Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"Well of course you would say that you are a pastor."

It happens every once and a while.
Someone will say something like, “Well of course you would say/think that you are a pastor.”
I remember the first time it happened.
I was having a conversation with a couple of people in the Church I was pastoring in Long Island.
We were talking about stewardship.
I was sharing how joyful I was to be able to give some of what the Lord had given me to the Church.
And one of the people sitting in this conversation said, “Well of course you would say that you are a pastor.”
It happened another time when we I was talking to some people about loving our enemies.
It was shortly after 9/11.
People were upset, rightfully, about what happened.
I mentioned that Jesus taught us to “love our enemies. Pray for those that persecute us.”
Someone in the group said, “Well of course you would think that you are a pastor.”
Here are some the problems with people saying that to me.
One, it implies that I am somehow a better disciple of Jesus than other people.
I will tell you the truth.
I find Jesus just as annoying as the rest of you.
I would rather not hear it.
I would rather not have to think about others before myself.
I would rather not love people I find annoying.
I would rather not give up 10% of my income.
I would rather not have Jesus bugging me all the time.
Recently I have been struggling with something happening within the life of the larger church.
It has nothing to do with anything happening at Concordia Lutheran.
I don’t want to go into all the details.
But I am angry, frustrated, and hurt over it.
My instinct is to lash out in anger, to get revenge.
But Jesus keeps pulling me back, asking me to find a better way.
Jesus keeps telling me to look for the best in the people who did this.
I am trying, but it is not easy.

The second thing wrong with this is that it degrades all of you.-
It says that you are not expected to be a good disciple of Jesus Christ.
That your pastor lives the type of discipleship you are supposed to have, but since he does it than you don’t have to.
And here is the thing; Jesus demands all of us to be his disciples.
He asked all of us to pick up our cross and follow him.
He asks all of us to lose our life for the sake of the Gospel.
He doesn’t anywhere in the Bible say, “Well this stuff I am saying is just for pastors. They are the only ones who have to do any of this.”
Jesus teachings are for all of his disciples.
It is for all those who follow him.
Just like those from our Gospel this morning.

Today’s Gospel is familiar to all of us because it is the story of Palm Sunday.
But it is also unfamiliar to us because the story we have in our head is really a combination of all the Gospel stories.
In Luke’s telling of Jesus ride into Jerusalem it is interesting to note that it is not the anonymous large crowds gathered in Jerusalem for Passover that cheer Jesus on.
It is only “the whole multitude of disciples.”
Meaning that there are a lot of people, but all of them are disciples of Jesus.
They are the people that have been following Jesus on his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem.
They are the people who have seen him cure the lame, give sight to the blind.
They have heard him preach good news to the poor.
They experienced him feed 5,000 people.
They are the people who know him best.
That is us.
We are Jesus’ disciples we are the people that know him best.
What do we believe that Jesus means to us?
How do we live out our own discipleship?

We are about to enter Holy Week and experience again the ancient story that gives our faith its deepest meaning and value.
And the question that Palm Sunday raises is where will we be?
We know that most of Jesus disciples will desert him.
They will flee in fear.
One will betray him.
One will deny him.
And a couple, all women will follow him to the cross.
They will watch in horror as Jesus is killed.
They will be the first to go to the tomb Easter Sunday.
Are we willing to go to the tomb with Jesus?
That is what our discipleship demands of us to give our life away for the sake of the Gospel for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Within that context even 10% of our income, our talent, and our time would not be enough.
Jesus really demands all of it.

When people say to me, “Well of course you would say that you are a pastor.” what I want to say back is that it is not me saying these things.
It is Jesus!
Jesus is asking you to love your enemies not me.
Jesus is asking you to pick up your cross, not me.
Jesus is asking you to bring good news to the poor, not me.
Jesus is telling you not to make money more important than God, not me.
I am merely the spokes person.
And even if I didn’t tell you these things God’s truth would come out anyway.
Even if you had a rock for a pastor that Word would get spoken.
Somehow God would find a way.
That is what I always rest my hope on.
Because there are lots of times when I don’t say what I should because of fear.
Fear that it would offend; fear that it will drive people away.
But God’s truth comes out anyway.
God’s love wins.

The good news is that our discipleship is lived out by sharing the love God has given us with those around us.
We live out our discipleship by loving our Families, friends, and the people we encounter every day.
We live our discipleship by giving ourselves so others can have a better life.

The problem is that we are also called to care for other families too.
We are called to love the unlovable people.
And we must face the facts that even being a disciple within the flow of everyday life is really hard.
We are not always a good spouse.
We are not always a good friend.
We are not always a good boss, or worker.
We struggle sometimes to love the people that love us.
How can we love those that don’t?

Well the good news is that it really doesn’t depend on us at all, because even if we are silent the stones will cry out.
Even if we totally mess this up God will find a way.
The resurrection did not depend upon the disciples’ willingness to give up their own lives.
God will make happen what we cannot.
And that is our ultimate hope.

