Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Sermon for August 7, 2016: Admission Standards for the Kingdom

This sermon was preached by Rev. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA on August 7, 2016.

Luke 12:32-40
[Jesus said:] 32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
 35“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
 39“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ,
As many students prepare to go back to school, especially those who are off to college somewhere, the excitement of the day that an acceptance letter came from the school of one’s dreams has certainly faded by now. The joy that came when the packet was opened, and that young person read, “Congratulations, we are excited to offer you admission to….” or maybe it went, “It is our good pleasure to welcome you into the distinguished….” or some other greeting, which was both warm and enthusiastic.

I started thinking about these letters and the spirit with which they are written, and it occurred to me why they could come across in such away, it’s because these schools get to choose who is good enough to get one of these acceptance letters. Each school gets to pick people who will be contributors to the school’s student life and academic reputation, and so they are excited about picking people who will make them better. And, hopefully, each prospective student will share this excitement in return.

The one caveat with these acceptance letters, which perhaps some of you have framed, or have safely kept somewhere, is that they aren’t good forever. In order to go to the school, you have to keep your grades up during your senior year and most certainly graduate. When you do get started, you of course have to keep your academic life on track, pass your classes, don’t do anything too horribly wrong, and of course, most importantly, keep the checks coming in on time. If you fail at this, the warm greeting that you received in your acceptance letter will be replaced by other messages telling you to leave.

This morning, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, “It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” Now this, is an acceptance letter as it is an offer of entrance into a Kingdom. Now, this is not simply any Kingdom, but this is the Kingdom of Heaven, or the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom that is at the top of every publications “best Kingdom’s” list. It is a great kingdom for all majors, all careers, all different types of people. This is the Kingdom that Jesus declares it is the Father’s good pleasure to give to us. In comparison, I’m guessing that not many schools out there are including invitations to sit on the Endowment Board as a part of their acceptance letters. Schools out there are happy to give you the opportunity of an education, but they aren’t real anxious to hand over the whole institution.

God though, operates differently. God doesn’t just welcome us into the life of the Kingdom, but hands over the whole thing. What’s also different, is that none of us even needed to apply. This Kingdom has been given to us in the waters of baptism, by the work of the Holy Spirit, and it is in these waters where we are made citizens of this kingdom. The citizenship that we are given is the work of God’s grace, not our own achievements, but is given to us because right from the get-go, God has made us miraculously and marvelously, and has stitched that wonderfulness into every inch of creation. Ultimately, it is a sign of how much God loves what God has made, and out of this love, God gives to us the Kingdom.

In receiving this offer, just as one goes to college or university, there is work to be done in this Kingdom. Joyful work. The work of creating, restoring, and giving life. The work of relationships. The work of seeing and giving thanks for the joy that is found in each and every day, and that is found in each other. This is the work of love, and it is the work that we are called to in those waters of baptism. This work is our daily vocation, the work of living lives that reflect the Kingdom’s love, peace and justice. This is the work that isn’t about making a living, especially as we hear Jesus tell us to “sell everything we have and give the money to the poor.” This is the work of realizing the abundance we have been given and growing in our generosity of that abundance. This is truly the work of the Kingdom. The work of faith.

19 years ago, I was about to head off to college myself. I had my sights on becoming a social studies teacher. Four years later, I graduated and then taught for another 5 years.
10 years ago, at this time, I was just finishing our Summer Greek class, on my way to beginning seminary. I was ready to go down the road to becoming a pastor.

As I take stock of these years, it’s easy to see that my profession has changed, my title has even changed, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the work, the work of faith…the vocation. This is the calling from God to be loving and caring, the call to be a steward of God’s creation, the call to learn to trust in God and proclaim God’s grace. This is a calling that has been formed in me since I was baptized as a little baby. This is a calling to the work of the Kingdom of Heaven, and it has been given to me as a family business is passed on from generation to generation. This is the work that God gave to Abram, or Abraham, so that it would be passed on with such abundance that the numbers receiving it would be more countless than the stars.
Now in my 37th year of this work, with the days remaining before my 38th year dwindling, I must admit that I have not been a big success in this “Kingdom Work” that God has given to me. I’ve hurt people instead of loving them. I’ve lied. I’ve taken things that don’t belong to me. If you could find ways to be incompetent at this Kingdom work, I’ve found them…we all have. And, that’s just counting the things that are on the outside, I don’t even want to get into the stuff on my mind and in my heart, the stuff that is not very Kingdom oriented, the stuff on the inside that tells God exactly what kind of person I am.
If I were God. If I were the one making this Kingdom, I would surely pick someone different than me, someone different than all of us. I would pick people who have much better qualifications then simply being born. I would pick people that actually listened to what I wanted them to do, and who actually did it. Even more so, if any of those worthy candidates who I picked to give the Kingdom to, who I left in charge of running it didn’t do it right, I would kick them out, or at least put them on double-secret probation.

