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.


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....)