Posts Tagged ‘Promises of God’

Because I Said So 1-13-19

In this sermon for Baptism of Our Lord Sunday, based on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22, I explore the vital importance of Jesus’ baptism, and the way that the proclamation of God is a life-altering moment in our existence and identity.

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 our Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

Disagreements are odd things. Now, I’m not talking about knockdown, drag-out fights. But rather those times when we have a difference of opinion on something.

Granted, most of the time I think we as people are able to talk our way through them. We might look at things from a different angle, but more often than not, we are able to find some way to meet in the middle.

But there are times when the two parties in the disagreement are not really on equal footing status-wise. Maybe it’s a boss-employee dynamic…or a ranking officer over a sub-ordinate in the military…or one that I’ve gained a fair amount of experience with…a parent and child. (pause) Now as we all know…the scales aren’t balanced in those relationships…one has authority over the other…and so, inevitably…at some point…its gonna happen.  Its happened to me, and its probably happened to you…that moment when one person gives a command or an order or instruction…and the other responds “Why?” (pause) “Because I said so.” (pause)

That’s a loaded phrase isn’t it? Because I said so…it’s a powerful statement…one that doesn’t really indicate any specific meaning…but in itself reveals something utterly final…utterly specific…it’s a declaration…or proclamation that this matter is now settled…and that in the voicing of the statement, this is now reality. (pause)

Think about some of the different examples of proclamations that we encounter.  There are probably many…but the ones that come to mind tend to be tied into some really big important moments…maybe you’ve experienced some of these…and the way its changed how you think or view a given situation…how it makes something more real.

Moments like hearing the words “I’m pregnant” or “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl.”  Or moments like “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” Or “You’re hired.” Or “You’re fired.” Or “I’m sorry, its cancer.” Or even “Time of death is…”  These proclamations change everything…and to hear them declared in our direction…these statements alter our reality don’t they.

Now admittedly…I got a little heavy right away…but I think its important to recognize this truth about proclamation…and it’s the idea of proclamation that brings us around to today’s gospel lesson.  Today is Baptism of our Lord Sunday…always the first Sunday after the day of Epiphany…here at the beginning of the Epiphany season…and as we’ve said before…the theme throughout Epiphany centers in on different ways that Jesus is revealed to the world.

Now the Baptism of Jesus is an important story…one of only a few that we hear every single year…and one of precious few that has the distinction of being featured in all four gospels…and with that distinction, its certainly worth paying attention to.

Interestingly enough, in all four gospels…we actually find the action kicking off centered around John the Baptist rather than Jesus…today is no exception…and you’ve probably all heard the story often enough that you know the basics.

John’s out in the wilderness…enthusiastically doing his John the Baptist thing.  Long crazy hair…weird wardrobe…crazy diet…hollering about repentance and calling people vipers. Throwing water around…and generally attracting a great big crowd that compares him with the prophets of old…and at the same time they are generally perplexed by this dude and his message.

Low and behold Jesus comes walking up…and since these 2 guys are relatives, I can only imagine the conversation going a little like this. “YOU BROOD OF VIPERS…WHO WARNED YOU TO FLEE…OH…Jesus…hey cuz…sup?”
“Not much John…sup with you?” “Ah you know how it is…just doin my thing…how’s your mom? She good?” “Yah she’s good…you coming to the big reunion at the temple this year?” “I dunno…word on the street is King Herod’s getting a little cranky with me…I’ll probably end up getting arrested or something.”  “Crazy man…but anyway…I see you’re doing this whole baptism thing…let’s do that.”

And they go back and forth for a bit and Jesus is baptized and the heavens open up and the Spirit descends like a dove and a big booming voice announces his identity as the Beloved Son of God….probably with choir of angels singing back up like (Heavenly Singing) “AHHHHHHHH.” (pause) Okay so I embellish…but I like to think that’s how it happened.

But as we consider this important story, recognizing that its presence in each of the gospels, we must also take note of the differences that lie between them…and today, we think specifically about Luke’s version featured in the brief batch of verses which we shared a moment ago.

Now when I sat down with this text early this past week…my initial reaction was “Man, John’s busy here isn’t he?  Where’s Jesus during all this?”  And I can’t help but think its true…most of what we hear is the message of John…every bit of it pointing away from himself.

