Tuesday, February 23, 2010

No Short Cuts.

A couple of years ago was the 30th anniversary of the tragedy of Jonestown.
I was obsessed with it.
I watched multiple documentaries on it.
I read everything I could find.
I was fascinated to know why so many people would kill themselves and their children.
Why would so many people follow this man to Guyana, away from their families, only to die?
How did they get to that point?
For those who don’t remember Jonestown was the creation of a charismatic preacher named Jim Jones.
He led his followers down to the jungle in Guyana to start a utopian society.
While there, after assassinating a US congressmen who went there to investigate, 909 people drank poison and killed themselves at the urging of Jim Jones.
What fascinated me about this story was not the evil, but the good.
What I kept on thinking while watching the documentaries and hearing the stories of the few survives was that could be me.
The things that the people who followed Jones believed in were good.
In fact, they are some of the things I believe in.
They believed in racial equality, in economic equality, in helping the lease in our society.
Jim Jones offered his followers a utopian society.
What the problem was that Jim Jones won his converts by manipulation and power.
He pried on the week and lost.
He coerced people and threatened them to remain faithful.
For example, he kept his followers up all hours of the night working so they would become fatigued they would have trouble thinking and would not question his authority.
He impressed them with healings, and signs of his supposed godliness.
Jim Jones may have had the right ideas, but he had the wrong methods.

That is what Jesus is tempted within our Gospel story this morning.
He is tempted not with what we would consider bad things, but with obtaining those things through the wrong methods.
Jesus is tempted with three things food, political power, and religious power.
They are all good in and of themselves.
Who would not want a Messiah who could feed the world and end hunger?
Who would not want to see an end to the political back fighting and corruption?
Who would not want to see proof of God’s power on earth?
We all would.
The Devil offers all these things to Jesus, if only…..
If only Jesus takes the short cut.
If only Jesus loses his soul then all the things he wants as Messiah will happen.
Think about the mission that Luke gives to Jesus “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.”
This is what it means to be Messiah to reorder the world according the ethics of the kingdom of God instead of the ethics of the world.
But how you get there matters.
And this is what the devil knows, and it is what he tempts Jesus with.
It is the same temptation that Adam and Eve faced in the garden.
They were not tempted with being like the devil…rather they were tempted with being like God.
That is what we are all really tempted with is to replace God with whatever other thing we might see as good.

So too are we tempted not with bad things, but often with good.
We are tempted to do good but in a bad way.
We are tempted to take short cuts to avoid the hard work.

I have always strongly believed in racial equality.
I am not sure why but from an early age I have had a passion for helping others cross artificial barriers of race that get in our way.
Partially because of this out of college I signed up for City Year in Boston that is an Ameri-corp program.
I liked the program because it was intentionally diverse.
My team that year was made up of all kinds of people.
College educated, inner city, suburban, black, white, Latino, Asians, high school drop outs, GED students.
It was what I always dreamed of.
There was only one problem.
It was incredibly hard work to get along with everyone and to try and understand where everyone was coming from.
I just thought we should all think and act the same, but that was not real life.
Building relationships is hard work; it takes time, patients, humility, and love.
All things that I found out I was in short supply of at the time.
It was a lesson to me about short cuts.
There are no short cuts to goodness in the world.
If you want your life to be about God’s life then you are going to have to work at it.
You cannot simply dream it true.
Living out our faith is about putting our sweat and tears into God’s work.
Jesus shows us this in his temptation.

Jesus temptation comes right after his baptism it happens right after God has claimed Jesus as the Son of God.
In fact, the devil mocks Jesus “if you are the Son of God.”
It is clear in Jesus temptation that Jesus is struggling with what it means to be the Son of God.
What Jesus finds out about being the Son of God during those forty days in the wilderness is that his baptismal call is not about using his power to trick people, to get what he wants quickly without hard work.
His baptismal call as the son of God is going to come through sacrifice, love, time, patients, humility, and ultimately the cross.
What Jesus does is reject the devils attempts to give him an easy way out.

