Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Jesus is coming to town!

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in our living room with my two kids.
We were taking a few minutes to admire our newly decorated tree and discuss Christmas.
My three year old son Charlie said to me, “Daddy Jesus is coming.”
Now for a pastor there is no greater moment of pride then when your children understand the true meaning and value of Christmas.
Here was my three year old son already understanding the true meaning of Christmas.
And just as I was thinking this he added, “Yeah, Jesus is coming to my house. He is going to come down the chimney.”
At first I laughed because I thought he had only gotten it half right.
But after thinking about it I realized that his statement was right on the money.
Jesus is coming to our houses this night.
The story of Christmas is amazing because it is the story of God coming into the world as a human being.

God the ruler of the universe, the master of all that is, came into the world and lived a life of a human.
Think about how great that is!
God cared enough about us that God’s son was willing to humble himself to come to be with us.
God loved us so much that he sent his Son who had full equality with God to be one of us.
And so tonight I’m telling you Charlie was right, Jesus comes into our homes.
Maybe not down the chimney, but he does come into our homes.
Jesus comes into our hearts.

Just as that first Christmas the angels came to the shepherds and told them the good news.
“To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Tonight the angels give us that same message Jesus comes for us.
And Jesus does not come into our make believe lives but our real lives.
Our lives that are not a perfect Normal Rockwell painting.
Our lives that do not always look so glorious from the inside.
Our lives that are broken, imperfect, and full of sin those are the lives that Jesus comes into.
Because the manger reminds us that not only Jesus birth is humble, but his death will be humble as well.
It will be a death on a cross that is for the salvation of the world.

So tonight Jesus comes into our lives.
I remember a couple of Christmas’s ago I spent a lot of time in the hospital beside a parishioner who was dying.
A mist all the wires, peeps, and blood I realized that in that room I experienced God more than in all the time I had spent in the malls, parties, and caroling.
I saw the members of this persons family shed tears of sorrow for someone they love, I saw them give up their time and energy to be with this person.
That was where Jesus was.
It is the way Christ enters our lives at their lowest when they are the worst.
And it is always through others giving that we experience the true value and meaning of Christmas.
Because through these instruments of flesh and blood Jesus enters into our lives.

Jesus comes into our homes this night.
Because we will gather with friends and family.
We will give gifts that we have sacrificed to give.
We will share good wishes, and merriment.
I think these things too are part of how Christ enters our lives.
That first Christmas eve all the characters are joyful.
The angels, the shepherds, Mary and Joseph are praising God.
They are joyful at the birth of our savior.
We too should be joyful that our loved ones are with us, that we are healthy, and that we are loved by our God.
I regret that sometimes in Christmas as we Christians react to some of the over commercialization we forget to be happy and joyful as we celebrate the birth of Jesus.
This is a joyful night.
I love Christmas Eve service because it is joyful.
We all sing wonderful hymns, the choir brings joyful songs of praise to our God, the story of God’s peace to all the earth is told again.
Jesus comes to us in the celebration of our lives.

Jesus comes amongst the turmoil of the world.
In the story from Luke Jesus is born the middle of the rule of the Romans.
He is born in the middle of a census to count people for a tax.
He comes in the middle of war, economic upheaval, and uncertainty about the future.
We know that our world tonight is also unsettled.
Our country is fighting two wars.
The past year has brought economic calamities to many.
We have seen public figures lie, cheat, and steal all of our trust.
Into the middle of all that comes Jesus Christ.
Not undoing it, but saving us and redeeming the world.
I would like to suggest that in this place, at this worship service, for this time we are together celebrating the birth of Jesus everything is as it should be.
We are at peace, there is love, there is joy, our hearts are filled with God.
Think about it we are sitting here together singing songs about the birth of our savior.
We are remembering that God keeps the promises he made through the prophets, “behold the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…For a child has been born for us, a son given to us..”
The promise given many years ago through the prophet Isaiah has been fulfilled.
We are remembering that to us is born a savior, to shed the light, to bring peace, love, and joy.
Yes the world is a crazy place, but Jesus Christ has come into the middle of it.
And tonight in this place everything is as it should be.

As we leave tonight, as we remember the birth of our savior, we remember that Jesus has come into our homes, into our world, into our hearts.
We celebrate tonight because to us is born a savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Waiting in Peace

So far this advent we have talked about hope, love, and joy.
Today on this last Sunday of advent we are going to talk about peace.
Peace is often understood as an absence of war.
True peace is so much more than this.
True peace is the absence of hostility and fear from within ourselves, with our neighbors, with our world.
Even more it is the presence of hope, love, and joy.
Peace is the condition of life I believe we all most want and desire.
And peace is what we search for long for.
It is why we continue almost 2,000 years later to come to worship Jesus.
It is why all of you are here this morning.
You seek peace.
You seek your soul’s rest, for conflict to be removed, for hostility and fear to end.
Peace is so desired and yet so far from us.
In the history of the world there has been 3 days of peace!
And not even consecutive days.
I would guess that very few of us in our lives experience this much peace.
It is no wonder the world is always at war.
We are always at war within ourselves.
How many of us right now are carrying burdens of past relationships damaged?
How many of us are fighting with a member of our own family, or with another member of this congregation?
Forget the global implications of peace on a micro level we have a hard enough time finding and making peace.

Peace is important.
Did you know that the reason we pass the peace with one another before communion is to obey Christ command in the Gospel of Matthew.
There Jesus tells us basically that “Before you come to the altar make peace with one another.”
It is why I try to pass the peace with everyone in the congregation before communion.
If I had offended anyone during my sermon I want to make sure we are ok before we take the Lord’s body and blood together.
Jesus showed us that having peace was important for our spiritual well being.

Peace is hard.
But every Sunday we come.
We come looking for Jesus to give us peace.
What we read from the Gospel of Luke this morning is how Jesus brought peace to a troubled world.
Mary knew that the baby she was carrying was special.
She believed the witness of the angel.
As Elisabeth says to Mary, “blessed is she who believed that there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Do we believe what has been spoken to us about Jesus?
Do we believe that Jesus can and will bring peace?

Jesus brings peace into our lives in many ways.
He brings peace through forgiveness.
One of the things that upsets us, and hurts us is that we make mistakes.
We sin.
This brings hostility to our souls.
What brings peace is the forgiveness we have received through Jesus Christ.

Jesus brings peace through eternal life.
One of our great fears is death and loss.
I believe the reason for this is that it is one of the things beyond our control.
We like control and when things are out of our control we have turmoil in ourselves.
Jesus has assured us that even in death God is in control.
When we have faith in Jesus there is a peace that passes our understanding, and gives control to the God who is always faithful.

Jesus brings peace through revealing God to us.
One of the great things about Mary’s song is that she uplifts the truth of God’s work in the world.
It is often hidden from our eyes.
We simply do not always know what God is up to.
We don’t know why a five year old girl dies of a mysterious blood disease.
What Jesus shows us is that we can know certain things about God.
One of those things is that God will always be in what the world despises.
God will be in the week, the lowly, the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, the merciful, the lost.
This is good news for us.
Because it means we can stop trying to find God where the world tells us to look.
Stop trying to find God in the unknown.
Instead look to your brother and sister next to you.
Look at those who are hurting and in pain.
That is where God is.

In Elie Wiesel’s book Night people are standing in line waiting to go into the consecration camps.
They can smell death.
One of the characters says, “Where is God in all this?”
Another character points to the hanging gallows and says, “There. That is where God is.”

I think in Christmas admits everything that is going on most of all we should remember that Christ showed up in the most unlikely of places.
He showed up born to a pregnant teenager, a poor carpenter, born in the stable of smelly animals, announced to poor shepherds.

What I believe is that he shows up in all of our lives.
But in ways we are not looking for.
In the middle of our hostility, and our fear God shows up and saves us, redeems us.
As Mary Sings, “The mighty one has done great things for me.”
I have found that Jesus brings us a peace.
We find a new way to be in the world.
We find a new way to exists with the people around us.

That is why we continue to come to worship this Jesus Christ.
Because with him we receive peace in our lives.
It is a peace that allows us to cut through loss and damage and to see God.

Jesus allows us to see God working through, in, and under our lives.
Jesus allows us to have peace with one another, within ourselves, and with the world.
Jesus allows us to forgive ourselves.
Jesus allows us to forgive others.
Jesus allows us to have eternal life.
Jesus allows us to see God in the difficult times.
Jesus takes away our hostility and replaces it with peace.

