Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Sermon for 12/22/2013 The Fourth Sunday of Advent: Ministry is not a burden.

Sermon for 12/15/2013 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.

Matthew 1:18–25
18Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.  20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."  22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
             23"Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
            and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us."  24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife,  25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,

In general, we all know who Joseph is. He’s someone we’ve been looking at in nativity scenes and hearing about since we were children.

But while Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, is pretty familiar to all of us, we really don’t think about him all that much, until it’s time for “the talk”. You know, the awkward talk concerning “marital relations” that some of us have with our children, not as they’re becoming adults, but starting when they are quite young. This is “the talk” we have,when trying to explain how God is Jesus’ daddy, but so is Joseph, but not really. And, because children are smarter than us adults, they keep asking why, or how this could happen, and no age appropriate answer is really good enough to explain how Joseph fits into this whole scheme. Eventually, the only way to move forward is by asking the world’s greatest subject changer, “What is it you wanted Santa to bring you this year?”

As we muddle through these talks, after a time, I think children just learn to accept that Joseph is a part of this whole thing. Then they become teens, and the questioning stops because they know everything. Then teens become adults, who aren’t really thinking about Joseph until nativity sets and children and challenging questions start popping up…so goes the circle of life.

What we miss out on, as we give Joseph just a cursory thought from time to time, is how difficult finding out about Mary’s pregnancy, and the decision making process that followed, must have been on him. Maybe we miss out on this, because it’s sort of glossed over in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew just tells us today that Joseph is a righteous man, and that he’s going to do the honorable thing by ending things with Mary quietly.

But, even after he does the “righteous thing”, what does life look like for Joseph after this quiet ending. Maybe, if all goes right, there’s another betrothal and family with someone else, but even if all goes wonderfully in his life, the pain of what appeared to be Mary’s betrayal, would not simply be water under the bridge for Joseph, or any person. 

As we think about this whole story of Joseph, it comes to our attention that it’s not all stables and mangers and nostalgia. There is hurt, pain, and disillusionment involved. Yet, as we take time to think about Joseph’s troubling situation, we are also shown the way that God works, and the transforming grace of this Savior, Jesus, who will be born in Bethlehem. 

You see, to the extent of his abilities, Joseph was going to do the right thing, by not dragging Mary through the mud and publically humiliating her over this situation. But even this righteousness, would still bring division, and separation, and it would all be caused by God giving the world a savior. So, God doesn’t simply allow Joseph to let Mary go quietly.

Instead, God sends an angel, a messenger to Joseph, and says, “Do not be afraid”. First, the angel disarms Joseph of his fear, and then tells him the work that God is doing through the birth of this baby. Through this angel, God gives Joseph a new way to be righteous, a way that doesn’t just end unpleasant situations quietly, but instead is a way that brings people together in the unending love of God.

As we really think about all these events today, this birth of a Savior, seems to place a great burden on Joseph, and also, of course, upon Mary. Life has been disrupted, there’s some tough conversations to have, and God doesn’t even have the courtesy to bring about this miraculous birth in the time of epidurals.  By our own human understanding, it’s not surprising that we’ve made this story of Jesus’ birth so cute and nostalgic, because otherwise we can really only feel sorry for Joseph and Mary, sorry that God gave them such a hard task, a heavy burden so that the world’s savior could be born.

But our own human understanding is so warped that we miss the true nature of the gift God is giving. God is not giving Joseph a burden to righteously undertake. Instead, even though it’s not exactly according to plan God is giving Joseph a spouse to trust and a child to love.

God’s gift of grace to us today, is exactly the same. We have been given each other to trust in, and God’s Son, Jesus, to love together. This isn’t the gift that gives us convenience or ease, but it is the gift that gives us relationship, love, and joy the things that give us life, restore our life, and indeed create new life.

This week, we again have families from Family Promise Metrowest staying with us. These families are not a burden, or an inconvenience, in order to fulfill some sort of Godly penance of good works, they are a gift to us. They are people who God has given us to love.

Now, there’s a part of me that would like to say how much time I’ve spent with the various families when we host FPM, and how everyone’s lives are changed, and how if everyone just gave more of themselves in so many different ways, we could end homelessness. But the reality is, is that I’ve barely done anything, this ministry is the work of many others. And I say this, because I don’t bring up FPM to guilt more people into serving in this ministry.

But I didn’t do a whole lot, apart from being a good sinner, to bring about the birth of Jesus, yet I rejoice in what God has done through Joseph.

So instead, I bring up FPM, and the role CtK is fulfills in its work and mission, because my heart is touched and hope is kindled in me by the dedication of those who do volunteer, those who help purchase supplies, the willing spirit that has been given to this congregation to share in this ministry, and the stories of those who are through this help able to secure a footing in this world. Stories of people that are able to spend Christmas this year in an apartment or house, where last year they spent it in a church. Stories of people who spend Christmas this year living in a church, instead of in a car.

The truth is, God hasn’t called us to be a part of this ministry, and all the ministries we undertake so that through us, all the problems of the world can be solved. God has called us to be a part of this ministry in order to give us the gift of love, the gift of Emmanuel, God with us, that was given in Bethlehem, so long ago. God has called us to be a part of this ministry to experience the salvation that comes when love is shared, not when the world is exactly ordered, but right now in the midst of things that should take away our joy and our hope.

