Posts Tagged ‘Freedom’

Different is Shocking 10-29-17


In this Reformation Sunday sermon, I explore John 8:31-36 as Jesus reminds us that the boxes that we create for ourselves are insufficient for salvation.

You can listen 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

Patterns are a wonderful thing…and they bring a sense of familiarity and often, predictability along with them. An example is the tendency for certain people to show up here in the church at predictable times. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, but one of the things that I’ve come to recognize is that on Thursday afternoons…usually right about the same time that I’m getting ready to head out and get my kids at school, our very own Julie Larson is going to show up for some light altar guild duties…namely…she’s here to tend to the altar candles. Sometimes we overlap, sometimes I’m already out the door…but it happens often enough that I hear the front door open as I’m sitting in my office and I know who it is…and that about 10 seconds after I hear the front door, Julie will poke her head around and say hi as she’s walking into the sanctuary.

This, of course, was the case this past Thursday. Julie walked in as I was wrapping up…and she was still in the process of candles when I left…and so…when I walked into the office on Friday morning…and did my customary glance through the Sanctuary windows…I did a double take…I was shocked to see the change from the green paraments over the red for today.

Now any time the paraments change it catches my attention…but this time its probably safe to say that it shocked me a little more than normal…because they haven’t changed in a really long time. We’ve been in the season on Pentecost…which features the color green…and is also the longest season of the church year…and so there’s been no change in color since the beginning of June…almost half a year has gone by…no wonder I did a double take when things looked differently in here…I said it a minute ago, and I think it’s a good way to describe my reaction to the change…shocking.

Now…today is of course…Reformation Sunday, that’s why everything is red…and its big one isn’t it. This year is 500 years…we celebrate today on the last Sunday of October as we always do…and the actually anniversary is in just a couple days…we’ve been talking about it all year…but really, its safe to say that our tradition gives the Reformation a lot of emphasis…we even named ourselves after the guy who started it with a hammer and nail and 95 ideas for reforming the church.

Now that event in itself, was shocking enough…and the ripples have spread across the world over the course of the past 5 centuries…now for us its old hat…old news…familiar…but just think about how shocking it must have been for those who were alive at that time…that this upstart professor from backwater Germany was pushing back against Rome and the pope…that he dared challenge the authority…that he challenged the way things have ALWAYS been done.

Interestingly enough…Luther’s experience…and perhaps, the basis for his important work…well it stemmed from a shocking experience as well…and no I don’t mean the fact that he was almost struck by lightning in his younger years, though that would certainly be shocking…pardon the pun…but rather…in his study of the scriptures…Luther’s mind was blown…his world was rocked…when he stumbled across the passage from Romans that we shared a moment ago…and the verse “the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”  His view of a judgmental God that was waiting to strike us all down for our sins was blown out of the water as he recognized the free gift of God’s grace through Christ…shocking for him to say the least…and something that I think served as his metaphorical, or perhaps, spiritual 2×4 upside the head.

Change is shocking isn’t it? A change in decorations or color like here in the sanctuary. A change in tradition like Luther instigated through the Reformation…and also, the apparent shock that comes around when Jesus challenges the thought process of his audience in today’s gospel. (pause)

Now this brief reading out of John 8 is featured every year on Reformation Sunday…as Jesus reminds us about the importance of continuing in his word…or sometimes we hear remaining…or abiding…a common theme in John’s gospel…one that we hear many different times and in different settings.

And interestingly enough…the setting of this exchange between Jesus and some of the Jewish elite is a perfect example…but we’ve got to back up to the beginning of chapter 7 for things to start making sense…and as we look back, we learn that Jesus is in Jerusalem in order to celebrate one of the Jewish festivals…something that they did multiple times a year in their tradition…and this particular time, its for the festival of booths.

The whole setting of this festival is interesting…it lasts 8 days…with a Sabbath day at the beginning as everyone collectively rests…and then there’s another big Sabbath day at the end…and throughout the course of the entire festival…everyone is living in a booth…or a little tent that they’ve constructed in and around the city. The purpose of this festival was two-fold…first to celebrate the harvest in the fall…not unlike our Harvest Festival in November…but then as with all of the Jewish festivals…there was a sense of remembering the past…and in this case, God had instructed the Jewish culture to have this celebration every year to remember the 40 years of wandering as their ancestors lived out these years living in their tents…and not only that…but to remember that during that entire time of wandering…God dwelled among them…God, abided in their midst.

This is the festival that has JUST happened prior to today’s reading. One night has passed and Jesus is still in the city…hanging out in the temple courts…teaching and preaching as he often does. And because of his words…because of the truth that he’s been laying out…we hear that many of the Jews in his audience have come to believe in him…and with that, we hear his instruction of abiding in his words…and how this truth will set them free.

Cue the shocked look on the faces of these brand new believers…Wait a sec Jesus…we WILL be free? We’re descendants of Abraham…we’ve never been servants to anyone…what do you mean we will be free? (pause)
Now I can’t help but chuckle at this, because apparently these individuals…who are all members of a culture that places ultimate value on their history and their cultural identity which is tied intimately into past events…they seem to have forgotten that the vast majority of their history found them conquered and controlled by one ultimate political power of the day…the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Persians and Greeks and Romans.

These people seem to forget all of that history because they are completely stuck in the connection that they hold as descendants of Abraham…and the promise of God’s covenant made so many years before. For them…this is the ultimate distinction…and the thing that they place all of their stock in…as if to say that there’s a box…and if you fall in that box you’re good to go…but if not then you’ll somehow be found lacking. (pause)
I can’t help but find this almost laughable…they’ve just been celebrating God abiding among his people in a spiritual sense…but yet they fail to fully recognize that God has chosen to abide among his people in the physical sense…and even more specifically, that this God in human form…this Word of God made flesh was standing right in front of them talking to them.

Because to fully recognize this…and to fully accept his word and his teaching is to say that the box they had created…the connection to Abraham…their culture…to recognize that this distinction isn’t good enough…that’s downright shocking…it seems to be a tripping point for them that they just can’t get past.

And as I consider this, I can only think that its serves as an example for us as well…that somehow, someway every single one of us will come face to face with a tripping point…with a stumbling block, at some point in our lives…even in the midst of our lives of faith…perhaps even because of it.

