The intro....

I've created this blog as a simple way of posting my sermons as I write them and possibly speak them. (occasionally I'll have recordings of the preaching of the sermon) I won't have sermons to preach every Sunday because I'm not going to write sermons that I don't have to preach, but I'll post what I do preach. Feel free to post comments/criticisms, I'm no pro and feedback is a great way to get better.


Happy Advent!

This is my first sermon for the New Church Year. I love the season of Advent and so I was excited to get this chance to preach about it.

The Gospel Text for this day was: Matthew 24:36-44 I also referenced the other readings which were Isaiah 2:1-5 and Romans 13:11-14

So… You probably all know this already but today is the beginning of the new church year, which means it is the First Sunday in Advent. The days of Pentecost, and confusing parables are behind us, and now begins the season of preparation, of waiting… of Advent… You all probably know that this is a season of preparation and waiting. We’ve all seen, or maybe used, advent calendars that count down the days until Christmas. When I was a very little kid my grandmother made a really cool fabric Advent Calendar that had big green Christmas tree on it, and each morning in December I would get up and run to the Calendar to put the little ornament on the tree for that day. It was so fun to be able to watch the remaining time until Christmas get smaller and smaller until, finally, on Christmas Eve morning I, or my brother when he came into the picture, got to put that big smiling face of Santa Claus at the very top of the tree. I should mention that it was always a big treat to get to be the first one to put an ornament on the tree but it was an even bigger privilege to be the one of the two of us that got to put the Santa Claus on the tree, and it was really fun to learn a little bit of Math before my brother did so that I could pretend to be very generous and offer him the first ornament and then I would just ‘happen’ to get to put the Santa Claus up exactly 24 days later… every year… I actually got away with that trick a couple of times before my Mom caught on to what I was doing… and then my brother got old enough to learn about even and odd numbers and my little game was over. But then eventually I got old enough to understand about sharing and giving and actually just plain gave the privilege of the Santa Claus to my brother so we’re probably about even now. Of course, really it wasn’t the putting up of the Santa Claus that we were looking forward to… it was what that represented, when that Santa went up on the tree it meant that Christmas had arrived: the presents would be opened, the cookie tin would be unlocked, and my Grandparents would arrive. It was my favorite day of the whole year and I almost couldn’t stand all the days leading up to it as we slowly and anxiously counted down those days of December.
And so here we are… we have officially begun the countdown to Christmas, the preparation and the waiting. So the question that I have for us today is: What are we waiting for? Well… the word Advent, you may know, comes from the Latin word Adventus and Adventus means arrival. So then the Season of Advent is the Season of Arrival and as we prepare for Christmas we prepare for Arrival, but what, exactly are we preparing for the Arrival of? Well…. My advent Calendar would probably have you believe that I was preparing for the arrival of Santa Claus, which is to say that I was preparing for the Christmas holiday with all the traditions and trappings that it would bring. Now some of you may be thinking that I’m going to tell you how terrible all those Christmas traditions are, how distracting from the true meaning of the holiday and all that…. Well… I’m not… so don’t worry. I still think that Christmas is a wonderful holiday. I love Christmas cookies, and the smells of a Christmas tree, and hot apple cider, and cherry pie, and Turkey, and I love spending peaceful and joyful time with my family. And yes I even love Christmas music. But I think that we all know that the Christmas holiday itself is not what we are preparing for in this Advent season. All those Christmas traditions are the celebrations of the Arrival of that which we have been for. So once again what are we waiting for?
Well then if we think about the Nativity Scene that forms the core of our Christmas celebration in the church, then we might think that Advent is the preparation for the arrival of the little baby Jesus. But our Gospel today paints a different picture, doesn’t it? The Advent Gospel today is not about the birth of a cute little baby and shepherd and stars and barnyard animals in quiet repose. Today’s Gospel is about the arrival of a thief in the night, it is about the coming of the Son of Man… an arrival that is related to the days of Noah and the great flood, the whole planet covering, month-long, world ending flood. These are two very different images, the little baby and the Son of Man, so which are we waiting for?
It is easy to go ahead and say that it is the baby we are waiting for, to keep things simple and focus on the peacefulness of that little manger, but when we do that what happens to the Power of the savior and the messiah?… what happens to the power that will break into our world of sin and sadness, of pain and sickness? If advent is time to prepare only for the baby then we had better cover up the cross… Because the cross is the image of a powerful God who, in the darkest of moments conquered sin and the grave, not of a beautiful tiny baby.
In this Advent season we are preparing for our savior and we share in that preparation with all the centuries of God’s people who waited for the same. Just like Isaiah does in our Old Testament text for the day. But if we are to share in that preparation with Isaiah it is important to remember what Isaiah is preparing for… is it the baby or is it the King, the chosen one, the Christ? Well… it is the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem, and when Isaiah says that this Word will beat the swords into plowshares he’s saying that he will break into the world of violence and war and bring peace. The coming Son of God, says Isaiah, will have the power to end all the violence and the war and the persecution. That is a strong and fearsome power…
And in Paul’s letter to Romans, the same letter from which we read today, he writes “If God is with us, who is against us?” That’s a rallying cry if I’ve ever heard one. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” This is the Jesus, the Christ, that has conquered, and continues to conquer all. This is the Messiah… the one who has power over all of creation, the successor to the lineage of the King of Israel, the King that defeated the Giant and ruled over the people of God. This is a figure of power and might.
Look again at our Gospel text… who is it that is coming at the unexpected hour? It is the Son of Man, and if we the people that are awaiting his coming are compared to the people in the time of Noah, then it is only natural to assume that the Gospel writer is trying to tell us to be prepared for something just as powerful and immense as the Great Flood. That is a strong and fearsome power.
So it seems that, truly, our Advent is a preparation for a figure of great power, and if we read the Gospel today and feel some fear and trepidation… well it seems only right that we should do so. But as much as we fear may we also have hope and may we remember who it is that holds this power….
There is a very brilliant and talented Christian writer that some of you may have heard of named C.S. Lewis. If you haven’t read any of his works than let me tell you that he is an artistic genius… and perhaps more importantly he is one of the more influential Christian writers of the 20th century. In addition to writing a whole heap of great non-fiction about living the Christian Life, C.S. Lewis also wrote a book series that you may have heard of called the Chronicles of Narnia. He wrote the series as way to explain, within the context of a allegorical fantasy, the Christian world. In the first book of series the land of Narnia is in despair, locked in an endless winter, awaiting the return of hope and power in the form of the character that represents Christ in the books whose name is Aslan. Now the reason I am telling you all of this is that Aslan is a lion. And there is perhaps no better metaphor for the power and might of this savior for whom we wait during this season of Advent than the ‘king of the beasts.’ And just as we await the coming of a messiah who is a powerful and mighty figure, so too do the residents of Narnia await the coming of a Lion. There are many times in our lives when we feel the need for this powerful figure, when we are in the midst of despair, when we are overcome with grief, when we are lost in sadness, when we are afraid… the image of the powerful king brings us comfort and relief…
But this image of power and might isn’t always so pleasant. On days like today when our thoughts our cast toward our own weaknesses and we are called to take note that this powerful king is due to arrive, it might be easier to imagine the peaceful child. The Lord of power and might headed toward us in an expected hour, like a thief in the night, without warning is frightening. In the same way we read of the human children visiting Narnia learning of Aslan from the residents of Narnia and learning that he is, indeed a lion. They are afraid, and with good reason, a Lion is a powerful figure:
“Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

And there you have it… today we are beginning our preparation for the all-powerful… and the almighty… and the all Good-God.
So then when we look to the manger this Advent season… may we see the peacefully sleeping, beautiful little one and may we know that in that baby is all the power in all of creation, may our knees tremble from the thought of that power and may we be afraid because all that power is coming like a thief in the night… but may we also remember, that our God is Good. And may we trust in that goodness and the promise that is spoken to Noah: As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” Of Course God isn’t safe, but he’s good… He’s the King, I tell you.