Will you?
These forty days of lent will you recommit your life to the hard work of living in the ethics of God’s kingdom?
Are you ready to rededicate your life to love, patience, humility, sacrifice, and the hard work of living the ethics of the kingdom of God?

It is never easy.
Not in a real life context.
Because the truth is that people are not easy.
They disappoint you, they fail you, and they will sometimes crucify you.
Even more we give in to temptation of trying to grab onto the thing we want so bad using any means to get it.
We want the prefect family and when one of the members steps out of line we are fast to cast them out.
We want the perfect job and so we will tell little lies to get it.
We want the perfect church so we will cast out of our hearts those who do not get with our program.
This is the truth that Jesus reveals to us about our lives, it the biblical truth that he calls us back to again and again, there are no short cuts to the kingdom of God.

That year I spent in City Year I was often frustrated with my teammates.
They would often fail to show up to work on time, or work hard once they got there.
Often times I would get upset because they did not do what I thought they should do.
But here is the truth so would I.
I am sure I did things that they thought just as crazy.
What I came to see through the hard work of relationships was that we all needed one another, and not one of us was perfect in any way.
For our team to be the best it could be every one of us had to do the job that we could.
One of my teammates was an excellent organizer.
We learned to rely on her to take our visions and make the practical and doable.
One of my teammates was great at getting us to laugh when we did not want to.
One of my teammates was great at keeping us all humble by telling it likes it was.
By the end of that year we learned to respect and love one another, but getting there was not easy.
There were no short cuts, only the hard work we all put in to understand each other despite our differences.

This lent may we all put in the hard work of living out the kingdom ethics of Jesus Christ.
Let us work to be more loving, humble, self-giving, patient, and Christ centered in our dealings with one another because there are no short cuts with God.
There is no magic bullet that is going to make everything better or more acceptable to us.
There is only the way of the cross.
There is only the way of love, self sacrifice, and the way of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Why Matters?

How do we grow closer to God?
This is the question of lent.
This is the idea behind Ash Wednesday and the forty days from now until Easter.
It is really the question we should be asking all the days of our lives, but the church in the 3rd and 4th century decided that the 40 days before Easter should be a time of fasting and prayer.
Why fasting and prayer?
Because Christians had become complacent in their faith.
They had stopped relying on God instead God became a crutch to lean on, but not a factor in everyday lives.
Lent is a time to reevaluate our lives in light of our faith.
Tonight we heard the words remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.
Hard words to hear.
They remind us of the fragile nature our lives, of our limitations as human beings.
They are meant also to draw us closer to God, to have God be the one on whom we place our trust.
We are dust, and we will die, but my faith is not based on my ability to keep living rather it is based on God’s ability to save me.

This evening’s readings are about us returning our lives to God.
They are about growing closer with God and learning to trust God in all things.
Joel tells us to “return to the Lord, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”
St. Paul tells us “not to accept the grace of God in vain.”
But to let God be the center and focus of our lives.
And Jesus reminds us that nothing we do is kept from God.
That what we do in secret is still seen by God.
That everything in our lives even our inner motives are known by God and examined in God’s light.
We simply cannot run from God.
Eventually God will find us and God will capture us.

For those of you who have come this evening I suspect that you are already deep into your life of faith.

I suspect that you already know God.
That prayer, giving, and sacrificing is already something you practice in your life.
And the question is how will you grow closer to God this Lenten season?
How will you return to God who is merciful and loving?
How will you guard your faith from taking God’s grace in vain?

This is why we have Lenten disciplines.
It is why we give up stuff for lent.
I believe that our reasons for giving things up matter.
This is what Jesus is telling the people who came to hear his sermon on the mount.
It matters why we do things.
If we pray just to be seen and heard then our prayers are empty.
If we give money just to make ourselves look good or to save face then what does it matter.
If we fast just to impress others who cares?
Because then none of it is done to grow closer to God but only to show off or indulge our selves.
And the same is true for us today.
Why we give things up for lent matters.
We have to do it because it will draw us closer to God.

