Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Wiping Away the Tears

We get to hear some pretty significant promises at the end of our reading from Revelation this morning.
“God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
And this is not a new promise.
It is a promise that God made through the prophets, in the Psalms, and through Jesus Christ.
We hear it echoed in Paul’s letters.
I was thinking of this passage and the list of names that we read at the start of worship this morning.
The names that I put on that list I have shed many tears for those people.
I have cried before, during, and after funerals for all of them.
I have cried because I knew that I would miss them.
I cried because in some significant way they touched my life.
They gave a part of themselves too me, for me.
I am sure that if you put down names that we read this morning you too cried for those that you loved.
If you are visiting with us for the first time, and you could think of someone you know and loved who died that you cried tears for their loss.

What a great promise we receive from God when there will be a time when we don’t have to cry those tears anymore.
What a great day it will be when death is no longer a factor that we have to contend with.
And the reason we won’t have to contend with it is because we will be standing in the presence of God.
We will be by the throne of God, with the Jesus as our shepherd.
We will see fully what now we can only glimpse in a mirror dimly.
I can’t wait for that day.
I hold firm to that promise that is given in Revelation.

But here we are in the meantime.
Here we are today.
When there are tears.
And the reason for those tears is because someone else took time, gave time, to love us and care for us.
We formed a relationship with someone.
And that is what we are talking about this morning.
We are talking about what we do in the meantime while we wait for the fulfillment of that ancient promise that we spoken through the prophets, sung in Psalms, and give to us in Jesus Christ.
While we wait we steward.
We take the things that God gave us, and we use them for the sake of others.
We know that they are not ours, they are only on loan.
We know this because we read these names and are reminded that nothing is forever, we only have so many days.
And it is what we do with those days.
It is how we live, and how we give what God gave us.
How we steward God’s gifts.

Every one of the people who I wrote on this list gave something to me, for me.
They stewarded the things they had so that I can stand here today and be a pastor.
People on that list took time to give the greatest gift we can give another human being, our love.
They also, gave me money and time.
My dad is on this list.
And every time I would leave him he would give me $20.00 for gas.
He didn’t have to do that, and maybe he had to go without something he wanted to be able to give that gift, but he did it.
That is not to mention all the other things he sacrificed for me.
Nils Johnson was my college chaplain, and he gave me so much of his time.
I spent countless hours in his office, asking questions, arguing with him.
He gave of himself for me.
I was thinking about my Uncle Gilly whose name I wrote down.
At his funeral for his eulogy I talked about how he always tried to enter my world and understand me.
That is a great gift we can give another person.
I am here because these people and many other took time to get to know me, love me, give of themselves for me.
And that is just it, that none of us is here this morning because we are strong willed people.
All of us owe this life that we have to someone else.
We are here because someone was a steward of God’s gift.
We are here because someone took the time to care and love us.
And I can tell you that is in short supply.

Even more than this all of those names I wrote down took time to put up with my sin.
I know you all are thinking, “But pastor you are so wonderful.” (You are thinking that right?)
The truth is that I am not that wonderful.
I am difficult, and sinful.
But those people loved me enough to see through it, to put up with it, and to be gentle and forgiving.
So much of our lives now are so mean and hard.
How much better we all are when we are stewards of what God has given, and when we use those gifts to love others.
“See what love the father has given us.”
How much better are we to be able to steward God’s love towards others.

That is what we are thinking about today.
Stewardship Sunday is not merely about writing down a number on a card.
It is about us thinking about the ways that we use what God has given to love and care for others, and the world.
How are we stewarding others?
What will our legacy be as Saints of God?
How will we be remembered when our names are read on All Saints Sunday in the future?

All of these people are saints because of God’s love and the way they shared that love.
Of course all the names I wrote down not one of those people was perfect.
They were all flawed humans.
I could tell you how they were flawed.
But love covers a multitude of Sins.
Love helps us reconcile to each other.
And when we are stewards we use the love of God to help overcome our short comings to be with others.

I was in the supermarket the other day and there was a beauty magazine cover that said, “Just do this one thing and stop aging.”
What a ridiculus thing to promise.
We all know that we can’t stop that process.
We are all aging.
As people of faith we know that our days on this earth are not infinite.
And we know that we have limited time to be stewards of this gift of life.
That is what we remember today the finite amount of time we all have.
But also the time we have to love each other, the preciousness of that time.
The tears we shed because we always want more time, it always goes too fast.
And finally we remember the promise.
I know that every time I lose someone I love I am comforted by my faith.
I am comforted to know that the person I lost is not gone but worshipping at the throne of God.
And it reminds me of the importance of being a steward of the time I have here now.

I always wonder why God doesn’t just hurry up and make the promise a reality all ready.
But perhaps there is something in the stewarding.
There is beauty in the between time.
There is joy now, because of the love we receive from God and the love we share.
I think that those times really make God joyful.

We forget that Revelation was written to a community of believers that were wondering if God still cared for them.
They were facing persecution and injustice.
They were facing death.
Revelation was written to remind them of the promise, of the love that God has for us, and the stewarding we do now in this time.
It was written to saints of God to remain faithful in difficult uncertain times.
It was written for sinners to remember that God was still in control.
It is written for us today so that we can remember again the promise, to hold firm, and rejoice that we have been loved by others, and have seen a glimpse of God’s love through them.

So today we pray for the hasting of the day when our tears will be no more.
And we ask for strength in the meantime to be stewards of the love given to us by God.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Wrong Robe?

