Monday, July 27, 2015

Sermon for July 26, 2015: 5+2=plus sign

 This sermon was preached by Rev. Mark Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran church on Sunday, July 26, 2015.

Gospel: John 6:1–21
 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.  2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.  3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.  4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.  5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?"  6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.  7Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little."  8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him,  9There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?  10Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.  11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.  12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost."  13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.  14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."
             15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
             16When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea,  17got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.  18The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.  19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.  20But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid."  21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,

We are a people Chosen To Proclaim. 
Chosen To Proclaim God's Love.
Chosen To Proclaim God's abundant creativeness for all people.
Chosen to Proclaim Jesus Christ, whom God sent into this world, so that all people may know God's love.
This is what we are chosen for, to show God's grace to others.

There's a trend in proclamations out there. People are making proclamations about themselves on their cars. Of course bumper stickers have been around for a long time, but in the past years, I've seen many more proclamations of mere numbers on these stickers. 

For instance, 13.1, which means someone in the car has run a half-marathon. Or, 26.2 - a full marathon. Or the one that I am going to get, 26.2 x 10, and I only have to run ten more marathons before I can put it on my car. 

The trend isn't just for road races. Maybe you'll see someone with a sticker that says 2181. Can you guess what that is for? It is a proclamation that the person has hiked the 2181 miles of the Appalachian Trail. 

And then there's the sticker for the rest of us. 0.0
These signs, proclaim things about us. Sure, not everything about us, but something, and it's why people put them up. 

In the book of John, the miracles that Jesus performs, including the one we read about today, where he feeds 5000 people with only five loaves and two fish, are referred to as signs. They are signs from Jesus, for the people, so that they may know he is truly from God, so that they may reveal, as John's Gospel starts, that he is the Light which has come into the world. The Light which darkness cannot overcome. These miracles are done so that the people around Jesus can see by whose authority it is, that Jesus is carrying out his ministry. They are there for the people to see some of the nature of God. They are there so that the people can see that Jesus is sent by the Father, that indeed Jesus is God. 

These miracles are signs, and if Jesus was around today, I thought about what kind of signs he might have on his car. Maybe one that said, my other car is...I don't need another car. 

Or perhaps he'd have a sign that said, 3.5. Yes, 3.5, but if people said that didn't seem like a great distance, he could say that it was all done while walking on water. 

Or, Jesus could have a sign that said, 5+2=5000. 5 loaves, plus 2 fish, is what the boy gave to Jesus, and with it, 5000 people had the ultimate fish fry. There was so much food, that all had there fill, and there was still 12 baskets left over. What a miracle, what a sign. 

As I thought about us, being Chosen to Proclaim, and what signs of proclamation we might have. I though, we could put 5+2=5000 on our cars, but that sets a pretty high bar. Proclaiming this Jesus who does these miracles, doesn't seem very realistic today. I'm not discounting that there are miracles out there, but we humans have little control over them, or have a real good sense of their timing. So, if we drive around with 5+2=5000, and someone says prove it, it might be a little difficult for us to bring to life, what we are proclaiming. 

As we read today, this story of Jesus' miracle, what is our proclamation of it, and the one who would perform this sign. What things do we see about God in this sign. One thing we see, is that God is a God of abundance. There were only 5 loaves and 2 fish, and so many people, in fact, there were probably more than 10,000 people there, because as they other Gospels tell the story of this miracle, they say that the 5000 didn't count the women and children. Yet, Jesus turns this small amount into enough food for everyone and this shows that God, is a God of abundance, that God is creative, and that God has created more than enough. God has created this life with abundance, so that we don't just need to get by on the scraps, or the measly portions, but instead, God has created enough for everyone to get their fill. That's one thing this sign shows. 

Another thing that this sign shows, is that God is a God of grace. God gives us grace freely, as Jesus wasn't up there with all that food, checking off who could and couldn't eat, or how much each person could have. Everyone received their fill, regardless of who they were. Our story doesn't just say that those who were worthy ate. No, it says that all were fed, and fed until they were full. 

