Posts Tagged ‘All Saints’

WOE!!!! 11-3-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 6:20-31, I explore Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. Not only does Jesus speak of blessings, but he also offers the wake up call of Woe.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

May the grace and peace of our Triune God be yours now and forever. Amen.

We live in a time that is ripe with good storytelling…and it comes to us from a lot of different sources. I’m a big fan of the visual mediums like movies and tv shows…and as a fan…I’ve never been the type to get bogged down when a story seems unrealistic.  Just tell me a good story.

Now there are a lot of good examples of this type of thing, and I love it…if the story is engaging, I don’t care…and while there are a lot of good examples, its probably safe to say that Disney and Pixar do the best job of this.  Take, for example…the recent movie Finding Nemo.  A great story in which we learn in this reality that clown fish are neurotic…seagulls are greedy…pelicans have Australian accents…and sea turtles talk like surfer dudes.

That’s probably my favorite aspect right there…and we learn it from the instant we first meet one…now this sea turtle…named Crush by the way…first enters into the story after the main character, the neurotic clownfish named Marlon, he has a run in with a bunch of jelly fish…and promptly passes out…and when he comes too, he finds himself riding on the shell of Crush the sea turtle…and we hear “Dude….oh HEY DUDE!!!!” And then Crush introduces Marlon, who he calls the Jelly-man to his son…and we hear “Allow me to introduce my offspring…Offspring, Jellyman…Jellyman, Offspring.”

And finally the surfer dude image culminates as the Jellyman tries to remember what happened and Crush tells him “Oh dude, at first you were like WOAH…and then we were like WOAH…and then you were like…woah.” (pause)

Now given our gospel lesson that we shared just a moment ago…you probably see where I’m going with this. Today we hear Luke’s account of the Beatitudes…part of a larger teaching of Jesus…a long sermon…one that covers almost an entire chapter here in Luke…but one that we also hear elsewhere…this whole sermon from Jesus, including the Beatitudes are also found in Matthew’s gospel…and to be honest, his account is longer and more in depth…

But that reveals something very common within the gospels…often times, the same stories…the same teachings…they are found in more than one gospel…but even when the different authors record them in similar ways, there are still differences…and we certainly see that here with the Beatitudes.

We hear about the people who are blessed…that sense is present in both accounts…but in Matthew, Jesus talks a little longer…there are more of them…they could probably be called a little more spiritual in nature, Luke is a bit more on the nose.  Matthew kinda generalizes, using language like “theirs” or “they.” But in Luke its more direct, as Jesus addresses “you.” (pause)

But the main difference…the thing that really sets Luke apart from Matthew in this particular instance…is the presence of the Woe-statements…Crush would be impressed. (pause) but in all seriousness, Luke gives us a very different sense with these woes listed along with the statements of blessing.

What really seems to be happening as Jesus teaches…is that we’re hearing two sides of the same coin…the statements all partner up and they’re very much connected…something we see if we mix them together rather than listing them separately.

Blessed are you who are poor…but woe to you who are a rich.   Blessed are you who are hungry now, but woe to you who are full.  Blessed are you who weep now, but woe to you who laugh…and finally blessed are you when people hate you and exclude you and defame you on my account…but woe to you when all speak well of you. (pause)

Isn’t that interesting, how that little shift really highlights these reversals that Jesus is talking about? The ups and downs…the back and forth…which…I can’t help but think…that sounds like life…one minute we are on top of the world and the next everything falls to pieces….but maybe what’s most eye opening here…are some of the specific words that Jesus uses through this teaching…words that don’t really work when we really stop and think about them at face value…

Words like “blessed.” Think about that one…what images come to mind when you think of something as blessed? Or what other words could we use? Maybe the most prominent word is…happy? (pause) But does that work?  Are the poor…happy?  Are the hungry…happy?  Are the ones hated…HAPPY?  And here’s the real kicker…blessed are you who weep now…HAPPY!?!  I don’t buy it.  (pause)

Well what about the flipside…and all those “woes?”  Admittedly, Woe isn’t a word that we throw around much is it? So what does it mean?  If we take this whole thing at face value…and if we consider the ongoing theme of a great reversal that Jesus is bringing about…the ultimately switch in things in the kingdom of God as opposed to the reality of this world….well then maybe we hear about blessings and then woes…and we think that woe equals damnation…

Fair assumption on my part? If we keep things surface-level we hear Jesus say blessed and we think happy, and we hear woe and we think that person is damned…I think we can make that jump…but only if we take things at face value…because digging a little deeper brings some better insight.

