Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Sermon for August 7, 2016: Admission Standards for the Kingdom

This sermon was preached by Rev. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA on August 7, 2016.


Luke 12:32-40
[Jesus said:] 32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
 35“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
 39“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ,
As many students prepare to go back to school, especially those who are off to college somewhere, the excitement of the day that an acceptance letter came from the school of one’s dreams has certainly faded by now. The joy that came when the packet was opened, and that young person read, “Congratulations, we are excited to offer you admission to….” or maybe it went, “It is our good pleasure to welcome you into the distinguished….” or some other greeting, which was both warm and enthusiastic.

I started thinking about these letters and the spirit with which they are written, and it occurred to me why they could come across in such away, it’s because these schools get to choose who is good enough to get one of these acceptance letters. Each school gets to pick people who will be contributors to the school’s student life and academic reputation, and so they are excited about picking people who will make them better. And, hopefully, each prospective student will share this excitement in return.

The one caveat with these acceptance letters, which perhaps some of you have framed, or have safely kept somewhere, is that they aren’t good forever. In order to go to the school, you have to keep your grades up during your senior year and most certainly graduate. When you do get started, you of course have to keep your academic life on track, pass your classes, don’t do anything too horribly wrong, and of course, most importantly, keep the checks coming in on time. If you fail at this, the warm greeting that you received in your acceptance letter will be replaced by other messages telling you to leave.

This morning, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, “It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” Now this, is an acceptance letter as it is an offer of entrance into a Kingdom. Now, this is not simply any Kingdom, but this is the Kingdom of Heaven, or the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom that is at the top of every publications “best Kingdom’s” list. It is a great kingdom for all majors, all careers, all different types of people. This is the Kingdom that Jesus declares it is the Father’s good pleasure to give to us. In comparison, I’m guessing that not many schools out there are including invitations to sit on the Endowment Board as a part of their acceptance letters. Schools out there are happy to give you the opportunity of an education, but they aren’t real anxious to hand over the whole institution.

God though, operates differently. God doesn’t just welcome us into the life of the Kingdom, but hands over the whole thing. What’s also different, is that none of us even needed to apply. This Kingdom has been given to us in the waters of baptism, by the work of the Holy Spirit, and it is in these waters where we are made citizens of this kingdom. The citizenship that we are given is the work of God’s grace, not our own achievements, but is given to us because right from the get-go, God has made us miraculously and marvelously, and has stitched that wonderfulness into every inch of creation. Ultimately, it is a sign of how much God loves what God has made, and out of this love, God gives to us the Kingdom.

In receiving this offer, just as one goes to college or university, there is work to be done in this Kingdom. Joyful work. The work of creating, restoring, and giving life. The work of relationships. The work of seeing and giving thanks for the joy that is found in each and every day, and that is found in each other. This is the work of love, and it is the work that we are called to in those waters of baptism. This work is our daily vocation, the work of living lives that reflect the Kingdom’s love, peace and justice. This is the work that isn’t about making a living, especially as we hear Jesus tell us to “sell everything we have and give the money to the poor.” This is the work of realizing the abundance we have been given and growing in our generosity of that abundance. This is truly the work of the Kingdom. The work of faith.

19 years ago, I was about to head off to college myself. I had my sights on becoming a social studies teacher. Four years later, I graduated and then taught for another 5 years.
10 years ago, at this time, I was just finishing our Summer Greek class, on my way to beginning seminary. I was ready to go down the road to becoming a pastor.

As I take stock of these years, it’s easy to see that my profession has changed, my title has even changed, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the work, the work of faith…the vocation. This is the calling from God to be loving and caring, the call to be a steward of God’s creation, the call to learn to trust in God and proclaim God’s grace. This is a calling that has been formed in me since I was baptized as a little baby. This is a calling to the work of the Kingdom of Heaven, and it has been given to me as a family business is passed on from generation to generation. This is the work that God gave to Abram, or Abraham, so that it would be passed on with such abundance that the numbers receiving it would be more countless than the stars.
Now in my 37th year of this work, with the days remaining before my 38th year dwindling, I must admit that I have not been a big success in this “Kingdom Work” that God has given to me. I’ve hurt people instead of loving them. I’ve lied. I’ve taken things that don’t belong to me. If you could find ways to be incompetent at this Kingdom work, I’ve found them…we all have. And, that’s just counting the things that are on the outside, I don’t even want to get into the stuff on my mind and in my heart, the stuff that is not very Kingdom oriented, the stuff on the inside that tells God exactly what kind of person I am.
If I were God. If I were the one making this Kingdom, I would surely pick someone different than me, someone different than all of us. I would pick people who have much better qualifications then simply being born. I would pick people that actually listened to what I wanted them to do, and who actually did it. Even more so, if any of those worthy candidates who I picked to give the Kingdom to, who I left in charge of running it didn’t do it right, I would kick them out, or at least put them on double-secret probation.

It certainly seems like God could have chosen better citizens of the Kingdom than us. Yes, the Kingdom is still here and still going on, but sin remains as well. Our sin, sin that continues to mar this Kingdom with violence and death, selfishness and greed, envy and hatred.  Yet, in the midst of our own sinful incompetence in the work of the Kingdom, what we are given eyes to see is that this work of faith is ultimately not ours, but is God’s. This is work that has gone on long before we were here and it will go on long after we are gone.

