Posts Tagged ‘Something new’

Things Change 7-8-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 6:1-13, I explore the rejection that Jesus faces in his hometown. Often our tendency to resist change blinds us to the invitation that God offers into a new reality.

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

Just a couple of weeks ago, my hometown of Graettinger celebrated their 125th anniversary. I wasn’t able to make it back to town, but I heard about many of the different things that went on…one of which included an all-school reunion. Now granted, I’m not sure how many of the 24 members of the Graettinger class of 1997 attended…I’m guessing a few…but I was thinking about that…and about the fact that my class hasn’t done an overly great job of having reunions.  We missed the 5 year…I skipped the 10 year. We missed the 15 year…and I think since our 20th was just last year everyone probably thought “let’s just wait till the all school next year.”

And so, with that track-record…I have yet to attend any of my class reunions…but I have been to one…and it gave me the opportunity to take an objective look back in time, as I tagged along to the 15 year reunion of the Manson Northwest Webster graduating class of 1997…my wife’s class. She and I road-tripped towards the booming metropolis of Manson, IA. And after a bit of driving around town, which is a small town about the same size as Underwood, and giving her the chance to see her old neighborhood, we parked the car and walked into the local bowling alley which was serving as the sight of the reunion.

Now, I should mention the fact that I did not know anyone that was going to be there. So this is where the objective part came in for me. We walked in, being one of the first to arrive…and over the course of the next half hour approximately 25 members of my wife’s class along with some of their spouses came through the door. And for the most part I just sat back and went into people watching mode for the duration of the evening.

It was fascinating. Some had stayed put in this small town, never leaving. Others had spread out a little ways but were still easily in driving distance, others had moved across the country, but then ended up “moving back home.” And a few, my wife included, have completely relocated to another region, but managed to make it back for the reunion.

But regardless of where members of the class put down roots…they all seemed to share a bit of a common trait…in my “objective” observational opinion…they never left high school. Everyone fell into the old cliques pretty quickly…gravitating towards those that they were comfortable with in school…mostly ignoring everyone outside of those old social circles beyond the polite greetings initially offered up upon arriving.  I can’t help but think at the 15 year mark, there’s a lot of truth that old saying that “some things never change.” (pause)

But you know what…I also can’t help but think that saying is wrong…because things do change. We might not notice it when we’re in the midst of it…but changes do happen…they happen in communities…and they happen in the lives of individuals.

The only problem is that we tend to forget this fact, until something or someone comes along that brings us face to face with it. And its possible that the best example of this is when someone “comes home” after years of being away…and we just can’t see them in a new role…but we think they are still the same person that they were when we knew them.

Now I can speak to this from personal experience…because if you had asked 20 years ago about a wise cracking blond kid from the class of 97, no one in my hometown would have anticipated that I would become a pastor…and when I bump into people at synod events, I still hear comments to that effect…and it would seem that I’ve got this in common with Jesus in today’s story.

He comes back to his hometown….and he finds himself bogged down in old expectations.  Granted…maybe its understandable. Nazareth, where Jesus spent most of his formative years…was tiny…I’ve seen the remains and the whole town is all of about 100 feet across. They estimate that the population was probably only a few hundred people…I’m guessing everyone knew each other.

Now imagine yourselves in first century Israel. There’s not a ton of excitement going on…but word is spreading around the region that there’s this new rabbi on the scene. He’s traveling around…hitting all the towns. He’s teaching, he’s even healing and casting out demons. There’s even rumors of miracles that the guy is performing.  And then you hear he’s coming your way…that he’s gonna be teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath…probably worth checking out.

And so, as Jesus makes his way into town along with his entourage of disciples…pops into the synagogue and starts teaching…people start squawking. (pause) WAIT A SEC…THIS IS THE GUY? That’s Jesus…known him for years. I remember when he was knee-high to a grasshopper. Dude’s a carpenter…learned it from Joseph. He helped put the roof on my house a few years back. That’s his mom right there…his brothers too.  (pause)

Now we hear that the people are in awe of what Jesus is up to…maybe in a good way or maybe not so good…but it seems, based on this whole deal, that they can’t quite wrap their heads around things…around the amazing stories that they’ve heard. About the miracles and the radical teachings about the kingdom of heaven coming near that Jesus has been embodying up to this point…I don’t know if the stories that had spread around had called Jesus by name, so that when the source comes strolling back into town they’re shocked to find it’s the young man who grew up playing in their neighborhood…or on the flip side if they had heard it and couldn’t quite believe it was him until he showed up again…but clearly something’s going on…and we hear that they took offence at him. That they were scandalized by it…you can even say they were tripped up at this new reality that Jesus was bringing about right here in their midst.

