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.

Patience is Hard 6-28-15

In this sermon I explore the healing within a healing from Mark 5:21-43. A man seemingly loses his chance for a miracle when Jesus is distracted by another miracle…yet with God, nothing is impossible.

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.

Each and every week as I’m writing my sermon there are two phrases that are the easiest…the shorter of the two is my closer…Amen…and this is also my favorite word to write because it means that the sermon is finished.

The other phrase is the opener…the one that never changes regardless of the topic or the scripture for the week…that opening phrase that serves as a simple reminder of the gift of God’s grace offered to us through Christ…you know the line…as I just said it…Grace and peace to you…

Some weeks I sit down at my computer and type out that opening line and fly right into the sermon without the slightest pause because the Spirit is flowing…other weeks, the Spirit is still stewing around, and the message just won’t come out.

That was the case on Friday. I had that opening line typed…pretty much all day…and I just kept staring at the blank page…and no matter how hard I was wracking my brain, trying to get this big jumble out…it wouldn’t happen…stuff kept coming up…breaking news, phone calls, emails…interruptions just kept coming and throwing off my normal rhythm…my normal routine, kept getting shunted to the background.

But that was sorta fitting this week…because that’s a pretty good description of the entire week…normal kept getting tossed out the window. It all started on Tuesday morning as I headed to town for text study with other area pastors, pausing on the way to drop off the glass recycling in one of the bins down in town…and as I stood there at the bin, a bottle fell out of the bag, broke on the ground and bounced up to hit my knee…cutting me open and slicing my pant leg all at once…and so instead of going to text study, I had to go home and clean up my leg.

With that, my expectations for the day changed…and things happened differently. Now, Wednesday…I had been invited to participate in an adult Bible Study down in town…and then following the study I had a scheduled meeting with a fellow pastor to discuss some upcoming activities…but once again…stuff happened…and just as we were wrapping up the Bible study my phone rang…and I learned that my father in law was in the hospital…you can imagine how that changed things up for the day…as we scrambled to figure out what to do, and how we could help…and as we experienced that helpless feeling of being too far away to do anything, along with the recognition that even if we are there, there’s nothing you can do anyway…nothing except hope…and trust that those who can do something, will.

The week continued that way…random things just kept coming up…kept getting in the way of the “normal.” And though none of these things were bad…they resulted in Friday coming and going…and my brain was a hot mess…and there was still no sermon.

Through all of that craziness, I kept thinking about the gospel…about this familiar story of two healings…of two interactions…this story, that comes across as a story within a story…a healing within a healing…this moment of interruption…and as we often experience when we dwell in the word of God…we find ourselves relating to a character…and for me, that character is Jairus.

Imagine for a moment…that your child is sick…and this is no ordinary head cold…this is a sickness which has no cure…nothing that anyone can do has helped…and your child is at the point of death…this is an unfortunate reality in our world…there are some that have experienced it first hand…perhaps some here today have walked that awful road of seeing your child suffering…fearing the worst…and in those moments we feel powerless…but if there is any chance…any hope…won’t we go after it with every ounce of our being? (pause)
That’s where Jairus is at today…and Jairus is no slouch…we hear that he’s the ruler of the synagogue…and in a Jewish community…this is a pretty important person…in line with the mayor…and as such he likely was a man of means…someone with the influence and wealth to bring in doctors….but nothing works…and now his young daughter…lies on the verge of death.

But Jairus has heard rumors…stories of a traveling rabbi…a man that some claim to be the son of God…a man that has healed many…a man that has cast out demons…a man…that displays the power of God…and Jairus believes that this man…this Jesus…is his last hope.

Nothing is going to stand in his way…he presses through the crowd…and with no shame, this important man falls at the feet of this traveling rabbi…and he begs…he pleads with Jesus…Please…PLEASE…my daughter is dying…come and save her.

Whatever it is about this instance…about this passionate request…Jesus recognizes the need…and without a single word, they set off together…I can only imagine how relieved Jairus must have been. He’s going to do it…he’s coming with me…my daughter will live…she WILL be healed. His insistence has paid off…and despite all the hardships…and despite the powerless feeling of not being able to help his daughter…finally he has procured the power of God to perform a miracle.

But he also knew they needed to hurry…they needed to make their way through the crowd to get to his house before it was too late…Surely Jesus…if he really is the Son of God…he will understand…he won’t delay…he’ll be just as forceful to get there as Jairus.

