for it and walked out the door to the car. And as I was driving back into town the thought went through my head “Now that was pretty smug…how does she know the proper way that I like my sandwich? What makes her think she knows best what I want, or what I need? (pause)

Ever fall into that trap? Ever found yourself questioning the motives of another person, who may or may not really be looking out for your best interests when they make a suggestion…when they make a recommendation…or when they simply seek to do what they consider to be the best way of serving you? (pause)
There’s a similar situation going on in today’s gospel lesson…as Jesus takes on the role of this proverbial waiter…making recommendations for what people should or should not being trying. (pause)
To set the scene…our lesson today opens up with the disciples returning to the complete group along with Jesus following the unknown period of time that they engaged in the two by two mission…which you may recall was featured in our text from a couple weeks back…They’ve been out actively doing the ministry…proclaiming the gospel…performing miraculous healings and exorcisms…all in the name of Jesus.

And because of this work…this ministry that’s been going on for a while now, both through the disciples as well as with Jesus specifically…word is getting around…again, we’ve been seeing evidence of this throughout our various gospel lessons for quite a while now…and because of the incredible popularity of what Jesus and the disciples have been up to…the crowds are flocking. It would seem that Jesus has the makings of a pretty good mega-church at this point…and here today, we see that this trend continues…because as the disciples come back together into the complete group…the crowds are pressing in on them…hounding them…constantly coming and going keeping them so busy that they don’t even have time to eat.

And Jesus recognizes the toll that this seems to be taking on the disciples…and so he makes a recommendation…Come away to a deserted place…all by yourselves…so that YOU may rest for a while.” And the disciples must like this idea as they all hop in a boat and strike out across the sea…and yet, the crowds see them heading off…and apparently they must have listed their travel plans because the crowds seem to know exactly where to find them…and promptly beat them there.

And so we see as the boat lands and everyone hops out…there are great crowds…yet again…so much for the disciples vacation time right? (pause) But as Jesus looks out upon these crowds, we hear his compassion for them…for he recognizes that they are like sheep with a shepherd…milling around…lacking direction…seemingly with no idea what to do with themselves. (pause) And once again…seeing a need…Jesus meets it…but what does he do? (pause) He taught them…Jesus seemingly sits down for a theological lecture…maybe its Sunday and he’s leading and adult forum…who knows…but the need that Jesus meets this time around…is the need for learning…and we don’t know exactly what he’s teaching them…Mark doesn’t give us that detail but given his track record…he’s likely teaching them about the kingdom of God. (pause)

Now at this point in the story…we jump ahead…we fast forward about 20 verses…which I can understand from a “length of the gospel lesson” standpoint…but by doing so…we also miss out on a couple of really important stories…and we miss a couple more opportunities for Jesus to meet the needs of the people.

The first of these two stories is the feeding of the 5000…a well known story that involves this very crowd that Jesus is teaching…for after a full day of teaching…its late and the people are hungry…and Jesus…miraculously takes care of this physical need…and then…after this amazing thing has happened…Jesus puts the disciples in the boat once more and sends them out, while he stays behind…And as the disciples are crossing the water…another storm comes up…and Jesus, seeing that they need some help…doesn’t let this little thing like water stop him, and he walks out to them…and calms the winds so that they are able to safely cross the water.
2 important stories…2 more times when Jesus recognizes the true needs of the people and meets it. (pause) And then from there we move into the last half of today’s lesson…as yet again…the crowds gather where Jesus is…and not just once…but we hear that where ever he goes, the people rush around the countryside…finding those that are sick and in need of healing…and they carry them to wherever Jesus is supposed to be…all of them having heard the story that Jesus can heal you if you only touch the edge of his cloak…and it happens over and over again.

But as I was thinking about this smattering of stories…and the crowds that always seem to flock around Jesus…I’ve found myself questioning their motives…Why are they there? Why do they flock to him? (pause) Just what do they hope to get out it? What benefit?