Jesus says if you abide in my word you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.  It seems that on that day, for these particular people…the truth that was revealed was that their cultural identity earned them zero points as far as justification goes. Their Jewish distinction got them nowhere…and it blew their minds to the point of being unable to continue following Jesus…which we hear if we continue on through the narrative.

And I find myself asking the same question…when we come face to face with the ultimate truth of God made flesh in Jesus Christ…what misconceptions…what falsehoods that we’ve fooled ourselves into thinking give us the edge, will be brought to light for us to see?

Will it be the distinction of our American freedom?  Will it be our upper European Lutheran heritage that we celebrate today on Reformation Sunday…that idea that we’ve got all this theology and tradition figured out and everyone else has it wrong? Will it be our insistance that we don’t actually need God and that we alone are in control?

What is it that is revealed with THE LIGHT shines in our darkness? (pause) I can only think that when we face whatever truth shocks our fragile illusions, we will be left as bare as those individuals who couldn’t get past their cultural identity.  And when we come face to face with a truth that shocks us beyond measure…our only hope is to cling to the words of Christ…to remain there…to abide there in the midst of the promises that he has made…and here’s the thing…he promises us that if the Son makes you free…you are free indeed…and that because of what God has done through the death and resurrection of Christ…because of the proclamation that He has claimed you as his beloved child…the promise is yours that you will abide in his house forever.  (pause)
Here in the Lutheran church…we’ve spent a lot of time looking backwards at the last 500 years…clinging to our culture and tradition…and this is not a bad thing…but we must learn the same lesson that Jesus revealed to the Jews who were stuck in the same state…that now things have changed, and let us seek out how to live into the unknown future as we cling to the hope of God’s promises for each of us…let us remember the importance of what God has said about us…as we move into the next 500. And not just that but as we move past the last 2000 years, and not only that but as we move past all the years that have come and gone since time began and remember that God’s promise is to love us and claim us today and tomorrow and forever. And that this is true for us despite the brokenness that we all feel, shocking though it might be…let us abide in that. Amen

Not Really A Hero 10-30-16

In this Reformation Sunday sermon, based on John 8:31-36, I explore the notion of freedom through Christ, and how understanding this idea has led to all kinds of division throughout history.

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

Most of you know I’m a movie buff, and I watch a lot of movies. Some I hate, some are okay, and some I love. But most movies, once I’ve seen them, I don’t really go back and watch them again. That being said, there are exceptions. There are some movies that I can watch over and over again…the type of movie that if I’m channel surfing and I stumble across it, I’ll just stop and watch it, regardless of what I might have been planning on doing.

One of these movies is Tombstone, came out back in the 90’s…telling the story of the shootout at the OK Corral as well as the aftermath. Now if you’ve seen this movie…you know who the hero is…and honestly, even if you haven’t seen it, common knowledge of the OK Corral would probably lead you to say that the hero is Wyatt Earp…backup players…important, but not quite as cool…were his brothers Morgan and Virgil, and his friend Doc Holliday.  And the badguys…well that was the Clantons and the McClauries…who, of course…got what was coming to them.  Throughout the course of the movie, we route for Wyatt as he blazes a trail through the bad guys before finally getting the girl at the end of the movie and settling down for the rest of his life. (pause)
But that’s just a movie isn’t it? And even though its based on real events…its still just a story…and Wyatt Earp, probably wasn’t anywhere close to as heroic as the movie portrays him…in fact, just a little digging shows us that in all honesty…he was a pretty regular guy who had a lot of ups and down.  But history remembers him as the hero.

Its funny how that happens…how our opinions of someone are shaped over time, or perhaps by a specific instance or period in their lives and we forget that in reality, they were just a regular person, doing their best with the situation that they’ve found themselves in…and that this is pretty much the reality for everyone…even the individuals who were portrayed as the “bad guys” in the movies…I’m guessing that they didn’t consider themselves to be the bad guy…just like the one that history portrays as the hero, they were just trying to do the best they could with the situation they found themselves in.  I’ve heard an old saying that everyone is the hero in their own story…its just a question of who’s telling it.

This same notion applies throughout our church history as well…even going clear back into the period of the Old Testament. We are talking about this idea in the confirmation class this year, as we move through the overarching Biblical Narrative…that the big names in the Bible…none of them were perfect people…and even if God used them to accomplish some amazing things…they had their issues as well.

Think of a few examples…a few big names in the Bible…names like Paul…a former Jewish zealot who, if he didn’t commit murder, he at least condoned it.  Peter, the rock…the first pope…a loud mouth who often spoke without thinking, and denied Christ when things got tough.

Let’s back it up. King David, an adulterer who conspired to murder…Moses committed murder…Noah was a drunk…and even Abraham…the great father of faith…the father of a great nation…the key name that we hear in today’s gospel story…He had his moment as well, like trying to pass off his wife as his sister in order to save his own skin. (pause)
Now I can say for certain, because of course I wasn’t there…but I’m going to venture a guess that none of these individuals probably thought of themselves as the hero…but rather they just tried to do the best they could in the situation they were in…and the case of these specific individuals…the situation they were in corresponded with the action that God happened to be taking in our reality…and so, their names are found in the scriptures…and for the most part, they are remembered as heroes. (pause)
And likewise, there are the bad guys in the scriptures as well…sometimes individuals, sometimes groups of people…and when we find ourselves in Jesus’ time…within the narratives of the Gospels…well those bad guys were usually the Pharisees or the Sadducees…the religious elite…occasionally the Roman oppressors…or in John’s gospel, the group commonly referred to as “the Jews.” And that’s the case today.

Jesus is in Jerusalem…hanging out at one of the big Jewish festivals that he was known to frequent…and over the course of a couple of chapters here in John, he continually ends up in the temple…hanging out…teaching, debating…arguing, correcting…in short, he was there doing his thing…and rest assured between the beginning of Chapter 7 and the end of Chapter 8, there is a lot of arguing…and this short little tidbit that we hear today, barely scratches the surface. Rest assured that the mood within this particular little tidbit of scripture…is not peaceful by any means.

But what I find interesting here, is that by the point where we start off today…Jesus’ teaching actually seems to be working for a portion of the audience…for we hear just prior that many believed in him…and so as we pick up today with verse 31, that is who Jesus is addressing.