This morning, as we share and rejoice in the ministries God has given us, think back to Joseph. We remember that it was Joseph who figured it all out on his own, but rather, it was the work of God, who came to him and by that angel, transformed his mind. We remember as well, that once Joseph agreed to marry Mary, the next line isn’t, “they had the baby Jesus, and they lived happily ever after”. Being the earthly father of Jesus didn’t make Joseph a perfect parent, or a perfect spouse.

But, we remember, that by giving him that angel, God gave Joseph, Jesus Christ, a son who would love him, and each of us so much, that he would even die for us. We remember that God worked through Joseph’s own human limitations to give us a savior who has come to give us the way of love, the way of life eternal. May we prepare for the coming of this Savior, inconvenient as it may be at time, through our trust, care, and hope in each other, and in all of the creation that God has given us to love.

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


Monday, December 16, 2013

Sermon for 12/15/2013, the Third Sunday of Advent. The Desolating Reflection

Sermon for 12/15/2013 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.

Gospel: Matthew 11:2–11
 2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples  3and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"  4Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see:  5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.  6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."
             7As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind?  8What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces.  9What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.  10This is the one about whom it is written,
            'See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
            who will prepare your way before you.'
  11Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
A lot can happen in a week. At this time last Sunday, we heard John the Baptist proclaiming, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” Boldly, calling people to repentance in anticipation of the coming of Jesus.
Now, we read that John the Baptist is in prison, in a despairing situation, wondering if Jesus is the Lord whose coming he had proclaimed.
None of us are currently in prison, I hope this is obvious even to the Confirmation students. Yet, as we hear this word, and try to wait with hope for the coming of our Lord, there may be a reason why we do seem so captivated by all the things there are to do at this time of year, and in this season of Advent. Perhaps, we keep ourselves rushing about, because if we stop, and think and reflect, or do any of that slowing down that sounds so great, we find that the things to reflect on aren’t going to fill us with joy.
I’m sure John the Baptist had a lot of time to think while in prison, and this probably gave him a lot of time to think about the seemingly hopeless situation he was in. In turn, if we stop and reflect on the situation of this world we’re living in, it can get pretty hopeless; especially as we are memorialize the events that shook us only a year ago.
So, maybe John, who had already baptized Jesus, needed some hope. Yes, the same John the Baptist, who in the words of Jesus was the greatest human being who ever lived, in the midst of his captivity, needed the hope of something greater than he himself could give or produce, so he asks Jesus, “Are you the one?” meaning the one who is sent by God, to be the bearer of light, hope, and peace to all the world.
And in response, we hear what Jesus tells his messengers. “Tell John, what you hear and see. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
A year ago we saw and heard horror, and like John the Baptist, we wondered about the hope of God, and the hope found in the One, who would declare such Good News.
And throughout this year, and years past, we all have things to deal with in our own personal lives; the deaths of loved ones, bodies that aren’t working properly, or financial problems that don’t get better, and we, wonder about who this Jesus is. “Is he really the One?”
There is a reason it gets very hard to slow down and reflect on our lives, on our world, and on our faith, whether it is this time of year, or any time. We don’t want to see the reflection. And, this slowing down and reflecting, that seems to be the magic bullet for all of life’s problems does not, in and of itself, do anything to strengthen us in faith, hope, and life, in fact it can do just the opposite, and lead us into an isolating depression. Really, we’re so aware of this, that we as humans in this time and place subliminally train ourselves so that all the things we do, especially in this joyous time of year, are not even options, we have to put a tree up, we have to go shopping, we have to send out cards, we have to be the greatest bringer of Christmas that there ever was.
Focusing on the things we have to do, keeping busy, keeps us from the emptiness that is our lives, it keeps us thinking about things that we can conceivably have some control over. And, it keeps us from thinking about the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, the dead, and the poor who we can’t do a whole lot about. Keeping busy keeps us from asking our questions to Jesus. Questions that come from despair, hopelessness, hurt, envy, and especially doubt.
When it comes down to it, if the option is being kept preoccupied with lights, giving and receiving gifts, and clich├ęs of peace and goodwill or delving into a pit of despair, we’re good to keep busy.
But I am here today, called to preach the word by Jesus himself, and this is what I have heard and seen. I have seen those who can’t see, walk safely through busy intersections, I’ve been in the company of those who can’t hear, as they listen intently, I’ve been made to laugh by those who are rising from the death of addiction, and my life has been enriched by those who have no money. I’ve even danced with people who can’t walk.
I have seen and heard and experienced the One who is sent from God, the one who gives us hope, not in making everyone healthy in the way we humans think, but in giving us the gifts of those who societies have historically shunned. The reality is, this One, Jesus Christ, has come to me, and all of us, not in the comfortable places of our lives. You know, the places in the commercials where everything is perfect, we have not a care in the world, and we are both in our pajamas and showered all at the same time. Jesus has come to us on the way prepared for him by John the Baptist. The way of the wilderness, the way where there is struggle and challenge and an education not in having it all, but in what it means to trust in God and each other.
If John the Baptist was looking for signs of hope, signs of “The One” while he was in prison, (and before he was beheaded), can you imagine the despair of those who had hoped when this One, Jesus Christ was crucified. The kind of despair we would rather not think about. It is in this despair, that Jesus Christ comes to us today, broken and shed, crucified and risen. This is the broken body that continues to live in, with, and through our life together. This is the light that darkness cannot overcome, and it is given to us today, and every day of our life.
It’s not Christmas yet, and the decorations aren’t all set-up, and none of us are in the perfect reflective state, but Jesus doesn’t care. He just says, take and eat; I am given for you.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirt,

Monday, December 9, 2013

Sermon for 12/8/2013 The Second Sunday of Advent: You Better Watch Out!

