Wednesday, November 30, 2011
There has been lots said and written about the occupy movement. Lots of it negative. “Those people are bums!” “Why don’t they get a job?” One of the biggest criticisms I have heard from people, some of whom I would have thought would be supporting the movement, is that they don’t have a cohesive message. I don’t think that is true, but let us say that it is. Does that mean that I shouldn’t support them? If one cares at all about peace, the environment, the poor, the middle class, the working class, and vast majority of people in the United States, then you should be for the occupy movement.
From what I can tell after reading about it, and talking to people who are currently in involved, the movement is about how our system is failing so many. A system built for the domination of a few wealthy people over the rest of us. The occupy movement is about protesting a system that is destroying our planet, ruining our food, corrupting our youth, testing our children into inefficiency, starting wars in our name without our approval, and eroding the most basic code of humanity that we care about our fellow travelers in this world. This is the system that needs to go. It is about more than just electing a new person into a corrupt system but about challenging us to change the roots of the system that is failing.
As a person of faith I have to be on board with the occupy movement because at the heart of the Biblical witness is a God who challenges human systems all the time. Prophets often spoke out against systems that helped a few and failed the rest. Jesus challenged a system that made it impossible for ordinary people to worship God and live the abundant life intended by God. As people of faith any human system always has to be under suspicion. Whether it is a religious system or a political one, because all human systems end up failing when left unchecked and unquestioned. The best we can do is keep our elected leaders accountable to maintain peace and justice. Ultimately, all systems fail because it is only God who can bring about true peace and justice for all.
I am also supporting this movement because the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) has produced a teaching document that supports the “Sustainable, Livelihood, for All”. As all good Lutheran teaching documents do it does not give specific answers, but lays out ground work for the kinds of questions and answers we should be seeking from a system that fails so many. To quote just one part of the teaching document: “We call for efforts to increase the participation of low-income people in political and civic life, and citizen vigilance and action that challenges governments and other sectors when they become captive to narrow economic interest that do not represent the good of all.” This is exactly what the occupy movement has done. I have sent several emails to our presiding Bishop asking why he does not publicly support the occupy movement. I hope soon he will support it. Because if the Church cannot stand for peace, for justice, against war, against the wasting of our planet, and for the vast majority of poor and disenfranchised then we cannot call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ.
Here are a few links to read more about the occupy movement http://www.nycga.net/resources/declaration/, http://www.occupytogether.org/
Monday, November 28, 2011
So this week I experienced one of the signs of the end of the world.
It was at a Target in Portland Maine at 12:00 am for what is commonly called black Friday.
It was the first (and hopefully the last) time I will be out shopping on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving.
I am glad I went.
I got to experience for myself this rite of passage for many holiday shoppers.
What was astonishing to me was that the line to get into Target went totally around the store.
And everyone who came to get in line had the same reaction, “This is crazy!”
And yet they all got in line and waited.
All the people in line with me on black Friday were there in order to be ready for the big day.
They all had to wait.
Some came hours early to be the first in line.
Others like me came right when the doors opened and had to wait to be let into the store.
As I stood in line waiting to get in I thought about how it is like advent.
In advent we are getting ready, we are waiting, and it is all a little crazy.
Jesus this morning gives us a vision of what the last days will be.
Jesus lays out what will be when God comes again.
The vision can sometimes seem scary; Stars falling, the moon turning black, the sun not shining.
Jesus is expressing what it will feel like to be in that end time when the world will change from what it is now to what it will be.
Heaven itself collapses down on us.
But I bet that if we think about it our lives often feel this way.
We often feel that the world is crumbling around us.
So what changes is that when we are ready we know that in the midst of our lives falling apart God is present.
It is not just that the world is coming to an end, but that God is intervening in the midst of our lives.
To be ready is not a moral imperative, but an imperative of faith.
Are we ready to experience God?
Are we ready for God to rip open our lives and enter in?
The thing about God is that he does not always show up when everything is well and good, but shows up in the middle our struggles.
Last week at our adult Forum we were discussing atheisms.
One of our youth was attending this discussion and shared with us his struggles with faith.
He shared with us that at time when his father was dying he questioned God’s existence.
He questioned if God really cared about him.
And he flirted with the thought of becoming an atheist.
He told us that being involved in the youth group here at Concordia pulled him back into faith.