 When God opens our eyes to the work that God is doing, God also gives to us a vision of faith, just as Abram was shown the stars in the sky as a promise of how numerous his unlikely descendants would be. This is the vision of faith we put our hope and our trust in, this is the vision of Jesus Christ who continues to complete this work of faith in us. This is the vision of Jesus Christ continuing to call us through his mercy and grace to be a blessing to others, by giving them these same things.
As we stand before God, knowing our applications don’t look good and there’s not much we could show God to continue justifying our presence in the Kingdom of Heaven, we give thanks that God doesn’t kick us out. Rather, God comes to us, in flesh and blood, and gives us this life, and through his work assures us that he knows what he is doing in picking us for the Kingdom. God comes to us in Jesus Christ and lovingly affirms that it is truly the Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom.

While we get ready to go back to school, or college, as we enter into Kindergarten or if we haven’t gone back to school shopping for years, our calling remains the same. As Citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, as Children of God we have been called to the work of faith. The very work that is being done in us today, the work of love, the work of our Lord, Jesus Christ, giving himself for each of us and for all of creation. May we share in this work wherever our roads lead, and may we share and proclaim this Kingdom life that we have been given, and the one who gave it to us.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

Amen

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Sermon for July 31, 2016: Rich, anxious, childlike fools.

This sermon was preached by Rev. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA on July 31, 2016.

Luke 12:13-21

13Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus,] “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
I’ve noticed something interesting since Oskar, our youngest son, was born, and especially in the last months, as he becomes more adept at getting around and getting things. It’s interesting how many of these things that Oskar “gets”, are things that Charlie hasn’t used or paid attention to in years, and yet all of a sudden, they are his favorite, as soon as Oskar gets his hands on them. His favorite blankie, favorite lovie, favorite car, or favorite crayon. It seems that whatever it is, if Oskar has something that once belonged to Charlie, it is Charlie’s favorite.
Now, Charlie is a wonderful big brother, but there are those times that we all have, when we need to remind him to share, and tell him that we are a family and that these things belong to all of us. Of course, there are times when Oskar grabs something that he shouldn’t have, like a delicate toy, or something Charlie was using, and then our parenting becomes less about using reason, and more about brute force in trying to free something from the grip of a 18 month old child, and trust me, when he doesn’t want to let go, he’s got a lot of grip strength.
Quite frequently, Carrie and myself find ourselves in the role of judge, or arbitrator over these battles of possession. Not surprisingly, there aren’t many instances where both children go away happy, after we rule in favor for one of them.
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus has a crowd following him, when suddenly someone stands up and says, “Hey Jesus! My brother, (who is kind of a jerk) won’t give me my share of the inheritance. You tell him to share with me!” Perhaps this person had a point, perhaps he was even giving voice to a reflection he was having about something that he’d heard from Jesus. But, Jesus didn’t want to be the judge, or arbitrator for this person he referred to as friend. Jesus knew that if he made a decision, if he interjected himself into this dispute, in the way that this person expected him to, no one would go away happy or be at peace. A decision by Jesus would probably just make for two more miserable parties.
What Jesus does do, is respond to this person with a parable, and he speaks it to us today as well. As Jesus gives us this parable, we hear scripture, written thousands of years ago, which continues to speak to us in the present day. How many of us know of someone, or even ourselves have been a part of family conflicts that have to do with money, or inheritance, or over who will get what possessions. These money issues that divide us in our most loving relationships are nothing new, it’s a blight on our humanity that has continued on since a time well-before this man in Luke asks Jesus to help him get his share.
Truly, the Bible continues to speak to us today and these disputes over money or inheritance continue to tear families apart, even close, loving, Christian families. We see how sad this reality of our existence is in the fact that financial disputes aren’t simply between siblings, but can also divide parent and child. For instance, I know of a young man whose brother died tragically years ago. As it happened, he had named his brother the sole beneficiary of his life insurance policy, which upset his father. This strained and divided an already delicate relationship between father and son, and exacerbated the grief they both felt over the death of a brother and son.
We hear Jesus tell us this parable today, and the truth of the matter is that it goes beyond merely our finances or what we possess. Indeed, this parable is cutting right to the very depths of our soul, as we hear this rich man, (who God calls a fool) say to himself, “Soul, relax! Eat, drink, be merry. Soul! Finally, I’ve gotten rid of the anxiety that has plagued me because I’m so rich. I’m finally past all of this, my barns are full to the brim, now it’s time to enjoy things.” Like this rich man, our anxieties over our possessions trouble our souls, giving us little rest. In order to quell our anxiety, we seek more control, we seek to tighten our grasp, like a young boy afraid of losing a blanket that he hasn’t cared about or paid attention to for three years. Our souls are haunted by the anxiety which comes from not wanting to lose our sense of control over what we have.
The thought of losing what we have gives us such anxiety, that we work, often in vain, to ensure what we have at all costs. Whether the things we cling to are our possessions, or our reputations, or our lifestyles; whatever it may be, the thought of losing something causes us such tremendous anxiety that we spend our days slip by as we work in our vain pursuits. It’s like trying to maintain a perfect lawn in a drought. As your grass turns browner, you find yourself worrying about weather and other things you can’t control, constantly watching the sky whenever there’s the possibility of rain, and putting a lot of emotional effort into something that in the end doesn’t really matter much, except for the work you’ve put into that lawn in your own vain pursuit to have a good looking yard. It is our own vanity that can take a hobby, or something that’s supposed to give us joy and cause it to fill us with great anxiety.
This sin of vanity runs deep in us, and it disorders our lives as we constantly live with a fear of being vulnerable, of losing out, of sharing the wholeness of our lives with each other. Our fear driven vanity drives us to satiate desires in our lives that can never be satiated, no matter what we own or what we have achieved. Like the man in the story, the more riches we have, the more problems we then have, at least in our own minds, and so we seek to get more and more in order to finally, put our worry and anxiety to bed, and let our souls rest in the wealth we have spent our days accumulating. Yet we never quite get enough to give rest to our souls, and the only thing that happens is we waste the days that we have been given.
It is here, in the midst of our anxiety, in our vain quest to be in control that Christ comes to us and says, “Be rich with God.” To become rich with God, we aren’t given a step-by-step manual, instead, God shows us how rich the abundance that we are given each and every day is, how rich our daily bread is. God comes to us, in the midst of our own sin and anxiety, the sin that would vainly rebel against our God and nail him to a cross, and God gives us the richest of feasts, the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
God gives us this food, shows us this richness, to help us to grow in our trust of the source of that wealth. God gives us this rich food to nuture us so that we may grow in the work that God gives us. The work of creating, restoring, and enlivening relationships. The work of love. The work of forgiveness, mercy, and peace. The work that is not vain, but that is also really hard, especially when we think we are right about something. Work that is really hard, when the other person doesn’t want to accept the gift we offer in our relationship. Work that is really hard when we lose those who we care so much about. It is for this work, God’s work, the work that is not done in vain that God gives us an abundance to fulfill this work. Indeed, this is the work that God gives us his very life for, and the work through which we pass this life on to others.
This past week, we had Vacation Bible School at Christ the King. For those five days, we had counselor from Camp Calumet join us and share a theme for each day with the children…rah rah rey what’s the theme of the day? Those themes were feeding, forgiving, loving, serving, and praying. Now notice, that there wasn’t a theme about how to have the best bike on the block, or how to grow up to be cool and popular. The themes that the children were given are the very richness of God, they are the themes of what builds a relationship, and they are given to us by a God of such abundance that we may share them with all of creation.
In this, our year of prayer, 2016, may we continue to hear God speak to us about the richness of our faith, and may we hear the call to let go of that which we so tightly cling to so that we may grasp on to the promises of God, and the everlasting life that has been given to us in Jesus Christ.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

