Archive for August, 2016

Be Humble 8-28-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 14:1, 7-14, I explore an odd little encounter where Jesus seems to offer shrewd advice on how to gain public honor. This is way out of the norm for Jesus, and yet if we look deeper, there is more going on.

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 of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Last Sunday night, the Olympics wrapped up…closing ceremonies…tons of pomp and circumstance…a great big show that culminated with the torch going out. No more games, no more events…no more prime time tv coverage to fill each and every evening…at least not for another couple years until the next winter games.

I’ve been thinking a lot about it though…some of the highlights from the Rio games…and there were quite a few of them…and while I know that everyone has their own favorite events to really pay attention to, I think my highlight was men’s sprinting…and seeing whether or not Usain Bolt, the self-professed “world’s fastest man” could capitalize in his 3 events to pull off what they were calling the triple-triple…He had gotten the gold in the 100m, the 200m, and the 4x100m relay in both of the 2 previous Olympic games, first in Bejing in 2008 and then again in London in 2012…and when it came to men’s sprinting…all eyes were on him to see if he could get all three gold medals again…winning 3 golds in 3 consecutive Olympics.

Now, if Olympic sprinting is your thing…you already know the answer…yes he did it…and he did it with style…his charismatic and flamboyant demeanor on full display after each of the 3 victories.  And as exciting as it was…I remember hearing an interview with him after the first win…and he talked about his speed and his training and his natural ability…and then he went on to say how much the sport of sprinting needed him. I was sitting there watching it with my son Jack…and I looked over at him and said…he’s good, but he’s not very humble is he? (pause) Now that comment from me prompted a rather lengthy discussion about humility and social graces…it actually turned into a pretty important teaching moment…so if nothing else…all world records and gold medals aside, Usain Bolt, you provided this…good job.

But when it gets right down to it…this notion of humility is on display today in the gospel lesson…and I have to tell you…I find this passage pretty odd. (pause) Jesus is invited to a banquet, and socially speaking, it’s a pretty big deal. Because not only is he invited by one of the Pharisees, which did happen from time to time…this particular time he’s invited by one of their leaders…and keep in mind that within the Jewish culture…the Pharisees sat WAY high up the social ladder.

They were the religious elite, and in a culture where religion is so closely tied into EVERY aspect of life…this means socially, they were important…and as this is one of the leaders of the Pharisees…this guy…he’s a pretty big deal.

And Jesus has somehow scored an invite, which as we hear, he accepts…but as he sits there that day…he notices something…just how much everyone is jockeying for position…trying to get the seats of honor.

Now I thought a lot about this…and it seemed to be a pretty foreign idea, at least in the social circles where I find myself…this whole “seat of honor” thing doesn’t really apply. But again…different cultural situation. For in Jesus day, your placement at the table was a very big deal. The more prominent you were, the closer you sat to the host…and so as Jesus sits there, he watches everyone elbowing their way up, trying to get the choice spots.

But Jesus…as per usual, recognizes a flaw in all this jockeying…and here’s where it gets weird…Jesus seemingly starts to offer shrewd social advice. (pause) When you come to a banquet, take the lowest seat, for when the host comes in and sees you there, he will move you up in front of everyone and you will be publically honored…BUT…if you seat yourself higher than you should, when the host comes in and sees you…well then right there in front of everyone you’ll get shamed when you are kicked farther on down the table.

So…be shrewd…sit yourself low to get the public honor. (pause) Isn’t that what Jesus is saying here? (pause) My first thought was to focus on the second part of the passage when Jesus switches his focus to the host…but that’s pretty much in the same vein…don’t invite people because of what you’ll get out of it…you already have what you need, so invite the humble. (pause)

Admittedly…this whole passage seems like Jesus giving shrewd tips on social graces…and when I realized that, I just sort of sat there…because that is so completely off from what we normally see. Isn’t Jesus the one who tends to ignore all things social…the one who breaks the rules? The one who seeks the outcast to bring them into relationship even though society deems them unacceptable? (pause)

