Archive for October, 2013

Confirmation Questions 10-27-13

My sermon on Sunday came out of John 1:1-5, 9-14. You can find that sermon here.

As usual, the confirmation students posed some great questions in their sermon notes. I’ll try to address them here.

-Why would God encourage us to be mad?
Great question. Rather than saying that God encourages us to get mad, I think its better to say that God fully accepts the full range of emotion that humanity experiences. When I talked about this subject in the sermon, I was trying to make the point that God wants us to be honest in what we are feeling and thinking. Sometimes that includes anger. God does not condemn our anger or our questions or our worries. God experienced all those same emotions through Jesus Christ. God lived a life as part of humanity and because of that God knows our struggles having experienced them himself.   Psalm 6 and 13 are great examples of this. If you would like to see more, go to and do a word search for “how long.” You’ll find a whole list of psalms that approach God in this way.

-Is God our only source of light in times of darkness?
Great question. John 1 discusses this question quite well. We read there that the light or the Word (aka Jesus, he is both things) is God (verse 1 and 4). Jesus is the true light…and so God is the true light because God and Jesus are one and the same.  A couple of verses later we hear that John (the Baptist) was sent by God “as a witness to testify to the light so that all might believe through him. He himself was no the light, but he came to testify to the light” (verses 7-8). We are also called to testify to the light. So in answer to the question, I would say that yes, God is the only source of light, but as believers we reflect the true light of God for others.

-Where does evil come from?
Another great question…and a tough one to answer. Evil is probably best defined as doing or seeking that which is contrary to God. The first being that did so was Lucifer. Lucifer actually means “light bringer” and we believe that Lucifer was the highest of angels…second only to God, but Lucifer wanted to be God and led a battle in Heaven. Lucifer, also called Satan was cast down from heaven with a third of the angels…those that also opposed God. Jesus mentions this briefly in Luke 10:18 “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” God created heaven and God created the angels, and we know only that these creations predate the creation of the world as we know it. So in Genesis 1-2, when we hear the creation story, including the Garden of Eden, we hear about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Evil already exists at this point, because Lucifer had already challenged God, but humanity had not yet experienced it. That’s why the serpent is also present to tempt Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve challenged the will of God who had told them not to eat the fruit of the Tree, but they disobeyed. This is how evil entered into/was experienced by humanity.

The Light Still Shines 10-27-13

In this sermon, I abandon the lectionary reading and preach from John 1:1-5,9-14. I address the recent school shootings as well as other examples of darkness that is still present here in the world.

Listen to the sermon here:

You can follow along with the text here. As usual, disregard the odd punctuation and indications to pause.