On this Palm Sunday let us all think about what it means for us to be disciples of Jesus.
What does it mean for us to follow him to the cross?
What does it mean for us to love our neighbors, our enemies, as ourselves?
What does it mean to give away our lives for the sake of the Gospel?
What does it mean to shout, “Bless is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”?

You are called to live fully into God’s love so that everyone may know the good news we experience on Easter.
But of course I think that I am a pastor.
True but we are all disciples of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Faith for the Journey

This will be the last week of the Joseph story.
I hope that you have enjoyed hearing it these past five weeks.
I have enjoyed preaching on it.
Every time you dive into a Bible story with depth you find something new about that story.
This time I noticed how much Joseph’s story of faith is tied to ours.
In the story of Joseph he experiences God much the same way that we do.
In the story of Joseph God is an important character, but God never actually shows up.
God is in the background.
God never appears to Joseph in a burning bush like he did with Moses, never shows up as three strangers like he does with Abraham.
God never directly talks to Joseph to give him advice or to comfort him.
Never tells Joseph directly that everything will work out and be OK.
Isn’t that the way that we experience God?
I don’t know anyone who has talked to God in a burning bush, or through a cloud.
All I know of over 12 years of pastoral counseling are people who have struggled to understand what God was up to in their lives but who carried on in faith.

We don’t hear too much in the story about what Joseph is thinking and feeling as things are happening in his life.
But we can imagine that Joseph at times must have been wondering what was happening.
He never knew directly that everything that was happening to him had some greater purposes.
Instead he trusts God and has faith.
Without hearing directly from God he simply keeps going, and believing.
And that how it is for all of us.
We never know when we are living through things how all the pieces are going to work out.
We never know what is in store for us.
We sometimes might wonder what God is up to, if God cares at all.

As we think back on Joseph’s story we see how God was at work in his life.
And through this story we can see the way God is involved in our lives.

We see that it starts with sin.
Much of our life is populated with sin, real sin.
Not some fake superficial version of it.
But with real things that we do to other people that hurts them.
And we experience the pain of that sin.
We experience the pain of broken relationships, missed opportunities, and broken dreams.
Because we are selfish, because we have been hard of heart, jealous, or simply mean.
I was telling the confirmands this week that one of the gifts of our faith is that we get to confess our sins.
We get to confess the real sins that we have done, or have not done.
We don’t have to hide behind the facade that we are “good people”.
But we get to lay bare our imperfections and brokenness before God and each other.
Because through confessing of sins we do experience the good news.
We experience forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation.

Joseph also experiences difficult times.
We see him imprisoned unfairly.
We see him wait for over two years in a prison cell.
We all experience moments or times in our lives that are difficult.
We experience hardships out of our control.
What can we do in such times?
All we can do is grab onto God have faith, and pray.
It doesn’t seem like much of an answer.
But it is all we have.
That is how we experience God through faith in difficult times.

We also see that Joseph was given many gifts by God.
The most obvious of these gifts is that he can interpret dreams.
We see the gift of dream interpretation is what helps get him out of Jail.
It was his God given gift that helped him.
And we too experience God through the gifts that God has given to us.
Our gifts are ways that we contribute to our community and the world.

We also see God working through dreams.
Dreams in this story are pivotal to help the characters know what God wants of them.
We too can experience God in our dreams.
They are ways for God to tell us everything is going to be all right, ways for God to direct our future.
We also have dreams of what we want our lives to be like.
Those dreams can help us to step confidentially into what God has called us to do.
Our dreams are what we have that give us passion for the work we get to do.

We see that God ultimately works through forgiveness.
The story ends with another assurance that the forgiveness is complete.
Without forgiveness this family could not be complete again, and God’s future could not move forward.
We experience God in our own lives when we are able to forgive each other and move on.

The story ends with Joseph stating his faith that God will come and lead his people to the Promised Land.
Joseph in the end continues to have faith that God will be true to God’s word.
Joseph has nothing to base this on other than faith in God.
He has no evidence to suggest that God was going to lead them to the land promised.
We too have to ultimately have faith in God without any proof.
We will not get some magical moment when God shows up to map out every future for us.

In our lives this is how God works.
We can’t see it, but in faith we know that God is there for us on our journey.
God is offering us a hand on the way.
And all we can do is have faith that God’s hand is in it all.
God’s hand is in our sin, gifts, dreams, suffering, triumphs, reconciliation, and forgiveness.
God behind the scenes is involved in it all.
God is with us on this journey and like Joseph we know this only through faith.

