Monday, October 31, 2016

A New Thing That Reminds us of an Old Truth

For those that don’t know next year is the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation.
It is a big deal.
Our congregation is going to begin celebrating that anniversary January 2017.
We will be having special events, educational opportunities, and worship to celebrate all next year.
It is also a big deal because it means that things are shifting.
Every 500 years the Church has a yard sale.
There is some shift in the ground, and things change.
Before the reformation we had the great Schism.
Before that we had the reform of the sixth century as we started the dark ages, was the monastic period of the Church.
So we are going through what some people have called the great Emergence.
Christianity is going from the dominant religion, to a smaller more counter cultural phenomenon.

We will notice today that all of our readings take place in times of change.
In our reading from Jeremiah God is about to do a new thing.
Israel had lost the temple, and their home.
They didn’t know where to locate God anymore.
God was making a new covenant where God would be written on their hearts.
Jesus was a new thing that God had done.
In Jesus God walks on the earth, God teaches us what it means to be a person of God.
In Jesus God becomes flesh, and God makes a new covenant with blood and flesh.
It is a covenant of truth that leads to freedom.
And in Paul God extends an invitation to know God to the Gentiles.
Paul reinterprets the tradition of the law in light of what Jesus did, and in light of what the mission is of the Church.
My point is that God is always doing a new thing.
God is always adjusting for us.
God is helping us to see the truth.
God is writing on our heart.
For a summer I did clinical pastoral education.
Every seminary has to do it.
I did mine in Hartford, Connecticut.
I was on call and I got a call to go and visit someone who had just been admitted.
The person told me that they were addicted to drugs and had HIV.
They told me that there life was a mess, and that they were no good.
After hearing the story and talking for a while.
I told the person that God loved them beyond their story.
That no matter what they had done God loved and cared for them.
I then read a couple of Bible passages to them.
I can’t tell you the expression of joy and appreciation that came over the person’s face as I read those Bible passages that confirmed God’s love.
I had never experienced someone hearing the Gospel for the very first time.
This person threw their tears said to me, “you will never know how good it was to hear those words.”

I wish we all had that same reaction every time we heard the good news of God.
I wish I did.
I must admit that it is something that I simply take for granted now.
I think to some extent we all do.
It is an idea that has been around for at least 500 years, but really one that was around since the creation of the world.
It is one that we simply continue to forget and need reminding of all the time.
The Reformation was not a radical idea.
It was a return to the idea that the Church at that time had simply forgotten.
Or one that the Church took for granted.
In our Gospel for this morning people have taken it for granted, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.”

But I would like to say that underneath our ambivalence is a yearning for the good news.
That is what happened in the time of Jesus.
People were unsettled by what was happening around them.
They were upset because Rome had taken over their land, and ruled them with unfair and unjust laws.
The religious people had given up what was important and started to help the Romans in their oppression.
There was a yearning for something new.
And Jesus gave it to them.
Jesus gave them God’s love that they had forgotten or taken for granted.

Luther did the same thing.
The Lutheran theologian Martin Marty said this week, “Luther Couldn’t have done it if it weren’t for a great disquiet of people hoping something new would happen.”
I think we too live in a time of disquiet.
We too are hoping something new will break forward.
What will it be?
Lots of people seem to say something like, “The Church is changing but I don’t know what it is.”

I am getting a little tired of hearing that.
So I am going to take a chance this morning and tell you what I think it is.
I think the disquiet is that we are tired of living fake lives.
We are tired of trying to be perfect, and lead perfect lives.
We are tired of the lie of perfection.
We are tired of trying to have it all, and end up with nothing.
We are tired of having religion sold to us as a self help program.
Instead we are yearning for an authentic experience with God.
We want an honest relationship with God.
A relationship where we can be ourselves, we can be who we are with all of our messes.
Jesus offers it to us this morning.
“You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

