Tuesday, October 11, 2016

God's Love Is Enough

This summer on my sabbatical I read 10 books.
The book that was the most challenging of those 10 was not a book about ministry, or the condition of the Church.
It was a book written by Sue Klebold, “A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy.”
Sue Klebold was the mother of Dylan Klebold who was one of the teenagers who shot and killed 13 people at Columbine high school in 1992.
The book is her story of what happened and how she tried to piece together some explanation of what happened.
It was a challenging book not because of how unbelievable it was, although it is unbelievable to think that someone would do what Dylan did.
It was a challenging book because Sue Klebold says in the book, “Love is not enough.”
She writes, “My love for Dylan, though infinite, did not keep Dylan safe, nor did it save the thirteen people killed at Columbine High School, or the many others injured and traumatized.”
This was challenging for a couple of reasons.
This is my basic idea of parenting.
I am not a perfect father, but I love my kids.
I assume that my love will keep them safe.
Even though my kids have their challenges I just assume that ultimately my love and Vicki’s love will be enough.
But even more challenging for me is that this is my basic idea for how to make the world a better place.
If I love people that I come into contact in my life then the world will be better.
If I can convince enough of you to love as God has loved you that will make the world a better place.
Much of my life’s work is about making this world a little less harsh, and more loving.
Maybe if we love someone who thinks of themselves as unlovable we can change that person’s life.

I was once told by someone that my way of looking at the world is naïve.
That wishing there was more love in the world doesn’t make it so.
And that this wishing only leads to bigger problems.
We allow evil to linger if we are not strong enough to get rid of it.
In other words, they basically said, “Love isn’t enough.”
That was/is challenging for me to accept.
It has undermined my entire philosophy of life.

I was wondering this week if Jesus can identify with my struggle.
We are told that Jesus mission is to show us God’s love.
In John’s Gospel we read, “For God so loved the world that he sent his only son…. so that those who believe in him will have eternal life.”
In all of the Gospels we see Jesus not only talk about love but show us that love.
We see Jesus express love to all kinds of people who otherwise thought themselves unlovable.
This morning’s Gospel we see Jesus reach out to heal lepers.
To give of himself to people thought by many to be unclean.
And of those 10 lepers only one returns to give thanks.
Only one person recognizes what was done for them.
It is a metaphor for all of Jesus ministry.
Only a few really understood what Jesus was about, what he was trying to do.
Only a few understood the power of God that was in Jesus.
Most of the people of Jesus’ day thought Jesus was crazy.
They thought he was soft.
They thought he was wrong for hanging out with sinners.
They thought he was a traitor to his people for healing and talking to foreigners, and non Jews.
Love wasn’t enough to convince people that God was on their side.
So they did what people do.
They turned to violence.
They killed Jesus, hung him on a cross, because if he was the son of God, then they were wrong about who God was and what God was about.

It is a challenge to live in a world where love doesn’t always matter.
Where people see love and think it means that you don’t understand the ways of the world.

Today’s Gospel story can be turned into an easy morality tale.
It can be turned into a lesson about giving thanks.
Don’t be so ungrateful.
But I think that is too simple an explanation.
I think it misses a larger point.
God is among us, and we miss it.
Love is around us and we ignore it.
Jesus Christ was right there with people and most people didn’t care, or it made them angry.
Think about it.
It made them angry that God was with them!
How much God activity do we miss in our lives?

I have talked to lots of people about this book because it was so challenging for me.
And after I tell them that “love is not enough.” they all want to know, “what is the answer then?”
I have to tell you after reading the book there are not a lot of great answers.
It was clear to me that columbine would have happened regardless.
(That is another really challenging point the book makes.)
But Sue Klebold does talk about some of her regrets.
(She is clear to say that these may or may not have made a difference.)
She writes, “I wish I had listened more instead of lecturing; I wish I had sat in silence with him instead of filling the void with my own words and thoughts.
I wish I had acknowledged his feelings instead of trying to talk him out of them, and that I’d never accepted his excuses to avoid conversation.”
I think that perhaps for all of us there is a lesson here about how to be in this world.
I know that my tendency is to talk a lot.
It is to lecture.
It is to fill the void with words.
It is to try to explain rather than listen to what people are expressing in their feelings.