Amen 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Sermon for July 24, 2016: Teach us to Pray

This sermon was preached by Rev. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA on July 24

, 2016.

Luke 11:1-13
1 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." 2 He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial." 5 And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, "Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' 7 And he answers from within, "Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 9 "So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
Over my life, Ive spent quite a few hours on driving ranges at a wide variety of golf courses. I must admit, that in addition to getting some practice in, it can also be a good place to people watch, or more appropriately, people listen. I often overhear one person trying to teach another to golf, a person mind you, that has no business giving such a lesson.

For example, an extreme example, I once was on the range at a course in Rochester, Minnesota, when a young girl, probably 11 or 12, and what must have been her grandparents show up. Im sure the grandparents were very well-intentioned, and thought golf would be a great activity to share with their granddaughter.and it would be. But after about 10 minutes of trying to hit a golf ball, and the grandparents giving her about 7500 different instructions, this girl was standing over her ball frustrated and in tears, and I would guess her life on the links was over before it started. This was certainly not the way to introduce someone to golf.

This had been a demonstration in how not to teach.

Recently, for the second year in a row, Ive been taking Charlie to swimming lessons, at Lake Winthrop. Now, teaching someone to swim is a little different than teaching someone to golf. This young girl may have had a promising golf career someday, but the poor teaching she received probably didnt do a lot of harm. On the other hand, teaching someone to swim bears with it a much greater deal of responsibility, as you have that persons life in your hands. As a parent, you certainly want the person who is teaching your child to be trustworthy. As for the people teaching Charlie, I dont personally know them, but the red swimming suits and other items of clothing that say Lifeguard, are a reassurance to me that these young people have been trained, and are responsible enough to grasp the importance of what they are doing. In other words, I trust them.

The main thing that these lifeguards have to teach the children is not a set of skills or certain strokes, but first and foremost, it is in getting them to feel comfortable in the water, to trust that by and large, their bodies will float and they will not drown. The ability of the children to swim goes up the more that their trust grows, and the more that they are able to let-go of keeping their feet on the ground and start to float. These lessons are very important for children,
not only so that they can enjoy the water, but so that they can learn to be safe in it, especially as they grow and become more independent, and out of the eye of watchful parents.

It's easy to see the trust thats needed to swim from these children as they learn. You watch them as they try to float on their backs, supported by the lifeguard or a kickboard, you see them actually float for a moment or two, and then when they realize the strange feeling, the loss of control, the uncertainty of not touching the bottom; they begin to flail and put their feet back into a position they are used to. Thankfully, these lessons are learned in the shallow places, where the children can touch the bottom while keeping their heads above water, otherwise, even more, dangerous panic would incur.

Learning to trust, to be comfortable in the water, is the basic foundation to swimming, and then learning to enjoy the water more and more. The whole process takes trust. Trust in the lifeguard, trust in the water, and trust in ones self.