Are they there because of what he is teaching? Perhaps…we tend to hear mixed responses to his teaching though…sometimes people appreciate it…other times it is difficult and drives them away. Are others there for a blessing…or for a healing? Do they desire to be in the presence of God…or are they just there to beat a disease and then they’ll go on their merry way? (pause)
I’m not sure just why I found myself asking those questions this week…because it really seems like Jesus genuinely cares about the people…all the people regardless of who they are or what their story is…but admittedly…in situations like this I’m often cynical…questioning the motives of people…and wondering if they really know what it is that they are looking for…wondering if they really know what they truly need. (pause)
Perhaps this is telling of the state that we find the world in these days…and the place that all too often God get’s demoted to…Ok God…things are pretty good at the moment so you just sit up there on the shelf until I need something…and we go our own way…until something goes wrong and we need some magical Jesus powers to solve it for us. (pause) Ever been guilty of that? Ever found your prayer life to be centered around that which we think is the right answer…what we think, is what we need?

And I wonder…how often are we really right about that? How often do we actually know what we need? And I wonder, how often do we place things in the hands of the Lord to provide that which we actually need, even if its not what we want.
Because truly, there are times when the answer that God provides doesn’t feel like the best answer. Sometimes we ask God for healing for an individual…and the outcome is death…Sometimes we ask God for help with our finances only to open up the mail and find yet another unexpected bill…sometimes we ask for a healing of a breach in a relationship only to have it end.

And in those times, perhaps we are asking the question of whether or not God really has our best interests in mind…and we wonder if God has made these things happen…or if not, why God will just sit back and let this broken reality continue to smack us in the face. (pause)

That’s a hard place to be…it’s a hard place to find ourselves in and typically when we’re there the last thing that we want to hear or admit to ourselves is that these hardships and strange turn of events might just be the best thing for us in the long run. (pause)
But now as I say that, please don’t think that I’m trying to say that suffering is good…and that God makes it happen for a reason…because that’s not what I’m saying…all I am saying is that this is a part of our broken reality…this is part of our flawed world…and I think the first being to mourn this broken reality is God…who walks alongside us through these times whether we recognize his presence or not. (pause)
And so as I’ve thought about all these things through the week I began to ask the question…just what do we need from God? Not what we want or would like to have happen…but what do we need?

I think this is a question that we should also stop and ask ourselves…what do I need from God…that maybe…just maybe God is already providing and I’m taking it for granted. (pause)

Take a big deep breath…everyone, do it now…feels good doesn’t it? Who do you think designed your body to be able to do that? (pause)
Take a look around at one another…whether you realize it or not, you are in relationship in one way or another, with every single individual that you are looking at right now…and this is made possible because we were made in the image of a God that already existed in relationship. (pause)
There were two more things that occurred to me as things that I need from God…because I recognize that I cannot provide them for myself…and both of these things are a part of our worship service each and every week. The announcement that through the power and authority of Jesus Christ, ALL my sins are forgiven…and then the announcement God will bless you and keep you…even if I don’t quite get just what that’s gonna look like.

There are times when the service that is “recommended” for us seems like the very last thing that we want or need…that’s what I thought as I drove home with my freshly toasted Subway sandwich on Friday…but then I got home, and unwrapped that sandwich, and took my first bite…and DARN IT…wouldn’t you know it…it tasted pretty darn good…I guess the girl behind the counter knew what she was doing after all didn’t she?

And maybe, just maybe…God knows what he’s doing too. Amen.

That Reminds Me 7-12-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 6:14-29, I explore the rather odd story of the death of John the Baptist, recounted in Mark’s gospel through a flashback. This odd and almost brutal account highlights the power of misunderstanding, and yet reveals an important nugget of truth.

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 from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Over the course of this past week, our congregation hosted VBS, a wonderful summer tradition…and from 9am-2pm, Monday through Thursday, the church was buzzing…all kinds of stuff going on. The younger kids laughing and playing…older kids serving as helpers…all sorts of volunteers here to help out in different ways…it was wonderful.

And as I freely admit to having the gift of gab, a great deal of this week, I was not…sitting in my office…rather, I was moving around the church, engaging various people in conversations…and these conversations covered a wide variety of different topics…and not only varying from person to person…but in certain situations…the topics jumped all over the place within single conversations with single individuals.

