Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Sermon for December 21, 2014: Are you kidding me?

This sermon was preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Holliston, MA on December 21, 2014. 

Gospel: Luke 1:26–38

26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,  27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary.  28And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you."  29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  30The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."  34Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"  35The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.  36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.  37For nothing will be impossible with God."  38Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
There are some things in the Bible that puzzle me…ok, there are a lot of things.

One of those things, is our Gospel story today. Now, in this story, the angel Gabriel appearing, and the whole idea of Mary giving birth in a highly unusual manner are kind of par for the course when it comes to God.

What puzzles me, is Mary. I would love to be a fly on the wall for this conversation she had that evening with Gabriel, and the ensuing nine months, when everything in Mary’s life was turned upside down. I wasn’t there of course, but if I had been, if it was me, instead of Mary, I would not have been quite as receptive to Gabriel’s message. In fact, my response to it all would have been, “are you kidding me?” rather than Mary’s words of, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your will.”

So, on behalf of Mary, here’s my list of grievances. First, an Angel just shows up in her room at night, that’s a little creepy. Second, is the whole abnormality of the conception process. And those are just the minor things. What I’d really take umbrage with, was the fact that God was really messing up Mary’s life. This child she was going to bear, was not only going to put her marriage at risk, but, because being an adulteress could mean death in those days, this unplanned pregnancy was putting her life at risk as well. So, I wonder, how Mary could have been so receptive, so gracious to Gabriel’s announcement, is beyond me.

And, I think that’s the point. Mary’s response wasn’t a human response, it was a response, an acceptance of God’s will, that could only happen by the work of God’s grace. Somehow, God was able to elicit enough trust from Mary, that she commended herself to what God was doing.  The fact that Mary opened herself, her life to God, so that she may bear God’s son, Jesus Christ, was a miracle in and of itself.

This morning, what’s a little unnerving, is that the same grace that called Mary to trust God with her life, well-being, and future, is also calling upon us to do the same.

First, this grace comes and says to each of us, “Greetings, favored One, the Lord is with you,” with the same amount of sincerity and love that it was uttered to Mary with. Think about that, God loves each of us, just as much as Mary.

Second, this grace of God doesn’t come to us by way of fear. God isn’t trying to scare us into submission. God is compassionate, and reassuring, saying, “Do not be afraid. For you have found favor with God.” God is calling us out of love, not because we owe God a favor.

Third, when God calls us out of grace, God is calling us in order to use us to do something, in order to bring about the transformation of our lives and our world. God’s grace is given to us, so that the sin and death that make up our lives will be made into eternal life and abundant love. In other words, when God’s grace calls, we can expect, that just like it did to Mary, this grace will interrupt our lives, change our plans, and turn the world we know, upside down.

Just over 2000 years ago, God sent an angel, to a young virgin named Mary, and the rest as they say, is history. Mary did conceive and give birth to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Now today, God doesn’t send an angel, but comes to us in the life of the One who Mary gave birth to, Jesus Christ. In Christ, God comes to us full of grace, offering his life, giving us his body and blood, so that we may know a life that surpasses all our expectations. Truly, the light, and hope, the Savior of this world has come, and the trust that Mary put in God, the trust that led her to say “Let it be with me according to your will” has not been in vain.

And because through Jesus, God has fulfilled the promise given to Mary, we by the grace of God, are called to grow in our trust of God, so that we may grow in our openness to the will of God. In other words, when God gracefully calls us, interrupting our plans, and even our own desires and aspirations, God is transforming us to go from, “Are you kidding me?” to “Let it be with me, according to your will.”

In this season of Advent, O favored ones, God is calling us, like Mary, to bear the One who is the hope, the light, of the world. God is calling us to bear Christ, however inconvenient it may seem, so that our lives and the world may be transformed in love and life. For we know, that:

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sermon for December 14, 2014: The Promise of Michael Scott.

This sermon was preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Holliston, MA on December 14, 2014. 

Gospel: John 1:6–8, 19–28

6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.  8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.  19This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?"  20He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, "I am not the Messiah."  21And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the prophet?" He answered, "No."  22Then they said to him, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?"  23He said,
            "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
            'Make straight the way of the Lord,'"
as the prophet Isaiah said.
  24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.  25They asked him, "Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?"  26John answered them, "I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know,  27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal."  28This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
Lately, I’ve really enjoyed reliving old episodes of the sitcom, The Office.

If you aren’t familiar with this classic show, it revolves, shockingly, around an office, based in Scranton, Pennsylvania, that sells and distributes paper. Now, if your funny bone isn’t tickled already, what makes the show work is its cast of characters, especially, the boss, Michael Scott.

Now, Michael has a very good heart, and his intentions are usually very well-meaning, but when it comes to life, Michael really doesn’t have a clue. This may be most apparent, in the episode about Scott’s Tots. You see, Scott’s Tots were a group of children, who Michael made a very big promise to. Michael offered to pay for their college tuition, if they graduated from High School.