This morning, we read from Lukes Gospel, about a disciple, who approaches Jesus because he had seen him praying. This is a disciple who trusted in what he saw, that Jesus in deed knew how to pray, and more importantly, he trusted in Jesus as his disciple, as one whod followed him around, who knew him, and learned from him. This disciple said to Jesus, Lord, teach us to pray. Jesus responds to the disciple not by charging him a couple of bucks, or by rolling out a certificate of his prayer credentialsJesus Christ: Son of God, #1 Prayerno, Jesus just teaches them how to pray. Jesus teaches them the Lords Prayer. Jesus simply hands over this gift, this prayer that he has.

To this day, Jesus also gives us this gift, the gift of the Lords Prayer. This prayer that Jesus continues to teach us isnt about some sort of skill set, nor is it a group of magic words. Its not a way of asking God and then getting anything we want. What Jesus hands over to us in this prayer is the gift of trust. Trust in God, trust in the Son of God, trust in the relationship that God has with all things.

The Lords Prayer that Jesus gave to his disciples and gives to us, disciples ourselves, is gift given to us so that we may grasp ahold to the promises that our God gives to us.

It is given to us so that we can grasp on to the promise that the Lord is GOOD, that the Lords name will forever be holy, or hallowed; that we can depend upon it.

We are given this prayer to grasp onto the promise that our Lords Kingdom, the Heavenly Kingdom, has been established and given to us and is with us right here and now; and this Kingdom cannot be taken away from us.

We are given this prayer so that we can grasp on to the promise that God does indeed give us our daily bread. Furthermore, as we say this prayer and hold onto this promise, we are shown an image of what is wrong with us as humans. For, if the Lord has given us this abundance, as we proclaim and put our trust in, then we are challenged to see that the hunger and poverty in this world are not Gods doing but ours. We are confronted with the fact that not everyone has been given their daily bread, because some of us, ourselves included, have much more than we need or could even use.

We grasp onto the promise of this prayer, we learn to trust in its words and to trust in God, and the goodness of God by holding firm to the promise of Gods forgiveness, just as we have forgiven others. We are enriched by this promise, constantly seeing how this forgiveness of each other, this forgiveness of God, this grace, and nothing else, is what gives us life and holds us together.

Jesus has given us this prayer, the Lords Prayer, to grasp on to these promises, and to grasp on most fully to the promise of Gods goodness. The promise that God didnt give us this life to challenge us, to make things hard on us; to cause bad things to happen or to perhaps see how good we can be before we win Gods approval. God didnt give us this life as a trial. Instead, God gave us this life as one to enjoy, and to be lived in relationship, life giving relationship, with God and with each other.
Jesus gave his disciples this prayer, this prayer of trust, and he most surely gives it to us today.

The life of faith, the one that we pray for, is a life kind of like swimming in water, baptismal water perhaps. It is a life that is about letting go, so that we can float, and rely on Gods grace to carry us. So that we may learn how to trust and move in those waters. And we do this trusting in the sure promise of Jesus. The sure promise of his life broken and poured out for, the sure promise of his love rescuing us time and time again. The sure promise of his salvation, from the sin and death that overwhelm and drowns us, the promise of his salvation when we get into those dark waters by accident, or being careless, or just by being destructive. Jesus saves us, he brings us back to the waters of faith, and helps us to swim freely in them, where the goodness of God gives us life without end.

2016 is our year of prayer here at CtK, and we have Jesus continuing to teach us how to pray, and that prayer continues to be the same. So far, a little over half way through this year, I havent received any great step-by-step guides to what happens next. There is still plenty of violence and tragedy going on in the word. Yet, my faith, my trust; and I believe our trust continues to grow. It has grown not necessarily in what we can do, but in learning to let go of our own control, and allowing Jesus to be the one that holds us up and together, the one to give us his grace, the one who gives us his life, the one who gives us an abundance.

May our prayers continue to help us to trust in Jesus, and the waters of faith he gives to us; so much so that we invite others to these waters, with our lives, our words, and our deeds. May God continue to hold us, comfort us, and call us to learn to trust in him, and his promise.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Amen




Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Sermon for July 10, 2016: Memory Roads of Hope

This sermon was preached by Rev. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA on July 10, 2016.

Luke 10:25-37
25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Greetings to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ,


As many of you probably know, I was on vacation last week, going back to Minnesota, where we stayed with my sister, in southeast Minnesota for most of the time we were there. As anyone who has ever journeyed back to where they are from can attest to, when you drive on the old roads you grew-up on, many memories start coming back. One particular afternoon, my brother and I, along with Charlie and our nephew, drove down County Rd. 10. We remembered all of our neighbors who lived in each house, and we drove by the house I grew-up in; reminiscing the whole time. As we drove further down that road, the four miles into the small town of Dover, I told the kids about the time my friends and I rode our bikes to our middle school, on the last day of school. As we proceeded to cross the treacherous Highway 14, my brother and I both agreed we'd never allow our kids to do that today...it was a different time then! We continued though, driving along the back road into Eyota, by the "new" elementary that was built over 20 years ago. We stopped at Dover-Eyota High School, to see the pavers and bricks that had recently been laid there, especially the one we as a family bought and dedicated to my mom, who was a teacher in the district. Being back on the roads of my youth brought back a lot of memories and it was great to be "home" for awhile. 