And maybe the same can be said with our relationship with God.
Do we take time to listen to what God is up to in our lives?
Do we take time to sit in the uncomfortable places in our lives and let God work them work out?

Are we too busy telling God what is going to happen?
Certainly the people of Jesus day missed the love that had been sent to them.
They had missed the activity of God right there in front of them.
They were too busy lecturing God on what God was supposed to be doing.

But this is still a problem because it depends too much on us.
It makes this Gospel story a morality tale about how we can know God better.
It is not about what we have done.
It is about what God has done.
And I believe that what Sue Klebold wished she did as a mother God has done with us.
That God sits with us in the dark and waits.
God listens to us without the lecture of what we have done wrong.
God sits with us in the uncomfortable times and places in our lives.
God acknowledges our feelings about what is going on in our lives.

Sue Klebold might be right love is not enough.
Our love is never enough because it is always just short of what is really needed.
We lecture when we should listen.
We fill the void with our own thoughts and feelings, instead of trying to understand someone else.
We want to be right more than we want to understand where someone else is coming from.
We need more from each other than we can really ever get.
That is why we need God.
The lepers in our Gospel don’t know true love without Jesus.
And it is the understanding of that love that led the one leper to fall down and give praise.

When we understand how much we need God and how much God has done for us.
Then it is our naturally inclination to give God thanks and praise.

So today know that God is active in your life.
And especially if you feel alone, forsaken, unloved, uncared for.
God sits in the silence with you, and listens to your breaking heart.
Maybe our love is not enough, but I still believe that God’s is!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

God Maybe?

“Increase our Faith!”
Wouldn’t we all want to have more faith?
We would all like to believe in good things.
We would like to believe that the world is getting better.
We would like to believe in love, hope, and joy.
We would like to believe in God’s ability to change our lives, to make them better.
This week at confirmation as we discussed the first commandment we were talking about putting our trust in God.
The confirmation kids asked the question, “Doesn’t God sometime let us down?”
They argued that God sometimes lets our loved ones die.
God sometimes lets our lives turn out worse than we want.
My question would be is that really faith?
Is that what we mean when we ask God to give us more faith?
Having faith is not about believing that everything will be fine.
It is not an assurance that all of life will be fine.
It is a trust in God’s ability to move mountains.
It is a trust that at the heart of everything that can, and sometimes does, go wrong in life there is a gracious and loving God.

This Friday I went with my mother to the doctor.
She was having the doctor give her the news about what they found in her latest scan.
For those who don’t know my mom has stage four cancer.
Almost a year ago she decided not to have any more treatment.
She has not had chemo, or any other cancer fighting drug in a about 11 months.
So we had braced for what this scan might show.
It turns out that her cancer is shrinking.
Even though she stopped her treatments all the tumors in her body have shrunk over those 11 months.
The Doctor told us she didn’t know how to explain it.
It was not what usually happens.
She said to us, “God maybe?”
I am reluctant to give God credit, because I have friends fighting cancer right now who are having lots and lots of treatment and who didn’t get good news like my mom.
I had a friend die of cancer last year.
I simply don’t believe in a God who is that mean to pick who lives and dies like that.
However, I am always open to the miracles, because God can do whatever God wants.
Sometimes it is beyond my understanding.
I am with the doctor, “God Maybe?”
I can’t explain it.
But this is what I know for sure.
My mom is one of the most faith filled people I know.
I know for sure that even if she would have gotten bad news, she still would have told you that God was good.
Through her fight with cancer she had depended on God to get her through.
She depends on God to be there for her when she is not sure.
And she shows strength because of that faith.
Her faith is not dependent on the outcome.
And in that way she has moved mountains.