Perhaps, if Michael was the owner of the Dunder-Mifflin Paper, this promise wouldn’t be so outlandish, but he is merely a regional manager at the Scranton office. In other words, he couldn’t make good on this promise. Which makes for a hilarious 22 minutes of really awkward television, especially when Michael has to meet with Scott’s Tots, who even sing to him, “Mr. Scott, Mr. Scott, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do make our dreams come true?” …Which Michael does accomplish, that is, if the dreams of the children were fulfilled by the laptop battery he gave them and not the chance to go to college.

Even though he was a bit of a moron about it, I can see where Michael Scott was coming from in making such a promise. It felt good to him, to make others feel good. It made him feel important, and a difference maker in the lives of others to make this promise. By and large, we all know how it feels, to be able to give things to others that make them happy.

Unfortunately, the control that we have over our promises, can be pretty minimal. For instance, if you have a young boy at home, and they are looking forward to a special Halloween Trunk or Treating party at their school, and it gets canceled due to weather, unless you can control the weather, you just have to suck it up, and deal with a disappointed child. So, we are wise, when we do the opposite of the Michael Scott approach, and surprise with things we can actually give to others, rather than make promises to them, that may we have to break.

Often times, in the world of faith, our revered figures and role models can be less obvious versions of Michael Scott. This is the faith figure who seems to be able to be a constant source of hope and enthusiasm, at least for a short time. The person who has made it as far as they have, usually in terms of financial stability, and worldly status, as a result of what God has done for them, because of their faith and belief. And the message that I often here in this type of faith, is that God will certainly do the same for you. As long as you have enough faith, the message proclaims, I promise you, you can become like me, and have the good life too, you can be comfortable, and satisfied, and completely in control. Then, to throw in some good intentions, there’s also the message that together, we can change the world for good.
This message can be uplifting, for a time, and it can give hope, but in the long run, this promise is not sustainable.

The promise; of success, a comfortable life, even health and wellness can come and go. And nothing I, or anybody else can promise can make the uncertainty of life change, regardless of how much one believes, or has faith. But the uncertainty of our lives and the many things that are beyond our control, doesn’t mean that we are without promise, or that we are without hope. It only means that instead of hearing and emulating the message of the Michael Scotts of this world, we turn instead, to someone like John the Baptist.

John, as we read today, wasn’t really anybody. He was sent by God, yes, but he wasn’t sent to be the light, or the Messiah, or even a great prophet. And, though he baptized people, John himself admitted, that really, he was just getting people wet. John, was sent by God, to simply tell people, to speak with boldness, that their Savior, Jesus Christ, the Messiah who had been promised to them, was coming.

This morning, the position of one who makes a lot of promises about how great your life can be is not a message I’m equipped to give. I can’t predict your future, or give you keys to happiness, and I can’t draw much of a link about how believing in God will help you pay for someone’s college tuition.

But, I will gladly share with you a message with a much better promise, a much greater hope, a much brighter future, than anything I could possibly have control over. This is the message that our God, Jesus Christ is here, and by the power of his love; through the promise of his unending life, we have a hope that is greater than anything we could imagine. The hope of someone who promises to love us, the promise to make us his sisters and brothers, even while we crucify him.

And, just like John, we proclaim with our lives that Jesus’ presence in this world will continue to break forth, it will continue to increase, it will continue to bring salvation to the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the prisoner, our enemies, and even ourselves. This salvation will increase, as we grow in believing Christ’s promise, the promise of his unending love, the promise that he has given to all people, by dying for us on a cross.

We, as God’s people, are being sent, like John the Baptist, out into the world, not to give false hope, to proclaim and fulfill this promise of Christ’s love. We are sent into the world to share this gift until there are no more oppressed, or brokenhearted, only sisters and brothers. Truly, we have been given the promise, the unending hope of Jesus Christ, and we are called to share it, knowing that:

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,


Monday, December 8, 2014

Sermon for Dec. 7, 2014: HERE IS YOUR GOD!

This sermon was preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Holliston, MA on December 7, 2014. 

 Isaiah 40:1–11
 Comfort, O comfort my people,
            says your God.
  2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
            and cry to her
            that she has served her term,
            that her penalty is paid,
            that she has received from the LORD's hand
            double for all her sins.
  3A voice cries out:
            "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
            make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
  4Every valley shall be lifted up,
            and every mountain and hill be made low;
            the uneven ground shall become level,
            and the rough places a plain.
  5Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
            and all people shall see it together,
            for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
  6A voice says, "Cry out!"
            And I said, "What shall I cry?"
            All people are grass,
            their constancy is like the flower of the field.
  7The grass withers, the flower fades,
            when the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
            surely the people are grass.
  8The grass withers, the flower fades;
            but the word of our God will stand forever.
  9Get you up to a high mountain,
            O Zion, herald of good tidings;
            lift up your voice with strength,
            O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
            lift it up, do not fear;
            say to the cities of Judah,
            "Here is your God!"
  10See, the Lord GOD comes with might,
            and his arm rules for him;
            his reward is with him,
            and his recompense before him.
  11He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
            he will gather the lambs in his arms,
            and carry them in his bosom,
            and gently lead the mother sheep.\

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
Tomorrow, Dec. 8, 2014 would have been Carrie’s Grandmother’s 100th Birthday.