Today, as we read Jesus' parable known as the Good Samaritan, it's sort of like a Biblical memory road for us. It is a story we are very familiar with, it's even a part of our culture..if someone does a good deed for someone they don't know or who is different then them, we often call that person a "Good Samaritan." And, this memorable story takes place on a road, a road from Jerusalem to Jericho. We may not be real familiar with this particular road, but we have strong memories of what happened on it, a violent act, an act that left a man robbed, beaten, and broken. We also remember the people, the "holy" ones, a Levite and a priest, and we remember we don't want to be like these people, who pass by the injured man rather then help him. We remember that we want to be like the Samaritan, the one who was a neighbor to that person in need. The parable of the Good Samaritan, is a very much a part of our memories. 

It is our memories that help connect us, now in the present, across the time and space of our lives, and it is our memories that bridge us to the future. 

On my last day in Minnesota, we had moved our base of operations to the Twin Cities, and in the morning I went to have breakfast with my friend, J. As we started talking, J asked me if I had heard what happened the night before on  yet another road, a road that I had lived next to, and driven on often. He started telling me about events that had happened on Larpenteur Avenue, very close to its intersection with Snelling Avenue. He told me that a young man, Philando Castile, had been pulled-over there, and that his life had violently ended, that there was video up on social media, and I was a bit shocked, as I remembered that I had worked at a restaurant that was right next to where this awful and violent tragedy took place. I remembered being in the area, and driving up and down that road many times, and never once feeling any sort of danger. 

As we reflected on what happened, other memories came back as well. Memories of the "Oh No!" kind. Memories of all the similar events that have happened so recently, (and probably occurred at the same rate in the past, when we weren't as connected with technology), and a memory of such a similar event that had happened in Baton Rouge, where Alton Sterling's life had ended so suddenly and violently. Memories that keep piling up, memories that cause grief and unrest, memories that you don't wish upon anyone. 
Still trying to make sense of the conflicting memories I had, of working and living in a place that was so safe for me, but not someone else, I was wondering how such a thing could happen there. And how such a thing could keep happening in our society. Then, on the very next day, the violent events of Dallas happened, where 5 officers violently have their lives taken from them, with others wounded, and so much fear all around. 

As we read this parable, about the Good Samaritan, taking place on that road from Jerusalem to Jericho, a road that I believe you can travel on today if you visit that area, a road that whether we've been there or not continues to play in our collective memory. Today, we all have different roads in our life and culture, that we've traveled on either metaphorically or literally, but it seems as if our collective, virtual road, the one that we travel on together as a society is a lot bigger and more connected than in the past. Over the past week, and even over the past weeks, this road has been filled with violence, pain, and suffering, things that tear us apart as a society, things that cause us to question what it is we base our lives on, what it is we know and don't know. 

In weaving together the story of the Good Samaritan and recent events, we want to become like that Good Samaritan, we want to do something to help, and we certainly don't want to be like the Levite and priest, who leave the man to suffer. In my own memorable reflections on this parable, trying to be like the Good Samaritan has always been what has been impressed upon me. Yet, in times like these, it can be hard to be the one, the Good Samaritan we are supposed to be. Maybe, it's because we don't always know what to do, or what is right. Or, perhaps, it's hard because the world, and its violence can seem so overwhelming, and there's so much going wrong with it. Perhaps, we just feel so far away from all of this violence, even something that happened so close to where I once lived and worked. How do you be the Good Samaritan, as painful memories keep being made, memories that don't provide a bridge to the future, but cause it to be so uncertain? 

We ask, how do we be the Good Samaritan, but this morning, let's try a little different take-away from this memorable story. Rather than ourselves as the Good Samaritan, let's replace him with Jesus, and instead of the Good Samaritan, how about we recognize ourselves, as human beings, as being like the man who is by the side of the road; robbed, beaten, broken, and in need of help. The man who now must certainly distrust this world, who fears it, the one wondering where our help will come from. As we make Jesus into the Good Samaritan, we remember what motivated him, we remember that this man was moved by his pity, or compassion, for the one who was left for dead, the one who was not only a stranger, but a Jew, the arch-enemy of the Samaritans. When we start to view Jesus as our Good Samaritan, we see our Lord, our God, who is moved by compassion for us, a God who feels our pain and brokenness, our despondency and despair, our injustice and anxiety; the things that are a part of our lives and society and which leave us in need of help. We know that our Lord, who feels such compassion for us don't just pass us by on the side of the road, but is moved to come to us, and give us his life, his love, his healing, and his HOPE. This is the hope that doesn't wait for the road to be safe, or for the time to be right, but is a hope that is shown to us on a cross. A hope that makes the time right, that makes our lives filled. This is the hope, the compassionate hope that is given to us, and the hope that will enliven us once again. This is the hope that indeed shows us the mercy of God, the hope that springs forth from the merciful actions of a Good Samaritan. 

Therefor, as we look upon our world today, we see a world that is as filled; filled with sin as it was 10 years ago, or 100, or even 1000 years ago, a world that is filled with fear and hatred, filled with injustice, filled with uncertainty. In such a world, it is hard to be that Good Samaritan that is a part of our memory, indeed, what are we to do? Called by the Holy Spirit, we are to come together to dine on the life of our Good Samaritan, to be filled with his compassion, to taste and see his mercy, so that we can give this mercy to others. We are called together to pray, to pray to this compassionate Lord, to be moved by the compassion which so moves him, so that the world may have hope, so that the world may know mercy. 