That is what Jesus says we can do with faith.
We can move a tree and replant it in the ocean.
We can do miraculous things.
When we think of miracles that is what we think of right moving a tree with words, or curing a disease.
What if a miracle was simply doing hard things in our lives?
What if a miracle was simply living with cancer?
What if a miracle was forgiving something that you thought was unforgivable?
What if a miracle was holding each other in prayer?
Why do all miracles have to be so out there?
Isn’t life in and of itself a miracle?
Think about it.
We are today.
You are here today.
Every day that we are alive, every day we love, laugh, and cry is a miracle unto itself, because every day we face obstacles.
We face hard choices.
We face hard realities of life.
We face death and disease.
We face our own sin and the sins of others.
Isn’t it a miracle that we are here, and that we are loved, and we can love?

I would argue this morning that it is only through faith that any of this is possible.
Life cannot be lived without faith.
We simply wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning without it.
We wouldn’t do hard things unless we believed in the miracle of life.
My wife has been saying to me lately, “we can do hard things”.
I love that saying.
Because we can, and it is faith that helps us do those hard things.

This week in the Concord Monitor they had an article about the Swenson granite quarry.
The article was about the Swenson’s family selling the business 133  years.
As I read the article I was thinking of how important that business was to Concordia Lutheran Church.
Without it there might not be a Lutheran Church in Concord.
It was the Swedes who came to Concord to work in that quarry that founded this church.
And think about how much faith they must have had to make all of that possible.
They had to come here from a foreign country and build a new life.
They had to work hard, raise a family.
And amid all that they built a Church.
They didn’t know at that time that even all these years later we would still be here worshipping.
They did it all on faith.
And there faith was not dependent on the outcome.

I say this because what was true then is true now.
What was true for Jesus disciples, was true for those Swedes who came here to work in the quarry, is true for us, life is dependent on faith.
And nothing is done without it.
We wouldn’t buy a house, get a job, have children, give away money, or believe in God’s mercy and grace.
We do all that because of faith, and on faith we stand.

We gather together to have our faith stirred.
Jesus says to his disciples that he doesn’t need to give them more faith, because they already have received it.
It is there every day for them to depend on.
When things are hard, they can know they can do hard things.
It is there for us to.
And this morning Jesus reminds us of the miracles that happen all around us because of faith.
Jesus is the best example of this.
He is about to do a really hard thing, he is about to endure the shame and humiliation of the cross.
He knows that it is only through faith that he will be able to do to what is hard.
And we know how this story ends, with Jesus resurrection.
The part that is important to me is that Jesus through his faith met the challenge head on.

With faith we can move mountains.
With faith we can uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the sea.
With faith we can do hard things.
With faith we can live everyday in God’s grace, mercy, and love.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Growing Chasm

Last year I had the privilege of serving in a group called “OK: NH”
It was a group of political, business, and religious leaders that wanted to talk about the growing economic gap in our country.
This group included people from both political parties.
It included five people that ran for governor.
The plan was to read a book by sociologist Robert Putnam, a New Hampshire resident, and then talk to presidential candidates about how this can be an issue that is discussed during the election.
We read this great book called, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis”.
In the book Robert Putnam gives all sorts of data about how the rich in our country are getting richer and the poor poorer.
All the advantages in our society go to those with money.
And it is affects every aspect of American life.
Rich people have more time to devote to their kids doing simple things like reading to them.
Rich people have more opportunity to have their kids go to summer camp, play musical instruments, and because of what is called pay for play, play sports.
Even Church is affected.
Statistically speaking rich people go to church more than poor people.
Because they have time off from work and resources to make it happen.
This is tearing away the American dream.
The American dream is that if you work hard, and do what is good and right anyone can make it in America.
It is making it harder and harder for people born in poverty to rise above their station.
The most damming statistic in the book is that a rich person with low grades and test scores has a better chance to get a college degree than a poor person who has better grades and test scores.
It was through this book and this work with those people that I have come to see statistically what I have felt in my gut.
That in our country there is a growing chasm between the haves and the have-nots.

I want to say that all of us in our congregation are rich.
We might not be super rich.
We might not have millions in the bank.
But as far as I know we all have jobs, a roof over our heads, and money in the bank.
In our world today that makes you rich.