Sermon for 12/8/2013 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.

Gospel: Matthew 3:1–12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming,  2"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."  3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
            "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
            'Prepare the way of the Lord,
            make his paths straight.'"
  4Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.  5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan,  6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
             7But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  8Bear fruit worthy of repentance.  9Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.  10Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
             11I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,

As we celebrate the season of Advent, and wait for Christ’s coming, we’re confronted with readings like today’s from Matthew’s Gospel, and this prophet, John the Baptist, who in talking about repentance, seems to be giving us the following message:

“You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why, Jesus is coming to town.”

Jesus is coming…so you better be good for goodness sake.

When understood like this, this cry for repentance can seem an awful lot like the threatening warning used to invoke better behavior and more cooperation from children each December. But, instead of getting coal in your stocking, one gets thrown into a fire instead.

And, taking this to the next step, the message of a certain Saint that is celebrated this time of year is generally one of grace. In my experience, no matter how one’s behavior has been, whether they’ve been bad or good, they usually get a present. The fact is, I only know one person that has actually gotten a lump of coal in their stocking. In the realm of our faith, life generally revolves around the threat of getting thrown into a fire, except as it turns out, Jesus, like the guy in the red suit, is a pretty good guy, so most people get “saved” in the end. Yet, as a result, the repentance we are called to today, becomes about feeling really sorry for the bad stuff you did, and also a pretty good confidence that in the end, you’re going to get just what you always wanted.

Things get dicey with this whole comparison when we start singing I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus….

But repentance, as it turns out, is not really a call or warning for us to be good, for goodness sake, so that in the end, we can get a present for this behavior. Instead, repentance is a calling for us simply to experience the gift we have been given every moment of our existence, the gift of God’s grace, the gift of God’s life right here and now, a gift which doesn’t even make us wait until Christmas to receive it.

So, something else comes to mind, when I think about John the Baptist’s call to repentance. My mind takes me back to the summers spent delivering pizzas to the hungry people of Rochester, MN, when I was home from school. One summer, as I was making the rounds in our family’s Chevy Celebrity, or Black Beauty as we affectionately called it, the oil light kept coming on, especially when I’d make left turns. Now, I wasn’t a complete car nincompoop, well, maybe I was, but I reasoned the light must have been an electrical malfunction, because I had changed the oil myself, only weeks before. But I also didn’t take into account, that the car had 270,000 miles on it, and perhaps a few leaks…which I’m sure delivered some unwanted oil spots, in addition to the pizzas.

Justify myself as I may, the reality is that I was just too lazy or preoccupied, to check the oil levels and throw another quart or two in, (because that’s what you do when driving a car with that many miles.) That oil light, was telling me to repent, to stop, take some time and put some life into that car.
As you can probably guess, I didn’t repent, until late one night, or early one morning, about 2:00, after a closing shift, the car repented for me, and just stopped, it was dead. And, so instead of oil, I became the thing that gave life to that car, and pushed it the last mile home. The next morning, our local repair guy came with a tow truck, gave the engine a few tugs, and declared, it’s seized up alright. Though, in the end, I think I got to keep the 35 dollars the junk yard gave us for black beauty, which literally covered a 20 percent down payment on the next car I bought. 

Today, like that oil light, John the Baptist is calling us to repent. A call that comes to us in the season of Advent and pleads with us to prepare ourselves, to open ourselves for the life that Jesus is bringing. We as human beings, and as a greater creation are many different parts that are meant to work together. The love of God is the oil, given to all of us, so that instead of seizing against each other, we may work in harmony, and be filled with life.

But there seems to be a great deal of terror and warning remaining, and if we are fearful of the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, and the purifying fire he brings, we remember a life that shows us the nature of this purification.

As you most likely know, Nelson Mandela died this week, but the witness he has given to the grace of our living God is eternal. In his life, Nelson Mandela joined with many others, and actively called his country, South Africa, to repent from the devilish system of Apartheid, or apartness that it practiced. For this, he was imprisoned, for 27 years, in harsh, harsh conditions. Yet his call to repent lived on, as his captivity became a focal point which rallied the world to the cause of the captivity which held black South Africans in suffering, and caged their oppressors in hateful isolation. And finally, there was repentance, as Nelson Mandela was freed, and the system of apartheid ended. Mandela, was even elected President of South Africa, a position of real power, a position he could use to punish those who had punished him, and countless others.

But now not only free, but also powerful, Nelson Mandela took a proverbial axe, not to the people, but to the hatred and violence of the old South Africa. He burned that old, dead, system down with words of forgiveness, acts of reconciliation, and compassionate love for all people. Now, a little over twenty years later, this purification of South Africa, and our entire world is not complete, but it is bearing fruit, as more and more children everyday are learning ways of love and togetherness, not apartness.

In just a few moments, we will not only hear this call to repent, but actively participate in it. We will be called to stand, and share Peace with each other, as Christians have been doing for thousands of years. We will repent and be brought together in one commonality, the unending love that God has for each and every one of us. And through our repentance, we will be prepared by the Holy Spirit, to receive the life giving body and blood of Jesus Christ which feeds us, or perhaps lubricate us, with the gift of his life once again. For a Savior such as this we hopefully wait. Come Lord Jesus!