Thanksgiving Sermonette

This is the mini-sermon I preached at the three Thanksgiving services.  I was the first of three to preach at each of the services and each one of us took a different thing to be thankful for and preached on a text that spoke to that theme.  My text was all of Psalm 121.

When I hear this Psalm I picture a man; I picture a worried man; a man that is consumed and overburdened by the weights of the world. I picture a man that is bent over, his head hanging, staring at the ground lost in doubt and concern. I picture a hopeless man. And then I picture this same man raise his head, he casts his eyes up, he looks to the mountain and to the endless sky beyond.
Why does he look to the mountain?.... Why does he look to the sky?... Why do we stare in awe at the endless and deep starry sky? Why do we sit on the rock and reflect on the valley below us, breathing a world full of breath?, why do we listen to the wind whispering through the tops of the trees? Why do we feel, deep in our chests, the swell of every wave rolling gently and then powerfully to the shore? Why does the glow of the sun that rests on our faces, warm us deeply to the core? Why do we smell the flowers and dance in the images of singing birds, and laughing children, and so many fresh spring days?
This is our world and it is our home. It is the house that comforts and protects the fragile infant, the jungle gym for the playing children, the fields of grass to run and run, the bath to bathe in, the living room where we find our family, and the bed and pillow on which we rest and the blanket that wraps us tightly.
This is the home that was built for us by the very hands of God. And its foundation, its walls and its roof… all the elements of our creation, reveal God’s power, God’s grace, and God’s love. When we are sad and the sun brings us hope, or the rain cries with us, when we are afraid and the dawn breaks the day, or the moon and stars shine through the darkness, when we are worried and the mountain does not move, when we are happy and the mountain does not move, when the mountain does not move, and the ocean lives and breathes, and the wind speaks to all the earth… the Spirit of God speaks to us.
When the wind rushes down the mountainside and across the valley the Spirit of God speaks to us, when the wind pushes across thousands of miles of ocean and breaks in waves on the beach the Spirit of God speaks to us, when the wind rolls and dances through the trees in whispers and shouts the Spirit of God speaks to us.
We look to the mountain in times of trouble because it is where the lives that we have built up for ourselves cannot cover over the voice of God, where the streets and buildings and signs and lights do not block the image of God. We look to the mountain because it breathes the breath of God and… on that mountain we can see it, in the ocean we can feel it, in the wind we can breathe it.
God has made you… and God protects you… God is near you… and God loves you…. And all of creation is waiting to tell you the story.
May our Thanks be to God....


Another Recording... YAY!!

Here's another medium for that same sermon I just posted.  This one allows you to close your eyes and nap,  if you'd like to.

Once again the text is: Luke 21:5-19

25th Sunday After Pentecost

I preached this Sermon on November 14 at the East Mesa (the big one) Campus.  I preached this one with a pretty nasty cold which you'll probably be able to hear in the recording from it.

The text for the day is: Luke 21:5-19

We have some pretty intense imagery in today’s Gospel. This isn’t really the kind of thing we’d expect from the Gospel.... no... this is the kind of thing that we would expect from Hollywood, like Deep Impact, Armageddon, or Independence Day where meteorites are raining down on some poor city, or the earth is splitting open, I haven’t seen the movie: 2012 but I’ve seen enough of the previews from it to know that today’s Gospel might seem like a bit of a plot description. How many of you have seen Ghostbusters? You all might remember the scene about a “A disaster of Biblical Proportions,”.... “This is Old Testament, Mr Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff, Fire and Brimstone coming down from the skies, rivers and seas boiling, 40 years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes, the Dead Rising from the Grave, Human Sacrifice, Dogs and Cats living together.... MASS HYSTERIA.” (I might have a future in this doom and gloom/revivalist preaching... what do you think?) Mass Hysteria, that’s what today’s Gospel is about, right? Mass Hysteria, chaos, apocalypse, the “Day of the Lord” and the imminent end of the world.

I can promise you that some people would hear this Gospel and their fear might be kindled. They would think about earthquakes, about famines and plagues and they would fear the day, in not-so-distant future, when we, ourselves will face them. They would hear about nations rising against nation about wars and insurrections, and they would start to tremble, slightly. They might even consider building a bomb shelter, or preemptively moving out into the woods. They would hear about “great signs from heaven” and they would cast a wary eye skyward.... waiting for the first drop of fire to fall at any time. These same people will also listen as they hear Jesus foretelling their own persecution, predicting that they will be arrested and brought to trial, and even worse betrayed by their very own loved ones.... and these people will look at each other, and at you, suspiciously and doubtfully....

This is what fear does to people... it makes them.... unpleasant, and untrusting. People that are living in fear will constantly be looking for signs of the very thing of which they fear. This is a very simply concept, imagine the 6 year old who fears the monster in the closet and how every shadow is a clawed arm or a toothy grin. When I was far too young to be doing such things, I read the book: Jurassic Park,which is the one about the reincarnated dinosaurs that run around this island, in the rain, basically eating the tourists, and for months after that whenever it would rain I would have to have my Dad come into my room to open up the blinds in order to make sure that those flashes of lighting were not, in fact, reflecting off the eye of that gigantic Tyrannosaurus that was peering,hungrily, in my second story window. This is what fear does... it makes us expect the completely unreasonable, and feel absolutely certain that the End is Near.

This, perhaps, does not seem like an unreasonable thing to be certain of after reading a Gospel like the one for today, because we’ve seen movies like Armageddon and 2012, and yes even Ghostbusters, and we’re pretty sure that this is all going to happen. There’s websites, and books and support groups dedicated to waiting for this kind of event. In particular this latest trend of believing that the Mayan Calender predicts the end of the world for December 21, 2012... There is literally an entire website devoted to the belief that the world will end on December 21, 2012.... Oh and they have a specific time nailed down now as well. 11:11. 11:11 on December 21, 2012, watch out for it, right? I couldn’t find any mention of whether that’s 11:11 in the morning or 11:11 at night. (I guess this way they’ve got two chances to get it right)

You may have met people that believe that the world is going to end on 2012, maybe they talked about it, maybe they don’t want to mention the fact that they buy into it, (there’s an “I believe” guestbook on the website so you can go and search it for all your neighbors if you want to find out) Maybe even some of you have had your doubts, maybe you’ve gotten wrapped up in the hype, believing that on that day everything will end. Certainly an initial reading of Today’s Gospel can contribute to that sort of belief. But what would happen if that is the case, if we go ahead with that initial reading, let the fear take us, and believe that this Gospel foretells the end of the world. What would happen then?

Well on the one hand I’d want to buy some stock in “Hardened Structures LLC” (That’s a company I found advertised on the 2012 website that specializes in building shelters for 2012. Though actually I probably shouldn’t buy stock should I, cause there probably won’t be a stock market after the end of the world....)
On the more serious side of this.... if we do go ahead and interpret this Gospel as this kind of Doom and Gloom message, then what do we make of that last verse.... go ahead you can look at your bulletin if you forgot what it was..... “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” That sounds like a calling to me, perhaps it is Jesus telling us how we can get through the Apocalypse, like a sort of survival guide.... So... it sounds like our message today is something along the lines of: “Prepare yourselves, prepare to suffer, this is going to be really hard, but IF we can manage to make it through, if we can out last the madness.... then it’ll be all good...