You believe in me…Good…now here is what that means…this isn’t a one time deal…abide in me…remain in my teaching…if you do so then you are my disciples…you are my followers and you will know the truth…and the truth will set you free.

Now here’s the weird part…we hear that…and it sounds pretty good…almost a no brainer…freedom in Christ…remain in the word, hold onto the teachings of Jesus…okay.

But for those individuals there that day…this notion that they would receive freedom…well this is something that they just can’t get over. WAIT A SECOND JESUS…WE ARE DESCENDENTS OF ABRAHAM…WE HAVE NEVER BEEN SLAVES TO ANYONE. (pause)
Now that’s a laugh isn’t it? Apparently these guys have a really short memory for history, because their very culture, became a culture in the midst of slavery in Egypt…and there are several other examples of servitude within their history as well…but regardless of all that…regardless of any further debate on the nature of sin, and belief and faith…regardless of all that stuff…these guys are clinging to their heritage as the literal end all be all. We are descendants of Abraham…and for us, that’s all we need.

God gave Abraham the promise…and since we are his descendants, we automatically get it too. (pause) But that’s not how this works.

The promise of God is an amazing thing. The notion of salvation…of eternal life…of being included in the kingdom of God, both in the here and now as well as in the age to come…this is a really big deal…even if it goes far beyond our comprehension…

But the amazing thing about this promise…the amazing thing revealed in this short tidbit of scripture…this short tidbit of Jesus teaching…it reminds us that this freedom that he is describing…it is not some physical freedom…its something more…something that honestly goes so far beyond our ability to wrap our heads around, that all we can do is trust that whatever its going to look like…it will be wonderful…it will be beyond comprehension…and that since God has promised it, God will make good on that promise and nothing will stand in God’s way of giving it to us.  For if the Son sets you free, then you are free indeed…free to receive this gift of the heavenly inheritance…whatever that means….Jesus makes it possible for us to enter into the house of God and be in God’s presence. (pause)
Now once again…for us, here, 2000 odd years after this conversation took place…perhaps this seems almost second nature…maybe it seems like a no brainer…but we’ve got more in common with Jesus’ opponents on that day than we like to admit.

They held onto to their cultural heritage as the end all be all…that being Jewish was all they needed…and we do the same don’t we…we have all sorts of traps that we fall into…cultural…racial…financial…political, just to name a few…we fall into the notion that this is right and that is wrong…and even here within the church we fall in this same trap.

Today is Reformation Sunday…a day when we recognize and celebrate the work of the reformers that all started when a random German priest decided to try and reform the Catholic church and nailed a poster on the church door…and depending on which side of history we fall on, Luther was either a big hero…or he was the chief bad guy.

And in the nearly 500 years that have passed since that day…we have organized ourselves into countless different groups…groups based on tradition…and culture…and interpretation and understanding…we’ve rallied ourselves around different themes and ideas…often times demonizing those who take a different stance…and I fear, all too often we place all of our stock in that basket, along with the false notion that God thinks the same way we do…that we’re right and they’re wrong.

But I’m pretty sure God doesn’t think the same way we do…which is probably good because if God thinks like me then we’re all in trouble. (pause) But the wonderful thing about all this…is a simple promise of Jesus…abide in my word…remember my teachings…even in times when they don’t make sense…even in times when you might disagree with one another on just what I was talking about…even when you’re trying your best to hold on to truth that goes beyond your human ability to understand…in all of this…I have chose you.

That’s the glory of the gospel…we don’t have to get it right…we don’t have know some magic words…we don’t have some cosmic checklist that we need to complete in order to receive it…the glory of the gospels tells us that in the midst of our flaws….in the midst of our brokenness, God has chosen us, simply because he loves us…and he will not be separated from us.

That’s the truth…that God has chosen you…you don’t have to be a hero…you just have to be…God’s already done the rest. Amen.

A Random Road Trip 6-19-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 8:26-39, I explore Jesus’ venture into Gentile territory in order to free one man possessed by demons. The fear that erupts around this event reminds us of how scary change can be, and yet we see how far God will go for those who are isolated. In light of Orlando, this is an important reminder.

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

Over the course of the past 3 years of living in the area, I’ve noticed several different landmarks. One of them has caught my eye on numerous occasions. It lies just off of 680, about a mile east of the intersection with I-29…a large lookout tower.

I’ve driven past that tower, looking at it from down on the interstate, over and over again…most recently about a month back as we headed that general direction for a baseball game…and my wife and I agreed that sometime, we should drive up and check it out.

Well about two weeks ago, we did just that. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon and we were all a little stir-crazy…so we jumped in the car and drove on up there…we pulled off at the exit and parked the car at the base of the tower. We walked up the roughly 75 steps to the top, and spent a couple minutes looking out over the Missouri river valley, as well as back to the east over the rolling hillsides of Iowa. (pause)

And then we left. (pause) Now while we did end up doing some other random things while we were out and about that day…the whole point of the excursion…the only reason for leaving the house and driving clear up there, was to walk up those steps…and that…is…it. It was a random road trip with a singular purpose.

Today’s story…it features the exact same thing. A random trip…with a singular purpose…though of course it sits nicely within a larger portion of narrative about Jesus ministry…especially considering the relative regularity that he feels the need to cross the sea. Over and over again we hear of Jesus getting in a boat and traveling to the far side of the sea of Galilee…doing some sort of ministry in Jewish territory, and then crossing over into Gentile territory…back and forth.

And today’s story, is just one example…for just prior to the opening verse for today, Jesus says to the disciples “Let’s go to the other side of the sea.” And they get into the boat to do just that…interestingly enough…as they’re crossing, Jesus konks out and a great big storm comes up…freaking out the disciples, so they wake Jesus up…and he gives them a look before telling Mother Nature…HEY…KNOCK IT OFF…and amazingly enough…it does.

Following that little adventure, this random road trip…or perhaps boat trip would be a better name…brings them to the far side of the sea, in the area known as Gerasenes…and immediately Jesus encounters the demoniac.

