Archive for May, 2016

Speak the Word Lord 5-29-16

This sermon is based on Luke 7:1-10. Jesus heals the slave of a Centurion, and we are reminded of the importance of authority, both recognizing it as well as believe in it.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

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

I’ve heard it said that some of the people that you grow closest to tend to be the parents of kids who do the same activities as your kids…and I’m starting to learn the truth of that statement…particularly now in the midst of baseball season.

But I suppose it makes sense…over the course of 2 months, 2-3 times a week you sit on the sidelines for hours at a stretch with the same people. There’s friendly banter and conversation…and you get to know them.

This phenomenon was on display earlier this week. We were sitting at a game, our lawn chairs in line with a dozen or so other parents. And during the game, one of our kids hit an easy little pop up that should have been a routine catch for the other team…but low and behold…the kid trying to make the catch bobbled it…and in the end dropped it. All the parents on our side clapped for the successful hit…and then the dad sitting right next to me leaned over and asked “You have anything to do with that?” I chuckled, but then reported “Nope, couldn’t take credit for that one…it wasn’t in the air long enough to get a prayer out.” (pause)

I hear this sort of thing fairly often…whether it’s for a kid dropping a ball in this case…or prayers that the game will go our way…or asking that we either get the rain that we need, or avoid the storm that we don’t…because…apparently…I’ve got pull. (pause)

If only that were the case…In truth…the title Pastor before my name doesn’t actually authorize me to do that much. According to our denominational structure, being a pastor allows me to preside over the sacraments…though there are certain loopholes tied into that rule…and because of my ordination our state laws grant me the authority to legally bind two people together in marriage…and honestly…that’s about it…beyond these two things…pretty much everything that I do could be done by anyone…preaching, teaching, visitation, leading worship…anyone can do these things…offering invocations at events, funerals…those things too.

And yet, I am entrusted to do these things…I’m given the authority to do so…and its this notion of authority that catches my attention today…because we see discussion around this notion within the gospel. (pause)
Jesus comes into Capernaum…the small town of about 1000-1500 people…the small community on the northern shores of the sea of Galilee…a place marking the cross roads of a couple important travel routes through the region…and the place where Jesus has established his home base in the midst of his traveling time of ministry.

Now also present in Capernaum…the home of a Centurion…a man placed within the hierarchy of the Roman military…One rung on the ladder…not the low man on the totem pole…and certainly not the top dog either.

Why exactly this particular individual is here in Capernaum is unclear, though its likely that Rome has stationed a garrison there due to the importance of trade coming through the area…regardless this man, tasked with overseeing 100 soldiers appears to live in the community…and as we hear…he’s respected.

The Centurion has apparently contributed greatly to the building of the local synagogue…and he’s on friendly terms with the Jewish establishment…likewise, as a commander with men under him…he’s well versed in the authority granted to him. He gives orders to come and go…or to do this or that…and its done…because of the respect that his position gives him…because the people honor his authority. (pause)

And yet…in the midst of this…what do we really know about the man? Honestly…not much…We know his position…we hear that the Jewish elders seem to like him…and we know that he’s got slaves…and that’s about it. We never hear his name…nor does he physically appear on the scene. Everything we know about him, we know…second hand…as he speaks through others…not even approaching Jesus. (pause)
I think it is often the tendency that we think of this man as a good guy…and he certainly might have been…but we don’t know…he might have been a jerk…he’s got slaves…he’s part of the oppressive forces occupying Jewish territory…and even his supposed generosity in building the synagogue could have been nothing more than political savvy to keep the locals happy. (pause) Long story short, we really don’t know anything about this guy. Even his relationship with the sick slave is in question. We hear that the slave is highly valued…but does the Centurion value him as a person…or on the more likely side…was the slave simply worth a lot of money that the Centurion didn’t want to lose. (pause)
Now I bring all of this up…because first and foremost…its important that we not romanticize this guy…good, bad, or otherwise…he was just a man, flawed just like we all are…and as he is stationed in this small town, he’s caught wind of Jesus and he’s heard about the healings that Jesus has already performed…perhaps with his close ties to the Jewish Leadership, the Centurion has heard stories of Jesus’ teachings…and his reputation as one who acts with authority.

And its this notion of authority that the Centurion grabs hold of…as he hopes against hope that Jesus might just be willing and able to do something about this illness that threatens his slave…and so, the Centurion really seems to play his cards right…honoring the various cultural rules that might be in play…those things that could possibly stand in the way of Jesus lending his healing hand in this situation.

He starts off by sending the Jewish elders…a group that he’s got some sway with…to go and get Jesus…and they play their part perfectly…This man is worthy of having you do this…for he loves our nation and built the synagogue…but perhaps more important than their words…is the inherent authority that they possess as elders in the community. Surely Jesus will listen to them.