Humor and joking aside…John was a pretty big deal…in that time, he’s the first “voice from God”…think prophet…that they’ve heard in 400 years…and he’s got some pedigree…he’s the son of priest…one important enough to serve in the temple…he’s been empowered by the Holy Spirit since before he was born…and he’s got a message…and all of this starts making the people wonder if maybe, just maybe John might be the long awaited Messiah.

But John knows who he is…and more importantly…John knows who he is not…One more powerful that I am is coming. I’m not even worthy to untie his shoes. I baptize you with water…he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and Fire…You might think I’m it…but you haven’t seen anything yet.

John goes on and on…and with everything he says, he’s pointing this audience to another…he’s pointing out the one who IS the Messiah…the one, who is ultimately standing among them…and in an almost throw away comment…completely passive here in Luke’s account we hear “when the people were baptized and Jesus was baptized with them.” (pause)  That’s it…that’s the only detail we get about Jesus this time around…that he’s just one of the people in line to be baptized together.

And yet…this simple passive statement reveals something important…that for whatever reason Jesus needed to be baptized…a age-old question without any really great answers…but for whatever reason…Jesus experiences the same action…the same baptism as we do…but of course…as we know…the aftermath was a little more dramatic than what we tend to see when we gather around this particular font.

The heaven’s open up…the Spirit comes down…and God makes a declaration…You are my son the beloved, with you I am well pleased…can’t help but think that’s about the most dramatic reveal that you could hope every hope for right?

But now let’s think about it.  In this moment…All three members of the trinity are present…a unique moment in all of scripture when we find Father, Son, and Holy Spirit present and accounted for…and in fact the only other time they are mentioned together is in Jesus’ command at the end of Matthew’s gospel when he instructs his followers to baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The only two times are in the context of Baptism.

When we realize this…perhaps we begin to see just why our Baptismal identity is so vital in our Lutheran expression and understanding of our faith in Christ. The divinely mysterious 3 in 1 God is expressed through this divine act which we share with Jesus.

Now I’ll admit…there are moments when I get a little jealous…because as amazing as baptism is…and it is…we don’t have Jesus physically standing here…and we don’t get a bird flapping around…or the roof tearing off and the sky ripping in 2…it would be pretty amazing…and probably pretty scary if we did…but that doesn’t really happen does it?

But you know what…our Triune God is still present when we celebrate a baptism…Jesus is here…because we are the body of Christ here on Earth…and the newly baptized joins in that community, becoming part of the body. (pause) We have the gift of the Holy Spirit, promised through the scriptures…even if we can’t see it…and finally we have the presence of God among us through proclamation. (pause)

Jesus heard those words…you are my beloved Son…and that same proclamation…that same statement of identity is declared over the newly baptized…its not me saying it, its not the parents or the sponsors or anyone else…it is the proclamation of God who makes the claim…the proclamation…the declaration that “YOU…are my child.”  That’s how God shows up when we celebrate baptism…through that proclamation.

And just like the different life-shaking proclamations that we mentioned before…the authority present in this declaration over you means that things will never be the same…because that identity Beloved Child of God is one that nothing can overcome…not even death, which logic tells us should be the end of the line and the last word in the story…but the promise of Christ, through his life, death, and resurrection is that death doesn’t get the last word…God does…and that word assures us…declares to us….that I love you and you…are…mine. (pause)

Sometimes this news seems too good to be true…but it is true…and we declare it…we proclaim it…that is our calling as followers of Christ…to share that news with one another and with the world…

And isn’t it wonderful to know that even in those times when it seems hard to believe…and we respond like an unhappy teenager with the question of “Why?” We have the answer in the proclamation of God “Because I said so.” Amen

Its About You But Not Just You 2-25-18

In this sermon, based on Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, I explore God’s ongoing covenant with Abraham. This promise continues to build on each step that God has laid out before, eventually going on to bless the entire world.

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.

As I continue to get older, I’m constantly being reminded that I am a creature of habit…and perhaps the greatest evidence of this happens when I’m driving my wife’s car. Now, many of you are likely aware of where I park. My maroon car sits on the other side of the parking lot, and has ever since we moved to town…and so its utter habit for me as I’m coming home to roll right past the driveway and swing into the parking lot…and in those instances when I’m in my wife’s car, its always right AFTER I pull into the parking lot that I realize my folly and I have to swing it around and pull into the garage.