Their apparent reaction is so extreme that it Jesus compares his reception with that of the Old Testament prophets, and how they were often ignored or worse…and its even to the point where miracles aren’t happening…and it all seems to boil down what Mark calls their Unbelief.

That’s actually a pretty good description…its literally the opposite of believing…apistis in case you want a little Greek…Jesus is amazed…and probably not overly happy…at their lack of faith.

But if that’s the case…then just what is it that they are supposed to believe?  That he is who he says he is? That maybe, just maybe there’s something divine at work within this man that they thought they knew?  That maybe when he says the kingdom of heaven has come near…that it has done so in the flesh of this person that they’re scoffing at?  That maybe just maybe that which is divine and so utterly other than we are has made the choice to come among us…AS ONE OF US…that the divine will be found amongst and even within the human?

Maybe that is kind of a tall tale…but what if its true? Just what does that mean for those people on that day…or even for us today….that we might turn from unbelief to belief…from a lack of faith in the good news that Jesus has brought forth into faith….and not only that, but just how might that happen?

I think that’s a big question right there…especially for us in the church now in the 21st century…as we continue to look forward into an unknown future, within a society that doesn’t really seem to care if we’re around or not…with individuals who have either been burned by the church…or they’ve got zero experience with it…or perhaps worse yet, the only things they hear are the judgmental wrath that tends to get spewed around on social media or on the news by people who seem to have missed the utter magnitude of just what the gospel really means. (pause)

I think we all wrestle with that don’t we? How can we make this make sense to someone else…something that is so meaningful to us…something that has changed our lives….its changed our perspectives…this idea…or this concept…or maybe we just call it the truth of our own existence that there is something out there…we call it God…that takes so much love and delight in us as individuals who exist bearing the divine image of that thing we call God, that we are chosen and claimed as children even in the midst of the brokenness that is a part of us…that’s the gospel…while we were sinners, Christ died for us.

That’s it.  And it seems so simple…and it just kinda makes sense doesn’t it…and I don’t know about you…but this mind blowing truth of God’s grace changes everything…and once you’ve have seen you can’t unsee…once you have heard you can’t unhear.

But perhaps the biggest problem that we face is the desire that we have to MAKE others see and hear that which we have experienced…to somehow force them to have the same experience with the divine that we have had…because if we can make that happen…well then their faith will be the same as ours. (pause)

But that’s not how this works is it? How many of us can “make” someone else believe?  How’s your track record? How many people have you willed into believing this stuff? How many can you claim on your evangelism scoreboard?  (pause) I’ll be honest…if you say any number larger than zero, you’re lying to yourself…because we can’t do it…and in fact I believe we can’t even do it for ourselves. Others will disagree with me on this and you are entitled to…but I believe that faith…that believing in Jesus…that trusting God’s love is for you now as you are…it’s a gift…its not of you…and we find this if we explore the only other time that the idea of “unbelief” comes up in Mark’s Gospel.

There’s a story, its in chapter 9, when man comes up to Jesus, utterly desperate for someone to help his son who is possessed by a demon. And he asks Jesus for help…Jesus tells him, all things are possible for those who believe…and the man responds “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”

That guy gets it…that the reality of the kingdom of heaven is WAY bigger than we can comprehend…and that even when we come face to face with it, it might be too big for us to handle…and so we look to the one who is able to do something it…for the Lord is the source of belief…God is the source of faith…not us.

That’s the beauty…all of this stems from God. Its not of us. The promise comes from God. The claim on our lives and our souls comes from God.  Through Christ the good news from God LITERALLY came among us…and just as Jesus sent out the disciples 2 by 2 in the back half of today’s story, to share their experience with this life changing news, we’ve been given the same authority and the same command to do the exact same thing.