So, how do we proclaim this abundant grace? What kind of sign should we hang in our cars. What about, a sign that simply says 5+2, not for 5 loaves and 2 fish, but for the 7 days of the week, 5 weekdays and the 2 weekend that we each have been given. This sign could be a reminder for us, that like the boy, who had the 5 loaves and 2 fish, that we should bring our lives to Jesus, and watch him turn them into lives of abundance and grace. Watch him use us, to meet the needs of so many with each day that we have been given. 5+2=7 days for
Does this license plate say more about God,
or its owner?

I thought that this could be our sign. Yet, if we put this sign on our cars, and then came across a bad driver and started to honk, or heaven-forbid make an inappropriate gesture. If our human nature got the best of us, while we were telling everyone how we'd given this day to Jesus, it might not be such a good sign or proclamation. Though it is good for us to give each day over to the grace and love of God found in Jesus, our proclamation isn't about what we do, it's about Jesus. Our proclamation is about the Thanksgiving that Jesus has over all things, and it is about merely joining in that thanksgiving. 

In the bask of the story of this great feast that Jesus prepared for so many, we will be reading the rest of the 6th chapter of John over the next few weeks, and we will be given a lot of imagery about who Jesus is, who his disciples are, and how people generally respond to Jesus. So, I invite and encourage you over the next few weeks to read over John 6, to ask questions, to God, to yourself, to each other, to me, or even the internet. 
Over the next weeks, the theme of John 6, will be about bread. It will be about the Bread of Life which has been given to us, and will be given to us again today. This is the bread that's given to us today, regardless of whether we woke up with joy in our hearts and dedicated it to the Lord, or if we woke-up, looked outside, saw that it might rain, and thought to ourselves that worship would be inside, and it would be awful. (Which it's not...but you may have been thinking that.) 

Our proclamation in these weeks ahead, and over everyday, is indeed found on this 5+2 sign. It's the plus sign, right in the middle. The Cross, the ultimate sign and proclamation of God's unending love for all of creation. Love that is given for us even though we sin, even though we might look out on the world as the crowd did at all those people, and proclaim, what good are 5 loaves and 2 fish with so much need. The sign of the cross shows us that in spite of our unbelief, that Jesus believes for us, and God continues to act on our behalf. The sign calls us to join in that belief of Christ, to join in the great feast of life that Jesus gives to us of his body and blood. The proclamation, our proverbial sticker, is the sign of the cross. 

Now, I invite you, to think about numbers in your life, and when you do so, to remember the abundant grace of God that is in them. For myself, perhaps it is 1,2,1 for my spouse, children, and dog. Or 34, which is the amount of baptisms I've presided at, the 34 Children of God that I have had the privilege to mark with the ultimate sign and proclamation, the cross of Christ. If you have any numerical, Godly insights, please share them, with me, or someone else, so that we can do what we were chosen to do, and proclaim our loving God, for each other, and all the world. 

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

Monday, July 20, 2015

Sermon for July 19, 2015: Why do you need Jesus?

 This sermon was preached by Rev. Mark Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran church on Sunday, July 19, 2015. We celebrated the baptism of Luke David, and welcomed him into the Body of Christ. 

Gospel: Mark 6:30–34, 53–56

30The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.  31He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.  32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.  33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.  34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.  53When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat.  54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him,  55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.  56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
You've heard me say it, for a few weeks now, we are a people, "Chosen to Proclaim". 
We are Chosen to Proclaim, God's love. 
We are Chosen to Proclaim, the God who created everything and gave us abundant life. 
We are Chosen to Proclaim, Jesus Christ, the Word of God, who has taken on our own human flesh and out of great compassion, has come to us, and loved us, and given us life, God's life.
We are Chosen to Proclaim, Jesus Christ, who is our Shepherd. 
Our shepherd, Matt Yoder.

We read in our Gospel text for today the story of all these people who were running around, following Jesus and his disciples, and that Jesus had compassion for these people, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. 

It is good to have a shepherd. I had a great shepherd once, when I went to Slovakia, way back, when I was fresh out of college, in 2001. My roommate, Matt, was a really good shepherd, because he'd been in Slovakia for a couple of years already, teaching, just as we were. He knew the places to go, and how to get there. He knew the language pretty well, and he had a Slovak girlfriend, which is probably why he'd been there a couple of years already.  Matt was a great shepherd to me, and a great friend as well, and, I wasn't the only one that he was a shepherd to, in fact, we have another one of Matt's flock, as Carrie here, along with her roommate Jill, followed Matt's guidance as well. We, four, were the young people over there, and so we naturally hung out a lot, and Matt was our shepherd. 
Thankfully, Matt was a good guy, and we could trust what he said, really without question. No matter what, wherever Matt would point us to, there we would go.