And then…as the story continues we see that Jesus is, in fact willing to go help out, for what ever reason…and then, in order to continue to save face…recognizing the cultural limitation that a Jewish rabbi would be unlikely to enter into the house of a Gentile and risk becoming ceremonially unclean…the Centurion sends another group…and whether his humbleness is genuine…or simply another sneaky ploy to make himself look good in front of the locals…his words carry an important message. (pause)
Lord…speak the word…and let it be done. (pause) This phrase…this request, regardless of the motivation…is given by the Centurion because he understands authority…and Jesus names this as faith…but I found myself wondering, just what was it that Jesus praises here…what is it about the Centurion’s words that Jesus is so impressed by?

Listen to them again. “Lord, do not trouble yourself…only speak the word and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to one Go and he goes, and another come and he does.” (pause) The Centurion holds on to authority and what it means when someone who has this authority gives an order…he believes that when this authority manifests itself in a a command…that it WILL be done…and Jesus recognizes this…as…faith.

Believing in the word spoken by one with authority…Now of course this raises the question of just what the Centurion recognized as authority within Jesus…was it authority granted by humanity…or was it something different?

Because that’s the thing about the position he found himself in…or that any of us find ourselves in. Authority within humanity…must always be given. Perhaps its granted to an individual through an establishment…or by laws…or as in the case of the Centurion it is handed down from those higher up the ladder…but additionally…we also grant authority to those we perceive as being above us, by following what they say.  (pause) That’s the crazy thing about human authority…it can’t be taken, one way or another, it has to be given.

But when we start talking about Jesus…well that’s something altogether different…and whether the Centurion recognized it or not…he was appealing to divine authority…authority over disease…authority over nature…authority over creation itself…and that’s not something that is received from another…divine authority, which Jesus possesses…simply…IS. (pause)
Whether he realized it or not, the Centurion was appealing to the same authority that spoke the words and calmed a storm…he was speaking to the same authority that made up its mind that there should be light…and then said it…and sure enough, there was light. This same authority that literally spoke our reality into reality is present within this man…within the divine word of God made flesh.

And so today, the big question for us, is what does this authority…this divine authority, not that which is granted to anyone, but which simply is…what does it say about us? (pause)

That divine authority of Jesus Christ…the authority living word of God…the literal voice of the divine…SAYS…You are mine…I have chosen you…and there is nothing that will stand in the way of that…and I for one feel blessed that each and every week, we get to hear that…it’s a humbling thing to stand before you, not under my own authority, but under the authority of Christ, who declares to you that you are forgiven…that you are of worth…that you are chosen by God because of his perfect love for you…and just as the Centurion seemed to believe…that if Jesus says the words, then they are true…and Jesus has said these words to you…and if there is any doubt in your minds that God has accomplished this amazing work…this amazing thing that we are in no way capable of doing on our own…just remember the last things that Jesus said as he hung on that cross. It IS finished. (pause)

That work of redemption is already done for you, whether we realize it or not…because that’s the amazing thing about the divine authority of God which manifested in Jesus Christ…we don’t have to grant it…we don’t have to understand it…and in fact, we don’t even have to acknowledge it in order for it to be true…

But it is true, because Jesus has already said so…may this be our prayer today and every day…that when we recognize our own failings…our own shortcomings…our own unworthiness…that we also believe the words of our Lord who heals our brokenness anyway…
Speak the word Lord, and let us be healed…And then believe that this word…has already been spoken for you. Amen.

Vaya Con Dios 5-22-16

In this sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday, I explore Romans 5:1-5. God has chosen to be revealed to the world in many different ways, but all because of the love that God has for us and the rest of creation.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

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

Ever since last week, which of course was the day of Pentecost, I’ve been thinking about how the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples, and at least in that moment, gives them the ability to speak in different languages…I’ve been thinking about it, because I think that particular Spirit-given gift would be a really great one to receive…but if my own linguistic abilities are any indication…the Spirit passed me with that particular gift.

Because I am pretty much the poster boy for being mono-linguistic…aka, I know one language. Anything beyond my knowledge of the English language is minimal at best.  I can insult someone in German, which I learned from an exchange student…and I know just enough Spanish to survive…and barely at that…What little I know is all based on the same phrase…so see if you recognize any of these.
Donde esta es el banjo….Where is the bathroom? How about this one…Donde esta es agua…Yep, where is water? Then there’s this one that would have possibly been helpful in my days of being single…Donde esta es la senioritas…yep, where are the girls?  And finally, my personal favorite. Donde esta es el cervesas?  Some of you recognize that one…and if you don’t know, ask the people laughing now…they’ll tip you off. (pause)