And that looking back now he could see that it was God who got him through.
Our Youth group is inspiring our young people to have faith, and to remember that even when the heavens are falling God is at work.
As one person wrote on their leaf, “Our teenagers have an anything is possible attitude that reminds me daily that with Christ anything is possible.”
It is true for us too.
That amidst the hard things of life and the struggles God is bringing new things to life for us.
The problem is that bringing new things to life often hurts.
It is painful to bring in the kingdom of God because we so naturally resist it.
Maybe this is the best news of all that despite our failings.
Despite our sin and our natural aversion to what is best for us God is determined to enter into our lives anyway.
As Dietrich Bonnhofer once preached, “God wants to always be with us, wherever we may be - in our sin, in our suffering and death. We are no longer alone; God is with us.”
Advent is the time of getting ready.
Not for Christmas per se.
Not a time for us to get nervous that we didn’t buy presents.
Not a time for us to be overwhelmed at all the things that have to get done.
But advent is a time of hope.
Advent is a time for us to be ready for God to enter into our lives that feels like the heavens are falling.
It is a time to see God working in our lives through all of the loss and pain.
You know the bad thing about holidays is that not everyone experiences them as a joyful time.
I was in line getting coffee the day after Thanksgiving.
This woman behind me was telling her friend how awful Thanksgiving was with her family.
How her parents thought of her as a disappointment.
How her siblings did not like to be around her.
Not everyone is in a jolly mood at this time of year.
Consider that in Arizona, Los Angeles, and North Carolina there were acts of violence as people trampled, sprayed maze, and shot one another trying to get to the perfect gift.
When I heard that I thought the sky was falling and it was a certain sign that things have gotten out of hand.
How can God want to be part of this very human life with all of our foibles?
Somehow Jesus birthday is about us hurting each other as we try to get the “best” gift.
In such a world it is going to be painful to let God enter into our lives.
It is going to be painful to see that we don’t have the power but that God does.
Mark’s Gospel is all about God ripping open the heavens and entering in.
At Jesus’ Baptism the heaven’s rip open as Jesus enters the world, at Jesus’ death the curtain rips in two as God ends the separation between the heavens and earth.
Mark’s Gospel is about how Jesus comes into our lives.
Are we ready?
You have to be a little crazy because you have to hope against all the evidence before you.
To be ready means to have faith that even in all of life’s troubles God is somehow at work bringing life from death, righteousness from sin.
To be ready means believing that God is faithful even in the times when we are tested.
It is not easy to be ready because so many things pull at us and distract us.
But if we can be ready for black Friday then we can be ready for Christ coming.
If we put in as much time working on our relationship with God as we did plotting how to get the perfect present then I know we will be ready.
Jesus is coming into your life today.
Advent is about the past, present, and future.
It is about how Jesus came into the world to be our savior so many years ago.
It is also about our lives today and being ready for God to come into them in love.
It is about our ability to see God working in our lives right now.
Lately it seems that more and more people I love have been struggling.
We had a very good friend of ours diagnosed with a rare form of Breast cancer, another friend lost her mother to cancer last week, Vicki’s grandmother is in the hospital, my aunt is recovering from a crippling illness, not to mention the four or five other things that are happening to those we love.
I was not ready for those things to happen.
I am thankful for this time of advent so I can be ready for God to come into my life with all of its craziness.
And it is about the future the time not yet come when God will put all things right.
It is about the day when there will be no more dying, or tears, no more killing, or fighting, no more pain and suffering.
In all these things we need our faith.
It is about the hope realized in Jesus Christ, which carries us through today, and makes us look with joy towards tomorrow.
So be ready when the sky is falling we know that Jesus Christ is here.
Monday, November 21, 2011
For a while now I have been skeptical of the self help craze so I have decided to give up on all self betterment programs.
I guess I am sick of thinking that the better me is right around the corner.
That if I read some new book, or go to some seminar I will discover some secret to finding life’s happiness.
The fact is that this is it.
We are who we are.
We can’t make ourselves better.
Now you might think that this is some flag of surrender on my part.
That I have given up on life.
To the contrary I have decided not to dictate the terms of my life.
Instead, I have decided that we live each day in the grace of God.
As Americans we spend about 8 billion dollars a year on self help material from books, to seminars, to programs, to DVDs.