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

Monday, December 2, 2013

Sermon for 12/1/2013:Cutting the nets down.

Sermon for 12/1/2013 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.

First Reading: Isaiah 2:1–5
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
             2In days to come
            the mountain of the LORD's house
            shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
            and shall be raised above the hills;
            all the nations shall stream to it.
  3Many peoples shall come and say,
            "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
            to the house of the God of Jacob;
            that he may teach us his ways
            and that we may walk in his paths."
            For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
            and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
  4He shall judge between the nations,
            and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
            they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
            and their spears into pruning hooks;
            nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
            neither shall they learn war any more.
  5O house of Jacob,
            come, let us walk
            in the light of the LORD!\

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,

In the early 80’s, the North Carolina State men’s basketball team got a new coach, the young, brash, Jim Valvano. When Coach V got to the team, he had them do a funny thing at the start of the very first practice.

Instead of shooting free throws or doing defensive drills, the players practiced cutting down the nets on the basketball hoops. This seems like a strange way to begin a basketball season, but Coach V wanted his players to know what to do, when they would win the NCAA national basketball tournament and take part in the post-game ceremony of cutting down the nets so that they could bring them home as trophies. Now, Coach V wasn’t going through this exercise just for fun, or to try and be smug. Coach did this, to help instill in his players and coaches the vision he had of where their journey together would naturally lead.

In our reading from Isaiah today, we are also given a vision of the future, a good and glorious future. This is the vision of the days to come, and it is a vision of peace, a time when nation will not rise up against nation, but instead, all nations will live in harmony, according to the will of God.

This, being the First Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of our Church year, we remember that we are waiting for this vision to come to fruition. And, as we get older, we may be wondering what’s taking God so long to accomplish it. Even a quick glance at the world around us tells us pretty quickly that we aren’t exactly living in this time of peace. When we read of this vision today, we may not even be that concerned with the macro level of nation rising up against nation, instead, it may be that we just have to think about all the things disturbing the peace in our own, individual lives that seem to make these visionary, “days to come” very unrealistic.

So, as we start this Church year, even as we try to wait with hope and joy, we can, at the same time feel hopeless, depressed, or even apathetic. For example, thinking about the days to come, as one struggles with serious illness may not lead us to happy visions of those days. Or as someone ages, and things get taken from them, visions of the future starts turning from dreams of what you’d one day hope to do, to realizing how much you no longer can do. Perhaps, with these grandiose, prophetic visions or in the midst of our own unmet expectations, there’s just generalized disbelief, or loss of faith, in this God who proclaims such peaceful visions, but hasn’t really delivered on it so far.

So in the midst of this tensions, of seeing this vision and also feeling so far away from it, we go back to North Carolina State for a moment, when Coach V had his players cut down the nets at that first practice, the exercise didn’t count on every player’s belief, nor did it magically cause every player to believe that someday they would be national champions. What the exercise did do, was unite the team in a vision of what they would be working to become. And, for the team, this vision became a reality in 1983, as the Wolfpack became one of the most unlikely champions in all of sports history, and cut down the nets for real.

This championship was so unlikely, that some even called it miraculous, but it didn’t just happen by chance. It took years of hard work, it took staying focused on the vision when things went wrong, and it took a coach who showed the players what he thought of them through this visionary exercise, , that they were champions, and why they were brought to play basketball at North Carolina State in the first place.

Through no work of our own, in the waters of baptism, we have been made in essence, God’s players, God’s team. God has chosen us to make Isaiah’s vision of peace, that we hear this morning, a reality, God has chosen us to start the work that it foretells, the peacemaking process, the work of making swords into plowshares, the work of teaching forgiveness instead of vengeance, the work of becoming a community that exists and is sustained only for the sake of love, the work of sharing the God who has given us this love so that all people may live into this vision.

And, even though we’ve been made a part of God’s proverbial team, there are many things that make this vision from Isaiah seem completely absurd, and the God who gives them to us simply a wish or a dream. The Good News in all of this, is that this vision is God’s vision, and it doesn’t depend upon our feelings or belief to make it happen, it is God’s work. The Good News, is that we are given a real, living taste of this vision, when God comes to us in Holy Communion, and not only declares peace with each of us as individuals, but brings us together in the peaceful unity of this meal we share. The Good News, is that in this meal of Holy Communion, the peace of this vision from Isaiah, the peace we are waiting for, God’s peace, which transforms our violence into love, and our individuality into community, is given to us.

On this, the first Sunday of Advent, we start out this year with a vision of peace, a vision of life with God. This is a vision that is given to us, and made real in us not by how we feel, or our belief, but by the work of Christ transforming us. We come to our meal of Communion this morning to be fed with this vision, and we pray that just as Jesus has come to us, this same Jesus Christ will continue to come and grow through us to become a vision for all the world.

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

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sermon for 11/24/2013: Sympathy for the Devil...

Sermon for 11/24/2013 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.

Gospel: Luke 23:33–43
33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[  34Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing."]] And they cast lots to divide his clothing.  35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!"  36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine,  37and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!"  38There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."
             39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!"  40But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong."  42Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."  43He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,

Today, is Christ the King Sunday, not only the last Sunday in our Church year, but also our namesake Sunday, …and so naturally, it’s as good as time as any to talk about Bob Dylan.

