Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Ask the Pastor: What is worship? To Know and to Grow.

Ask the Pastor. I recently created a vision of what my pastoral role at Christ the King is. You can see this vision To Know and To Grow below, and that my primary role as pastor is to preside at worship. I was asked to clarify and expand on what I mean by worship, and worship life, and so I have done this, immediately below this vision statement. I look to expand on this more in the future. 

What is worship?
In short, worship is God's gift to our sinful world, so that we, as people in bondage to sin, can see, receive, and PARTICIPATE in the world as God intended it to be at creation. Our worship connects us to our, "Immortal, invisible, God only wise" and proclaims the truth of that eternal God to all people. This truth is perhaps most evident in the Hebrew slaves, who would show the ultimate sign of God's providence, through their worship on Mt. Sinai. Exodus 3:12, The Lord said, 'I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt you shall worship God on this mountain. 

The worship of this God, was a contrast to Pharaoh, who was the Egyptian God, and the term "The Lord" is in contrast again to Pharaoh who was ultimately the Lord of the Hebrews. Thus the worship of God, gave the Hebrews, who were in a brutal, hopeless, despairing situation, the hope that Pharaoh didn't have the last word. In more modern times, slaves in North America were often banned from worshiping (lest they here something about their worth) and held secret worship. Sometimes, this would include singing praises under water, so that they would not be heard and punished. For those in slavery, worship of a being greater than the slavemaster was a necessary source of hope and life as they were kept and brutalized from generation to generation. 

The truth though, is that it wasn't only the slaves who were in bondage, but all humans, by sin. The worship of a God more powerful than us, and who frees us from our sin, is indeed life-giving good news. Unfortunately, sin deceives and we humans don't desire or perceive that we need this life-giving hope, as by and large, our situation, at least for many of us in our country, is much better than that of the slaves. Regardless, the worship of God, gives us the hopeful vision of how God intended the world, and now, through Christ, is redeeming the world.

Worship Life
From my Letter of Call: 

We call you to exercise among us the ministry of Word and Sacrament which God has established and which the Holy Spirit empowers: 
- to preach and teach the Word of God in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions; to administer Holy Baptism and Holy Communion; to lead us in worship; to proclaim the forgiveness of sins; to provide Pastoral Care

There are other duties as well, but I think these give the essence of what my role in the worship life of the congregation is in terms of actual services. But, going further, the "worship life" that I preside over isn't just these services, but lies in instilling a "worshipful life" throughout all the activities of the congregation. For example, how we use our money as a congregation is not influenced by getting the most bang for our buck, it's in using it in a manner that is faithful to the God that is revealed to us in worship. The ultimate goal of our "worship life" is that it will reflect our God, and our obedience, as God's people, to the will of God, and our continued dependence, as God's people, upon God's grace. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

You tell that fox! Sermon for February 21, 2016 Lent 2

This sermon was preached by Pastor Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Holliston, MA on the 2nd Sunday in Lent, February 21, 2016. 

Luke 13:31-35
31At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to [Jesus,] “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Lenten Hope, X-Men Hope

Continuing on the theme of hope from last weeks blog post, I wanted to write something more about the kind of hope that Christ gives to us, and enables us to give to one another, using one of my favorite super-heroes, Charles Xavier, a.k.a. Professor X, to do so. 

Charles gives a wonderful vision of hope in the movie, X-Men, Days of Future Past, which tells the story of mutants who work together across time, with the goal of changing the past, in order to save the future. In a moment of desperation, Charles, who has the power of telekinesis, visits his future self (Professor X)

Charles: I'm not the man I was. I open my mind up and it almost overwhelms me.
Professor X: You're afraid. And Cerebro knows it.
Charles: All those voices…so much…pain.
Professor X: It's not their pain you're afraid of. It's yours, Charles. And as frightening as it can be, that pain will make you stronger. If you allow yourself to feel it, embrace it, it will make you more powerful than you ever imagined. It's the greatest gift we have: to bear their pain without breaking. And it comes from the most human part of us: hope

That last line of dialogue is also the truth of our lives, and the pain that is present in our lives is ultimately a gift, and not a curse. The emotional pain that we suffer, helps us to know that both ourselves and others matter. When someone is suffering, or even dies, we ache emotionally because we care about them. When we ourselves are hurting, it is our minds telling us that we are deserving of love, care, and comfort. If someone hurts us, or hurts others, our emotional response tells us that this behavior isn't right. Just as our physical bodies experience pain, to tell us something isn't right with them, our emotional side does as well. We are often able to treat our physical pain, so that we can do the things with our bodies that we want to do, thus it can be a gift to us. The same is true of our emotional selves, but we often times leave that side of things untreated, and it ultimately hinders our wholeness of health, just as a sprained ankle hinders our ability to walk. 

