Sunday, August 22, 2010


This week at Vacation Bible School we were telling stories to the kids about Jesus ministry.
The kids heard the story about Jesus’ birth, turning water into wine, having his feet washed by a sinful woman, finding lost sheep, and blessing the little children.
What do all these stories have in common?
They all end with people celebrating or rejoicing.
At Jesus birth the shepherds rejoice at the news of Jesus being born.
At the wedding the people celebrate because the best wine was still available and the party could go on.
The woman rejoices because her sins are forgiven.
Jesus tells us that God rejoices when someone is lost and then found.
And Jesus celebrates that the children come to him.
Today’s Gospel is also about rejoicing.
Today Jesus heals a woman on the Sabbath in the synagogue and the people rejoice because the synagogue has been returned to what it was meant to be a place of great joy that God has healed and saved us.
There is a lot of rejoicing in the stories about Jesus.
This is why we have all come to worship this morning to celebrate that God cares about us and loves us.
We have come to sing songs of praise to our God who forgives sins, heals us, sets us free, saves us, searches for us, and blesses us.
We have come to pray in thankfulness for the many blessings the God has given us.

I always think that sometimes we don’t celebrate enough in worship.
We make worship about acting the right way or doing the right thing, in the right order.
Instead of keeping our focus on what worship is really about it is about what God has done for us, not about what we do for God.
And God through Jesus has shown us a great love and a saving love.
Jesus came to reclaim what the Torah teaches that God’s love is abundant and wide.
Today we have some of my favorite Biblical passages of the Old Testament.
From The psalmist we hear that God is “full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”
What wonderful beautiful words.
It sums up the Gospel message for us.
This is what Jesus came to show us and give to us a God not of anger and vengefulness.
Not a God concerned with over legalist man made rules, but a God of compassion and mercy.
This is not to say that God’s law is bad.
It is to say that the law was given so that we might know God’s love and mercy, not so that we can use against one another, or hinder the work of the Gospel.

In Isaiah we hear how the lord leads us to be repairers of the breach the breach that separates us from one another and from God.
The breach that separates us from God has been filled by Jesus coming to us to show us God’s love.
Now we are called to repair that breach for one another.

This week at Vacation Bible School we have been on the Gospel train.
And since we have been on a train this whole week I thought I would tell a train story.
This is a story based on a true story.
It happened June 15th 2009 in Pittsfield, MA.
I say based because it was told to me this week and I could not confirm it on the internet without shelling out some money.
Anyway…it is based on a true story.
On June 15th of 2009 there was a huge storm in Pittsfield MA.
There was massive flooding in the area that flooded out part of the train tracks.
But on this day the train that always traveled through the area was right on time.
Only the engineer did not know that down the track the floods from the storm had totally washed out the track.
There (we will call him Bob) was a man in town who was a train enthusiast.
Bob studied the movement of the trains and knew the schedule like the back of his hand.
On this day Bob was listening to the radio and heard about the flood.
He then realized that the train was headed for this huge breach in the track.
He ran from his house to the railroad track.
And he managed to flag down the train before it reached the breach and its demise.
Now I don’t know for sure but my guess is that the engineer, conductor and other people on that train where mighty glad that Bob had managed to warn them before they went over the breach in the track.
My guess is they celebrated their saving that day.

This story is a great train story.
And it can be used in a variety of ways.
Jesus is the one who knows how everything runs.
He knows all the wash outs and all the floods and dangers up ahead.
Jesus is the one we count on to save us from the breach to be the one who repairs it and helps us on our way.
But also Jesus is the one who gives us the ability, power, passion to help others from falling into the breach.
Jesus gives us the power to know the track and the train and to help others.
Either way we win!
Either way you look at it we are saved from eventual doom.

We don’t always know the dangers ahead.
We don’t always know what will happen around the next bend.
But in faith we stay on the tracks knowing that our God cares about us.

Indeed our God is a compassionate God slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
And that is cause to celebrate!
In fact it is the best news that I ever heard in my life.
It is Good News!