Before I read the gospel lesson for today, I’d like to say a quick word. I had high hopes for this week’s sermon. I had a lot to choose from. I could have focused on the Reformation and Martin Luther which we are celebrating in worship today…I could have come from the direction of our new members…and how our congregation is changed by their presence. That we are a new creation today…and with their gifts do that much better of a job of representing the body of Christ on earth. (pause)
I could have talked about freedom or enslavement or sin…topics brought up in the assigned Gospel text from John 8 printed on your bulletin…but considering some of the stuff going on in the world lately…that just didn’t seem fitting…that didn’t seem like the message that needed to be spoken today, and so I’m going off topic and I ask that you bear with me.
(read the Gospel lesson…John 1:1-5, 9-14)
I woke up Friday morning and I thought I had a pretty good plan for the day. Hang out with my kids as they were out of school. Do some housework. Take in the Underwood football game, and enjoy the company of some family that we had coming into town…and somewhere along the way, knock out a sermon for this morning.
As I already mentioned, I had a lot of different options for that sermon…a lot of different directions that I could go…but none of them really felt right…and none of them felt applicable, or hopeful…none of them were sitting well with me, and I couldn’t really put my finger on why. (pause)
As the day progressed, some different things happened that started to shed some light on things…although perhaps that’s not the best choice of words…perhaps a better way to say…some different things happened that started to shed some darkness on things. (pause)
Most of you have probably heard by now, that there was another school shooting this week. Last Monday, a 12 year old boy snapped…he pulled a gun and injured two fellow students…then he turned the gun on a beloved teacher and former US marine…killing him…and then he turned the gun on himself. (pause)
2 days later, on the other side of the country…another young man snapped…a 14 year old boy killed yet another teacher, this one a 24 year woman…3 people dead…more injured…and we don’t have to think very hard about other examples violence displayed in schools over the course of recent memory.
Every time we hear about things like this, I think it gives us pause. And we think to ourselves “That’s terrible…I can’t believe it happened again…I can’t imagine what those people are going through…I just hope that never happens here.” And we hug our kids just a little bit tighter for a few days…and we say some prayers for nameless strangers on the opposite side of the country for a few days…but then we sort of go back to normal don’t we? We try to forget the invasion of darkness into the world and pretend that everything’s okay. (pause)
But everything isn’t okay…and its not just school shootings. Darkness takes many forms…and it finds a way to get at us…it finds its way into our lives.  Maybe it’s violence…or maybe it’s a kid getting bullied…something all too common these days…or maybe it’s a foreclosure…or a failed business venture…or maybe it’s a terminal diagnosis…maybe that one sounds familiar to you.
In the last week, one of our members got that news. Cancer…the word that you never want to hear in a doctor’s office…the news that we never really want to admit to…that our days are numbered…or on the other hand that someone you love gets that diagnosis, and you have to sit there and watch them struggle…you have to watch them wither away until their strength gives out and they die. (pause)
We live in a world filled with darkness…we see it every day…we read about it in the paper…and we hear about it on the news. Often times it seems like there’s nothing good happening…nothing good at all…this is our reality.  Its messy, its ugly, it hurts…and we’re all stuck in it…and we all contribute to it…that darkness…it resides in each and every one of us…we might not want to admit it…more often than not we don’t want to cop to it…but like it or not that darkness that fills the world…that darkness that shows its ugly face in violence and disease and death starts right here.
We’re all a part of it, and though for some of us the darkness stops short of pulling a gun and shooting up a school room, we cannot deny the reality that sinfulness runs every bit as deep in our existence as it does in those 2 young men this week…those two young men who were so filled and overcome with darkness that they were able to justify taking lives this week. (pause)
We’re all a part of it…and we’re all stuck in the midst of it and often times when we stop and think about it we ask the question WHY? Why does this keep happening? Why can’t we stop this? What does this all mean…and often times when we ask those questions…the one that we’re directing it at doesn’t come back with much of an answer for us.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there violence and death and disease? WHY GOD? (pause) We ask those questions and there are no good answers. And I can stand up here and try to tell you that all this crap that continues to happen in the world is simply a result of the way that sin has twisted our present reality…and while I believe that its true…it seems like pretty sour grapes in the face of all this darkness that keeps coming up again and again this week.
And as much as I might find myself questioning God…arguing with God…crabbing God out for allowing this sort of thing to happen…blaming Him…in the midst of those struggles…I get smacked with the verse “The light shines in the darkness” but I’ll be honest with you…I hear that and I want to call God out on that too…You know what God…there’s too much darkness happening…I can’t see the light!!!
But then I come back to it again…the light shines in the darkness. NO IT DOESN’T…NOT THIS TIME GOD…THIS TIME I’m CALLING YOU ON IT!!!!
The light shines in the darkness…and the darkness…has not overcome it. (pause)  Are you sure about that God because from where I’m sitting…it seems like the darkness has a pretty good hold on things…it seems like the darkness is still holding on pretty tight and I’d say its still pretty well established in the world…its all around us…and its in us…and you know what God…as much as I hate to admit it, when I get honest I see an awful lot of it in me! (pause)
Have you ever had those times…those times when the darkness overwhelms you…and you find yourself arguing with God? They happen…and you shouldn’t beat yourself up over it because you know what…God can take it…he can take your questions…he can take your anger…and in fact…I believe that God encourages us to express it.
Ever read the Psalms…they’re prayers…plain and simple…and while they cover a wide range of emotion, the largest single type of psalm is lament…arguing with God, laying out our troubles and our concerns and our anger with God…and hey…if the Bible is the word of God which Martin Luther swore up one side and down the other that it is…and that the Bible is our soul authority…well then maybe we need to wake up and pay attention…
We face darkness in the world…and we face darkness in ourself…but God’s not immune to it…God hasn’t turned his back on it…quite the opposite…God got into it…and that’s why I changed up the scripture lesson this week….to remind us in the midst of some pretty dark times…that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
That…right there…that’s the incarnation in John’s gospel…that’s the first time Jesus comes on the worldly scene…when the light starts shining because Jesus is the light and try as it might…all that darkness…all the crap…and ugliness…and filth in the world…it can rage all it wants to but the light…its still shining….it is not overcome…and in the end…the darkness loses.
You see…darkness is the absence of light…when light shows up, darkness flees…it has to…try as it might it cannot defeat light…and even though we feel that darkness closing in…IT CAN’T WIN!!!
And despite the darkness, we are able to cling to the hope that in the end, everything is made new…its like going to the end of a scary story…reading the last couple of pages and seeing that the good guy wins…we can go back into the story knowing the ending and its not so scary anymore.
That’s the hope that we have…the hope that despite all this darkness and death…there’s more…we believe it…we proclaim it…and whether we want to admit it or not…it’s done (pause)
And by the grace of God…not by any merit we possess…its done for all of us…despite the darkness that we are surrounded by, and penetrated by…and yes even the darkness that we ourselves possess…we are freed from the powers of sin and death…we are freed from the powers of darkness in this world by the light itself…by God himself…by the one that calls himself I AM!!!
And the truly remarkable part is that gift of life…that gift of the light…its offered to everyone…regardless of who they are…its offered to you…its offered to me…and as much as we might like to forget it…its even offered to those two troubled young men who chose to take lives this week…and while we might find that offensive to hear…God doesn’t really care what we think on the matter…because when we stop and think about there are very likely individuals who are offended by the notion that we have been offered salvation from sin…the gospel…the good news…it is so radical…and goes so far beyond our own understanding.
This notion that God is willing to completely overlook…to completely forget the worst sins that we could possibly imagine…and offer forgiveness to ANYONE…even those who are so filled with darkness that they don’t realize it.
That’s the gospel we proclaim…that’s the hope that we hold on to. That the light shines in the darkness…that the word becomes flesh. (pause) That God enters our darkness…and no matter how much we might want to rage against it…He’s still there…and the darkness…even our darkness…CANNOT…overcome it. Amen.

Confirmation Questions 10-20-13

This week’s sermon came from Luke 18:1-8, the parable of the Judge and the Widow. You can find my sermon here.

As usual, the confirmation student’s posed some great questions in their sermon notes. I’ll address them here.

-Why didn’t the judge [in the parable] want to help the widow?
We don’t know exactly why the judge refused (for a time) to help the widow. We do know that he had no respect for God or for other people, so we can assume that he simply didn’t care at all about the widow or her grievance. Also, it is important to note that widows at the time had no legal rights. As her husband was dead, she was on her own. Only men had legal standing at the time, and unless a man came with her to represent her before the judge, the judge didn’t have to do anything for her, even if she her grievance against the unknown opponent was valid.  What Jesus seems to be saying in the parable is that her persistence in coming before the judge wore him down and finally he helped her, though only because he wanted her to stop coming to him with the same complaint.