When our emotional pain goes untreated, it doesn't just go away, it hides itself deep in our subconscious. Over time, the world, and all the pain that is in it can seem overwhelming, and we build up an immunity to the world by losing our ability to care, to feel useful, and to have any sort of hope for it. In order to keep from feeling our own pain, we retreat into self-made cocoons of frivolities, busyness, cynicism, and addiction, and creation becomes more disconnected, despairing, and cruel.  It is true that hurting people hurt people, and on a global level, a hurting world hurts itself. 

In the movie, it was Charles who confronted his own pain, and allowed himself to feel it, so that he could use his superpowers for good, and bring hope to the situation. For us, non-mutants, this confrontation with our own pain, and the pain of the world is too tall of an order for us. Thankfully, we have a Savior, who is both human and God, whose pain, bore out of unimaginable love, have given to us salvation and hope. 

By the grace of Christ, we can embrace the pain in our lives, knowing that our God feels that pain with us, and is with us in it. What is so amazing, is that with Christ, as we embrace and feel our own pain, our cocoon starts to become stripped away, and we are able to bear the pain of others, and give them hope, the hope of Jesus Christ. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Sermon for February 16, 2016: Thirteen Pounds of Temptation

This sermon was preached by Pastor Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Holliston, MA on the 1st Sunday in Lent, February 16, 2016. 

Luke 4:1-13

1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ”
  5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.6And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered him, “It is written,
 ‘Worship the Lord your God,
  and serve only him.’ ”
  9Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written,
 ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
  to protect you,’
 ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
  so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
12Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Lenten Hope

Greetings, I haven't updated my blog in awhile (I'm hoping to start posting my sermons with a little more frequency soon), but with the recent encouragement of my cousin, Toni, thought I'd work on it a little more during Lent. There aren't any themes or promises of daily updates this year, just the promise to write what God is speaking to me.

Today, God is telling me to write to you about hope, and specifically, to write that hope is something that Jesus didn't posses. You read me correctly, Jesus didn't have hope, and the reason  that Jesus didn't have hope is because he didn't need it. Rather, Jesus is the object of our hope, and when this object of our hope is fully revealed in our lives, we will experience the fulfillment of all things, and there will be nothing left to hope for.

If indeed Jesus has no need of hope, what does it mean for us, to place our hope in him? This is the question at the heart of our season of Lent. It seems to me that we have a vision of Lent as a time of self denial, often trivial self-denial at that. Take for example the year I gave up potato chips for Lent. During those 40 days, that sacrifice served the purpose of giving me greater anticipation for the coming of Easter, but the reward was potato chips. In other words, eating potato chips was the fulfillment of my hope. (This particular season happened while I was in Slovakia, and in all fairness to myself, those potato chips were not only delicious, but a true staple in my diet.) I'm quite certain that Jesus didn't die so we could have potato chips.

As we frame Lent in terms of self-denial in our own lives, we often project this same dynamic on Jesus. In our Christian frame of belief, there tends to be an underlying premise that Jesus went through these sufferings in the hope of an Easter reward. Granted, the denial and reward of Jesus' story are a little better than the potato chips example I used before, but the premise is the same. The problem with this premise, is that Jesus didn't "deny" himself. Yes, Jesus humbled himself, taking on the form of a human, but Jesus never rejected his own divinity, instead, he proclaimed it on many occasions. Similarly, Jesus' resurrection to eternal life wasn't a "reward" for undergoing such great suffering. The coming Easter promise wasn't God's way of saying, "Don't worry Jesus, those 40 lashes and the nails will all be worth it someday!"

When we remember that Jesus, as God, wasn't in need of hope, we can hear his story from a different perspective. Jesus' story is about trust. The temptations, trials, persecutions, and crucifixion weren't because Jesus hoped that one day he would be rewarded, Jesus underwent these things because of the trust that he had that God was with him through it all. The humanity of Jesus humbly obeyed and served his divinity, because he trusted that the reward, eternal communion with our creator, was something he already possessed. When you already possess this reward, what is there to be hopeful for?

What then, does it mean, for us to place our hope in the One who isn't in need of hope? It means total transformation of our lives, a reorientation so that we strive more and more so that Jesus becomes are "all in all". Some people will tell you what you need to do to accomplish that, and to them and those who would follow, I say, "Good luck with that!" The truth of the matter, is that Jesus isn't our hope. Potato chips, money, security, prestige, and whatever else you can think of that could end the phrases "I want..." and "I need..." If Jesus truly was our hope; our lives, and our world would be much different.

We humans can try all we want to achieve hope in the One who has no hope, but it's when we realize that we can't do this that we begin to experience the transformational power of Lent. It is in our failures as human beings, it is in our troubled spirits that Jesus meets us, and gives us his amazing grace. When Jesus meets us with this grace, when we are given his body and blood and experience his life, occasionally it becomes something we want more of, something we may even begin to hope for. When Jesus meets us with this grace, the Holy Spirit transforms our hearts, and our minds, so that following is simply our way of life.

The season of Lent, is not a time when either us, or God, take away something from our lives, so that we can have something to hope for. It's the time when the Holy Spirit nudges us, and distracts us from our futile attempts trying to achieve the life we hope for, and in its place, gives the hope found in the eternal life of Jesus.