I ask you to consider if after having been in worship.
After having received the body and blood of Jesus.
After having heard his love for you do you not feel at peace.
I know I do.
All week long my world can be falling apart.
But at least for an hour every Sunday I am here, and I am at peace.
The trick is for us then to take that peace and bring it into the world.
To share it with our families, our friends, our neighbors, strangers, and if we get really good our enemies.
Then and only then are we able to create true and lasting peace.
I want to leave you all with a quote I like, “Peace is achieved one person at a time, through a series of friendships.”
I like this quote because it brings into perspective the task of creating peace.
It is a daily job one we have to work on all the time, and it is never done until we all have made friends even with our enemies, and even within our own sinful selves.
It seems like an impossible task but we keep working at it.
And every week when we gather we work at bringing peace into our lives through Jesus Christ.
Because for us as Christians peace is achieved through knowing Jesus.
It is through remembering God’s promises and the benefits of a life of faith.
God is working in each of our lives.
God is working through us the lowly and forgotten to bring peace.
And so this Christmas season we say once again, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

Monday, December 14, 2009

Waiting in Joy

The third Sunday of advent is the Sunday of Joy.
All of our readings for this morning deal with Joy.
For me one of the greatest moments of joy was when my children were born?
On their birthdays we tell them the story from our perspective of what it was like for them to come into the world.
We know that in the life of our children their will other days of great joy.
There will be graduations from high school and college, sporting events, plays, marriage, job success, and many other little moments to rejoice in the accomplishments.
What I would like to suggest to you this morning is that this is the greatest, most important, and most joyful day of our children’s life was their Baptisms.
In fact, our baptisms are the most joyful day of any of our lives.
Because Baptism is not just for those really happy times in life, it is more for the moments in between.
It is for the moments of doubt, fear, frustration, and failure.
Baptism is the moment in our lives when we tie our life journey to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Our Baptism is the day when we receive the blessing of knowing God!
And that is joyful.

As St. Paul writes in his letter to the church in Philippi this morning, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.”
In all things St. Paul encourages us to have joy.
That means in all times of our life the good and the bad.
It is important to have joy in times of great accomplishment and in times of great failure.
It seems like such an odd request.
How is it even possible?
As a parent I have lots of fears about my children’s lives.
Will they be good enough?
Will they find love and faith?
Well they be happy?
Imagine my son Charles in fifteen years getting ready for the junior prom.
Only he is unable to find a date. (I am no way suggesting I think this is going to happen I offer it as a possibility)
You can imagine that this for a seventeen year old would be devastating.
How would one coop with such a monumental hardship?
There is only one way that I can think of and that is through faith.
It is through seeing ourselves as beloved children of God.
For with God we are always cool.
We are always loved.
And with God we can still find joy in all things.

This is why I had my children Baptized, I would assume it is why any of us where Baptized so that our whole life we will know the joy of knowing God’s love given to us.
So when we feel alone we will know that God is with us.
St. Paul tells us that “The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving; let your requests be made known to God.”
God is there for us when our friends fail us, when we feel like there is nowhere else to turn.
In prayer we can turn to God and know through faith that God is there always eager willing and able to hear and listen.
In those times we know that even if we feel like a failure God has something greater in store for us.
In our Baptisms we all have this assurance.

One of my best friends has been living in LA for ten years now.
He has been trying to make a living as a screen writer.
Unfortunately he has not been making it.
Not from lack of trying or even from a lack of talent.
He is smart, he writes wonderfully well.
I have read some of his scripts and would enjoy seeing movies that he has written.
But it just is not working.
I was talking to him on the phone.
He was down because it seems that his dream is slipping from him.
I told him that I believed God had something even greater in store for him.
That God had a purpose to his life, and that someday he will look back and know why all this had happened.
You see that is what faith does for us.
It helps us have a grounding in our lives that allows us to have joy even in the midst of loss, frustration, or suffering.

They did a study that people who grow up as part of a religious community has a better time in life dealing with failure and hard times.
Therefore they had better chance (statically speaking) of being successful.
They had less of a chance of getting divorced, becoming homeless, and dropping out of school, becoming involved in criminal activity and dying earlier.
This is not to say any of this is a guarantee, it is only to say that we give our children a better chance at success, at being able to deal with what is sometimes a cruel world when we give them the gift of knowing God.
It is why we rejoice that we are part of the body of Christ.
I have noticed over the years that a congregation is just brighter and more joyful when there is a Baptism.
It is impossible not to feel the joy of a new baby entering into a lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ.

It is not only us who are joyful when a new life is brought into a relationship with God.
But God is joyful.
One of the startling things about the reading from Zephaniah is that it is not only the people that rejoice, but God rejoice that the people have restored their relationship with God.
“God will rejoice over you with gladness, God will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
What a great image God is so happy that the people have restored their relationship with him that he is singing in heaven.
Baptism is about our restored relationship with God.
It is about Jesus Christ giving us God’s love forever, and making us a new convent of forgiveness and love.
Now our relationship with God is restored through this water that washes away our sins, and brings us to new life.
And not just on the actual day of our baptism, but on multiple days of our lives.
There are many times when we lose our way, and forget who we are and what we are about.
But when we remember our Baptism, when we remember the joy of our parents, grandparents, when we remember the joy of the God’s people assembled.
Most of all when we remember God’s joy at calling us God’s children then we remember that we belong to a God who will not let us fall, who will be with us in all things, and who will turn away our fears, our frustrations, our failures.

This is what we wait for in advent our joy to be restored.
To remember what God has done, is doing, and will continue to do for us.
God rejoices over us with gladness.
God will renew us in his love.
And will exult with us over with loud singing.

Today God certainly rejoices as we assemble to remember our life with God, to have our joy restored.
We at Concordia are joyful this morning not because everything is great, but because of our faith in God.
A faith that daily renews us and washes us in God’s love and forgiveness.
Perhaps that is why we are so joyful at a Baptism because we as people of faith know how important our faith is to us.
We know how much we rely on Jesus to help us through our lives.
How we rely on Jesus to help us overcome the middle times of our lives.
How we rely on Jesus to help us rejoice always.
Let us today remember our Baptisms and rejoice that God has called us his children
So that we may be able rejoice in the lord always, and know that God always rejoices in us.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Waiting in Love

Yes we often call it puppy love.
The love we have for one another is often more of puppy love then the love we receive from Jesus.
It is love based on emotion and too often it is fleeting.
This morning in our second week of advent we are going to talk about love.
After all it was another great music group that told us, “all you need is love.”
Certainly as people of faith we should be, and feel love all around us.
If we believe that God is anything we believe that “God is love”.
The coming of Jesus into the world only proves it more to us.
And yet if God is love, if Jesus proves it to us, why do we struggle to live in love, and to see it so clearly all around us?

Paul’s letter to the Philippians has often been called the letter of joy.
Paul is happy about the faith of the people at the church of Philippi.
He is happy that they are a church that loves and cares for each other, the church at large, and for Paul while he is in prison.
As Paul says this morning, “It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.”
Paul has seen and experienced the love of the people at Philippi first hand.
It is different than the division and fighting he had experienced at the church in Corinth.
I think for all churches there is an important decision that we make.
What kind of church are we going to be?
Living in the reality of the grace given us in Jesus Christ how are we going to live out that faith?

I think that we have to at least consider that the church should be about one thing, love.
Love should be the predominant thought and motivator for us in our actions.
For we know that Jesus Christ has broken into the world, and spread the light of love to all people.
Certainly Christ’s church should be about love.
But we know that too often it is not.
Why not?
Because we miss understand what Jesus meant by love.
Jesus did not want us to have puppy love but a deep love based on the love he gave us.
Where do we start when we talk about what love is in our congregation what Jesus meant it to be.

Perhaps a good place to start is talking about times and places in our lives where we have experienced love.
I know that I experienced a great deal of love in my family.
I know that this is not always the case for people, but for me in my family I do experience love.
This does not always mean that we all agree.
It does not always mean that we get along as well as we should.
What it does mean is that I trust my family with my life.
I know that deep down they have my best interest at heart.
I know they would do anything to see me succeed and have all the things I need in life.
This is true love, it is deeper then puppy love.

You see we often misunderstand Biblical love.
We think it is about our emotional response to someone.
The love that Jesus taught us to have is not about whether or not we like that person.
It is not about if we agree with everything they do.
In fact we know it is not because Jesus taught us to love our enemies!
That is hard.
In church we often think it is about getting a good feeling about being around people.
But I think what it is about is giving us a chance to show God’s love, and to grow in loving.
Church is about learning to love others even though they are different then me, even though I might not like them.
That is what Jesus brought to us.
It is what we wait for in this advent season.

As Zachariah sings in the temple, “In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high will break upon us.”
What a wonderful sentiment.
What a great Christmas greeting.
Because it is what happens to us when Jesus comes into our lives.
The light breaks upon us, our hearts open up to the world and to others.