It certainly seems like God could have chosen better citizens of the Kingdom than us. Yes, the Kingdom is still here and still going on, but sin remains as well. Our sin, sin that continues to mar this Kingdom with violence and death, selfishness and greed, envy and hatred.  Yet, in the midst of our own sinful incompetence in the work of the Kingdom, what we are given eyes to see is that this work of faith is ultimately not ours, but is God’s. This is work that has gone on long before we were here and it will go on long after we are gone.

 When God opens our eyes to the work that God is doing, God also gives to us a vision of faith, just as Abram was shown the stars in the sky as a promise of how numerous his unlikely descendants would be. This is the vision of faith we put our hope and our trust in, this is the vision of Jesus Christ who continues to complete this work of faith in us. This is the vision of Jesus Christ continuing to call us through his mercy and grace to be a blessing to others, by giving them these same things.
As we stand before God, knowing our applications don’t look good and there’s not much we could show God to continue justifying our presence in the Kingdom of Heaven, we give thanks that God doesn’t kick us out. Rather, God comes to us, in flesh and blood, and gives us this life, and through his work assures us that he knows what he is doing in picking us for the Kingdom. God comes to us in Jesus Christ and lovingly affirms that it is truly the Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom.

While we get ready to go back to school, or college, as we enter into Kindergarten or if we haven’t gone back to school shopping for years, our calling remains the same. As Citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, as Children of God we have been called to the work of faith. The very work that is being done in us today, the work of love, the work of our Lord, Jesus Christ, giving himself for each of us and for all of creation. May we share in this work wherever our roads lead, and may we share and proclaim this Kingdom life that we have been given, and the one who gave it to us.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Sermon for July 31, 2016: Rich, anxious, childlike fools.

This sermon was preached by Rev. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA on July 31, 2016.