This habit…and this tendency to always park in the same place goes way back for me…it’s a habit that I’ve had ever since I started driving. And my parking spot when I was a teenager was right alongside the garage at my parent’s place…a detached garage about 75 feet away from the front door…and just like my habit of pulling into the parking lot now…I would come driving into the yard and swing right up next the garage before throwing it in park and walking into the house.

Now I can remember doing that very thing countless times while I still lived with my parents…and more often than not it was after dark….because of course I was a teenager and I stayed out late…and I can remember, more often than not…of seeing the beautiful stars as I walked through the yard…and I can remember one time in particular…as I stepped out of the car and walked towards the door…of how amazingly bright and clear the stars were…even more vivid than normal…and it wasn’t until I walked inside to find candles lit that I realized the power was off and so the yard light was off.

Now this raises the question…have you ever seen the stars in the absence of light pollution…because it is utterly breathtaking…the clarity…and perhaps even more amazing…the magnitude of the stars in the night sky…a number that is beyond counting. (Pause)
Now perhaps you see where I’m going with this. Today’s scripture features Abraham…or Abram as he’s known on the front of end of today’s story…a man known as the first of the Old Testament patriarchs…a figure from the Old Testament who is arguably one of the most important and well known…probably right on par with Moses who’ll pop up in the book of Exodus a few centuries later.

A man…seemingly plucked from obscurity…chosen by God…and told…promised…that he would be blessed…that his name would become great…and that he would be the father of many nations…a promise which was illustrated by God telling him to go outside and look at the night sky…look and see the stars in their multitude…so shall your descendants be. (pause)
But Abram…his whole story is pretty incredible. For starters he’s a direct descendent of Noah, who we heard about last week…he was born about 10 or 11 generations after Noah, and Abram falls in the line of the oldest son of each respective generation…each father passing along the inheritance…the wealth…the power and influence to his oldest son…generation after generation until we get to Teran, Abram’s dad. Now over the course of these generations its thought that they amassed a fair amount of wealth and influence…and where they lived along the Euphrates river in present day Iraq, Abram’s family were the movers and the shakers…and then along comes God…telling Abram that he should leave the house of his father and go off into some unknown land that God will show him. And funny enough Abram says “Okay.”

Now here’s the thing…Abram is already 75 years old when this happens…no spring chicken by any means…though we do hear later that he lives another 100 years beyond this point so even though he’s well aged by this point, we could argue that Abram is still middle aged.

And Abram will go on variety of adventures during his time in the scriptures…his story covers a fair amount of Genesis, 20 or so odd chapters. There are some ups and downs…he prospers as God makes good on the promise to make his name great…but he also does some really dumb stuff like trying to pass off his wife Sarai as his sister for personal gain and saving his own skin…and not just once, but he does this twice.

Now for a few years…Abram and Sarai, along with their household travel around…before finally one night God appears to Abram again…and Abram has a question…Hey Lord…remember how you told me that I was going to be the father of many nations? Yah…umm…I don’t know if you noticed or not…but ummmm…I don’t have any kids…and my heir is just a dude that works for me…and you know I’m not getting any younger…and neither is Sarai…so you know umm…what should we do about that?