Well okay then... that’s a HELPful message right, certainly not HOPEful but that’s okay.... So now we know we need to get ready... right?.... we should start being more careful? more cautious? more afraid?... right?
I mean because Jesus says that there’s going to be earthquakes and we’ve already seen some just regular earthquakes that were pretty bad, so these end-of-the-world earthquakes and going to be some serious business, like superhero cartoon movie style crazy.... and Jesus says there’s going to be famine and plagues and we already see things like that in the world, so these other ones are going to really bad.... and well I’ve already felt the sting of a friends betrayal, and ridicule for my beliefs, and I know people that have experiences those same things much worse than I have, so when the bad stuff really starts... whew!?! that’s going to be tough.....

But wait.... did you see what I just did there? we’re already living in a world where all of this stuff already happens.... OH NO!!! Is the apocalypse already here???? ......

No... no my friends it isn’t, but you already knew that, didn’t you?

The first part of what Jesus says about these events is what? “not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down” If you know much about 1st century history you might now that the very temple that Jesus was standing in was destroyed, completely, in 70 AD and you also might know that this Gospel that we read today wasn’t written until 85 AD... and why is that important? Because it means that the people who were hearing that message from Jesus had already experienced the destruction of that temple, even the Jews that were there listening to Jesus that day had lived their lives under the yolk of Roman control.... these people had already experienced all that Jesus “foretold” that day. Just like you all have experienced your own personal catastrophes. Some of you may have been through Earthquakes, famines and plagues, some of you may not have been.... but I would be almost certain that everyone has been through some time in your life that felt just as scary, just as threatening,... just as hopeless.

So then every single person that hears this message of Jesus has already experienced that same suffering that he is identifying here. So then maybe this isn’t a message of warning after all. What’s the point of warning somebody about something they already know intimately? So then maybe this is a message of comfort... maybe Jesus recognizes the hopelessness and is trying to bring you some hope.

I think it’s pretty easy to see how this difference could be heard: either Jesus is saying: “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” or maybe he’s saying it more like this “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” It’s the difference between how you would speak to a crowd of strangers that you cared little about and how you would speak to your own child when they were scared and sad.

Jesus knows that you are sometimes sad and sometimes scared. Jesus has seen all that has caused you pain and sadness and all that threatens you and makes you feel like your world is ending, but into that dark place Jesus speaks these words and tells you that he knows it’s not going to be easy.

What now do we make of that last verse? Do you remember what it says now? Look at it again.... by your endurance.... This isn’t a call to fight or to hold a fortress, it is not the call to deftly maneuver through the earthquakes, the volcanoes, the famines, the floods, or to stay unabashedly optimistic in the face of betrayal, or ridicule, or hurt, or pain, or loss.... and really this isn’t even a call is it? This isn’t an if statement(if you do this then you’ll get that) and it’s not a command.... it’s just an identification.... By your endurance.... you will gain your souls.... It is simply telling you that when this is over.... you will all be okay... it will be all good.

Go ahead and look back down to that last verse, and now let your eyes wander to the verse before it.... maybe they already did when I asked you to look the first time, maybe you saw what’s there and were expecting everything I’ve said since then... but if not... look there now.... “Not a hair on your head will perish....” Now I think we already know that’s not a promise that we will never be hurt or injured or never experience physical pain but it’s not an empty promise either. This a promise that you will endure.... that at the very last you will not have perished from all existence, that all that makes you who you are, your being, as a child of God, will survive the torment and the strife.
Now I don’t think Luke is referencing Samson here but we can at least use the symbolism... “No hair on your head will perish....” Your strength will not fail. Your strength will not fail because it is in the Spirit of God, and as God endures so shall you.
So then... take heart, my friends... because today’s Gospel tells us that all this pain and suffering and sadness in the world is not the end of all things... it is merely a step along the way... and it is not even the biggest of all the steps....

The archibishop Desmond Tutu says it better than I ever could:

Goodness is stronger than evil
Love is stronger than hate
Light is stronger than darkness
Life is stronger than death
Victory is ours through him who loved us

So... with this hope in mind... I tell you to endure, my friends... and you will....
“....and the sun will rise with righteousness in its wings”

All Saints Sunday/Texts from the 24th Sunday After Pentecost

This is the sermon I preached for All Saint's Sunday at the Apache Junction/Epiphany Campus.  I chose to use the 'other' texts because I felt they were more appropriate to the themes that would be in the minds of this congregation on All Saint's Sunday.
Gospel Text:  Luke 20:27-38

“To be, or not to be– that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And, by opposing, end them. To die, to sleep
No more – and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to – ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep
To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come...”
I trust that you have heard these words before, certainly the first line anyway. This just might be the most famous single line of any of Shakespeare’s plays (excepting maybe Romeo and Juliet), it might even be the most famous single line in all of the history of Theater. It ranks right up there with some of those famous lines of literature: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times....,” “Call me Ishmael,” and of film: “I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore...,” “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate...,” “If you build it, they will come...,” “Here’s looking at you, kid.” There are hundreds of other lines that I could quote here that at least some, if not all, of you would recognize. Even if you couldn’t tell me where they were from, you’d at least have heard them before, they would sound familiar to you. And this one line of Shakespeare’s, “To be or not to be,” is at least as famous as all of these. Aside from the Bible, what other written words have so well withstood the passage of time? I certainly can’t think of any. And why does this one remain so clearly? Well it might be because it is part of a literary masterpiece, but while that certainly may help it pop up in discussion with frequency it doesn’t explain why any other line of that entire play is not so well remembered. It might be that it is such a simple phrase, an entire quote that is made without any words longer than 3 letters, but I think that while this line’s simplicity adds to its allure and power, it doesn’t necessarily define it. Well... what is it then? Why do we continue to recite this line and its fellows so long after its creation? Well we’ve already covered its context and its format... what about it’s subject? Ok, so what is this “To be or not to be” all about? Okay now I think we might be on to something... and now we start to get into the meat of what today is all about.

Some of you, maybe all of you, probably know that today is All Saint’s Day in the church. Today we celebrate and honor the memory of all our blessed saints, our friends and family, our companions on the journey that have gone before us, especially those that have departed since the last time we recognized this day. We are grateful today for the lives of those saints who have made this journey of ours that much more joyous, and fulfilling, and peaceful. But also today our minds wander to that ever present and ever elusive theme of death. We certainly are mindful of the gift that these saints have been in our lives but we cannot remember their lives without remembering that they are no longer here with us and that it is death that has come between them and us. Certainly we do not need the memory of those close to us to make us think about Death. We may think about it when we watch the news, or read the paper, and we may fear it in fleeting glimpses from close calls out on the highway, or just in our daily lives. Death is a very common theme in our lives, and as such it is a very common theme in or art, how often do we read a book where death is at the very least a bit player?, or watch a play?, or a movie?, or listen to a song about Death?, or dying?, or loss?, or grieving?... and we here today, in this age, are not alone in our fascination and our preoccupation with death. Generations of people have lived out their lives under the ever-presence of death, and many of them much more so than we do. Think of those who lived in this country during the civil war, or the revolutionary war, or who came out west before the railroad who faced so much more uncertainty about how soon it would be that they faced the precipice of death . But even we, in our relative safety and insulation from the daily threat of death must face the fact that it is a very real fact of life. We will all die and we will all experience, as we already have, the loss of those we love.
And so we think of death... and we remember “To be or not to be” because it is about death. We think about death and we fear death... we fear the deaths of those we love. and we fear our own deaths. We hear that loneliness and loss that we feel when someone is gone. And we struggle, just as Prince Hamlet does, as we fear the end of what we know and the beginning of what lies beyond the end of our ‘baptismal journey.’ Later in that same speech Hamlet speaks of death as:
“The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?”
This is the point isn’t it? That death is that place that we’ve never been, the “undiscovered country” and we fear that unknown because we don’t know what it will bring, and we certainly don’t know anyone that has gone to death and returned... do we? Do we...?
[Look to the cross]
If you’ve been wondering when Jesus was going to come up today, here is your answer.... He’s been there all along. He’s right here with us in our obsession and our fear because you can’t talk about Death without at least indirectly talking about the one who’s been there, and come back. The one who conquered death so that we might live. It’s the story that we’ve been hearing since we were little kids, or since you first started coming to church if you joined the party later in life, Jesus Christ died on the cross for us and for our salvation, so that sin and death would have no power over us and then he was resurrected, “on the third day he rose again”... and we are told that we too will participate in the resurrection, we too will be given eternal life. We don’t need to fear death because Christ has conquered death...right?