As we continue to come together, to KNOW of this mercy more and more, as we GROW in our prayers to a God who acts in such a way towards us, we see that this compassionate love, that this mercy, that this healing and health and life is for all people, no matter what. We see this mercy, and by it we GROW, being transformed to give this abundant mercy that has been given to us. This is the mercy of the Good Samaritan, the mercy which fills us so much, that it overflows onto others. This is the mercy that isn't passive, that doesn't sit on the sidelines. Rather, this mercy is active, it goes to those who are hurting, those who have been marred by injustice simply because of what they look like, those who are filled with fear and anxiety over their loved ones who spend their lives working to keep others safe, those who are just confused or lost. This mercy of God is active, it gives us life, it gives us love, it gives us hope. Today, God is here once again, to fill us with this mercy, with this love, with this life, so that we may go and do likewise. For this we give thanks!






In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Amen


Monday, July 11, 2016

July 3, A Sermon from Al Jesness

This sermon was preached by CtK Council President, Al Jesness on July 3, 2016 at Christ the King Lutheran Church. It is the last in a sermon series on Galatians called, TO KNOW and TO GROW:

 Galatians 6:1-16

1My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. 2Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. 4All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. 5For all must carry their own loads.
  6Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.
  7Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 9So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
  11See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! 12It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.13Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. 14May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! 16As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

Welcome
Our worship is made up of different components which is called liturgy.  This liturgical worship follows a sequence as it has for hundreds of years.  We begin with the gathering continue with the word, have the meal-communion and close with the sending, that is the flow of a liturgical worship.  As our young people learn in their preparation for Confirmation, Liturgy is defined as “the work of the people.”  Liturgy is prayer, song, reading and communion.  While we won’t have communion today, the other components, prayer, song and reading are present and God is no more or no less present.   It isn’t about the pastor, or in today’s case, me; but it is all of us, gathered by the Holy Spirit to experience Jesus Christ together.  Worship and Liturgy are about Jesus Christ.    
Worship is nourishment, we need nourishment to grow.  Worship is our exercise, that helps us grow strong.  Today we gather here to worship.  We hear, we think and we know.  We exercise, get nourished and we grow.  That is the vision Pastor Mark has been communicating, his wish and his call for us to Know and to Grow.
Children’s sermon. 
Tomorrow is the Fourth of July. 
Do they have a Fourth of July in other countries than the United States? 
If Yes, you are pretty smart, many of these people older than you would say “No” because they think of the 4th of July as the celebration of Independence Day…but every country has a fourth of July, they just don’t celebrate it as Independence Day as we do. 
If No, what day is on the calendar between July 3 and July 5?  The question is tricky because when we think of the Fourth of July, we think of it as the 4th of July holiday and the celebrations, parades, picnics and fireworks.
My next question:  What is Independence Day?  Yes, it a movie that just came out.  What else is it?  It is a day that we celebrate because our country became free over 200 years ago, that is what independent means.  We became independent or free from being ruled by a King in another country and not by a president as we are now.  You’ll learn more about in school so I’ll skip the details of that today.

I want to think of Independence Day another way.  Every Sunday we celebrate Independence Day.  God has made us free.  God brought Jesus to us so we can be free.  We are free from worry about God’s love, we know he loves us so we celebrate that every day, but not necessarily with fireworks.  We are free from sin, we know that when we do something wrong, God forgives us. 
So every Sunday you can celebrate independence day, but not the 4th of July.
(Thought, get some red-white and blue pinwheels at Ocean State Job lot or Christmas Tree shop and give each child one.   They can spin it in the wind as they leave, and then celebrate every Sunday.) 
god -wind

Message – “sermon”
Two Greek words, Theos and Logos, mean “God’s Word.”  Theos and logos may sound familiar, or if you see it in writing, my point may be more clear.  Theos Logos, God’s Word, is what we today call Theology.
Rather than frighten everyone and have your eyes glaze over thinking we’ll be here until sundown talking theology, we’ll make it simple, this part of worship is based on and is – God’s Word.

Page 1
 
Pastor Mark’s messages over the past five weeks and now the message today, have their focus on Paul’s letter to the Galatians, and the theme “to know and to grow.”
In the first week of this series, the reading was from the first chapter of Galatians.  Refreshing your memory (as I did in preparing with Pastor Mark for this message today) a key point in that reading was, “as the people of God, are we seeking human approval or God’s approval?”
Things that we seek human approval for lead to emptiness. In the human approval I am actually seeking self approval.  God gives us abundance, but then I see I don't have enough. I want more, I want the things that I think make me feel good and give me approval of others. When we seek to serve ourselves we isolate ourselves, we cut ourselves off from God and from each other. What does human approval get us?  For example, if we can't see the abundance that God has given us and we get tied up in wanting more, where are we?  Do we really feel fulfilled?
We already have God's approval; we don't really need to seek it; we need to accept it. We already have God's love. We must trust in the approval we've been given.
We know and grow when we just consider this question of approval, even though we don't have it answered. If we had all the answers we wouldn’t need to trust in God. The one answer we've been given is Jesus Christ. This tells us about God's love and his approval.
Our second week is where Paul speaks about God's approval, his mercy and grace, and how far it can go. Paul was once Saul and was a horrible person. He was called, just as we are. Like Paul, we are all sinners but we are also the people of God.
How do we know we are a part of God's people? The sign of our baptism is where we physically acknowledge his love for us. Our call is to share that message with others. That leads us to our third week.
The gospel message here is we are justified by faith and not good works. Paul tells us this and Martin Luther was all over this one. That is one of the areas where he wanted reform and here in Galatians is his basis. 
Paul shared his faith, his life and the love that Jesus has for us. Our faith is defined by this, it is what we are called to believe and trust in. To know that our faith is not about how we act but how we are loved. We know our faith is not about how we act but about how are loved by God and his grace.
The fourth week continues to emphasize faith. We are all children of God because of his love for us. Think about someone evil or who hurt you. Is God's love any different for them? Are we really any different from them? 
I want to put these two questions aside for now and take a moment here for a mental exercise. In your bulletin is a one-page reference sheet for today's message. For weeks we have repeatedly heard the word faith. Take a moment and write down what you think or how you define what faith is.
Now turn to someone, preferably other than a family member, and share with each other what you just wrote. 
Page 2
 
