Posts Tagged ‘Church’

You Are Seen 11-11-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 12:38-44, I explore an odd little passage including a warning from Jesus and the Widow’s mite.  This passage seems to offer a rebuke to a system that exists in order to perpetuate itself, but there is good news to be found here as well.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

The grace and peace of the Triune God be yours, now and forever. Amen

Anyone out there have catch-phrases or words that you still use that have gone out of style?  I know I’m guilty of that…Groovy is a big one…I say that a lot…Awesome…which is probably still acceptable although whenever I say it I’ve got the early 90’s version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the back of my head.

On occasion cool-beans comes out of my mouth when I like the sound of something…and on the flip side I call things Bad-chicken, which is a throwback to lingo at a job that I worked more than a dozen years ago. But perhaps the one that is looming most prominently in my head happens when I’m with my buddies that I grew up with…especially if we’re playing a game of some sort…when one of us pulls off something impressive…we’ll boastful ask “Who’s the man?” to which the other guys have to respond “You the man.”  (pause) You are the man.

Now that statement is interesting…because it just came up in the confirmation class a week ago as we’re making our way through the Biblical Narrative…and we were talking about King David and his story that take place about a 1000 years before Jesus.  There’s a encounter, following some of David’s less than stellar moments, with the prophet Nathan, who tells David a story about a rich guy who’s got everything and his poor neighbor who only has one lamb that he loves more than anything…and the rich man takes the lamb and serves it in a banquet for his friends.

Now when David hears this story, he gets riled up and curses the rich man in the story…only to have Nathan look him in the eye and say “you are the man.”  David realizes the depth of his mistakes…the impact of his sins and he mournfully repents. (pause) Ever had a moment like that…when someone points out something significant that hits close to home…something that was sitting in a blind spot…but the moment they point it out, its convicting?  It’s a humbling feeling isn’t it? (pause)

I imagine though…you’re probably wondering what this has to do with the gospel lesson we’ve shared today…because the story of Jesus warning his disciples about the scribes leading into the story of the poor widow placing her last two coins into the treasury doesn’t really seem to have much to do with King David or random phrases…at least not at face value, but bear with me for just a little bit.

Beware the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces…and have the best seats in the synagogue and places of honor at banquets…they devour widow’s houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.

Now…who do we know that tends to wear specialized outfits…and has a bit of an abnormal title connected to their name…who do we know that has a specific, perhaps considered “special” spot in the sanctuary…and even rattles off lengthy prayers during worship each week? (Pause)

I’ll admit it…the more I read this passage in preparation for today…especially this first portion…the more I heard “You are the man” in the back of my head and not in the positive “I just did something cool on the basketball court” kinda way…but in the “I’m King David and I screwed up” kinda way.

Because in the interest of full disclosure…I have my moments when this is pretty spot on…moments when I get a big head, or when a sense of entitlement creeps up because of the role that I’ve been given. I’m not proud of it…but it does happen…that crazy thing known as pride that’s evidence of my brokenness and my sinful nature.

And so this passage really makes me sit up and pay attention…but, the passage doesn’t end with that warning from Jesus does it? We hear following this brief teaching moment, he sits down across from the offering box in the temple…watching as people walk by and toss in their offerings.  Apparently some of the rich are pulling out their money bags and are tossing in healthy amounts…but then a woman walks up, takes a look at the two tiny coins in her possession…and drops them in the box.

Now this is one of those moments when I wish I was Jesus…because he seems to know a lot about this woman and her situation…information that we just aren’t privy to.  He seems to know that she’s a widow…she’s alone…and these two coins are the entirety of her finances…and she drops them in the offering plate.

The thing about this story…is that its become synonymous with the idea of sacrificial giving…often times featured in stewardship drives because of the way that, at face value anyway, Jesus SEEMS to praise her gift above the much larger sums also being given by the rich.

But I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. I think Jesus is pointing out a flaw in the system…that this poor woman, seemingly with no other way of supporting herself…gives everything…essentially giving her life…making herself a financial martyr to the temple…if not an actual one when she starves to death.

