Wednesday, October 23, 2013

We Are Spoiled!

My kids are spoiled.
I tell them this often.
They have way more than they need.
The truth is that I am the one who spoils them.
I buy them things all the time.
Usually if they want something they get it at some point.
Now I didn’t grow up poor by any stretch, but I also remember that if I wanted something I usually only got things on my birthday or Christmas.
Occasionally my parents would buy us something just for the heck of it.
Even with that I was still spoiled too.
And I am still am.
I have all the things in life I need, and if I want something I can usually get it.
It is one of the great struggles of living in America in these times that most of us have what we want and need.
It is a struggle to talk to our kids about what is appropriate and what is over the top.
We are all spoiled not just in terms of material things but spiritually too.
God is lavish with love, hope, joy, forgiveness, and just giving us a wonderful world to enjoy.
The other day I took a drive just to enjoy the fall foliage and I kept thinking how spoiled I am to be able to enjoy this beautiful time of year.
The old saying is true; God is good all the time.

Jesus this morning tells a parable about a woman and an unjust judge.
The woman has a need.
She pleads with the judge and eventually the judge gives in.
Luke tells us that Jesus tells this parable to show what happens when we turn to God in prayer.
Luke shows us if an unjust judge gives in to the pleas of this woman how much more will God, who is just, give us?

Here is the problem we forget how spoiled we are.
We forget how much God gives.
We forget the spiritual overflowing that comes from God.
We forget that when we are in need God is there for us and with us.
All that is needed is a prayer.
Think about how simple that is.
We don’t have to do some fancy ritual.
We don’t have to go out and get a chicken and have it sacrificed by the first full moon of the first Thursday.
No, all we have to do is turn to God and ask.
That is the definition of being spiritually spoiled.
Not only that but it doesn’t matter our position in life.
It doesn’t matter if we have been good or bad.
It doesn’t matter if we think that it will work or not.
We just have to ask.

Luther in his large catechism talking about the Lord’s Prayer writes, “God has promised that our prayer will surely be answered.”
Prayer in and of itself is an act of faith.
It says that we believe there is something/someone who is willing and able to hear us, and take our need seriously.
The God that we know is one who is deeply involved in our lives and wants to know our needs.

Of course there are times when we can’t pray.
That the words won’t come because the pain is so deep we simply don’t have words.
I have been in the position a couple of times in my life.
Once, I was called to the emergency room because a member of the congregation I served had killed themselves.
When I showed up I sat in a room with the mother and father.
We talked for a little while; we sat in silence for some time.
Then I asked if they wanted to pray.
The mother said, “Pastor we just wouldn’t know what to pray for.”
I agreed and we simply sat there for a while longer.

But here is the thing about our God even when the hurt is too much, scripture tells us, the Spirit intercedes for us and helps us pray for what we cannot.
I can also tell you that while we sat there together I was praying a lot, and eventually we did pray together.
Which is the other thing about prayer that really spoils us, if we can’t pray for ourselves others pray on our behalf.
Others pray the words we cannot utter.
When the words won’t come God hears even our sighs as a prayer.
God is rich in giving us what we need spiritually.

I am wondering this morning what are the ways that God has been rich towards you?
What are the ways that you are spoiled by a God rich in mercy, love, faith, hope, forgiveness?

The first week we talked about the ways that God is faithful to us.
Last week we talked about the little things that God uses in our lives to do great things.
This week we are talking about how much we have in our lives.
We are talking about how much God has given us.
How God really spoils us.

My grandmother always will say, “We are rich in the things that money cannot buy.”
She has been saying it to my whole life.
I don’t know if I really ever realized what she was talking about until I realized how much God loves me and cares for me.
I don’t know if I really understood her until I went out into the world and met others who didn’t have a grandmother who would say things like that.
I didn’t understand it until I saw how much my parents sacrificed in their lives to give me things like a college education, and summers up at Camp Calumet.
To be rich in love, mercy, grace, faith, joy, hope, forgiveness these are all things that money cannot buy.
And they are the most important things in life.
Because everything else we have is really fleeting.
Things we have will rust and burn out or go away.
What are we left with if we don’t have our things?
We are left with so much.
Even with nothing we are still rich and spoiled.