Here is the truth I really hope that God’s love works the way Jesus told us it does.
Because I mess up so much.
I am nothing but a sinful person, who needs to know that God still loves him anyway.
Most of the day I feel like I don’t measure up.
I know there are many people in the world smarter than me, there are many people in the world better looking than me, with more fashion sense, many people that have lots of more gifts then I got.
But what I hold unto each day is God’s love for me.
In that love I am who God made me to be.
I am not perfect, but loved.
I think that is so important to people.
I see people trying to hold on to some image of perfection that the world holds out there, and I know it is just not that good.

The trick for me is to be able to allow that same tender compassion God gives me to flow into my dealings with other people.
I think that we have to ease up on our criticism of others.
We are to see that they too are loved by God especially in Church.
Because we are suppose to be the body of Christ together.
We are suppose to be a family that comes together and despite disagreements, personality conflicts, and even sin, we are suppose to love each other.

That is our real witness to the world.
I think we sometimes act and maybe believe that our witness to the world is a model of perfection.
No it is a model of love and forgiveness.
A love that says that we will not give up on each other even when we act poorly, or sinful.
In fact, I will tell all of you one of my assumptions about you is that you are sinful.
I hope you have the same assumption about me.
But I also know that our God has broken upon us.
That Jesus has come and will come again to bring love into our lives.
I know that every week we gather around this table together and we share the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Every week we hear in scripture about God’s love given to us in Jesus Christ.
Every week we gather and the tender compassion of our God breaks upon us.
And because of that I do my human best to love all of you.
Not because we are worthy, but because I know God loves you, and God finds each of you special and redeemable.
And this morning my prayer for our congregation is the same prayer St. Paul offers up for the people at the church in Philippi,
“That your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.”
How I pray that our congregation grows in love for each other!

Because I know this for certain without love we will never grow as a congregation.
We will never be able to reach out to others.
Our congregation will not grow because no one, and I mean no one wants to join a church were people don’t love and trust each other.

So on this second week of advent let us pray for love.
Let us pray that our love of each other might increase.
That our love of the world might increase.
And that the tender compassion of our God might break into our lives and overflow us with the love we receive from God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Waiting in Hope

Advent is a time of waiting.
Most of us do not like to wait.
We want things done in our time, on our schedule.
But waiting is what we must do all the time.
We must wait for others to get their acts together.
We must wait for ourselves to be ready.
And in advent we wait for God to come.
We wait for Christ to come during Christmas so we can remember the light that comes from the Christ child so we can remember our salvation, but we also wait for Christ to come again.
We wait for the world to be made right, for our tears to be wiped away, for justice and peace.
Why do we have to wait?
What is the point to all of this waiting?
Why doesn’t God just fix everything all ready?

This morning and for the rest of advent we are going to talk about four spiritual principles represented by the four advent candles.
Today’s candle represents hope.
Hope is all about waiting.
Hope is about waiting in this in between time we live in, when Christ has already come to light the way to save us.
And yet hope is about waiting for the final day of God to bring forth life, justice, and peace.
So during advent we wait for what God will do next.
And we have hope that it will bring forth Justice, Righteousness, salvation, and safety.

In this morning’s reading from Jeremiah the people of Israel are about to be captured and killed by King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.
In the midst of their waiting for their final destruction Jeremiah offers them words of hope.
That despite the hardships they will face, despite the destruction, and dislocation of their lives they can still count on God to remain faithful to them.
“In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
How many of us are waiting for something to happen?

How many of you feel lost, forsaken, broken, out of sorts?
We know that in this last year many people have lost their jobs, some have lost their homes, lost people they love, and lost things that seem precious to them.
What we have in these times is something very important.
It is hope.
It is a hope that is secure and true.
I ask you today do you believe in hope?
Do you believe that God will be faithful even among the ruins of life, even when the enemy is at your door, and all seems lost?

Let us talk about hope from a perspective of faith.
We know that Hope is one of the great pillars of our faith, “for hope, faith, and love abide…” St. Paul tells us.
But what is hope?
It is not optimism.
Optimism is a psychological term that is used to describe how we see situations, or want certain outcomes.
There is nothing wrong with optimism, but it is missing something that is essential in hope.
Hope is the more than simply seeing the world through rose colored glasses it is a belief in a better day and is certain of the outcome.
Jeremiah can give the people of Israel hope that God will rise up a righteous branch, because Jeremiah knows what God has already done.
Jeremiah knows that God created the world; he knows that God saved Noah and his family; he knows that God saved the people of Israel from slavery and led them to the Promised Land; Jeremiah knows that God anointed Saul, David, and Solomon, Jeremiah knew that God would not abandon God’s people.
You see Hope is based on past experience and understanding that God is good to God’s people.
It does not mean that everything is always going to turn out fine and dandy.
Hope is rooted into the reality of the situation, but still is able to see beyond and through it.

Notice that Jeremiah does not promise Israel that they will be saved from the destruction about to be brought on them by the Babylonians.
You see an optimist would look at the Babylonian captivity and say, “Well, at least we are still alive, and get to eat.”
What Jeremiah says is different it says that we can count on God to see us through and overcome this situation.
We have hope in our God who has been good to us since the beginning of creation.

I see this all the time in when people of faith reach the end of their lives.
They are on their death bed, they know that the end is coming, and they say they are ready.
Because their hope is in God, who gave his Son to die for us.
Their hope is in God who will rise them up, and who has concurred death.

In these days of jobs loss, death, and all sorts of worries, fears, and calamities are we hopeful?
Are we expecting Jesus Christ to come?

Perhaps that is why we wait.
Waiting teaches us hope.
It teaches to us to rely on God in the dark, lost, and broken times.
So that when Jesus does come we will know and recognize him.

And we need Jesus to come.
We need Jesus to come into our lives that are broken, lost, and just a little unnerved.
What we don’t need is another book telling us to look on the bright side of life.
What we don’t need is optimism that fades with the first sign of real trouble.
We need Hope.
We need Christ.

I had a friend who was a non practicing Jew.
She once asked me if life was easier if you had faith.
“No” I said, “You still have all of the heartaches of life. People still die. Bad things happen to you and the ones you love. Life is not easier. But you have a way to deal with those things. You have a hope that without faith is not there.”

It is the hope of Jeremiah, of Jesus, and of the church.
That despite what happens in our life Christ will come.

I can tell you today that in my life God has always been faithful to me.
When I was facing dark days, lonely days, destructive days God got me through.
And it is with that insight that I face new challenges and new days.
I remember the first time I faced death in my life.
My paternal Grandfather died when I was in college.
It was devastating to me.
I went into a tail spin.
Forget that we all knew it would happen sooner rather then later.
It was my first taste of death.
I did not know what to do.
I got lost, and the world got dark.
Many bad things happened to me in those days.
I don’t even know if I knew at the time what was happening.
What I know now is that God got me through.
I came to understand death in a whole different way.
I saw the gateway to eternal life as well as the pain it inflicts.
It prepared me for other dark times, and other losses.
Those where just as painful but I was able to remain hopeful and see God’s saving hand better.
I saw Jesus in the midst of death, and grew in faith.
I still wait for the day when death will be no more.
When we will not have to face the darkness, the loss, or the pain.
But until that time we wait with hope in a God who has brought us through.

In this advent season we wait.
We wait for the end to all of life’s heartache, pain, death, and destruction.
We wait for Christ to come to take away our pain.
We wait for Christ to come into our hearts.
But we do not wait in vain for we always have hope.
A hope based on what God has already done for us.
A hope that gives us life in the midst of death and destruction.
A hope that tells us of a wonderful and magnificent God who gets us through the dark times, the lost times, and brings us to life and safety.
May we continue to hope in God who brings a righteous branch out to save us all.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sermon from the Greater Concord Interfaith Service

If you are anything like me later today you will gather with friends and family and you will stuff yourself with Turkey, potatoes, squash and pie.
If you’re anything like me you will watch football in a slightly hazy state as we try to recover from eating too much.
It seems that Thanksgiving is a very odd holiday.
It is a holiday based on the very American idea of overeating and over consuming.
In America we have a very odd relationship with food.
We seem on the one hand to be a nation that over eats.
And on the other hand we seem to be a nation obsessed with staying thin.
We spend millions of dollars a year trying not to eat.
And then we have a whole holiday based on the idea that we are too eat as much as possible.
I know that when I sit down at the table at Thanksgiving my plate is over filled.
This can not be the value and meaning in Thanksgiving.
It can not be simply about over eating and watching football.
I have been trying to find not just the worldly meaning of Thanksgiving but the deeper spiritual meaning of this holiday that seems to be based on the not so spiritual idea of over consuming.
For we are people of faith and we have to not simply accept this holiday as the world tells us, but to look behind the curtain to draw out some real meaning and value in Thanksgiving.