This morning I want to start with the most confusing part of the Gospel.
I want to talk about the man without the correct robe on who gets kicked out of the wedding banquet.
It has always seemed odd to me that the person who accepts the invitation to the banquet feast is the one who is kicked out.
One way to interrupt Matthew’s parable is allegorically which means that the pieces of the parable equal something else.
The king is God, the slaves are the prophets, the guest initially invited where the religious people of Jesus’ day, the destruction of the city is the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the people invited are the people of the church, and the guy without the right rob is a person who doesn’t get it.
So this is one way to get us to solve what the parable is trying to say.
The problem with allegory is that it only gets us so far.
We know what Matthew was saying to the people who he is writing the Gospel for, but what is God trying to say to us through this parable?
There is another step that needs to happen in figuring out this parable, and it is for us to leap to our day and time and try to understand how God is speaking to us.
Allegory only gets us so far, and I might suggest that stopping at that point has led to some very bad behavior on the part of Christians towards Jews.
The allegory suggests that the Jews reject Jesus and have Jerusalem destroyed because of it.
However, what is really going on is an internal struggle among Jews.
Even in Matthew’s day Christians were still Jews.
They still practiced all the dietary laws, circumcision, and worshipped in the synagogue.
But there is an internal fight about weather Jesus was the messiah or not.
I would equate it to the fight between Missouri Synod Lutherans and ELCA Lutherans.
Both of us claim Lutheranism as our heritage, but we have very different understandings of what that heritage means.

So what are we going to do with Matthew’s parable, and what are we going to do with the man without the right clothes on.

I would start by saying that this is always a concern that we face on a very practical way.
What to wear?
I am going next Friday with my mother to anniversary celebration at the church in Worcester were my grandfather was the pastor.
I was talking to her on the phone to make plans, and I asked her, “What is the dress code?”
I didn’t want to show up with Jeans and a t-shirt when everyone else was wearing suits.
Also, I don’t want to over dress show up in a suit when everyone else was wearing business casual.
So dress matters.
My mom actually taught me that people make a decision about you in the first minutes of meeting you based on your dress.
One time I was going to a visit and college campus and came down in what I thought was appropriate.
My mom saw what I was wearing and sent me upstairs to change.
I would say this is even more so for women.
Who have even more choices of what to wear.
We face on all the time the decisions of appropriate clothing.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that when we accept the invitation to the feast of God that we think about what we are going to wear, not in physical terms but spiritual.
What is the right attitude to have a feast offered by God?
What is the way we should show up at such a feast?

This parable is about more than what clothes are acceptable at a wedding feast.
It is about what attitude, what behavior we bring to the wedding feast.
God is not mad because the person forgot the right clothing, God is mad because the man is not prepared to be at the feast.
The man has not changed himself to be at a wedding feast.
This is a problem within modern Christianity.
We have made being a Christian about nothing.
I am guilty of this on many occasions.
We have so emphasized grace and love that we have forgotten that being at the banquet of grace and love changes us.
It makes us different.

When we come here on Sunday morning and sit in this pew it should change us.
It is not about legalistic ideas of behavior so much as it is about the way that we recognize and accept God’s grace.
Notice that the people who accept the invitation are both good and bad people.
And more than this we individually are mixture of good and bad.
There are good things about all of us, and some bad things.
So this is not about morals, this is about how we show up.
Are we ready here in this place to confront those parts of us that need work?
Are we ready to commend those things into God’s gracious hands?
Are we now ready to be honest about who and what we are?
Are we ready to have our lives given over completely to God?

For me the key to this parable is that people are invited to a feast.
They get invited to a really great feast!!
It is so great that we hear it described, “Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready.”
Why wouldn’t you want to go?
And once you got there why wouldn’t your life change because of it?
Why wouldn’t you live in that place in joy!
And sometimes we as Christians who have come to the feast we lose the joy of the celebration.
We lose the joy of serving others.

All of Matthew’s understanding of what it means to live in this kingdom goes back to the Sermon on the Mount.
It all goes back to the people that God blesses, and those people are not the pretty, rich, and powerful.
They are the weak, poor, and miserable.
And God blesses them and us not in our greatness but our weakness.
And sometimes it is hard to celebrate that.
It is hard to be honest about ourselves, and therefore it is hard to accept God’s grace to us.

Let me give a practical example.
Let us say that a church is failing.
Not in terms of mission, but in worldly terms.
There are only a few people in a congregation, but they put all they have into serving the poor in their community with a daily lunch.
They spend all the money they have in providing this lunch.
They spend all the service hours they have in providing it.
On Sunday morning they still only have 30 people in worship.
Eventually, they have to close.
No one throws them a party the Bishop doesn’t go down and have a big celebration luncheon.
We see them as a failure, but if we believe what Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount they are blessed.
Not the huge church with the full Sunday school, and million dollar endowment celebrating their successful building campaign.
Most of us would look at that church and want to emulate it, but what Jesus calls us to, what we are invited to is a feast of joy celebrating the one who gave himself for us and the world.
We are celebrating not just our good selves, but our broken selves that have come to know the wonderful life changing gift of God’s grace given in Jesus Christ.
We have come to eat the finest meats, and share in the wine.
It is not drudgery or obligation; it is joy to be here.
If we don’t come with joy, if this banquet does not change our lives and how we serve and give for others, than we too are lost in the outer darkness just like the people who don’t show up at all.

So here we are this morning.
We have come to the feast of God.
We have accepted the invitation.
Let us live in the joy that comes in knowing that God’s grace is sufficient for this day.
This very day with all of its good and bad, with all of its ups and downs God’s grace is sufficient for today.
Let us celebrate at the feast that we are changed and made new by knowing Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior who prepares the banquet for us.