And you know what…I absolutely love that sort of thing…those unplanned interactions…those unexpected tangents that conversations can take. (Pause) Now certainly, this sort of thing happens all of the time, but I’ve often noticed that it will happen much more frequently when I’m in conversation with another person that I really get along with well…one thing idea leads to another…one discussion jumps into a different discussion…one story sparks off another story…and it seems like these tangents are always introduced with the phrase “OH…THAT REMINDS ME…”

Ever found yourself in a conversation like that…one that keeps jumping around because one thought leads to the next…and the next thing you know a whole bunch of time has passed as the two of you sit there just sharing stories…sometimes these are stories that you experienced on your own…other times, depending on the individual…maybe they’re stories that you were both a part of…and you find yourself simply reliving those times together…bonding over that shared experience…and whether you realize it or not…strengthening your relationship through the power of story. (pause)
Now perhaps it comes as no great shock to you that I absolutely love this sort of thing…I love sharing stories…I love hearing stories and learning about one another through hearing them…and I ABSOLUTELY… love finding myself in the midst of a conversation that is filled with “OH…THAT REMINDS ME…”

But now here’s the thing…there are times when these stories…that are almost interruptions within a conversation…can take us to some really odd experiences…not necessarily bad…not necessarily good either…just odd…those times when a story comes out of nowhere…and really doesn’t seem to have much to do with anything you’ve been talking about. They can be fun…they can enlightening…but they can also be really confusing.

And that…is where today’s story comes in…Because today’s story…is one of those odd…confusing situations…one of those stories…that seems to come out of nowhere. (pause) Now before I really dive in today…let me set the scene for you…and keep in mind that this story occurs in the midst of Mark’s gospel…which as you may recall is a story where the author is telling us the Good News…of Jesus Christ…the son of God…and in the middle of this story…Mark…goes on one heck of a tangent. (pause)

Now right before this passage…before this story…we hear that Jesus has sent the disciples out 2 by 2 into the countryside…they head out to proclaim the gospel…to heal diseases…to cast out demons…in short…Jesus sends them out to do the very same stuff that he’s already been doing…and then…right after today’s story…we hear that once this mission is done…the disciples and Jesus all come back together and talk about what they’ve been up to.

In short…if we skipped today’s passage…the story would continue on with no interruption…it would flow along in a perfectly acceptable way…and it would make perfect sense…And yet…right in the midst…Mark seems to go “OH…NOW THAT REMINDS ME.” (pause) and we are treated with a story…with a quite detailed anecdote…regarding the death of John the Baptist. (pause)

Because at first glance…this has nothing to do with where we’re at in the gospel itself. We’re in the midst of Jesus’ ministry…we’re smack dab in the middle of the disciple’s first test as proclaimers of the gospel…and now we hear this…Herod…one of the powers that be in the area…has, flexed his muscles…in the past mind you…and arrest John simply because John pointed out the fact…that Herod’s been breaking the rules by marrying his brother’s wife. Come on Herod…you know better…that’s a no-no.

And Herod responds…seemingly because his sister in law turned wife gets a little cranky about…I guess Herod believes in that old notion of happy wife-happy life…but knowing full well that John’s got a pretty substantial backing from many people…and he’s got a good reputation…Herod locks him up in jail…but up to this point has been protecting him…that is until an odd situation occurs with his step daughter, herself in the midst of a situation she really shouldn’t be in…and now Herod’s wife takes full advantage of a momentary slip up from her husband…to get John killed…bring me the head of John the Baptist…on a platter…a lovely mealtime site I’m sure….and now Herod…needing to save face…because all his cronies heard him make the promise…has to go through with it…and so John ends up substantially shorter in stature.

And I’ll pose the question one more time…what on earth does this have to do with the gospel? (pause) Certainly this is a crazy situation that we find ourselves in. Mark, tell this story…which is literally a flashback…this all happened quite a while before Jesus’ started garnering a following…and not only that…but John’s story is really over by this point…he had served his purpose as the herald of the coming Messiah…so why do we need to hear about his, rather pointless death…at this point? (pause)
After pondering on this question for quite awhile…I did start see the connection…or at least to recognize what it was that made Mark go “OH…THAT REMINDS ME.” And here it is…as the disciples are out on their two by two mission, word is spreading…people are talking…they’re talking about Jesus…they’re talking about the disciples that are doing miraculous things in his name…word, is getting around…and it even reaches into the palace…arriving in the ears of Herod.

And Herod, of course, starts asking questions as well…Who is this guy? We need to check him out…because Herod has people that he answers to as well…and in this case it’s the Romans who might just take issue with anyone out there in the public developing a following…you see the Romans don’t like it when too many people start banding together behind someone other than them…that’s how uprisings get started…and so if they catch wind of this type of thing, they’ll crack down on their appointed authorities, which as you might have gathered…includes Herod.