Now, Mamie won’t make it to 100. She died just over 3 years ago, having lived almost 97 years. In the last days of those years, Mamie, like many others, went into hospice care, where the focus of the care she received could be on comforting her, as her body, like grass, withered and faded away.

When Mamie went to Hospice, she received great care, and her family got to spend time with her in a beautiful setting. Through those things, and the love shown her, I’m sure that she heard God saying to her, “Comfort, O comfort my Mamie.”

But, while she was there, in the final days of her life, Mamie also had work to do. Mamie, in a way that had been the case for most of her life, was called to prepare a highway for God, in the hearts of those around her. So, at one point, Mamie asked her doctor, “Is there anything I can pray about for you?” And, the doctor, in I’m sure a very appreciative way, said “no, thank you.” Yet Mamie, the fading flower, kept asking her fit, competent doctor, who was there to provide her comfort, if there was anything she could pray for him about. Finally, the doctor said, “Yes, could you pray for my family, and especially my son, we’ve been having a rough time with him.” And Mamie did.

Yes, “the grass withers, the flower fades” but Truly! “the word of our God will stand forever.”

This word was Mamie’s hope, through her, it became her doctor’s hope, and this word, the word of our God, is the hope of all of us. This is the word of God, that has been made known to us through Jesus Christ, through his actions, his teachings, his love, and his life, that has been poured out for us. Jesus, our eternal hope, has prepared the way of the Lord, into our hearts, into our very lives.

And during this season of Advent, we await, we prepare for that hope to come into our lives more and more. But sometimes, we overthink this. We wonder, and stress, and get anxious about our lives, what the Lord is doing in them, and even what the Lord is doing in our lives together as a congregation. We grow concerned and worried about our future, and instead of hearing God say, “Comfort, O comfort my people” our own issues get in the way, and all we hear are our own voices saying things like “you better not mess this up.” “you better have yourself all put together.” Or  “you better not have anything that someone could pray for you about.”

We overthink things, searching for permanency in our lives, and forgetting that indeed, people, like grass and flowers, wither and fade. We overthink things in our lives, in an effort to get ourselves up on a high pedestal and say, “this is me”, when the Lord, simply says, “Get you up to a high mountain and say, ‘Here Is your God!”.

This morning, though we aren’t on a high mountain, I lift my voice to bring you good tidings, “HERE IS YOUR GOD!” Here he is, in bread, and wine, giving his eternal body, his eternal life to us, and our withering bodies.
“HERE IS YOUR GOD!” he’s here, giving you love and comfort through a family of sisters and brothers whose he’s given to us to share this eternal life with.

“HERE IS YOUR GOD!” he’s here in the scriptures we read and proclaim, speaking to us through ancient words and ancient people about a love that is mightier than even empires and civilizations.

 “HERE IS YOUR GOD!” he’s here in the prayers we lift up, in the genuine concern we have for a world, a creation, a country, and a community in need.

“HERE IS YOUR GOD!” he’s here in the festive joy we celebrate at this time of year. He’s here in the hope and expectation of new beginnings, and in the warm remembrances of the past.

 “HERE IS YOUR GOD!” he’s here, transforming our sin, our hate, our bitterness, our selfishness, and our hurt, into new life.

“HERE IS YOUR GOD!” he’s here, saying, “Comfort, O comfort my people” through the prayer shawls you make, the food you provide, the hospitality you give to the homeless, the care ministry you give, the songs you sing, and all that you do, proclaiming with your lives, “HERE IS YOUR GOD!”

Our God, Jesus Christ is here, and every day, by the power, the might of his love, he enters into our lives, and our world, to give his saving grace. And, though we are grass, though we wither, and even while we wither, we remember during this Advent season, as we go out into the world, that:

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,


Monday, December 1, 2014

Sermon for November 30, 2014; The First Sunday of Advent: A Ferguson Awakening

This sermon was preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Holliston, MA on November 30, 2014. 

Gospel: Mark 13:24–37
24But in those days, after that suffering,
            the sun will be darkened,
            and the moon will not give its light,
  25and the stars will be falling from heaven,
            and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
  26Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory.  27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
             28From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.  29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.  30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.  31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
             32But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.  34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.  35Therefore, keep awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,  36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.  37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
On Monday evening, I was getting ready for bed, when I looked through my twitter feed before shutting my eyes.
    As I scrolled through what people were writing, I could tell that a decision had been handed down by the Grand Jury in the Michael Brown/Darren Wilson case out of Ferguson, Missouri. When I saw the news, a part of me felt compelled to look into what was going on a little more. I felt as if I should be engaging with the issue and with other people over social media, or at least going to some news sites and getting more of a story. In a sense, I felt as if I should…Stay Awake, just as Jesus Commands us to do in our Gospel for today.