I want to end by sharing a poem by Jan Richardson.
Some of you have heard it already as I have shared it at the start of a couple of meetings.
I share it again because in this Lenten season it has given me strength and comfort.
It has reminded me what Joseph knew and what this story teaches us.
That God travels with us on our path, and is the one who reminds us that we are beloved.
If you would enter into the wilderness,
do not begin without a blessing.
Do not leave without hearing who you are:
Beloved, named by the One who has traveled this path
before you.
Do not go without letting it echo in your ears,
and if you find it is hard to let it into your heart,
do not despair.
That is what this journey is for.
I cannot promise this blessing will free you from danger,
from fear, from hunger, or thirst, from the scorching
of sun or the fall of the night.
But I can tell you that on this path there will be help.
I can tell you that on this way there will be rest.
I can tell you that you will know the strange graces that come to our aid
only on a road such as this, that fly to meet us bearing comfort and strength,
that come alongside us for no other cause than to lean themselves toward our ear
and with their curious insistence whisper our name: Beloved. Beloved. Beloved.
Whatever your path is or has been this Lenten time remember that you are beloved, that God is walking with you.
May your faith in God continue to comfort and strengthen you on your path.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

We Do Second Chances and I'm Sorrys

Last Sunday was the Oscars.
I love the Oscars.
Actually, I love movies.
I inherited that love from my mother.
It is something that we do together watch movies or talk about the ones we have seen that we think the other would like.
I was thinking about our story of Joseph and if it was a movie it might have ended last week.
Joseph having been sold into slavery, having been falsely accused and thrown in prison is finally vindicated, and given the post of second only to Pharaoh.
He was given a position of great wealth and power.
At that point you could roll the credits.
But this is not a Hollywood story about someone eventually overcoming difficult odds to make it big.
This is a story about family.
And this story can not end until the family is back together.
For that to happen we need to have forgiveness, reconciliation.

Forgiveness is one of those things that sound good on paper.
It is a lot harder to do in the real world.
But the story of Joseph is at the end of the day a story about forgiveness and reconciliation that allows a family to come back together.

In my sister house she has a wall hanging that says:
“In our home we do second chances, we say grace, we do I’m sorrys, we play hard, we do loud really well, we give hugs, we do love, we are family.”
It is a good mission statement for all families.
Because to be a family, in fact, to be in any relationship means that we have to forgive.
At some point in those relationships we are going to mess up.
The other person is going to mess up.
We are going to do something that hurts someone else.
Somebody is going to do something that hurts us.
We are going to be inconsiderate at some point.
And after that happens then we have to decide what to do next.
One option is to store up anger, to become resentful of the wrong that was done to us, and ultimately to cancel the relationship, to walk away.
It is an option.
But is it a good one?
We only get one family?
We are gifted with the people God sent us.
We don’t get to pick who those people are in our lives.
We don’t get to decide what attributes will go into our siblings, or our parents for that matter.
So if we walk away, and again that is an option, we lose out on that gift.

The other option is to forgive, to move on, to let go.
That in my opinion is sometimes the harder option.
We have to learn to trust again.
We have to let go of some of our pride.
What is interesting about the Joseph story is that Joseph chooses to forgive his brothers.
Forgiveness is a choice.
He could have gone another way.
Before the part of the story we read today Joseph is basically toying with his brothers.
Some might suggest he was testing them to see if they have changed.
But I think he is trying to decide if he will forgive them or not.
Our reading for today is that moment when he finally decides to let the past go.
And to see the past for what it was.
Yes, his brothers were wrong, they did him wrong, but good has come out of it.
There is food because of it.
God had plans beyond what he could have seen, or the brothers could have known.
“Now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.”
Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers is deep and in many ways unbelievable.

I wonder if we are capable of the same kind of forgiveness?
Would you be willing to forgive like Joseph does?
On the other hand it is necessary for our families to forgive.

It was my younger sister’s 40th birthday party on Friday night.
We are close now.
But when we were in high school we fought a lot.
Mainly because she didn’t like being late for school, and I didn’t care.
I was really mean to her at times.
A friend of mine would drive us to school and we would torture her.
It was not nice.
She could have held it against me all my life.
I have heard stories of families that don’t talk to each other for much less then what I did to her.
She found a way to forgive me.
Because of that we are family.
Not because we are perfect, but because of forgiveness.
Because we do “Second chances and I am sorry.”

Joseph found a way to forgive his brothers.
He found a way to put it in a larger context of God’s plan.
He found a way to see good through the bad.
Can we?
What are those relationships in your life that went sour because you couldn’t find your way to forgive?

When we do forgive we become more than we could have imagined.
We find ways to grow that we never would have believed.
We find peace and well being.
We find wholeness.
And most important spiritually we find God, because it is God who ultimately forgives all sins.
It is the God we know in Jesus Christ who calls us all home, to be part of the party.
Jesus told us that God is like the foolish Father who allows his child to run off and spend all of his inheritance.
And then foolishly run after him and embrace him, throw a party for him.
God is the foolish parent who goes after the older son and begs him to come into the party.
God is the one who forgives our foolishness, our hardened hearts, with grace.

Our world today is filled with hard words and lots of hard hearts.
And what we need now if we are going to remain a family is forgiveness.
It is no small thing.
It really is an unbelievable thing.
Forgiveness holds us together.
And if our human family is going to not just survive, but thrive we need to do second chances and I’m sorry.
We need to come into the party and rejoice with each other.
We need to weep with each other over what we sometimes do to one another.
We need to embrace and kiss each other.
We need to see the bigger picture and trust that God has a bigger plan, so maybe we will not be so petty about the little things.
Forgiveness is the key to it all.

I hope in this season of lent you will forgive.
I hope that your movie ends not with you being vindicated with wealth and power, but with forgiveness and reconciliation.
So that we might all be family and party together.