-What is a widow?
A widow is a woman whose husband has died. In Jesus’ time, being a widow was very difficult. As I mentioned in the last question, women had no legal standing. They couldn’t own property. When a woman’s husband died, she would typically be cared for in the household of one of her sons. But if she had no sons then she could quickly become destitute with no way to care for herself. Widows often became beggars because of this situation.

Just Give It Up 10-20-13

Today’s sermon came from Luke 18:1-8; the parable of the Judge and the Widow. In the sermon I explore who we are in the parable and more importantly who God is in the parable.

Listen to the sermon here.

You can read the text of the sermon here. As usual, there are some little differences when I went off script, and excuse the off punctuation and indications to pause. I gotta remember them some how.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
There’s a really fine line between persistence and annoyance. Persistence is defined as a firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition…Annoyance, on the other hand is defined as a feeling or state of irritation. (pause)
Persistence is attributed to the individual that just keeps on trying…the person that just won’t give up no matter what happens…no matter the response…they just keep on pushing. (pause)
Annoyance…well that tends to be on the other side of the coin…annoyance often happens for the person on the receiving end of persistence doesn’t it? (pause)
Some examples perhaps? Persistence is the person who asks the waitress, over and over again if they can substitute a salad for French fries when the menu clearly states…no substitutions. (pause)  Annoyance is the waitress, fed up with trying to reason with the customer…and spits in his food. (pause)
Persistence is a young child, asking for snack food in the grocery store…over and over again…being told no over and over again until he has a complete and utter meltdown in the aisle. (pause) Annoyance is the parent, who can’t stand it anymore and hauls the child out of the store, leaving a half-full grocery cart in the aisle. (pause)
Persistence is a 1st year seminary student, studying for a Greek vocabulary test…spending hour after hour practicing terms and looking at the answers until he can finally make it through the entire list of 300 Greek words like logos and dianoigo and he feels confident that he’ll pass the test the next morning. (pause) And annoyance is his wife, sitting in the next room, aggravated that since her husband started school she’s starting to forget what he looks like. (pause) Yah, that last one was me…guilty (pause)
If we take a look at the parable in today’s story…we find one more example don’t we?  2 characters…the judge and the widow. (pause) The judge, admittedly and unrighteous guy…he doesn’t fear God and he doesn’t give two hoots about other people.  And the widow…bearing an unknown grievance but with a stubborn streak that would rival any toddler that has recently learned the words “mine” or “no.”
When we listen to Jesus tell this story we can certainly plug the notions of persistence and annoyance right in can’t we? The widow is the epitome of persistence…coming before the judge day after day…time after time…each time with the same request…and the judge, who finally gives in, not out of compassion or a sense of justice…but out of sheer annoyance…Either I give this woman what she wants or she’s just going to keep coming…I’m sick of it…fine…here you go. (pause)
That’s the parable in a nutshell…and as is the case with parables…we ask ourselves the question…so what is Jesus trying to say here?  At a quick glance, we may come to the conclusion that we need to persevere in prayer…bringing our petitions before God on a regular basis…and that we shouldn’t give up even if we don’t see immediate action…fair enough…the lesson opens by pretty much telling us exactly that doesn’t it? (pause)
Well, by now you’ve likely figured out that the easy answer doesn’t really sit well with me…and I hope that it doesn’t sit well with you either. (pause)
So the next question that we ask ourselves when we’re dealing with a parable…when we’re trying to make sense of what God is telling us…or what God is up to in this particular story…is that we take a look at the characters…who do we relate with?  Who are we in the story?  Who is God in the story? And that’s where I found myself focusing this week.
I’ve heard this parable a lot of times before, perhaps you have as well…but each time I’ve heard it, it has always settled in my mind that God is supposed to be the judge, and we are the widow…and the parable is telling us that we just need to keep praying…keep asking…and eventually God will give in…and then when I look at the last part of the story I see that Jesus gives us reassurance that God will grant us our requests quickly…that he won’t make us wait a long time for it. (pause) But you know what…that’s never really sat well with me…Because sometimes when we pray, the answer comes back as no. Or sometimes when we pray the answer doesn’t seem to come back at all…even though I’ve prayed really hard for it…even though I’ve been really persistent…I haven’t gotten the result that I hoped for…and so each and every time I’ve happened upon this parable, I’ve accepted the “face value” interpretation with a grain of salt…every time until this time. (pause)
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase that the word of God is living an active…well its true…and that’s an amazing thing to me…it continues to amaze me how I can read a passage of scripture and have it say something different to me at one time than it did the time before…or countless times before…and this is one of those times.
Because this time around…when I read this parable…I didn’t see God in the judge…and I didn’t see God being compared to the judge either. (pause) I sat and I thought about the judge and how he’s described…a man who neither feared God, nor had respect for people. (pause) And as I thought about that, I remembered Jesus’ answer to the question of what is the most important commandment…To love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength…and then to love your neighbor as yourself. (pause) Love God, and love others…but this guy doesn’t do either one of them…and neither do we.
Because of our sinful nature…because of the mess that the human race finds itself in, we constantly fail to live up to that command to love God and our neighbor…just like the judge…and when I realized that…for the first time I saw myself in the judge. (pause)
And then I thought about the fact that God didn’t give up on me.  I was confirmed in 8th grade and walked away…and then low and behold my junior year of high school I started dating a girl that convinced me to come back to church…which I did…for a while…and then the next summer…I almost ended up working at Bible camp…but I didn’t…and then a year later…I did end up working at Bible camp…and then a few years later someone made a joke that I should go to seminary…and then other people started saying the same thing…and then my wife said it too…and so on…and so forth.  Throughout all the times that I said no…all the times that I ignored God, or turned my back on Him…or thought that I didn’t need him…there he was, coming around…day after day…and not only did God show infinite patience with me for the countless times I told him no…he also displayed infinite persistence by continuing to tap me on the shoulder. (pause) God kept coming back…day after day…moment after moment…now who does that sound like in the parable? (pause)
Not the judge…no sir…not at all…God is the widow…continuing to appeal to the judge…continuing to come before us in one form or another time after time, even when we continue to brush him off…when we refuse to listen…God show’s each and every one of us infinite persistence…even in the times when we give him no reason what so ever…even in those times when we would simply throw up our hands and give up…when we would focus on something else…God keeps on trying. (pause)
Now perhaps this notion is a little shocking…or a little surprising…I get it…it was for me too…the idea that God would be the weak one…that God would be the powerless one…what’s up with that? Doesn’t that go against every single notion that we have of God?  Doesn’t that go against the notion that God is all powerful?  Doesn’t that go against the notion that God can do anything, or be anything, or make anything?  How can God be the helpless one? (pause)
Have you ever stopped and thought about how powerless the human body is?  Sure we can do some amazing thing and accomplish some amazing things, but when it gets right down to it how much power do we really have?  Not much right?  And when we think about it, just how fragile are we?  Our bodies, amazing as they are…can be utterly destroyed at the drop of a hat…disease attacks us…accidents destroy us…time makes us whither…and in the end, we are powerless to do anything about it…and on the other end of the spectrum, think about how fragile we are when we are born…utterly dependent…unable to do anything for ourselves…not even the most basic tasks of feeding ourselves or keeping ourselves clean and warm.  (pause)
We come into this world powerless…and we leave it the exact same way…and as much as we might like to think that we’re in control during that period of time between the two…I think when we’re honest with ourselves we realize just how much a myth self-empowerment really is…and I bring all of this up to stress the fact that God…willingly…chose to enter into this powerless existence…God was born, as a helpless infant…God lived a life in the flesh just like we do…and in the end God died, stretched out across a splintered plank of wood…devoid of power. (pause)
And why did God do that? (pause)  God did that to show each and every one of us that there is NOTHING he would not do to get your attention…that there is NOTHING he would not do to bridge the gap that lies smack dab in the relationship between humanity and himself…we can’t get up there…so he came down here. (pause)
God is not the judge in this story…he’s not the one sitting there…waiting to make a ruling one way or another…he’s not the one that choses to ignore everything around him…God’s the widow, who patiently and persistently comes before us in one form or another…simply trying to get our attention.
And God is certainly not the judge, sitting there on some heavenly stool waiting to divide us into the good people and the bad people…to divide us between the have’s and the have not’s…to divide us between the saved and the damned…that’s why God became weak…that’s why God became powerless…that’s why God became human in Jesus Christ…so that he could say…once and for all I’M DONE WITH THIS JUDGEMENT CRAP!!! (pause) Because God experienced life…and then God experienced death…and then God overcame death, he was able to overcome the cause of death…our own sinfulness…whether we want to admit it or not, we’re all stuck in it…mired down in it…and yes…judged because of it…but through Christ…through his atoning sacrifice the judgment falls away…and we are not prone to it any longer…and all of this happens because God loves you…I cannot stress that enough…even in the times when it seems like it isn’t true…and yes those times happen…it doesn’t change the fact that there is nothing you can do to make God love you any more…and there is nothing you can do to make God love you any less…it’s final…it’s done…It Is Finished. (pause)
And it is my hope that you hear this today…and you don’t ignore it like the judge in the parable…or that you don’t get annoyed by it…but unfortunately, for some…that’s the reaction…that’s the reality…but I praise God, that he’s persistent…and that he doesn’t just give it up…and if it doesn’t stick today…he’ll be back tomorrow. Amen.