Actually, I want to talk about a Bob Dylan song, called “Gotta Serve Somebody.” The song describes many various people, or identities one could be, but regardless of any of these identities, like an ambassador, doctor, or even someone named Zimmy, Mr. Dylan goes on to sing, “It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” 

For us, gathered on this Sunday, in this place, we certainly know who we serve, the Lord,  the King, Jesus Christ. This seems really easy and obvious, not just for us at CtK, but really, for anyone, in the large scale perspective of things, we as humans would tend to choose the Lord, over the devil. For example, when one goes down an aisle of holiday decorations at a store, it’s not like there’s one side devoted to a guy with horns on his head and the other one to Jesus. Intrinsically, Jesus seems to have won the battle with the devil over who is King, even in pop culture.

But while I enjoy Mr. Dylan’s song, and hold its premise to be true, there’s another song out there that does a masterful job in fleshing this concept out, and showing just how much the world does indeed serve somebody, which contrary to our conventional wisdom, is really not Christ the King.

This song that comes to mind, which tells us about who we really do serve, starts with the line “Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste…” and is the Rolling Stones song, “Sympathy for the Devil”. Now, if you’re not familiar with this song, after the devil introduces himself as a man of wealth and taste, he then goes on throughout the song to tell how he was around some of the most notorious events in human history, like the one we hear about in today’s Gospel reading from Luke; the moment when Jesus was going through his suffering, and death on a cross. In the song, as the devil takes us through the times in history, where he made sure to be present, and drive the action, the last moments in history referenced are, like our Gospel reading, fitting for this week, as the devil sings about the tragic death of the Kennedys. But in doing so, the devil, as portrayed by Mick Jagger, also reveals who his partners in crime are when he sings, “I shouted out, who killed the Kennedys, when after all, it was you and me.”

Us and him, us and the devil, the idea that together we are responsible for the tragic deaths of the Kennedys, or played a part in so many other horrible events in the world seems a bit far-fetched, especially if we weren’t even born then. Yet, we are participants in this world, whether we like it or not, where death and tragedy are an everyday occurrence, and the devil uses us and the systems we create to further his rule. As we marked with honor and grief the killing of a president 50 years ago this week, we continued to participate in a world where we are more concerned about how cheap we can get a new shirt, then for the hands who made that shirt. We as human beings, continue to participate in a world where the question that is asked during election cycles focuses on national security, not world peace. And perhaps the new Pope, Pope Francis, described the state of the devil’s rule in our world, when he said, “If investments in banks fall, it is a tragedy and people say 'what are we going to do?' but if people die of hunger, have nothing to eat or suffer from poor health, that's nothing”. No matter who we are, trust me, even pastors, we serve somebody, and unfortunately, because of the devil’s trickery, because of sins grip on us through every moment of our lives, we do indeed serve this King, this King of wealth, and taste, this king of death and suffering. 

But there’s hope, because if we only had those sinful eyes to view the world with, the only somewhat positive way that we could perceive Jesus’ crucifixion would be to have sympathy for this innocent life taken. But as we hear this Gospel, we hear that Jesus doesn’t see with those eyes, we hear that he isn’t so blind to the devil’s tricks. When the criminal on the cross, mocking though he may be, confronts Jesus with one final temptation, that seems obvious to all of us, Jesus doesn’t bite. When the criminal says, if you’re the Messiah, a word for King, prove it by saving yourself, and this person, Jesus Christ, who had stilled a storm and walked on water certainly could have. But Jesus, through his eyes of faith in the goodness of God knew that it wasn’t those miracles, or his preaching ability, or the followers he had once gained that were what made the true King, it was love. And, through the faith of Jesus in the power of God’s love, this cross that Jesus was dying on, was also where he was being enthroned for all of creation, and all of us, as the King.

The devil, the would-be king, and all his empty promises, tried to get Jesus with the empty promise that gets all of us humans. The promise that through our survival, through what ultimately is our own selfishness, salvation can come to the world. But Jesus, isn’t just our King, he is the King of both heaven and earth, the king of eternity, who came not to be served, but to serve, and give his life over to us, so that we may know, taste, and see, what real life is. Indeed, this is the King whose Kingdom doesn’t just try to help those who suffer from poverty, and die of hunger, but raises them up as more valuable than anything you could put a price tag on. This is the King who is not identified by royal rings, but by nail-pierced wounds, the king who isn’t adorned with a crown of gold, but a crown of thorns.

This king, Jesus Christ, doesn’t need our sympathy, in fact, he doesn’t need anything from this world, and came only to give us life, even as it meant his death. But even death could not conatin this King as still he lives, still today, this King makes our world his Kingdom, still, today, this King comes to us giving us his own body and blood and establishing his eternal Kingdom even as we serve someone else.

And still this King establishes that Kingdom, through his merciful grace, right here, among us, and in, with, and through each of us. Today, as we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, and as we bear that name, may we remember that this isn’t just a name to put on a sign, but to mark our existence. Indeed, may we remember that we have been made this King’s body, the church, following and serving Jesus, sharing his life with all the world, not through our wealth and taste, or even our well-learned politesse, but through our brokenness, our vulnerability, and our compassionate love, we share our King, who has marked us and all of creation with his Kingdom’s sign, the sign of the cross, forever. Hail, to the King.