I would like to start looking for meaning at the very first Thanksgiving.
When I was a kid after we watched the Thanksgiving Day parade, my sisters and I had to go to our rooms and prepare a presentation about the history and meaning of Thanksgiving.
Most of the time we would give this report:
in 1621, after a very hard first year in the New World, Pilgrims, who had fled England because of religious persecution, got together with their Native neighbors and celebrated God’s goodness with a big feast.
This is the basic Thanksgiving story that we all know.
However, as I grew up I began to understand that the real history of our nation and this holiday is not so serene.
The truth is that those settlers eventually would isolate and kill those same natives that had helped them survive in the new world.
The truth is that those same pilgrims would turn their new experiment of God’s kingdom into a place of intolerance and fear.
So this basic story that I believe is an attempt to tell us the real value of Thanksgiving is somewhat tainted by the actual history that took place.
However, the story of the first thanksgiving I believe is informative, and has something to tell us about the true meaning of Thanksgiving.
I think it is important to say that this first Thanksgiving story is not about true historical account of the events.
History is often a more complex set of events then we give it credit for.
Historical events are neither purely good nor purely bad, but are often a combination of these two extremes, the truth is often somewhere in the middle.
So it is with the history of Thanksgiving.
What is more important then historical accuracy however is the myth of the Thanksgiving story.
What that story attempts to do is tell us about who we want to be as a nation and as a people.
The Thanksgiving story tells us about what is truly meaningful to our lives.
Here is the meaning that I believe we get from the Thanksgiving story.
We want to be people that live in harmony with our neighbors.
We want to have a bountiful harvest that benefits all members of the community.
We want all people to feel welcomed.
We want to live in a land that is tolerant of different religious beliefs.
And finally we want to acknowledge that all our gifts are not something we earn but are gifts from our creator.

Ingrained in our Thanksgiving celebration is the idea that all of the gifts we have in life are not of our making, but gifts from our creator.
As people of faith we understand that the food that we eat on Thanksgiving comes from God.
It was God, our creator, who made the land that produces fruits and vegetables for our consumption.
It was God who created us with enough brains and brawn to be able to take the natural world and make it produce food for our nourishment.
Food is a gift to us from God.
So too are the other blessings we have in life.
Our families, that give us unconditional love, are gifts that we did not earn nor that we deserve.
Our jobs are gifts that God has given us so we can support our families and serve our neighbors.

One of the things in life that I always struggle with is why I have all of these blessings.
Why do I have such a loving family while other people are sitting at home alone?
Why do I have so much food, that I have to throw some of it out because I can’t possibly eat it all, while other people starve?
Why do I have the pleasure of being a pastor while others can not find their calling in life?
Some people might say that I have these things because I have earned them.
Some people might say that because I am religious and I have been faithful to God therefore God has rewarded my good work by giving me blessings.
However, this assumption fails because we all know people that are faithfully religious people who suffer from something in life.
I know people that grew up in the church, went to church every week, served on the church boards, prayed every day and who died alone and penniless.
This way of thinking also makes God seem very twisted and unjust.
Are we trying to say that God chooses who eats and who does not, based on religious attendance?
The truth is that we have enough food in the world so that tomorrow everyone could eat enough.
But I believe we have limited imaginations and a limited vision that allows us to justify living in a world where people starve in the midst of abundance.
There is a great Gospel song sung by James Cleveland that in essence says, “I am glad man does not control the sun, because I would get none. I am sure glad men do not control the rain, because I would never feel it on my face.”
What that song is saying is that God provides and human beings horde and take away.
It is our own human weakness or own brokenness that allows people to horde the gifts of God.

God does not reward us for Good behavior by giving us more food at the expense of others, but God does provide the food.
And that is the point, by realizing that God provides the food and our other blessings we can see that it is not our hard work that gives those things but that it is God.
God has also provided that food to those that we believe do not deserve it.
Understanding where our gifts come from hopefully makes us all understand our common humanity.
If all the blessings of life come from God, our creator and sustainer, then maybe we can see that there is no hierarchy of people.
There are no people that are better then other people.
There is no one that is more deserving of food then other people.
Rich people are not rich because of hard work and ingenuity,
they are rich because they are able to manipulate the gifts God gives to all people to benefit a few.
Poor people are not poor because they are lazy they are poor because we have not shared the bounty of God’s table.
When we gather for Thanksgiving later today, let us not forget what we are doing at that table.
We are not merely stuffing ourselves at the expense of other people in the world, but we are acknowledging our own fragile existence.
We are saying in essence, “There but the grace of God go I”
We are doing what I think our Thanksgiving story suggests we should do on Thanksgiving.
We are recognizing our common human bond.
We are celebrating that our human community is a fragile thing that needs a greater power to help us survive one November to the next.
We are celebrating not our individual accomplishments, but our collective understanding of our human predicament.

Maybe Abraham Lincoln, who reinstated the practice of Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863, during the Civil War, said it best, “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United states, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.
And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverance and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, and sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purpose to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union.”

Let us take President Lincoln’s advice and remember our common desire for peace and justice.
Let us remember at this Thanksgiving the many blessings we have.
And let us use this as an opportunity to see our common unity.
The need for the entire world to be fed clothed and loved.
Let us be resolved to see ourselves as not only as the blessed, but also able to give blessings by sharing the abundance of gifts that God has given us.
Let us not divide our common humanity into subdivisions of us versus them, but remember we are one community united by our fragile broken selves in need of God.

For This I Was Born

“For this I was born, and for this I came into the world.”
These words of Jesus that we read this morning in the Gospel of John have been with me all week.
Jesus is clear about what he came into this world to do, and to accomplish.
He came for this moment in time to show others the truth about God.
He came to give the world himself.
He was born to die on the cross for the sake of the world.
He was born so that you and I here this morning might know salvation, peace, love, forgiveness, and all the glory of God.
Jesus had a clear mission.
But it made me think of us.
What we were born for?
What were you born for?

I am of the firm belief that God makes us all for something.
God has created us for a task on this earth, and our job in this world is to figure out what that is.
What did God create us to do?

It is an important question because if we are to follow Jesus then we have to struggle with what Jesus would want us to do.
For some of us it might mean taking a real hard look at our lives and see the ways that we are not doing what God created us to do.
But for others of us it might simply mean looking at what we are doing differently.

Last week we passed out time and talent sheets and we asked you to consider the question, “how would you serve God.”
Within the context of a stewardship talk I can see why everyone wrote down a way that they could serve in this congregation.
That is the way we have been taught to think about stewardship.
What ten percent of my time am I going to give to God?
Here is the problem.
We are supposed to give everything to God.
Today is Christ the King Sunday, and what that means for us is that we accept Jesus as the King of our lives.
I know for me I always struggle with the meaning of that because a king to me is a very negative image.
I think of some tyrant oppressing freedoms that we love.
But the basic idea of Jesus as our king is that we give our lives over to Jesus.
We trust Jesus to run our lives and tell us what to do.
And this is not just ten percent of the time; it is just not when we are in Church.
We are suppose to let Christ rule our lives when we are at home with our families, at work, at play, at the grocery store, on I-93 in the middle of traffic.
All the time Jesus Christ is our king.

And the question we have to ask in all circumstances is; what was I born for?
What is it that God requires of me in my life as husband, brother, wife, mother, father, banker, nurse, teacher, computer electrician, or whatever I am doing?
You see we don’t only serve God by doing, “religious things”. (Although we certainly can serve that way as well)
We serve God in all of our lives.

There was once a prominent banker who after he turned sixty-five retired.
In his retirement he gave every spare second to serving the church.
He would clean the fellowship hall, make coffee, balance the church’s books, order Sunday School supplies, and anything else that needed to be done.
He told his pastor that, “finally I can serve God. I have been waiting my whole life to do this.”
The pastor replied that he had already been serving God.
Helping people get money to buy their dream house, buy a car, or making sure their savings were secure was a way to serve his neighbor and therefore serve God.
He had served God all those years as a banker.
We don’t merely serve God in Church, but in our vocations in the world.
Martin Luther saved us from thinking that we could only serve God in or through religious institutions.
In Luther’s day only people who were in religious orders were seen to have callings from God.
Luther said that all of us no matter what our profession had a calling from God to serve and love our neighbors.
That in our everyday lives we serve God.
Luther said that we all are called by God to serve, love, and help others.
Many of you already have callings that make it possible to serve God in a very meaningful way everyday.