Now just what he’s up to, we don’t really know…but it seems safe to say that he’s got a pretty lousy life going on…possessed of countless demons…driven out of town…driven out of his right mind…living day by day in the tombs…sometimes chained up, but most off trailing the broken chains along behind him…this man is the epitome of isolation…shunted to the side by the people of the city…out of sight and out of mind…and why? Well, because these demons, whatever they are, cause him to behave like a raving lunatic…the last person that civilized people want to have in their neighborhood. (pause)

Now you all know the story…you know what happens…Jesus recognizes the presence of evil spirits and commands them out…they talk back…seemingly in fear of Jesus, because they recognize that this man is God….that this man has power and authority over all kinds of stuff…diseases…death…nature…and yes, even demons…and so they beg him “DON’T CAST US INTO THE ABYSS!!!” There’s pigs over there? Can we go into them instead?

I can almost see Jesus get a little grin on his face…You don’t want to be cast into the bottomless void…but pigs are okay? Well sure Legion, head on over to those pigs…which they do…and the pigs FREAK out…and run into the sea where they drown…and whatever the heck demons are…if they require a living host, well then I guess they end up right where they don’t go in the first place don’t they?

That’s the story…Jesus sees the man…sees the presence of evil…and takes care of it, leaving this poor soul…this wild man who has been shoved to the margins…whole again.

But what’s the response of those who witness it? Well, they freak out too…they run off to the city and bring everyone out…and they all see this man who they only know as a dangerous lunatic…as one to be feared and therefore controlled or cast out…they see him sane…and whole, just sitting there listening to Jesus…so changed that he desires to give up his life as he knows it…and his community even though it has cast him out…and follow after Jesus…but Jesus has other plans for this man…turning him into an Evangelist who returns to his home to tell everyone what God has done.

And once again, the response of the people who witness the results of God’s work through Christ…they’re afraid…and they ask him to leave…beg him even…and Jesus gets back in the boat…and together with the disciples, he sets sail back for Jewish territory…His whole purpose in coming all the way across the sea…braving the dangers of a storm…the whole point was to heal this man pushed beyond the margins…who lives among the dead…to free him of what oppresses him…and then he left. (pause)
Now all of that is amazing enough on its own…to consider that Jesus would go CLEAR out of his way for this one miracle…for this one act of mercy…but its even more amazing than that. Jesus broke just about every single cultural rule and boundary to do this. He’s a Jew and he enters into Gentile territory…the man himself, a Gentile…He’s naked, so for Jesus to engage with him breaks another cultural taboo…the fact that he lives in the tombs means that he literally lives in the midst of death…and guess what, dead bodies make you ritually unclean…there’s another rule that Jesus bypasses…heck even the presence of pigs which are an unclean animal creates another boundary.

And yet, Jesus doesn’t hesitate…in fact…despite all of these forces that stand in the way…his very purpose for going in the first place was to free this man from oppression…from isolation…to restore him to life in community.

Jesus shows us in this story that he willingly, and perhaps even intentionally crosses any and all barriers to bring ONE individual back from that which isolates him…to bring him back from life quite literally as a dead man….foreshadowing perhaps? A little glimpse into just how far Jesus is willing to go to reestablish life in relationship for any one person? Yah, I’d say so. (pause)

Now that’s all well and good…honestly that’s the gospel in a nutshell right there…but I’m drawn back to the response of the people who were there…fear. (pause) Now just what it is that they are afraid of is hard to tell…Perhaps they’re afraid to witness a supernatural power that is so much greater than they are…I’d say that’s fair…perhaps on the other hand they’re afraid that Jesus will continue to cost them their livelihood…after all, his actions cost them a great herd of pigs worth a great deal.

Or maybe, on the flip side…maybe they’re afraid of what it means that now this man is coming back into the community. For a long time, they’ve known this guy as the demoniac…a lunatic, dangerous…unacceptable and unpredictable…a danger to himself and to others…and so they cast him…tie him up and leave him chained in the tombs among the dead…but now…this guy…known only by his history, is going to be back in the neighborhood…living among them as one of them…and maybe, just maybe, they can’t get past that…maybe they can’t see him for what he is, a fellow human being…and they can only see the history that surrounds him…and the fact that the measures they have taken to contain him are no longer applicable…for his presence, clothed and in his right mind represents a total change from how they’ve dealt with the situation up to this point. (pause) And yah…that can be scary.

Now keep in mind, these are Gentiles…maybe they’ve heard of God, but it stands to reason that they’ve got their own gods…their own way of thinking about things…but despite their views or their theology, God acts in their midst anyway…and this really shouldn’t surprise us, because it seems like throughout scripture God…and especially God the Son…pretty much always ends up standing with the marginalized….whether everyone else approves of it or not. (pause)

Now what’s that mean for us today? Well, that’s the million dollar question. Usually at this point I’ll throw out something generic about recognizing the presence of the marginalized within our lives…how sometimes we are the ones pushed to the side…and that is true, I don’t dispute that…and yes the good news of the gospel IS for us.

But recent events have brought things to the point where I can’t just be generic anymore. Last Sunday, I had no more than wrapped up worship including a sermon about recognizing one another as people…as human…as individuals of worth…and I stepped into my office to do a little of the follow up work I do every Sunday…and that’s when I saw the news about Orlando…and the mass shooting…49 people dead at a nightclub.

And all I could think was “AGAIN?” And I shook my head in disbelief…because these events are happening SO often that there’s nothing else I feel like I can do or so…and so I went on about my day…but I kept hearing the news…and more and more details emerged…and in the end, it has come light…that the nightclub was a gay bar…and the perpetrator used his beliefs to justify killing almost 50 people simply because of their orientation. (pause)

Now I’m not going to stand up here and tell you what you should think or feel…or tell you what’s the right theological understanding on what we always seem to label as the “Gay Issue.” That’s another conversation for another day…but what I am going to say is that NOTHING…NOT ONE THING…can possibly justify the senseless slaughter.