Now beyond that, there is one more phrase in Spanish that I do know and I think its pretty cool. Vaya con dios…Now this phrase serves as a farewell…and actually means “go with God.” It’s a way for individuals who are parting from one another to offer a brief blessing in their departure…as you go, may God be with you…that’s really the basic gist of this phrase.
I bring it up because today it seems sorta fitting. Today is Holy Trinity Sunday…which always falls the first Sunday after Pentecost…Today serves as a time when we focus on the Trinity…one God in three persons…and its fitting to do so now because as we move through the church year, we have now reached the point where all three members of the trinity have really been on display. We’ve encountered the God of creation…we’ve been through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, our Pascal Lamb…and now following Pentecost, we celebrated the arrival of the Holy Spirit which empowers us as the church…as the body of Christ here on Earth until such time as Jesus returns. (pause)
This is where we find ourselves today…kicking off the long season of Pentecost as we continue to recall and remember the ongoing growth of the church throughout the centuries which ultimately will culminate in the return of Christ in the last days…and over the course of our history, we have come to an understanding of the Trinity…or the Triune God…this notion of One God in Three persons…one God who has been revealed to humanity in three specific ways.

But admittedly, as I’ve said before…the notion of the trinity is really hard to wrap our heads around. It tends to be one of those teachings here in the church that we accept to be true but can’t really put into words…and yet, year after year, in countless settings, pastors stand in pulpits in front of their congregations, and many attempt to offer insight and descriptions to shed some light on the truth of the trinity.

And most of them…in fact probably all them…fail. Because the trinity is not something that we can describe…its not something that we can explain…it is only evidence of the truth that we have a God who has chosen different ways to be revealed to us.

I don’t know if you’ve ever taken a close look at the three stain glassed windows that are out in the narthex…they were placed there during the last building expansion but used to be at the back end of this sanctuary…but if you think about it, take a look when you walk out today…because at the center of each window is an image that represents one of the trinity…there’s the all seeing eye that depicts our all seeing God overlooking all of creation…and then there’s the image of a lamb representing Christ who is the ultimate Passover sacrifice…and finally the image of the dove representing the Spirit descending at Jesus’ baptism. (pause)

These are simply 3 images…and yet they remind us of the truth that we have a God who WILL be revealed to us…and there is no limit and nothing that hinders God from being revealed…Have you ever noticed how different individuals share their vastly different ways of having experienced the presence of God? Each one is vastly different than the one that came before, but if they have anything in common, it’s the notion that the presence of God is revealed to the person in some way that is personal and meaningful to them…a way that reminds them that God is with them in that moment, and every moment…that regardless of what goes on they go with God…they vaya con dios. (pause)

Now perhaps this raises the question of why? Why does God do this? Or what is God’s motivation for being revealed to us? And if we refer back to Paul’s words from Romans that we heard earlier, we see that in all things, God works to reveal his divine love for us…because we are a part of his creation…God made it…and God takes delight in it…joy, love for all that he has made…including us…but since the powers of sin and death have entered this world, creating a rift that our Good God cannot tolerate…God continued to reveal his love for us…his desire to be with us…by taking on flesh and dwelling among us as one of us…and in the end, through the death and resurrection of Christ…our price is paid…and whatever sense of justice needed to be filled…we hear that we are justified through our faith in Christ…and we have peace with our Creator…and what is faith? Well, its simply believing that God will do what God promises…and we receive the promise that God claims us as his own, drawing us to himself through the power of the Holy Spirit…and why? For the exact same reason…simply because he loves us. Not because of anything that we do, or say or think…but simply because of who we are…his beloved creation.

The Trinity exists in such a way that we can begins to see that we have a God who exists to be in relationship…and already was before our reality became reality…and likewise, as we are created in the image of God, we also exist to be in relationship with one another and with the one that created us in the first place….and nothing, not even our foul ups are going to hinder God from that relationship. (pause)

Perhaps you’ve heard of the idea of an elevator pitch…the notion that if you had the amount of time it takes to go a few floors in an elevator, what would you say to another individual to peak their interest…and I’ve shared it before…my elevator pitch for the gospel…God made it, we messed it up, Christ redeemed it, and through the Spirit we are invited to join with God in the work of reconciliation.

What a blessing to be invited into this work…and even more so to realize that God intends that we join in this work in the midst of our day to day lives…we don’t need special training…we don’t need to go around the world…we simply recognize that we are empowered to share our story of what God has done…of what we have seen and heard.

But all that being said…we also know that this life as believers…this life that we live, having already been justified in the eyes of God through Jesus Christ…this life is not easy. We are not excused from suffering, or hardships, or troubles…and in fact if the Apostle Paul is to be believed…our life as believers tends to ramp up the troubles that we experience.

But the blessing of all of this…of knowing that our Triune God has many ways to reveal to us the simple fact that we are not alone…then we realize that there is something that we can cling to in the midst of these hardships…and in the long run…as difficult as it may be…God can and does use the hardships of our past to work in the future.