It is not that we come here on Sunday and we do something for God and then go back into our lives to do wretched sinning.
No, we find a way everyday to love and serve God and that can be done in a variety of ways.
Luther once said that God is more pleased with the smell of a father changing a dirty diaper then all the incense in Rome.
We serve God in all things, even changing diapers.

When filling out our stewardship time and talent sheets we should include things like go to work, sit at home and play chutes and ladders with my kids, change dirty diapers, help my neighbor pick up her leaves on her lawn.
All of these things are ways that we use our gifts from God to help and serve our neighbor.
They are ways that all of us are acting in the world to help others see the truth of Christ’s love.

Because for us the truth is not a philosophical concept it is a real thing that was lived out in the person of Jesus Christ.
The truth is that Christ died for us out of love and care.
And we are then called to spread that love and care to others in the world.
Not just through what we do at Church.
But the way that we teach and care for our children, what we do to earn a living to support our families, how we act in all the circumstances of our lives.

As most of you know the Lutheran Church is losing members all the time.
Last year the ELCA lost 100,000 members.
We are failing to evangelize those around us and closets to us.
We are failing to evangelize our own children.
Every year more and more people are confirmed and leave the church never to return.
We could say that they might come back, but the truth is many of them are not coming back.
There are many reasons for this.
But perhaps one of them is that we are failing to help people make the connection between their faith and their life outside the walls of this Church.

Too often we make it about keeping the institution of the church alive instead of making it about the needs of all of us to grow and to find the ways God is working in our lives.
We have to encourage each other to ask why was I born?
What is my purpose while I am here on this earth?
What is God calling me to do and to be?
How do I serve God in all the places of my life?

How do I serve God as a good father or mother?
How do I serve God as a good co-worker?
How do I serve God as a student?
How do I serve God when I go to a store and buying Christmas presents?
How do I serve God when I am sitting at red light on main st.?
What is it that God is calling me to be and to do?

Of course only you can answer these questions.
I know that I have to keep asking them of myself, because my life is constantly changing.
My answers would have been different five years ago, ten years ago then they are today.
They are important questions to keep asking.
What were you born for?
What ways is God calling you to serve and love your neighbor?
For this you were born, for this you have come into the world.
To testify to the truth that Jesus is king of your life.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tithing is not a New Testament Biblical principle!?

Have you ever had the experience of thinking something to be true your whole life, and then someone will say something or phrase things differently and you will suddenly realize that what you used to think was wrong?
When it happens it is rather humbling, and in some cases rather freeing.
This happens to me all the time.
It is not that I am easily swayed, or at least I don’t like to think so, it is that I am open always to the possibility that I can be wrong.
Anyway, it happened to me again recently.
I was at the Bishop’s convocation at the guest speaker was talking about stewardship.
He told us that tithing is not a New Testament Biblical principle.
You see I had been brought up and told that tithing was a Biblical principle.
So this was cutting into something that I have believed for a very long time.
It was something that I had thought about a great deal.
At first of course I fought it.
It just could not be true this guy who was giving the speech was off his rocker.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right.
This morning I want to tell you all why tithing is not a New Testament principle.

First, notice that I use the word New Testament.
Surely, tithing is in the Bible.
In the Old Testament God’s people are commanded to give a tithe.
It is in the law.
For example in Deuteronomy 14:22 “Set apart a tithe of all the yield of your seed that is brought in yearly from the field.”
Here is the problem.
We are not people of the law.
We are a people loved and forgiven set free by Jesus Christ.
The law was given to the people of Israel so that they could live by it and have a relationship with God.
It was God’s way of showing his love to the people and living in the covenant with them.
But what we discovered is that the law always fails to make us righteous before God.
So God did something even more miraculous, God sent his son to die for us.
God sent Jesus to show us the way, to set us free to give generously.
We live not by the law but by faith in this God who gave his son to die for us.

Notice in this morning’s Gospel from Mark the two groups of people who come to the treasury to give.
The first group is giving probably according to the prescribed law, they are bringing their tithe.
(it is interesting to note that in the law the tithe is just the starting point of one’s giving. On top of the tithe there is all kinds of other required giving.”
The problem is that we are never made righteous by what we do, only by our faith in Jesus Christ.
In contrast this poor widow brings her two coins, all that she has, and gives it to God.
She gives not just what the law demands but more.
Her act of giving is generous and reckless.
She does it not out of obligation to the law, but out of love and trust for her God.

We give not because of the law, but we give because of the love and trust we have in God.
We don’t give because the pastor tells us we should, but we give because we want to give.
We give because spiritually we need to give.

My maternal grandfather was a pastor and he told me this story about one time when the congregation he was serving was doing an every member visit for their stewardship campaign.
There was this one woman in his congregation who was always so grumpy.
She never liked anything that happened at the church.
My grandfather felt that she did not really care for him either.
Because of this no one wanted to go visit her.
And everyone was afraid to talk to her about increasing her pledge.
My grandfather being the pastor was eventually sent to talk to her.
He went to her house and they made small talk.
Eventually, the woman said, “Pastor aren’t you going to talk to me about increasing my pledge?”
He told her that he was but was nervous about it.
She said to him, “Don’t you think I want to give to my Lord? It is my joy to give to God.”
You see we all want to give.
We want to be part of something that means something.
We want to be part of growing in our faith.
I see this in the ministry of Concordia Lutheran Church.
Every time the congregation is asked to respond to a need people respond.
When asked to bring your spare change for world hunger and you did.
When asked to bring in clothing for the needy it arrived, when asked to bring in blankets for the homeless you did it.
When asked to bring in food for the food pantry, friendly kitchen, you responded.
Next week you will be asked to consider what percentage of your income you want to pledge to this ministry.
I have no doubt that you will answer the call to support the important work we are doing together in this congregation.
Not because you have to, but because you want and need to.

Think about the investment we are making.
We are making sure our children learn the importance of faith.
We are making sure the Gospel is preached and heard.
We are making sure people get visited in the hospital or at home.
We are making sure that God’s work is being done here in Concord.

All of that is possible not because of the law, but because you have faith Jesus Christ.
Jesus the one who notices were our money goes.
Jesus the one who gave his life for us, and inspires us to give to others.
Jesus is the one who we love and we want to follow.
Not because we have to, but because we want and need to.

Tithing is not as important as the principle that underlies our Gospel this morning.
Everything we have belongs to God.
Are we giving everything we have to God?
Are we being faithful in our lives to God?
Are we using our money in a way that would please God?
Not just the 10% that we give to church, but all of our money are we using it in a way that God would want us to use it.
Again not because we have to, but because we want to.
Because we are people freed from the law to give.
We often misunderstand what it means to be set free by Jesus Christ.
It does not mean that we are set free to do whatever pleases us.
No we are set free to give more, and love more.
The woman gave even more then what was expected by the law.
She gave more than tithe because she was free to know that money was not the end all be all of life.

I think we all know this deep down.
In a place that God put in our inner beings, we know that when we give we only reap the benefits of that giving.
Not in an I give money and God then gives me more money kind of way.
But when I give and my spirit is so uplifted from knowing the good that I do that I have a real peace of mind.

Tithing is not a New Testament principle.
But reckless generous giving is.
Giving that is about giving all we have to God is what Jesus did, and what is our joy to do.
So as we leave here today let us give generously.
Let us remember the generous act of God in Jesus Christ.
So that we are set free to give all we have to one another.

Monday, November 2, 2009

18,250 Moonlit Nights, Celebrating 50 years of ministry at Camp Calumet.

