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,