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,