But then…out of nowhere…Jesus…just…stops. Imagine being Jairus at that moment…Lord, what are you doing? We’ve got to keep moving…come on, before its too late…she’s dying…But Jesus just stands there looking around…and he asks the weirdest question… Who touched my clothes?” (pause) WHAT? WHO CARES? LOOK AT THIS CROWD…EVERYONE IS TOUCHING YOU…WHAT DOES IT MATTER…MY DAUGHTER CAN’T WAIT…LET’S GO.

But Jesus just keeps looking around…and all of the sudden some random woman comes up to him, falls at his feet and confesses that she touched him…but that’s not enough…she keeps talking…telling this story of her sickness and how she knew that all she had to do was touch his cloak and she’d be healed…and Jesus just stands there listening to her. (pause)

What do you think is going through Jairus’ head in this moment? Somehow I doubt that he’s just standing there calmly waiting while Jesus engages with this woman…he had to be going crazy…wouldn’t you, if you were in his shoes?

And sure enough…his fears come true…because as this exchange goes on between Jesus and the woman in the crowd…Jairus’ servants come up and tell him the worst possible news…your daughter has died…its over…you might as well leave Jesus alone. (pause)
NO!!! HOW CAN THIS BE? Jesus…you gave away my miracle…if you had ignored her, my daughter would have lived. (pause) We don’t hear what his words are in this moment…but wouldn’t that be how you would react…one moment it looks like everything is going to be okay…but then, because Jesus’ get’s distracted…because he get’s interrupted…you lose your miracle…your miracle goes a different direction…you lose out because God’s not paying attention.

Ever had a time like that? I time when you begged and pleaded for a miracle…a time when you prayed for something so hard…and didn’t get the answer you were looking for…and in that moment, it feels like God’s just not on your side. (pause)

I imagine that Jairus was in that boat…when his miracle goes the wrong direction…but the thing is that Jairus’ focus…his ability to comprehend…ends…with death. Because death marks a close for us doesn’t it? It represents a boundary that we can’t get across…a barrier that is insurmountable….but Jesus…well…Jesus has other ideas doesn’t he?

And as we see…death doesn’t stop Jesus…because the power of God…the ability of God…the miracles that are possible for God are not hindered by death…in this story…this encounter…this healing within a healing…this story within a story we are reminded that we have a God acting within our reality through Jesus Christ…that is not hindered by death…we have a God who’s power is greater than the power of death…we have a God who can and does act to do something about death.

And even in those moments when we can’t see that…in those times when our eyes are blinded by our own limitations…by our own lack of understanding…and all we can see is that which we fear…Jesus reminds us that we don’t have to afraid…we simply need to believe the promises that God has made that nothing in all of creation can separate us from His love…Do not fear…only believe. (pause)
Now granted, that’s often easier said than done…and there are times in our lives when those pressing issues…those fears loom larger than our faith…that’s human nature…but praise God that our shortcomings do not hinder him…and that even in the midst of these things God is still at work…that the saving grace of Jesus Christ still applies…and the power of the Holy Spirit is still flowing through this world…even in ways that are far beyond our ability to wrap our heads around.

We have a God who has acted out against the powers of sin and death in this world, even in the midst of situations that blind us to it…and thankfully God has given us signs…things that we can hold on to that serve as reminders for us…reminders of the promises that God has made…and one of these things is our baptism…when the simple act of being washed in the water along with hearing this promises of God results in a time when God comes to us.

In a few moments…Nate Maher will come to this font and we believe the promises that are made that God comes upon him…and he will be called Child of God…made an heir to the promise of eternal life…even if we don’t understand how it all works.

And so in times like this, when the world gets in the way…and when our limited understanding is hindered for whatever reason…we remember the words of Luther that mirror the promises of God…I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him…but the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified me and kept me in true faith. In the same way he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith…in this Christian church day after day, he fully forgives my sins and the sins of all believers. On the last day he will raise me and all the dead and give me an all believers in Christ eternal life…This…is…most certainly true.

Truly there are moments in our lives when we lose sight of that…moments when our circumstances are too much…but praise be to God that this is not dependent on us…its not up to us…its already done…and even more amazing, there’s no limit to it.