Jill, Carrie, and me.
They didn't trust my travel skills.
I, on the other hand, was not the shepherd of Carrie and Jill. I remember one afternoon, when we were out on an errand or something, and I knew the way to go. Carrie and Jill though, didn't believe me, and they challenged my knowledge, (and I still get challenged on where I'm going...a lot). They challenged me, and it was a little frustrating, and so I got home, and I said to Matt, I bet they would believe whatever you said, just because it's you that's saying it. 

The Duh-Blighner!
So, we came up with this experiment. The next time we were hanging out with the girls, we statred talking about this Irish Pub that we went to sometimes, called The Dubliner. At that point, Matt, our shepherd, who they would believe, know matter what, said "you know, it's pronounced, The Duh-blighner. We know that this experiment worked, because Carrie and Jill kept referring to this place as the Duh-blighner, never questioning that maybe a fast-one was being pulled on them. This ruse aside, overall, Matt was a very good shepherd to us, and helped us to be in a foreign place, that we didn't know our way around. It was great to have a shepherd, and a compassionate one at that.

We are a people, Chosen to Proclaim, and this morning, God is choosing another servant, Luke David. Through the waters of baptism, God will choose Luke to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Though, to help Luke make that proclamation, God has also chosen us, to proclaim to him, about this shepherd, who we have been given, this very good shepherd, named Jesus. God has chosen us, to be a part of proclaiming Jesus' love and truth and hospitality, so that Luke can grow and learn about his Savior; so that Luke can learn to trust in the One who has given us his life;, so that Luke can learn to follow and obey, where this Godly shepherd leads him. We have been Chosen to Proclaim this to Luke so that he can be like one of those people in our Gospel story, who runs after Jesus, seeking him as a source of healing, compassion, and life. 

This baptism is our proclamation to Luke, and it's our proclamation to the world, as Luke is being chosen not because he's accomplished anything great yet, except for being born, and yet he's chosen out of God's grace. He's chosen so that the world may see that all are chosen and loved by God. And so, we proclaim this compassionate and loving Shepherd to Luke, we proclaim Jesus' compassion and love for him. 

Yet, as we proclaim, and continue to proclaim our shepherd to Luke, it seems to me that we may forget about Jesus' compassion for US, as well. When it comes to Jesus, what are our needs? What things cause us to go and chase after Jesus, just as those people did thousands of years ago. You see, it's pretty easy for us, relatively speaking anyway, to speak of our God who loves us and gives his life for us, but it can be a lot harder to actually realize what that means and to realize the depths to which Jesus is with us in our own lives. To realize the ways in which Jesus shepherds us, the ways in which Jesus has compassion for us. 

Still, that is a part of our proclamation, in fact that is our proclamation. Not that Jesus came just for other people, but that Jesus came for us. These people didn't chase after Jesus, because they needed in autograph, and otherwise had their lives all put together. They ran after this person because they were in NEED of a shepherd, they were in NEED of Jesus' compassion. They were the sick in need of healing, and we are the same. 

Therefore, as we baptize Luke today, I'd like you to ponder in our moments of meditation, I'd like you to think, not only about how you'd share Jesus with Luke, but how you'd share with Luke, about how Jesus is compassionate with you in your life today. How you'd proclaim about how Jesus is with us, like someone who's shoulder you may cry upon, and be comforted. How you'd share about Jesus as a trusted friend, who takes the time to show you what they know, and spend time with you. How you'd share about a trusted savior, who would give his life, broken and shed for each of us. How you'd share about a trusted God, who comes to us, in the waters of baptism, so that we may proclaim that our Shepherd lives, and so that we may follow this shepherd, wherever he may go. 