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

Monday, November 18, 2013

Sermon for 11/17/2013: Bridge Builders and Bridge Building Factories

Sermon for 11/17/2013 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.

Gospel: Luke 21:5–19
5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said,  6"As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."
             7They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?"  8And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is near!' Do not go after them.
             9"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately."  10Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom;  11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
             12"But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.  13This will give you an opportunity to testify.  14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance;  15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.  16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.  17You will be hated by all because of my name.  18But not a hair of your head will perish.  19By your endurance you will gain your souls."

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,

Last week, Tom Cleverdon, gave a wonderful temple talk about stewardship and giving. In his talk, he spoke of being on the building committee that led the construction of this beautiful sanctuary. As he spoke, I could hear the enthusiasm and passion that had been stirred-up in him by his involvement at Christ the King, and the joy he felt in having a hand in bringing to fruition, this house of worship. In his talk, Tom described the work that he did, the stewardship of the gifts that he had been given, as being those of a bridge builder, who builds bridges not for himself, but for those coming behind him. A great analogy.

Yet, Tom’s talk, on giving, about being on the building committee, about being a bridge builder, was not a brick and mortar speech. I didn’t hear an emphasis on creating the greatest sanctuary in the world and having people come from miles and miles just to see it. I didn’t hear about the architectural details or what kind of wood was used for the altar and pews. Really, the only thing I heard about what went into this building project, was the cross which hangs above us. I heard Tom talk about looking at this cross that hang, not in star struck wonder over how shiny it is, but in remembrance and thanksgiving, of the people who hung it, and the others who shared in the building committee work with him.  

The truth is, one day, these walls, the roof, (obviously), and the other things that so many people had a hand in getting put-up, will be brought down. Even if it is centuries from now, the most persistent of all forces, the hands of time, will do so. Yet the work of Tom, so many of you, and of so many others will not be in vain, because no one was building a monument that would forever display God’s permanence. In fact, you weren’t even building a bridge, you were simply building a shelter where the work of bridge building could take place. And this is a good shelter, a wonderful shelter for that work to be done.

But this building, is not a bridge. The bridges that Tom talked about were the bridges that connected him to the people he remembers today and the ones that he encouraged us to build are the connections and relationships that we forge with other people here, in this bridge building factory. These bridges we are called to build aren’t made of stones that can be cracked or wood that can rot, these bridges are made of the eternal materials of love, compassion, kindness, justice, and peace. These bridges that we are called to build aren’t suspension or arch shaped, these bridges come in one shape, the shape of the Cross, the place where God’s eternal love mercifully connects us together again.

This building, while not a bridge, is a temporary tool, a temporary gift that God has given us, not as an edifice to be worshiped, but to use in order to grasp, share, and grow in the things that are eternal. Yet, being a tool is not a bad thing, because a good steward takes care of her tools. She makes sure they are well respected, and maintained, not wasted or thrown away. So, part of our call to be stewards, is to help take care of this tool, this shelter where bridges are built. And we know, of course, that this takes money.

Yet, as we think about this building as merely a shelter, as a tool, for the work of bridge building, we also are able to think of our money in the same manner. Our money, like this building, is simply a tool, and not an idol to be worshipped, a bulwark to be trusted, or a master to serve. It is a tool to be used for the purposes of sharing with each other, and reaching out to all people, with the bridge that is our eternal God, Jesus Christ.

Often times, all the time, because of sin, we fall victim to the allure of money, and the things it can seemingly do, just like we in religious circles suffer from an edifice complex and relate the idea of being the Church as being all about the building one gathers in. This sin causes us to worry, grasp, and strive for the things that are temporary, and it causes us to waste our years building walls instead of bridges. Indeed, this sin caused us to build a cross, when God came to this earth to build bridges with all of us in the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

But like the stones of the ancient temple, even our terrible wall of death wasn’t permanent, indeed it has been destroyed through the life-giving, resurrecting power of God in Jesus Christ. This God, Jesus Christ, the ultimate Steward, the master bridge-builder, continues to this day to knock down sin’s deadly walls and come to us again and again with the gracious, priceless, and eternal gift of his life, given and shed for us. It is this life that lovingly transforms us into stewards, into life-giving bridge-builders, into bearers of eternal love that is abundant and priceless all at the same time.

This morning, as we discern our financial commitments for 2014, may Christ continue to make us loving builders of cross bridges, and Stewards of the Life poured out for us on that cross.

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

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Stewardship by Harrison Ford

The Prayer of the Day at many ELCA congregations on Sunday is below:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without you nothing is strong, nothing is holy. Embrace us with your mercy, that with you as our ruler and guide, we may live through what is temporary, without losing what is eternal, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen. (From sundaysandseasons.com)

In addition to saying this prayer at Christ the King, we will also celebrate Consecration Sunday, a time where we will consecrate, make sacred, our financial commitments for 2014. Over the last weeks, we've learned and talked about the concept of Stewardship a great deal, and we hope that this will lead us all to be more abundant givers in the coming year. During this discussion, we've emphasized that Stewardship, is something different than fundraising, but really articulating why Stewardship goes beyond just supporting your local congregation, or synod, or denomination, can be tough.

But, thankfully, someone smarter than me is always out there, to write something that articulates it so well: "Embrace us with your mercy, that with you as our ruler and guide, we may live through what is temporary, without losing what is eternal." Our call to be Stewards isn't simply a call to some sort of duty that keeps the church going. It is a call that helps us to stop struggling for the temporary things, money, possessions, etc. so that we may more fully grasp the abundant life which we are already given.