While preparing for my sermon this afternoon I was thinking about the title for this celebration of the ministry of Camp Calumet.
The title of 18,250 Moonlit Nights got me thinking about all the nights that I have spent on the shores of Lake Ossipee.
In my lifetime I like many of you have spent many nights gazing at the stars, or wondering at the brilliant moonlight.
Some of the best moonlit nights were when I was a counselor in the boys Junior End.
I spent my career as a camp counselor in unit one, and therefore got to live for three summers on lakefront property. (Properly the last time in my life that will happen.)
Those nights are special because after the kids had gone to bed we had time to talk and let out steam at the end of what was usually a long day.
One of the things that we would talk about a lot on those moonlit nights was why we came to camp every year.
Why did we give up care free easy summers at home with friends to come and work real hard trying to mold kids, who basically drove us crazy?
Why did we care so deeply about Camp Calumet?
We came to the early conclusion that we did not do it for the money.
Working at camp as you all know was not a good way to get rich quick.
One night sitting around in the Boys junior end we figured out that we basically got paid about $.70 an hour.
My Fraternal Grandfather helped pay for me, my two sisters, and my cousin Amy to go to camp to be CIT’s.
He would say every time, “I don’t understand this camp. You have to pay them to work there?”
So if not for the money why?
Well, if you could ask the seventeen year old version of me (and by the way this was a unanimous vote in the Boys Junior end. And I mean no disrespect. I only want to express the views of my seventy year old self.)
Any way if you asked me then I would have told it was because of the girls.
Think about it.
As a guy working at camp the ratio was almost 2 girls for every boy.
You had a pretty good chance under those conditions.
How else do you think a guy that looks like me gets to marry someone as beautiful as my wife Vicki?
How else does Karl Ogren get to marry someone as beautiful as my sister Jen?
Todd Dickenson, who was an attractive young man, but at camp he was “Todd, Todd, the boating god.”
OK so that was the seventeen year old version of myself.
Now after years of growing up and maturing I think about it differently.
Why do we all love this place?
Why do we give our money to it, why do we continue to go back year after year, why do we insist that our children go to Calumet.
I was reading on his blog that Rick Dacey travels back from Australia to make sure his kids get to go to Calumet.
Why do so many alumni move to the north woods of New Hampshire just to be closer to it.
Why do we love it so much?
In my older more mature years I have come to the conclusion that it is because at camp we experience God.
I want to be careful here, notice I did not say camp was God, I said here in this place we experience God.
At camp we are able to see God in a way that is sometimes harder in our hurried normal everyday life.
This afternoon I would like to share with you some of the ways we experience God at Camp Calumet.

The first is through relationships.
Camp is a place that fosters and encourages us to be friends.
Friendship I would say is one of the great tenets of Camp Calumet.
Here we experience people that care about the same things we do.
Here we experience authentic Christian community that cares about each other.
To this day I still hold the friendships I made at camp as the most important in my life.
I know that some of you who worked at camp at the beginning fifty years ago are still close friends to this day.
We forget sometimes that the Christian Church is primarily about relationships.
Yes, those relationships are formed around some core beliefs, but the relationships we share with one another are still primary in our lives.
God does not desire of us to merely adhere to doctrine as much as he counts on us to stick with and love one another.
What Jesus tells his disciples in the Gospel of John this afternoon is to, “love one another as I have loved you.”
Jesus command to us is to love one another, make our relationships of primary importance.
We experience God at Calumet because there we experience love for each other.

We experience God at Calumet because we participate in the giving of ourselves to something greater then ourselves.
When we give of ourselves to help a child learn, to make the planet cleaner, to spread peace and love then God is involved.
Giving of ourselves is a godly action.
To this day many of us continue to give as we support Calumet not only with our hearts but with our pocket books.
There is great joy in being able to give knowing that it is for a greater purpose.
How many of you had campers that became counselors and thanked you for making sure they had a week of fun, faith, and friendship.
It makes changing wet beds well worth the effort.
We experience God at Calumet through giving of ourselves.

We experience God at calumet because it is here that as young people we are entrusted to teach the Bible to children.
I had heard Bible stories before going to camp, but when you have to know it enough to teach it and have it make sense to others that it grows in you.
Even more some of the Bible passages that I love to this day I discovered at Calumet.
For example, one year in unit one we had secret Santas and Heather Briggs made me this poster with my name and inside the letters were all the great things about life.
One of them was Psalm 139.
Before that I had never read Psalm 139.
I read it and it became one of my favorite and most cherished Bible passages.
At camp my faith grew because I experienced God in pages of the Bible.
I discovered there a God of love, a God who cared about me, and would give anything for me.
As the Psalmist wrote, “If I take the wings of morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your right hand shall hold me fast.”
I have taken those words and all of God’s promises with me all the rest of my life.
At Camp we experience God’s words of grace and mercy.

This leads me to my final point.
And what I am about to say actually comes from Pastor Henry Moris.
We once had a conversation when I was program director and he was the Chaplain.
It really affected the way I think about Calumet and what happens to us there.
I was complaining to Henry that some Pastors don’t seem to get the beauty and importance of camp.
They complain that it is not Lutheran enough because we teach too much about peace, love, and harmony, and not enough about Lutheran doctrine.
Henry told me that camp does not teach about Lutheran doctrine but rather it lives it.
He used as an example someone who had swam the lake that day.
He said when that person got to shore there were twenty people there early in the morning to cheer them on.
It did not matter what the time was or if they had beet the previous record.
They were cheering only because this person was a person to care about.
That is grace at its best.
Perhaps camp does not teach grace, but those of us who love it can tell you there we experience the wonder and beauty of God’s grace all the time.
Calumet is that place you go where people are glad you are there, not for any reason other then you are another child of God.
No one cares about your accomplishments or your bank account, they only care that you are there.
I remember this one summer I had to stay at college in Pennsylvania after my class finished I went to camp to volunteer for the last two weeks.
I was walking onto to camp and Sarah Carlson, now Arndt (Another example of why we go to camp) saw me walking towards the office and she came out and ran to me screaming.
She was so happy to see me.
That does not happen in real life.
Most of the time people could give or take our presence, I think at camp we feel the presence of God’s grace because it is there we are accepted for who we are.
We are not perfect, but unique beloved children of the same God.

That is ultimately why we love Calumet, it is why we give our money, it is why we go back again and again to sit on the shores of lake Ossipee, it is why Rick Dacey flies back from Australia to make sure his kids get to camp at calumet, it is why alumni move to the north woods of New Hampshire, it is why we give up summers to make $.70 an hour, it is why we are passionate about it, because there at that sacred space God comes to us and tells us that we are indeed loved and that other people care about us.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Last week I was discussing with some of my colleagues the issue of Reformation Sunday.
Some of the other Pastor’s were saying that they were tired of Reformation Sunday.
Tired of bad sermons about the evils of the Roman Catholic Church.
Tired of historic lessons that mean nothing for today.
I suppose that maybe after more years of ministry I might grow tired of Reformation Sunday.
But as of today I always love Reformation Sunday.
It is not a very sexy day on the calendar, but I like having a Sunday to sing a Mighty Fortress and the Church’s One Foundation.
I Like having the church dressed in red.
I like remembering the importance of our history as people of the reformation.
However, my colleagues got me thinking about this day.
And perhaps that they have a point perhaps we have sometimes missed the boat.
Reformation Sunday is not just supposed to be about the once and glorious past.
But it is suppose to encourage us to continue the Reformation today.
For the Church of every age needs reforming, and our own lives need reforming badly.
This morning I would like us to think about together how we might continue not just on this Sunday but everyday to be the people of reform.

In the Gospel for this morning from the Gospel of John Jesus is reminding us that all truth is centered not in a philosophical idea but in our relationship with Jesus himself.
Jesus is the truth, and all other truths shrink in comparison to this ultimate truth.
We live in what I would consider extraordinary times.
Far from being conventional or difficult I would say that we live in a great time.
Think about all the things that we know about now that no one has known in the history of the world.
Not only that but our thinking is not confined to centralized parochial thinking of a few people in our town.
We live in a time that is extraordinary because we can and are in touch with realities that far exceed our limited world views.
Of course, some people find this scary.
Some people would rather that our lives be ruled by what I call small t truths.
Small t truths are things like science, history, political ideologies, or social construction.
It is not that small t truths are not important it is just that over time they change.
As we know, as we discover new small t truths the sand shifts beneath these small t truths.
To build our lives on them is to build our lives on a house of cards.
For example, who ever thought that Pluto would no longer be considered a planet?
I was a history major in college and the more I studied history the more I realized that it was shifting all the time.
The way that one generation views a particular piece of history is in part determined by their own social and cultural context.
This is the post modern mind, it is aware of not just one small t truth but many possible ones.
It is able to deal with the complexity of ambiguity and uncertainty.
The modern mind believed that small t truths where big t truths and could be found through logic, scientific methods, and historical documentation.
For some it has been a hard transition into the post modern world.

As people of the reformation we should be able to deal with the shifting of the small t truths and their changing nature, because we believe in the one big T truth.
We believe in Jesus Christ as our savior.
That is the big T truth.
And this is what the reformation is all about.
It is what we continually have to call ourselves to as reforming people.
Jesus is my savior, if I live in him all is well.
If I try to put my faith in science, progress, history, politics, or even religion then I have lost my way.

What Luther rediscovered for the Church in the reformation was this big T Truth.
Luther called the church back to the center of our lives which is Jesus Christ.
In the Lutheran Church today we need to be reformed because we constantly need to be called back to this Truth.
In a world that has so many small t truths.
In a world that is pulling us in so many directions we must reform our church and our lives to remember that it is Christ who is our truth and nothing else.