So please, take a few moments and meditate on what our your needs, and how you want Jesus to show compassion to you in your life. Reflect on the proclamation of Jesus' compassion for us, and the grace by which God has made us a people, Chosen to Proclaim, this compassion. 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Ask the Pastor: what is the reason we should be intentional in our multicultural efforts, especially towards African Americans? (a question from Rev. Dr. Julius Carrol)

The question below was presented for response in a Multicultural Ministry seminary class I took,taught by Rev. Dr. Julius Carrol
“Pastor, please give us a rationale as to why you believe this congregation, has been call to reach out to the African-Descent community.” 

As a Congregation that is overwhelmingly white, in a denomination that according to 2008 figures is 97% white, any attempt to be in community with those who look different then us will cause an intentional reaching out to that intended community.  This is because in ELCA congregations, we have become accustomed to doing things that speak in a unique manner to only those who have been raised in a European, mainline Protestant context.  Thus, in order to speak a new language we must learn a new language, and in order to learn a new language, we must be intentional in our study, practice, and development in that language.  Our rationale for undertaking this venture is to engage with our fellow members of the body of Christ as a community, so that we can live together as the One, crucified, body of our Lord and be that Body as a light in the world. 

It is indisputable that we as Christians belong as full-members to the Body of Christ regardless of race, class, ethnicity, or sexuality.  Though this may seem elementary, it is important to break down once and for all any conceptual walls that one may have about who belongs to this body and how much they belong. It is important to stress and teach about the unity we share in Christ, as Paul writes to the Galatians, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer male or female, no longer slave or free; for all of you are one in Christ.” (3:28)  Despite this unity in Christ, Paul also writes that we have all been given different spiritual gifts, saying “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function.” (Romans 12:4)  When we start as Christians with the understanding that we are One, though not the same, as the Body of Christ, we then can move into a discussion of how to better function as that Body for the world. 

Though unity in Christ is what we’ve been given, we have grown as a Body where the hand and the foot do not know each other; a body where the mouth consumes food which damages the stomach.  In order to work together, we must first get to know each other and so that we can better care for the Body. 

This process of getting to know each other means that we go and meet people where they are at, and do not wait for them to meet us, whether this is a literal meeting or an intentional listening.  Holy Scripture is filled with examples of people going, Phillip was sent by the Holy Spirit to go to the Eunuch’s chariot, Jonah was sent to Nineveh, and Mary was called to sit and listen to the words of her Lord. 
As this Body, we do not get to know each other to become exactly the same.  Rather, we meet each other to find the ways in which our different worlds connect.  Paul’s letter to the Galatians exhorts them to be Christians as they are, and not by adopting Jewish rituals.  A powerful example is Jesus meeting the woman from Samaria at the well in the Gospel of John.  In this story, Jesus does not convert the woman and in fact, breaks tradition by asking for water from this enemy of Judaism.  It is around this practice of drawing water that Jesus tells this woman who he is and also that he knows her.  The woman then tells her community, and many Samaritans see Jesus and believed.  Jesus met this woman and broke into her life and community with his light, not around shared rituals, but around the necessary practice of drawing and sharing water from a well.  We too, are called to become one, proclaiming with both Samaritan and Jewish voices that our Messiah has come.

A modern-day example of someone that has gotten to “know” people in the name of Christ is Jean Vanier.  Mr. Vanier has done work amongst the developmentally disabled, and through this work has opened up the doors of communication and relationship between these people and other members of the Body of Christ.  When Mr. Vanier began his work in the 1960’s and moved people from an institutional life to one of authentic community, there situation was improved. 

The real testimony does not lie in this move from institution to community of individuals, rather it lies in the new ways that Christians across the world have heard of and shared in Christ with people who are different in many ways, but who are all made whole in Christ.  As Douglas John Hall mentions in his book, The Cross in our Context, Vanier has been a leader for Christians who engage the world, rather then create a haven apart from the world. (53)  In Vanier’s context, these havens were the sanitary institutions where we put those who would be disruptive to our safe lives.  This engagement is what we are called to as the body that proclaims Christ crucified.

Within The Cross in Our Context, Hall references the legend of Quo Vadis.  In this legend, Peter the Rock is fleeing Rome for a safe haven when he encounters the resurrected Jesus on the road, who is going back to Rome.  When Peter asks where he is going, Jesus says to Rome, to be crucified again.  The above example using Vanier is simply one of many who go into the dangerous places not to save the world, but to be crucified by it. 