And despite all this we don’t feel any better about ourselves.
So today I am giving everyone here permission to stop trying to improve yourselves.
Today’s Gospel is often preached and heard as “We all need to work harder at being better Christians.”
So go out there and feed the poor, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the sick and those imprisoned.
And then just like reading a self help book we leave worship and not much changes in our lives.
I think it is a miss use of the Bible to see it as a Christian self help guide.
The Bible is about the essential question of life.
Who are we?
Who is God?
What is worse is that people who get the most media attention are really people disguising Christianity as self help.
Rick Warren became a millionaire by selling a book called “The Purpose Driven Life.”
Which is really just a book about how finding our purpose in life we can find the better us.
Rick Warren has admitted that he made the mistake of overlooking 250,000 other verses in the Bible that deal with how our lives should be about serving others, and not just naval gazing.
Joel Olsteen who preaches weekly in a football stadium and has a television show had a New York Times Best seller with the book, “You Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living to Your Full Potential.”
The book says nothing about helping the stranger, the poor, the sick, or imprisoned.
I don’t remember Jesus giving us 7 steps to living our full potential.
It simply does not pass the sheep and goat test.
Of course it is not just pastors; Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann who are running for the Republican nomination to be President of the United States belong to an organization called New Apostolic Reformation.
The basic idea of the New Apostolic Reformation is that Christian leaders (Apostles) need to take over the world in preparation for the end times.
Now I have said many times I have no interest in being a politician, but if politicians insist on being theologians than I have to speak up.
It is not a Christian’s job to take over the world.
The Bible is very clear that God is in charge of the world, and gives it to us to be good stewards.
That is what Jesus is upholding in today’s Gospel.
What Jesus tells us is this morning is that if he is Lord of our life than we as good stewards will care for the poor, imprisoned, naked, stranger, and sick.
I don’t know if we can claim to follow Jesus if we can clap when someone is electrocuted, or deported, or kept out of the health care system.
I don’t care what political party Michelle Bachmann or Rick Perry belong to the simple fact is that they do not pass the sheep and goat test Jesus gives this morning.
My guess is that they are molding a theology to justify their politics.
I don’t have a problem with someone who says they believe in the death penalty, or the idea that we live in a world where every person is for themselves, or the idea that in a capitalist system some people are left behind, just don’t call it Christianity.
But what I won’t say is the Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann need to work harder, or be better.
The problem is that they just don’t know Jesus that well.
In our text today neither the goats nor the sheep know who they are.
“When Lord? When did we see you hungry, naked, thirsty, sick, or imprisoned?”
Being a sheep and a goat is something that we don’t do because we have thought about all the options and decided to do this thing over that thing.
It is something that comes naturally from who we are, and what we are about.
Those who know Jesus well will know that he does not care about conquering the world, or self help programs.
Jesus cares about the lost, the broken-hearted, the poor, the sinner, and sick.
People who know Jesus well know that he had no use for taking over the world, or making sure that you had your best life now.
Jesus died because he knew that we did not have it all together.
Instead he died so that we might be saved from ourselves.
Jesus gave his life even though he could have taken over the world.
So if you are really a Christian and really know Jesus well then you cannot believe that executing people is a good thing (even if as a government official you might have to do it).
You cannot possibly believe that some people will fall behind and that is OK.
You cannot possibly believe that a health care system that allows about 50 million people to be without health care is a good one.
You cannot possibly clap when you hear that people have died, been left out, or been deported.
For me it brings up two very difficult things.
On the one hand it brings up the question of what it means that I am Christian.
And what does it mean that Rick Warren, Joel Olsteen, Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann claim to be a Christian too.
I guess the only difference is that we can claim not to be perfect.
I don’t know what my best life is, and I don’t want 7 steps to get there, I don’t care what my purpose is, I don’t want to take over the world for Jesus.
I simply want to know Christ and him crucified.
I want to know that his grace is sufficient for this day.
I believe that being part of this Christian community helps me to do things that I maybe could not do on my own.
You may not have the ability and time to do all the things that Jesus names this morning.
But here you belong to this community that does.
And the things that you cannot do someone in this community are doing on your behalf.
Consider that about 6 people for the last year have been working with a refugee family here in Concord.
They have been doing this not because they thought it would get them in good with Jesus on the last day.