The good thing about having a wife who works and is not a pastor is that I get to hear stories about people who are not so religious and their struggles with God.
When we lived in NY my wife would tell me about the other people at her work who thought that she was crazy because she ate meat on Fridays during lent.
They all gave up meat on Fridays because that is what they were brought up to do.
Keep in mind most of these people did not attend church except Easter and Christmas, but they believed that eating meat on Fridays during lent was a sin.
But they didn’t know why.
In other words they did not know the reason why they gave up meat.
It did not draw them closer to God.
That is why we give things up for lent, because it hopefully draws us closer to God.

Most people in lent give up things they should give up anyway.
They give up chocolate, cigarettes, overeating, overspending.
And in most cases they don’t know why, or their motives are selfish.
They just do it because that is what you do.

Let me say that it does not matter what we give up or don’t give up for lent.
What matters is what it does to us in our faith life.
If not eating chocolate reminds you that God is the foundation of your life.
If not smoking helps you to somehow see God’s mercy.
Then by all means do it.
But if not eating chocolate is a way to lose weight or not smoking makes you healthier than they are not helpful Lenten disciplines.
Those things are good to do, because they make you healthier, but they are really helping your faith life.
They are not really drawing us closer to God.
You are doing them out of selfish motives, and that is really the problem of sin.
It is what we are trying to avoid being me focused so we can be more God focused.
And that is what Lent is all about.

It is not about merely feeling bad about ourselves.
It is not about being sad.
It is not about following some tradition that you grew up with.
It is not even about making ourselves better people.
It is about God, about returning to God, about remembering his mercy and grace.
It is about God’s love and care for us.
It is about our baptism and what God did for us in our baptisms.
About remembering that in our baptism we tied our life to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It is about remembering that everything we do, say, and look at is seen by God good and bad.
Lent is about drawing closer to God.

That may seem easy.
It may seem like I am letting everyone off the hook by saying “You don’t have to do anything for lent.”
Making God the center of our lives is not easy.
It leads us to do some pretty difficult things.
What St. Paul tells the church in Corinth is that his faith led him to afflictions, hardships, beatings, imprisonments, hunger, and sleepless nights.
When we give our lives into God’s hands, when we totally trust God for all things and in all things, then our lives get a lot more complicated.
Because we lose fear and we begin to act boldly for God in the world.

What we all know is that acting for God in the world is difficult.
It is not always met with the high praise and glory.
Jesus knew this best.
Jesus’ actions for God lead to the cross.
Jesus in faith gave his whole life to God.
Lent is about us doing the same.
It is about remembering that we are dust and to dust we shall return.
We can’t depend on ourselves we need God.
And that is what ultimately draws us closer to God.

So as we leave Ash Wednesday with the mark of the cross on our forehead as we begin our Lenten journeys let us grow closer to God.
Let us grow in faith.
So that we leave everything in our lives to God’s merciful and loving hands, and do not take the grace of God in vain.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Come to the Mountain to See!!

I was having this conversation not too long ago with a friend of mine about how hard it is to get to church on Sunday Mornings.
She was telling me how her husband and she both work full time, how they both have to get up every day at ungodly hours to take care of their kids.
How tired they are by the time the weekend comes around.
How they end up going to church only to have their kids squirm in the pew to the point where they have to take them out and miss most of the service anyway.
How Sunday is just another day that they have to get their kids dressed and out the door by 8:30 to get to Sunday school on time.
Let me say that I can emphasis with what she was saying.
There are two days a week that I have to get my kids up, fed, dressed, and out the door in order to be at pre-school by 8:30 and I have to tell you that every time I am late.
I know that with two young kids it is hard.
And I can see from up here how hard my wife has to work to keep our kids entertained.
I know that most weeks she does not here the sermon because she is in the Nursery with our kids.
I am not unsympathetic to the difficulties in getting to church.
In fact, I would assume even if you don’t have kids or your kids have moved away that it is still hard to get to worship on Sunday morning.
I am mean there are a lot of other attractive things to do on Sunday morning.
Sleep in, read the paper, watch Meet the press, do nothing, or go out for breakfast.
But all of you have made it here this morning.
All of you have done the hard work of getting out of bed, getting dressed, and coming to worship this morning.
I wonder why?
What is that made you come to worship this morning?
I would suspect that the answer would be different for all of us.
Perhaps some of you like seeing the other people in the congregation.
Perhaps some of you feel it important that your kids get a good Christian education.
Perhaps some of you feel guilty and this is simply what one does on Sunday morning.
Perhaps some of you really like the way the choir sings?
I want to suggest this morning that it is for a much simpler reason that we come to worship.
I think we come to worship because we expect to have an encounter here with God.
That we believe what we do in worship matters to our lives.
We believe that here in this place together we will see and know God better than in any other place we could be on Sunday morning.