To better describe what I'm talking about, Stewardship is the gift which helps us to not be, Dr. Elsa Schroeder, from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, in the clip below. Instead of reaching for the cup of worldly glory, Stewardship gently calls us away, to grasp more firmly the hand not of Indiana Jones, but of Christ, which is holding us in this life already.

Thank Goodness, that Christ's grasp is even better than Harrison Ford's and will never let us go. And may this Savior continue to call us as Stewards, away from the things that are temporary, to that which gives us life. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Sermon for 11/10/2013: Let Me Tell You About the God I Know.

Sermon for 11/10/2013 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the king Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA. I'm thankful for the teachings of Dr. Mary Havens at LTSS, who taught and challenged us to CONFESS not a theory or idea, but the God who has been made known to us. 

Gospel: Luke 20:27–38
 27Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him  28and asked him a question, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.  29Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless;  30then the second  31and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless.  32Finally the woman also died.  33In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her."
             34Jesus said to them, "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage;  35but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.  36Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.  37And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.  38Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive."

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ

I would like to ask you to try and do something right now, something I did with some Confirmation students recently.

Try to imagine, or think about, nothing. As you do this, I don’t mean try to clear your mind. I mean try to think of what “nothing” is. Can you imagine what “nothing” is?

I can imagine emptiness, I can imagine a void, but I can’t imagine, I can’t think about, I can’t possibly wrap my head around what nothing is; because in my life, I’ve always been surrounded by something. Many things for that matter.

Now, let me tell you about the God I know. This God, is eternal, meaning before there was nothing, which I can’t imagine, there was God. And, furthermore, this God created something, from nothing, namely, you and I. So, this God I know, is well beyond anything we can imagine. Not as a matter of hyperbole, but as a matter of fact.

You see, we, as human beings live in a world of starts and stops, and beginnings and endings, and though we can fantasize, editorialize, and theorize about what eternity is, we really can’t understand it; except maybe while listening to a sermon that seems like it will never end.

Knowing then, that I have plenty of time, we hear this morning about this group of people called the Sadducees, who were a sect within the Jewish people at the time, we hear them asking Jesus to theorize on what happens in the resurrection, the time when the dead are raised to new life. And, it’s a pretty good question, a question that could undermine Jesus’ authority and teaching.

And, it’s a question that I hear still today. Maybe not which brother is going to get this poor widow, but more along the lines of people wondering, or proclaiming “What is heaven like?” What I mean, is that when we humans think about life after death, we think of the people we’ll see and envision ourselves going to this great, eternal fantasy land in the sky, and we begin asking questions. Questions like, How old will I be? How old will others be, will my parents be older or younger than me? And, as we think about it, maybe we get a little worried about running into our ex, or someone else from our past. And then there’s the ultimate question, while I’m golfing at this awesome, heavenly golf course, will I ever hit a bad shot, and if I don’t will it still be fun?

Now, as a Pastor, maybe I’m supposed to have some answers for this stuff, but I don’t; at least none that don’t lead to us taking God’s word and parlaying it into museums that have statues showing the times when people were riding on dinosaurs. The truth is, I don’t have a clue about what happens when we’re dead, just as I have no idea what I was doing before I was born.

Since I’m not much help in these manners, maybe we can see what Jesus says to the Sadducees, how he sorts this whole mess of what happens in the resurrection out. He starts out by describing something really different, but, apart from these generalization, Jesus doesn’t really get into it life in the time of resurrection.

Rather than get into useless speculation, Jesus says to the Sadducees, “let me tell you about the God I know.” He points out that this is the God, who everyone knows can speak from a bush, is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and he says that this God he knows is a God of the living. And though they disagreed about the resurrection, the Sadducees knew this God who Jesus was talking about, for it was their God as well.

So, let me tell you some more about the God I know. This God who created us out of nothing, sent Jesus into this world not to give us all the answers, but to show us how to trust in that which we cannot understand. This God I know, sent Jesus into this world not to make us safe and secure, but to empower us to be bold and courageous in our compassion, our generosity, and our love. This God I know sent Jesus into this world so that in the midst of a world bound to such things as time and space, we may taste, see, and share the life of our Risen Lord and Savior who not even death could contain. This God I know, this Jesus that I know, has given this life to us so that we may bear the promise of God’s love, of God’s eternity, for all people and all of creation, in all times and places even as we face the certainty of our own death. And in the aftermath of this horrible tragedy in the Philippines, this God I know takes away the sting of death, with the promise that we will never be abandoned, and in this promise gives us space to grieve and mourn over those who have died and the loss of so many lives, without speculation about what has happened to them in death.

This God I know, doesn’t give us the answers, only the promise of new life. And just as we can’t wrap our heads around how big our God is, and around things like eternity, or creation out of nothing, we also have great difficulty understanding God’s abundance. As we talk about Stewardship and money, our minds immediately jump to budgets and planning, and what we can do if we can just all give enough money…and God can do some great things out of us with what we give. But just as God gives us the eternal food of Christ’s body and blood, despite our incomprehension, so that we can share that life with all the world. God gives us the practice of Stewardship, not so we can have an end result, but so that we can know, learn, and share in the never ending abundance of God. God gives us this practice of stewardship, so that with our lives of generosity, we can witness to all of creation, telling tales of this God we know, who is generous beyond our imagination.