This morning I wish for you to hear that news too!
To celebrate that God cares about you and your life.
That God through Jesus Christ is here to forgive you, save you, bless you, and heal you.
That today Good News has come to this place of worship.
That we too like the crowd in the synagogue that morning can rejoice at all the wonderful things that Jesus is doing in our lives.

This week as you go about your lives search out the things that Jesus is doing for you.
Look for the ways that Jesus works in your life.
They might be small like your kids telling you that they love you for no reason.
Or it might be something big like Jesus waving you down right before you fall over a breach in the tracks.
Whatever it is look for it and take a moment to celebrate it!
Truth is that we don’t celebrate enough.
We take too much time in our lives to find who is to blame for something, or complain about things we have no control over.
Instead of celebrating that Jesus is in our midst ready to heal we sometimes want to play the legalist and think of all the reasons why it would be inappropriate.
Truth is that God wants us to rejoice!
God wants us to celebrate!

Especially on Sunday mornings
Because on Sunday mornings we are together as the people of God, and Jesus is here with us.
Jesus is here speaking wonderful words to us telling us that we are forgiven, healed, saved, set free, loved, and blessed.
Jesus is telling us that God has repaired the breach through him.
That God is abounding in steadfast love, mercy, and compassion.

So this morning let us rejoice together in all God’s goodness.
Let us praise God for sending Jesus Christ to reclaim the synagogue and preach the Good News of God’s love, saving, forgiveness, and healing.

Monday, August 16, 2010

I Came to Bring Division

“Do you think that I came to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
Jesus bringing division is not the usual way we think of Jesus.
For many of us Jesus brings comfort into our uncertain lives.
Jesus is the rock that centers our lives, the one who calms stormy waters.
Certainly this is partly true of our lives of faith.
But what Jesus talks about this morning is the other side.
It is the Jesus who challenges us.
Jesus calls us to a life of discipleship and that brings division and struggle.
This whole summer and into the fall we are hearing Jesus teaching about what it means to be a disciple on his way to Jerusalem and the cross.
Some of these teaching are challenging for us.
They are not always words of comfort to us.
Jesus comes to bring divine divisions as he challenges us to be burned in the fire and have our lives refined.

What I thought I might do this morning is call out a series of divisive issues that we are facing in our day and have people stand up for what side of the issue they are on.
Have all the people who are pro-choice stand up, and then all the people who are pro-life stand up….
Have all the people for gay marriage stand up, and all the people against it stand up.
After thinking about it I decided against it.
But the point I wanted to make is this we don’t all agree in this congregation.
We might have love for one another, but there are divisions.
In fact, as your pastor for this last year what I have experienced sometime is divisions.
There have been times when people did not like my approach to certain topics or issues.
There have been other times when there were disagreements over the best way to do ministry.
And that is ok because part of being church together is working through our differences to find what God is calling us to do together.
I don’t know any pastor who walks into a church and thinks, “I am here to bring division.”
All the pastors I know want to work with a congregation and have a passion for the Gospel.
What we all discover is that it is impossible not to create some divisions because the Gospel is always challenging us.
The Gospel is always calling us to some new and difficult place.
That is the just the nature of Church.
It is not something we often talk about.
We like to pretend that everything is fine.
But perhaps the problem is not that we have divisions, but that we keep them secret.
The problem is that we don’t talk about what divides us enough.
We do it in the name of peace, but in the long run we really don’t create true peace we create resentment and mistrust.
I have found in my short time on this earth that when we talk about our divisions something happens to us we grow, we change, we evolve.
I can guarantee you that when my call is up at this congregation I will be a different person because of all of you, and you will be different because of me.
Changing is good because it refines us as human beings.
This is why Jesus wished the fire was already here.
Jesus wishes that we were already being refined and changed into who God has called us to be.

