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

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.