So just what the heck are we supposed to do with this? (pause) And where is the good news that needs to be proclaimed? (pause) Interestingly enough, as I was having a lot of these thoughts, particularly early in the week, I was in St Paul MN, at Luther Seminary…in conversation with the very professor that had a big role in teaching me how to do this…and she told me “Scott, go through the process…” And I did…and while I won’t bore you with all the details I considered the big picture…something they like to call Eschatological…which is just a fancy word of saying God’s ultimate goal. And I considered Luke’s gospel as a whole. Now Jesus is heading somewhere. A fairly sizable chunk of Luke’s gospel occurs after Jesus has turned his face towards Jerusalem…including this part. And he knows what’s coming in Jerusalem. Betrayal, torture, and death on the cross…

And that…is precisely where God’s ultimate plan…takes shape…that is the place where Jesus, God in human form, overcomes the reality of sin and death here in our flawed reality. And by doing so, God has made it possible for us to move past that barrier that sin has created…in short, inviting us into the ultimate heavenly banquet…which is another fancy way of saying eternal life. (pause)
Through Christ, God has invited us into this heavenly banquet…in short, God is the host…and so, even if we throw out the notion of being humble for the sake of being seen by others…then we darn well better remember to be humble before the host…before the one who invites us in the first place.

And since God is the host…the one doing the inviting…we need to remember that He already has invited the poor and the crippled and the lam and the blind…and we…fall…in…that…list. For we are all broken…we are all the outcast with no way of repaying the one who invites us. (pause)
And truly we ARE invited…and not just into this end times heavenly banquet, but as we hear in the beginning of the Gospel, through Christ, the kingdom has come near…we are invited into it right here…right now…and not through any merit of our own…not because of anything we have to offer…but simply because of the free gift of God…simply because God has chosen this. (pause)

That’s the gospel right there…that is the good news in a nutshell…that nothing we do…no jockeying or elbowing for position earns us the invitation…and likewise, its not about the honor that we attempt to bestow on ourselves…in the end…its about what the host says about us…and our host gives us the title that society scoffs at…but one that can give us no greater thing…than to be called a beloved child of God. (pause)

Now the funny thing about all this…or perhaps the frustrating thing about it…is even though we are assured of this promise…that we are claimed by God…we still mess up…because sin is always present in this life even if we are no longer subject to the penalty…its still there…and this whole notion of humility…its funny how quickly it can turn to pride.

Remember Usain Bolt…and the conversation that he sparked with my son? Admittedly, I was looking down my nose at him…saying that he needed humility…he needed to tone down the self-congratulations. (pause) And as I was doing it…I was passing judgment…talking about how he was doing it wrong…and do you know what they call that? Pride. Self Justification…and in short placing myself in the judgement seat which is somewhere I have no business being. (pause)
And I had to eat some crow on that too…because a day or two after that particular interview, I saw Bolt give another interview…and in the midst…our National Anthem started playing for a medal ceremony in the background…And he stopped the interview…telling the reporter “Hold on, we need to listen to this.” And Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man…stood there honoring another athlete from a different country. (pause) And in that moment I got the message loud and clear…who needs humility now? (pause…put hand up)

This is our reality…twisted and flawed…and we fit right in…but thanks be to God that he has offered us his grace freely…and invited us into something more. May we humbly accept this gift, and recognize our need for it each and every day. Amen.

Be Loosed 8-21-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 13:10-17, I explore the controversy that surrounds Jesus healing on the Sabbath. “The Rules” dictate that this is work, yet Jesus points out that we are called to do that which is life-giving on the Sabbath. From there I explore the notion of forgiveness of sins, and the freedom that God gives us from what binds us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

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

The human body is a pretty amazing thing. Just how everything works. We have all these different systems within us, all interacting with one another enabling life as we know it. Modern medicine has explained a lot of how our bodies work, but not entirely. But regardless, if we think about it…it makes sense that following the creation of humanity, God sat back and called it very good.

However, as we all come to realize with the realities of aging, eventually, our bodies wear down. For some it happens sooner, for others later…but its inevitable.  I never wanted to admit this about myself…and admittedly, I’ve taken steps to avoid it. Since taking up regular excersize and being at least a little bit more mindful of what I’m eating, I’m proud to say that I’m actually in better shape now in my mid to late 30’s than I was through most of my 20’s.