As we discuss our relationship with those of African-Descent in our country, (and especially focused on African-Americans) we must ask ourselves what does it look like for us to go back to Rome, and are we going there to put out the fire or to be crucified because of it.

The answer, or an example to these questions is not found within ourselves as the ELCA.  We as a denomination, have, by and large, already fled the fire of race relationships for the safety of suburbs and gated communities.  Instead, we would do well to look to the obvious people to guide us, the courageous leaders and people of the Black church.  It is people like Martin Luther King Jr. that have brought the knowledge that Rome is burning to us through their own persecution and crucifixion as icons through which we can see the Crucified Christ.  It is because of the bravery of the Civil Rights leaders to challenge the status quo that we as a could see the light and love of God through them and not through an apathetic view that hierarchal security is the way of God’s love.  When the world saw dogs and fire-hoses turned upon children because of the color of their skin, they were shown the sin that exists in humanity.  Yet, because they were able to see this sin, people were also able to see the love of God for all humans and to better understand the gift of humanity we have been given.  The gift that is so precious, that God lived with us and died as one of us for it. 

Though there was great progress in recognizing the gift of a basic, common humanity given to us by God in the middle part of the 20th century, a great deal of pain continues to exist among the African-American community.  Clear evidence for this continued pain unique to the African-American community is provided by simply looking at demographics which show greatly disproportionate rates between races in regards to poverty, high school drop-outs, imprisonment, and life-expectancy (to just skim the surface).  We as Christians believe the promises of God to us and because of these promises we know the crucified and suffering Christ is present in the African-American community.  Unless we simply describe these differences away using racism, we must acknowledge that these circumstances are the result of an unjust society.  In acknowledging this injustice, we as Christians, especially European-American Christians must acknowledge the sin that exists in this society.  As we make these acknowledgements, we begin to see Christ, with all of his horrible wounds, crucified in the unique wounds of this community, suffering with the humanity that he loves. 

As stated before, because of Christ, all are made one into the Body of Christ.  Thus, when our sisters and brothers in Christ suffer, we suffer as well.  This is the case even when we cause the suffering of our own body, just as we as humans caused the suffering of our own God.  Because we are united, yet broken, we share as one the stories which God has given to us through our lives.  Through these stories of God’s interaction in our lives, we see more and more the creative power breaking into the world in new ways.  As these stories of humanity weave themselves around the oneness we share in the Crucified Christ, God weaves hope and promise through the people of God for the world. 

When we remain tied to our own way of doing things, for fear of others in the world; or worse yet for fear of seeing the result of our sin on the lives of others, we lose the richness of the mystery which God comes to us in.  The stories of God’s work in the lives of the African-Descent community are screaming to us to hear them and to discover the grace of God in these stories.  These stories cry out to us through spirituals and rhythms which give the story of the Hebrew people a literal context.  These stories cry out to us through the warnings of the Prophets when they yell that there are two America’s, and that God condemns this country we have created in our own image.  God is calling us to hear these stories and to experience Christ in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who we hardly know. 

The work of Christ on this Earth is the ideal function of compassion, or with-suffering.  As Hall writes about the German word for compassion mitleid and its action is to be “thrust into a solidarity of spirit with the other – to experience, in one’s own person the highest possible degree of identity with the other” (22)  This is what Christ has done with humanity, he has become one with us, ultimately in his death on the Cross.  This unity is why we are called to be multi-cultural, not out of pity, but out of a grace-filled calling to be unified with each other and with our God.  We are called to be unified in this suffering, so that we can be Christ’s crucified people so that all may see through us, God’s compassion for the world. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Sermon for July 12, 2015: A Powerful Proclamation

This sermon was preached by Rev. Mark Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran church on Sunday, July 12, 2015

Gospel: Mark 6:14–29
14King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some were saying, "John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him."  15But others said, "It is Elijah." And others said, "It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old."  16But when Herod heard of it, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised."
             17For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because Herod had married her.  18For John had been telling Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife."  19And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not,  20for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.  21But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee.  22When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it."  23And he solemnly swore to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom."  24She went out and said to her mother, "What should I ask for?" She replied, "The head of John the baptizer."  25Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter."  26The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.  27Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison,  28brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.  29When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
What do Winnie the Pooh and John the Baptist have in common? The same middle name.