This morning in the Gospel the disciples have a transcendent moment with Jesus on a mountain.
They see him transfigured before them in all the glory and majesty of God.
In that moment they experience and come face to face with the wonder and glory of God.
I would assume that after that moment the disciples are changed in a profound way.
They understand and see something in Jesus that up to this point had not been completely clear to them.
Jesus no longer is just a healer, miracle worker, exorcist, preacher, teacher, or prophet.
Jesus is now to them their savior and messiah.
Granted a different messiah then what they thought he was going to be, but a Messiah never the less.
Coming down that mountain I like to think that those three disciples saw and experienced something so profound and so awesome that mere words and expression simply cannot do it justice.
The transfiguration is always like that for me.
The story and this day are just a little too grand and spectacular for my liking.
I much more prefer the stories of Jesus as common man.
But you see this would be to rob Jesus of what he is for us.
To merely say that Jesus was a really good person is to deny that Jesus is also the way in which we see and know God.
Jesus is the son who transforms us into shining examples of God’s grace and love.

Our hope is that we too might be able through the grace of Jesus to be transfigured and made into a new person.
As St. Paul writes, “If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation..everything becomes new.”
This transformation is not possible outside of faith in Jesus Christ.
It is only possible because God’s glory shown through Christ.
And through Jesus glory I can see glimpses of God’s glory in my life, in your life.

Which leads me back to the family of four with two working tired parents who drudge themselves and their kids to worship on Sunday morning?
Why should they come to worship?
The glory that we receive from being here is too great not to be here.
It is too important to miss for anything.
For fatigue, sleep, coffee, a great breakfast, the Sunday paper or anything else.
What we receive this morning is transformation from the people who can do no right, the people who are slow to understand, the people who work too hard for too little, into something far greater than anything else.

I think our faith in Jesus Christ transforms our lives and gives us glimpses of God’s kingdom.
I think it enables us to see in our very normal life the transcendence of God’s holy mystery.
Getting up and going to work is not just about a paycheck, it is about serving God and our neighbor.
Our marriages are not just about keeping a promise; it is about a spiritual journey of leaving our selfish lives in service someone else.
Our children are not just another thing to manage they are holy treasures to love and nurture.
Family meals are not just ways to get nutrient they are holy moments to share our lives and treasure each other.

I used to be against the idea of having to go to a mountain top to experience the divine presence.
But the more I think about it the more I am convinced that mountain top experiences are essential to our life of faith.
It is on the mountain that God give Moses the holy law.
It is on the mountain when God in silence gives Elijah the comfort of God’s holy presence.
And today it is on a mountain that God confirms Jesus mission, and tells us to listen to Jesus because Jesus is the true interpretation of the law and the prophets.
It is on the mountain today when we are told that Jesus is God’s son the messiah.
So, on the mountain we come in contact with the holy mystery of our faith.
It is on mountain tops that God communes with us and tells the transformational truths that give our lives value and meaning.
The Mountain top experiences make it possible for us to see God in the ordinary times.
What is your mountain top moment?
When do you experience a glimpse of the holy and transcendent?

I will tell you that many years ago on a mountain I had a deeply transformational moment with God.
I was sixteen and questioning if I believed in God.
I was at Camp Calumet and I took a hike by myself up to Jackman’s ridge that overlooks the lake and the camp.
There I talked to God.
I confessed that I was sinful, and that I needed God in my life.
In the wonder of the mountains, in the beauty of God’s created world, I felt the presence of God.
I got an answer that day that God would always be there for me.
I have had other moments that where similar.
I find that at worship every week I get moments of the transformation as God continues to call to me through his word, and forgive and love me through his body and blood.