At the beginning of today's service I defined worship and liturgy, and said that liturgy is “the work of the people.”  So now we’re going to do a little work. As good Lutherans, we are timid, shy, and not boastful. So the work I'm going ask you to do is to share what someone else said is their definition of faith.  We don’t need to know who said it, just what they said.
Thank you for that exercise. As I said at the start of today’s service, worship is nourishment (to know) and exercise (helps us grow.) In the past few moments we received a little snack and you got little exercise. This is what “to know and to grow”  is about.
You had and shared great examples of how you define faith. In our series Paul defines faith as “trusting the promise of God.” We know that, and because we know that, we grow.
Because we have faith, we know that even as sinners, we are accepted by God, we have his approval.
When differences or conflict arise, our calling in faith is to love rather than our human nature which is to win and to get human approval. Our calling to love is how we live, knowing that we have God's approval.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” was a clear message in our fifth week. A moment ago I said our calling is to love. Loving our neighbor can be hard work. The fruits of that hard work are love, Joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and gentleness.  What more could we want or need?  Worship is where we are nourished with these rewards. When we leave worship, whatever our lives or feelings are at the moment we know that God loves us, we know we are a part of the promise God gave Abraham, we know we have grace and Jesus Christ, and our faith in trusting the promise of God is how we know and grow.
In this final week it is summed up in two of the verses Dave read, “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, we will reap at harvest time if we do not give up. So then whenever we have an opportunity let us work for the good of all and especially for those of the family of faith.”  In other words, let’s not get tired of receiving God’s love, and as a result, in doing the work of the liturgy, the work of the people.
Today we are here, called to worship, to be nourished and to grow.  We know God's grace, and because of his grace we are people of God. We know of God's approval.  That answers our question of approval in chapter one.  We know that this work is not just for us, but for all.  by this work we know of God’s approval, not just for us but for all people and all creation. 
As we leave here today we know this grace, may we grow in our trust of this grace, and by faith may we be united under that grace as people of God.

Amen

Monday, June 27, 2016

Sermon for June 26, 2019: To KNOW and to GROW: FRUIT!

The following sermon was preached by Rev. Mark T. Peterson, on June 26, 2016, at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Holliston, MA. It is the 5th sermon in a 6 week series on Galatians, entitled TO KNOW, and TO GROW. 

Galatians 5:1, 13-251For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
 13For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
 16Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
 22By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,

Today, we are in our 5th week of reading from Paul's letter to the Galatians, and as we read from chapter 5 today, we remember that Paul wrote to the Galatians and to us; so that we can KNOW and GROW. Mostly, so that we KNOW that we are the People of God and so that we GROW in what our holy identity means.

Paul writes today so that we KNOW that we have been called to lives of freedom, and that it is Jesus Christ that has set us free to live these lives. In making this point, Paul also clarifies, that this freedom is not mere self-indulgence. Rather, the freedom that Christ sets us free to live for, runs counter to self-indulgence. 
To help us get the picture, Paul lays before us two lists. The first are those things which are self-indulgent, and merely feed our own desires, or our own flesh, our own condition of doing-whatever-I-wantism. The second list are the things that nurture us, the Fruit of the Spirit. These are the type of things that we are free to indulge in, the things that God has given us as a part of our daily lives, and the things that really do make life worth living. As the People of God, these things are what help guide and fulfill our lives. 

Now, I have a story about one fruit of the Spirit, self-control. I have found this story useful in sharing it with Charlie and trying to teach him about self-control. When I was younger, maybe 7 or 8, I was outside playing and my sister locked me out of the house, perhaps not even the whole house, I think our other door was indeed still open. Regardless, I just really wanted to get into the house through that door. My own self-indulgent tendencies took over, and I was just so mad and upset, and to make matters worse, was that there was full-length window right next to the door. Through that window, I could look in and see my sister, who was making faces at me and teasing me. My own anger level was rising, and much to my sister's surprise and my own, I kicked that window. Thankfully, it didn't just shatter all over the place, but it is etched in my memory how I took my foot out, and all I could see was the hole where my foot had been. I guess the window was only a little broken. But I had really displayed an utter lack of self control, one of the things that really mark us as the People of God. 