I am not saying this so that we leave here this morning feeling guilty.
I am saying this so that we leave here feeling grateful.
So that we remember that we don’t have to suffer through life because our God is rich towards us.
God pours out his grace upon us every day.

Reading the cards that people have been writing has been an overwhelming experience.
When reading them you see just how much God has given, how much God cares, how much God loves.
You can see how rich we are in things that money cannot buy.
One person last week wrote, “We are thankful for all the help we have gotten from the community.”
Concordia Lutheran Church is a place of great spiritual gifts.
But it is not because all of us here this morning are good people; it is because we have a great God.
We have a God who has given so much that we are spoiled enough to have some extra to give away.
There is no such thing as a perfect Church only a perfect God.

We have a God who wants us to pray all the time.
We have a God who wants to hear our needs.
Luther also said in the large Catechism, “we should reflect on our needs, which ought to drive and impel us to pray without ceasing.”
We have needs and we have a God who is there to hear and answer our needs.
We are spoiled.
Thanks be to God for spoiling us.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Little Things

There is an old saying that life is about the little things.
I have to admit that I am not always great about noticing the little things in life.
My wife will tell you this because if she comes home from getting a haircut I will hardly ever notice.
She will ask me, “do you notice something different?”
As I stand there with a befuddled look on my face.
But don’t worry; I have solved this problem, now if she asks me if I notice anything new I will always say, “Looks like you lost weight.”
But I wish I was more in tune with the little things, because it is in the little things where God is at work.
It is in the little moments that we might not notice where God is doing great and mighty things.
Today’s stewardship theme is; called to be faithful with little.
But like last week rather than focus on what we do with the little we have.
I want us to focus on what God does in our lives through the little things.

Today’s Gospel story is about a little thing.
It is about one person who comes back to Jesus to say, “Thank you.”
Even more than this it is about one person who knows where to channel his praise.
One of the people who was healed came back to acknowledge that Jesus was his savior.
Not just in terms of his physical healing, but also because now he could live a full life within the community.
For Jesus salvation comes from being made into a whole person.

This is what Jesus does for us he makes us whole.
In that wholeness we are more aware of things around us.
We come to have a greater appreciation for all of life.
What used to seem small, insignificant in the hands of God becomes something greater.
A thank you seems like a small thing.
But we know that it is not, saying “thank you” matters.
It can change someone in profound ways.
For me, a thank you note from someone who’s loved one I just buried, or a new couple who I just presided at their wedding, or a parishioner who I helped always makes my day and cheers me up.
A thank you goes a long way.
And you know what it doesn’t really cost us anything, maybe a few minutes of time.
God takes the little thing and makes it a big deal.

The question I want us all to think about this morning is how has God taken something little that you offered and used it to be more than you could have thought?
How has God used you to do something for someone that turned into a bigger deal than you would have thought?

I think a couple of cautions are needed here.
The first thing is that this is not about us being good people and doing something good.
This is about God’s turning something insignificant into something significant.
There have been plenty of times in my life when I have done something and thought to myself, “Wasn’t that nice of me.”
“I am a great Christian for doing that thing.”
I am not talking about those moments.
I am talking about the ones that we don’t expect.
The moments when we didn’t mean to do well, but God used those moments anyway.
Or even the moments when we meant one thing to happen and something else happened instead.

This morning’s Gospel is about something unexpected happening out of what Jesus did.
He healed ten people.
I don’t think that Jesus expect or necessarily needed any of them to come back and thank him.
After all he sent them all away to go get checked out by the priest.
Instead what happened is unexpected one of them comes back to give thanks and praise to Jesus.
And it is not at all the person one would expect.
Certainly Jesus was surprised by it.
“Was none of them found to return to give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Jesus doesn’t know, until that point, that he cured a foreigner.
He can’t know it because he doesn’t get that close to him.
They kept their distance.
He only realizes it when he returns.
What a great surprise!
In this story God is up to much more than what we thought.
It becomes not just about healing people, or even a life lesson about giving thanks, but also about how even foreigners are included in God’s plans for salvation.
This little story has become a really big deal.