I don’t know about you, but I find it a relief to know that all I’ve been called to do is to share what I’ve experienced…to share what I’ve found to be true despite my shortcomings.  God will handle the rest. Things change…and I thank God that its possible…and that through Christ, its not only possible…it is a reality. That, is what I have experienced. Amen.

Next Verse Same As the First 2-19-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 5:38-48, I wrap up a series from a larger teaching of Jesus. After several weeks, it might seem redundant, but sometimes we need to hear the same thing over and over.

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

My oldest niece is 17…in the midst of her junior year of high school…and she’s got a boyfriend. As her uncle…I kinda obligated to hate this whole situation right? Isn’t that like the unwritten rule? (pause) All jokes aside…admittedly, I’ve never met the kid…and all reports from my sister is that he’s a pretty decent guy…so I guess I’ll begrudgingly allow it.

And to his credit…he tries hard. As they are both upperclassmen this year, they are eligible to go to prom…and as the trend has moved in recent years to include what’s known as “the big ask” he pulled out all the stops and put together a scavenger hunt around town…each clue leading to specific location, and another clue…and once they were all put together…the question was revealed…but she couldn’t miss any of the steps…each one leading somewhere specific…each one…inviting…her towards something different. (pause)

Now, what does this have to do with today’s gospel? Good question…why would I bring up a scavenger hunt, and each step serving as in invitation when we have a gospel lesson that sounds like a broken record?  If you’ve been around…this is now the 4th week in a row that our gospel lesson has come out of Matthew chapter 5…and as I mentioned a week ago…its starting to sound REALLY redundant.

We’ve heard Jesus talk about who is blessed in the kingdom of heaven…and it’s the unexpected person…the person who is the opposite of who the world would typically point out as “blessed.” Then, in the week’s following we heard Jesus give us a reminder that we are different in the world…and that we are called to be different…and then he starts talking about the law…and righteousness and justification…and we are given constant reminders of the way that sin has permeated every aspect of our existence…and that “the law” gets broken way more than we realize.

We’ve heard several week’s worth of statements from Jesus that I like to call the “yah but” statements.  By now the format has likely become quite familiar to you…you have heard it said this….yah, but I tell you its actually like this…and today’s lesson is more of the same.

You’ve heard it said and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say that if someone strikes you, don’t retaliate, turn the other cheek and give them a new target. (pause) You’ve heard it said to love your neighbor and hate your enemy….YAH…but you know what you need to love your enemy too…and not only that but pray for them. Someone wants your shirt…give them your coat too…someone makes you go one mile, double it. (pause)

I can’t help but wonder why? What is Jesus really telling us here…other than perhaps offering up continued examples of that first idea that we heard a few weeks back…that you are salt…so be salt…be different and make a difference in the world.

Isn’t that what all these statements seem to be saying? Over and over and over again?  Honestly…as I think back over the past few weeks’ worth of lessons and sermons its starting to seem like that old repeating song about Henry the 8th. (Sing) I’m Henry the 8th I am, Henry the 8th I am I am…I got married to the widow next door, she’s been married 7 times before and everyone was a Henry HENRY. Henry the 8th I am…next verse, same as the first….and it repeats over and over again. (pause)

Just what is Jesus up to here? I pose that question, because after today, we are stepping away from the Sermon on the Mount…but the sermon itself does go on…there are 2 more chapters of this continued theme from Jesus…and the big question is why? Why does Jesus think that this is so important? Why…are we called to be different? Why does he continue to extend this invitation for us to move away from the status quo and to be something different? (pause)
But before I really dive into an attempt to answer that question, I’ll pose another one…is this something new? (pause) Interestingly enough…this is really just one more step in a long history of God inviting humanity forward into something new…a new way of acting…a new way of thinking…a new way of interacting with one another…and we see that very thing on display if we back up to the very statements that Jesus keeps referencing as coming from ancient times.

Our first reading came out of Leviticus today…and it represents just a small portion of “the law” that God gave to Moses…a code for how the Israelites were to treat one another and not only that but how they were to treat other cultures that they came into contact with…Now most of what we heard from Leviticus today was aimed at those interactions within the community of the Israelites…and we don’t actually hear the direct statements that Jesus would reference…but rest assured those statements were in there too.