Confirmation Questions 10-13-13

This week I preached on Luke 17:11-19, the story of Jesus healing the 10 lepers. You can find the sermon here.

As usual, the confirmation students posed some great questions in their sermon notes. I’ll address them here.

-Are there still lepers?
Yes, leprosy still exists. It is a condition which we now know to be caused by a bacteria.  While treatments are available, there are still many places in the world where treatment is not administered and therefore “lepers” are common. India is one such place.

-Why take risks if you don’t know what you’ll go through?
Admittedly, I’m not quite sure what this question is asking, but I’ll attempt to answer it as best I can.  If the question is why would we take risks for our faith, I can only say its because our faith gives us the assurance that God will act. For instance, the 10 lepers believed that Jesus could heal them, and so that’s why they risked approaching him and asked to be healed. Other individuals in the Gospels did the same thing. Their faith gave them confidence regardless of the risks that they were taking.  Sometimes we take risks for our faith as well, which was something that the students discussed during confirmation small group on Sunday. In short, we don’t know what life holds for us. There are a lot of unknowns each and every day, but we risk the negative things because of what we believe.

-Why would people think that God wouldn’t accept them?
This is an excellent question, and there is no single good answer. I’ve known some people that have said “I’m too messed up.” They seem to think that because they have lived a certain way that they can’t go to church, and it seems like the misconception is that they’ll just go to hell. Or they think that its a lost cause.  What they fail to realize, or perhaps have never heard, is that Jesus came to save us all, because in our sinful condition…which includes everyone…we are all lost causes.