But, a bigger part of me, didn’t want to Stay Awake, nor did I want to go deep into the story, or really do anything besides go to bed, and so that is what I did. Now, to be clear, my falling asleep wasn’t an intentional act of apathy, and I wasn’t completely exhausted, but the truth of the matter was that I was just too sad about the whole situation to really want to think about it anymore.

In the days since the decision not to indict Darren Wilson, I haven’t really “awakened” to this story. I know the fringes of it, and social media tells me that many people do care about it, I mean, have an opinion about it, but I just can’t seem to muster the energy. And again, it’s not because I don’t care, and I certainly have opinions, but mostly I’m just still too sad.

And I’m sad for three reasons.
- First, a person, Michael Brown, was shot and killed. This person left behind parents, and other family and friends. His death, caused by violence, is something that pains me to even think about.

-Second, is that we humans treat this situation as a spectacle; a tragic, ratings-getting, made for Cable News spectacle. In this spectacle, the Grand Jury had the power to offer total justice, or total vindication, with nothing in between. And we, the consumers, eat it all up, being more concerned with how right we are, or how wrong someone else is, all the while, keeping ourselves detached and insulated from feeling compassion and empathy in this tragedy.

-And the third reason I’m sad, is that I’m part of a system, regardless of this tragedy, that just isn’t fair or just towards those who have darker skin than my own. On a national level, statistics on things like incarceration rates show how unfair things are…58% of prison inmates are African American or Hispanic, while these groups only make up 25% of our population….But really, I don’t need statistics to tell me how the system is unfair. I simply go back to my teaching days, in the second largest high school in Minnesota. Each day, as I passed the room where the kids would sit to serve their In School Suspensions, the “naughty room”, the racial make-up of that room was not representative of the racial make-up of the school, as non-white students filled those desks in greater numbers than they made-up in the school.  

This situation was and is confusing and disheartening to me. It saddens me that a school I loved working at, which had wonderful, caring, and thoughtful teachers, staff, and administration; a place that I joined with many great people to make a great place to learn, could, despite many good intentions, reflect and perpetuate the same injustices that happen in society as a whole.

And so, in the wake of last week’s events, I am not outraged, or surprised, I’m just saddened by violence, death, and injustice.

But while my pot hasn’t boiled over in the last few days, I have been made more awake. Through these past days, as I have struggled with how to react to this world around us, and really tried to find something else to preach about, I have awoken to the role that Jesus is playing in all things, to the work that he is doing. You see, as the cameras traveled to Ferguson, ready for a spectacle, Jesus was there in the churches in the town and in the area, as they made themselves ready as sanctuaries and safe havens for those who would need them. And, as security forces moved into the area to try and keep things calm, Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, MO welcomed something else. They welcomed signs of Jesus’ enduring peace in the folded, paper peace cranes, that had been passed on to them from Old South Church in Boston, where they had hung after the 2013 Marathon, and who themselves had received them from Newtown Congregational Church, in Connecticut.

In these days, in my sadness, I have been made awake by the unending presence of Jesus Christ in Ferguson, Missouri, and throughout our world, who isn’t here to fix our system, but is here to utterly destroy it with the hammer of God’s justice. This is a justice that is merciful, peaceful, and loving, and one that doesn’t create a society of winners and losers, but a society of righteousness, abundance, and fellowship between sisters and brothers of all looks, shapes, sizes, and abilities. This is a justice that swallows up sin and death, including each of ours, and leaves new, everlasting life in their place. God’s justice is the light of the new age, the age when heaven and earth have passed away, the age in which all of creation is awakened, and made new.

As we begin Advent, we light candles as the world around us grows darker. In the lighting of these candles, may we indeed see that now is the time of the Peacemaker. May we arise from slumber and see that even now his light is shining in the works of mercy and justice done by so many, in the midst of a society and people that is sick, or maybe just sick and tired, and in need of a Savior. As we take his life into our bodies, may it shine through us and awaken the world, with the light, the life that shines for you, me, and for all people, for both the Michael Brown’s and Darren Wilsons of this world, calling us all to trust in God’s merciful justice, lovingly calling us to be made One, in the Body of Christ.

As we journey through Advent, knowing that Christ is already in our hearts, yet not yet fully present in our world, we say this poem from St. Teresa of Avila:

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

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


Monday, November 24, 2014

Sermon for November 16, 2014 Christ the King Sunday: Jesus Isn't Nice!

This sermon was preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Holliston, MA on November 23, 2014. 