And it really stems from the original language of Woe…because it implies emphasis…like there needs to be an exclamation mark with it…and its not the only word like this…there’s another one that we usually translate as See or Behold! And you can’t just say (flatly) behold…its (boisterous) BEHOLD!!!!.

I discovered this week that WOE…is the same way…its not “woah.”  Its WOE!!! (pause) Plug that in there. WOE!!!! To you who are rich for you have received your consolation…WOE!!!! To you who are full now for you will be hungry…WOE!!!! To you who are laughing now for you will mourn and weep…WOE!!! To you when all speak well of you….

It seems like Jesus isn’t say you’re out of luck…it seems like he’s trying to get your attention.  Maybe we should say “YIKES” or “WAKE UP.”  Pay attention!  This is a wakeup call…and honestly I think it goes both ways because of the truth that life swings us both directions doesn’t it…this wakeup call is for those called to be content in their present circumstances every bit as much as it is for those he cautions against getting comfortable in things that are fleeting.

This whole thing…the entire first portion of today’s scripture is all about reminding us that we are all in this together…and that we are equal in the grand scheme of things regardless of how our present creature comforts are treating us.

And so hearing that wakeup call, maybe we need to perk up our ears and pay attention to what comes right after it…something we could probably call the golden rule section.  Love your enemies…do good to people who hate you…bless those who curse you…turn the other cheek…offer your shirt and your coat…give to whoever needs it….and like our mom’s taught us…do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Now I don’t know about you…but I hear that and its like “Duh!”  (pause) Or at least it should be.  But is it? Does life really work out that way?  Do we act like that? Or do we foul it up? (pause) This whole deal…this entire thing…it all serves to show us how the world works…and how that’s utterly opposed to the kingdom of God that Jesus has brought near to us.

The world says ‘this is what’s right…this is power…this is authority.” It even tries to tell us “this is what’s blessed.” But Jesus is over here “uh-uh…not even close.”  But we get caught up in it don’t we?  That selfish nature takes over…and time after time…we foul it up…putting ourselves first…cuz I gotta get what’s mine right?

And so as much as we might think we are the ones who fall in the “blessed are you” category…when we’re really honest maybe we hear Jesus sparking off that “WOE!!!” in our direction…and we should…because that’s what the gospel is supposed to do…its supposed to remind us that we can’t pull it off…no matter how hard we try…we need God’s grace…and you know what…in that instant when we recognize it…its there…every time.

And what’s wonderful is that we’ve been given gifts to receive that grace from Christ…and we find that in the sacraments…one which we will share today…and for some of our young people…today they will share it for the first time…what a blessing to be here in community with them, as we all gather around this table…equal in our need for grace…and as we cling to that grace throughout the course of our lives…we are also reminded of the faithful witness of those who have come before us…those who have now gone on ahead into whatever it is that lies on the other side of death…those who are now experiencing first hand…the fullness of the kingdom which we have only glimpsed.

This is a wakeup call that is worth having…one we should be aware of every day…one that should fill us with gratitude…because we have God who cares enough about us to get into the midst of it with us…as one us…We have a God who gets right in our faces with a hearty “WOE!” So that we might rely on his grace…and be recipients of his blessing. Amen.

Own It 11-1-15

This week’s sermon for All Saints Sunday comes from John 11:32-44. I explore Jesus’ emotional response when faced with the death of someone he cares for, and what we can learn from that.

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

It never ceases to amaze me how things intended to be entertainment have the ability to strike me on very deep levels…and its no single form that applies. It can be a song, or it can be a story, or a tv show, or a movie, and sometimes even a well-made commercial tugs at my heart strings.