In the words of the one of the participants of that group, “I want to show them love. So they will know God’s love.”
That is why they do it.
Because they feel it is where Jesus would be.
Recently our congregation helped to give a baby shower for this family as the welcomed there newest member.
At the shower I felt that they appreciated those gifts.
In fact, they invited us on the following Monday to their family celebration.
I went and I have never felt more welcomed in a place.
In that time I felt Jesus among us and with us.
This is who we are.
We are welcoming to the stranger among us in them we see Christ.
When I was at my endorsement interview, which is the final step in our churches discernment process before ordination.
I was asked what I liked about doing ministry with the poor.
All I could say was, “I don’t know. I have always just felt that is where God called me.”
It was not that I set out in my life to try and be more Christ like.
It is that through getting to know Jesus I naturally did the things that are Jesus like.
We are all really flawed human beings.
The best thing we got going for us is that we know Jesus Christ.
Having Jesus as our Lord and savior is the best self help we can have.
It does not tell us to change or be different then we are it just asks us to acknowledge who we are.
This is not about making a choice or trying harder it is about living in the grace and mercy of God, and seeing everyone else living in that same space.
We don’t know if we will pass the sheep and goat test either, we can only get to know Jesus better and believe that through him we too will be saved.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Every year when it is time to talk about stewardship people begin to worry.
I believe it is because most of us are not giving what we wish we did.
And so when we talk about giving we feel guilty.
We know that we have done enough.
Then we hear a text like our story from Matthew’s Gospel and it confirms for us that we are slated for the place of outer darkness.
Because we just feel that we can’t give anymore.
How can we give more money in a time of economic peril?
How can we give more time when so many things pull at us?
There are teenagers to monitor, proposals for work to be completed, leaves to rake, parties to plan, kids to drive, homework to be done, life is busy.
We simply cannot do it all.
Let us start by saying that you are right you can’t.
Let me shatter any allusions any of you have this morning about having it all together.
You on your own do not possess enough money, time, or talent to save the world.
Today’s parable is misread if the message we take away is that we should do more to make our lives better.
So this morning I am not going to preach about how much more you should all be doing.
Instead let me tell you about all the things that we are doing, and let me assure you that they are never enough.
I know this because I see the people who come to our church looking for help.
I know that our resources are too small to truly make the type of impact that is needed.
I see the people living under the 393 bridge, the woman who comes to the Friendly Kitchen with her Wal-Mart uniform on, the single mother who husband is in jail struggling to keep the roof over her head, the addict struggling to stay sober.
These problems are bigger then what we do here, they are problems that need more than the band aid we are to provide.
But I want you to know that I am not in any deterred.
I am not pessimistic or jaded about the world.
Because I know that God can do what I cannot.
The Parable for this morning is not about what we don’t have.
It is not about what we lack.
And thank God for that because we lack so much.
Instead it is about what we have been given.
We each have been given according to our ability gifts from God.
We all have been given money to use for the better good.
We all have been given talents to use for the building up of our neighbor.
We all have been given time to use in the spreading of the kingdom of God.
The parable never says that we will solve all the problems.
But that we should use the gifts of God now.
I hope you hear that as good news.
It is not meant to be a burden, but a gift.
God has given us more money then we need!
That is a gift!
God has given us a talent that can be used for the greater good.
That is a gift!
We have been given a new day to labor in the vineyard for God.
That is a gift!
The problem in the parable is that the person who buries their gift in the ground does it out of fear.
Fear of the master.
Our freedom as a Christian allows us to act without fear.
I wonder if how the story changes if the person who was given the one talent tries to do something with it but loses it.
Will the master still be upset?
My guess is probably not.
The problem is that he does nothing with it at all.
I feel this way about the Church.
God has given us this great gift.
We have this wonderful treasure.
It is the Gospel.
It is the wonderful amazing grace of God.
It is not flashy or fancy.
And it actually has no real value in the world.
You can’t buy a new car with the Gospel.
You can’t pay your mortgage with the Gospel.
You can’t win a presidential campaign with the Gospel.
You can’t attack another country with the Gospel.
You can’t cure cancer with the Gospel.
It would appear that it has very little use.
Until you talk to people who have encountered it.
Until you see how it really does help us live in a complex world.
The Gospel tells us that true joy is found in giving away our lives.
That happiness is about making others happy.