Here’s why I wish I knew what Jesus knew…because I wish I knew what the widow’s motivation was to place her last two coins into the treasury.  Was she giving joyfully?  Or was she feeling shamed by seeing the large amounts given by others?  Or was she giving out of a sense of obligation to a system that demanded it? A system that was supposed to protect and provide for her…but as we heard in the first portion…a system that enables those with power and authority and prestige to take advantage of the powerless, just like this woman. (pause)

I thought a lot about that this week…the idea of a system, which seemed to exist only to perpetuate itself.  Many scholars have written at great length about the flaws of the temple system in Jesus’ day…something that he himself butted up against in many moments of debate or teaching or even violent outbursts like the cleansing of the temple.

Any funny enough…we’re given just a tiny glimpse of the eventual outcome of that flawed system in the very next portion of the story that follows this…a story that we’ll hear next week…as Jesus dashes the wonder of his disciples who are marveling at the glorious nature of the temple when he tells them that the whole thing is destined for destruction.

And so let’s think about the woman again…what’s she doing? What’s her motivation? Is she giving to a system that has hammered this obligation into her that’s destined for destruction?  Or is she giving cheerfully to something that she believes represents the ongoing action of God within this broken world that she’s a part of? We don’t know.

Now, I’m not trying to turn this into a stewardship sermon…I’m really not…but what I will say is this…there’s a big difference between giving anything to a broken system that will only exploit you to perpetuate itself even though its dying, and giving to the living embodiment of God’s action in the world.

And as I say that, I wonder if anyone else is hearing a little voice in the back of your head saying “You are the man.”  Because in many ways…we are that broken system.  The church is facing a tough tough reality…both the church as a whole, particularly here in North America…and even our congregation. I don’t say this to be a downer…but I think its true. I think the church, as it has existed in the past century or so…is dying.

But even as you hear me say that…hear this as well…we have a God who specializes in bringing new life out of death…and I believe that this is the case for the church as well…because the church IS the living embodiment of God’s action in the world…broken and flawed to be sure…because it is made up of broken and flawed people…and yet…God has continued to guide and use the church over the course of the past 2000 years…and I’m pretty sure its going to continue on long after every one of us in this room is dead and gone.

Just as the Jewish faith and culture continued on after the Temple was destroyed…the church will continue on as well…its just gonna look different. And we don’t know what its gonna look like. (pause)

Now in the meantime…as we consider this rather sobering reality…perhaps you’re wondering if there’s any good news to be found within this gospel today…because while we expect the scriptures to convict us, we also expect them to give us hope…and maybe here’s where we find it.

In the midst of the whole situation that happened that day…and even in the midst of the entire ongoing, broken and flawed system of the temple that Jesus witnessed that day…even if no one else noticed…Jesus saw the woman. He…sees…her.

The man, who is also God, took notice.  She is seen, even as every other cultural and systematic detail pushes her to the side and makes her invisible…she is still seen.  And so are you.

Maybe this text is troublesome…and maybe the message that I have shared today is also troublesome…and perhaps you find yourself in a state where things feel like they are going wrong and you wonder if anyone notices…and if that is the case, then remember that you are seen…and that no matter how insurmountable the situation…you will never be abandoned by the one who has acted out of divine love for you…and in everything, remember that there is nothing in all creation…not poverty…not brokenness…not our flaws and failures…not the powers that seem to stack the deck against us…not even death can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  In the midst of it all, even when it doesn’t feel like it…you are seen by one who loves you. Amen.

He’s Out There 11-17-13

This sermon is based on Luke 21:5-17. Jesus discusses the coming destruction of the temple as well as what can be expected in “the last days.” I tackle it from the perspective of the loss of certain places that are meaningful for us, and how tough that can be, but that God is not limited to a place.