-Why did the other 9 lepers not go back to thank Jesus?
Another great question. Honest answer, we don’t know why they failed to return. Perhaps they had already gone a long way before the healing happened…the scripture doesn’t tell us. Perhaps they just didn’t think about it. Perhaps they were in such a rush to return to their homes and families that they skipped thanking Jesus.  Or another possibility is that they were trying to do what Jesus had told them, Go and show themselves to the priest.  It was the priest that had to announce that their leprosy was gone and that they could return home. It’s certainly possible that they were simply trying to follow the rules.  Regardless of the reason, the important thing to remember here is that we have the ability to thank God directly for the things that He has done for us…we can approach God directly through prayer. In the Samaritan’s case, he went back and spoke directly to Jesus…we do the same through prayer.

Odd Man Out 10-13-13

In this sermon I tackle another view on faith. It is based on Luke 17:11-19, the story of the 10 lepers.

Listen to the sermon here:

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here. Excuse the odd punctuation and indications to pause. I gotta remember this stuff somehow.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…Amen
There have been a few times before when I’ve discussed my sermon preparation process…how during certain weeks things went a little odd…strange revelations…eye opening examples…or the dreaded Friday writer’s block.
Well guess what…this week was a bit of an oddball as well…mainly because when Friday rolled around, I was out of the office and home with my kids as the Underwood school system was out for the day. Over the course of the morning, the three of us were lazy, just hanging around the house. I was picking away at some housework while letting my sermon percolate in my mind…and the kids got into a music mode. They sat around listening to music together…but there was a bit of a catch. (pause)
When my kids get hooked on a song, they listen to it over and over again…now parents…I’m guessing that you’ve been hearing your kids singing the new song “What Does the Fox Say?” (pause) I heard it over and over for about half an hour…and then after a short while, the song finally changed…and I heard One Direction’s “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful” over and over again.
My first inkling was to get a little annoyed at hearing the same songs again and again…but then something dawned on me…the light bulb went off in my head…as I’ve been working on the sermon for this week…I’ve been thinking over and over again…this sounds just like last week.
If you were here last week or if you happened to catch the podcast of my sermon, you know that I talked about Faith…what is faith…what is faith not…where does it come from…how do we get it…faith faith faith faith…and it’s a good topic to think about…but after thinking about it for a week straight…I was a little surprised when I sat down, last Sunday following worship to read today’s Gospel lesson for the first time…and the very last phrase was…your faith has made you well…FAITH!!! THERE IS IT AGAIN!!!!
I’ll be perfectly honest…at one point I had the notion that I would just come up here…read the Gospel lesson…and say “Hey, remember what I said last week? Same deal” and go sit down…but then I thought about it a little more…and I realized that while, it’s the same topic this week…the story line is a little different…and it reminded me of movie sequels.
There’s certainly a trend in Hollywood these days to take established movies…and crank out another one…and it works…I know, I checked. The current top 10 grossing movies of 2013 include Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, Monsters University, Fast & Furious 6, Oz the Great and Powerful, and Star Trek Into Darkness. 4 sequels and 2 prequels…6 out of 10…and if you are wondering, #”s 15, 16, 17, and 20 are all sequels too.
Now what’s the secret to a good sequel? Make the story line similar…use at least some of the same characters…but change up the perspective and the setting so its not the exact same movie as the first time around. (pause) So does that work for today’s Gospel?
Let’s see…we’ve got Jesus…and he’s the main character, so that’s good…but we’ve got some new people too…10 lepers including a Samaritan…check…the location has changed so we’ve got that going for us…and instead of the disciples asking for more faith, we see that healing happens because of existing faith…check…yes friends…its official…we have a sermon sequel…we might as well call this one Faith…Part 2.
As I read this story, over and over again…I found myself wondering about the presence of faith…this faith that Jesus recognizes and applauds in the life of the Samaritan…and I found myself wondering…was he the only one that had it?  There are many instances in the Gospels when someone expresses faith and Jesus applauds it…in fact, he uses this exact same phrase 7 times throughout the 4 Gospels…Your faith has made you well…and in each instance…its an unexpected person…its never the disciples…its never the religious elite…it’s the foreigner or the downtrodden…or the neglected…its those that have no earthly reason to be praised…to be recognized…its those that are at the margins…and today’s story is no exception.
10 lepers…and now leprosy…let’s think about that for a moment…leprosy is a horrible disease. Your flesh literally rots away while you are still alive…finger and toes…hands and feet rot away and fall off…and whatever caused it…it was wildly contagious…that’s why we find these 10 guys off in the wilderness…outside of the town that Jesus is approaching…because that’s what they did if you were a leper…they kicked you out of town until you either died or you got better…
You couldn’t come into town…and if you happened to encounter anyone…you had to announce your condition so they could avoid you…that’s why the 10 lepers call out to Jesus from a distance…and so we find these 10 men…utterly marginalized. (pause) But it goes farther than that…we find out that one of them…is a Samaritan…now if you’re not familiar with the social dynamics between Jews and Samaritans at the time…it wasn’t really great…they were like the neighbors that hate each other…the Samaritans were considered half breeds…remnants of a horrible time when the Jews were in exile and intermarried with the Assyrians…they worshiped God but not “correctly.” In short…they were a culture of outcasts…and so this one man…experienced even more marginalization…and outcast…among outcasts…on the outside of the outsiders.
Perhaps that’s why the Samaritan was the only one of the 10 men who returned to show his gratitude for being healed…perhaps it’s because this one man felt the sting of being marginalized just a little more than the others did. Maybe the reversal that Jesus created in his life was just a little bit bigger…a reversal of his condition, he was healed…a reversal of his exile, he could return to his home and family…but even more than that…a reversal of his exclusion…for Jesus himself…God in human form…chose to act in his life, regardless of his status…regardless of his culture…God acted, even if he wasn’t one of the chosen ones.
But maybe it goes a little beyond that…I wonder what was going through the minds of all 10 of these guys. They ask for mercy from Jesus…clearly they recognize him for who he is…but instead of just saying “Ok guys you got it” and healing them…he sends them on a road trip…go show yourselves to the priests.
What do you suppose they were thinking to themselves…or saying to each other as they left…still sick…still unclean…and started walking to the local priest… Umm, what’s going on? Jesus didn’t do anything for us…that’s kinda weird right? But then…in the midst of their journey…the miracle happens…the healing happens…the cleansing happens…and it happens for all 10 of them…(pause)
Yes, only one returns…the Samaritan as we’ve already heard…but all 10 were healed…and Jesus says that it was faith that made them well…so it seems…even though the other 9 guys failed to show any gratitude…that they had faith in what Jesus told them…that the other 9 guys also believed in what God had promised them. (pause)
But I wonder…did any of them have any doubts?  Did any of them feel like maybe, just maybe it won’t work? (pause) Well, maybe…just maybe…that’s how the Samaritan felt.  Maybe…just maybe he was thinking “It won’t work for me…I’m different…I’m not one of them…Jesus just didn’t recognize me for what I am.” (pause)
Doubts happen don’t they? (pause) I think at one time or another, everyone experiences doubt…doubt about who we are…if we’re good enough…if we know enough…doubt about our status in life…doubt about our place in life…and yes…even doubt about our faith…is our faith strong enough…do we really believe the promises of God…Will God really accept ME.
I’ve encountered a lot of people who say that they can’t go to church because they’re too messed up…or because they look different…or they act different…or because they don’t have their life all straightened out…a lot of people fall under that category…and unfortunately…they tend to stay away…they won’t even approach God because they’re afraid…or because they’re stubborn….or because they think they’ll be denied.
But people…don’t we all experience that?  Haven’t each and every one of us…at one time or another…felt like the odd man out…haven’t we all experienced the doubts…or the fears…or the exclusion…haven’t we all been on the margins.  Ever been to high school? You probably know what I’m talking about…ever sat in a class, or a meeting, and felt like you were in over your head?  Ever been called on to explain something, and felt like you didn’t know what to say, or what to express…or worse yet, you sat there questioning whether or not you even believed it yourself?
In our lives…whether or regular day to day activities or in the expression of our faith…doubt happens…questions happen…fear happens…it happens to each and every one of us at one time or another…and when we are honest with ourselves…it probably happens a whole lot more than we want to admit….especially here in church right?
And so we put on the brave face…or we sit quietly with our doubts and questions…or we stop showing up…because our doubts can get in the way. (pause) But you know what…God choses to work despite those doubts…despite those questions…God choses to work in our lives regardless of our own sinful shortcomings…its those sinful shortcomings that prompted God to work in the first place…
And maybe it’s those that recognize how much Jesus has overcome in their lives that creates such an extensive gratitude…look back at the story…the one man that came back…one man out of 10…was the one that experienced twice the miracle…Jesus gave him the same result as the rest, despite being an outsider among outsiders…and when the man realized what God had done for him, he felt the need to express that gratitude directly…and I think we can learn from that example.
Because we’re all outsiders aren’t we? All of our relationships are strained by the presence of sin in our lives…no relationship is perfect…because no person is perfect…and the most important relationship…the relationship that we have with God…the one that we all doubt at one time or another…is severed by sin…but God overcomes it anyway.
God tells us…go on…just like Jesus told the lepers to go…and the healing occurs as we go on in our day to day lives…its not the living that heals us…its not us that heal ourselves…its God that acts…even when our doubts linger…God’s promises still apply…and I believe that we need to show that same gratitude to God…that’s why we gather together in worship…to offer our praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for what he has done for us…but we also show our gratitude in our day to day lives by following what Jesus himself tells us to do…go and make disciples…go and share what God has done in your life…share your story…and don’t worry about having all the right answers…or having everything in line and straightened out in your life first…because when we’re honest…we know that…will never happen in this lifetime…but praise the Lord…because he doesn’t wait for us to get it all figured out…God acts…even when we aren’t paying attention…even when we, are the odd man out…Amen