A lot of life is like this.
My son Charlie is really into Star wars these days.
And he has some action figures.
One of the problems with these figures is that they all have really small accessories.
And we seem to be losing them all the time.
Not only that, but the little accessories mean a lot to Charlie.
So if he loses a light saber you spend a great deal of time trying to find this little thing.
It is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
When we were at Disney a couple of weeks ago, we were getting ready to leave for the day and Charlie had lost Anakin Skywalker’s light saber somewhere between our rental house and the rental car.
My wife and I got out of the car to look for it.
While we were searching the lawn, the landscaper waiting for us to leave so he could water the lawn came over and joined us.
He found it in a matter of seconds.
Charlie was thrilled.
We were thrilled.
A little thing found that meant a lot to a little boy.

If this story seems small that is the point.
The man was not trying to help us out.
He was trying to get us to leave so he could do his job.
But in this moment it meant more to Charlie and to us.
We of course heaped thanks upon him.

Perhaps one might think that this story of finding Charlie’s light saber is too small for God to be involved.
But this is the point.
Nothing is too little for God.
None of the things we offer are too small.
Even when we don’t know that we are giving something to someone else God is using it for good.

Last week when people wrote down the ways that God is faithful in their lives in noticed that lots of those things are small things.
Lots of people wrote about how they see God faithfulness in their families or friends, how God loves them, through faith in a better day tomorrow, how we can turn to God in prayer.
Even in the big things we see God at work through little things.
Someone wrote, “The blessing of forgiveness that has been shown.”
We are reminded of that forgiveness every week at this table in little things like a small piece of bread and a sip of wine.
But God takes those things and makes them about something much larger, about faith and forgiveness.

What also struck me about what people wrote last week how much all those little things add up.
We have so much to be thankful for, so many ways that God has made us well, like the Samaritan in our Gospel this morning.
One person was saying to me that they could have written a lot more on the cards, because they see God’s faithfulness all the time, and that for them God is in the little things.
That is exactly the point this morning.
God takes whatever God has to work with and makes something really grand out of it.

And this is important because we sometimes think that we don’t have anything to offer.
And the truth is that God uses all of us, and whatever little thing we have God uses it.

Life is about the little things.
And God is in the business of using little things to great effect.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Faithful God!

This week while I was on vacation at Disney world with my extended family that included my two sisters and their husbands, and my older sister’s husbands, sister, brother, and parents, we were sitting by the pool one night talking about church.
It is a weird and wonderful thing that all of us attends, and are active in, different Lutheran churches in New England.
I mentioned that we are doing our stewardship campaign this month and this lead to a discussion about the blessings of giving.
During this discussion I took an informal, non scientific poll, about what a pastor could say that would help inspire people to give more.
The outcome of that poll was unanimous.
At first I was a little annoyed that nothing I say in my sermons in these next four weeks will have any impact on what people will pledge this upcoming year.
After all part of my calling is to encourage people to be good stewards of the many gifts God has given, it was a bit defeating to think that none of that will have much impact.
However, after I thought about it some more I began to see the wisdom in that advice.
After all sermons are not meant to be sales jobs and they are not meant to be motivational speeches.
And I am thankful for that because I would make a horrible salesman.
Instead, sermons are supposed to be about how God comes into our lives and changes those lives.
How God moves among us, and through us.
We are not the subject of sermons God is.