Well... yes that’s true... but does it really make you feel any better? Well it doesn’t really help me to feel much better, at least not initially. Yes “I know that my redeemer lives” but what does that mean for me exactly....

So then when I look at the Sadducees’ question for Jesus today, I think: “Yeah... what about that, Jesus?”. What do you have to say about that? A lot of people when talking about today’s text will talk about how the Sadducees are trying to trap Jesus, they’re trying to ask him a question that he can’t answer, so that he’ll have to either refute the Torah or amend his ideas about resurrection, and while that may be true it doesn’t really change what this question is about. The sadducees are asking Jesus about the particularities of the resurrected life and in some ways I can kind of relate to that question. I want to know that this life is going to look like. I’m afraid of the unknown and I’m afraid of death so I want to know little things like who I”m going to be married to in heaven. So then, even though there might be malice in the Saduccees motivations for asking this question, we might imagine ourselves sitting nearby, thinking: “ooh good question” and leaning in closer for the answer. And what do we hear Jesus say? He says: (and this is a bit of a paraphrase) Uh uh uh.... not so fast... it doesn’t work like that... The resurrection isn’t going to look like what you’re used to... You’re not going to be able to understand it in the way that you understand this world. So don’t even try... Man, that guy can be frustrating....

But I think this picture is beginning to make sense... you see, it is very important that Jesus answers this way because it tells us something very important about this promise of resurrection, it tells us that it’s going to be much different than any way that we can possibly imagine our life being. And more important than this is what Jesus says last:
“Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” Breathe deeply now my friends because our relief has come, the promise is here, Jesus’ message of hope is alive in these words: God is God of the Living. This is not a phrase of exclusion, saying that God only cares for those who still walk the earth... no, no... This is a phrase of complete and total inclusion, God does not need to care for the dead, it says, because there are no dead. All of them are alive.
Now, I’m sure you know that this doesn’t mean that everyone still lives and breathes, we’ve been over that already this morning, so what does it mean? Well the word for alive in this case is ZAO which is one of a multitude of words that could be translated as life or living... and what is important about Zao is how else it is used by Luke in the Gospel... it is not used as the waking and rising, This is not the ‘live’ that is the daily in and out of breath.... This is “man shall not live by bread alone, but by the very word of God” This is... “Your brother was dead and is alive again, was lost and now is found” This is “Why do you seek the living among the dead...?” This is... “Your son lives...” This is... “I am the resurrection, and the life.” This verse: “All of them are alive”, is the promise that death is not the end. And this is a promise from God so you know you can trust it, it’s the same kind of promise that we will very soon experience in God’s presence in breaking of bread and the sharing of wine, these are promises that will be fulfilled according to God’s grace.
So.... do you feel comforted yet? Maybe... a little bit? Perhaps the sting is starting to wear off? The fear is loosening it’s grip. Well God has promised us eternal life... God has promised us the resurrection and here is what I can say about that. The fear will never leave completely. No matter how at peace we become with our own mortality, the fear of the unknown will always be close by. But... even though we don’t know what exactly will become of us, we know we will remain just as we know that our loved ones are in the loving arms of God.
A man I know, who had just lost a very close friend of his, said, as he grieved, that: “Death is for the Living.” And what he meant was something like this: We fear death because it is the end. To us here on earth, every experience of death that we have had has meant the end. Death is a precipice that waits and the end of this road from which we cannot exit, and we have watched our friends and our companions disappear over it’s edge, we cannot look down to what is waiting below because we are not yet close enough to do so. And so of course we are afraid of that, everybody hates the feeling of falling.... but Jesus promises that there will be a soft, safe landing and paradise waiting for us, and sure that’s a vague and abstract term: paradise.... but we get the idea right? Paradise... Jesus has promised us paradise. And so death is not the end of all things, it is just the end of THIS thing. So, Death is for the living... because the living person who witnesses death, who knows someone who dies is the only one that experiences it as death... Jesus’ promise today is that our own death will not feel like death but more like rebirth, more like a caterpillar being transformed into a scared would you be if you were heading into that cocoon? and yet how glorious is the exit from it?
Remember where Hamlet’s soliloquy takes him.... He refers to death as sleep... This is a metaphor that you may have seen before. It is a common one, possibly because the outward appearance of the two is so similar.
Well, if death is like falling asleep, then resurrection, Jesus’ promise of resurrection, is like a dream, but not just any dream, a dream that is more real than any waking moment you’ve known.
Those that have gone before us, have experienced what we will experience.... the end of this, yes... but not just an end, they are not gone as though it may feel to us like they are.... their end was the beginning of something different entirely. It was not death to them, but transformation..... it was birth....
To them it was like falling asleep.... and waking up into the most incredible dream....


20th Sunday after Pentecost

This is the sermon I preached on October 10, 2010... yep 10-10-10, at the main campus of OSLC.  I preached this sermon 5 times which was the first time I have ever preached the same sermon more than once.
The text for the day: Luke 17:11-19