No one knows better than you what hardships lie in your life…in your existence…but rest assured that you are not alone in it…and God will find a way to reveal himself to you…may our eyes be opened to recognize His presence in whatever way we need to…whether its in the peaceful feeling of the sun shining on our face…or the joy in hearing just the right song and just the right time…or the presence of a caring person who is willing to sit there in silence with you in the midst of your pain…not trying to take it away…but just to sit there with you while it is experienced…God is present in the pain.

And so may you know today that no matter where you go when you walk outside of this room today, you will go with God…because God is already with you, whether you are looking for him or not…Vaya con dios my friends…Amen.

Never Underestimate 5-15-16

In this sermon for Pentecost Sunday, I explore Acts 2:1-21 as the Holy Spirit comes upon the members of the early church in incredible ways.

You can follow along with 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, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen

Never underestimate. Words of advice that I heard years ago…long enough that I can’t even remember who told me…but this advice applies to situations both positive and negative.  Never underestimate the ability of an individual to do or say something utterly remarkable …and at the same time, never underestimate the ability of an individual, perhaps the very same individual, to do something…REALLY stupid. (pause)

Summer of 1999…late May or perhaps early June. I’d been working on the maintenance crew at Brooks Golf Course in Okoboji for a very brief period of time, just a few weeks…pretty much long enough to get the very basics, including how to operate the various types of mowers on my own without supervision…and also, it should be noted, the summer when a brand new hole was in the late process of becoming established on the course…a new hole, with a new green.

Now, everything about this new hole was good to go…the tee and the fairway and the rough…all were grown in and established…but when I first started, the green was not yet in play…and this is because of the extreme nature of golf greens. They are cut extremely short, every single day…typically at lengths of less than a 10th of an inch…and because of this, you have to use a special type of grass that is bred to withstand, and even thrive, under these extreme conditions…but before that species of grass can thrive, or even survive under these conditions, it needs to get established and produce a very solid root base…and in order for this to happen, you first let it grow pretty long.

Okay, so all that being said, this day, early in the season, and early in my turf maintenance career…I was assigned the task of mowing a specific set of greens…in a rotation that had just been established and posted by the head guy that day…and of course, my set of greens included that new green…and I’m sure you can see where this is going.

I got to this new green, and even though I could tell the grass was really long…and I questioned myself several times before starting…I concluded that since my boss had put it on the rotation assignment…that he must want me to cut it…so I did…at least I did about 90% of it before he saw me and came flying over with a look on his face that made me think “that’s it…I’m fired.” (pause) I had clearly made the wrong call…I had made a decision that I was in no way qualified to make…a call that under most circumstances would have resulted in the utter destruction of that green…and the need to start completely over again with its establishment.

But…I think God was on my side…because that particular day happened to be very cool…completely overcast…and it actually started a very gentle rain about an hour after this whole deal happened…a rain that lasted the rest of the day…and I happened to overhear about a day later, one of the other bigwigs told my boss “You know, we couldn’t have picked a better day to start cutting that green.” (pause) It shouldn’t have worked out…but it did.

Now all of that being said, today we see evidence of the same sort of thing happening. Here we are, Pentecost Sunday…one of my favorites…and the one day in the church year when the Holy Spirit is REALLY on display…because today is the day that we celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples in Jerusalem…an event marked by a great rushing wind…one of the only two appearances of the spirit in some sort of physical form…uneducated backwater guys suddenly empowered to speak different languages…and of course the snarky back and forth between Peter and their opponents over this event being prompted by overdoing it at the bar. (pause)

We’ve been moving towards this day for several weeks now. Perhaps you’ve noticed an ongoing theme of the coming Holy Spirit within our gospel lessons as we moved through the tail end of the Easter Season…but now…BOOM!!!!! Here we are…and as such all of our scripture lessons feature the Holy Spirit…and interestingly enough…all of them aimed at something just a little bit different.

Within the Psalm that we shared earlier we hear…You have sent forth your Spirit, and they are created…And so we see that the Spirit was present within Creation…The brief reading from Romans highlights how the Spirit is active in God’s claim upon us as his children…we are given the spirit of adoption…that it is through the power of the spirit that we are claimed in the first place….the gospel lesson features Jesus’ own words and promise that the Spirit will come upon his followers…the advocate…who will teach us and remind us of his words…there are countless more passages throughout the scripture, both old and new testament, that testify to the Spirit, telling us different things that the Spirit will do both for us and within us…

And then of course, we have our normal reading for today from Acts 2, when the Promised Spirit comes upon the disciples, empowering them to do things that they had no way of doing on their own.