We are a people "Chosen to Proclaim".
The message that we are chosen to proclaim, is a very powerful message. It is the message of Jesus Christ. It is the message of life and new creation. It is a message that has been given to us by the grace of God, through our shared faith. And this message comes with great, great power. 

Power though, is a tricky thing. Jimi Hendrix once summed up power's fickle ways very well. Of course, this wasn't from a conversation I had with him, but it is a message on a bumper sticker that I've often seen. Jimi said, "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace." 

So, why don't we know peace in the world today? Why don't we know peace, necessarily, in our own lives? Where is this peace? Why can't Jimi Hendrix's words ring true? More appropriately, why can't the Word of God, seem to to be what rules us, and give us peace? 

The reason, when it all comes down to it, is that we are afraid. What we're afraid of, is that God's powerful word, will do exactly what God says it will. We're afraid of the transformation and change that God's word will bring, even though God promises that the result will be good things, like peace and also justice, and love for all people. 

Like us, John the Baptist was chosen to proclaim God's very powerful word, and chosen to proclaim it to all people, including the powerful king, King Herod. And he did so. As we think about it, John the Baptist shouldn't have posed much threat to the king. He didn't have anything, except for some camel hair clothing, he ate locusts and wild honey, and lived out in the wilderness. What he did have, what he was chosen to proclaim, was God's Word. God's life giving and loving Word. God's Word of truth. 

When, John went to King Herod and told the king that he shouldn't take his brother, Philip's wife, and marry her; when God through John, tried to restore peace to the world, King Herod and his wife didn't respond real well. The King had John arrested. 

Yet, King Herod kept John around because he liked listening to him. Even though he was perplexed and troubled by John's words. Even though he was convicted by John's words of truth, he liked having him around. But Herod's wife didn't, because she knew that John's words, were really powerful. So, of course, she responds, through her daughter, and because the powerful King Herod really had no power to say no, John's life was ended. 

King Herod was afraid. He was afraid of losing the power he had. He was afraid of losing all of the stuff in his life that really wasn't that valuable when you think about it. He was afraid, that maybe he would become like John the Baptist, stripped of so much, yet knowing peace. This human reaction, can be what happens, in the presence of God's power. 

This Word of God, which John proclaimed, and which we are still Chosen to Proclaim, continues to speak to us today, but unfortunately, we respond to it a lot like Herod. We're afraid of losing what we have. We're afraid of the transformation that God's Word will bring into our lives. The Word that will tear down the walls that divide us, even while giving us a false sense of security and safety. Even though these dividing walls may trap us in misery, or in a bad relationship, and in a world that is broken, at least we know that these walls are there. At least we know that these walls of separation, and all the brokenness, and bitterness that they entail, will keep us surrounded by "the known". We are indeed afraid of God's Word, because it will do what God says it will. 

As we read in our Gospel story, we hear about a King who has power. Now we might not relate to this type of kingly power, but really, this story is about the power of relationships. Herod doesn't seem to have much power, except for the so called, "power', that others give to him, so that he may do what they want. But in our own lives, unlike Herod, we do have a lot of power.

For instance, this past week, I was watching Charlie at his swimming lessons, and I watched as a little four-year-old boy had the power to disrupt the whole class. This little boy, was able to stop the whole class from doing what they were supposed to be doing, in order to get him to do the right thing. A four-year-old really had great power.

Or, think about a baby. They sure seem powerless, don't they? But, and trust me on this one, a little baby exercises great power over our lives. In fact, once a baby comes, they pretty much have the power to run your life. 

We don't have to be a king, or a baby to have great power, and power over others, in our relationships and in our world. Yet, we often choose to be powerless. How often do we feel called to say something to someone, or speak-up on behalf of ourselves or someone else, or to help the poor, to become better stewards, or even to go out and exercise, and instead of using our power, we say, "I can't". But still, no matter what, we always have a choice. 