And so everyone is asking the question…who is this guy? It seems to be the big conversation of the day…Some say its Elijah…other’s a prophet…and it makes sense that people would say this…it was part of their religious understanding that God would raise up prophets once again…but when Herod heard it…he could only think…Its John…He’s back…I had him killed…but…he’s back. (pause)

Now to us that might seem like a strange conclusion to come to…After all, Herod knows that John is dead…he ordered it…he saw John’s severed head served up on a platter…perhaps with a fine wine along side…and as everyone knows…when you’re dead, you’re dead…that’s it. Want someone silenced? Kill ‘em…because dead men tell no tails. Pirates know it…mobsters know it…the Romans knew it…and you better believe that Herod knew it to.

But yet, that’s the conclusion that Herod reaches…this odd man traveling around…preaching a new gospel…curing the sick, casting out demons…it must be John raised from the dead and that is where these powers are coming from. (pause)
Now I don’t know about you…but I hear this statement from Herod…and doesn’t it seem sorta foolish? All thoughts of Jesus and resurrection aside…why would Herod come up with something like this….He was dead but now he’s alive again and that’s why he can do this…Herod might as well be accusing him of witchcraft and having him burned at the stake…because he seems to be explaining this away with magic…with mystical powers only brought on through the power of death…

And yet…if we think about it…maybe there would have been some evidence to support this idea. Because as Jesus has been traveling around…performing miracles…one of the things he’s done…already by this point…is raise people from the dead. We heard about just a couple weeks ago when Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus…there’s another story when Jesus happens upon a funeral in the village of Nain and out of pity for the widow, he raises her son from the dead…later on he would visit the home of Lazurus…who’d been dead in the tomb pushing a week, and Jesus raised him too. (pause)
And I’m betting those stories had reached the ears of Herod as well…and you know what…that’s pretty major…Because as we all know…once you’re dead, you’re dead…but all of the sudden, that’s out the window. (pause) If people won’t stay dead, then the rules don’t apply anymore. (pause) If people won’t stay dead, then we can’t count on anything to stay the way its “supposed to. (Pause) If people won’t stay dead…well then who know what might happen next.

And the thing that really caught my attention as I was thinking about all this…is that Herod, despite making a claim that we all know is pretty foolish…despite making a claim that makes no sense, and is something that maybe we want to laugh off as foolishness…Herod…actually has a grain of truth in the midst of his doorknob statement.

Herod claims that through resurrection, these powers…these miracles…are possible…and while he misidentifies Jesus as the resurrected John, he’s correct in saying that the power that makes resurrection possible is responsible for all this. Because Jesus carries the power of God…Jesus carries the power to heal…the power to cast out demons…the power over death…a power that he would later showcase when God raised HIM from the grave.

And that my friends…is something to stop and consider…because if people won’t stay dead because of the power of God…well then all bets are off…and who knows just what God might do.

Maybe God choses to act within some stressful situation, eliminating or reducing the negative effect…maybe God choses to heal a horrible disease…maybe God choses to soften the heart of someone that we had written off…who know what God will do? (pause) I can’t speak for what God will chose to do in your lives…I can only look back and see God’s fingerprints in my experience…but I sure love those times when I get to sit down and listen to you share what God has done in yours. (pause)

Sometimes we can see these experiences…these God moments pretty clearly…other times our eyes are clouded to it. Herod didn’t quite understand just what was going on in today’s story…and likewise we don’t always understand either…and that’s okay, tough at times, but okay in the long run…because in the long run, the one who carries the power over death has promised us that one day, we will join with him in the resurrection…whether it makes sense or not…because that…is what God is up to, even when we’re not paying attention.

That’s the gospel…that’s the good news…oh…and that reminds me…the gospel, its for you. Amen.

Maybe We Should Just Wipe the Dust Off 7-5-15

In this sermon I explore Mark 6:1-13. Jesus is rejected in his hometown and then sends out the disciples two by two. I also explore the reality of opposition to not only the gospel, but its presence in general within our society.

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 from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

2 years ago…to the day…and almost to the exact minute…I drove into Underwood with the moving truck…we pulled up into the driveway at the parsonage and with a lot of help from congregational members, we unloaded to start our new life, and join together with you in the ministry here at Underwood Lutheran.

Its hard to believe that its been 2 years already. On one hand, two years sounds like a long time…but in reality, its not that long…not if you compare it with another celebration that’s going on this weekend. Independence Day…as the United States of America has now turned 239.