May this God continue to be revealed to us through Christ, so that we may share in the unending mercy, the graceful abundance, the eternal love, life, and hope, of the God we know, with all of creation.

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

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Evangelism by Tom Hanks

The embedded clip is from the movie Philadelphia. I've actually never seen the movie, but I've seen this clip a lot. It keeps drawing me back to watch it again. And I keep thinking that Tom Hank's character, Andrew Beckett, is our model of evangelism. Watch and listen first:

With music playing, Andrew asks, "Do you mind this music? Do you like opera?" 
Joe responds:"I'm not that familiar with opera"

Andrew doesn't turn it off, or ask what he likes, nor do they just move on. Instead, Andrew becomes a tour guide, telling Joe what's going on in the song; preparing him for the key movements, and expressing the song through his very being. In the end, Joe is fully engaged with what's going on, and has been brought into a deeper relationship with Andrew, and the beauty of the aria, and it's truly worshipful and divine message.

When we talk about Evangelism, it's usually centered around conversions, getting people in the church door, or reaching out to young people. If we follow Andrew's lead, Evangelism isn't about any of these things. It's about sharing this beautiful gift that he has been given, with no strings attached. That gift is this song of love, which has become his song, and as he dies, it speaks more and more clearly to him. 

We have been given the gift of this life out of a creative love we cannot fathom, share that gift, so that the world may hear God singing through you. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sermon for 10/27/2013: One Word, BAPTISM!

Sermon for 10/27/2013 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson At Christ the king Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.
Gospel: John 8:31–36
31Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples;  32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."  33They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, 'You will be made free'?"
             34Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever.  36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,

This morning we hear in our gospel text, “The truth will make you free”. As we read this, did you hear this statement, and think, hmm, so that’s where that saying comes from, Jesus said it. In my life, I have heard this statement used in varying contexts, someone trying to argue this or that point, or even trying to sell something, yet rarely, has the light bulb flashed and reminded me that Jesus said this first.

And, now that we have been reminded of the origin of this statement, some advice; if anyone says “the truth will set you free” and adds to it, “for the low, low price only $9.99” do not buy whatever they are selling.

So, what is the truth that sets us free? First, what is the truth? We could simply say Jesus, which would be right, but that doesn’t tell us a lot.
And then there’s freedom, the idea of being free, an idea that is one of the most used, and least articulated concepts in our society.
So how about this for a description of this statement in one word. Baptism. It is the gift of Baptism that gives us the best, the only articulation of what Jesus is saying to us in this statement. And you can get baptized here at Christ the King Lutheran church for the low low price of only $9.99.

Baptism both clearly speaks the truth to us, and guides us into the way of freedom.

The truth of Baptism, the truth that is professed in this great gift is that God loves each and every one of us, indeed, each and every human being that has ever been created, more than we can fathom. This truth of this love, is of course shown to us in the death of Jesus for all of creation, and, the truth of this love for us is an indelible mark given to us when we are marked with this cross in our Baptism.

And the freedom this truth gives is a freedom that our world, enslaved to sin, cannot give. For example, think of a person who has been “set free” from their incarceration. They are not really freed from it, but marked by it throughout their lives; be it in job applications or future relationships, the mark of ex-con will make a person a little less free than those who haven’t served time.

From another perspective, think of the “freedom” that comes when we turn 18, or leave our parent’s house. When we grow up, we may be able to live a little more by our own rules, but we aren’t free from the person our environments like home, school, and peer groups have formed us to be. We hopefully carry many marks of love and joy from our early years, we probably carry some marks of expectations that push us in certain directions, and we all carry marks of hurt and pain that have been inflicted upon us, and the painful marks that we have left upon others.

And what is freedom from the perspective of people who are residing in the Land of the Free? Here in this country, we have our own history of slavery to deal with, and today,  we most certainly still wrestle with a society marked by the scourge of slavery, that has varying levels of freedom now built into our collective DNA.

Regardless of who we are, or where we live; whether we are the oppressors or the oppressed, we cannot make ourselves free. We are all slaves to sin, and there is no law, no edict, no technology, or medication that can free us from it. Ultimately, we are slaves to hurting each other, hurting ourselves, and hurting the creation that has been given to us.

But we are Baptized. We are loved even though we are in bondage to sin, and not because of anything we have done, but simply out of God’s grace. In our baptism, this love sets us free, not to do whatever we want, but to love each other. In our baptism, we are freed to set others free. In our baptism we are able to see the person who has served time as just another person to love. In our baptism we are freed to create a loving refuge for the child who doesn’t find love at home. In our baptism, we are freed to break the racist laws that lie and tell us not all people are created equally by our creator, knowing the truth that the loving waters of baptism tell us. And in our baptism, we are even free to love the person who made those laws too. And, lest we forget, the poor wretch looking at us in the mirror, the one that we are so quick to criticize, and denigrate, as the water runs into the sink, we are free to remember that Jesus thought that this person was so valuable that he died for them too.

We are baptized. We are freed by the truth of God’s unending love given to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are freed by the Holy Spirit sharing that life through the lives of generations of disciples, with us today. We are freed to be those disciples, those followers of Christ, who are called to share this truth, this life of freedom, this life of unending grace, peace, justice, and love, this baptized life, with all of creation.

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