What does that mean?
It means that we live only for Christ.
We live for the one who gave himself for us.
We live for Christ who died so that we might live.
It is interesting that Jesus this morning tells his disciples that if they are his disciples they will obey his commandments.
We might be tempted here to think of the commandments as the ten that Moses received from God on Sinai.
But Jesus commandment that he gave his disciples in the Gospel of John comes on the night of his betrayal and death.
“I give you a new commandment that you love one as I have loved you.”
Jesus only commandment is that we have love for one another.
Notice that John turns the Golden rule on its head.
He does not say to love our neighbors as ourselves, but to love each other as Jesus loves us.
That is a tall order, because Jesus loved us even unto death.
A reforming church is one that clings to Jesus as its example as how to live with one another.
In and through Christ we live with each other’s through love and concern.
In this system your problems become my problems your joys are mine.
This week I went out to eat at the Barley House up the road and our waitress seemed a bit down.
I was joking with her about feeling better because I was there.
She then told me that she was sad because her neighbors house had burned down.
She said it with such concern.
It was as if her own house had burned down.
In Christ we care about each other in this way.
We care about the success and failure of one another.
To be the reforming Church and reforming people is to constantly call our selves back to the self giving love of Jesus Christ.

I want to end with a story about Grandmother.
It is a story of her reformation of her own life.
My grandmother grew up in a pietistic strict Swedish Lutheran house.
Her father, my great grandfather was a Lutheran pastor.
Because of her strict up bringing she was not allowed to dance.
She told me that she used to think that was crazy.
That Jesus died for her and therefore she had the freedom to dance.
She swore to herself that her kids would dance.
I can’t tell you how thankful I am that she had this reforming spirit.
It is because of her that I am able to dance, and I love to dance.

As reforming people we realize that our lives and how we order them are tied to Christ, and far from being restrictive and oppressive it frees us to be ourselves.
The one place in this world I always feel most like myself is in the church.
It is in the church that it does not matter what clothes I wear, what soft drink I drink, what music I listen to, what job I have, how much money I make.
What matters in church is only one thing, that God loves me no matter what.
A reforming Church and people constantly bring themselves back to remember in Christ what God did for them.
We remember that God loves us and cares for our souls.
That truth is freeing.
Because it means we don’t have to live in fear, and we don’t have to spend time trying to be something that world thinks we should.
Instead we can be who God thinks we should.

So let us go forth to reform.
To reform the church and our lives so that we might love one another, and we might know the big T truth that Jesus is our savior and the truth might set us free.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sermon based on Mark 10:2-6.

This week when I read the Gospel lesson for today my initial thought was to skip the words of Jesus about divorce and talk about his wonderfully beautiful acceptance of the children.
Talking after all about Jesus and children would be a real crowd pleaser.
But after thinking about it more I decided I couldn’t avoid talking about divorce for two reasons.
One is that we all read the Gospel together and it might appear as though I was avoiding a rather difficult part of the Gospel just because it might make me and some of you a little uncomfortable.
I respect all of you too much to skip parts of the Gospel that might be a little tricky for us or might make us uncomfortable.
Although I want to assure you that my job is not to make you uncomfortable.
I see it as this is what Jesus said and if you have a problem with it then you should take it up with Jesus not me.
Second, I know that when I go to worship and the Gospel is difficult and the preacher avoids it then I leave worship more confused than anything.
So, at the risk of taking on a difficult and potentially uncomfortable subject I am going to talk about divorce.
Although you will notice that Jesus refuses to talk with the Pharisees this morning about divorce.
What Jesus wants to talk about is marriage.

The Pharisees they want to talk about the legal issues surrounding divorce, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
They ask Jesus a legal question their intent is to trap Jesus into a particular religious camp, and to see if he is really as anti-family as he sometimes comes across as.
After all Jesus is the one that said that one must love God above all things even our families.

As usual Jesus is not interested in the mundane particulars of legal arguments, nor is he worried about what they might think of his teachings.
Instead Jesus wants to talk about God’s intention at creation in creating marriage.
In our world today sometimes like the Pharisees we want to get all caught up in the legalism of divorce.
We want to get caught up in sides.
Are you pro family, or are you a liberal out to destroy “family values”?
It might be helpful when we are talking about “family values” that we might want to focus our intention on what God created when he instituted marriage.
God wanted to create human consecutiveness, intimacy between two people that is lived out over a long life together.
It was intended as a gift to us.
Consider the words that we speak at the wedding ceremony, “God in his goodness created us…and by the gift of marriage founded human community in a joy that begins now and is brought to perfection in the life to come…”
God has given us marriage as a gift, as way to live healthy and productive lives.

I am aware this morning that this Gospel reading from Mark has been used over the years to do much damage to people.
I am aware that the church in years past has used it as a way to shame people it has been used as a way to control and to make us feel superior to others.
It has been used as a legal argument about the evils of divorce.
A couple of years ago I went to a week-long training in New Jersey and stayed at this monastery with other people at the training.
We were talking one night and I asked some of the people there why they did not go to church.
One of the women told me that when she was little she went to a religious school.
And when her parents got divorced the nuns who ran the school punished her for it.
On many occasions the other children were given privileges that were denied to her.
For example, on family day she was made to sit and do extra school work while the other kids went and performed a special show for their parents.
They told her, “You can’t participate in family day because your parents are divorced.”
The hurt from that experience led her never to step foot in a church.

We have taken Jesus teachings against legalism and turned them into a legal argument for why people should not get divorced.
But Jesus is not giving a legal argument for or against divorce rather he is teaching us about the gift God gave us.
Even the harsher words that Jesus speaks about remarriage are really against a legalistic view.
Jesus never says that people cannot get remarried; he only speaks the truth about what happens when we fail to live up to the standard of marriage.
When we are married our lives intersect, two lives become one.
When that is broken there are consequences.
I have had friends who have gotten divorced and it has been very hard on them, but also on their families and on our friendship.
Jesus speaks a deep truth and that is we cannot undo what marriage is by making laws that make it harder or easier to get divorced.
It is not about legalism or making people feel guilty it is about the reality that when a marriage is dissolved it is messy and hurtful to all concerned.
When divorce happens no one needs to tell the people involved that it is not good, they know that because they have to live with the pain.

We should not judge others because we know that Marriage is hard.
Those people who never get divorced they will tell you how hard marriage is.
It is a day in and day out job.
I know that I often fail more in my marriage then I succeed.
So even when we manage to stay married we have no room for boasting because it is only by the grace of God and our partners that we manage to stay married at all.
I always marvel at people who are celebrating their 68 wedding anniversary, because I know how much work and dedication went in to making it all those years.

You see in our lives faith is what it is really about.
It is about living into the acceptance of who we are in the face of a wonderfully gracious God.
It is about our sinful, fallen, broken selves that don’t live up to the ideal that God has made for us.
We are like the children in this way.
We are hopeless without the love and care of our heavenly father.

I sometimes have heard people say that Jesus wants us to act like children more, be more innocent.
But that is not exactly what Jesus is talking about here.
Jesus wants us to accept God like a child would accepts help and care.
Children are helpless and defenseless they depend on the care of their parents for survival.
Jesus is asking us to live into our relationship with God in the same way.
Jesus is asking us to put our lives in God’s hands and to live in the mercy of God’s grace for us.
“Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
This is not about legalism it is not about earning favor with God by following rules about divorce.
It is about entering into a relationship of ultimate trust in God’s care and protection.
I can see that in my own children who depend on us for their food, their shelter, but more importantly for love and a place that feels safe.

On good days our human relationships can reflect that same level of intimacy and trust that God has with us.
On our good days we can see that our marriages, our children are gifts given to us by God.
They are not merely things we do in order to earn points or keep the law.
They are what give us a way to live into the kingdom here on earth.
They are a way for us to save our lives by losing them for the good of someone else.

So if you have been divorced may God’s grace shine on you.
If you are still married after 68 years of marriage may God’s grace shine on you.
If you are about to be married may God’s grace shine on you.
If you are a child who has lived in a family with divorced parents may God’s grace shine on you.
If you are not married may God grace shine on you.
May all of us not live in legalism, but only in the grace, mercy, and love of our God.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

True Greatness!

This is the sermon I gave last Sunday from the text Mark 9:30-37.

In the last couple of years there have been a lot of books out there that talk about finding meaning and purpose in our lives. It is a sign that we are searching for something. We know that something is missing in our lives. Even when people where making lots of money and our national unemployment numbers were practically non-existent we as a country, as a people we were searching for meaning and value. Even though we live in the richest, greatest country in the world we still had this feeling that something was missing. Especially more recently as our economy, that once seemed to grow and grow forever, has tanked we have began to look at our lives and determine what really matters and what is really important. I know people that worked at high power jobs that they hated, and now volunteer helping others and they love it. What all these books don’t always say is that we find our true lives by giving it away. You see it is beneficial to our lives to serve and help others. It is beneficial to our spiritual and emotional well being. We find our true lives in services and in love. The truth is that we don’t need a lot of books to tell us this.
Serving and loving others is what we are called to as people of God.