But not entirely…most of you sitting out there know that I have a bum ankle…one that has thrown me for a loop a total of 4 times in my life, 3 of which in the past 2 years…and most notably…at our 1st annual block party when I made the mistake of playing basketball in sandals.

Following that injury which a lot of you witnessed…I found myself sitting in the doctors office for x-rays…and while nothing was broken, he did remind me “You’re 35 now…you gotta knock that stuff off.”

But ankle injuries aside, I have been pretty blessed up to this point. And as I think back, there are only two times that I can recall where my body failed me…and they were both self-inflicted. Most of you have heard the story of when I tried to swim out to a buoy and ran out of gas…nearly drowning. And the other time was my most recent attempt to climb a mountain in CO three years ago…when I ran out of gas coming back down the mountain and spent hours just trudging along, feeling like death warmed over. It was not a feeling that I enjoyed…to have my body fail…and yet, in life, it is inevitable. (pause)
But as I mentioned a moment ago, for some, it happens much sooner than we normally expect…there’s no rhyme or reason to it…unfortunately sometimes it just happens…and there are wide variety of causes. Sometimes it can be an accident…other times an illness…still others are sideswiped by genetics and are born that way. None of these things are good…but they are a reality that countless people deal with…sometimes for a short amount of time…others for years or even for their entire lives. (pause)
That’s the case in today’s gospel story…as Jesus encounters a woman with a pretty drastic physical ailment that has quite literally hindered her for nearly 2 decades…Just what exactly is happening we don’t quite know.  We hear that she has a spirit of infirmity, crippling her…we hear Jesus say that Satan has bound her…so it seems that there’s something of the demonic going on here…but regardless, it affects her physically…keeping her hunch over…unable to stand up straight…and so for years, she has been shunted to the side…unable to look anyone in the face…unable to view the world beyond the ground, as her body is physically unable to straighten itself out.

That in itself must have been bad enough…but imagine what this must have done for the woman from a social standpoint. With the physical inability to look anyone in the face, how hard must it have been for her to engage in relationship with those that she encounters? Her stricken appearance a constant reminder of her problem…and keep in mind the common thought at the time that a situation like this was the punishment for sin…and so for her to experience such a dramatic problem, she would have likely been considered ultra sinful…and people would keep their distance…avoiding her whenever possible…and even in the setting today…she is one in the crowd at the synagogue…think logistically for a moment…she’s bent over within a crowd of people standing…she would be invisible… (pause)
And yet…Jesus sees her….and not only does he see her…but he engages her…he acknowledges her and calls her over…and then Jesus goes a pretty amazing step beyond that…but he tells her she is set free…and he lays hands upon her and she is healed. (pause)
Now this is all amazing right? But if we think about it…its pretty par for the course…Many times Jesus sees a need such as this and does something about it…but the controversy this time…is because of timing…and as we hear…the leader of the synagogue…the one in charge…the expert…he starts squawking.

There are 6 days to work…come for healing on those days…not on the Sabbath…I kind of chuckle at this, as the leader addresses the crowd…being pretty passive aggressive at his actual target of Jesus…This man heals on the Sabbath…he’s working on the Sabbath…He’s breaking the rules.

Because…of course…the 10 commandments tell us to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy…to do no work on the Sabbath because even God rested on that day…but think about it…what did Jesus really do?  He told her she was free…and talking is not work…and then he laid hands upon her…another thing that was not considered work…seems to me that the leader is being pretty nitpicky here…and we see exactly that when Jesus strikes back at his hypocritical attitude. Because in the expanded law of Moses…there are loopholes.  Does not each of you untie your ox or donkey and lead him to water on the Sabbath? (pause)
That’s okay…you can untie an animal and take it to water…although you aren’t allowed to bring water to the animal.  It would seem that to unbind the animal in order for it to have what’s needed for life is okay though…and I suppose that’s a pretty good loophole isn’t it? A good way to sidestep the notion of “no work on Sabbath.” (pause)
Now this is not to say that Jesus needs loopholes, because he doesn’t…But rather, what Jesus is doing here is pointing out the very same instance, just on a very different scale. It is acceptable…even honorable, to allow your beasts of burden water on the Sabbath…you could even say that the simple act of unbinding them is life giving…and likewise…Jesus is unbinding this woman from that which hinders her life. He sets her free from that which oppressed her…which separated her…and why? Well, because she is a daughter of Abraham. (pause)
Now when Jesus calls her this…it’s a big deal. Keep in mind, for the Jewish people, being connected to Abraham…being one of his descendants is vital to their identity. It brings them into the community…and for a culture as utterly structured as the Jewish people at the time…this inclusion is utterly important.