But for any of you who have heard me preach before, it’ll come as no great shock that a good movie is usually the type of entertainment that gets me more often than not. And in recent memory, the Pixar movie Inside Out got me. If you haven’t seen it…you should. The movie is excellent and appeals to people of all ages.

The premise behind this movie is that each and every person has a tiny command center in their brains where the various emotions that we all have share the load of controlling our reactions to the outside world. And each emotion is a character in itself. The main character is a young girl named Riley…a delightful little girl who’s life has been dominated with happy memories…and as such…Joy…is the emotion that’s the boss within her mind…yet there are also aspects of sadness, and fear, and anger, and disgust…just a few of the many different emotions that we all experience within our own lives.

Over the course of the movie, changes happen in the young girls life, leading to various adventures both in the real world, as well as for the emotion-characters that live within her…and by the end of the film everyone learns that our lives cannot be dominated by joy alone, but that other emotions help shape who we are as well…and not only that, but that they are a natural reaction to the different experiences we encounter.

I think this movie resonated with me in such a powerful way because of two different reasons…the first one being that I am a parent, and part of helping my kids grow up is helping them learn this truth, that life is hard and its okay to experience the emotions that we experience…and that we aren’t always going to be joyful all the time. (pause) And of course, that doesn’t just apply to my interaction with my kids as a parent…but it also fits in very well with my work as a pastor, as I am invited into the many different aspects of life together with you. (pause)
Now I was thinking about that the other day…and I had a pretty important realization…in my younger years…I didn’t get this concept at all. I remember a time when I was in my late teens…probably about my senior year in high school…and I ended up in a conversation with an individual that I knew, but I not very well…but for whatever reason she was sharing some incredibly personal stuff with me…hard experiences that greatly upset her…and I just couldn’t handle it…and instead of just being there with her as she experienced the emotions that came along with the memories…I acted goofy to try and get her to smile and be happy…because I couldn’t handle it any other way. (pause) And so…full disclosure…I would have been a really lousy pastor at 18…good thing I waited till my mid-30’s right? (pause)

Now I bring all of this up to embrace the fact…to be honest with the notion that life is hard, its messy…and we are hardwired in ways that we don’t understand…to have emotional reactions to all aspects of life that run the gambit…and today is one of those days when we acknowledge what is perhaps the single most difficult aspect of life to deal with…and that is death.

All Saints Day…the day every year when we remember and acknowledge those who have gone on before us into the great unknown that is death…and I’ll be honest…this is kind of a hard day, because to honor those who have died is to first acknowledge, once again, their death…and then to instantly feel the sting of various emotions that happened when we faced their death in the first place. (pause)

One of the bits of advice that I offer families in those times is to not shy away from the emotions that they experience, but to let them happen…and I can remember many different conversations that I’ve had with different individuals, when they have expressed a wide variety of emotion…sadness…anger…fear…loneliness…just to name a few…and perhaps they can all be categorized together by saying that facing the death of a loved one is painful…and while there is no real way to explain just why we feel the way we do…perhaps it is simply because death causes a rift…it creates a space, a separation…a chasm that we can’t cross…and that person…that individual that we care so much about…is gone from our lives in a way that just…hurts. (pause)
This is our reality…death exists, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not…its there…and if I only ever teach you one thing about the Bible…let it be this…that the Bible is honest about our reality. (pause)

In today’s story, we hear of Jesus’ encounter with the death of someone he cares about…the death of Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha…a family that for whatever reason…is beloved of Jesus on the personal level…and while this story is not the only example that we have of Jesus raising some from the dead…it does have some important distinctions…in two other stories…we hear of Jesus’ compassion leading him to raise a young man from death in order to care for his widowed mother…and then Jesus’ raising a young girl back to life in response to the great faith of her father…but in both of those stories…there are two things lacking that we see in this story…an acknowledgement of our messy reality…and Jesus’ personal response to it. (pause)