Gospel: Matthew 25:31–46

31When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.  32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,  33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.  34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;  35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'  37Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?'  40And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'  41Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;  42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'  44Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?'  45Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'  46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
Today, is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday in our Church year, and next Sunday we will start a new year with the First Sunday in Advent. So, in a sense, today is sort of like December 31st.

Now, I’d like you to do a bit of imagining. Imagine that the scene from today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew, the one with the sheep and goats being separated, has been merged into our gathering this morning. But, take a little bit of an edge off. Instead of thinking about things in terms of an “eternity” or the “devil and all his angels”, maybe Jesus could be more like a nice doctor, giving us a year end check-up.

So, there’s Jesus, with his clipboard saying:
“Pr. Mark, tell me, did you feed any hungry people this year?”
   Well, I brought some food in for our monthly ingathering, and we bought yogurt in a tube for Family Promise.

“Ok, Pr. Mark, what about getting the thirsty something to drink?”
 When I say goodnight to Charlie, I always honor his request for a drink of water.

“Alright, alright Pr. Mark, I can see where this is going, so I’ll cut to the chase. Did you visit any prisoners in the last 12 months? 24? How bout ever?” mmmm…no.

And now, I nervously wait, as Jesus finishes his evaluation, and says, “Ok, apart from the prisoner thing, you didn’t completely fail this check-up. But you know, when you show basic decency to your fellow human being, remember, you are doing it to me…. And, you say that you love me, so, I think we’re both on the same page in deciding that you could do a little better at showing me this love.” 

Phew! Since nice, Dr. Jesus is involved in this scenario, I feel like I’m off the hook, and so I say with a sincere smile, “Sure thing Doc, I’ll do better next year. Good luck with everything, and hey, watch out for Judas.”

If only. If only that is what the Bible said, if only Jesus was just a nice, miracle performing doctor, this whole faith thing would be so much easier. If only Jesus didn’t talk in a way that made it seem as if indeed, he really does have an issue with sin, suffering, and the people who cause it, the people who allow it to happen, and just sort of the sins of all people, we could have the makings of a pretty good sitcom.

But the reality is, is that on this Christ the King Sunday, on the Dec. 31st of the church year, we aren’t coming in for a check-up. We come before Jesus, our King, and he tells us the truth of the matter, and the truth is, I am a goat, and I will go on being a goat.

I am a goat because I haven’t done a very good job of feeding, clothing, welcoming, visiting, or even loving Jesus. And I know I will continue to be a goat, because when I hear Jesus say that he still loves me and calls me again and again to love him and follow him, I usually have a whole host of reasons already in place, as to why I can’t:
- My calendar is already filled up,
     -I’m going to need time to get caught up on Netflix,
  -and really, doing all of those things sounds really hard, and I don’t really want to do them. Truthfully, much of the time, I just don’t want to prioritize loving Christ.

Thankfully, Jesus loves this goat too much to give up on me. And so, instead of being nice and letting me remain wrapped up in my own comfort, self-pity, and good intentions; instead of letting this world wallow in our own sin,  Jesus continues to give me his unchanging truth, and in doing so, brings about his Heavenly Kingdom.
“Just as you have done it, or not done it, to the least of these, you have done it to me.”

Thankfully, as I despair about how big this call to love Jesus is; and how small I am, how little I can change anything, and how little I want to change anything,  Jesus hasn’t just told me the truth, but shows me. Jesus shows me the power where real transformation comes from. Jesus shows me the power of those we would call “the least of these”, the ones who have very little power in the kingdoms and empires of this world, but who hold so much in his Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom that is in our midst, right here and now.

Jesus has shown me the power of the so-called, “least of these” in the family I stayed with on a trip to Mexico City in 2007. This particular family welcomed my friend and I into their home, and though I spoke very little Spanish, they spoke clearly and powerfully to me. They shared with me that the Kingdom of Heaven is alive and well in this world. This family shared with me the love, abundance, joy, and hope of this Kingdom. This family shared with me their kitchen table and food, they shared with me pictures of their loved ones, they shared with me laughter, and they shared with me a room and a bed of my own. And this was a lot, considering that in their house, made of cement blocks, there was only one other bedroom, and one other bed, for the 5 of them. In the “little” they had, this family had the power to give so much.

This morning, on Christ the King Sunday, I give thanks, for the outpouring of love that those who Christ has made powerful in his Kingdom, have given to me, truly, one of the least of these. For the way they have shown me Christ’s Kingdom. I give thanks that though I am a goat, Christ the King, …Christ our King, has not punished me, but has gracefully loved and died for me, for all of us, and for all people. I’m grateful that Christ turns goats like me into sheep, so that we may share in his Kingdom, where there is not “least” and “greatest” but only sisters and brothers. May Christ continue to make us his sheep, through his powerful, unchanging word, lovingly spoken to us, by those who we’d label, “least.”