This morning’s Gospel from Mark is a teaching moment for Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. It is a moment to teach his disciples what it really means to be great.
For us who live in the 21 first century in the richest country in the world, for us who live in the great state of New Hampshire it is a lesson about what it is we really search for in our lives. Jesus on his way to Jerusalem to be killed makes his second prediction about his death. The disciples in a rather stunning display of ignorance argue among themselves about who is the greatest! Think about it.
Jesus is telling them he is going to give up his life for the sake of the world, and they are like, “Hey I wonder who gets to take over after he is gone!” It is stunning that the disciples don’t get it, more than half way through the Gospel and they still don’t understand that Jesus did not come to concur and rule, but to love and serve. However, more than 2,000 years after Jesus death and resurrection we often miss the point too. We believe that strength comes from might and domination.
We want to be the best and dominate everything. Often times our national discourse is more about saving face then it is about finding the truth. We have people that yell and shout down others, rather than try and listen and understand. I know that many times in my life I wish that I would have been better at listening then trying to get my point across.

The problem with all of this shouting and chest pumping is that what we miss is people. We miss what is actually happening as people are exploited and demonized.
We deal with our anger instead of trying to find solutions to help, serve, and love others. In our world none of those things will get you on television.
None of them will sell papers, or advertisement time.

We might see our country as the best in the world, but we can never let that rob us of our humanity, of our call from Jesus to serve the least of those in our midst.
Since coming to Concord only a couple months ago I have heard much talk in our city about the refugees that come here from other countries. For example, I went to the food bank one day with Marc to bring the food our church had collected. I was talking with a woman from the food bank and I asked her who came to the food bank.
She told me that they had many refugees come to the food bank. I said, “Oh well where are the refugees from?” (meaning what country)She replied, “From the Lutherans.” You see we are tied up in the ministry of refugee program in our city. I have heard from others that they would rather not have refugees in Concord. I want to read to you one letter written to the Concord Monitor, “Refugees are pouring into the United States. They are being given welfare benefits and housing, and they have not worked a day in our country. It is totally unacceptable that the American people are burdened with supporting these refugees when we have so many people in our own country who were born here and are homeless. The message being sent is clear: Come to our country - you don't have to work. We'll support you while our own people starve. We need to close the doors on refugees and start taking care of our own people. Charity begins at home.”

I don’t have enough time this morning to untangle all the lies and half truths that are in this letter. I want to point out that what seems to be behind it is a philosophy that we can only help or care about certain people in our country. What is behind this letter is a philosophy that says, some of us work really hard and deserve all of the things that we get in this world. Others simply mooch off the system and reap rewards they don’t deserve. In other words, some of us are great, and others are losers who don’t deserve our empathy, help, or love. What Jesus taught us is that none of us really deserves anything. It is only by the grace of God that we have anything. If we are blessed with material wealth then it is our job to use it in service to others.

I happen to know that the people of Concordia Lutheran Church are extremely compassionate people. I have been impressed in the short time I have been your pastor with your compassion for those less fortunate then yourselves. I have seen it in those who serve at the friendly kitchen, or in our new undertaking to hand out clothes to the less fortunate. One of the reasons I wanted Lutheran Social Services to come to be with us this morning is because I know how compassionate you all are.
I believe that we as the people of God can be part of the solution. We can be the people of God who serve and care for those who others would rather shun. I think God has given us a chance to show our community that the people of God care about all of God’s children. And that anyone who is in need is worthy of our service, compassion, and love. I want us to show the city of Concord the greatness of this congregation.

Our drive to be great is not a bad thing, it is only evil when we use it for evil purposes. Notice what Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Jesus tells us that it is OK to want to be the best. We should just strive to be the best in serving and loving others. And we can all be great by serving and loving others. One of my favorite quotes is from Martin Luther King’s sermon “the drum major instinct.”
King said, “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.
You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.
You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.
You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve.
You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve.
You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics to serve.
You only need a heart full of grace.
A soul generated by love.
And you can be that servant.”

I believe throughout the generations we learn this simple truth. The World War II generation learned it as they sacrificed and gave their lives for others, the baby boomers learned it as they marched for peace and civil rights, my generation learned it from giving a year of their lives for community services, and the next generation is learning because the youth love to serve and help others. The national movement for community services is huge, it is non-partisan. No one can get elected president without talking and caring about national service. You see this is the paradox of the Gospel and our lives. We find life by giving it away for others. We find fulfillment joy, and love by helping and serving.

So Concordia Lutheran Church let us continue to grow in our service. Let us continue to help those that are lost, malnourished, and need help. Let us reach out to the refugee, the homeless, the elderly, the child. And let us remember that in that services we will find our true selves, and become disciples of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


"In speaking of love at this point, we are not referring to some sentimental or affectionate emotion. It would be nonsense to urge men (women) to love their oppressors in an affectionate sense. Love in this connection means understanding, redemptive good will. When we speak of loving those who oppose us, we refer to neither eros nor philia; we speak of love which is expressed in the Greek word agape. Agape means understanding, redeeming good will for all men (women). It is an overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative. it is not set in motion by any quality or function of its object. It is the love of God operating in the human heart."
-Martin Luther King Jr.

"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you...If you love those who love you, what credit it that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you what credit is that you you? For even sinner do the same."
-The Gospel of Luke the sixth Chapter

How we misunderstand Jesus on his teaching about love. It is simply too radical and too hard for us to comprehend. We like rules, order, and justice. What we struggle with is love. Not a love that is about how we feel, but a love that seeks the most possible good for everyone even our enemies. In my more honest hours I admit that I have enemies. I have people whose ideology, theology, and lifestyle I can not stand. In fact, they believe things that I would spend the rest of my life fighting against. How am I to love such people? How am I suppose to get along?

Have you ever been with someone you just met, and they say something to you that is so offensive you want to scream at them right then and there. This happened to me at a wedding I was at. I was the pastor and someone decided it would be real fun to tell me this racist joke. I was so upset, so appalled I wanted to hit the person in the face. But I didn't I calmed myself and simply did not laugh. The person instantly knew they had done something wrong and tried to apologies. "I am not racist" he told me. It is time like this I wish I had the perfect words to put everything in proper perspective. But I did not. We went on to have a very good conversation about other things in life. We talked about family, friends, and the importance of faith. This did not make the man's comments acceptable, it simply meant that there is something more that connects us as human beings then our prejudices, our differences, or our ideals.

What connects us is our sin, and our need for Christ. What connects us is love that pours out from Jesus Christ. I hope that in all things we might be able to continue to love one another. Not in any mushy way, but in a real and difficult way. Love is when we want the best for our neighbors and seek it out in our lives. Agape searches out those who are different then me and offers them forgiveness and grace. I rely on the promise of God to deal with my sin with love. I hope that I am faithful enough to deal with other people's sin in the same way.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bearing One Another in Love

"Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

Colossians 3:14-17

Recently the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to allow gay and lesbians living in committed relationships to be rostered leaders. This is contingent on the "bond conscience" of individual pastors, congregations, and synods. The issues involved are too many to go into in this blog. The Biblical work that needs to be done to be able to come to an informed decisions on this issue is too great for this space. Even then there would be disagreements about the final interpretation. However, I feel compelled to write about it. In college I wrote a paper on the Biblical issues involved in the debate over homosexuality. For me, this issues is not about an idea, a political position, an ideology, or church doctrine. It is about real people living in real life situations. It is about the Church and its future. All of those things aside I wonder if the church can live in this in between space that the assembly of the ELCA called us to. In other words, can people who disagree about an issue that is so heated continue to hold together as church?

As Christians what holds us together is not a stance on an issue. What holds us together is Jesus Christ died and raised for our sins. It is a radical statement of community and togetherness. Because we say that what matters most is not ideology, political stances, or even theological disagreements. What holds us together is our love for God and one another. This day I ache for my brothers and sisters in Christ who feel that their church has been taken from them. Even as I celebrate for my colleagues who are free to be themselves. It is a place that is not so comfortable to live in. Because their is no cause to support only relationships to mend and to uphold.

The greatest commandment in the Bible is a command to love. We often misunderstand this commandment because we think love is about how we feel about others. But Jesus command is not about feeling, but about action. We are to love even if we don't like, even if we don't agree, and most radically even if we are treated badly. It is a high ideal, but one I believe in to my core. Can we as the church live in a place of love instead of sides of an issue? I don't know. I am willing to try. Are you?