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.