Luke 12:13-21

13Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus,] “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
I’ve noticed something interesting since Oskar, our youngest son, was born, and especially in the last months, as he becomes more adept at getting around and getting things. It’s interesting how many of these things that Oskar “gets”, are things that Charlie hasn’t used or paid attention to in years, and yet all of a sudden, they are his favorite, as soon as Oskar gets his hands on them. His favorite blankie, favorite lovie, favorite car, or favorite crayon. It seems that whatever it is, if Oskar has something that once belonged to Charlie, it is Charlie’s favorite.
Now, Charlie is a wonderful big brother, but there are those times that we all have, when we need to remind him to share, and tell him that we are a family and that these things belong to all of us. Of course, there are times when Oskar grabs something that he shouldn’t have, like a delicate toy, or something Charlie was using, and then our parenting becomes less about using reason, and more about brute force in trying to free something from the grip of a 18 month old child, and trust me, when he doesn’t want to let go, he’s got a lot of grip strength.
Quite frequently, Carrie and myself find ourselves in the role of judge, or arbitrator over these battles of possession. Not surprisingly, there aren’t many instances where both children go away happy, after we rule in favor for one of them.
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus has a crowd following him, when suddenly someone stands up and says, “Hey Jesus! My brother, (who is kind of a jerk) won’t give me my share of the inheritance. You tell him to share with me!” Perhaps this person had a point, perhaps he was even giving voice to a reflection he was having about something that he’d heard from Jesus. But, Jesus didn’t want to be the judge, or arbitrator for this person he referred to as friend. Jesus knew that if he made a decision, if he interjected himself into this dispute, in the way that this person expected him to, no one would go away happy or be at peace. A decision by Jesus would probably just make for two more miserable parties.
What Jesus does do, is respond to this person with a parable, and he speaks it to us today as well. As Jesus gives us this parable, we hear scripture, written thousands of years ago, which continues to speak to us in the present day. How many of us know of someone, or even ourselves have been a part of family conflicts that have to do with money, or inheritance, or over who will get what possessions. These money issues that divide us in our most loving relationships are nothing new, it’s a blight on our humanity that has continued on since a time well-before this man in Luke asks Jesus to help him get his share.
Truly, the Bible continues to speak to us today and these disputes over money or inheritance continue to tear families apart, even close, loving, Christian families. We see how sad this reality of our existence is in the fact that financial disputes aren’t simply between siblings, but can also divide parent and child. For instance, I know of a young man whose brother died tragically years ago. As it happened, he had named his brother the sole beneficiary of his life insurance policy, which upset his father. This strained and divided an already delicate relationship between father and son, and exacerbated the grief they both felt over the death of a brother and son.
We hear Jesus tell us this parable today, and the truth of the matter is that it goes beyond merely our finances or what we possess. Indeed, this parable is cutting right to the very depths of our soul, as we hear this rich man, (who God calls a fool) say to himself, “Soul, relax! Eat, drink, be merry. Soul! Finally, I’ve gotten rid of the anxiety that has plagued me because I’m so rich. I’m finally past all of this, my barns are full to the brim, now it’s time to enjoy things.” Like this rich man, our anxieties over our possessions trouble our souls, giving us little rest. In order to quell our anxiety, we seek more control, we seek to tighten our grasp, like a young boy afraid of losing a blanket that he hasn’t cared about or paid attention to for three years. Our souls are haunted by the anxiety which comes from not wanting to lose our sense of control over what we have.
The thought of losing what we have gives us such anxiety, that we work, often in vain, to ensure what we have at all costs. Whether the things we cling to are our possessions, or our reputations, or our lifestyles; whatever it may be, the thought of losing something causes us such tremendous anxiety that we spend our days slip by as we work in our vain pursuits. It’s like trying to maintain a perfect lawn in a drought. As your grass turns browner, you find yourself worrying about weather and other things you can’t control, constantly watching the sky whenever there’s the possibility of rain, and putting a lot of emotional effort into something that in the end doesn’t really matter much, except for the work you’ve put into that lawn in your own vain pursuit to have a good looking yard. It is our own vanity that can take a hobby, or something that’s supposed to give us joy and cause it to fill us with great anxiety.
This sin of vanity runs deep in us, and it disorders our lives as we constantly live with a fear of being vulnerable, of losing out, of sharing the wholeness of our lives with each other. Our fear driven vanity drives us to satiate desires in our lives that can never be satiated, no matter what we own or what we have achieved. Like the man in the story, the more riches we have, the more problems we then have, at least in our own minds, and so we seek to get more and more in order to finally, put our worry and anxiety to bed, and let our souls rest in the wealth we have spent our days accumulating. Yet we never quite get enough to give rest to our souls, and the only thing that happens is we waste the days that we have been given.
It is here, in the midst of our anxiety, in our vain quest to be in control that Christ comes to us and says, “Be rich with God.” To become rich with God, we aren’t given a step-by-step manual, instead, God shows us how rich the abundance that we are given each and every day is, how rich our daily bread is. God comes to us, in the midst of our own sin and anxiety, the sin that would vainly rebel against our God and nail him to a cross, and God gives us the richest of feasts, the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
God gives us this food, shows us this richness, to help us to grow in our trust of the source of that wealth. God gives us this rich food to nuture us so that we may grow in the work that God gives us. The work of creating, restoring, and enlivening relationships. The work of love. The work of forgiveness, mercy, and peace. The work that is not vain, but that is also really hard, especially when we think we are right about something. Work that is really hard, when the other person doesn’t want to accept the gift we offer in our relationship. Work that is really hard when we lose those who we care so much about. It is for this work, God’s work, the work that is not done in vain that God gives us an abundance to fulfill this work. Indeed, this is the work that God gives us his very life for, and the work through which we pass this life on to others.
This past week, we had Vacation Bible School at Christ the King. For those five days, we had counselor from Camp Calumet join us and share a theme for each day with the children…rah rah rey what’s the theme of the day? Those themes were feeding, forgiving, loving, serving, and praying. Now notice, that there wasn’t a theme about how to have the best bike on the block, or how to grow up to be cool and popular. The themes that the children were given are the very richness of God, they are the themes of what builds a relationship, and they are given to us by a God of such abundance that we may share them with all of creation.
In this, our year of prayer, 2016, may we continue to hear God speak to us about the richness of our faith, and may we hear the call to let go of that which we so tightly cling to so that we may grasp on to the promises of God, and the everlasting life that has been given to us in Jesus Christ.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,