Tuesday, May 29, 2012

En Theos!

Every confirmation class I have ever taught has its own personality.
Not just the individuals but the whole class usually develops some kind of unique traits or qualities.
For this class I could use one word to describe them it would be enthusiasm.
Every class these three young men came to class with lots of energy and enthusiasm.
We spend the first year of confirmation learning in depth about the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s prayers, The Sacraments, The Bible, and Lutheran History.
I spend most of the day before our class at thinking about ways to teach these things in ways that would use their energy and enthusiasm.
We played lots of games together.
(In fact, last night at after our rehearsal for today we went out and played a game together. How fitting.)
Like the time that we tied a bucket to our legs and had to run through the church in the fastest time possible.
(I am just glad that the Christ candle and Baptismal font are still in one piece.)
Anyway we had lots of fun together.
Our Second year of confirmation is about learning about the Church community.
It is about learning what happens in the Church.
How are we going to serve God and our neighbors after confirmation?
So in the second year we spend most of the time experiencing Church life.
(Because as all of you know by now confirmation is not graduation from Church!)
In the second year, we don’t have as many classes.
And one of the students came up to me and said, “Pastor when are we going to have more classes? I really miss them.”
That has never happened to me in my almost ten years of teaching confirmation.
These three young men liked confirmation.
They liked being together.
They like to have fun.
They are enthusiastic.

This morning I had them walk in with signs that had the word, “En Theos” at the top of it.
Did you know that the English word Enthusiasm comes from these Greek words.
En theos literally means, “In the Spirit”.
These young men have been in the spirit.
This morning we all gather to1gether with them to witness this moment of their confirmation.
We can all be enthusiastic together.
We can all be en theos.

I am sure that on that first Pentecost with all the disciples gathered together they felt enthusiasm for what God was going to do in their lives.
Peter feels so en theos that he gets up and delivers a sermon.
Peter witnesses to his faith.
And for Corey, Daniel, and Tyler I hope that for the rest of your days you remain enthusiastic about the Church, about your faith, and about serving God.

Confirmation is not the end of our knowledge of God.
In fact, it is only the surface the beginning of what we need to learn about God.
Think about our Gospel lesson for this morning.
Jesus is going to die.
He knows this and has told his disciples that he is going away.
It would be nice to think that Jesus told them everything they would need to know.
But this morning he tells them that he hasn’t.
“There are many more things I would like to tell you. But you cannot bear them now.”
I always feel this way about confirmation classes that I teach.
There are so many more things to say about God and faith.
In our two years together we have only scratched the surface together.
The Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer are only the beginning.
Consider that we only spent about two classes talking about the Biblical witness.
We could have spent the rest of your life talking about it, but I know that you cannot bear it all now.
In fact, my goals for confirmation are not to push a bunch of information into you.
It is not about merely filling young people’s minds with the right answers.
My goals are much more profound than merely passing on information.
It is to get you to know how special you are to God, and how much you mean to our congregation.
Part of what Church has to be about is having fun.
And I want that for you.
I know that at this point in your life you can’t bear it all now.
You are not ready for everything.

One of my favorite students from all the confirmation students I have had is Nikki Faison.
Nikki was “en theos” too.
She always asked the most challenging questions.
And on some occasions I had to ask her to calm down, and in one case I had to ask her to leave class.
Anyway, Nikki got confirmed.
A few years later she attended something called Pinecrest, which is a camp where high school kids go to learn about the Bible, theology, and all sorts of great things.
I can only compare it to Camp Calumet for me.
Anyway, Nikki was totally transformed by the experience.
She came back and was telling me about all the things she learned.
She said, “Pastor, why didn’t you tell us about this stuff in confirmation?”
I said, “Nikki I did you just didn’t listen then.”
She said, “Yeah, your right.”
She couldn’t bear it all then.
But in the spirit later she was ready.

This is why we need the Spirit.
This is why Jesus told his disciples he was going to send it.
The Spirit is what continues to teach us about Jesus and the Father.
The Spirit gives us the assurance of the resurrection promise.
The Spirit comforts us, encourages us, and sends us into the world.
Daniel, Corey, and Tyler may you continue to live en theos.
May you continue to have enthusiasm so that you might grow even deeper in your relationship with God.