There are lots of ways I could talk about this.
I want to illustrate the power of this using the example of happiness.
We are told that the key to life is happiness.
That is what we strive for to be happy.
In fact, when people around us are unhappy it sometimes makes us uncomfortable.
On top of this we believe that we have to be happy all the time.
We are told by society to, “put on a happy face”.
I think this is very dangerous.
Just as one example people no longer want to have funerals.
They want to have, “A celebration of life”.
And part of this is they don’t want anyone to cry.
They don’t want people to be upset.
My friends, the whole reason for a funeral is so that people can be sad!
That is why we have them.
They are meant to be cathartic.
Crying and being sad is how we know we loved someone.
I am telling you that if I die suddenly please come to my funeral and cry!
I hope you are sad, because it means that we meant something to each other.
We need to be sad sometimes.
Not only that but if we don’t acknowledge death we take away the power of the message of the Gospel that God loves us beyond death.

Maybe we are so unhappy because we don’t allow ourselves times of sadness.
We are so busy repressing it that we don’t feel the grace of God.
And the reformation we need to have is to recall the wonder and awe of the Gospel.
We have lost it, because we can’t admit that anything is wrong, sad, or bad.
It would be great if we had the same reaction as a drug addict with HIV who hears for the first time that he is loved by God.
Perhaps we would be able to recapture the joy in knowing God’s power in our lives.
It would be a power to not have to pretend anymore, to be who we are.
The power to be set free to truly live an authentic life full of sadness, joy, sin, redemption, hardship, relief, messiness, in perfection, loss and gain.
To be set free to live an authentic life that is not lived to be a show, but lived under the grace and mercy of God.
That is the reformation of our time.
It is still based on remembering God’s love.
God like in times past is doing a new thing that reminds us of an old truth that brings life and freedom.
That truth is that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that all those that believe in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

God's Love Is Enough

This summer on my sabbatical I read 10 books.
The book that was the most challenging of those 10 was not a book about ministry, or the condition of the Church.
It was a book written by Sue Klebold, “A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy.”
Sue Klebold was the mother of Dylan Klebold who was one of the teenagers who shot and killed 13 people at Columbine high school in 1992.
The book is her story of what happened and how she tried to piece together some explanation of what happened.
It was a challenging book not because of how unbelievable it was, although it is unbelievable to think that someone would do what Dylan did.
It was a challenging book because Sue Klebold says in the book, “Love is not enough.”
She writes, “My love for Dylan, though infinite, did not keep Dylan safe, nor did it save the thirteen people killed at Columbine High School, or the many others injured and traumatized.”
This was challenging for a couple of reasons.
This is my basic idea of parenting.
I am not a perfect father, but I love my kids.
I assume that my love will keep them safe.
Even though my kids have their challenges I just assume that ultimately my love and Vicki’s love will be enough.
But even more challenging for me is that this is my basic idea for how to make the world a better place.
If I love people that I come into contact in my life then the world will be better.
If I can convince enough of you to love as God has loved you that will make the world a better place.
Much of my life’s work is about making this world a little less harsh, and more loving.
Maybe if we love someone who thinks of themselves as unlovable we can change that person’s life.

I was once told by someone that my way of looking at the world is naïve.
That wishing there was more love in the world doesn’t make it so.
And that this wishing only leads to bigger problems.
We allow evil to linger if we are not strong enough to get rid of it.
In other words, they basically said, “Love isn’t enough.”
That was/is challenging for me to accept.
It has undermined my entire philosophy of life.

I was wondering this week if Jesus can identify with my struggle.
We are told that Jesus mission is to show us God’s love.
In John’s Gospel we read, “For God so loved the world that he sent his only son…. so that those who believe in him will have eternal life.”
In all of the Gospels we see Jesus not only talk about love but show us that love.
We see Jesus express love to all kinds of people who otherwise thought themselves unlovable.
This morning’s Gospel we see Jesus reach out to heal lepers.
To give of himself to people thought by many to be unclean.
And of those 10 lepers only one returns to give thanks.
Only one person recognizes what was done for them.
It is a metaphor for all of Jesus ministry.
Only a few really understood what Jesus was about, what he was trying to do.
Only a few understood the power of God that was in Jesus.
Most of the people of Jesus’ day thought Jesus was crazy.
They thought he was soft.
They thought he was wrong for hanging out with sinners.
They thought he was a traitor to his people for healing and talking to foreigners, and non Jews.
Love wasn’t enough to convince people that God was on their side.
So they did what people do.
They turned to violence.
They killed Jesus, hung him on a cross, because if he was the son of God, then they were wrong about who God was and what God was about.