Jairus may have been concerned that the woman got his miracle…that in order for her to win, he had to lose…but that’s not the way the grace of God works…for through the power of Jesus Christ, God made it possible for each and every one of us to experience this saving grace…and we see that Grace is not divided…it can only grow…this is…most certainly true. Amen.

I Am Not That Big 6-21-15

This morning’s sermon is based on Mark 4:35-41, which is the story of Jesus calming the storm. In it I address those powers in the world that remind us how small and powerless we are, leading into addressing the shootings in Charleston SC.

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

There are times as a runner…when I think I’m pretty fast. At my normal pace…I can cover a mile in about 8 minutes…give or take…its not record setting by any means…but its not bad…unless you compare me to car….because 8 minutes in a car can take you from the truck stop out by the interstate up to Neola to park at the Community Center…a little more impressive…or take it up a notch to a plane flying along at the speed of sound, where 8 minutes is sufficient to cover about 100 miles…but even that pales in comparison to the fastest speed that we know of…the speed light…where 8 minutes can cover the distance from the Earth to the Sun…8 minutes to cover nearly 93 thousand miles.

Light is pretty fast isn’t it…and it has to be as it covers distances that we can’t even fathom. 8 minutes from the Sun to the Earth…but what about some of our friends out there at the far reaches of our solar system…take Pluto for example…the same light that takes 8 minutes to get to us…takes 330 minutes to reach Pluto…that’s 5.5 hours…a far amount of time…but then considering that the light has to travel 3.67 BILLION miles…maybe that’s not shabby…because Pluto…well…it’s a long way out there…but you know what…the Galaxy…that might as well be beyond measure…That light from the sun…which gets to us in 8 minutes….and covers almost 4 billion miles in a few hours…takes more than 4 YEARS…to reach the nearest star.

Kinda mind boggling isn’t it…when we try to wrap our heads around just how far away things are, even within our Solar System…in fact its almost impossible to judge just how big the universe is…but when we try to…doesn’t it make us feel pretty small? (pause)

Have you ever experienced something that made you realize just how small you are…or perhaps how powerless you are? (pause) I’ve heard many different stories over the years of people who have found themselves in a situation like this…for instance, standing at the base of a mountain, looking up…or being on the seashore, looking out over the ocean…other stories have included events, often natural disasters the unleash the power of the world we live in…like earthquakes, or tsunamis, or giant storms like hurricanes or tornados…these moments when we witness the fury of nature…the destruction…and as we stand there looking straight it, doesn’t it make us feel small…insignificant…or even…powerless?

That realization…that there is nothing that we can do to overcome the power being unleashed against us in that moment…regardless of our wisdom or ability or strength, we…are…powerless…ever had an experience like that? (pause) Because that is exactly what’s going on in today’s story. (pause)

Following a day of teaching the crowds here on the homefront…Jesus decides that its time for a change of scenery…and so he tells his disciples…hey guys…let’s head across the lake here…head on over to the other side…and in an important side note, we also hear that its evening…and so as they set out to cross the sea of Galilee…a trip of somewhere between 8 and 13 miles depending on their direction…night is falling.

Night time on the sea…which, incidentally…is exactly when fishermen would be out on the water in their boats…trying to catch fish…and if you recall…at least 4 of the disciples were fishermen…and so for them, this would be nothing new.

They know how to navigate the sea…they know how to handle a boat…and they’re familiar with the fact that storms can and do, come up out of nowhere…and also, keep in mind that at this point, all of the disciples are still alive, so it stands to reason that these guys have lived through storms out on the water before….they’ve got the ability…they’ve got the know-how. (pause) Until…this time.

Because as they make it part way across the water…long enough for Jesus to konk out on a pillow…up comes a storm…but apparently not just any storm…this is one of those storms that I talked about earlier…one of those storms that makes the disciples realize just how small they are…and they completely…LOSE it.

How crazy must this storm have been…how strong was the wind…how big were the waves to have this sort of effect on these experienced sailors? (pause) One can only imagine…but how ever intense it was…however daunting it was…for these guys…this is it…its all over…and believe it or not…the one person who can do something about it…the one person they trust to get them out of danger…is sleeping…JESUS!!! TEACHER!!! Don’t you care that we are dying? (pause)

I’ve been thinking a lot about that this week…and not just giant storms and crashing waves…but those things in our lives…those events…those oppressive forces that act upon us…sometimes out of nowhere…that have us reeling…those things that make us lose it…those things that show us in that moment just how small and powerless we are…and as I’ve thought about it, I know that those things look different for each of us…but they happen…and for several of you sitting out there today…you’re still facing those events right now…you are staring that storm in the face…and in fact, when we’re honest with ourselves…aren’t we all in that boat…facing a storm that too much for us? That storm that is showing us just how much we are NOT…in control, no matter how much we like to tell ourselves that we are?