There is so much more for you to experience and to know.
There are so many things ahead of you.
Graduating from high school, going to college, Falling in love, getting your first job, getting fired from your first job, learning to live on your own, getting married, buying a house, having kids of your own, growing old, and getting called home to the Lord, not only these big moments, but millions of smaller moments in between.
As you go through those times my hope is that you will continue to be tethered to God through the Holy Spirit.
That in those times you will learn God’s will for your life, God’s love for you and others.
Faith formation is a lifelong process.
It takes many twist and turn, many false starts.
But en theos can get you there.

The truth is that we often lose our enthusiasm for our faith.
It sometimes falls off or goes stale.
That enthusiasm for God and God’s people goes away.
But that is part of the Spirit’s work too.
It calls to us again and again.
And it will continue to call to the three of you.
Call you back en theos.

I have so enjoyed being with you on this part of your faith journey.
I have enjoyed your enthusiasm.
We are all going to enjoy watching to see what the Spirit will continue to do with your lives.
If you have learned nothing else in confirmation I hope you have learned that once God grabs a hold of us God never lets go.
May you continue to live enthusiastic lives connected to God through the Holy Spirit.

Monday, May 21, 2012

We Need Worship!

It would be nice to believe that we can do it on our own.
It would be nice to believe that we don’t need anyone else. 
All we need is ourselves, and our hard work, our own savvy and brains.
Let me say something radical this morning. None of us makes it on our own.
I don’t care who you are or what you have done, you at some point in your life dependent on someone else for something.
If you are a successful business person if it wasn’t for all the people that work for you that do their jobs well you wouldn’t be successful.
If you never had to ask for help before in your life it is probably because someone has been helping you all this time and you just never acknowledged it before.
 I have people all the time who call the church looking for help and they say something like, “I’ve never had to do this before. I have never had to ask for help.”
I say the same thing every time, “We all need help at some point.”
That old cliché is true, “No man/woman is an island.”
This morning’s Jesus prays for us.
We hear in his prayer his desire for the Church after he leaves.
It is nice to think of Jesus praying for us individually. But what is most interesting is what he prays for.
He does not pray that individually we go out and conquer the world.
He does not pray that individual we have more faith.
Jesus prays that we might be protected and have faith so that we might be one.
“Holy father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
Our protection from the world or faith in the name that is above every name comes from our oneness.
It comes from being together.
But more than merely being together our oneness is not tied up in our individual ideas.
It is tied up in the person of Jesus Christ.
Our oneness is not about if we agree on everything.
It is not about if we share the same doctrinal positions, or the same outlook.
It is only about our faith in Jesus Christ. But you see our faith is also not an individual accomplishment.
You do not come to faith on your own.
It is the work of the God.
As Luther said, “I believe that of my own free will I cannot believe in God.”
We come together on Sunday mornings to share in something far beyond ourselves.
It is something that makes us rely on others for our lives.
Most of all it makes us rely on God for our lives.
This past week another pastor from Pennsylvania, Don Wright posted this little poem on his Facebook page.
If I had all faith, so as to move mountains, I would not require water for baptism.
God's word would be enough. I would not require bread and wine for Holy Communion.
The Words of Institution would be enough. I would not need the Church for my faith alone would be enough.