My parents were so upset they sent me away, they told me to just leave, and so I went and stayed at my neighbor's house for three weeks. I'm kidding, my parents loved me, and their love is what made me a part of my family, not my own good behavior or ability to show all the Fruit of the Spirit. I'm sure that I got into a little bit of trouble, but I mostly remember the lesson I was taught about self control. This same lesson is one we try to teach to others, one I'm trying to teach to my own sons. This is a lesson we remember and keep in mind as adults, because just like our inner-child, we can become self-indulgent as well. 

These things that things that Paul writes about in his "no" list, in his "don't do these things" list, are things that we all keep on continuing to do right through our lives. They are things we all engage in, even Paul, and of course myself. Enmity, strife, anger, and all the other no-no's are places we like to dwell in, soak in, and feel in. Sometimes it feels so good to let go, and perhaps kick that proverbial window, just as I did. No matter who we are or where we are, we are all subject to the items on the "no" list. 

Today, with the rise of the internet, of social media, it seems as if our self-indulgences are on a whole different level. `With so much opportunity, right there at our fingertips, a click away, it's so easy to post something, or respond, or like something, or do whatever, as the people we are interacting with may not seem like people. They are just a screen and our interactions can lose some of their humanity, and some of their fruit. At the same time, the internet has the ability to connect us to each other in ways that we would have never thought possible years ago. The internet, like everything else that has been a new thing in the lives of humans has it's positives and negatives. The problem, as always, lies with us as humans, and our own problematic inner-child or self-indulgent spirits. In the end, it is our self-indulgences that divide us and work to destroy us. 

Yet, Paul reminds us, and WE KNOW, that we, as the People of God have been set free. We have been set free in the same way that God is free, and as we consider God's freedom, we see that God is also very indulgent, and indulgent over us. God is so indulgent, that God created this whole world, so full of good things, so full of fruit, (so full of sap! but also maple syrup.) so full of things for us to enjoy.  Indeed, our indulgent God has created an abundance of fruit, both metaphorical and literal, for us to share, to dine on, and to live on. 
God is certainly free to create this world for us, and God is free to send us the Son of God. This is a God who would freely live among us, who would be a part of us.

 This morning, we hear Paul warn us, "Be careful, of biting and devouring one another, that you don't consume one another." While we are intent, because of our own self-indulgences, our own sin, of doing just that, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has freely come to us, whom by our sin, we bite, devour and consume. Yet, Jesus, freely acts in giving us his life, and transforming us by his Holy Spirit, setting us free from our sin and making us the People of God. Truly, as God's people we have been set free to live like our God of freedom, to serve like our God of freedom, and to be indulgent over each other and over God, and the world that God has made. By the work of Jesus Christ, we have been freed to love, even though our own self-indulgences seem to never go away. 

We are called to KNOW of our freedom as the People of God, and we are called to GROW in this freedom, not by doing everything right but rather by consuming the fruit that God so abundantly gives. We are called to GROW by coming together, and dining on the life, the fruit of our God; to dine on the Word of God, to hear it, to let it enrich us,love us, forgive us, and free us. We are called to GROW by consuming the Fruit of the Spirit that God gives, so that we may GROW in becoming the fruit that springs forth from the seeds of the fruit that we consume. We consume this fruit that God gives so that we may GROW by the work of the Spirit LOVING us, giving us JOY, bringing us together in PEACE, filling us with PATIENCE and KINDNESS, making us more GENEROUS, by being FAITHFUL and GENTLE to us, and by joining us through God's own SELF CONTROL; the kind of self control that Jesus Christ showed in freely giving his own life, for each of our own indulgences. 

May the Spirit continue to call us together to dine on this fruit and GROW in the freedom that we KNOW we have been given. By the work of the Holy Spirit, may we continue to taste and see that the Lord is good, and as a result, be that fruit for all of creation. 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Amen. 

Galatians, we KNOW:
That the Gospel message is given to us by Jesus Christ, is about Jesus Christ, and it reveals Jesus Christ.
That Jesus Christ came to do something, to give himself for our sin and free us from this evil age. 
That Jesus Christ comes not to the healthy, but to sinners; sinners like Paul and sinners like us, to transform us and give us new life, to give us his life. 
That we are justified not by works of the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.
God didn't make us the People of God to put us into a prison of rules and regulations. We have been made the People of God so that we can love God, love each other, and KNOW how much we are loved. 
It is by the grace and peace given to us by Jesus Christ, that has made and formed us as that People of God, and that it is through the waters of baptism where we are clothed in Christ.
We have been made the People of God to live a life of freedom. This freedom is not self-indulgence, but a freedom to be indulgent over God, others, and all that God has made.

and we GROW:
By considering the question that Paul asks about who we serve, and whose approval we are seeking. Is it the approval of God, or is it humans? 
By learning to trust in grace, and not our own human abilities and ways of doing things. We wrestle with the words of this quote from H. William Gregory. "Trust, and not rigidity is what defines the will of one converted by Grace." 
By opening ourselves to the presence of our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ, in our lives, and allowing him to live in, with, and through us.
By realizing that our pain and suffering, our shame and guilt, that our shortcomings, our sin, is an affliction that we all share.
By coming out to God's grace, and remembering that it is not how we act that makes us a People of God, but how we are loved.
By coming together to consume the Fruit of the Spirit, through dining on the Lord’s Supper, and feasting on the Word of God which is full of love, joy, forgiveness; ETERNAL LIFE.