Truly today is Holy Spirit day…but funny enough…I’m reminded each and every year about how ambiguous the Holy Spirit really is…and its been my observation that here in the Lutheran tradition especially, we are pretty good and shoving the Spirit off to the side…We get the Father and Creator…We get the Son who lived, died, and was resurrected…but we don’t really get the Spirit do we? (pause)
Even if we think about the Apostles Creed…our main statement of belief that we share together each and every Sunday…the portion attributed to the Holy Spirit doesn’t shed much light…I believe in the Holy Spirit…okay good so far…the holy catholic church…umm, because the Spirit united us all into the one universal church…okay…the communion of saints…ummm, the forgiveness of sins…yah…the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. (pause) Is it just me…or does that get a little confusing about just what the Spirit is…or what the Spirit does? (pause) Or maybe, is that just a glimpse at the multitude of things that Spirit is up to right here, right now, in the midst of our present reality, whether we can place our finger on it or not…maybe that random 16th century monk knew what he was talking about when he wrote I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Christ Jesus my Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts and sanctified me. (pause)

Truly the Holy Spirit is up to a lot within the world…because God is still up to a lot in the world and whether we have the tendency to gloss over it or not…the Spirit…IS…GOD…and as such one of the many things that God is up to through the Spirit is to empower us as followers of Christ to do things that we are in no way shape or form capable of on our own.

The perfect example of this is Peter…because think about Peter…think about his history…He’s a fishermen…and honestly I sort of wonder if he’s even any good at that…the only two times we hear about him actually fishing, he needs Jesus to perform a miracle in order for him to catch any fish…he’s a bonehead who chooses to jump out of a perfect good boat in the midst of a storm to try and walk on water…He constantly spouts off out of confusion…trying to break the silence that occurs…and when it comes to failures…isn’t he the poster boy for Discipleship Fails? (pause) Even if all others fall away Lord, I will follow you, even to death…Yah, no you won’t Peter…they’re all gonna run away, sure…but you’re actually gonna deny me 3 times…not once…but 3. (pause)

Peter should be the absolute worst choice. He’s an uneducated, possibly subpar fisherman who not only doesn’t understand, but he flat out fails to grasp what Jesus is saying or what Jesus is really up to…(pause) And yet…

When the disciples have been empowered by the Spirit and begin proclaiming the greatness of God in foreign languages…spreading the gospel to individuals who will then take it with them back to every nation under the heavens…and in the midst of this…opposition occurs…this backwater dude, who has no business taking the reigns, and certainly no experience with large scale public speaking…stands up, empowered, emboldened…and led by the Holy Spirit…and proceeds to share his experience of the risen Lord Jesus Christ…and after a rather lengthy sermon…we see that the Spirit uses him…and his words, such as they are…and the Spirit prompts the question within the crowd…What do we do? And Peter responds, repent and be baptized.

And 3000 people came to Christ that day…3000 people that would take the message out into the world…to the ends of the earth. (pause) It never should have worked…but it did…because the Spirit was doing one of the many things that the Spirit does…it empowers us…now of course, this looks different for everyone…because as we hear, there is one Spirit but many gifts here in the one body of Christ.

And what a blessing…what reassurance to see in today’s story that God can and does use us, despite our failings…despite our shortcomings…and sometimes, its those very failings that the Spirit uses to advance the kingdom…Just like me messing up and mowing that green when I had no business doing it…the weather just happened to cooperate and the green went into play 2 weeks earlier than expected…and likewise…The Spirit used Peter, a knucklehead fisherman who had proven time and again that he had no idea what he was talking about, and increased the size of the church 25 times over. (pause)

We are flawed…we are broken…we feel unqualified and ill-prepared…and no one knows that better than we know for ourselves…and yet the Spirit empowers us and uses us…often times within the midst of those very shortcomings that we recognize within ourselves. This has been true since the beginning…it was true in the days of Jesus and the disciples…it is true today…and will continue to be true in the future.

Truly we must never underestimate anything…not our ability to do something incredibly stupid…Lord knows I’m capable of that on a pretty constant basis…but also, we must not underestimate what the Spirit can and does accomplish in the midst of it. Amen.

One Plus One Equals One 6-8-16

This morning’s sermon is based on John 17:20-26. Jesus prays for unity among all believers…which includes us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

I like Math…I just do…because it always works. I’ve heard it said that Math is the universal language…because when it gets right down to it…1 plus 1 equals 2….or Uno y Uno es Does…I could continue in other languages but unfortunately those are the only two I know.  But it always works…if you have something…and you bring in one more thing…then you have two things. Period.

I love math…but…not everyone does…and in my observation, for anyone who isn’t a fan of math, story problems are the bane of their homework existence…I’ve seen it many times as I’ve helped my kids with math homework…and I can remember many of my classmates lamenting them during my school days.

Now personally I’ve never really had a problem with them…because for whatever reason, my brain connects well with the very linear method of thinking required to solve story problems…in order to solve the question, I need to find this, and in order to find that, I need to solve this, and in order to solve that, I need to do this particular process with these available numbers…one thing leads to the next thing, which leads to the next thing.

Now because my mind works pretty well to move through that linear pattern of problem solving, I was geared well to handle geometry during my sophomore year of high school…and in particular, writing geometric proofs…something that the vast majority of my classmates hated…and yet I could sit there and do them all day.