That is why it is worth it for you to be here this morning.
It is why it is the best thing you can do for yourselves all week.
Get up and come to worship.
Here you will experience the transformation of your lives.
Here you will see God in His Son Jesus Christ.
So come up to the mountain and in awe see Jesus Christ your Lord and your Savior. Amen

Monday, February 8, 2010

Passing On What Was First Given To Us

There is something about a new baby that melts even the hardest and most cynical of hearts.
I believe it is that in new babies we see the promise of tomorrow.
When we are around babies there is the sense that all the wrongs can be righted because this new life has such hope and possibility.
I know as a parent I often project onto my children all my greatest hopes.
I hope they will someday grow up to help those in need, create beauty, and undo past injustices.
I hope they will be astronauts, lawyers, politicians, teachers, or play center field for the Boston Red Sox.
This Christmas I bought my son Charlie his first t-ball set in hopes that he will fulfill my dream of someday playing for the Boston Red Sox.
What we wonder when we see babies is what will they be?
They are filled with limitless possibilities.
Today is about those possibilities for Thomas Christian Forsberg.
It is about what will God make him to be as he grows in his faith?
All of the readings we read this morning are about the calling of people of God.
We read about the call of Isaiah, St. Paul, and Peter.
All of these people share that they felt unprepared for their calling.
But we remember them today as the pillars of faith.
We know Isaiah as the most important prophet of the Old Testament.
So important that he is quoted in the New Testament more than any other person in the Old Testament.
We remember Paul as a Saint and that Christianity never would have grown without Paul’s mission to the Gentiles.
We remember Peter as the greatest of the disciples and the Rock on which Jesus built the church.

Now we might be thinking that we are not like Isaiah, Paul, and Peter.
But I think we are.
We are under the wrong assumption that it is pastors, bishops, and really godly people that are the ones who serve God while the rest of us simply go on living overly sinful lives.
Notice what Paul says to the people of the church of Corinth that he “handed on to them as of first importance what I in turn had received.”
All Paul’s calling was about was helping others see Jesus in their lives.
And all of us are called to do the same with whoever is in our lives.
With all due respect to some of the Pastors I have had in my life my faith has been most affected by people who were not pastors.
It was shaped by many people that will not be remembered on any official church calendar.

First, my life of faith was shaped by my parents.
Neither of them where pastors.
My mom is a nurse, and my Dad sold lawn and garden supplies at Sears.
They are certainly not perfect people, but what I learned from them was that in the contexts of everyday life it is important to have faith in God.
I learned that when it is hard to the pay the bills God is there for us.
I learned that when we experience death our faith tells us that there is eternal life.
I learned that being faithful in marriage is more important than always being happy.
I learned that our faith shapes how we live and what we do.
This morning I hope that all of you who are parents realize how important you are to shaping your children in their faith life.
They might not always like it or want it, but someday they will thank you for passing on to them what you already know that Jesus died for us and rose again so that we too might have eternal life.
Christian and Kelly I know that you will pass on to Thomas your faith, and show him the importance of knowing Jesus as his Lord and savior.
I know that you will live up to the promises you make this morning to teach Thomas the foundations of faith.

But parents cannot do it alone.
I also was shaped by the community of believers in my home congregation.
I was shaped not only by the Pastor but by people who gave of their time to pass along what they knew about Jesus.
This week in our congregation we said good bye for now to Judy Hartgen.
Judy was a teacher.
Teaching was one of her passions.
And she touched many children with her love of God through her teaching.
Especially in congregations where she served as a Sunday School teacher.
Also, this week Pat Peters died.
I know that none of you know who Pat Peters is but she was one of my Sunday School teachers.
She was one of the people in church who would risk talking to me when I was a malcontented teenager.
She was in my book a great saint of God, and so was Judy Hartgen.
They were both people who lived their faith and took time to share it with others.
Today as we baptize Thomas we as a congregation must remember our responsibility to share our faith with him as he grows in his own faith.
We must remember to tell him that he is God’s special Child.
And someday when he is walking around church as a malcontent teenager we must remember to say to him.
I was there at your baptism, “God loves you a lot.”