But as it is I do not have faith the size of a mustard seed for I cannot even move a molehill, let alone a mountain.
Therefore give me water, give me bread and give me wine. Surround me with the prayers, the singing, and the joyous fellowship of the saints. Wrapped with God's Word it is enough.
This is what the Church does for us it gives us faith. In it we find strength.
We find strength in being together around the precious and holy symbols of God’s care for us.
Today in worship as we sing songs about Christ, as we hear Jesus prayer for us, as we remember our baptisms, as we receive the body and blood of Christ, we remember that being together is what Jesus wanted for us.
Think about all the other ways that Jesus could have helped us.
Think of the other things that Jesus could have prayed. Jesus could have taken us with him into heaven. Jesus could have ended all things.
Maybe he should have prayed that the world would end so that we could all be with God in heaven.
But instead Jesus leaves his disciples behind.
Jesus goes on without them. (Of course he does not leave them alone…You will have to come back next week for that.)
Instead his prayer is that we remain in the world to carry on the work. “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.”
His prayer is that we remain one so that together we might be able to defeat and push back evil.
This week I heard someone call this priestly prayer of Jesus his commencement speech to his disciples.
You know it is that time of year when young people graduate.
And at each graduation there are speeches about going into the world and changing it, making a difference.
 I can still remember the speeches, from our valedictorian and salutatorian, when I graduated from high school.
They were both inspiring.
They were both hopeful about all the great things that we would do as the class of 1992.
The difference in Jesus’ prayer is that we do great things not because of our greatness, but because we remain as one, because we turn our lives over to God.
Jesus commencement speech is different because it tells us to rely on God and each other for all the great things we will do.
This week as I was preparing to preach about our Gospel for this morning I was thinking about all of us here.
I was thinking about all the things that people in our congregation are going through right now. I was thinking this morning about the people that might be worshiping with us for the first time.
I know that many of you are facing some very difficult times.
Some of you are confronted with serious evil. Some of you are dealing with your own sin or the sins of others.
Some of you are fighting off some pretty difficult demons.
I am willing to bet that your faith is either sustaining you, or it is crushing under the weight of daily life.
This morning I want you to know that you don’t have to do it alone.
You don’t have to suffer by yourself.
You don’t have to keep it going by yourself.
You don’t have to pray for more faith, because Jesus is here for you. Jesus has given himself for you; Jesus has created this community with all of its own imperfections, to be here for you. Jesus gave us his word.
 His Word that forgives us, that moves mountains, that lifts us up when we have fallen to the depths of despair.
 It is in Church this morning that we have that Word given to us in song, scripture, water, wine and bread.
 As we said together from Psalm 1 “Their delight is in the law of the Lord and they mediate on God’s teaching day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season.”
Psalm 1 is like a great invitation to mediate on God’s Word, and to live in the splendor of that Word.
Psalm 1 invites us into the Psalms so that we might let God heal every broken heart, every crushed soul.
 This morning as we hear God’s Word and are overcome with its invitation to us let us remember that with God’s Word it is enough.
Left with only our self-fortitude we are in trouble.
But with the Church that gives us faith, we can move mountains.
Let us continue to mediate on God’s word that we experience together in songs, fellowship, water, bread and wine, so that we might be planted like trees by streams of water, so that we might be one, and we might be able to fend off the evil one. Amen