This year’s stewardship theme is about being faithful.
And if this were a sales pitch or a motivational speech then I would encourage us all to be more faithful with the gifts God has given.
No doubt some would leave here this morning feelings guilty that they haven’t done more, or were not “better” Christians.
Others might leave here with renewed pride in their ability to be good stewards of God’ gifts.
Some might leave angry that others in our congregation are not pulling their weight.
That is what happens when we give slick sales pitches about being “better” Christians.
Some are shamed, some feel superior, some are angry, and we all lose.
But instead of making this about our faithfulness I want to do what I think all good sermons should do.
I want to talk about God’s faithfulness to us.

For most of this summer, in the Gospel of Luke, we have been hearing Jesus talk about the difficulties of what it means to be a faithful disciple.
We have heard that it is demanding to be a disciple.
That it means leaving behind money, family, our pride, and even ourselves.
It is no wonder that today the disciples after hearing all these demands ask for Jesus to increase their faith.
How can they be faithful to the demands that Jesus places on them?
How can we be faithful?

First thing is that faith is not something that we work up in ourselves.
Faith is simply something that God gives.
It is part of God’s nature to put in us faith.
Multiple studies have shown that Human beings are wired to have faith.
That it was part of our evolution process to believe in God, and to gather together around sacred things in tribes.
In other words, we are created to have faith.
But more than this faith is a gift.
Jesus says as much this morning when asked for more faith his answer is basically.
You already have that faith in you.
The problem is that our faith always seems too small.
It doesn’t seem big enough to deal with all the problems we face in our lives and in the world.
How can my faith be big enough to end poverty, create peace, cure the sick, and overcome sin and death?
How can my faith be big enough to forgive my enemies, pay the bills, clean the house?
Jesus says that it is enough.
That all we need is the faith of a mustard seed.

How many people have seen a mustard seed?
They are really small.
That is all we need.
And I believe that God has given it to us.
And even more.

In fact God has given us so much faith that we some to spare and share with the world.
I can give a portion of my money away because God has given me more than I need to live.
And the key word in that last sentence is that “God has given”.
It is not something I have earned, something I have worked hard for, it something that God has given.
In other words our giving is simply a response to what God has done for us in our lives.
It is simply an acknowledgement of God’s faithfulness in our lives.
It is important to me that all of you hear me on this, being a good steward is an act of God, not of ourselves.
It grows from the idea that we see that God comes to us and we are then compelled/moved to give away some of what we receive from God.

The way that Jesus talks about faith has nothing to do with how we think of our lives.
Most of the time we think like the disciples, “Increase our faith” we cry to God.
We simply don’t have enough.
We think that we are not up to the task.
And the truth is that we are right.
We are not up to it.
But God is faithful.
God does not let us wallow in self doubt and pity.
Instead God comes to us and finds away to use us even without us believing that we have the faith to do it.

Every congregation that I know suffers from the idea that we don’t have enough.
We don’t have enough people to do the work.
We don’t have enough money to live out the mission.
We don’t have enough time to get it all done.
We don’t have enough faith to believe that it can be done
And you know what?
They are right.
We don’t have enough.
We simply can’t get it done.
We can’t prevent homelessness, stop violence, create peace in the Middle East.
We can’t forgive each other enough, or live with all the ways that the church fails to live up to its mission.

But this morning I am not worried.
I am not despondent.
I am not defeated.
Because I know that God is faithful.
God takes what we have and uses it to bring the kingdom.
God uses what little we have and makes mountains fall, and trees move into the ocean.
God the creator of all things, the lover of our world and us, is faithful.
God can do what we simply lack the faith to do.
I always take solace in that, because I have nothing else.
Everything else has always failed me.
My own efforts have never been good enough and never will be.
But God’s grace and mercy are sufficient for this day.

Perhaps that is why most stewardship campaigns fail, because they are not about God but about the church’s need for money, or people, or your time.
And even worse sometimes they are about the pastor’s need to feel successful.
When really what stewardship is about is how faithful God has been to us in all the circumstances of our lives.
When we are low God is there, when we are riding high God is there, when we are rich or poor, sinners or saints, God is always there taking our lives and making them new.
God is there in death turning it into life.
And when we cry out that we simply don’t have enough faith, God is there to say it is enough.
God is faithful and that is enough.