Earlier this week, after I had read today’s Gospel and while I was thinking about it, I looked for artistic depictions of this story.  This is something I often enjoy doing as part of my sermon writing process and even as just part of my own personal devotions.  Looking at paintings, and sculptures of different Bible stories is a great way to see, in an instant, how someone else has read a particular story and what that story has meant to them.  It seems that our Gospel for today tends to strike people in a particular way because most of what I looked at was fairly similar.  The setting is an open countryside, sometimes it was a rocky desert-like terrain not unlike what you might find around here, but more often the artistic choice seems to be to cover that landscape in cool green grass and trees and bushes that look like soft green fluffy clouds.  You also might find, in these landscapes, a very content looking sheep or two, perhaps a cow with a few stalks of grass hanging from her mouth, and of course the bird peacefully circling the clouds in a sunny, blue sky.  In the midst of all that Jesus stands, clothed in white, with a dark red or purple sash, smiling peacefully with an outstretched arm pointed in the direction of one man.  This one man is kneeling at Jesus’ feet with a white cloth pulled over his head like a hood, his eyes are bright, and he is in a simple posture of prayer.  Then you look past the kneeling man and see a group of 9 all dressed similarly in light colors with bright blue and red accents and these 9 men are dancing down the street.  Their arms are thrown in the air and they are leaned back, caught mid-step in a joyful romp toward a group of buildings that we must assume is the village center.  These men, all 10 of them, are happy and bear the look of relief, the look that we know, (with a little background knowledge), as the look of healing and wholeness.  This is a lovely image.  It is nice to sit here on a Saturday Evening/Sunday Morning in the early days of fall as the cooler weather brings respite and relief from the summer heat, and imagine the story happening just this way.  And we, sitting in our pews on this beautiful, fall day think, Ahhhh yes I can relate to how happy they must have felt, I can almost feel that joy.  But I wonder if we would find this image so appealing and satisfying in the midst of a bitter winter cold, or an oppressive summer heat.  Here in Arizona we don’t have to worry about bitter cold but we do know all about oppressive heat, and I for one, having experienced both, don’t find either one all that pleasant.  In the extremes of weather we tend to feel lonely, we struggle to feel the hopefulness of spring or the peacefulness of fall quite as deeply as we remember feeling them.  And I think that in those times an image of 9 men in a carefree run back to town might feel a little less genuine to us, a little harder to relate to, it might feel less real.  And I think I know why…. I think that when we read this text and think of everything working out so happily we don’t believe it.  The image of the men running happily back to town makes us raise an eyebrow, maybe roll our eyes, maybe turn to the person next to us and make a joke.  And why do we want to make a joke?  Why don’t we believe this image?  Because it doesn’t match with our experience.  The picture I’ve painted, is not the picture that we know.  The picture that we know is a little darker…  NOW BEAR WITH ME… I’m going to paint the picture as we see it today and it isn’t going to be so pleasant, but I promise I won’t leave you with it.  So this picture that we might be more familiar with?  Instead of a green pasture with fluffy green trees and bushes, we see gravel and dirt mixed in with grass that grows with a slightly brownish hue.  The trees are a little thinner and the bushes are gnarled and scratchy.  In our image Jesus isn’t wearing white, because he’s been walking through the semi-arid, semi-desert climate of Judea.  You don’t wear white in the Desert… and if you do it doesn’t stay white for long.  And then there’s these 10 men, in the picture that we’re used to these ten are not so carefree.  They have been sick for a long time, and not only have they had to deal with the pain and suffering of their illness, but they also have been shut out of the village.  They have been forced to live here on the outside of the community because, according to the laws read straight out of Leviticus, they are UNCLEAN, ceremonially unclean, and they are condemned for being that way.  They have been living for some undetermined amount of time, years probably, and they haven’t known the touch of another human being.  These are withered men.  And in the image that we have of these men, the weight of all those weary years and all that suffering does not melt away in an instant.  They are caught in this cycle of illness, of disease, of suffering and even when Jesus declares them clean, they move slowly, hesitantly, still draped in their dirty smelly cloaks and wrapped in their bandages.  They are not so caught up in joy that they forget to return… they are still so caught up in their suffering that they do not notice their wholeness.  This is the image that we are familiar with isn’t it?  This is the way we have seen the world, not carefree and happy, but still full of suffering.  You know this story… all you have to do is turn on the news or open up the paper you know that people still suffer… and you know what?  More than that…  I bet you’ve experienced that suffering yourself…I know I have  We’ve felt what it’s like to be on the outside looking in, we probably know what it’s like to feel sick…. So we can relate, can’t we?  To those 9 men who walked away.  We know that there is brokenness in the world and we know that sometimes even when the sickness has left us, when the alienation ends, there is a lingering feeling of uneasiness… We don’t always jump right back in because we’re afraid of feeling that pain so acutely again, we’re afraid it isn’t gone for good.  And the fear keeps us quiet and tentative.  Those feelings of… what are they? Shame? Embarrassment? Sadness?  Sadness that comes from the suffering keeps are heads down and our gait heavy, and because of it we just do what we’re told… we go to see the priests and let them decide our wellness.
So now here we are… we are in the midst of sadness because this is the way of our broken world.  You and I together today feel this sadness don’t we?  BUT OUR PICTURE IS NOT COMPLETE…. Is it?  There’s something from today’s Gospel that I haven’t painted into our picture yet…  Did you notice what it is?  There were 10 lepers in this story… and I’ve only told you about 9…. What about that other 1?  What do we have to learn from him today?  Well, he is sick too, right?  He was suffering just as much as the other nine… Possibly more because he wasn’t just outcast because of his illness, he was also outcast because he was a Samaritan living amongst the Jews… he is doubly outcast, and has little hope of ever being a part of this community.  Yes… he is suffering… 

But,…. in the midst of that suffering… in the middle of his pain… into the darkness a light breaks in… Jesus breaks in with healing…  wellness…. WHOLEness….
We find today that even though this man suffers at least as much as all the rest… he is made well… and Jesus himself says so: “Your faith has MADE YOU WELL”
He is well… and so there is hope for us isn’t there?  If this man can be made whole, can’t we as well?  You know the answer to this right? Yes… of course we can.  We can be healed just like…. the 10… yes the 10… I did not mis-speak.  We can be absolutely certain that we will be healed of our sickness and our brokenness because all 10 of these men were healed too.  Remember now it wasn’t just the 1 that was healed.  The 9 may be walking away dejectedly, but it isn’t because they weren’t healed, they’re just still trapped in the lingering effects of their sickness.  All ten are healed and so are we healed.  So then, what is still  the problem? Right?  Why don’t we feel that way?  If the 9 are healed but still sad and afraid, and we too are still in the midst of a broken world despite the fact that we’ve been told over and again about the meaning beyond the cross,  how do we break that cycle?
Well first let me tell you that you can… and the proof is there in front of you, because the ONE returned to Jesus. YOUR FAITH HAS MADE YOU WELL, he said… One man came back, one man realized that something was different, something had changed…  Once again I must point out how those paintings seemed to miss the point… because they picture a man bent in quiet prayer in front of Jesus, he looks peaceful and quiet.  But this is not the picture that the scripture paints and it doesn’t match our experience either.  This man “turned back, and praised God with a loud voice.  He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet”  These are not quiet reserved actions, these are the actions of a man that is overcome with emotion, he is not thinking through what his best response could be, he is driven in this moment by an experience of overwhelming relief and joy.  YOUR FAITH HAS MADE YOU WELL he says…. Jesus is able to name what has happened to this man.  The other 9 have been healed just like he has but he has been made well.  He has experienced a wholeness that can only come from his relationship of faith.  His faith has made him well, his faith has made him whole, what has done this?  Yes his faith.  But wait… what?  What does that mean?  
I’m going to pass here and tell you that this is the crux.  This is the most important part of this whole thing, so if you weren’t paying attention up until now, this is a good time to start, and if the person sitting next to you in the pew has fallen asleep, now is a good time to nudge them awake.  Why?  Because this is where we find out who we are…. Are we the 9?  Or are we the 1?  Are we still trapped in the lingering effects of sickness?  Or are we overcome with joy?  “YOUR FAITH HAS MADE YOU WELL”  Jesus said it… not me…  “Your faith has made you well”  You are the ONE.  You are the one to whom Jesus is speaking.  How do I know this?  I know this because he says that Your FAITH has made you well… and I know that everyone of you sitting here before me, everyONE under this roof has the faith to make them well.  I know this because you are here in front of me, sitting here listening to me, you have come here to hear the message of the Gospel to share in the sacraments, and to participate in the community of God, these are the acts of faith..
Even more than that I know that you are the ONE because this is a matter of FAITH.  This is not belief, this is not the requirement of someone telling you that you have to believe this one thing or another in order to be well, this is a matter of the FAITH that makes you well; the FAITH that is the relationship between the God that created you, that loves you, that saves you, between that GOD and YOU.  Just you, not you with a belief, not you with love for your neighbor, or a certain number of good deeds, just simple YOU.  
And I know that “YOUR faith has made you well” because I know that faith is not reserved to a select few.  Paul Tillich, German, Protestant Theologian says it this way is not a phenomenon beside others, but the central phenomenon in man’s personal life, manifest and hidden at the same time.  It is religious and transcends religion, it is universal and concrete, it is infinitely variable and always the same.” And here’s the important bit  “Faith is an essential possibility of man, and therefore its existence is necessary and universal.”
FAITH is a necessary component of life, and it is universal - we all have it, faith is part of who you are because you were created to be in a relationship of faith with the one who created you.  God created you.  Period.  And therefore you are in relationship with God and that is the Faith that makes you well, no matter how small, feeble or underused it is…. Your faith has made you well… That’s how I know it is true.
And how do you know this is true?  Because just like the Samaritan, just like the ONE, you’ve felt it.  When you’ve been moved to laughter or tears without knowing why…. When you’ve been overcome with joy and let out an unintelligible “WHOOP”… or even just felt like letting it out (probably more likely for you Norwegians and us Swedes)  When you’ve had that extra skip in your step and you didn’t mean to put it there.  When you’ve trudged through step after step on a long grueling hike  and reached the top of the mountain, just in time to see the sun peak over the horizon, and sat in quiet wonder and awe… when you’ve laid out under an endless starry sky and gotten dizzy from feeling so small…. When you’ve held a newborn child and felt the innocence and pure joy of new life… When you’ve felt the music swell inside your chest and tingle down your arms and legs… When you’ve heard the minor chord resolve and major chord rise…  These and all the other moments of life when we feel beyond ourselves; when we are overcome, these are the moments when we are moved by the Spirit of God.  The moments when the distance that has grown from our sin vanishes and we are whole, and healed, and entirely in the arms of our God.
Yes, there is pain and sadness and brokenness in the world.  And, unfortunately you will still feel that pain.  Jesus doesn’t promise that everything is going to be ALL rainbows and butterflies, but he does promise that there will be rainbows and butterflies.  Yes there is pain and sadness, but there is also healing and wholeness.  There is love and mercy, and Grace and you know that it is true, just as you know the sadness.  So be still, know that God is God, and you will see too that Jesus has come, and God is here, and you will see that you are the ONE.  Your pain will be eased, happiness and joy will grab you, despite the sadness, if you let them.