The Gospel is found in the poor, the sick, and imprisoned.
It is found in the smallest of seeds.
It is found hidden among us today.
And the parable is asking what will we do with that treasure?
What will we risk for it?
What will we give for it?
To me it is the most precious thing I have.
And I did not work for it, toil for it, it was simply given.
On our tree one person wrote about how they were working at Rise Again.
They met a woman who had been given a bike by our congregation.
That bike made all the difference in this woman’s life.
It was a ride to work and a way to get around.
It represented freedom.
A used bike seems like a simple thing, and yet it meant so much.
When we were going to collect the bikes there were a whole lot of questions that I did not know the answer to.
How would we get them?
Where would we keep them?
Who would take them?
We only knew that there were people in our community who could use them.
We took a chance.
We tried something.
We risked failure, and uncertainty.
That is what the Gospel is about this morning.
Taking a risk and investing in the business of the Kingdom.
As the great hockey player Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”
There is one more thing we have to talk about.
It is the outer darkness and the weeping and gnashing of teeth.
It appears that the master is very harsh on the servant who buries his one talent.
In Matthew’s entire Gospel when we encounter the outer darkness we see that it is because people have misunderstood the nature of the kingdom.
In this case the servant with the one talent thinks the master is “a harsh man”.
That is what he gets.
If our image of God is one of task master, of harsh words and actions, of anger then we do not see God properly.
We will not be able to accept the true nature of the kingdom.
We will not be able to see God in the things foolish and useless to the world.
We will not be able to see God in the poor, the humble, the lost, the mourners.
We will not be able to accept that the kingdom is not about what we get, but how we use the gifts God has given.
And if we can’t see God and we can’t accept the Kingdom then we will be in the outer darkness and there will be weeping and gnashing of the teeth.
If talking about using our money, time, and talent for God makes you want to weep and gnash your teeth then perhaps you have misread what God is really offering.
God is offering you the Gospel.
A life lived in freedom for others.
A life lived in the mystery, wonder, and faith.
So let us go from here to live without fear, and use our gifts for the building of the kingdom not because we feel guilty but because we feel blessed.
Monday, November 7, 2011
What will heaven look like?
Who will be there?
What will happen there?
These are questions that have touched the imagination of people since the beginning of time.
Since it is All Saints Sunday it seems appropriate this morning for us to ponder these questions together.
I don’t know exactly what heavens is like but I believe two things strongly about heaven.
One, lots of people will be there.
Two, God will be at the center.
These two things for me are at the heart of the Biblical witness.
Consider our reading from Revelation this morning.
(By the way, if you are attending our Wednesday night Bible study on Revelation I am about to give away what I think the whole book of Revelation is about.)
We are told that “there was a great multitude that no one could count.”
Heaven is full of people.
In fact, it is so full of people we should start getting used to the idea that there are going to be a whole bunch of people in heaven that we don’t expect to be there.
For those who say that getting into heaven is the prerogative of only a few “special” people they have not read all of Revelation, or they have not read it carefully enough.
In fact, we are told that there are people from every tribe, nation, and languages.
That no one is excluded from this celebration.
Look around the room today at the names written on the wall.
In just our small congregation look at all the people that we remember.
We have filled it with a multitude of people in our lives that have touched us, loved us, and given us a foretaste of God’s ultimate love.
The Saints surround us today.
They are with us are bowing at the throne worshiping God.
This is the vision of Revelation.
Revelation has a vision of what is behind the curtain, and that is what our reading is this morning.
It is a glimpse of what is going on in what we call heaven.
Revelation shows us that behind all the madness of the world is a God of great grace.
That even though we live through many trials and tribulations now there is something more glorious and wonderful in store for us.
Every one of the names on these walls has a story.
Every one of them lived through some kind of ordeal, overcame obstacles, and still managed to make a difference in our lives.
Every one of them did bad things in their lives they regret.
Every one of them did great things that we remember and celebrate.
That is why it is so important to remember those that go before us.
Because it grounds us in whom we are today.
It is a reminder that we don’t truly die that our story lives on.
Instead, we live forever in the things we build up and tear down.
We live forever bowing at the throne of God.
This week it was my sons 5th birthday.
We were out having pizza on his birthday and his mother and I were telling him the story of his birth.
Part of that story is that his name was going to be “Micah”.