As Jesus reminds us…you have heard it said to those in ancient times, and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…and while that might seems a little on the barbaric side to consider yanking another person’s eye out…it was actually revolutionary at the time…if someone harms you…don’t seek ultimate retaliation…but let the punishment fit the crime.  God was inviting the people to recognize that punishment did not need to be an escalation of violence…and at the time…that was a huge step forward.

Now fast forward several thousand years to Jesus day…and that old saying switches to something new…and why? Because through Christ, the kingdom is here now and with that change, once more God is inviting us into something new…a new way of thinking…a new way of responding…because its no longer an eye for eye…but if someone takes a swing at you…offer up the other cheek as well. (pause)

Even today, 2000 years after Jesus posed this teaching…its hard…because every single atom of our being wants to strike back…that’s just the way we are wired isn’t it? If someone hurts us, we want to hurt them back…and all too often…we have the tendency to ramp things up…you hurt me, I’ll hurt you more so you’ll never try to hurt me again.

I can’t think about that without thinking about the last 15 years of conflict that our country has been involved in following 9-11…they hurt us, so we’ve been trying to strike back at them so hard that they’ll never dare raise a finger towards us again…and how’s that been working…we’re on our 3rd administration since that whole deal kicked off…and from where I’m standing there’s no end in site…and that’s not me being political…that’s me making an observation.

We’ve used violence to strike back against violence that was used to strike back against violence…and the cycle keep spiraling backwards through history…but it will never work…because violence can never drive out violence, only love can do that.

And maybe that’s precisely why Jesus gave us the moral imperative 2000 years back to try something different. The kingdom of Heaven is here now…but the world still looks pretty much the same because we can’t break ourselves of the habit of an eye for eye.

But Jesus told us to be salt…to be something that makes an actual difference in its environment…someone attacks you, don’t strike back…it might hurt…but it will sure as heck throw them off their game won’t it? And maybe…just maybe, our example which can only be inspired by the presence of the Holy Spirit within us…maybe it’ll make a difference in the life of one person.

The world is ripe with individuals who are literally hurting for the gospel…they are hungry for a change in the ugliness of this world and how we treat one another…and sometimes…sometimes, all it takes is one small step to make a difference…that one small step can be the thing that opens their eyes and hearts to see the invitation that God is offering their direction through the life changing…earth shattering promise of the gospel…and that one small step can lead to the next thing, which can lead to the next thing…which can lead to the next thing…and the next thing you know…a life has change…and a heart has opened up…and I’ve seen it.

Last Tuesday night…a group of us were gathered downstairs in Bible Study…and we’ve been blessed over the past few weeks to have a new individual with us…a young woman named Brandy who’s been coming to church for a couple months now…drawn in because of a tragedy that our community experienced last fall. And as we sat there, having a discussion about sin and grace and brokenness and the love of God, something was at work in her…and as our discussion continued, focusing in on the truth that while we were sinners Christ died for us…Brandy got what I’ve called the spiritual 2×4 upside the head…and it clicked.  The glory of the gospel which seems like utter nonsense…right up until the moment that it doesn’t…caught her…and in that moment God invited her forward into something new…but it could not have happened if those different individuals that she’s been encountering since last fall hadn’t been doing something different…that’s why Jesus tells us to be different…to be salt…to go beyond what the world expects of us and to be something else…because Jesus knows that this world is not going change if we keep on doing the same old thing over and over again.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…the story of the gospel can be broken down into 4 sections. God made it, humanity messed it up, Jesus redeemed it, and we are invited into the work of reconciling the world back to God.  That’s the work that the body of Christ is charged with. He’s in heaven now…but we are here and we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be different…so that others may see the change that Christ has made in our lives…and maybe, just maybe they’ll start taking those steps forward as well…that’s how this world is going to change…not by continuing the same old thing…not by sitting around sitting on our hands waiting for Christ to come back, but by actually getting up, and following the invitation to BE Christ in the world…because if we’re willing to do that…who knows what might happen? Anyone want to find out? Amen