There are certain aspects of this story that always strike me as significant…the first being that when Jesus first hears that Lazarus is sick…which occurs in the first part of the chapter…he waits…so that by the time he gets there…Lazarus is dead…and has been 4 days…so much so that several times in the passage he is simply called “the dead man.” There can be no doubt that he…is…dead…So much so, that his sister Martha makes a statement that at first glance is kinda funny. Lord, he’s gonna smell…he’s been dead 4 days. Admittedly I always though that was a just a humorous throw away statement…but then I realized that it speaks to another truth….that not only is life messy…but so is death…both in the physical sense as well as in the emotional…and that leads me to my next point…Jesus’ response to all this. (pause)

As our story picks up today, Jesus already knows that Lazarus is dead…that’s made quite clear, particularly as he encounters Martha, prior to the start of today’s passage…and following her crabbing him out, he has a brief teaching moment for her, before encountering Mary…who repeats the crabbing…If you had been here he wouldn’t have died…and then, in response…something happens in John that turns everything on its head. (pause)
John’s gospel makes it very clear that Jesus invites us to come and see…he invites us to follow him…he invites us to experience relationship with him for ourselves…but in today’s story, that invitation is flipped.

Jesus asks…where have you laid him…and HE…is invited to come and see. Jesus…receives the invitation to come and experience it for himself…and remember that Jesus is God in human form…and so we see that God comes to experience something completely foreign to him…death…but the important part is that that God is experiencing death now…as one of us…fully human.

And Jesus has quite the reaction…twice in this passage we hear that he is “greatly disturbed.” But this is one of those lost in translation moments…because the original language indicates that Jesus get’s incredibly angry within himself. He’s seething…not just upset…but Jesus witnesses death…and he gets mad….but that’s not the only response…we also hear that Jesus wept…he felt sorrow at the death of one that he loves…and if Jesus experiences the gambit of emotion at the death of someone he cares about…emotions ranging from anger to sadness…then perhaps it comes as no great shock that we experience the same range of emotion when we are faced with the same situation…we are, after all…made in the image of God…so if God gets upset, maybe we need to give ourselves a pass to experience the emotions as they come…the anger, the sadness…the pain that occurs when someone we love crosses that barrier that we can’t cross with them…when that separation occurs…when the person that has been a part of our life in this reality, crosses over into something different…when they are lost into the abyss that is…death.(pause)

But there’s more to the story isn’t there? (pause) Because while we share the fully human emotional response to death that Jesus experienced…Jesus is able to do something about that which we are powerless against…and we see in the story today, that the stone is pulled back and Jesus cries out in a loud voice…the name of Lazarus…and wherever it is that Lazarus is…that void, that abyss…that place where dead people are…he hears his name called by God…and it brings him back from it. (pause)

God is able to do that…and this is just a glimpse of what is to come at some unknown point in the future…and our second lesson today, found in the book of Revelation gives us just a glimpse of this…when God ultimately does something to this reality as it is today.

God dwells among mortals…and he himself wipes away every tear from their eyes…death will be no more…mourning and crying and pain will be no more…for the first things have passed away. (pause) I love the way that passage opens…that we see the new heaven and the new earth and the old has passed away…but not only that…we hear that the sea is no more.

In Jewish culture…the sea was the abyss…it represents the unknown…the uncross able…the depths that we cannot penetrate…and I think we see today that this abyss applies to wherever it was that Lazarus had gone when death claimed him…yet God in human form was able to call him back from it…and on that glorious day whenever it will be…God will call the names of all those who have gone into the abyss…that will include those who have gone on before us now…and not only that, but it will also include each one of us…for like Lazarus…and like those we remember today, one day each and every one of us will also experience death for ourselves…and we too, will cross over that boundary into the abyss…into the unknown depths of death.

But Jesus makes a promise…one that we didn’t quite catch in our story today, but that I’ll share anyway…as Jesus is talking with Martha, he promises “I am the resurrection and the life…those who believe in me…THOUGH THEY DIE…WILL live…do you believe this?”