The Gospel is about refining us as we are called deeper into our baptismal life.
The Gospel is a call to a radical love and self giving that I don’t think sits well with most people.
And therefore it does create division.
We might not like the idea that Jesus calls us to forgive all sins as many as 7 time 70 times.
It is hard to forgive someone one time forget doing that many times.
We might not like the idea that we are called to radically giving of our possessions for others.
You are supposed to with joy give away at least ten percent of whatever you own.
Lots of people don’t like that idea.
You might not like the idea that the Gospel is best heard from the vantage point of the poor.
The Gospel of Luke has a preferential option for the poor.
Jesus very mission is to bring Good News to the poor.
Not the middle class, not the rich, not the good Christian folks like you and me.
Sometimes that idea is uncomfortable and controversial.
I was once at a wedding one of the guest was telling me that it was the religious folks who were messing up this country because we were too easy on the poor.
Not everyone likes the Gospel message.
Jesus calls us to love even our enemies, and tells us true discipleship is not found merely loving those people that love us back.
Perhaps we want there to be more rules for following Christ.
We would appreciate it if God was not so generous to people who sinned, unlike ourselves who do everything right.
We can see that the Gospel has lots of demands on us.
It brings division in our lives and sets us against the world that tells us that poor people are poor because they deserve it, or that this or that that person is not as good as you are.
The world tells us that what we earn we deserve and we should be out there to get ours.
It is the world that tells us that some people are more worthy then others.
The world tells us that we get three strikes and then we are out.
The Gospel brings division because it is so challenging to our way of thinking and doing things.

Remember it is in the Gospel of Luke that the people from his hometown want to throw Jesus off a cliff, because he suggested that God’s love was for Gentiles as well as Jews.
It is in Luke’s Gospel that the Pharisees and Sadducees.
The religious establishment starts plotting Jesus death since the start of his ministry when he would heal people on the Sabbath.
Jesus ministry is not about peace, and it does bring division because the Gospel is about refining us and making us into the image of God.

Learning to love your enemies takes time and lots of refining.
Learning to give away ten percent of your income takes lots of internal struggle and sacrifice.
Learning to care for the poor takes us out of our normal comfort zone.
Learning to forgive those who sin against us takes lots of broken relationships.
The thing about fires is that when we step into it we get hurt, but it is in the burning that we are refined.

What are the ways that you need to be refined this morning?
What are the ways Jesus is challenging you in your faith journey?
What are the ways that we as Concordia Lutheran Church are being refined and burned with fire?

These are questions that are good to ask ourselves.
They are questions that we might not like what Jesus has to say.
But perhaps the problem in the Lutheran Church in the year 2010 is that we are not on fire.
For too long we have been too complacent in our ministry.
In an effort to keep peace we have forgotten that the Gospel does bring divisions and difficult conversations.

You know there has never been a time in the history of the Church where everyone got along, and everything went really well.
From the time of Jesus resurrection and ascension we have been arguing about what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
There have always been divisions and there probably always will be.
Because what Jesus brought into our lives was a radical love and self giving that often brings division.
Through these divisions Jesus challenges us each and every day to grow and change to be refined in the fire.

So let us not hide our divisions, but rather use them as ways to be refined.
When necessary let us stand up for the Gospel even when it is uncomfortable.
Let us stand up for the poor, the sinners, and the lost.
So that we might burn with fire and be refined into God’s people.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

All I got!

This week I had a visit from a friend who I have not seen in 19 years.
We were close when we worked at camp together back when we were teenagers.
She has been through some things in her life since that time.
She has lived a lot and seen a lot.
She got married, had a kid, and got divorced.
For a while she was homeless, or lots of times on the brink of being homeless.
Currently she got remarried, and is working as an administrator at a Church in North Carolina that does a lot of work with the homeless.
She sees things that you and I might never see she has experienced things that you and I might never experience.
When she was hear visiting we started to talk about our faith and she asked me how we continue to have faith in circumstances where everything seems hopeless and lost.
In her daily work she sees a lot of unhappy endings.
She sees people who don’t make it or who don’t get better.
Where is our faith in God in such times?
She told me it was easy when we were 17 or 18 to have faith at camp calumet.
It was easy to feel like everything would work out surrounded by love, but in the real world well faith is not that easy.
Our conversation really challenged me, because the simple answers we often give in such times seemed to be too shallow and trite.