Confirmation Question Responses From 10-6-13

This week’s sermon came from Luke 17. You can hear/read the sermon here.

The following questions came up in the confirmation student’s sermon notes. I will do my best to address them.

-How do you know that the Holy Spirit/God has acted after you hear the promise?
Excellent question here.  The simple answer is “when you hear the promise that if you believe in Jesus Christ as your savior from sin and death and you believe it.” If you believe it then the Holy Spirit is doing the work…the Holy Spirit is acting to give you faith.  I say this because of what the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1 regarding the message of Jesus Christ (verses 18-25). The notion of Christ crucified and raising from the dead seems unbelievable…that God would chose to do such a thing. In fact Paul calls it foolishness to believe it…and I agree, its a laughable notion…honestly unbelievable…but if the Holy Spirit is acting in your life then you truly believe it.  Now granted, times of doubt do happen, and that does not indicate a lack of faith. It shows that we are still human. In class we talked about being a saint and a sinner at the same time…doubt is evidence of that. But we can ask God to help us in those times of doubt. I will, at times when I’m facing my own struggles, pray “I believe Lord, but help me in my unbelief.”

-Why did the apostles have to ask for their faith to be increased?
Great question. We don’t really know the motivation behind their request for more faith. Directly before this passage (Luke 17: 1-5) Jesus has told the disciples that if a person repents of their sin, then the disciples must forgive them, even if it is multiple times in the same day. Perhaps the disciples think this is impossible and they are asking Jesus for the strength to do so, but keep in mind that’s only a theory. What I think is important here is to remember that faith is a gift from God. Regardless of if we think we need more or not, faith is not self generated. It is given to us.