It was a done deal.
Then in August before he was born my dad died.
It seemed perfect that his name would be Charlie after my dad.
So instead of having a son named Micah I have a son named Charlie.
We were telling him this story and he said, “So I am Charlie so you can remember your dad.”
Yes, that is exactly right.
And when I see my son do certain things or act in certain ways it reminds me of things my Dad might have done.
It is a reminder that we don’t die.
This life is not the end, but only part of the story.
My dad’s story lives on in me and my children.
Just as the people on these walls lives on in each and every one of you.
Perhaps that is why we have saints so we have a way of keeping alive those people in our lives who have loved us.
I don’t know what exactly heaven is like, but I believe that all those people will be there surrounding us when we get there.
That is why we have written the names on the cards that surround our sanctuary today because it is good to think of the saints that surround us all the time.
It is good to remember them and keep them alive.
It is good to remember that when we worship God we don’t do it alone but with all the saints that have gone before us throughout time and space.
That in our worship in this time and place, we worship with the great multitude of every time and place.
And what we worship is our God who sits on the throne.
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the lamb!”
Again I don’t know what heaven looks like but I am sure that God is at the center.
I am certain that in the midst of our lives God is at the center of everything.
All Saints day was initially a celebration of people who were martyred because of their faith in Jesus Christ.
It helped people remember that they did not die in vain, but they died because they believed in something greater than this life.
We are lucky that we don’t live in a time when we are killed for our faith.
But we still live in a time when times are challenging.
It still takes lots of faith to make it in our world today.
The names that surround us today remind us that at the center of everything in heaven and earth God is sitting on the throne.
God does not abandon us to a life of desperation.
God gives us hope when things are hopeless, life in the midst of death, strength when we are week.
Today with all the saints that have gone before us we worship God who is at the center of all things.
That is what salvation is about.
It is not about whisking us off to some place with harps and clouds.
It is about helping us to keep in perspective our lives.
Salvation is the reminder that this life is not the end.
There is more and it is glorious.
Salvation belongs to God!
Whatever is happening in heaven it is not dependent on what we do.
I am so glad that salvation belongs to God.
It does not belong to us.
It is not ours to earn, to work for, to pray for, to hope for.
It is God’s to give to us.
And today we can be assured that all the people that surround us one these walls are with God bowing at the throne.
Not because they were good people, but because they were beloved children of God.
The Bible is the promise that salvation belongs to us through God who loves us.
It is one of the great gifts that God gives.
Any guessing on our part about who might or might not be part of the saints is just that it is guessing.
What we are promised in the Biblical witness is that it is a great multitude, that it is not based on our ability to be good or do good, that it is not based on our tribe, nation, or language.
What I think is that instead of trying to guess who is in and who is out, we should be celebrating that God is welcoming all in!
That today you are welcomed into God’s salvation.
Today you hear the promise that there will be a day when the tribulation will end, when there will be no more tears, hunger, and our shepherd will lead us to springs of the water of life.
What a promise!
That promise is remembered every time we think of those saints that have gone before us.
Every time we think of them we think of how they were beloved children of God and how they showed us a glimpse of that love in this life.
The best of them is now with God and still with us.
Even though we are not sure of what heaven is like.
We are sure that God is at the center because salvation belongs to God, and that we are in that number when the saints come marching in!
Thursday, November 3, 2011
It is amazing how an idea can change the world.
Two men decide that humans can fly; a man decides that we can harness electricity to light our houses; people imagine that images and sound can travel to a screen in everyone’s living room; someone imagines there is life in outer space.
All of life’s great inventions started from an idea.
The Reformation is about an idea.
Or more specific it is about Truth.
The idea (or the Truth) is that God forgives our sins in the person of Jesus Christ.
This idea changed the world.
It was not a new idea per se.
It was one that had been lost because the Church was too busy trying to keep power, hold unto its influence over others.
I would suggest that in every generation, and in every Christian denomination, we need to unearth, and rediscover this idea.
We often lose our way as we make up new ways to keep the institutional Church alive instead of worrying about the central idea that is always at the heart of what the Church is about.
This past week I was at the Bishop’s convocation and the keynote speaker was a pastor from Denver Colorado.
She reminded me that what is at the core of what we are as Lutherans is this idea, this truth.
That God is always coming to us we are never moving towards God.