You can listen to the sermon here:

You can also read along with the sermon here. Disregard the off punctuation and indications to pause. I gotta remember to do them somehow.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Last Monday was, of course, veterans day…a day when we stop and recognize those brave men and women who have served their country in the military…placing themselves in harm’s way to protect our freedoms.
Although I have had inklings over the years of serving in the military, and even did a little bit of research into the military chaplaincy program a few years back, I never went down that road…I never put on a uniform…I just never felt that calling…yet I have tremendous respect for those that have.
When I think back over my life, there is one moment that comes to mind when I felt the closest thing I’ll likely ever feel to the sense of honor and pride in being a military man…about 2 years ago, my family and I had the opportunity to travel out to northern Virginia and Washington DC. One of the days that we were there, we visited Arlington Cemetery…the resting place of thousands of our nations finest…it was a humbling experience, walking those grounds…but the highlight for me was when we spent some time at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
If you’ve never been to this amazing place, I certainly recommend it…a stone tomb stands on its own in an open courtyard…and a Soldier marches slowly and rigidly back and forth…guarding the tomb…I sat on the steps in front of that courtyard…and the enormity of military service…of those that have given their lives for our country…hit me…it was a very solemn…very humbling moment for me…one that I had never experienced before…and one that I have not experienced since.  And that specific place will forever hold special meaning to me. (pause)
I’m guessing that we all have memories of places like that…places where unique, special events happened…places where our lives were changed. Sometimes we can visit those places again…but sometimes we can’t.  I think back over my own life, and specially my life of faith, and there are some places that stand out.
One is Bethel Lutheran Church in Graettinger, IA. I was baptized there…raised there…but when I was in 5th grade, there was a fire at the church…and the sanctuary…including the font in which I was baptized…was destroyed…I don’t remember my baptism…and now I can’t go back to visit the place where it happened.
Another important milestone for me was my first communion…It happened the same year as that church fire…and my church was worshiping in the Catholic church in town…my first communion happened in a Catholic Church…strange I realize…and difficult, though not impossible, to go back and visit.
Another one that comes to mind is my wedding. Emily and I were married at First Lutheran Church in Milford, IA…and about 5 years later, the congregation completed construction on a new facility…we moved out of the old church where we were married…and where our son was baptized…and the old building was sold to another congregation…and I’ve never again set foot in that wonderful place where my life was changed.
I think about those places…those places where God did some amazing things in my life…and it saddens me to think that I can’t just go back there…because they are so meaningful to me.
In today’s scripture lesson, Jesus hints at a similar situation for the entire Jewish culture…the destruction of the temple. These things you see…the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another…all will be thrown down.  This beautiful place will be no more.
Now, its important to realize just how vital the temple was for the Jewish culture…it was literally the center of life.  It is true that by Jesus’ time the majority of worship and learning happened at the local synagogues…but the center for religious life was still the temple.
The temple is where the Priests did their work…everyone in Jerusalem worshiped there…Jewish people would travel from all over the known world for religious festivals…and not only that…but God lived there…that was the belief.
The temple, as a whole, was huge…the outer courtyards where large enough to hold crowds of up to 400,000 people…but as you moved inwards, each section of the temple got smaller…and so did the “guest list.”  Anyone could enter into the outer courtyards…anyone.  Then you entered the actual building where there was a courtyard that only Jewish people could enter…then another that only Jewish men could enter…sorry ladies…after that came another area that only the priests could enter…and finally, behind a curtain, was the Holy of Holies…the place where God was…only the high priest could pass this curtain…and only one day a year…and the people were so afraid to actually approach God that they would tie a rope around the high priest…that way if he died in God’s presence, they could pull him back out again.
God lived there…that was where God could be found…where God could be approached…only behind the curtain, in the innermost chamber of the temple…and only a priest could go there. (pause)
But regardless of the restrictions placed on entry into the different sections…this was a holy place…this was a symbol for the Jewish people…and not just a symbol…it was where you went to find God…to worship God…it was THE place.
And in today’s story…Jesus foretells of the destruction of the temple…and unlike Matthew or Mark’s account of this story, he’s not being metaphorical, speaking about the temple of his body which would destroyed…but here in Luke, Jesus is literally speaking about the temple itself…and he was right…about 40 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus…the temple was utterly destroyed by the Romans…and that holy place…that place where the Jewish people went to find God…was gone.