You have been healed, Your faith has made you well, thanks be to God.

16th Sunday after Pentecost

I preached this sermon out at our Gold Canyon campus at one service on September 12th.

The Text for the day: Luke 15:1-32

When I first read today’s gospel while preparing for this sermon, I started writing down things that stood out to me, questions that I might want to find answers to and different things that seemed important the first time through.  This is something I very often do even though, very often, I never end up using any of what I come up with.  But this time I was reading through the Gospel and something very interesting occurred to me, I thought of this question, and actually it’s a pretty simple question, the same question that I’ve asked about many Gospel texts, though usually it just doesn’t spark all that much interest for me.  But this time… this time was different.  This time I asked this question and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head all week.  It has trickled down into all the reading and writing I’ve done about today’s lesson.  It turns out that this one single, simple little question was the key to uncovering the whole message of this Gospel lesson.  It marked the path that took me into the heart of what this scripture has to say to us today.  And that question is:….. wait… you didn’t think I was going to give it away that easily did you?  What kind of preacher would I be if I clued you in to the hook of my whole sermon in the first 2 minutes.   “a good one” Some of you might be thinking…,  or maybe some of you got excited that I was going to give you the answer right away so then you could skip out and catch NFL opening day (yeah I’m sad to be missing it too… Go Broncos!)  But anyway… this question… this key to understanding what this text is about… what could it be?  Well let’s see if we can work towards it? Maybe we’ll figure some things out as we go along….
So, I realize that perhaps maybe we should start by going backwards because maybe this Gospel seems pretty straightforward to you.  Maybe it seems like a simple message and you’re wondering why I would have any trouble with it.  Well… either they’re doing a really poor job of teaching in the seminaries these days… or… this is a transformers text… you know (more than meets the eye)   Well… since I’m dedicating 4 years of my life and a small fortune to studying at the seminary I’m going to go ahead with the second option, that this text is not as simple and straightforward as it may first seem.
Now, initially it seems as though the message of this text is a message about sheep.  Sheep and coins.  Well okay I think we can all agree that the sheep and coins are just metaphors, but to be fair the use of metaphor is one way that this gospel has some indirect meaning.  So then, the gospel today is not just about sheep and coins.  It is also about what those sheep and coins have to say about the nature of God.
Okay… now we’re getting somewhere.  This might be more what you all were thinking right?   This is a Gospel about who God is and the way that God treats those people that are lost; The way that God looks after the sinners and outcasts, the lost sheep of the flock.  So then we can look at this text and see that our God is a gracious God that looks after the unrighteous…. Okay so this is it…. This is the big moment… Did you catch it?  This is point where that question comes up…. This is where we figure out what this is all about….
Ready?  Okay…? ……..
I would love to know what you think this question is going to be… I’ll bet some of you have a pretty good idea…  
“Who?”  that’s it…. “who?” okay I’ll give you a little more than that…. “who are we?”
So the question that I’m asking is:  “Who are we in this story?”
I’ll tell you that when I first read through this story this week and when I first heard it as a kid I didn’t really even think about it… it was very clear to me exactly who I was and who everyone else in church with me was,  
it was clear that I was one of the 99 sheep still in the herd, or one of the 9 coins still in the woman’s purse…
I was taken care of, it was all good, I didn’t need God to come find me.
So the question than before us is who are we in this story?  Was I right in my initial assumption or was I wrong.
Well… if I was right then that means I’ve got it all figured out.  If I was right it means that you’ve got it all figured out too because I sure didn’t think I was better than everyone else at church.  No if I was right, and we really are the sheep that don’t need finding than we would get up every morning with an idea of how we wanted our day to look and we would go to bed every night with a memory of a day that looked exactly like that idea,  we would achieve everything we set out to achieve, we would love everyone unconditionally, … wouldn’t that be great, wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a world where everyone just loved each other and never got hurt, if we all loved and were loved without fail or question, that’s what life would be like if we were really the 99.  So do you still think we are?... did you ever?
Well we’re not the 99.  You and I, we don’t have it all figured out, if you did you wouldn’t need me standing up here talking to you, and if I had it all figured out I wouldn’t have had my head buried in a Bible at midnight last night… 
The fact is that we don’t have it figured out… and we’re not alone…. There’s a popular book series by a British Author named Douglas Adams called the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, you may have heard of it … yeah?  Well, in the first book of the series there’s a giant supercomputer that has been built with one purpose in mind, one singular task, this computer has been built to give its designers the answer to “Life, the Universe, and Everything” and the answer it gives…. Anyone know it?   42…. 42
It’s a meaningless answer, and the reason it’s meaningless is given by the computer itself  something along the line of: “You need to know the right question”
So, with the dryness of British Humor aside, the truth of the matter is that we’re so far from knowing how the world works that we don’t even know the right questions to ask.  Adams, in his comedic absurdity, has nailed a fundamental truth of the human condition… we really don’t know what we’re doing down here.  We’re trying our darndest to figure things out and most of us are trying to do our best but we just can’t get it all straight.
And the real bummer of it is that we are tempted to think that we’ve got it all figured out…
Maybe we play the comparison game and look at one of those sinners or tax collectors and think: “well I’m not as bad off as he is, I must be doing pretty well, I must have this figured out”
Maybe we just think to ourselves I’m doing okay… I’ve got a pretty good handle on things, and we might be a little bit right about that.  We might be okay, not so bad…
But we can’t ever get too far from the reality that Martin Luther will be quick to remind us of, that we are utterly mired in our sinful nature that ‘here we stand because we can do no other’  We cannot stop ourselves from being people of sin.  It is in our nature.  And the part that’s so hard about this is that even if we manage to scrape together some good deeds and generosity, our desire for recognition, thanks, and praise will betray us and reveal our sinful nature in the end.
Now I’m not meaning to stand up here and tell you all that you need to feel guilty or even that you do bad things.  The nature of sin is not that we necessarily do bad things and, even if it was and you did them, guilt is not something the God would wish for you to feel.  What I’m trying to do is to talk about how we all, everyone of us, are the lost sheep.  And we’re lost for a million different reasons and almost none of them have anything to do with something bad that any of us did.  Look at the sheep in the story imagine how that sheep got lost, he think to himself that it would be really fun to do some bad things and go run off to wreak havoc with the neighborhood goat, she didn’t decide to see how far away from the flock she could get, NO… that sheep just did what sheep do and ate, he ate a little tuft of grass from here, and then there was this really nice one over there, and after that well then there was a stream that looked like it would be good for a drink of water, and then up on the top of that hill there was some clover, and then over the hill…. And before you know it we’ve got one lost sheep.  I read from someone who wrote “Sheep don’t intend to get lost…. They  just nibble their way to lostness”  And This is how it is for us too, we don’t mean to get lost, we don’t mean to screw up… it just happens… a little bit at a time, and it happens because our nature, who we are, pulls us away from God and creates distance, that is the definition of sin and it is a fundamental characteristic of every human being… So… back to that question… who are we? We are the Lost sheep and we are the lost coin? So now what?
Well, this the part that I know you know…. This is the easy part.  What happens next is the Good news.  The shepherd comes looking for the lost sheep.  The promise of salvation in Jesus Christ is that God loves us as much as the shepherd who leaves 99 sheep out in the wilderness by themselves while he searches for the one who is lost.  God loves you as recklessly as that, and intensely as the woman who after searching so desperately for her lost coin, and rejoicing upon its return to her, spends at least double its value in the ensuing celebration.  God’s love for you, the lost sheep, the sinner, is deep, powerful, desperate and reckless.  God loves you with all the power and might of the creator and will search for, and find you.
Now… what does this mean for you today?  How is this going to impact your life as you leave here and go on about your lives?  Well…. I don’t know exactly… I don’t know exactly what it means to be found because I’m only a sheep and I can’t really understand it, but I do know this:  I know that if you weren’t found, you would absolutely know what it felt like to be Lost.  Imagine what it would feel like to be in a constant struggle to have to do the right things and knowing that your rightness with God depended on your good choices.  If you had to cope with the wolves yourself and had to worry about your salvation and whether or not you had ‘done enough’ how much more awful, and stressful, and impossible would your life be?  
No, you don’t have to worry about those things, God has lifted you up on his shoulders and is carrying you home.  And because of that you can Let it all go, you don’t need to worry about all the pushing and pulling of the world that tries to tell you you’re not good enough, or you need more, or tries to tell you who you are and who you are not.  You are the lost sheep whose return to the flock brings joy to heaven.  You know that you can’t do it alone, and you that this world is too much for you, and you also know that whenever you stray, whenever you screwup, whenever you get even a little bit lost, God is right there lifting you up on his shoulders before you even really noticed you were lost.  So take heart, do not fear, stand and face the world because you are loved and somehow, in someway, everything is going to be alright.