John the Baptist, didn't have to go on to his horrible death. He could have very easily renounced all that he said and lived to see another day, or a lot of days. John the Baptist though, was given the Word of truth, the Word of life, and he could do nothing but proclaim that truth and life that he'd been given. We are called to do the same as John the Baptist did, and God has given each of us the freedom and power to do so. 

Still, sin remains, and fear has great power over us, and so we continue to close ourselves off. No matter who we are; no matter how long we've been a Christian, or a pastor, or a member of Christ the King, we close ourselves off to the powerful Word, and the transforming peace it brings; because we are afraid. We're afraid of losing the control that we seemingly have. We're afraid of losing all the types of things that only last a short time. We're afraid, and so we cling to these "worldly things", and don't grasp on to the eternal things; the things that John the Baptist had a firm grip on. The eternal things that are made human in the person of Jesus Christ. 

In our story today, we see the power of God's Word as spoken through John the Baptist. We see this power not only in his death, but also in the aftermath of his beheading. You see, after this horrible death, the Word of God still convicts King Herod. I'm sure that he knows that John the Baptist wasn't really raised from the dead, but still his words still speak to the King. Furthermore, we know that the One who John the Baptist pointed to, Jesus Christ, who came and brought the Word of God to this world through not only his message, but his life, was raised from a horrible death. We know that this same, powerful Word of God which he carried, was raised to new life, and through him, all of creation was raised as well. We know that this life, this Word of God, has been given to us. 

So, we know, that even as we close ourselves off; even as we fear the unknown; even as we hear wise sayings about the power of love giving us peace and don't take any action; even as we remain sinful, God comes to us. God comes to us with his powerful Word, which has been raised to new life, and it has been given to us. And it will be given to us again, as we hear God say, "take and eat, this is my body, given for you. this is my blood, shed for you." This Word, this life is given to us, so that we can proclaim to our broken world, even as we go on in the grips of our self-preserving fear, the love of God, and the life that has been given to us in Christ. 

We've been chosen, just like John the Baptist. May we continue to hear God's calling, and proclaim his life, grace, mercy, abundance, and love, which has been given to us, and to all of creation. 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Ask the Pastor: Do I have to ...?

This week on “Ask the Pastor.” I have some questions from an anonymous teen. Before I begin, I want to say that it delights me to receive and answer such questions from a young person. Our faith is not about having all the answers, it’s in learning to find God in all things. A faith that is alive and growing, is one that trusts God to be there, no matter the question. Having it all figured out it God’s job, our job is seek God’s grace and goodness in the midst of all things, the things we are sure of, the things we don’t know, the things we doubt, and the things we could never understand. The crisis of our faith is whether or not we are courageous enough to question it, and humble enough to be transformed in it.

And so, on to the questions:
Do we have to believe the same things our parents believe?

First, I’d like to talk about the “have to” of this question. While it may seem as if because you are young, you “have to” do a lot of things, it can even seem this way as an adult. The truth of the matter is, is that we do always have choices on how we act and behave. Therefore, we know from simply observing through the generations the many children who didn’t believe what their parents believed to know that certainly, no one has to believe as their parents did. For this statement to be true, we’d still have to believe the world was flat, or something like that.

Now, as a general statement, I’m sure you ask, because you value obeying your parents, and your relationship, and questioning a belief that they have, may seem like it will cause tension, or discord, between you. Either that, or you’re simply trying to figure out what it means to be an adult, and you’re not real sure if your parent, and their clothes, their weird taste in music, and their rules is how you’d do things if you ran the world. Or, perhaps, you don’t like going to church on a Sunday morning, and saying you don’t believe seems like a sure fire way to get out of it. It’s probably all these things and more.
So, to the point, you don’t have to believe what your parents believe. BUT, I would guess that you aren’t even sure what your parent believes, and they might not either. While it may seem awkward, I would encourage parents and their children to sit down and talk about what they believe. One way to do this, is for parents to share their own experiences with faith. What was your religious upbringing like? What similarities does it carry into today? What questions do you have about faith? How does our Christian Faith affect our daily life? Is everything in the Bible true? There are all kinds of ways to have these discussions, and they don’t need to be “big conversations”, like talking about where babies come from.
In a conversation that is open, people, like parents and children can walk together in their faith, and learn from each other. On a larger scale, the community of the church, is where more people, very human people, come together and learn to walk together in faith. Even as a church, and as a pastor of a church, our individual beliefs aren’t what ultimately matters. What matters is learning to believe in the way of grace and love that God has given to us, and which holds us together through all things.