Because this is true, we know that this is also true…and because that is true, we can deduce that this is also true…and if that is true, then we know that this is also true…and so on and so forth…Admittedly, it probably makes me pretty nerdy…but its safe to say that I actually enjoyed the process of moving forward from what was given to end up at the desired result…from start to finish…always pushing forward despite any tricky roadblocks that might get in the way of where we were trying to get to. (pause)

Now today’s gospel lesson offers us something of a similar type of situation. We find ourselves today at the final Sunday of the Easter season…Ascension Day was last Thursday…and so, within our calendar we have passed the point where Jesus returned to Heaven…coming up next Sunday, one week from today, we hit the day of Pentecost when Jesus sends the Holy Spirit upon his followers, just as he promised…and with that, we will begin to see and remember the explosive growth of the early church which has led all the way up, across the last 2000 years to today…and which will continue on until the last days…when Jesus will return ushering in a new era…a new reality with a new heaven and a new earth where God dwells among us.

That’s the direction that this is all going…that’s the end game that God has in mind…and in fact, it seems to me that this has been the plan all along…when God sparked off creation, using whatever means he saw fit…and somehow, someway God made the world and everything in it, not to mention the great cosmos that exists out there…and everything in that too…and ever since that initial moment, whenever it was, when God spoke existence into creation…its all been moving forward…and despite your personal thoughts on creation…despite what you might think about the debates between science and religion…it seems to me, that creation…or reality…or whatever you want to call it, continues to move forward…with something of an energetic spark behind it…I happen to think that energetic spark is God…but that’s just me…

But regardless, as time marches on, this reality is moving forward towards something…and the scriptures give us glimpses into the various moments when God has acted directly here within our reality to continue this forward momentum…and now coming all the way back around to the gospel for today…we see Jesus engage in the same sort of forward movement within the context of a prayer.

The entirety of chapter 17 of John’s gospel is a prayer…Jesus has wrapped up his final time of teaching…and just before they head out to the garden to kick off this whole death and resurrection thing…Jesus takes the time to pray.

Now this is a unique situation…because the majority of the time in the gospels we don’t get to hear just what Jesus is praying for. There are brief moments, but they’re pretty rare…but here we have the entirety…and the amazing thing, as we see in the verses just before this one, and then throughout these verses as well…is the fact that Jesus is praying directly for his followers…and remember that they are sitting there at the table with him…think about that.

What does it feel like when someone takes the time to pray for you…and you are there, privy to what’s on their heart for you…it’s a pretty amazing thing…and in this situation…its Jesus…God in human form…God the son…The word of God made flesh…praying for his followers…and newsflash…YOU are a part of that…You…are included as a recipient of Jesus’ prayer…YOU are on his mind.

Father I ask not only on behalf of these who are sitting here, but also on behalf of those who will believe because of their words. (pause). Without a doubt…we are included in that number…because 2000 years after Jesus lived died and rose again…the life altering gospel has reached our ears, and that has brought us here today.

So let that sink in for just a moment. At the Last Supper…just before Jesus endured the most horrific fate that we can imagine…he prayed…for…you. (pause)

Now the basic theme of this prayer…unity. Father, you and I are one.  So let them be one…and all those who will believe later…yah let them be one too…and why? Well so the world will believe that you sent me…and if they believe it, then we dwell with them…and they with us…and we’re all one…and if we’re unified, then they’ll see my glory, and my glory is your glory, and if they see it, then we’ll glorify them too…so let them be one…because we are one, and we want to be one with them…because we love them. (pause)

But the really interesting thing about all of this, is that Jesus’ prayer is almost structured like one of those geometry proofs that I loved so much in high school…and its because of the presence of a single word that is repeated over and over again.  In the Greek, it’s a word called Hina…and its best translated “in order that.” And in these 7 verses, it happens 9 times.

Just like those proofs…since this is true, then we know this is true…and it happens here too. Father I pray for them, IN ORDER THAT they be one…that they be unified, IN ORDER THAT we may be with them and they with us, IN ORDER THAT the world may come to know that you sent me. And they will believe that you sent me IN ORDER THAT your glory may be in them, and if your glory is in them, then your name is glorified in them IN ORDER THAT your love is in them, IN ORDER THAT the world may know your love. (pause)

Its all moving forward…its all moving towards something…and in the end, it seems like God is working in the world, which has been redeemed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the end result of this work, which we have not yet reached…is unity…that we may be unified as the one body of Christ, and that the one body of Christ may be unified with God…and as Jesus says…so that where we are, they may be also…that’s where this is all going…and Jesus desires it…not only for those guys sitting at the table that night, but for you and me…and everyone that has come before us and everyone that will come after…that in the end, we may all be unified…that we may all be one. (pause)
Now, how does all this work? Well, I have no idea…but I do know that it involves the power of the Holy Spirit…which Jesus is about to send our direction at Pentecost…the Spirit of God which flows through the world…empowering the church…and empowering us as individuals to join with God in this work of unification.