So for Jesus to call this woman Daughter of Abraham…he might as well be calling her a child of heaven…or to use a term that we might find familiar, beloved child of God…Jesus, God in the flesh sees this woman who might as well been invisible, sets her loose from what physical binds her…and claims her as a beloved child. (pause)

Sound familiar? Sorta seems like baptism to me doesn’t it? When God looks upon us as an individual, broken as we are…and sets us free from the power of sin simply because He names us his beloved child…Now most often when something this happens for us, it happens in the setting of worship…so much so that its pretty much an expectation…but if we come back around to expectation that Jesus was breaking that day…it all boils down to who is working on the Sabbath…and if the rules are broken…and the notion that there is some “RIGHT WAY” that we do Sabbath. But Jesus has faced this sort of thing before…and he will face it again…and each and every time, he reminds those detractors…as well as each of us…that he is the Lord of the Sabbath…in short…that he is the Lord…ironic that He’s even called the Lord here in today’s passage…as he strikes out at the hypocrites…it could even be the voice of God booming out in opposition to this misunderstanding of what can and should be happening on the Sabbath day as these people have gathered for worship. (pause)

Now I have to say…I like this story a lot…because the woman is a physical representation of each of us. She comes to worship, broken…and so do we. Each and every one of us here…all of us…NO EXCEPTIONS…We are all broken people and we come before the Lord…and just as Jesus sees the woman…God sees you…and he calls to you…and he sets you free from what binds you because he has claimed you as his child. (pause)

If you were here last week, you know that I wasn’t…because I was off with my family on our annual pilgrimage to the mountains for family camp. And over the course of the week, we shared communion several times…the first of which, we shared in the Brief Order of Confession and Forgiveness, just like we do every week here in worship…you know the part…when I invite you to turn to page 56…and together we confess that we are bound…unable to set ourselves loose…but then at the end, I stand before, just as I already have this morning…and I share these words, just as I share them again now…as a called and ordained minister of the Christ and by HIS authority, I therefore declare unto you the entire forgiveness of ALL of your sins. (pause)

But last week, I got to hear that proclaimed to me…and boy it struck me hard…because as a solo pastor I proclaim it but I don’t actually hear it that much….and I don’t say to be whiny, but rather because in that moment, of hearing someone proclaim to me, the forgiveness of the sin that binds me…I felt free…and I realized just how big of deal we participate in each and every week here in worship.

Here on the Sabbath…God frees us from that which binds us…and if its not enough to hear about…he has also blessed us with a physical reminder…one which we will share in a few more minutes…and in this holy meal, we are reminded that his body is broken and his blood is shed for you…for the forgiveness of your sin…not because you have earned it…not because you are worthy of it…but because he loves you and has chosen to do this for you. (pause)

We hear at the end of today’s passage, that his opponents are put to shame…and may we remember that whenever we stand in the way of what God is up to…whether intentionally or not…God’s grace is simple yet universal…and if we think that God’s grace can be hindered in anyway, well then Christ died for nothing…and its not grace…it doesn’t matter what we look like, or sound like…it doesn’t matter where we come from…or if we follow the rules or not…God’s grace is offered to broken people…period. No conditions…no expectations…no exceptions.

God’s grace is offered…freely…and knowing that…perhaps we need to join the crowd in rejoicing at the wonderful thing that he is doing…Freeing each of us…setting us loose from what binds us…You are a child of God…seen, named, and claimed. And I announce to you today that because of what Christ has done…be loosed. Amen.