Do we inherit our parent’s religion?
In the Christian church, and generally, in the Lutheran expression of the Christian church, we do inherit our parent’s religion. In a way, our faith was designed this way, as we see from the stories of the Bible how the Word of God, was handed down from generation to generation, Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Joseph, and eventually to a whole nation of people named the Hebrews/Israel/Jews. While most of us who are Christians are descended from the bloodlines of these people, we have been reborn into the promises of God through the waters of baptism. While we don’t necessarily inherit the Christian faith from our parents, we do inherit it from Abraham, Jesus, and the Christians who have died before us.
In our congregation at Christ the King, most people have inherited our Christian faith, and our Lutheran expression of it through their parents. Sometimes this can be a very positive thing, but because we are human, and imperfect, with the passing on of our faith we can pass on some elements that can cause people to equivocate negative aspects of human behavior, with faith. Throughout our history, and in the present day, sometimes those bearing the name Christian do terrible things, like support segregation, which others may see as representing the Christian faith. It is unfortunate that God’s gift of faith can be so easily abused, but we are all under the captivity of sin, and send the wrong message about our faith ourselves. This is why, the inheritance we receive in our baptism, and the gift of Christ’s life we dine on in Holy Communion are so important, because they continue to show us the true gift of our faith, and they have done so since its very beginning.
So yes, you probably inherited your parent’s religion, but it is always important for us to know that our religion is always best expressed by its truth, not necessarily how that truth is lived out.
Another important note, is that we as a society are often quick to say that a person who commits terror in the name of Islam is representative of the Muslim faith. Those who make headlines, whether it is in Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or whatever faith they claim to be representing, are usually far outside the mainstream of what people in that faith are like, and perversions of their faith, not true representations of it.

Do I have to go to church after I am confirmed?

There is a joke that goes around, “What is the best way to get bats out of the bell tower? Confirm them.” 

As I mentioned before, you don’t have to do anything. Many people don’t come to church much after their confirmed. If you decide that church isn’t for you, my question would be, why do you want to be confirmed? Really, confirmation is an affirmation of the baptism that so many in our Lutheran tradition receive when they are very young. Up until confirmation, parents really have the responsibility for the faith life of their children, and make vows to God, to their children, and to the congregation to carry out the following tasks on behalf of their children:
to live with them among God's faithful people,
            bring them to the word of God and the holy supper,
            teach them the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments,
            place in their hands the holy scriptures,
            and nurture them in faith and prayer,
            so that your children may learn to trust God,
            proclaim Christ through word and deed,
            care for others and the world God made,
            and work for justice and peace.

When they are confirmed, or affirm their baptism, young people, like yourself, then promise to take ownership their faith, and commit to these task.
to live among God's faithful people,
            to hear the word of God and share in the Lord's supper,
            to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
            to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
            and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth

task.When it is your time to affirm your baptism, if you can’t make a commitment to these things, than your confirmation is doesn’t really mean much. Of course, there may be times when these things don’t happen, there may be a lot of them, but they are vows to continue to hold yourself accountable to, and ones that will help the fruits of faith grow in you.

I will close, by saying that often, children do inherit the religion of their parents. If one’s religious practices are to make commitments to raising their children in the Christian faith, and then putting worship attendance, spiritual formation, Christian fellowship, and service in the congregation as the lowest of priorities, this faith is certain to be passed on. The Christian faith is not about rites of passage, or about knowing a little bit about God to help shape our moral development. The Christian faith is one of being struck by the grace of God, and following Christ.

To the young person who asked these questions, thank you. You are a child of God and God will love you no matter what. Your salvation, along with that of all of creation has been accomplished by Jesus’ death on the cross 2000 years ago. You can find no more favor with God, than you already have, but you can learn about and grow in trusting how precisous and life-giving that favor is, and how rich the life God has given us. This rich, abundant life is the life of faith, and it is the life of Jesus, that has been given to us. I hope and pray that you continue hear him calling you to follow him, and that you will continue to grow in your trust of this calling.
Peace! Pr. Mark