And what I do know is this…it is only possible because of the hand of God at work…because there are way too many different forces at work here in the world that are trying to push back against God’s work towards unity…the powers of sin and death…the powers of darkness and destruction…powers that we’ve seen first hand this week…because there’s been a lot of death surrounding our community as well as individuals within our congregation…and death is only one of the forces that work against the unity that God desires for us and with us.

All we need to do is turn on the news and we witness more…anytime the world…which unfortunately includes us as well…tries to throw up some sort of barrier…whatever that barrier is…division based on race, or gender, or economic status, or age, or orientation…and even here within the realm of the church…divisions and judgements based on denomination or Biblical interpretation or tradition.

We create barriers to unity all the time…but praise be to God that no matter what we throw at it…the world…this realty…this creation that we live in…God is moving it forward whether we like it or not…whether we come on board or not…whether we take God’s invitation to join in this work of reconciliation or not…its happening. (pause)

You know interestingly enough, I was sitting down with one of our members earlier this week, talking about this very thing…and the radio was playing in the background…and as we talked, one of those really catchy songs came on…you know the type…the ones that even if you don’t like them, you hear it and it catches your attention.

And this song that came on the radio was Taylor Swift… (sing it) We…are never ever ever…getting back together. (pause) And the more I thought about that blasted song the more it seemed fitting.  Because all that dark stuff within our reality…whatever it is…its trying tooth and nail to keep us apart…to keep us separated…and the world and all the divisions that we create might tell us “We’re never getting back together…its too far gone…never gonna happen.” But God says…Oh yah…you just wait and see.

We may not get it now…because God works in ways that go far beyond our ability to see or do or understand…and what God’s up to doesn’t always make sense to us…in fact the work of God often times to be the polar opposite of what logic says should happen.

And as much as I might love math…and the way that it always works…the unity that God is working towards even throws that for a loop…because math may tell us that 1 plus 1 equals 2…but it seems to me that Jesus is saying that 1 plus 1 equals 1…at least it will when its all said and done. Amen

The Same Old Story 5-1-16

In this sermon, taken from John 14:23-29, I explore Jesus’ promises that we will never be left alone. This happens in the context of Confirmation Sunday, when Jesus’ promises are particularly important for our young people.

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 know that I’m pretty active with various types of social media…facebook, Instagram, and twitter being the main 3. They each do their own thing, and I use them in different ways, but one thing I like about my settings on Twitter, is that anytime someone directly interacts with me I get a text on my phone.

Friday morning…I was pacing around my office, my brain spinning round and round as I pondered on today’s sermon, when my phone chirped at me with a text…and sure enough, it was from Twitter, letting me know that some random person had liked one my old tweets from about a month ago…and the fact that it was an old tweet caught my attention…because I realized that the exact same person had liked that exact same tweet almost exactly 24 hours previously…a day apart…an old offhanded statement of mine got twitter love from the exact same source.

Now I was thinking about the significance of this, because its something of a “same old story” type situation…and when I think along those lines, I’m reminded of the whole process of preaching in the first place. One of the statements that I hear with fair bit of regularity is “I don’t know how you can do that every week.” Well to be honest, I ask myself that same question quite a bit too…and most often when I find myself in a preaching situation aimed at specific day.

This happens when I encounter out of the ordinary situations like weddings or funerals…and it happens with certain holidays like Christmas or Easter or Pentecost…when the gospel is the same story, repeated year after year, or when the situation dictates the same sort of theme for the sermon.

Now when that happens, its pretty normal for me, while in the midst of my preparation, to go back and see just what I’ve said before…sometimes the message doesn’t really change much…while other times the significant events happening in that moment can drastically alter how the text will preach that time around…but the long and short of this whole situation…is that preaching, regardless of the text, regardless of the season and day, regardless of everything…still includes the gospel…which itself…doesn’t really change…and so the struggle for a preacher in these moments is asking the question “how do I say the same thing differently this time around.”

Today is one of those days…sort of anyway…confirmation Sunday…when a group of our young people stand up before the congregation and publically claim for themselves, the promises made by their parents and sponsors and congregation at the time of their baptism…a time when these young people publically claim their faith in which they were raised.

And, since this is one of those times that repeats year after year, I did my normal thing of looking back to see just what I had said before. This is confirmation day number 3 for me here at Underwood, and so I had a couple different confirmation sermons under my belt…but what caught my attention as I looked back at those two sermons was the realization that our tradition makes sure I’ve got drastically different gospel texts each time. Now this happens for a couple different reasons, but mainly it’s a combination of the fact that we always do Confirmation on the first Sunday of May, along with the fact that this is always during the season of Easter, but with the back and forth nature of Easter’s changing date, we never know which Sunday of the Easter Sunday this will be year to year…and because of that, the various gospel texts, while fitting in with an overarching theme…can and are…drastically different.