-How do you catch faith?
Another important question. In my opinion the way to “catch faith” is to be exposed to individuals that live out the faith that they have received in their lives, and this is why I believe that parents are so important. If a child grows up watching their parents live a life of faith, I think its easier for the child to receive their own faith. They grow up hearing the promise. They grow up exposed to the promises of God. Now granted, it doesn’t always happen, but we tend to learn way more from our parents and the environment that we are raised in than we realize, or that we want to admit to.

-Where does faith come from?
Great question. Faith comes from God, but other people also have a hand in it. First we need to hear the promise of God. The promise that we are saved from our sin through Jesus Christ. That’s the promise…and we need to hear that promise from other people. Then once we’ve heard it, the Holy Spirit acts within us to give us faith…or belief…that God is going to do what He says he’ll do.  Faith, is believing the promise.

-How is faith easy?
Excellent question. In many ways, faith is super simple…and in many ways, faith is really hard.  I say its easy because all it takes is believing that God’s going to do what He promises.  But at the same time faith can be really hard because we have so many voices in our life telling us that it’s not true.  Self doubt happens. Peer pressure happens. Much of modern society tells us that faith is not important, that God doesn’t exist or that He doesn’t care.  We have a lot of negative things working against our faith. That’s why I say that it’s hard.

Wonderful questions everyone. Keep them coming.

What is Faith

Today’s sermon came from Luke 17:5-10, though I cut the lesson short, focusing on the first couple of verses. Honestly, I think it took longer for the congregation to stand for the reading of the gospel than it did to actually read it. The disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith and I take a long look at what faith is and where it comes from.

You can listen to the sermon here.