We have this world where there is a chasm.
And we have Jesus this morning telling us a parable of a rich man and Lazarus.
And the chasm that develops between them.
The chasm happens because the rich man does not see the suffering of another.
Martin Luther said about this text, “the other sin that he forgets to exercise love toward his neighbor; for there he lets poor Lazarus lie at his door, and offers him not the least assistance.
And if he had not wished to help him personally, he should have commanded his servants to take him in and care for him.
It may have been, he knew nothing of God and had never experienced his goodness.
For whoever feels the goodness of God, feels also for the misfortune of his neighbor; but whoever is not conscious of the goodness of God, sympathizes not in the misfortune of his neighbor.
Therefore as he has no pleasure in God, he has no heart for his neighbor.”

I realize that this sermon could turn into one where I go on and on about a problem in our world, and everyone leaves feeling a guilty but then does nothing about it.
As Luther suggests, Jesus is not trying to get us to feel guilty, he is trying to get us to have faith in God and love each other.
I want to assure that my goal is not to have you feel guilty about what you have.
I am sure that you have worked hard all your life to have the things you have.
I am sure that you work hard to support your family.
Having money is not the issue.
The rich man is not condemned because he is rich.
He is condemned because of the chasm that he created between himself and Lazarus.
And that is what we must think about this morning, the chasm that we create in our lives.
And there are lots of them out there now.
There are chasms of race, of nationality, of political party, of economics, of religion, of sexual identity, of all sorts of things.
And those chasms only seem to grow.
They are made even clearer by our current political season.
And our two political party system only stoke the fires to make them more pronounced.
Our two candidates for president are campaigning on fear telling us not how our country could be better, but how bad it will be if we elected the other person.
We are told by Hillary that half of people supporting Trump belong in a “basket of deplorable”.
I can’t get behind that idea, because even people who like Trump are God’s children.
Some of their ideas might be deplorable but not the people themselves.
Most of them simply have created a chasm that seems too big to cross.
On the other hand we have Trump.
What can I say about Trump?
A man who talks bad about anyone that disagrees with him.
 A man who sees the world in stark terms of good and bad, and tells us to fear each other because of religion or nationality, gender, skin color, or whatever.
We have a chasm.
We have failed to see each other lying at the gate pleading for better treatment.

The question is what are we going to do?
We can’t leave it here.
We can’t say this is the chasm and there is no closing it.
I think we have to listen to Jesus on this one.
In this parable you and I are not the rich man, and we are not Lazarus.
We are the 5 siblings left behind.
We are the ones who have to listen to Moses, the Prophets, and the one raised from the dead.
We are the ones who are left here and now and tasked with repairing the chasm.
And I want to tell you that you can do it.
You can cross that chasm.
Right now today, if you choose, if you want to listen to Moses, the prophets, and Jesus.

Here is how.
Figure out what the chasm is that needs to be crossed, and with all of your Christian love and mercy go there.
Let me give a few examples.

I have a colleague she is a liberal person.
She is going to vote for Hillary.
She voted for her in the primary.
But during the primary she didn’t go to a Hillary rally.
She went to see Trump.
She wanted to understand why people liked him.
She went and she talked to people.
And she came away with a new appreciation for him.
She is not going to vote for him, but after seeing him live she understood better his appeal to people.

In my life I have been blessed to have been around people of different economic, social, and racial backgrounds then myself.
I had this experience once when I served in Boston in City Year.
More recently, I got to cross the chasm while in seminary.
I got to serve for two years in a Latino congregation, and for a year on internship at an African American congregation.
What I found in all of those occasions was that people are people.
Regardless of skin color or how much money they have.
We all come from the same creator.
We all love our kids and want what is best for them.
We all are a combination of good and bad.
We all sin.
We all are forgiven by a gracious God.
The chasm is not what we think it is, because on the basic level we are all the same.
Only artificial things separate us, politics, gender, race, theology, economics, and nationality.
If we could see each other through those things then maybe we would have a little more compassion towards one another.

And we will be able to see each other at the gate before it is too late and the chasm is to deep and wide.
So this week cross the chasm, try to understand someone else point of view.
See that we are all children of God, needing to rest in grace and mercy.