Because someone did that for us.
Someone cared enough about us to share their faith with us and to pass it on so that we could become the person that God calls us to be.
Each one of us in our baptism is called by God to be something special in the world.
Today God calls Thomas Christian Forsberg to be his special child.
None of us knows for sure what that will be practically.
We don’t know if Thomas will be a teacher, a lawyer, a salesman.
What we do know is that whatever it is God will call him to do it as one of God’s children.

The same is true of each of us.
Each one of us here this morning is called by God to live out our Christian lives in the context of everyday faith.
We are called to preach the good news to the world.
I know you might be thinking what Isaiah, Paul, and Peter were thinking that you are not worthy or not good enough, or not strong enough, or not faithful enough.
But I tell you that it is not about you, it is about what God is going to do through you.
It is about God’s power to use your life to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

Sometimes Baptisms are about how cute the baby is?
In Baptism something is going on much more important.
For in Baptism we are handing over to someone else what was given to us the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
That is what is happening today for Thomas.
Thomas parents Christian and Kelly are handing over to Thomas what was first given to them in their Baptism that Christ died for our sins in accordance with scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day.
What this means that Thomas life will not be about what he will become.
Rather it will be about what God will make him into.

Today I want all of us to think about that.
What is it that God has made you into?
What is it that God is calling you to be?
How are you living out your faith every day?
How are you passing on what was first given to you?

When we answer those questions then we are able to not merely be salesmen, nurses, lawyers, business people, but we are able to be disciples, apostles, and prophets.
This is the life that we as the body of Christ pass on to Thomas.
We give him the life of Jesus Christ that calls him out to be something special.
We look at this baby and we see the hope of a better tomorrow.
Perhaps he will right some of the wrongs.
But the greatest thing he will ever do is be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
The greatest thing he will ever do is pass on what was first given to him.

Let us go this morning and pass on what was given to us that Jesus Christ in accordance with the scripture died for our sins and was resurrected for our life.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Preacher's Are Like Whales

There is an old saying, “Preachers are like whales. They don’t get harpooned until they start spouting off.”
A saying that this morning I am all too aware off, because this morning’s Gospel from Luke is about Jesus spouting off and upsetting some good religious folks in his hometown of Nazareth.
See Jesus sermon had been going well.
“Everyone spoke well of him”
He told the good people of Nazareth that the Good News that they had hoped for had been fulfilled in their hearing.
That God had “Brought Good News to the poor and release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The poor people of Nazareth who had been enslaved by the Romans welcomed this good news Jesus brought to the synagogue that morning at worship.
What they didn’t like was Jesus then telling them that the message was not only for them, but it was for the Gentiles too.
That God in the time of Elijah and Elisha had saved Gentiles as well as Jews.

Now it was not merely that the good people of Nazareth were prejudice.
It was that they believed the Gentiles to be a sinful people.
They were dirty, and did unclean things that the law of God strictly forbade.
They ate the wrong food, did not wash properly, worked on the Sabbath, and were not the chosen ones of God.
Jesus correction is that God always chooses whom God wills.
Jesus reminds us that we can never put human conditions on God even when it comes to the law that we often ascribe to God.
Because of Jesus sermon that morning the good religious folks of Nazareth were so mad wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff.
That is how enraged they were by what Jesus preached about that morning.

My question for all of you this morning the good people of Concordia Lutheran Church is who do you want to keep out?
All of us to some degree or another have someone in our mind who is not worthy of God’s attention.
And sometimes we even use the Bible to do it.
We use the word of God to show that our prejudice or our own self righteousness is justified.
Who is it for you?
Whoever it is we have to be careful because God always surprises us.
The Good News of Jesus Christ is not just for us, but for all the people we think unworthy.