These were human lives…fellow human beings…and whether society wants to approve and condone their lifestyle or not…it doesn’t change the fact that they are human just like the rest of us…and as fellow members of the human race…they are made in the divine image of God…just like everyone else…we hear way back in Genesis 1…So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them…

I’m pretty sure that male and female covers the gambit of humanity…we are all made in the image of God and God has called this Very Good. And yet we see fit to destroy one another simply because we are different…

Now I’m not going to try and change your mind…I know that many of you sitting out there disagree and I respect that…but what I am saying is that we MUST find a way to co-exist with one another…and to treat one another as equals. (pause)

I do not fool myself into thinking that this is easy, but I do believe that God is calling us to mutual respect for one another…for Christ himself commanded us to first love God, and then to love our neighbor…even going so far as to tell us that the world will know that we are His followers if we have love for another. (pause)

Life is messy…and life is complicated…and its hard…and we all fall along different points in terms of our views on this topic…I get that…but praise be to God that nothing in all creation, not our shortcomings nor our sin, nor our mistakes will separate us from His love…Jesus made the ultimate road trip for that purpose…to free us all from that which isolates us….and there was nothing random about that. (pause)

I know that this conversation…this topic…is emotionally charged…I know that its scary…maybe even dangerous to tread into these waters…But God entered our reality in order to bring about unity…and remember that unity does not equal conformity…but rather a mutual love and respect for those we encounter. It is my prayer that we can start there…and trust that God will ultimately lead us where He wants us to go….whatever that might ultimately look like. Amen

Take Off the Blinders 10-25-15

In this sermon for Reformation Sunday I explore the assigned text from each year in John 8:31-36. Jesus says that believing in him sets us free. I explore what we are freed from.

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 have never made any secret of my loathing for winter. It is the season that comes around every single year that makes me wonder why I never moved to Florida…and because winter comes right on the heels of fall…this time of year that most people absolutely love tends to rub me the wrong way.

I hear it in conversation on almost a daily basis this time of year…how wonderful it is…the cool weather…the lack of humidity…the ability to open up the windows to get fresh air in the house…the joy of sitting by a fire on a chilly evening. (pause) And of course…the beautiful colors…the colors, the colors, the colors. (pause)

This is of course…referring to the trees changing colors…which I know a lot of people love…but for me…it’s a bane of my existence…because those leaves…red, yellow, brown…they look nice for about 5 minutes…and then they drop all over my lawn…mocking me…telling me that its time to get out the rake or pull out the mower…they fall on the roof, ending up in the gutter…telling me its time to get out the ladder…and they drift up in the corners…sloppy and wet, where they’ll sitting come next spring when I really have to clean them up. (pause)
I hate the leaves…but, even I’ll admit it…for about 5 minutes away, until they start dropping…they are beautiful. (pause)
But each and every year, I can also guarantee another discussion that happens around the fall colors…the question of what causes the color change in the first place. I still get it from my daughter, though by now her older brother has it pretty well figured out… “Daddy, where does the pretty color come from?”

And the amazing thing about it…is that those colors were there all along…we just couldn’t see them. (pause) For those of you out there not as scientifically minded as I am, leaves are green because of the presence of chlorophyll…that amazing stuff found in plants that can take sunlight and somehow turn it into food for the plant…something that in the trees, or more specifically in the leaves…tends to dry up and disappear in the fall. But that chlorophyll is so bright…it is so overwhelmingly green…that it overpowers the natural color of the leaf itself…and its only when that chlorophyll dries up in the fall that we can finally see the leaf as it really is…red, orange, yellow, or brown. (pause) Throughout the rest of the growing season, the green merely blinds us to the true nature of the leaves.

Now perhaps you’re wondering just what in the heck leaves and fall colors have to do with things today…particularly here on Reformation Day when we jump away from Mark’s gospel and hit a familiar passage out of John…one featured each and every year.

Abide in my word…know the truth…and it will make you free. (pause) Hold on a sec Jesus…Abraham, we’re already free…its all good…what are you talking about? (pause) You all know the passage don’t you? A bunch of fellow Jewish people are in the temple listening to Jesus…his words resonate and they believe…only to have him drop this little bomb on them…a statement which perhaps sounds like good news to us…and it trips them up…leading to a massive argument…a bunch of name calling…accusations of demon possession…and threats of stoning due to blasphemy. (pause) Seriously…John chapter 8 is a rollercoaster of reaction isn’t it?

It interesting to me…intriguing even…to hear about this reaction of individuals who have just begun to believe in Jesus…only to turn right around and change their mind. (pause) But it catches my attention simply because of the important nature of belief here in John’s gospel.

Throughout the course of the gospel, Jesus is constantly inviting individuals, as well as us as readers to believe in him…and not only that but to abide…to remain, to stay with him…we hear it today…abide in my word…stay in my word and my teaching…believe in me.

And just what are we supposed to believe? Well, the author of John addresses that towards the end…telling us that all of these things have been written down so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and through believing you might have life in his name. (pause)

And so…it would seem that this random group of Jewish people, in Jerusalem like good Jewish people…observing their traditions that dictate the proper way to honor God, begin to believe what Jesus has to say…seemingly, starting to believe that Jesus is in fact who he says he is…until the truth of just what this means starts to come to the surface. (pause)
Isn’t it interesting, what trips them up? This notion that faith in Christ brings freedom? They can’t get past it can they? And I wonder why…is it simply because to acknowledge that God became human is to begin to understand why he did so in the first place? (pause) To acknowledge that humanity is enslaved by a power greater than themselves…that we as individuals lack freedom. (pause)

Perhaps I say that, and it is a difficult thing to acknowledge…to understand…after all, one of the things that we pride ourselves in here in our country is our freedom…the notion that nothing holds sway over us…but think about it for a moment…is that really true? Or do we all have things that have their hooks in us…I think we do.

Now some of these things are easy to recognize…other’s not so much, and I think that’s the case that we see in the story today…the people that Jesus was addressing were unable to recognize that they were enslaved to sin…to a power that exists in our reality that goes far beyond our ability to understand or comprehend, much less overcome.

And this power is entrenched so deeply within our very existence that it blinds us to this truth…it blinds us from the ability the recognize that its even there…it blinds us from seeing things as they actually are. (pause) That’s what sin does…it warps things…hides some truths from us and whispers lies about other things…but in the end, the power of sin blinds us from the truth that we have a God that made us and loves us.