Just think about how difficult that must have been for the people…not only at the time that the temple was actually destroyed, but also those sitting there that day…listening to Jesus speak about it…it had to have been devastating.
Think about those examples of the special places where God has encountered you in your lifetime…are they still around…are they still accessible?  Can you go to visit them again…or like the church where I was baptized…have they been destroyed…wiped out…whether by accident or on purpose…eventually…those important places in our lives…will disappear.
Perhaps it’s difficult to think about…but one day…this sanctuary won’t be here.  I don’t pretend to know the future…I don’t know the how or the why or the when…but at some point in the future something will happen, and this place of worship…this place of so many happy memories…of so many moving experiencing in countless individuals lives of faith…one day…it won’t be here anymore…and that’s a sad reality…fortunately it is one that we are not facing today, or anytime soon in the future…but someday it will happen.
And that can really be a devastating thought…and unfortunately for many churches…many congregations…that is a reality that they face each and every year…when the doors close…or when tragedy strikes.
I used to serve a very small country church with monthly pulpit supply. For about 18 months I would head out, one Sunday a month, to fill the role of leading worship, and over the course of that time, I got to know this tiny group of about 15 or 20 members quite well.  Eventually the time came when they closed the doors of the church…and it was truly a sad day for them.
In a conversation that happened shortly after the congregation closed, I asked one of the former members how they were doing…how they felt about the whole deal…and though they had found a new church home…a new congregation to join, they expressed the feeling of how hard it was to find God in a new place…not impossible…but difficult because that little country church had been the place for them…it had been the place where they had found God for so long…and over so many different experiences.
This is a sad reality…but it raises a point that is important to make…as wonderful as the buildings are…with all of their memories and experiences…God is not the building…and the building is not God…I look around this sanctuary, beautiful as it is…I think of wonderful memories that I’ve already made in my short time here…and I wonder about the countless memories and faith-filled experiences that you all possess…and as amazing as all of that is…it is not God. (pause)
Because God isn’t limited to a building…if, heaven forbid…something happened tomorrow and the building wasn’t here…devastating as that may be, I believe that Underwood Lutheran Church would continue…because the church…is not the building…it just happens to be sitting in it right now.  We are the church…
Remember those famous words uttered by Jesus. Where ever two or more are gathered in my name, there I am also…
God isn’t limited anymore…God’s not just in the temple…and we don’t need to go to a specific place to find him…things have changed.  (pause)
We’re coming up on the end of the church year…the season of Pentecost is almost over, just a couple more weeks…in in December, we’ll enter Advent, the beginning of a new church year…and with it the lectionary will switch over to Matthew…we’ll be done with Luke…and perhaps that’s evident with where we are in Luke’s Gospel…Jesus is already in Jerusalem…the triumphal entry, which we celebrate on Palm Sunday…has already happened…and in fact, we’re only 1 chapter away from the betrayal and arrest of Jesus.
You know, I’ve always thought that the liturgical calendar and the lectionary are set up a little strangely…we get right up to the events in Jesus’ life that lead to his death and resurrection…but then we switch things up…and we don’t hear about those events for a few months…not till Lent, and Holy Week…and that can be a little frustrating.
But when we come back around to it…and the scripture lesson for today…its important to be thinking about those events…and particularly relevant today as we talk about the temple…is what happened on Good Friday…at the moment that Jesus died…hanging on that cross…the curtain…remember the curtain…it guarded the inner room…the Holy of Holies…the place where God was…the curtain divided God from humanity…and when Jesus died…that thing ripped in half…the curtain was gone…the barrier between God and humanity was destroyed.
In that moment…God decided to get out and stretch his legs…they might as well have hung up a sign that said “Are you looking for God…sorry, He’s not here anymore…He’s out there.”
In Christ…God put on flesh and walked around…and when that curtain was torn…the last barrier between God and humanity was destroyed…and that barrier…was sin and death…in Jesus death…we are brought to life…and we know that there is nothing that stands in our way of approaching God.
We don’t have to go anywhere special. We don’t have to go through anyone else…we can do it ourselves…and regardless of where we are…when we gather together in the name of Jesus…He’s there too…the one that placed himself in harm’s way…the one that sacrificed himself for our freedom…not from tyranny, oppression or persecution…but from annihilation…from death and destruction.
We are truly blessed to be able to gather here…each and every week…in this beautiful sanctuary to worship our Lord and Savior…and we know that when we gather together in His Name…he is here…but we also know…that he’s not just in here…he’s out there too…whenever we gather together. Amen.