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.