You can follow along with the sermon text here, but note, I went off script several times…adding stuff here and there, occasionally switching stuff around. So the text may be difficult to follow at times.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
The apostles said the Lord “Increase our faith.” (pause). Sometimes I wonder about the disciples. This batch of ragtag backwater ragamuffins that Jesus picked, seemingly at random…to be his closest followers.  Uncouth, uneducated fishermen…a tax collector…a political extremist…a bunch of guys that we really don’t know a whole lot about.
Why did Jesus pick these guys? Did they show him some sort of great devotion from the get-go? Were they just all really good looking and he thought it might increase his status with the cool kids to hang out with them?  Who knows?
All we know is that Jesus chose these guys, and for three years they followed him around. They watched him do amazing things…unbelievable things. They heard him teach about the kingdom of God in new ways…sometimes in understandable ways…and sometimes in confusing ways.  They saw him heal people, raise the dead…they heard him talk about his own death and resurrection…and to top it all off…Jesus planned on building his church on the shoulders of this random crew…Do you suppose they felt up to the task? Or did they maybe…just maybe…feel a little lacking? (pause)
Lord…increase our faith…They might as well be saying “You need to lay some magical Jesus powers on us Lord…then we can do all this stuff that you’re asking us to do.” Or perhaps they’d just heard the old George Michael song “Cuz I gotta have faith” and they thought it was catchy…hard to say.
Either way…they are looking for a boost on the faith scoreboard. Maybe they don’t feel as if they have any and they’re saying “Hey Jesus, we need some faith.” We see that you have faith in God and we’ve all seen what you can do…throw some our way and we’ll be good to go…we’ll head out and do miracles and then everyone will believe us.”
Or maybe they think they’ve got some, but not enough…Maybe they’re saying “Hey Jesus, we’re ranked in at level 5…but we need to be level 10…then we’re golden.”
We don’t really know the motivation of the disciples here…but we do know this…they go to Jesus and ask for faith…and faith…that’s a word that we throw around a lot in church don’t we…especially here in the Lutheran church. We heard it in all three scripture lessons today…we’ve heard it in our prayers…we discussed it downstairs in confirmation class a little while ago…it’s a tenant in the Lutheran tradition. We are saved by faith in Christ…AWESOME!!!! But what the heck does it really mean?
I think this is a serious question, and one worth really thinking about. Faith runs the risk of becoming one of those Christian buzzwords. Something that gets thrown around a lot without ever being defined. So what is faith?  Think about it for a moment…if you were in a conversation with someone…someone that isn’t a church goer…and they asked you “What’s faith?”  What would you say? How would you respond?
Is faith simply following the rules?  Is it just going to church once every week or two?  Is it expressed by trying to do the right thing?  Is that faith?  (pause)  Well, no…I don’t think so.
I think faith…is actually a very simple thing…Faith…is believing in something.  It can be as simple as believing that if I put some money in a pop machine…I’m gonna get a pop out of it…or believing that if I set my alarm before I go to bed, it’s going to go off at the right time so I can get up in time to get everybody ready for the day…or believing that if I climb in my truck and turn the key, the engine is going to start.
It’s a question of believing in something…that’s faith…now granted, those examples that I listed off aren’t anything worth staking my life on…but I have faith that if I do any of those things, then its going to turn out like it is supposed to. (pause)
But if faith is as simple as believing in something…then what does that mean here in the Biblical sense?  What are the disciples really asking for here? Do they even know? (pause)  Often times in the Gospels, we see Jesus correct them…and today’s story seems to be one of those times.
If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could tell this tree to plant itself in the ocean and it will happen.  My guess is that Jesus is getting a little snarky with the boys once again.  Of course you aren’t going to actually attempt to plant a tree in the ocean…that’s just silly…we all know it won’t grow there…so why would Jesus even say that?
Well maybe, just maybe…the example that he’s giving is irrelevant…and maybe the size of the mustard seed…or in this case the amount of faith that he’s talking about doesn’t really matter either….Maybe what Jesus is saying here is that if you have any faith at all…if you actually believe in the promise…then its done.
Maybe that’s all faith really is…Actually believing it…actually trusting in the promise made by God…the promise that if you believe in Christ as your savior…then its done.
Funny…as I sit and think about that, it almost seems like it’s way to easy. All we have to do is believe? Really? (pause) I mean…come on…REALLY? That’s it?  It can’t be it. (pause) Can it?
Well, what if that is it?  What if that’s really all there is too it? To this…faith…thing. (pause)  Well that doesn’t seem so hard now does it?  Kind of makes you wonder just why the disciples are having so much trouble with it…but you know…it seems like the disciples are always having issues with it…in really believing the promise of God. You’d think they’d be the ones to have it down, but it seems like in the Gospel stories its always the unexpected person that Jesus praises for their faith…the woman that washes Jesus’ feet. The woman who touches his cloak in the crowd and is healed…the centurian seeking healing for his servant…these are the people that Jesus praises for their faith…and its because they express belief. They each believe that what they are seeking, will be granted…they simply believe it and it happens.
Kind of reminds me of Yoda in Empire Strikes Back when he tells Luke Skywalker “Do…or do not…there is no try.”  When it comes to the promises of God, you either believe them, or you don’t…It seems that you either have faith, or you don’t. (pause)
But if that’s the case…if that’s really the case…then just where does faith come from?  (pause) I think that this is one point where we can look to the disciples and see that they were doing something correctly…they were looking for faith outside themselves…because faith…is not self generated. (pause)
You can’t make yourself have faith…I wish you could…I really do…but you can’t.  Faith takes two things…first you have to hear the promise…if you haven’t heard anything to believe in then there’s nothing to believe right?   (pause)  Secondly…you need God to act…and that’s where the disciples are getting it right. They are going right to the source…Jesus Christ…God the Son…God right here on earth…They had heard the promise straight from the source and now God needs to act…and we find ourselves in the same boat.  We hear the promise…that we are saved from our sin by Jesus Christ…and it is up to the Holy Spirit to act in our lives to create faith…to create belief in the promise. (pause)
And now here’s the kicker…all of this begs the question…how do we hear the promise in the first place? We have to hear it first right?  Without a promise there’s nothing to believe in…and we don’t have Jesus here to tell us about it do we? (pause) But we’re here aren’t we?
Think about it for a moment…each and every one of you are here because at some point in your life…someone saw fit to tell you the promise of God…at some point in your life someone saw fit to invite you to come…and if you’re still here…then it seems that you believed the promise…it seems that you caught the faith.
And that’s an important point right there…catching faith.  I firmly believe that faith is not taught…(pause) its caught…and if you don’t believe me, take another look at the reading from 2 Timothy for today. Paul tells Timothy “I am reminded of your sincere faith…a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now…I am sure…lives in you.”
Timothy’s faith is a generational faith…and I believe very strongly in the importance of that fact.  In a recent survey of faithful youth within the Lutheran church…the vast majority stated that their faith formed because of the work of caring adults…adults that were willing to invest in the faith of those young people…but the identity of those caring adults might just surprise you.  For the vast majority of those faithful youth…it wasn’t the youth director…it wasn’t the pastor…it wasn’t the Sunday School teacher…it was their Mom and Dad…and it was their Grandparents.
I’ll go on record…here and now…I’ll go on record saying that I believe that parents, you are the MOST important person in modeling a life of faith for your children…but while you might be the most important…you are not the only ones. Extended family…you’re responsible too…but you aren’t the only ones either…everyone…top to bottom…everyone is responsible for creating an environment where the promise of God….the promise that we are saved from our sin through Jesus Christ…is proclaimed…where the promise is lived out…
And when that sincere faith is present…when it is talked about openly…and honestly…that’s when the Holy Spirit gets busy to bring the new individual into a saving faith in Jesus Christ…because the faith that we have…the belief that God will do what God says he will do…its contagious…and that’s a fever worth catching. Amen.

Confirmation Questions 9-29-13

Once again, some great questions came up from the confirmation students. The sermon, which you can read/listen to here offers a baptismal perspective on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke 16:19-31.

-Why did the rich man in the parable ask for Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers?
We see in verse 28 of the scripture reading that the rich man wants his brothers to repent of the same sin that he was guilty of, in order that they could avoid his fate in the afterlife. We don’t know what the afterlife is like. There just isn’t any record of people coming back and telling us (though admittedly there are accounts such as the book 5 Minutes in Heaven). But it is my belief that anyone who is in either heaven or hell would want those still living to heed the warning. If they are in heaven, so that the living would be able to experience it, and if they are in hell, so that the living could avoid it.

-Why does God create people that have everything, but doesn’t give those in need the simplest things?
Great question. First off, I have to offer a warning against the notion that God creates some people to be rich and others to be poor. I think that God creates us, but that the circumstances of life are more up in the air. Yes, some individuals are more privileged in life than others, but we really don’t know why that is. Jesus teaches us that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and that we are to share our resources. We see evidence of this same notion in the early community of believers in the book of Acts. They shared everything in common with each other. Coming back around to the question of why some people don’t have the necessities, all I can say is because the presence of sin in our reality has warped that reality. Some people unfortunately don’t have the resources they need, but if we would all share our resources, I wonder if that would continue to be a problem.  In the commandment to love our neighbors, I think that’s how God wants to provide for those in need, but unfortunately it doesn’t always happen that way.