But now here’s the amazing thing about all this…as I read back over those two sermons from the past two years…as well as pondering on the text for today…I was amazed to realize that despite the wondrous variety of these three different gospel texts…and despite the vast difference in individuals between each of these three particular confirmation classes…a theme has emerged.

Each year, I’ve given the confirmation class an opportunity to reflect on what they have learned…the discussions and lessons that we have shared…and to write a statement of belief…a creed…an honest reflection of just what they have come to believe about this whole faith and gospel of Jesus Christ thing up to this point. And while each and every statement has been different…they have all reflected a similar theme that I have come to believe is pretty normal…an understanding that God is always present along with an honest bit of confusion about all of this stuff. (pause) I’ve seen it across the board, with both of my previous classes, as well as in all 5 statements written by this years class. (pause) And if today’s gospel is any indication…you 5 students are in good company.

Now this of course brings me into today’s gospel lesson, which admittedly I haven’t said much about yet…but here we are…rapidly approaching Ascension Day when Jesus will depart from our reality and return to Heaven…and our gospel for today, once more, is taken from Jesus final time of teaching his followers…a lengthy passage, several chapters long…most of which is Jesus talking…but with a few interjections of questions from his disciples…and in fact our opening verse today is in response to one of these questions…three times in fact, one of the disciples…a different one each time…seems to raise his hand and say “Uhhh…Jesus…I don’t get it.”

Aren’t these the very people that we would expect to get it? They’ve followed Jesus around, they’ve seen the miracles, they’ve heard the teachings…they’ve even been privy to direct explanations of some of Jesus’ more cryptic teaching moments…and yet, they still don’t get it.

Jesus stands there telling them…over and over again…I am leaving…you’ll look for me but won’t find me…for I am going to my father…but you know what do….UHHHH, excuse me Jesus…ummm…no we don’t…what are we supposed to do? (pause)

And so Jesus goes over things again and again…but as we know…as he says, he is leaving…and perhaps it seems that he’s leaving his followers to their own devises despite their doubt and fear and shortcomings. (pause) But in the midst of all this, Jesus reminds his disciples and us today, that we are not left alone.

Those that love me keep my word…they observe it, they honor it…they remember it…and the father and I will come to them and make our home with them…We remember the words of Christ and in that, God is dwelling with us…that’s the first promise…but Jesus goes beyond that as well…and he starts talking about the Holy Spirit…the helper…the advocate…what Jesus actually the Paraclete, or the one who comes along side us…to help us…to guide us…and to teach us.

Jesus promises us that even though he departs from the earth…even though he steps away from our plane of existence, he assures us that God does not leave us alone. We’ve got this crazy notion of a God who is three different people…Father Son and Holy Spirit…one God in three forms…One God in three people…and no one, and I mean no one can try to wrap their heads around just how that really works without experiencing a fair amount of confusion…but that’s okay…because Jesus promises us that its true…and not only do we have this God that exists in ways beyond our understanding…but this amazing God dwells with us…among us…along side us in every moment…whether we understand it or not. (pause)
Now as I look here in the front row at these 5 students affirming their baptism today, I am once again reminded of the theme that emerged from their belief statements…God is with us, even when we don’t understand it…and as Jesus tells us today, it is the Holy Spirit, continuing to teach us…continuing to remind us of that which we have already learned…even in the moments when it doesn’t make sense.

And here’s a little bit of insight that I think any one of the people who have come before you would agree with…there are a lot of moments when this stuff doesn’t make sense. Life is hard…and its messy…and the various statements of belief that we profess sometimes seem pretty crazy…and that’s…okay…because Faith does not mean having all the answers…far from it in fact…faith, this faith in which you were baptized and which you are claiming for yourselves today…simply means believing that somehow, someway, God will do what God says he will do…and that promise that God will do it…that gives us hope.

Hope and faith are connected, but they are not the same thing. Hope is that which we cling to in the midst of the hard stuff…in the midst of those moments where it seems like maybe the darkness is winning…hope, is the glimmer of light that we hold onto in the knowledge that there is more out there…and that God is with us in the midst of that very hard stuff.

This is something you’ve heard before. We’ve talked about in confirmation class many different times…you’ve heard me preach on it many different times…and perhaps it sounds like the same old story…all boiled down to the idea that God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.

And I’ll say this…yes…it is the same old story…but it’s a good one…and it is my prayer that in the days and weeks and months and years and even decades to come…in the midst of every moment in that big unknown future that lies before you today…it is my hope that you will cling to those promises that God has made…that He has already claimed you as his own…that work is already done for you…that promises is already given to you…both in the moments when its easy to believe…and in the ones where it seems a little confusing…its already done for you…so cling to that hope…and believe in those promises…and remember that you…are never alone. Amen.