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Sermon for November 9, 2014: "Failing to prepare!"

This sermon was preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Holliston, MA on November 9, 2014. 
Gospel: Matthew 25:1–13

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.  2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.  3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them;  4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.  5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.  6But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.'  7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.  8The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.'  9But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.'  10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.  11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.'  12But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.'  13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,

Over the last 4 weeks, we’ve been wrestling with the question, “what is a steward?” Well, the short summation of those last 4 weeks is that we are stewards. We are stewards of God’s creation, and are given this duty out of love, and though we aren’t perfect at it, God continues to call us to take care of what God has made, including ourselves and each other.

Indeed, we’ve all been made Stewards, and we’ve been wrestling with this question as we prepare for our Consecration Sunday next week, a time when we will make financial commitments, or pledges to be used by God, through our lives together at Christ the King.

As we lead up to the 16th, we’ve been making various other preparations, apart from simply asking the question, “What is a Steward?” The Stewardship Board has hosted an adult forum, which has raised some very good discussion about our call to Stewardship. In addition, pledge packets have been put together and mailed out, and I am sure that having read your November Newsletter, you’ve seen the pieces in it regarding Stewardship.

It is a good thing to undergo preparations such as this. And it’s not just the Boy Scouts that tell say so. As we read in our Gospel lesson for today, about the 10 Bridesmaids, 5 of whom are prepared and 5 who are not, Jesus tells us that preparation is truly a wise thing.

But, I will be forward with you, as I read this lesson, and prayed over it, it wasn’t Jesus’ image who came to mind. It was my good friend, Paul Darda, who often said to me the line “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”… But, if I’m going to give you the real image, it would be Paul’s way of saying it, which was usually a version of how he thought Tom Cruise might say it in a movie.

There is Paul trying to speak authoritatively, usually to a hypothetical group of High School students, (he’s a teacher.) “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

Then there’s exasperated Paul, speaking usually to me after my lack of planning had led us into misadventure of some sort or another. “Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail.”

And so, this, is the point, I hear from Jesus today, coming through the person of Paul Darda, in the manner of Tom Cruise. “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

This morning, as we hear Jesus tell this parable of the Bridesmaids, and we discern our own calling to be Stewards, we hear this parable tell us to prepare, by bringing our oil with us.

Now, this is not literal oil, as the church’s heat runs on gas…but one way to view the oil of this parable, is that it is God’s truth, it is the word of God that has been given to us in Jesus and the pages of scripture. To be prepared, we bring this truth to guide our thoughts, prayers, conversations, and decisions.

And, the truth that scripture tells us about giving is that the minimum is 10% of what we have, this is what is commonly called “tithing.” And, as we hear this truth, it is also important, to know the truth of where we are by that standard. The truth is, that as a congregation, according to our CAT survey, our giving equals 1.68% of our average household income.

Now, if we are like the foolish bridesmaids, we can speak our human truth, and come up with all the reasons about why 10% is an impossible number. In other words, we can leave the oil of God’s truth out of our preparations. And, if we do so, if we disregard God’s truth, like the foolish, we won’t have any oil, we won’t be quite as prepared when the bridegroom comes. And, instead of joyously awaiting Jesus’ presence among us, we will be filled with worry and anxiety, scurrying about, to raise more money, not for mission and growth, but just to keep the lights on. And, if we don’t prepare with God’s oil, if we don’t hear not only it’s call to tithe, but also hopeful truth about the abundance we have been given, we will simply never, ever have enough.

On the other hand, we can prepare simply by bringing the oil of God’s truth with us. We can wisely acknowledge that God has called us to grow in our generosity, and that tithing, or giving 10% is not for God’s good, or even for the good of the church, but for our own good. As we ponder our own call to generosity, we can seek to hold the oil of God’s truth up and ask God to light our lamps with it.

And the Good News, is that when we hold God’s truth up to our lives, when we allow it to light up our lives, it’s not about seeing where we are failures. If 10% is a seemingly overwhelming and impossible number, God’s truth isn’t here to shame or punish us, it is here to show us grace, love, and possibility. God’s truth is here to illumine our paths, and help us to grow and develop in our calling not only to be stewards, but to be baptized Children of God, and to be the body of Christ for the world, together.

We hold up God’s truth, so that we may receive God’s grace. We hold up God’s truth so that we may see even though “we fail to prepare” all the time, and thus “prepare to fail,” God continues to prepare a table in our presence, and gives to us the truth of Jesus Christ’s body and blood, given and shed for each of us.

As we seek to discern God’s work and presence, and our calling to be stewards, may we hold fast to the oil, the truth of God’s eternal love and life for us, so that we may bear Christ’s light for each other, and for all of creation.

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

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Making Good Soil: Sermon for July 13, 2014

My sermon from Sunday, in Audio form.