Diseases…financial problems…emotional issues…family strife…these are just a few of the storms that rage out there that we face in our lives…and there are others too…other forces…other powers that exist in the world whether we want to acknowledge them or not…and one of these powers is the power of sin…the power of darkness that continues to flow through this world and when we stop and think about it…when we are brave enough to admit the truth…then we realize that there is nothing that we can do about it.

And now I’m not talking about those petty little things that we do each and every day like stubbing our toe and swearing about it or getting short with one another…I’m talking about the power of sin in this world…the power that has warped our reality and our existence into that which is against the will of God…the power that has lied to us to make us think that it is all about me…and that I’m the only one that’s important and everything else needs to just get out of my way…

When I think about that power…the image that comes to mind is that of a giant wave rushing in at me as I stand on the shoreline, knowing that in mere seconds I am finished and there’s nothing I can do about it.

That’s the power of sin in this world…whether we want to admit it or not…and we are CONSTANTLY being reminded of that…and we constantly face evidence that this power is still present…and that power manifests itself in the hate that we are still so capable of…the hate that rears its ugly head and shatters lives…the hate that exists for no reason what so ever…regardless of our tendency to deny it or to try and explain it away. (pause)

Last Wednesday evening…that needless hate manifested in the cold blooded murder of 9 people as they gathered in a church around the word of God…the murder of 9 people condemned to die because of the color their skin….9 people hated because they are different. (pause)

When I first heard of this tragedy in Charleston SC, I was shocked…and as I added it to the mental checklist of so many other tragedies that keep happening, my initial response is that I feel powerless…powerless because I don’t understand it…I cannot wrap my head around the notion of this needless…pointless hate…this judgment passes on another human being based on the color of their skin…yet this is a battle that we have been fighting in this country for decades…and as much as we might want to tell ourselves that we’ve come so far…moments like this show us that no we haven’t. (pause)

Judgment….prejudice…it runs rampant…everywhere…and I’m not just talking about racial tension here…because the second I think I’m above that sort of thing I look in the mirror, and I recognize the needless judgment that I pass in my mind against individuals for different reasons…and as we look around society today…its everywhere. Race, gender, age, orientation…political affiliation…economic status…and that’s just scratching the surface…and it stems from this lie that sin places in our heads that for whatever reason, I’m better than you. (pause)
But we don’t want to admit it do we? We want everything to stay pleasant…and maintain this myth that we aren’t prone to it…but I’ll say it…yes we are…we are not immune…I’ve seen in this part of the country…I’ve seen it here in our nice friendly state…I’ve seen it in our community…I’ve seen it here in our congregation…and yes…I include myself because I see it when I look in the mirror. (pause)

Now rest assured, its not my intention to get political here today…its really not…I won’t tell you how you should think, or what opinions you can or can’t have…and I sure as heck won’t be telling you how you should be voting…

But what I do hope for is that we can take an honest look at ourselves…and recognize this wave coming at us…this power of darkness…this power of sin that’s crashing over us whether we want to admit to it or not.

And in these moments when we recognize just how small we are…just how powerless we are, the only thing we can do is follow the example of the disciples and cry out to Jesus…because he does care…and just as he calmed the sea…just as he beat those waves that were crashing down on the disciple he has already beaten the wave of sin that crashed down on us…its already finished.

And in the meantime, we can and must continue to ask for forgiveness in those times when we pass needless judgment…when we place ourselves above others…and then we remember what Jesus told us to do…Love God…and love your neighbor…And maybe, just maybe when we start doing that through the power of Christ living in us and through us…well then maybe we’ll start representing the body of Christ on Earth…maybe we’ll start shining like that light in the darkness…and maybe, just maybe we can start seeing one another like God sees us all…as His beloved child….and I hope and pray that with God’s help, we will come through this storm to whatever glorious destination awaits us on the other side of the sea.

And it has to be with God’s help…because alone…I’m not strong enough, or wise enough…I’m not big enough…but God is…and thankfully through the blood of Christ spilled on that cross, He forgives us for being so small. Amen.