239 years…pushing two and a half centuries…and to us…that seems like an awfully long time doesn’t it? But, if we compare the longevity of our nation’s history with that of some of our European nations…America is pretty much a spritely teenager…wet behind the ears…and just getting started.

The various nations in Europe began emerging as the Roman Empire dwindled away…some as early as England back in the 10th Century…others over the course of the next 4 or 5 centuries…culminating right about the time that this random German monk got ticked off a the church at nailed 95 theses on the door of the chapel at the University of Wittenburg…sparking off what history has come to know as the Reformation. (pause)
Now with all this talk of history, perhaps we should switch gears to think about the history of the church itself…something that started round about 2000 years back with a Jewish carpenter turned traveling rabbi…and his rag tag cohort of 12 random ragamuffins…and throughout the years since then, history has watched this movement grow and expand…and throughout history, we have seen a cycle…that about every 500 years or so…something pretty major happens…something…pretty earthshattering in terms of the historical perspective.

The first go-round happened when the Roman Emporer, decided that he was sick of the old Roman gods…because there were way to may to keep track of…and so he converted to Christianity…bringing along the entire Roman Empire with him…pretty major expansion at this point…but it also brought with it all kinds of turmoil as literally millions of individuals, almost overnight, tried to change their theological mindset…and it took a while for the dust to settle.

Then we fast forwards aways…to round about the year 1000…when this little debacle known as the great schism occurred…and the single unified Christian church split…resulting in the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox church…same God, same Savior Jesus Christ…but some pretty radical differences in the way they run things…and once again…the dust up was pretty major.

Now we fast forward again…to a moment that I mentioned earlier…the Reformation…when for the first time the availability of this radical new invention called the printing press…allowed materials to be mass produced…so that the ideas of the various reformers and their critics could spread around like wildfire…

Starting to see a pattern here? Would you be interested to know that 2017 will be the 500th anniversary of the 95 theses? (pause) And I don’t know about you…but it seems to me that, once again…we are in the midst of a pretty major dust up here in the realm of the church. (pause)
Now if history has taught us anything, its that the church, much like the mythical phoenix, always manages to rise up again with new life…but it usually takes a while for everything to settle down…often times a century or more…so I guess if history is truly cyclic…and we’ve really only been in the early stages of this major change for perhaps the past 10-20 years, depending on who you talk to…then we’ve got quite a while to go before things will really smooth out.

And in the mean time, we have to live in the craziness that comes with it…the new ideas clashing with the old ideas…old reliable verses innovation…all the while, listening to the various voices clamoring against one another. It is by no means a new concept…we just have a relatively new way of both listening to, as well as ourselves participating in the conversation.

And I’m talking about the advent of the internet…our online presence…spearheaded most predominantly within the world of social media. (pause) Its both wonderful and horrible all at the same time. It’s a blessing and a curse. We can connect with one another and share all kinds of information…We can find like-minded people and speak with passion about whatever topic we choose, and likewise we can either find…or be found…by those who oppose us…often times with utterly hateful, venomous comments. (pause)

And the past couple of weeks have certainly provided a lot of real world fodder for the social media spectrum hasn’t it? (pause, and take this slow) Charleston SC shootings…which led to questions of racial tension…outrage both against and for the presence of the Confederate flag flying high…followed almost immediately by the Supreme Court’s divisive…and equally divided…decision on marriage equality in this country…which has led to more rainbow pictures on Facebook that anyone can count…then smacked back with American Flag pictures…all the while postings of passionate people, on both sides of every single coin imaginable…listing out reasons to love, or to hate…of being persecuted, or of finally being accepted…posting after posting…picture after picture…meme after meme…and each one more self-righteous than the last…and each one seemingly rooted in the notion that I’m right…or I’m entitled to my position…or to borrow a phrase from that German Monk…Here I stand, I can do no other. (pause)
I sat at my computer late in the week, getting absolutely bombarded with this as I was working on this sermon this week…and while I recognize and fully support in every way our 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech…to the freedom bought and paid for by the blood of those who served to win America our Freedom two and half centuries ago…I also got to the point where the noise was just too much and I just wanted to tell EVERYONE all over social media to just…shut…up already. (pause)