And you know what…I think sin tells us one more lie as well…and that is the lie that we can even begin to understand God and just what God is up to in the world. (pause)

It seems as if the people listening to Jesus that day, whoever they were, were so set in their ways, were so firmly convinced that their ancestry was all that mattered to God, that they were blinded to the life altering truth that God was standing before them, offering them freedom from the very thing that blinded them in the first place…their pride as descendants of Abraham…the very thing that they thought was their salvation…was the thing standing in the way of it.

And I think we fall into the same trap…we all have blinders that we wear…and all too often I fear that the very thing blinding us to our need for Jesus is the notion that we have it right. (pause)

Perhaps its fitting that we cover this text on Reformation Day…on the day every year when we celebrate the beginning of a major change within the body of Christ…a time when the church began to recognize that there are differences…and that no one individual has it all figured out…because the church, as it is, is made of people and every single one of us is flawed…none of us is perfect…none of us has perfect understanding…because none of us are God. (pause)
If you need evidence to support this…look at all the different denominations…there are countless…even within the Lutheran branch…and we each define ourselves by different traditions and practices…different understandings…different interpretations.

And I fear, one of the traps that we fall into, both as individuals as well as denominations…is the notion that we have it right and everyone else is wrong….that our denomination heritage and personal interpretation of the Bible is 100% accurate…or worse yet…that God thinks exactly the same way we do.

News flash!!!! He doesn’t…and I for one am pretty glad about that, because if God thought the same way I do then we’d all be in trouble…but that isn’t the case.

Because God doesn’t think the same way we do…God doesn’t love the same we do…God doesn’t exist the same way we do…and the freedom that is offered to us through Jesus Christ is freedom from the notion that we have to get it all figured out before its accessible…Jesus frees us from that which blinds us from the truth…even those blinders that we think ARE truth. (pause)

So here’s the thing…we aren’t perfect. We never were, and in this life we never will be. But the good news in Jesus Christ is that we don’t have to be…and truth that Jesus is trying desperately to show us is that his action…God’s action in our reality…makes us okay anyway.

The gospel is not a bunch of rules of what you have to do, and what you have to avoid in order to make God happy with you. It’s not a cultural requirement, it’s not a financial bench mark. Because none of that will make us right with God…none of that will overcome the power of sin in this reality…the power that exists far beyond our understanding and breaks the relationship with God because God cannot tolerate that which is against his will…but the wonderful thing is that God WILL not tolerate being separated from us and that is why the word became flesh…to somehow…someway take on the power of sin which results in death, and by dying and coming back God overcomes it…we don’t have to understand it…we don’t have to explain it…we just believe it through the power of the Holy Spirit acting within us.

And so, each and every day, we ask God to remove the blinders…to remove that which stands in the way of us recognizing that we need a savior and he exists as God made flesh dwelling among us…and simply because HE chooses to…he makes us free from all that blinds us…because HE chooses to…our blinders are removed…and once again, that relationship with God, flawed by the presence of sin in our reality today, will one day be perfected whether we understand it or not. Amen.

Freedom From What Captures You 2-1-15

This morning’s sermon comes from Mark 1:21-28. Jesus encounters a demon possessed man and gives us an example of his authority.