God Does the Growing 6-14-15

This morning’s sermon is based on Mark 4:26-34. I explore two micro-parables that Jesus shares about the growth of the kingdom 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.

Right about now is a wonderful time to drive through the countryside and be amazed at how quickly the crops are growing. Year after year, I find myself amazed in the early weeks of summer at how tall the corn is already getting…I know the old saying is knee high by the fourth of July…but around these parts I’m pretty sure that some of the corn is likely already coming up on the knee-high milestone. (pause)

That’s the amazing thing about the crops…corn especially, but the other crops as well…something that never ceases to amaze me. (pause) Think about the cycle that we go through each and every year…first off we see the tractors out in the fields…disking them up and getting them ready…and then we spot the planters…and next thing we know…out of the blue, we drive down the road and spot the tiny little shoots as the crops spring up…and then we blink and a month has gone by and those tiny little plants have gotten pretty good sized…they aren’t seedlings anymore…and then we blink again and the corn is 7 feet tall with tassles…and then the next thing we know the fields have turned brown and the combines are out bringing in the harvest. (pause)

Doesn’t that catch us off guard every time? How the fields spring up…the plants grow…all that stuff happens when we’re not really paying attention? (pause)

This phenomenon has, of course, been around for a long time…but in my younger years it was sort of just a passing thing…sure I would notice the big changes here and there…but at the same time being surrounded by the fields, as we are here in Underwood, perhaps it wasn’t quite as shocking because we do see the fields day after day…we might not stop and pay attention, but we’re still exposed to it.

But for me, that wasn’t always the case…and during the 2.5 years that my family lived up in the Twin Cities prior to moving here to Underwood…the changes in the crops always caught me off guard…In this regard, I sort of feel sorry for individuals who live in the big cities…people with a completely different background and experience than we have here in rural Iowa…those individuals who have never seen a farm…who aren’t familiar with the cycle that the crops go through year after year…and I feel that way, because during those 2.5 years of living in the city…I didn’t get to see the fields very often.

I didn’t get to see them, because we very rarely left the city…about the only time we did was every few months when we would head back to the Okoboji area to visit family…and I remember, quite vividly…the blaring changes that the fields would go through between those trips…because I hadn’t seen them day by day…I hadn’t watched the gradual change out the corner of my eye…so for me, the fields would quite literally go from 3 inch high seedlings to 5 foot plants…and then onto brown dried out husks…and then bare fields…and you can ask my wife…I would express utter shock each and every time we’d make that trip when we’d get out into the farmland along the interstate and I’d see the fields for the first time in several months. (pause) But that’s the way it works isn’t it…those things are happening, whether we are paying attention or not. (pause)

And by now, hopefully you’ve caught on to the gist that I’m talking about today, and you already see the connection with today’s gospel lesson, and the first of the two micro-parables that Jesus share’s with his audience today. The agriculture connection…the comparison between the growth of the kingdom of God and the plants of the fields. (pause)

Admittedly, if we were in the midst of the program year, I’d be hearing the snickers of several of our students who were just confirmed back in early May, because they’ve heard me harp time after time about how parables bug me…and as I’ve talked with some different pastors in the last couple years I’ve discovered that I’m not alone in this…because parables are a hard thing when it comes to preaching.

And as I’ve thought about it, I’ve found that a little strange…why are they so difficult to preach on, when it seems like parables are actually pretty easy to grasp? (pause)

Think about this first one…the kingdom of God is like a dude that goes out and plants his crops…and then pretty much goes on about his business…eating, sleeping, just living out the day to day…and all the while the crops are growing…the crops are just doing what they do…and the shoot comes up…and then the ears develop…and the kernels grow…and when they’re ready…the farmer heads back out with the combine.

We can think about that for about a second and a half and realize that Jesus is telling us that the kingdom is going to grow in the background while we live our day to day lives…period…Sound about right? (pause)

And so the challenge for the preacher is finding a way to stretch that last sentence into 15 minutes…when maybe…just maybe…there’s no need for it. Maybe, just maybe…the parable, needs to stand on its own…maybe Jesus’ words need to stand on their own without a ton of explanation.

In many ways, that reminds me of something that I tell my kids from time to time…when they tell me a joke…and then immediately explain why the joke is funny…and I’ll calmly remind them that “hey guys…if you have to explain a joke, then its not a very good joke.” (pause) Maybe it’s the same deal here…that if you feel the need to explain the parable, then it must not be a very good one.