Monday, May 14, 2012

Love The Women In Your LIfe!

A couple of summers ago we were at Camp Calumet. We had a great day of swimming and relaxing on the shores of Lake Ossipee. I was walking back to our car with my five year old daughter. Out of the blue she said to me in a really sad voice, “Daddy I am fat.” Wait who told her that. How does she even know what that means? That was the day I realized how important my job was as a father. My wife and I had never told our daughter that she was fat. To my knowledge no one in our family had ever said that to her. It made me realize that I was going to have to talk louder and more boldly. I was going to have to be louder than all the other voices out there in the world shouting at my little girl. I was going to have to be louder than the voices that tell her that her worth is tied up in her looks. The voices that tell her she is not skinny enough, not good looking enough, not hot enough. The powers of the world are great at tearing us down. They want to tear us down, because then we will consume more, we will overcompensate, and we will turn mean or give up all together. We can’t give up, because today is Mother’s day. And some day (maybe) my little girl will be a mother. She will be responsible for another life, and I want her to be able to love that other life more than her own. Some day (maybe) my little girl will be a lawyer, a doctor, a senator, a painter, a teacher, a bus driver, or whatever. I want her to see her role in this world as healing and as giving back. I want her to make a difference in the world in some way. I don’t want her to be afraid, but to know that she can conquer the world. I don’t want her own self to get in the way of all the things she will do. Some day (defiantly) my little girl will be called to defend someone else, help someone else, love someone else. I don’t want her to hate herself, because that makes loving others really hard. On this mother’s day I want all of us here at worship this morning to know that it is an uphill battle. I am sure if you are a woman you already know this. I am not saying anything particularly radical this morning. But I believe in speaking the truth about what the world does to us. Consider that 3 out of 4 girls 12 years old feel depressed, guilty, and shameful. That 48% of girls after looking at a fashion magazine for just 3 minutes said they wished they were as skinny as models. 31% of 12 year old girls admit to starving themselves to lose weight. One out of every four college-aged women uses unhealthy methods of weight control—including fasting, skipping meals, excessive exercise, laxative abuse, and self-induced vomiting. Consider that the diet industry in the US makes anywhere from 40 to 100 billion dollars a year selling temporary weight loss. We are up against an industry that gets rich because women feel bad about themselves. We are up against a world that defines what it means to be beautiful that has nothing to do with what goes on in our insides. The world does not care about a person’s character, or their worth as a child of God, only in what materially they look like. This is not about some overly wishy-washy self-esteem thing. I don’t believe that every kid should get and A, or that we should be telling our kids how great they are all the time. This is about something evil in our world. It is a message being given out to woman that they are not good enough, not because of their accomplishments, but because of the way they look. That they don’t measure up to some totally bizarre and unattainable image of what a woman should be. In our reading from 1 John we are told that we have the power through Jesus Christ to conquer the world. The world in John means the things that are apart from God, the things in opposition to God. Telling women that they have to all meet the same standard of beauty is apart from God. Telling women that their worth is tied to their looks is in opposition to God. It stands in direct opposition to the message that is in the Biblical witness. The message of the Biblical witness is that each and every women (men too but we are talking about women this morning) has a God given value. That value is not about what they look like, but about God’s love for them. Jesus over against the people of his day saw value in women. He had women as followers because for Jesus they were more than sex objects, they were valuable to the kingdom of God. The woman at the well who was exploited by five different men and shunned from her community became a witness to Jesus’ divinity. The prostitute who was about to be stoned hypocritically by the men of the village is given a new life from Jesus. Mary can sit and learn at Jesus feet, just like a man, because all God’s children should be able to learn and question. The women become the first preachers of the resurrection because they are the ones with enough guts to go to the tomb that Sunday morning. I could go on and on, but you get the picture Jesus constantly broke the bounds of the world to set women free. That is my message to everyone this morning. On this mother’s day, on this the Lord’s day, we don’t have to allow our aunts, daughters, wives, sisters, and mother’s to feel tied by the world’s expectations of what they are. We can conquer the world! How? We can conquer the world through the love of God. It is ultimately love that conquers all things. It is love that moves us to do better. It is love of my daughter, my wife, my mother, and my sisters that make me speak up and say that this cannot stand. Lebron James received the most valuable player award this week from the NBA. In his acceptance speech he was emotional as he talked about his kids. He said, “I do what I do perform at a high level every night, because I don’t want to let them down.” Out of love, he does not want to let his kids down. I don’t want to let my daughter down. I shared this story about my daughter this week at our pastor’s Bible study. Someone asked me what my response to her was. I have to say I don’t know if I gave the best response. I don’t know if the words I used after she said that helped or not. But what I know is that I have to love her more. From that love I have to tell her more what an amazing person she is. I have to let her know every day that God loves her, that God made her to be more than merely her looks. I have to let her know that it is what on the inside that counts. I have to love the women in my life more, so that they see themselves through my eyes and not some image on a magazine. That is what mother’s day is about. It is about letting the women in our lives know that we honor them. Not because of their beauty outside but because of what God has called them to be in this world. I have been blessed in my life to have a mother that told me every day that she loved me unconditionally. I have been blessed to have a mother who taught me right from wrong. I have been blessed with a mother who dragged me every Sunday morning against my will to church so I could know God’s love for me. It is because of that love that I want to give back to my daughter. That is how love works we give it away and it multiplies and it conquers all the evil things that we are surrounded by. As scripture says, “Love covers a multitude of sin.” It helps us to see ourselves not as the world would see us, but as how God sees us. God sees us as his beloved children who are gifted and special. I hope that we can see women as God sees them. I have faith that through the love of God we can conquer the world. We can let the women in our lives know their value to us. So on this Mother’s day love the women in your life, and make sure they know how special they have been to you. Make sure they know you love them. So that we might through faith in the love of God conquer all things that are in opposition to God. Amen