And God tells him to look at the stars once again…and God tells him the promise again…but this time God does something a little different…and God makes a covenant…but God does it in a really odd way. You see there was this custom that when two people made a covenant they’d take livestock…and they’d sacrifice them…and they’d cut the carcass in half and lay the pieces out on the ground…and then they’d walk between the pieces saying “If I don’t hold my end of the covenant, may what happened to these animals happen to me.” But God does things a little different…he has Abram cut up the animals and lay them out…but then as Abram watches…God appears as a firey lamp that passes between the animals…and God promises to give the land where they are to the descendants of Abram….like Noah last week, Abram receives a one-sided promise…and all he has to do is continue to trust that God will do what God says He’ll do. (pause)
Now, we gotta fast forward a few more years…Abram is about 86 now…so its been 10 or 11 years since God started making these promises…one that builds upon the one before it. And Abram still believes that God is going to give him descendants…but again…he and Sarai aren’t getting any younger…and they decide to take matters into their own hands…and Sarai gives her slave Hagar to Abram saying “Have children for me through her.” Yes its odd…but it happened in those days…it was actually quite common…and it worked…Abram has a son named Ishmael…And now, this whole situation does cause some angst in the household. But for the most part…Abram…well, he’s kinda okay…he’s got his son…he’s got a descendent…so maybe just maybe God’s finally making good on this whole thing…and with that we fast forward another 13 years…13 years…almost 25 since God made the promise in the first place…and for those 13 years, I can only imagine that Abram felt like everything was as it was supposed to be. (pause)
But God wasn’t done yet…because when God makes a promise…or in this case a covenant…it seems to me that God means it, even if God’s timing doesn’t quite line up with ours…and finally when Abram has reached the impressive age of 99…God shows up again.

Now here’s the thing about what we hear today…we hear, once again…that God makes a covenant…that God repeats the promise…and just like we heard before…God takes that same promise and goes one step farther.  First it was…leave your father’s house…leave his realm…leave everything that is familiar and beneficial for you…and go and I’ll give you lots of descendants…then a few years and several wacky adventures later…the promise grew to include the land…and now the promise grows yet again…we still hear of descendants…but we also hear that the covenant is between God and Abram…but its also between God and his offspring throughout all of their generations…an everlasting covenant that goes far beyond this one guy.

Now there’s some different stuff going on here…Abram is probably thinking to himself…well yah God…I’ve got my son here with me…we’re all good…but God’s not done…and we see another step…a name change…and Abram, which means exalted father by the way…becomes Abraham, which means father of many.

He receives a new identity because of what God is doing in him and through him…because of the promises made by God on his behalf…he is not the same person that he was before…And God takes this theme…this new idea of a new identity a step beyond Abraham…and we find that Sarai receives a new name as well…a new name that reminds Abraham that this promise of God is NOT just about him…but that whatever it is that God is up to…this new thing that is coming about through this covenant…through these ongoing…building…promises…it involves more than just one person. For God’s promise…whether they had trouble living up to it or not…was going to occur through Abraham and Sarah…and that the generations to come would come through her.

And yet…there is also truth in the promise that Abraham was the father of different nations…for blessings passed to Ishmael who would become the Arab nation…and blessings would pass to Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah, who would become the Jewish nation…and following the death of Sarah, Abraham remarried and had more children who would go to form other tribes and people…truly when God makes a promise, God makes good on it. (pause)We see this in the literal case for Abraham and his children…and we see it in the ongoing promise that God brings about through the covenant with Abraham and Sarah.
But what does all this mean for us today? That is, perhaps, the most important question…what can we learn…what truth can we take…what hope can we find in this story? (pause) Perhaps the truth that we find is in the reminder that the promises God makes on our behalf…they aren’t just limited to us. We are included in this original promise and covenant that God made with Abraham…we are included in the generations that came after him…we are heirs to this promise…but just as God continued to build on the promises he made each time to Abraham…God has continued to build upon the promises as they come to us…and through Christ…through what Christ has done…we are also given a new identity, just as Abraham was. We are given the identity, beloved child of God.

But we must also remember that this new identity given to us by God, goes beyond us as individuals.  The good news of Jesus Christ is meant to bless all the world…and in response to the grace that God has shown us when we are claimed…the blessing flows through us into others…and just as Sarai became Sarah through the promise made to Abraham…the promise that we are made God’s children flows through us and changes the identity of those who come after us. (pause)

Now I started this whole thing off by talking about the stars…and here’s the thing about the stars…about the amazingly vast cosmos out there.  When the lights are all off…we can see a mind-blowing number of stars…but the number of stars in the heavens that we can’t see…its beyond measure. And the same God who made them…who placed them in the cosmos has made a promise that we are all a part of…that his blessing is also beyond measure…its beyond measure in its magnitude for each of us as an individual…and its beyond measure in the scope of who its for…reaching far beyond what we can see or comprehend.

May you remember that the promises of God that are found in the scriptures…they’re about you…but not only you. May they pass through you to bless others as well. Amen.

The Same Old Story 5-1-16

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

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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