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
Have you ever had one of those times when there was something really important that you needed to work on…something pressing that really needed your attention…but no matter how hard you tried to get to it, no matter how good your intentions are…you just can’t seem to sit down and take care of it? Because no matter how hard you try…other stuff keeps getting in the way…keeping you occupied…catching your attention…That ever happened to any of you? (pause)
It happened to me in a big bad way this week. Many of you know that I spent the majority of the week up in St Paul MN at a conference…and because of that…a lot of my normal weekly work either got done ahead of time…or it sort of got shunted to the background.
One thing that fell into the shunted category was getting my sermon written…as you have maybe heard, Friday is my normal writing day, but that just wasn’t going to be an option this time around as I was in the conference until lunch time, and then had the rather lengthy drive back down here to Underwood taking up the rest of the day…but I knew that I would have the opportunity to get to it a day late, as my family was heading off to visit some family over the weekend…and I would be by myself.
And so, my plan when I rolled out of bed yesterday morning was to hit the sermon…and then pick away at a few other things before settling in to a long day of Netflix binging…but that is not…what ended up happening.
All day long…other stuff kept catching me. A quick trip into the office got lengthy with various discussions with Tonya…and my mind was all over the map thinking about different projects that are pending for different things. And then my phone kept ringing…over and over again I kept getting interrupted…then the pending weather caught my attention for a while…and finally, just as I thought it was time to start writing…I ended up discovering the last piece of tax information for the year…and so I spent all afternoon taking care of our taxes…all the while…I kept walking past my work computer…just sitting there waiting for me to sit down and start writing…just waiting patiently for me to untangle myself from everything else that kept catching me. (pause)
Now perhaps you’re wondering just what my day of constant interruption has to do with the story of Jesus in the Capernaum synagogue…a fair question…and the connection lies within the notion of being caught…because we see an example of that today.
Here we are…still very early in Jesus’ ministry here in Mark’s gospel…the baptism has happened…the wilderness temptation is over…the disciples are following along behind…and now…for the first time…we actually see Jesus in action…as he takes up the post of teacher in the synagogue on this particular Sabbath day. We don’t know what he’s talking about in the midst of the people that day…but we do hear that his teaching must be effective as Mark shares the astonishment of the people…and the fact that they recognize his teaching as having authority…but I find myself wondering just what this authority looks like…because we don’t seem to hear it in the details that Mark shares. (pause)
Yet in the midst of this scene…chaos ensues…as a man possessed by a particularly loud and violent demon erupts within the calm. (pause) Imagine that for a moment…imagine that as we sit here in worship today suddenly someone jumps up out of their pew…or perhaps comes bursting into the back of the sanctuary…screaming and shaking. (pause) Now with the Superbowl happening in a few short hours we might first think that its just some crazed fan getting geared up a little early…but something tells me that the reality of the situation would quickly set in…and we would all recognize just how dire this situation is.
Because this man was possessed…not just that he had a weird moment…but rather…this demon has completely captured this man…the demon has taken control of his body…of his speech…whatever is going on here…this man…is a captive. (pause)
Now I need to stop for a moment and talk about demons…because I think this is a subject that’s probably just a bit spooky for all of us…something that makes us just a little bit uncomfortable when we start to think about it…either that or we simply try to dismiss the notion of demons…just leaving them back there in the ancient days…because its just something that we never notice in this day and age. (pause)
Or do we? (Pause) I’ll admit it…I don’t know a ton about demons…but I do think they’re out there…I do…but I also think that demons are something that go far beyond our comprehension. Who’s to say that demons haven’t just gotten sneaky…hiding behind a wall of mental illness diagnosis…or physical ailments…We hear that this particular demon liked to shout out and that it shook the man violently…when we hear this…perhaps the idea of turret’s syndrome and epilepsy come to mind.
Sometimes I think it’s a little dangerous when we try to explain away the odd…or perhaps the somewhat scary things that happen in the scriptures…and by trying to do just that…we ourselves are getting caught up in the need for explanation.
And getting caught is exactly what was going on here…regardless of the explanation…this demon had interrupted the regular life of this man…it stopped him from living his life in the fullness intended by his maker…in short…this man was completely caught. (pause)
How often do we find ourselves in a similar situation…how often do we find our lives interrupted by something…something that seems to hold our attention…that stands in the way of us living out our days with joy and peace…because we are completely focused on whatever it is that captures us? (pause)
There’s a lot of stuff out there that can capture us isn’t there…for some…we’re captured by fear…fear of the unknown…or fear of a diagnosis…or of a lost job…others are captured by pride…completely blinded by the constant need to be right…to be in charge…others may be captured by doubt…or by envy…or by anger or lust…we live in a world of constant interruptions…and I’m not just talking about the general busyness of life…but when we stop and take a moment to really think about it…don’t we see that we are all completely entangled in something…I think we all are…I think everyone of us has something that captures us so completely that it dominates us…whether for a moment…or for a lifetime…there is always something coming after us…something that’s working with every ounce of its being to catch us…to tie us up…to hinder the life that is intended for us… (pause)
But…within our passage today…we are given a glimpse of the authority that has come into the world…the authority that has the power to do something about all this stuff that seeks to capture us…and that authority rests within Jesus…and we see that those forces of darkness…those entities hanging around out there…sometimes visible and sometimes sneaking around in the background…those forces seeking to tangle us up…they recognize this authority…they can spot it coming from a mile away…and you know what…that authority of God made flesh…that authority of the divine maker of the universe resides within this man named Jesus…and those forces of darkness are terrified of it.
WHAT HAVE YOU TO DO WITH US JESUS OF NAZARETH…HAVE YOU COME TO DESTROY US? (pause) You know what I think? I think this particular demon…who had set up a nice little comfortable nest by dominating the physical life of this man…looked upon Jesus…and that demon…that force of darkness…it saw its own destruction. (pause)
I think…all too often…these forces of darkness…whatever we want to call them…will try everything in their power to keep us away from the light of Christ…that’s why so many things that ties us up seek to keep us in isolation…to keep in the darkness…to keep in the secret…and so we feel shame at these things that hinder us…because that sense of shame is just another weapon of isolation that the darkness uses…
But praise God that with Jesus…LIGHT SHINES IN THE DARKNESS…and as we’ve heard time and time again…when light shows up darkness….LOSES. (pause)
We have a God that desires us to live the life that He intended for all of humanity in the beginning…a life of freedom from all that which hinders us…from everything that seeks to ensnare us…and since we simply cannot free ourselves from the things that catch us…God himself did something about it…God himself took that divine authority…that divine power…that amazing ability that he has to create by simply speaking the words…and in today’s story he speaks these words of power to that demon…to that darkness that is trying desperately to continue holding onto this man…and Jesus simply tells it “BE SILENCED!!”
No longer will God stand by allowing the forces of darkness to capture us…that’s the beauty of the gospel…that’s the joy that we find in the kingdom of God that has come into our reality along with Christ…We have a God that will do anything in order to free us from all that hinders our true life…our fulfilling life…our life in true relationship with God himself.
We have a God that desires freedom from all of this stuff…freedom from whatever it is that holds us back…that keeps us immobilized…whatever it is that has us paralyzed…God frees us from it…not by creating some divine checklist, or demanding some blood sacrifice…but rather by showing us through the life of Jesus Christ that the love of God for all the world has no boundaries…that there is nothing that he will not do in order to free you from all that hinders you…from all that captures you…from all that seeks to hold you back. (pause)
I don’t know what it might be in your life…I don’t know what it is that’s got a hold of you…and I certainly can’t free you from it…because I’m just a man like you…flawed and broken…captured by my own darkness…but what I can say is this…as a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ…and by…HIS…AUTHORITY…I declare to each of you that you are free from the darkness that holds you…it no longer has control over you…because God himself has said so. (pause)
And we need only look to one another to find that light of Christ shining…this is why we seek the fellowship of one another…so that together we may share in this light…not under our own power…but by the power of God given to his church through the Holy Spirit…and that together…we are freed from all that captures us. Amen.

Be Free 10-26-14

Today’s sermon is from John 8:31-36, the assigned gospel text for Reformation Sunday. In the sermon I explore just what it means to be reformed as well as what freedom in Christ really means.

You can listen to the sermon here:

You can also read 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

Last Wednesday evening, a group of us sat together downstairs, participating in a membership class. The four individuals who we just accepted into our congregation a few moments ago and I sat and discussed quite a bit of stuff…What it means to be Lutheran…the history of Underwood Lutheran…our own stories…many different topics flowed throughout the course of our time together.

But one thing that has stuck with me through the past few days was a joke that we made together about the somewhat unoriginal nature that is sometimes expressed when we name something…a trend that seems particularly plausible today…

For today is Reformation Day…the day when Protestants of various strains celebrate the beginning of the Reformation…which sparked off the day that Martin Luther picked up a hammer and nailed his 95 theses to the chapel door…But just what does that name really mean anyway? Reformation…or to put it a little more simply…reform? Well, to reform something means to, quite literally…make changes in the form of something…and it doesn’t matter what it is…anything…an object, or an institution…whatever it is…it is initially formed…or made…or created…and then it is…reformed…into something new.

And so, Reformation Day is apply, if somewhat unoriginally named for the day that the church as it was known in the 16th century began to be “reformed” into something new…And what was the result? Well, a lot of things to be sure…but one of them is the wonderful concept known as Christian Denominations…divisions within the church based on doctrine and practices…and what was the first denomination? Well…it all started around Luther himself…so in keeping with the unoriginal notion…they were named Lutherans…which quite literally means a follower of Martin Luther…fitting yes…but original, not so much.