It is a challenge to live in a world where love doesn’t always matter.
Where people see love and think it means that you don’t understand the ways of the world.

Today’s Gospel story can be turned into an easy morality tale.
It can be turned into a lesson about giving thanks.
Don’t be so ungrateful.
But I think that is too simple an explanation.
I think it misses a larger point.
God is among us, and we miss it.
Love is around us and we ignore it.
Jesus Christ was right there with people and most people didn’t care, or it made them angry.
Think about it.
It made them angry that God was with them!
How much God activity do we miss in our lives?

I have talked to lots of people about this book because it was so challenging for me.
And after I tell them that “love is not enough.” they all want to know, “what is the answer then?”
I have to tell you after reading the book there are not a lot of great answers.
It was clear to me that columbine would have happened regardless.
(That is another really challenging point the book makes.)
But Sue Klebold does talk about some of her regrets.
(She is clear to say that these may or may not have made a difference.)
She writes, “I wish I had listened more instead of lecturing; I wish I had sat in silence with him instead of filling the void with my own words and thoughts.
I wish I had acknowledged his feelings instead of trying to talk him out of them, and that I’d never accepted his excuses to avoid conversation.”
I think that perhaps for all of us there is a lesson here about how to be in this world.
I know that my tendency is to talk a lot.
It is to lecture.
It is to fill the void with words.
It is to try to explain rather than listen to what people are expressing in their feelings.

And maybe the same can be said with our relationship with God.
Do we take time to listen to what God is up to in our lives?
Do we take time to sit in the uncomfortable places in our lives and let God work them work out?

Are we too busy telling God what is going to happen?
Certainly the people of Jesus day missed the love that had been sent to them.
They had missed the activity of God right there in front of them.
They were too busy lecturing God on what God was supposed to be doing.

But this is still a problem because it depends too much on us.
It makes this Gospel story a morality tale about how we can know God better.
It is not about what we have done.
It is about what God has done.
And I believe that what Sue Klebold wished she did as a mother God has done with us.
That God sits with us in the dark and waits.
God listens to us without the lecture of what we have done wrong.
God sits with us in the uncomfortable times and places in our lives.
God acknowledges our feelings about what is going on in our lives.

Sue Klebold might be right love is not enough.
Our love is never enough because it is always just short of what is really needed.
We lecture when we should listen.
We fill the void with our own thoughts and feelings, instead of trying to understand someone else.
We want to be right more than we want to understand where someone else is coming from.
We need more from each other than we can really ever get.
That is why we need God.
The lepers in our Gospel don’t know true love without Jesus.
And it is the understanding of that love that led the one leper to fall down and give praise.

When we understand how much we need God and how much God has done for us.
Then it is our naturally inclination to give God thanks and praise.

So today know that God is active in your life.
And especially if you feel alone, forsaken, unloved, uncared for.
God sits in the silence with you, and listens to your breaking heart.
Maybe our love is not enough, but I still believe that God’s is!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

God Maybe?

“Increase our Faith!”
Wouldn’t we all want to have more faith?
We would all like to believe in good things.
We would like to believe that the world is getting better.
We would like to believe in love, hope, and joy.
We would like to believe in God’s ability to change our lives, to make them better.
This week at confirmation as we discussed the first commandment we were talking about putting our trust in God.
The confirmation kids asked the question, “Doesn’t God sometime let us down?”
They argued that God sometimes lets our loved ones die.
God sometimes lets our lives turn out worse than we want.
My question would be is that really faith?
Is that what we mean when we ask God to give us more faith?
Having faith is not about believing that everything will be fine.
It is not an assurance that all of life will be fine.
It is a trust in God’s ability to move mountains.
It is a trust that at the heart of everything that can, and sometimes does, go wrong in life there is a gracious and loving God.