But think about parables in general…today we actually get a touch of narration from Mark into them…when we hear that with many such parables Jesus spoke the word to them…as they were able to hear it…let me say that one more time…as they were able to hear it. (pause)

Have you ever noticed how many of Jesus’s parables have to do with the subject of agriculture…of plants…of growth…its not all of them…but it is…A LOT…of them…and why? (pause) Well, because Palestine in Jesus time…just like rural agricultural Iowa today…was very agricultural in nature….EVERYONE dabbled in farming in one way or another…pretty much every family had a small plot of crop land where they grew wheat or barely to provide bread for themselves…and most families had a few livestock…sheep or goats or maybe a cow to provide milk and meat…they may not have operated on the scale of our present day farmers…but everyone did it…because if you didn’t, well then you had a hard time eating…as there was no local Fareway or Hy-Vee to go to and stock up your pantry. (pause)

Jesus talked with the people in ways that made sense…taking some pretty heady subjects…like, you know…that whole kingdom of God has come near thing…these subjects that we have no way of wrapping our minds around…and he compared them to something familiar…because anyone…and I mean anyone…who has ever farmed a field…or even tended a backyard garden knows…flat out…that we don’t make the plants grow. (pause)

Sure we do everything we can to set the plants up for success…and I’m not trying to downplay the enormous amount of work that farmers put into their fields…the prep work…the planting…the fertilizer…the pesticides…the herbicides…the constant monitoring of the weather patterns…but…just like the farmer in the parable…we don’t make the plants do the growing do we? (pause)

And you know what…that applies to other things in our lives as well. Recently I had a conversation with a couple of our members…Gaylen and Karen Montgomery…who if you aren’t aware…are in the process of transitioning their home to Branson full time…and as we sat and talked the other day, our conversation moved into the intense desire for the house to get sold…and I told them “been there, done that.”

4 years ago as we were preparing to move from Okoboji up to the Twin Cities, we had a house to sell…and for about 2 months I was mentally trying to force it to sell…willing it with every ounce of my being…and you know how well that worked? (pause) Not…at…all…but I was driving myself absolutely batty until one day when a much wiser man than I asked me a simple question. “Can you make it sell?” No. “Then why are you trying to?”

There are things in this world that we simply cannot control…and you know what…the growth of the kingdom of God…its one of them…and sometimes, that can be absolutely maddening can’t it? (pause) I’m guessing that each and every one of us here today has at least one person in our lives that we wish for…that we hope for…that one person who shows no interest in the faith that we profess…the hope that we have in Christ…and it would be so much better if we could just open up their minds and MAKE THEM BELIEVE IT!!!!

But we can’t…because faith doesn’t work that way…growth doesn’t work that way…plain and simple…it doesn’t work…because God didn’t intend for it to work that way…and while that is utterly frustrating for us in those interactions when our minds are reeling…hoping against hope that we can change their minds for them…its also incredibly freeing to realize that hey…its not my responsibility to create faith.

The apostle Paul realized this and wrote about it in his first letter to the Corinthians when he said “I planted, Apollos watered…but God gave the growth.” (pause) God…gave…the growth. (pause)

Make no mistake…God, is up to something in the midst of our day to day lives, whether we’re paying attention or not…whether the humanity is paying attention or not…whether the world is paying attention or not…because Jesus told us, from the get-go…the kingdom is here now…and the kingdom is ever changing, and is ever growing…sometimes just too quietly or slowly for us to notice…but when we stop long enough to take a good look…that’s when we see the growth…the change.

We see it in the world…we see it in the church…we see it in one another…and when we stop and think about it we even see that growth within our own lives of faith. And so in this moment…when it comes to the notion of “growth,” we need to embrace the fact that we just have to let it go…because no amount of effort on our part is going to make the growth happen…whether we like it or not. (pause)

And as shocking as that might seem…before we settle into the notion that God isn’t calling us to do anything, we better take one more look at that parable…because while the farmer isn’t involved in the growing…he is involved in the planting…and likewise we are called to sew the seeds of the kingdom…we are called to proclaim the gospel out there…in the fields of the world…because if they don’t hear it…then they can’t believe it…it they don’t hear it…then there’s nothing to grow.

We do the sewing…then God…does the growing. Amen.


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