Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Sermon for March 6, 2016 Lent 4: Accepting that you are found.

This sermon was preached by Rev. Mark T. Peterson, on March 6, 2016 at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Holliston, MA. 
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
1Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus.] 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3So he told them this parable: 11b“There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ‘ 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
25“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ ”

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Be a Values Voter!

Through Jesus Christ, God has established the Kingdom of Heaven, right here, in this time and space, right in our very midst. Yet, while the Kingdom is certainly established, God continues to grow the Kingdom, by acting through us humans. My favorite vision of this Kingdom comes from Micah 4, which says:
In days to come, the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the                          mountains, and shall be raised above the hills.
People shall stream to it, and many nations shall come and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain            of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may             walk in his paths.
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
The Lord shall judge between many peoples and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;               they  will beat their swords in plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; and they will            not learn war anymore.
But they will all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one will make them             afraid.

Knowing that God uses us to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven, we should remember that a very formidable tool that we have been given, is a recognized voice and vote in the way that our community, state, and nation are governed. Here, in this time and place in the world, using this tool of participatory government is not just a privilege we have, but our Godly duty. Indeed, we are called to be values voters!

 Before continuing, a few clarifications about the government we are called to participate in:
--First, the government is not our Savior, it’s merely a system, and an imperfect one at that. 

--Secondly, the government is not “ours” and by that I mean the property of Christians, or any other group that would claim ownership of it, at least not in this country.  

--Thirdly, governance and order are a gift to us and our world from our creator, and they are given to help us live together according to something beyond our own whims and fancies. These authorities in our lives and world require our attention, even if it means standing up to them, rather than supporting them. 

--Finally, our Savior, Jesus Christ, and his church, are not held in peril by any government, whether it is our own, or the Roman Empire. Our faith is secure, Jesus Christ has won the day and will continue to live eternally, both in places where Christ’s Church is persecuted and in places where the Church has become the persecutor.  Therefore, we remember that government, whether a democracy or monarchy, whether representative or autocratic, whether peaceful or warlike, whether open or repressive, and whether brutal or compassionate, is merely a system, and is neither our salvation nor our greatest threat.  

Moving on, we, who live in the United States, have the opportunity to actively and safely, ( At least in theory, many who are neither white nor male could argue this with a long list of exampls to the contrary.) participate as representatives of the Christian faith, as ambassadors of Christ, in the system of government that helps bring order, for better and worse, to not only the 310 Million people who live in this country, but the billions that live in this world. It is incumbent on us as Christians to work to influence these systems that have authority over us so that God's righteousness, justice, and love is not a forsaken part of this ordering.   At the same time, our Christian duty to be involved in the workings of our government does not mean that we seek to make a Christian state. We as a faith community place our trust in the fact that God's Heavenly Kingdom has already been establish, and that God has instituted the community of the Church to be the place where Christians are called and transformed.

Ultimately, the way that we are called to act in our government is as an active voice, representing those who society forgets and tramples, with the truth of God. This is a truth of a Godly justice that values all life, and especially the lives of those our systems usually discard; the lives of the poor, the homeless, the imprisoned, the persecuted, the immigrant, and the refugee. This is a truth that stands in solidarity with these forgotten ones, and stands opposed to our human ideas of justice, which all too often places a higher value on order, profit, vengeance, and power, than it does upon the life that God creates.

Today, as many people vote on Super Tuesday, remember that it is indeed, right our duty and JOY that we should in all times and all places proclaim God's truth. Here in the United States of America, we have a freedom that should make this proclamation easy, and there is little excuse to keep us from yielding our freedom on behalf of all people, even and especially those who can't make campaign donations. So go vote!

Finally, a word from the prophet Ezekiel:
34The word of the Lord came to me: 2Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. 6My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.