This Friday I went with my mother to the doctor.
She was having the doctor give her the news about what they found in her latest scan.
For those who don’t know my mom has stage four cancer.
Almost a year ago she decided not to have any more treatment.
She has not had chemo, or any other cancer fighting drug in a about 11 months.
So we had braced for what this scan might show.
It turns out that her cancer is shrinking.
Even though she stopped her treatments all the tumors in her body have shrunk over those 11 months.
The Doctor told us she didn’t know how to explain it.
It was not what usually happens.
She said to us, “God maybe?”
I am reluctant to give God credit, because I have friends fighting cancer right now who are having lots and lots of treatment and who didn’t get good news like my mom.
I had a friend die of cancer last year.
I simply don’t believe in a God who is that mean to pick who lives and dies like that.
However, I am always open to the miracles, because God can do whatever God wants.
Sometimes it is beyond my understanding.
I am with the doctor, “God Maybe?”
I can’t explain it.
But this is what I know for sure.
My mom is one of the most faith filled people I know.
I know for sure that even if she would have gotten bad news, she still would have told you that God was good.
Through her fight with cancer she had depended on God to get her through.
She depends on God to be there for her when she is not sure.
And she shows strength because of that faith.
Her faith is not dependent on the outcome.
And in that way she has moved mountains.

That is what Jesus says we can do with faith.
We can move a tree and replant it in the ocean.
We can do miraculous things.
When we think of miracles that is what we think of right moving a tree with words, or curing a disease.
What if a miracle was simply doing hard things in our lives?
What if a miracle was simply living with cancer?
What if a miracle was forgiving something that you thought was unforgivable?
What if a miracle was holding each other in prayer?
Why do all miracles have to be so out there?
Isn’t life in and of itself a miracle?
Think about it.
We are today.
You are here today.
Every day that we are alive, every day we love, laugh, and cry is a miracle unto itself, because every day we face obstacles.
We face hard choices.
We face hard realities of life.
We face death and disease.
We face our own sin and the sins of others.
Isn’t it a miracle that we are here, and that we are loved, and we can love?

I would argue this morning that it is only through faith that any of this is possible.
Life cannot be lived without faith.
We simply wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning without it.
We wouldn’t do hard things unless we believed in the miracle of life.
My wife has been saying to me lately, “we can do hard things”.
I love that saying.
Because we can, and it is faith that helps us do those hard things.

This week in the Concord Monitor they had an article about the Swenson granite quarry.
The article was about the Swenson’s family selling the business 133  years.
As I read the article I was thinking of how important that business was to Concordia Lutheran Church.
Without it there might not be a Lutheran Church in Concord.
It was the Swedes who came to Concord to work in that quarry that founded this church.
And think about how much faith they must have had to make all of that possible.
They had to come here from a foreign country and build a new life.
They had to work hard, raise a family.
And amid all that they built a Church.
They didn’t know at that time that even all these years later we would still be here worshipping.
They did it all on faith.
And there faith was not dependent on the outcome.

I say this because what was true then is true now.
What was true for Jesus disciples, was true for those Swedes who came here to work in the quarry, is true for us, life is dependent on faith.
And nothing is done without it.
We wouldn’t buy a house, get a job, have children, give away money, or believe in God’s mercy and grace.
We do all that because of faith, and on faith we stand.

We gather together to have our faith stirred.
Jesus says to his disciples that he doesn’t need to give them more faith, because they already have received it.
It is there every day for them to depend on.
When things are hard, they can know they can do hard things.
It is there for us to.
And this morning Jesus reminds us of the miracles that happen all around us because of faith.
Jesus is the best example of this.
He is about to do a really hard thing, he is about to endure the shame and humiliation of the cross.
He knows that it is only through faith that he will be able to do to what is hard.
And we know how this story ends, with Jesus resurrection.
The part that is important to me is that Jesus through his faith met the challenge head on.

With faith we can move mountains.
With faith we can uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the sea.
With faith we can do hard things.
With faith we can live everyday in God’s grace, mercy, and love.