We have a God who recognizes all aspects of our reality…the messiness of life…the pain and emotion caused by death…and ultimately, we have a God who has experienced death for himself…and all of this in order to over come it…and that same God, who experiences the same gambit of emotions that we ourselves feel in these painful times, promises us…that there is more to come.

So don’t fear the emotions that you experience…don’t deny them…own them…let ‘em happen…because grief is something that you can’t ignore, you have to go through it…just as Jesus did when faced with the death of one he loves.

God mourns our reality, and shares our response to it…but cling to the hope we have in the promise that God has also done something about it…and one day, one glorious day we will hear our names called in a loud voice, bringing us back from that which can no longer hold us. Bringing each and every one of us back from the abyss…simply because he loves us enough to do it…he loves us just as much as he loved Lazarus…do you…believe this? It is my hope and my prayer that you do…because the promise is for you…Own it. Amen.

Life’s A Roller Coaster

Today’s sermon came from Luke 6:20-31. You can listen to it here.

In this sermon I tackle Luke’s account of the Beatitudes. I explore the comparisons between the “blessed be…” statements and the “woe to…” statements. I explore how life is full of ups and downs like a roller coaster…and how that back and forth is like Luther’s teaching that we are simultaneously saints and sinners.  You can read along here. Disregard the odd punctuations and indications to pause. I gotta remember these things somehow.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Back in April of 1997, my senior year of high school, the administration of the Graettinger Community School district approved something that they hadn’t allowed in many years…an overnight senior trip. My class of 24 students and a few chaperones headed to the Des Moines area for a couple different class activities…the most prominent in my memory being an afternoon at Adventureland.
Now, Adventureland is, of course, an amusement park…and as most of you likely know, amusement parks are best enjoyed in sunny, warm, calm weather.  Iowa in early April…not overly sunny, warm, or calm…We had a breezy overcast day…and so you can imagine…there weren’t a lot of crowds flooding the gates of Adventureland that day…and so for this group of 20 odd high school seniors…we pretty much had the run of the park.
As we all jetted around the park, trying out the various rides…the lines were short…if there were lines at all…and the anticipation of trying out a new ride was very short lived…we pretty much spied a ride…and hopped right on it…including the park’s roller coasters.
Now if you’re anything like me…you like roller coasters…They are exciting…they are a thrill…especially the first time you ride it because you really don’t know what to expect. The twists and turns…flying around…side to side…up and down….all those reversals. (pause)
That first time on a roller coaster…now that’s livin right there…but then…each time you ride it again…it loses a little something doesn’t it? Sure, its still exciting…but you start to develop an awareness of what’s coming…and the thrill of the unknown begins to drain out.
That day at Adventureland…about 8 of us hopped on the main rollercoaster…no line…no waiting…we just ran up the ramp and hopped on…and away we went…screaming our heads off in excitement over that first ride…and it was exciting…when we came pulling back in at the end of the ride, one us hollered “THAT WAS AMAZING!!!! CAN WE GO AGAIN?” The guy looked…saw no one else waiting…and said “Sure…looks like you kids can go as many times as you want to.” We hollered out approval…and went out on lap number 2…and 3…and 4…and 5…and 6…and 7…and finally 8. (pause)
By lap number 8…it was getting a little old…and when we pulled in that last time…we just wanted to get off the ride. All the thrill was gone…and in the end…the ups and downs…well they were just making us sick to our stomach. (pause)
Ups and downs…does that sound familiar to anyone? We experience plenty of ups and downs in our lives don’t we? We experience a lot of reversals…and we see quite a few reversals in today’s scripture lesson don’t we?  Luke’s account of the Beattitudes…a little shorter than Matthew’s account…a little more blunt…and also…we’ve got the woes in there don’t we? (pause)
This is one of those passages when I’d like to go in and switch up the order of the verses a little bit. Luke starts off on one foot, goes for a few verses…but then drops the hammer.  He starts off with the blessings, but then flips the switch…but I think it’s a little more eye opening if we pair them all up together. (pause)
Blessed are you who are poor…for yours is the kingdom of God…but woe to you who are rich…
Blessed are you who are hungry now…for you will be filled…but woe to you who are full…
Blessed are you who weep now…for your will laugh…but woe to you who are laughing now…