If you agree, that’s fine…if you disagree, that’s fine too…there’s no right, no wrong…no definitive answer to the multitude of issues that we are facing in our society today…some of us see recent events as progress…others as attacks on their way of life…some see the lack of progress in social matters, others think we’ve come so far…and in the end, it seems like no one really wins…and all we do is argue about who’s to blame for it. (pause)
Life…is full of controversy…its full of doubt…and different opinions…and different experiences…and there is no one constant that anyone can agree on to cling to in all this…and while those of us sitting here this morning might name God as a constant…there are those out there…many of whom seem to find their way to my facebook feed…who will argue that point with us…This…is…our reality. (pause)

This has been dominating my attention this week as I worked with the gospel text out of Mark…two, seemingly disconnected stories partnered up together simply because of their proximity in the gospel, and the thought that 6 verses isn’t enough for a lesson and so we better double it.

Jesus is rejected in his hometown…and then the disciples go out two by two…What do those have to do with one another? And perhaps the other question you are, I’m guessing…asking yourselves right now…what do they have to do with all this stuff that I’ve been up here squawking about for the past few minutes? (pause)

I was going round and round…asking myself that very same question…but then in the midst of texting my wife…trying to explain my frustration at the distraction of all the online hub-ub…I realized that there is a connection…and here’s the first one.

Jesus goes home…to the place that should be the most familiar to him…the place that’s safe…family is there…and friends…people who have known him his entire life…perhaps your hometown is like that…a small intimate place where everyone knows you…and if you’re part of a certain family, you’re related to ¾’s of the town.

That seems to be the case for Jesus…he steps into the synagogue…and though Mark doesn’t give us all the detail, we hear from the other gospels that he shares a reading from the Prophet Isaiah and then proceeds to preach to these well-known people how its all about him…and they…freak out.

Jesus…Dude…we know you…you’re a carpenter…that’s your mom right there…we know your brothers and your sisters…We know better. (pause) Mark tells us that they took offense at him…which is a really nice way of saying that they tried to take him out and throw him off a cliff. (pause) And so, connection number one…we see here that the gospel has ALWAYS been one of those things that people get up in arms about…they either accept it…or they scoff at it…and if the people that knew Jesus best had trouble with it…it should come as no great shock that we also encounter people…sometimes those we are closest to…who will scoff at the message that we share…whether it’s the gospel or any other topic that we throw up a post about on Facebook.

Now stick with me…because this first part also connects to the second part…remember who was with Jesus as he headed home? The disciples…they traipsed along behind, and I found myself wondering just why Mark felt the need to share that with us…and then I realized just what the disciples had been doing up to that point…they were tailing Jesus…observing…watching the miracles, seeing the healings…listening to the preaching and the proclamation…and that included seeing this moment of intense opposition…and it was all in preparation for what Jesus had in store for them next.

Because directly following this encounter at home, that nearly resulted in death by unintentional cliff-diving…Jesus seems to shrug his shoulders…and move on to the other villages…doing more of the same…and in the midst of doing just that…he sends the disciples out…two by two…to do the exact…same thing.

And Jesus doesn’t sugar coat it…He sends them with no supplies other than a walking stick…totally dependent on the hospitality of those they will encounter…to proclaim the gospel…to preach the good news that through Jesus, the kingdom has come near…that forgiveness for sin is possible…that a renewed relationship with God is now possible…and as they had witnessed just prior to this…they will encounter opposition…they will encounter people who will scoff…people who will laugh…people who are so set in their ways because of their experience that they are completely unable to listen to the message that the disciples are sharing.

And what does Jesus tell them to do in these moments? Wipe off the dust from your sandals…and head off to the next town. Which to me sorta sounds like that old saying “water off a ducks back.” (pause)
People are going to disagree with you…people are going to oppose you…some openly, some secretly…but rest assured its going to happen…and when you start talking about something as life altering as the gospel…something as life changing as becoming a NEW CREATION in the eyes of God…well, not everyone is going to be ready to hear that.

And that…is…ok. So in those moments when we encounter the noise…the opposition…maybe all we can do is shrug our shoulders…kick the dust off our sandals…and move onto the next thing…to the next encounter…and we’ll see how that goes…We can’t control the response of the other…that’s not up to us…we can’t change their opinion any more than we can change their experience which has led them to that opinion in the first place.

But what can we do in the mean time? Well…love God…love your neighbor…and maybe log out of facebook when the noise gets a little too much…and maybe if we can all start doing that…then it won’t get quite so noisy…and maybe by the grace of God, then we can start to have a real conversation. Amen.


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