My First Sermon on Internship

Here is the text that I preached from for my first sermon at Our Savior's Lutheran Church.  I preached this at just one service at the Apache Junction campus on September 5th.  I thought it went pretty well...

The text for this day was: Luke 14:25-33

I would have hoped that the gospel for my first sermon here would’ve been a little more hopeful.  It would’ve been nice to be asked to preach from a story about Jesus healing a sick person, or giving the Pharisees the “ ‘ol what for,” 

they could’ve given me a real gift and asked me to preach on Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want/  He makes me to lie down in Green Pastures/ he leads me beside still water/ he restores my soul…” 
But I didn’t get any of that,… what I got,.. and what we now have before us today is Luke 14, Jesus at his confusing, complicated, and insensitive best.  What we have is Jesus seemingly telling us that unless we do what he says, we can’t follow him, we can’t be his disciples, his students, we can’t learn from him.  
Now that’s alone sounds pretty harsh , but then we go ahead and look at what he’s telling us to do.  Give up all your possessions, hate your entire family, break all bonds of relationship in your life.  And there you have it… there’s your message… there’s your proscription for the day, nothing short of everything that makes you who you are.
 In today’s Gospel, Jesus is out on the road and there’s a huge crowd of people with him.  These are people that have come to Jesus’ side because they’ve heard his message of redemption and welcoming, they’ve come to hear him say that their sicknesses, physical, mental, and spiritual will be eliminated, they’ve come to hear Jesus say that everything is going to be okay…. Well that’s not what he gives them…. Instead he says, in essence: Don’t get too comfortable just yet, don’t think that this is all there is to it.  And then he gives what is possibly the most mind-blowing and completely baffling instruction in the entire New Testament “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” 
To make matters somewhat worse Jesus then gives two illustrations that seem to be telling us that we should all stop and think about whether or not we can really fulfill these steep expectations before we even begin to try.  And of course, for good measure, Jesus concludes his little point by telling us that we only have to give nothing less than everything we have, in order to be his disciple.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that Jesus just wants your car and all your furniture… The Greek word that is translated here as “possession” essentially means everything you have, including your very being… Jesus is asking here for your entire self.
Now I don’t know about you but this seems a little less than comforting.  I imagine that those people who are following Jesus waiting for that message of ultimate comfort, the promise that it’s all going to be okay, are a little disappointed.  I imagine that they felt much like I feel after hearing these words and that is…. well… pretty hopeless.  It seems as though Jesus is asking quite a lot and I don’t know if I’m capable of giving him what he asks for.  I bet they’re thinking that too and I’ll guess that some of you are also feeling that way.  Can we, as people who live in community with our families, our friends, our neighbors, our church… reject all of that, pledge to hate it, in order that we can call ourselves disciples?  That sounds awfully difficult…. Can we give up everything we have, our whole being, to follow Jesus?  Well, when we put it like that… I’ll have to say No!.... no I don’t think I can, I  and really I don’t think I want to….
So then the question we have before us, the question that I will spend the rest of my time with you today answering is:  What then do we do?
Well the first thing that I’m going to do is tell you a story about a boat.  This is a simple little boat, it could be a little sailboat, or maybe a family yacht, it even by a trash barge… but for elegance sake let’s pretend it’s a little sailboat.  This little sailboat built to race in the wind out in the open ocean is sitting in the harbor just watching the days go by.  Safe inside the walls that keep out the waves and the surge, the boat just floats lazily in the gentle water as the tides come in and go out, days break and nights fall.  Now I want you to imagine that that boat has a calling, what do you think that calling might be?  I think it is something similar to what it was built to do, the calling for that boat, the life that boat was built to lead is to be out on the ocean riding the wind and dancing in the tide.  Here in the harbor that boat is safe, but that isn’t what this boat was made for….
You may have heard this saying before; I’ve heard it as “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships were made for.”  And the point is that there is a part of what it means to be ship that requires that the ship be out on the ocean, outside the safe confines of the harbor.  
So then… what can this little sailboat tell us about ourselves today?  Well I think that it’s easy today, after hearing this gospel to feel a little bit like this sailboat.  Sitting here in under this roof hearing Jesus give us these demands we might feel like Jesus wants us to leave this safety, to let go of everything that is familiar and comfortable and walk out into world in search of what it means to ‘follow.’  But we know that here we are safe and we are comfortable and we know, because we can see the cross that our salvation does not depend on our answering that call.  In other words:  we have heard the story of Good Friday and of Easter that Jesus has conquered sin and death and we are now able to live knowing that we are right with God, our salvation is assured.  And none of that will change if we decide that this call to discipleship is too much for us.  Thanks to the promises of the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, we are free to just sit in our harbor to ignore the words that Jesus says today because the cost is too great.

Now… I don’t know about you…. But that just doesn’t feel like it’s good enough for me… you know?  I feel like I can’t in good conscience just ignore Jesus today, just brush him of and say something like “Oh Jesus! You’re so dramatic!”  Nope… that just doesn’t feel right.  So then…  What if we think about answering this call?  What if we think about leaving this harbor?  What is that going to look like?  What is that going to mean?