And you know what…500 odd years haven’t done much to further us along this trend of unoriginality…and in the midst of the new member class, as we talked about the history of our congregation, I began to imagine the conversation that must have gone on back in the late 1920’s, as our congregation’s founding members tried to decide on a name.

Well folks…here we are…we need a name for our new congregation…what should it be? How can we be identified so new people know just who we are? (pause) Well, where are we? Underwood…ahh yes…and we’re Lutherans right? How about Underwood Lutheran? (pause) Distinctive…Absolutely…but Original, well, not so much.

So I guess when it all boils down, we are in Underwood, following Martin Luther in a reformed version of the church…which itself is made up of Christians…defined as followers of Christ…sound about right?

And as it is Reformation Day, we share the assigned reading…from John’s Gospel in which Jesus encounters believing Jews…who very quickly…decide to backpedal.

Here we are in Jerusalem…hanging out in the Temple during the festival of Passover…and Jesus is interacting with fellow Jewish people…some of them seem to appreciate what he’s got to say…other’s not so much. And of course, this is nothing new…we’ve been hearing stories like this for several weeks now…but it doesn’t take much for these Jewish individuals to turn their backs on Jesus…as soon as his teaching starts to touch a nerve.

Needless to say, the people at the time had a lot of cultural pride…they were God’s chosen people after all…but the second that Jesus says that the truth will set you free…they freak out…JUST A SECOND JESUS…WE ARE DESCENDENTS OF ABRAHAM AND HAVE NEVER BEEN SLAVES TO ANYONE…hmm…so I guess they’re forgetting about Roman rule…and maybe those little issues known as the Babylonian and Assyrian captivity…not to mention that brief little snippet of time in their history…hanging out making bricks in Egypt…it was only 430 years…I can see how’d they’d overlook that…

But what’s apparent is that the people consider themselves to be free…and its offensive that they might just be subject to something besides themselves…but they are missing Jesus’ point here…because Jesus isn’t talking about physical freedom any more than he’s talking about physical enslavement.

Even though Jesus goes on to spell it out for them…he’s actually talking about something a little more sneaky…but a whole lot more diabolical than anything physical. (pause) Sin. That which separates us from God…that which severs the relationship intended between us and our maker…the one who formed us in the first place…

But sin…you know what…sometimes that whole sin thing…is really tricky. We talk about it a lot…it’s a common theme here in church…and it has certainly found its way out into our regular day to day lives as well…but just what the heck is it…I mean, what is it really? (pause)

If you’ve heard me preach out of John’s gospel before, you’ve probably heard me talk about what John thinks sin is…and that’s failing to believe that Jesus is God…but if we think about that for just a moment more maybe we begin to see that sin is flat out failing to believe what Jesus has to say. Yes, at times he calls himself God…he also calls himself the way and the truth and the life…He promises that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life…in short…Jesus seems to tell us a lot of stuff…and he promises a lot of stuff…and if sin is not believing that…then I guess it really means rejecting his word…rejecting his teaching…rejecting the God-given divine truth that he promises us…that’s sin. (pause)

And that’s exactly what he tells us that we will be freed from…but you know what…that’s not all…Maybe, just maybe…what this freedom really is…is the realization all that all the lies the world tries to tell us don’t matter any more…All those things that whisper in the back of our minds…those voices that tell us we aren’t good enough…or smart enough…or attractive enough…or rich enough…you’ve heard those voices haven’t you…they talk a lot…and they come from a lot of different directions…all that judgmental garbage that tries as hard as it can to pass judgment on you. (pause)

Maybe…just maybe Jesus is telling us that when we abide in him…when we live in him…when we hang out with him…when we accept that he is God and that he wants to be in relationship with us…maybe then we are freed from the power of all that judgmental crap that tries to control us…and when that happens…well then my friends truly we are free. (pause)

Free from listening to the lies that everyone else is okay…but you aren’t. Free from listening to the person who says I’ve got it all together, and you don’t. Free from being subject to the notion that anyone…that any single person in all of history is ANY more…or ANY less worthy than you are…Jesus tells us today that when we live our lives…IN HIM…then we are subject only to the promise that he makes that you are good enough…that you are of worth…that you are formed in your mother’s womb by a God who loves you…and that all that loud obnoxious BS that the world tries to spew in your direction FLAT OUT DOESN’T MATTER…then you’re free from it…and the Apostle Paul screams at us that if anyone is in Christ…NEW CREATION!!!!!

If anyone abides in Christ…lives in Christ…remains with Christ…hangs out with Christ…then they are free of all of that…and not only that but that they are RE…formed…they are made something new…and all that baggage…all those lies that the world spews at us…all those falsehoods that Satan whispers in our minds…all that stuff…I WANT YOU TO KNOW…THAT IT DOESN’T MATTER…ITS ALREADY GONE…

And how do we know that this is true? Because Jesus said so…and abiding in his word means living in the promise that he has made. (pause) But now all that being said…and as wonderful as that might sound, I know that there are times when believing it is easier than other times…and of course there are those moments in our lives when we doubt…when the questions kick in…and when those lies of the world get really loud…and the strength of our Faith in Christ just isn’t as strong as other times…and maybe we find that loving ourselves enough to accept God’s promises…to live in God’s promises just doesn’t quite work…and we ask the question of just what are we supposed to do when that happens?

And the answer is that we turn to others…and together, we as a church support one another…love one another…and in doing so, we remind each other of God’s promises…we do this by offering a word of grace and forgiveness to one another…uttering the words that we as individuals long to hear and cannot speak for ourselves…that you are of worth and because of the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ…you are forgiven…and you are free…freed from the powers of sin and death…freed from the lies of this world…(pause)

We are the church…and the church is the place where the forgiveness of sin is declared…not by our own power…but because of the promises of God…made real in the words of Jesus Christ…and made possible through his death on the cross…and together…as the church…each and every day we are being made new…We are being re-formed…ever closer to the image of God in which we were created in the first place. (pause)

Are we perfect? Heck no…but we are free…free from having to be…because God loves us anyway. Amen.