That our sinful nature always keeps us away from being the people God wants us to be.
When we talk about our sinful nature we are not talking here about feeling guilty about all the things we mess up on.
We are talking about recognizing a fundamental truth about who we are.
One of the biggest problems we have is that we are lying to ourselves about who we are.
Think of all the ways we try to cover up our sin.
All the ways we present ourselves to each other as OK.
We look good, dress good, and underneath all of that we are falling apart.
In fact, lots of people think that in order to walk through the Church door and be part of a believing community you need to have your act together.
Nothing can be further from the truth.
This morning in our Gospel reading Jesus is pointing out to the “Jews who believed in him,” that they are slaves to sin, and they have the nerve, the collective bad memory to say.
“We have never been slaves to anyone.”
You don’t remember that whole Egypt thing that happened not too long ago.
You don’t remember how God heard your cries of hopeless and came and saved you from Pharaoh and his army.
Don’t you remember that whole slave thing that is essential to your identity?!?!?!?!?!!??!?!?
Do we remember that our identity is caught up in remembering that we are slaves to sin?
Sometimes when I hear people talk I feel like I am hearing this same scene played out over and over again.
I have a friend who likes to talk about himself a lot.
Every time I am near him I know I am not getting a word in edge wise.
It is fine because I love him anyway and I have come to expect it.
Well we were at a party together and someone else was talking about themselves a lot.
We leave the party and my friend starts to complain about this other person.
“Can you believe how egotistical that person is they talked about themselves the whole time and never let anyone else talk? Who does such a thing?”
I had to say to my friend, “You do such a thing!”
All of us have fallen short of the glory of God!
And therefore all of us are slaves to sin.
If we forget that then we forget one of the essential ideas, one of the essential truths, of who we are as people of God.
We become blinded to the Truth about ourselves.
All have fallen short of the glory of God.
Now if that was it.
If that was the only part of the reformation there was it would be a pretty depressing history.
And this would be a pretty depressing day to celebrate or remember.
But the second part is just as important.
All “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
That God remembers our sin no more.
God’s love given in Jesus Christ has set us free.
Free to love, to be loved, to forgive and be forgiven.
Jesus says that if we live in his word then we will be set free, because Jesus word is a two edged sword.
Jesus word tells us that we are sinner on one side and beloved child of God on the other.
Jesus is writing for us a new story, bringing salvation to us as a free gift.
Now we are free to admit this simple truth.
We don’t have it all together.
We don’t know all the answers.
We are a mess.
We are free as parent to say that we worried that they will mess up their children?
We are free as teenager to say that we are worried that they were not good enough?
We are free to say when we are senior citizen that we are worried that we are no longer worth anything?
We are free as middle-aged person that we are worried that we didn’t live the life they really wanted to?
We are free to stop trying to cover it all up.
We try and say that everything is fine and I have everything under control.
But deep down we know that we don’t.
I will confess to all of you this morning a simple truth about myself.
I don’t have enough skill, knowledge, and wisdom to be a good pastor.
There are millions of things I do every day that I second and third guess.
I confess to you that I am a mess.
I have fallen short of the glory of God.
What about you?
Are you clear about your story and your history?
Have you forgotten your slavery?
It can be a pretty hard thing to admit.
It is hard to admit our slavery, our sin.
But my God is bigger and greater than my slavery.
My God is better than me!
Thanks be to God for that!
My God doesn’t care about my short comings, but on a cross God takes it all and makes it something else.
The Bible is really a retelling of our story.
It is renaming us that are sinners as children of God.
That is what the reformation was about.
It was not about tearing down the Roman Catholic Church.
It was not about forming a new church.
It was not about singing, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”, or wearing red.
It was not about Lutherans being better than other Christians.
It was about the idea that in Christ Jesus we are freed from our slavery to sin.
We are slaves to so many things.
And Jesus today wants to set you free from those things.
When we abide in Jesus word I believe that we are set free.
That allows us to make mistakes, not have it all together, and to be a mess.
Most important it allows us to retell our story as God’s story.
To say that God’s grace is sufficient for today.
So today as we remember the reformation.
We celebrate this great idea that we have to constantly unearth.
The idea that we are sinners and God is bigger than our sin.
God does not see our sin, but in love sends Jesus to remind us of our slavery and freedom from it.