I have a week now to think about that conversation.
And I have had a week of reading and thinking about our text for this morning.
All of them about faith in difficult circumstances.
Our first reading is about the promise of God to Abram.
The problem is that the promise is that Abram will have many offspring and he and his wife are very old.
For Abram there can be no more important thing in life than having a child with Sara, but it seems impossible now.
How can he believe God is such circumstances?
This seems like an impossible situation.
In the Gospel Jesus speaks words of comfort to his disciples while on his way to Jerusalem.
The disciples do not know what is about to happen.
They do not know how much they will need to cling to these words about not being afraid in uncertain times.
Finally in the letter to the Hebrews the writer tells us to keep faith even though all things seem to the contrary.
And in Hebrews we get the best definition of faith.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

“The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
To my friend this is the answer to her question.
We don’t know why or how everything works out.
We can’t see it.
We have faith anyway.
We have faith because we believe that God is faithful.
I don’t know if that is the most satisfying answer but it is all I got.

In our baptisms what we receive is a promise from God.
It is not a promise that says for the rest of our lives everything will be perfect.
We don’t know what life has in store for us.
We don’t know all the paths we will walk.
We don’t know if we will dream big dreams that someday come true, or if we will have some really hard times.
What we do know today for certain is that God promises to be there with and for us always.
What we are given in our baptism is hope in things yet unseen.

Someday we might be having a problem a dilemma.
Someday we might be in some trouble that we can’t fix.
And in that moments we might feel guilty like we have failed.
Don’t do that to yourself.
Don’t blame yourself because life is not perfect.
Not everything in life is someone’s fault.
Not everything is about choices we make.
So don’t carry all that guilt around because it is just not helpful or productive.
Instead remember Jesus words.
“Do not be afraid little flock.”
Instead of feeling guilty or blaming others simply have faith in God.
Deal with the consequences of your actions in a responsible way, learn from it and grow in faith from it.
Remember the promises God makes to you everyday.
They are promises of life and life in abundance.
Have faith that God has something wonderful in store for you.
Have faith that God is teaching you something in this very moment.
Remember in your baptism God made a promise to you have faith in that promise.
Faith is what we receive today as we gather to ask God to be with us in whatever condition we find our lives.

Faith is all any of us really have.
It is what we all cling to deep in our souls.
Because without faith we become cynical about the world and others.
Without faith we are lost to sin and death.
Without faith what we see in the world is the end of the story.
People are born, they pay taxes, and die.
That is a life without faith.
With faith we see that our true home is not here it is in heaven with God.
With faith we see purpose and meaning even in the pain and hurt.
With faith we live not as mortals but as immortal.

This morning here the words of Jesus again, “Do not be afraid little flock.”
Do not be afraid.
All of us who have come to this place this morning Jesus is speaking to us and telling us not to be afraid of all that life is throwing at us.
Instead have faith that indeed it is God’s pleasure to give us the kingdom of God.

Faith this is the only answer I got.
I don’t know if it is good enough to convince anyone of anything.
I don’t know if someone whose life has been real hard will buy into it.
Because the thing is I can’t give you proof that God is working all the time.
Faith is believing in the promise of what cannot be seen.
That is always the dilemma we are in with faith.
When someone says, “yeah all that God stuff is great but show it to me. Prove that things will work out.”
We can’t show anything.
All we can do is believe through the Holy Spirit in what God’s word tells us.
All we can do is have faith that God will come through for us and the world.
What I do know is that a life with faith is better without.
Even now that I am older and I have seen and lived some things I still cling to my faith in God.

As I was talking to my friend I told her that we all have some scars on us in the last 19 years.
We are not as optimistic as we were back in our teenage days.
However, I believe we still have God.
We still believe in that promise that God made to Abram, that Jesus makes to us, and that the Holy Spirit continues to whisper in our ear.
The promise that was poured over us in the water of our baptism.
The promise that tells us not to be afraid.
The promise that the psalmist sings this morning, “Let your steadfast love , O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.”

So let us continue to have faith.
Let us continue to have assurance in the things hoped for, conviction in the things not seen.
So that we may always know the love of God and hear the words of Jesus, “do not be afraid little flock.”