Well the first thing I can tell you about this is that it’s not going to be easy, no in fact this is going to be quite hard.  That’s where we started today isn’t it?  That this call that Jesus issues today sounds really tough, and I tell you… it is.  It is going to be really tough but not, probably in the way you think.

Despite the upfront appearances, I don’t think Jesus is calling us to ‘hate’ our families/our loved ones in the way we might think of the word.  One of the things we do a lot of in seminary is look at the original Greek that the gospel was written in.  In this case the word that you heard as hate doesn’t mean to loathe, or detest… it is a little more active than that… meaning something more like reject, or persecute.  Now that doesn’t sound much better I know, but if we remember that Jesus, especially in the Gospel of Luke, likes to speak with a lot of drama and passion, then we can hear this the way the crowd would’ve heard it and we can hear this call to hate as something more along the lines of detachment or a simple letting go of.  Now remember that Jesus has already made it clear throughout Luke’s gospel that he knows and understands that people are sinful… Jesus knows our sin, so when Jesus tells us to “hate” our loved ones he does so knowing about all the times that we have, through our own weakness hurt the one’s we love.  Now…. I want to be very careful hear because I think this might be the most difficult part of this whole sermon…. We are broken and sinful people… and Jesus knows that.  Jesus does not judge us for it… or look down on us for it, he joins us right in the middle of that brokenness and he loves us all the more because of it, but he also doesn’t ignore it.  Jesus makes a call for us to reject and persecute those around us knowing that we already do, and when we recognize that, the call becomes, not a call to further rejection and persecution but a call to admit, to him and to ourselves, what we are guilty of, to take ownership of it and then NOT to be defined by it.  To love all our neighbors friend and enemy alike and then to let go of our need to be identified by anything other than the one who creates, redeems and sustains us.

Well that sounds pretty good… right?  Not so bad…  How about another story…?

When I was a Senior in college I took a trip to New Zealand.  I left the cold bitter winter of Northeast Iowa in January and flew with 20 or so of my classmates to the middle of summer on the South Island of New Zealand.  We then spent the month traveling around the island getting class credit as we went backpacking, mountain biking, rafting, camping, and sea kayaking...  I don’t know how many of you have ever been sea kayaking, I don’t imagine there are a lot of opportunities around here, but it is very similar to canoeing which some of you Midwesterners might have done.  Essentially you sit in a very small boat, that is very low to the water and you paddle, and paddle, and paddle, and paddle….  In a place with a lot of natural beauty, like New Zealand, it is a fantastic experience, it is also a breathtaking experience… I was out of breath pretty much the whole day.  Yes it is a very tiring sport; it has all of the continuous movement of biking or running, but in muscle groups in your arms and back that don’t appreciate being asked to do that much work.
So at the end of my second day in that boat, I was ready for things to be a little easier.  Well wouldn’t you know it there happened to be a storm swell moving in that afternoon, and what that meant, in case you don’t know, was lots of pretty good sized, pretty fast moving waves.  My boat buddy and I(it was a two person kayak) were about a mile and half to 2 miles off shore when we noticed that these waves were really starting to pick-up just a few dozen meters to our left.
I say that they had picked up off to our left because we were in a kind of channel where the water was significantly deeper so that the waves were far less pronounced.   When you’re that far off shore the waves are essentially just ‘hills’ of water moving toward land, and they can be much smaller or larger in size depending on the terrain of the sea floor, which of course we couldn’t see.
Well, I knew a little bit about wave dynamics, being a senior in college, and knew that if we left our protected/calm little channel and got out into the bigger waves… we’d probably be able to ride them on into the beach.  Brilliant idea right!?!
Well yes… actually… it was…. right up until the point that, after about 5 minutes of joyriding we found ourselves turned sideways to the wave and sitting, underwater, in an upside down kayak… still at least a mile off shore.  Now, you can clearly see that the story does not end in tragedy because I’m up here talking to you all, but it was not pleasant.
I’ll spare you the details because they really don’t apply to our purposes here but basically my friend and I spent the next 30-45 minutes, after we got ourselves righted and back in the boat, trying to paddle a kayak that was now full of water in that same rough sea over that last mile until we both finally made it to solid ground and collapsed, exhausted in the sand.
I tell you this story, not just because it is entertaining… which I think it is… but also because I think it illustrates something very important about the call to discipleship.  This call to discipleship is not as horrible as it sounds initially, we’re not called to abandon our lives and loved ones and walk out into the desert.  But it is still difficult and you’re still risking something when you do it.  When I was sitting in the channel, in the relatively calm water, I was just like the ship in the harbor.  In leaving that safety and engaging with those big waves I was risking a lot more, and, in the end I paid the price.  

This is what our call is today.  Jesus is calling us to leave the safety of the harbor, to enter into a life of discipleship that requires us to bear the cross, and let go of our possession of safety and security, to let go of our attachment to our own self definition.
I wish that I could be more specific than that… I wish that I could tell you that Jesus is asking you to give this much money to the church, or to feed this many homeless people, or to…. Choose the rough seas over the calm.
But it isn’t as simple as that.  The call is to carry the cross.  It is a call that can look different to everyone who hears it, and we probably won’t know ahead of time what it requires of us.  All we can do is remember that at our very deepest core we are the children of God and we are defined by that.  The life of discipleship to which we are called today is the life that is defined by that identity.  If we remember that and let that be the core of how we view ourselves than the choices we make will be the choices of the disciple.  We will live the life of discipleship as a natural extension of who we claim to be.

I must reiterate, though, that this will not be easy.  Earlier I said to you that the call that we hear today is a hard one, and that’s true.  It was not as hard to follow as maybe we first thought but… it is hard in a different way.  It is hard because there is no recognition for it, there is no reward, there is no prize at the end.  I suppose that when you stand at the pearly gates you might get a pat on the back from St. Peter but beyond that we are not promised that anything will be different, should we choose the path of discipleship, it might be harder and it might be less comfortable and we might find ourselves upside down in the water, but I tell you that can happen in the harbor as well.  The good news is that whether you are in the harbor or out on the ocean you are still in the water and you can never leave that, you are and will always be a child of God.  So no matter what happens,  we have a whole history of promise, a whole book, that tells us that in the midst of the brokenness and the despair, the pain and the loss that we are all but guaranteed to suffer we will we reconciled, made whole,  we will be led to the cool still waters, made to lie down in the green pastures and lifted up on the wings of eagles.  And that promise will be fulfilled regardless of anything you choose to do in this life.

So then… knowing that we are children of God, and knowing that we are redeemed, do we rest in the harbor, or do we answer the call of the open ocean….. I say unfurl your sail and grab a paddle…. AMEN!

Now you can listen.... if you haven't already ;)

This is the sermon I preached on October 10th.  You should also be able to find the manuscript somewhere on this blog, and if you're really computer saavy you could probably figure out someway to listen to this while you read along.  (If you find out how to do that, let me know.  These compu-whats -its are still a mystery to me....)



What up, world?
How are you today?
Good?  Bad? Ugly?

It's funny, you know.  When you're used to leading people in worship you start to think that people are just going to answer you when you say things.  But then you remember that they'll only speak the words in bold print.  With that in mind I'm going to try and think of a way to mass-distribute bold print responses to everything I say.  That way I'll always feel important.... hmmm... How am I going to do that?

Well, while I'm working on that, I've created this blog as a simple way of posting my sermons as I write them and possibly speak them. (occasionally I'll have recordings of the preaching of the sermon)  I won't have sermons to preach every Sunday because I'm not going to write sermons that I don't have to preach, but I'll post what I do preach.  Feel free to post comments/criticisms, I'm no pro and feedback is a great way to get better.

Thanks for reading and being interested.
You're welcome, it is my pleasure.

Ha ha.... jeez I crack myself up....