Gospel: Matthew 13:1–9, 18–23
 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.  2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.  3And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow.  4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.  5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil.  6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.  7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.  8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.  9Let anyone with ears listen!"
             18Hear then the parable of the sower.  19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.  20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy;  21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.  22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.  23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."


Thursday, July 10, 2014

We are not Good Soil.

This week, congregations across the nation and world will read Jesus' parable of the sower, from Matthew 13. This sower of seed that Jesus describes, is flinging his seed around somewhat haphazardly, and some lands in such non-fertile places as a hard path, rocky soil, and weed infestations. Only some of the seed the sower flings, will fall on "good soil" where it will grow as it should, and then naturally produce more.

Pondering the state of the church, at my own congregation, the New England Synod, the ELCA as a whole, and even our ecumenical partners, my current working hypothesis is that we, on a general level, are not Good Soil. I say this, not as a criticism of who we are, and our decreasing everything, most everywhere. Rather, I come to this point as I pray about how we are trying to grow ourselves and in turn produce more.

First, this is not a criticism of where we are now at, in terms of the "church's" (pick your mainline congregation/synod/denomination) health. God has sown many seeds, they've grown and produced, these places have incubated the seed and while there is less of a proverbial harvest, (people actively involved in our faith communities is just one example) there still is a harvest. If we choose to look at the resources that we have left to us, there is still more than enough to be "Good Soil" that will incubate the seeds of God's grace that will certainly fall upon us, and for this I give thanks.

My biggest criticism of our past, is also where my concern for our present and future lies, and that is the fact that we continue to seek more and more produce, without ever letting our fields go fallow. As the Hebrew people were walking in the wilderness, God commanded them that every seventh year, they should let their fields go fallow, or unused. Furthermore, God commanded the people, who would be owners of those fields, that in that seventh year, they weren't even to gather-in what the fields naturally produced, but leave it for the poor, and even their domestic animals. God commanded this, because all of creation, even the soil, needed this rest then, and needs it now. Even though we just think of it as dirt, "Good Soil" can wear out and needs time off from producing to turn rotting waste into nutrients and to sustain its goodness.

An indicator for me of the reality of our own soil deterioration, is the biblical and theological illiteracy among our people. In my comings and goings, our most dedicated "church folks" aren't the ones who spend time learning and growing in faith. Instead, they are the ones who are dedicating themselves to continual deficit budgets, buildings that are in need of repair and mostly empty, and a lot of anxiety and ideas of how to make the field produce like it did in the past. (Which really wasn't as great as anyone remembers anyway!) Also, these folks are also a bit perturbed because they are getting less and less help and commitment in doing all of this work for the Lord. As our soil gets more and more worn, more and more rocks come to the surface, weeds sprout up, and before long everything looks pretty unmanageable. Finally, as even our efforts at maintenance begin to fail, we start questioning and blaming each other for the failure, and become divided in our fantasies about the miracle sower who will make us productive again.

(I would spend time talking about the folks dedicating themselves to the learning/growing part but in my working, non-official, and very generalized hypothesis, they would at this point be in the statistically insignificant category.)

In all this, we refuse to let the land go fallow, to have rest. To come together under the grace of God, and  instead of throwing around blame for all that is wrong with us, or trying to formulate our own version of "Church Miracle-Gro" we actually take time to just hear, rest and talk about what God has done and is doing. Instead of talking about getting the message out about this or that style of worship, how about taking time to sit and talk about what it means that Jesus has died and been raised? Instead of putting up with the rocks and weeds that divide us, why don't we spend time talking with each other and letting God's grace remove them for us?

In addition to the joy and hope this type of rest renews in us, it also gives us a chance to talk about the "big things", like who is Jesus and why does he matter, so that we can be more unified in our life-together in him. In our lives together, especially in this "post-modern" age, we are less-likely to dictate to people what they should believe, but we do just as great a disservice to the health of our Body, to the fertility of our Soil, when we ignore them. The discernment over  these things takes a lot of time, and safe space, and GRACE, but the Savior we can proclaim together is much stronger than the savior that exists in us, but not between us. In our race to produce, we've stopped talking about what kind of seed that it is being sown.

There are patches of Good Soil remaining in our midst, and in all of us, that can grow and produce. But if we don't take some time to rest and let God clear the field, those seeds will produce grain that will have no where to fall. And we need those seeds to have a place to fall, not for God's sake, but for the sake of our own purpose and life today. Because if we don't busy ourselves, in resting, in hearing the word of God, in uniting in the grace that has brought us together, freed us from sin, and remains our hope, then we are already dead, we can stop going through the motions, and just proclaim we are "Hard Path People", who have no room for the Sower's seed in our life together.

Thankfully, the Sower's seed keeps falling on the hard path, and if Jesus can destroy a temple, and rebuild it in three days, he can certainly deal with some crusty earth.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Creation in Reverse: This is not good. :(

This sermon was preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Holliston, MA on July 15, 2014. 