One of the great issues of our day is homosexuality.
It is not a new thing of course.
But because it is out in our society it has been hotly debated.
This past summer the ELCA once again debated this issue at our national church wide assembly.
As of January first gay marriage became legal in the state of New Hampshire.
This morning I want us to put aside the issue of gay marriage or clergy being allowed to serve congregations who are in committed same gendered relationships.
I want us to put those issues on the back burner.
I think that they are political issues and they have no place in my mind in pulpit.
If you want to ask me about my position on these issues as a citizen of this country I will give it to you.
What we are here to do this morning is to hear God’s word.
And what that word says to us is that there is no one that God excludes.
There are people that we exclude, but God will chose whom God wills.
If God wants to pick a widow in Sidon to save his prophet God will.
If God wants to save Naaman of Syrian from leprosy God will.
The Good News of God is not just for us who think we are holy it is for everyone, and especially for those we think are not.

My grandparents taught me a great deal about the issue of homosexuality.
They taught me about God’s love and tolerance.
You see my grandmother’s brother Karl was gay.
My grandmother grew up in a very strict pietistic Swedish Lutheran home.
Her father, my great grandfather, was a Lutheran minister.
My Grandmother was not allowed to play cards or dance.
And being gay was out of the question in her household.
So my uncle Karl did what was expected of him.
He got married, had kids, and tried to be “normal”.
The only problem was that he was who he was.
He ended up getting divorced, becoming estranged from his children, and becoming an alcoholic.
He died a lonely man, except for the love and support my grandparents continued to give him.

Now, one could quote seven biblical passages about the sin of my great uncle Karl.
You could use the Bible to suggest that he deserved what he got in life.
But what I think Jesus challenged the people within the synagogue that morning and the one I am challenging with you today is what about the rest of the Biblical witness.
What about the passages like we read from Paul’s letter this morning that speaks of love.
In fact, Paul tells us that nothing is more important than love.
Consider this translation from Eugene Peterson’s The message,
1 Corinthians 13
The Way of Love
1 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. 2If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing. 3-7If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.

12We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
13But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

We can follow the letter of the law, be the best person in the world, have all the faith, and understand all the mysteries and if we don’t have love then it all means nothing.
That is what I am asking us to consider this morning.
That God’s love has no bounds.
That the person you can’t stand, the person whose behavior is abhorrent to you, is also loved by God.
And that person you are called to love as well.

You see people are not political issues, they are not meant to be debated on television, or in church halls.
People are people meant to be loved and cared for.
My grandparents are not moral crusaders for some gay agenda, they simply loved and cared for someone in their life and taught their children and grandchildren to do the same.
This is the stronger message in the Bible.
It does not negate sin it only suggests that God’s love is bigger than sin.

And thank God because my sin is pretty bad.
I want God to forgive my sin why would I negate that from someone else.
That is what St. Paul is trying to get the church at Corinth to understand, it is what Jesus is trying to get the good people of Nazareth to understand.
It is what we as God’s people here need to constantly remind ourselves.
Church is not about taking theological stands and then stubbornly defending them until we get our way or leave because not enough people agree with us.
It is about the relationships we form with one another and our God.
It is about how well we welcome into our midst the stranger and the outsider.
Henri Nouwen the great spiritual writer says it this way:
Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them a space where change can take place.
It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.
It is not to lead our neighbor into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment.
This is what I hope for our church.
Is that we as the people of God will offer space for all of us to experience God.
That we can do that without always judging the worthiness of someone else, but just offer space for them to be themselves and to know God’s love.
This does not mean that everyone does whatever they want it means that our lives are governed by the ethics of love, understanding, and peace.
This sermon might make you mad, or you might not think this is an appropriate topic to talk about.
But the topic this morning is about who God loves and cares about.
The answer is everyone.
That is the clear message of Jesus sermon to the good religious folks of Nazareth.
I worried about this sermon.
In the end I decided to trust all of you.
That you would hear the message as intended not as some conspiracy to get you to think a certain way, but as an invitation to expand your thinking about God’s vision and love for all people.
This morning I would have to risk getting harpooned because God’s love is for all people, and that might seem easy to accept until we hear who those other people are.
This morning let us share the good news with all people.
Let us love as God has loved us.
Let us know that God’s love is bigger than our prejudice or our sin. Ame