And finally…blessed are you when people hate you…and exclude you…and revile you and defame you on account of the Son of Man…for surely your reward is great in heaven…but woe to your when all speak well of you…
Isn’t that kind of eye opening?  Last Wednesday night I was talking with the high schoolers about this passage…and we all though it was weird that Jesus seemed to be saying…if it stinks now, it’ll get better, but if you’ve got it good now its gonna go downhill…ups and downs…lots of reversals…just like life.
Because life is full of those reversals isn’t it?  When we stop and think about it, its kind of a no brainer…sometimes things are going great…but then one thing goes wrong…and then another…and then another…and the next thing you know, you feel like you’re at the bottom of the barrel…just trying to stay afloat…
And on the flip side, we have those times in our lives when everything’s lousy…nothing is going your way…and then something changes…and before you know it…things are going okay…ups and downs…reversals. (pause)
Now if you’re anything like me, you might be sitting there thinking about the notion of reversals…and wondering just what the heck it all has to do with All Saints Sunday…I wondered the same thing this week…and in yet another moment of personal exasperation, I found myself wanting to smack the people that created the lectionary right upside the head because they seemingly took a scripture lesson that has nothing to do with the saints and put it right in there…smacking us in the face with it…thanks lectionary authors…
But then I stopped and thought about it for awhile…and I thought about All Saints Sunday…and what we’re really celebrating today…Yes, one hand, on this day, we stop and remember those that have gone on before us in the past year…those that have crossed the great threshold between this life and whatever lies beyond…between this existence that we all know…and the next one…that we’ve only caught glimpses of…that’s one of the things that we remember today…but it’s not the only one.
It occurred to me this week that two church festivals…two church celebrations for us Lutherans…are actually closer together than we tend to realize. Last Sunday we celebrated Reformation Day, and today All Saints Day…but they actually fall on October 31st, and November 1st…Thursday and Friday…back to back days…
On Reformation Day we remember Martin Luther nailing the theses on the church door in Wittenburg…and one of the concepts that Martin Luther taught…one of the tenants of the Lutheran faith…something that we recently talked about in confirmation…is the notion that we are simultaneously saint and sinner.
Each and every day we go back and forth between the two…each and every day we feel the effects of sin in our life, yet we recognize that Christ’s sacrifice has made us free from that sin…and each of us…is in essence…a saint…we go back and forth all the time.
And so, when we celebrate All Saints Sunday…we are not only remembering those that have gone on before…but we are celebrating each and every believer across time…those that have gone before, those that are still here today, and those that will come after us.
And while we all fall under both categories…its important to remember just what a saint really is. (pause)  A saint…is someone that has received that which God has promised… (pause) And so we ask the question…just what has God promised?
Well…he has promised that if we believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior…our savior from our own sinfulness…that same sinfulness that we feel and experience every day…when we receive that promise in faith…then its done.
And as I’ve hammered into the confirmation students time after time, faith is the key…its not by any merit of our own…but only by faith through the grace of God. (pause)
And what a blessing to be able to hear those promises…we can hear them in many places…one of which is right here in worship…and more specifically, we hear those promises in the sacraments.  In our baptism we are named and claimed as a child of God, secure in the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ…and in Communion, we hear the promise again…that through the broken body and blood of Christ we receive the forgiveness of sins…we hear those promises and through faith we receive them and God has told us that the promise is ours…that’s what makes us all saints despite being sinners…each and every day…not just today.
Martin Luther once said every time you wash your face remember your baptism…and Christ himself said as often as you eat and drink do this in remembrance of me…we live in the promise of God every day…through the ups and the downs…through all the reversals…throughout the roller coaster of life…we claim those promises…and we know that one day…when we cross the threshold of this life into whatever lies beyond…and we join in that cloud of witnesses that has gone on before us…that God will be faithful to the promises that we claim today. Amen.