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
Today, as we celebrate our Triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we read about the story of how the world was created.

I started thinking about this, in light of the words from our confession for today:
  We put ourselves first and others last.
  What we think will make us happy
 Leaves us longing for more.

And I thought, what if this story of creation, was reversed. What if, instead of existing as a perfect, loving communion already, our God was in need of companionship, and so created humans.

Or, in other words, I thought of how the story would go if it was up to us humans, and here it is:

God was bored and lazing around, and thought, I need to be productive and not bored. I need some companionship. So, in order to produce some companions, God rested up for a while, so that maximum productivity could be ensured, because being bored, and doing nothing was not good.

So, after God had rested for a while, God made some companions he called people. And, to ensure peak productivity, God gave the humans the people the means to reproduce themselves. Now God knew that he would never be bored, and he was just about to rest, when he noticed something was not good.

The people, were getting hungry, and they had nothing to eat, and so they started fighting and trying to eat each other. Just as fast as the humans could reproduce themselves, they stopped living, and when they were living, they weren’t very good companions for God. This was not good.

So, God decided to make something besides that the humans could eat besides themselves. God made some animals, like cattle, all the way down to creepy crawly things. But, though these animals could reproduce, they needed to eat too. So, while the people were eating the animals, the animals also started eating each other, and everything was dying just as quickly as it had before. In addition, because there weren’t enough of them, the people started fighting over who got to eat the animals. The people weren’t good companions for God, because they spent all their time trying to get food, and, the people who didn’t have enough asked God for something to eat, and the people who had it all asked God not to take any away. This was not good.

So, God made more animals, innovative animals. But no one could eat the birds because they kept flying all the time, as they had nothing to land on, and they didn’t want to be eaten. And the special gills God gave the other creatures just didn’t work at all. And there wasn’t enough, and the people continued to fight, and were not good companions at all. This was not good.

So, God thought a little bit and decided that one problem was that no one could see where they were going. So God, made a star that gave a little brightness, which helped some, but then people started complaining because some had more of the brightness then others. And so God made more stars, and even made a moon, that gave more brightness, but the people still complained.
So, God made a star that was really close to the humans, and it was very bright, and hot, but now everyone had too much brightness. Everyone was cranky and mad and sunburned. This was not good.

God didn’t know what to do next, so God made some food for the animals to eat, so that there would be more animals for the people to eat. God made plants, and they were good for not only the animals, but also the people to eat. But they were scarce, because the bright star wilted them. Besides, the people were so accustomed to eating the animals, especially the ones that made bacon, that they didn’t want to eat the plants. This led God to solve many problems by making water, which fed the plants, gave the creatures with gills a place to live, and even helped the animals and people to quench a thirst they didn’t know they had.

But there were still problems. Not everyone could live next to the water that made the plants grow, which, in turn, made more bacon. As a result, even though there was more, there still wasn’t enough. Plus, some people used the plants called trees to make shaded places for themselves and their animals, while others were wilted, parched, and hungry, because they had no shade from the bright star, no water or plants, and no food. And the people weren’t good companions, some died of hunger, and many more died fighting over the food, and water. This was not good.

Next, God developed a distribution program, and made a sky. The water from the seas would go up into the sky, and make clouds, and then fall down on the people who didn’t live close to the water. But the people who had a lot of animals, wanted more, and they needed more barns for the animals, and more food for them. So they kept cutting down all trees, and growing just the plants the animals could eat. Because of this, the water didn’t stay where it fell, on the people far from the water, but ran to the people who already had enough. The people weren’t good companions, because they kept fighting, and taking the things God had made for everyone to share, for themselves. This was not good.

By this time, God decided that both he and the people could use some rest. So God, took the blazing star away for a little while. This way, the people wouldn’t be able to see very well, and they would stop trying to get more food and just rest. But by this time, the people had learned that the trees could burn, and give them light whenever they wanted. They used this fire light to keep on trying to get food, some just a little to feed their starving bellies, others to get so much that they would never run out. And even though the people had everything they could ever want, they kept fighting and working, never resting. They were always cranky, and not good companions. This was not good.

And so God, took away the light. Everything died. This was really not good.

Thankfully, this is not the real story, the GOOD STORY, the Good News story.

What is good, is that God has given us the Good News of the real creation story. The story where God has created all things, and given them to us to care for, to be stewards of, so that we don’t just reproduce, but so that we can be fruitful, and multiply, along with all that God has created.

The Good News is that even as we continue to sinfully live in a world of scarcity, a world where we fight and hoard rather than share, God comes to us in Jesus Christ, and feeds us with abundant life that never runs out. The life that we share with others, because God has first shared it with us.

The Good News, is that this life is for everyone, and God; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, sends us out to sow the seeds of this life, the merciful seeds of peace, justice, and love to all people.

The Good News is that God has looked upon all of creation and said, “It is good!” May we find rest in this promise, and joy in living it out.

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