God's always "hooking us," pulling us back: back to the Word, back to the Meal, back to the Font...back to the community.

This blog is for the purpose of sharing around each Sunday's Bible readings & sermon at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

Get Sunday's readings here. We follow the Narrative Lectionary.
(In the summer, we return to the Revised Common Lectionary' epistle or Second Reading here.)

So, what's been hooking you?

So, what's been hooking you?

Here you can...

Sunday, March 18, 2018

March 18 -- Jesus "Condemned" (Lent 5)

Grace to you and peace in Jesus’ (not Caesar’s) name.  AMEN.

Friends in Christ, this is a painful text about violence.  

Violence begets more violence.  The Word Made Flesh chooses to enter into a violent world and is coming face to face with it again — from Pilate, from the Jewish leaders, from the crowd.  All succumbing to violence.  This is the way of the world.  It is the way of the state.  It is the way of our hearts.  

Whenever you see violence, know that it is the way of this world.  Violence is what happens when no other options can be imagined.  It starts with our children.  When we can’t figure out how to get our kids to do what we need them to do, even if that’s something good for them, what do we do?  When we’re all out of creativity and options?  We hit them.  Many of us were brought up this way.  We were taught and we teach them, hitting is the answer, when other methods don’t work.  

That early message, even gets affirmed later on.  When a bully is doing what bullies do on the playground, how many of us received the message, “Well, hit him back!”  The answer to violence is more violence.  And everyone cheers when the smaller kid hits the bully back.  Hitting back is always the answer, this world tells us. 

When we get older (although not too much older these days) weapons, beyond words and fists, which are already great weapons — heavier weapons get involved: knives and guns eventually fighter jets and bombs.  It’s a very natural progression.  When a bully hits you, hit back.  And you feel affirmed and powerful when you do.  Violence always begets more violence.  You hit me, well, I’ve been taught to hit you right back.  It’s no wonder this world this nation has been in wars since our inception.  It’s part of growing up.  It’s no wonder we individually have been in fights since our inception.  It’s part of growing up…in this world.  
Friends, we live in a violent world.  Let me notch it up:  this world = violence.  That’s the truth.  Some of us are disgusted by that.  Some of us are OK with that.  Some of us are even more than OK with it: some of us are teaching our children to affirm it and promote this violence that we’ve all inherited.

Violence begets more violence.  That is the way of this world.  And it’s all playing out here in Pilate’s palace, the current setting of violence in our scripture text for today.  

The story of Jesus’ has intensified here in Chapter 20 to unmask the violence that’s been there all along.  Often violence works under the radar — words: social back-stabbing, betrayal and slander.  Today, Jesus and Pilate face-to-face in front of the seething crowd, and this-world’s violence comes out even more, into the open.

And look what happens: Jesus actually is showing Pilate a different way!  Just has Jesus has shown so many in this Gospel — Nicodemus, the woman at the well, Nathaniel, the blind man, Mary and Martha, even and especially Lazarus was shown that violence and death don’t rule the day.  Jesus, one might argue, is starting to get through to the powerful Pilate.  I don’t know if you agree with that, but I’m reading that.  At the least, he gives Pilate pause.  “Who are you?  Where are you from?” Pilate asks, both curiously and even reverently.  

It’s like things slowed down for a moment, and Pilate gets this almost ecstatic (out of body) experience, where he leaves the ways of this world for a second and starts to see Jesus, who is not of this world…I wonder what he saw in those moments?  
But almost immediately, violence wins the earthly day, and the crowd snaps Pilate out of his Jesus with a dig at his loyalties.  

If you ever want to upset someone, anyone in this room, question their patriotism.  
Question their loyalties.  How many of us, if I called you un-American, would feel the hair on our neck go up?  Our blood starting to boil.  [Here comes the violence, right?]

How many of us would start to want to list all the ways, if you’re going to come at me — with insults and accusations around my loyalties — all the ways that not only am I a good American, I’m actually a better American than you are?  What do we call them?  Fighting words.

If you’re going to hit me, I’m going to hit back.  

That’s exactly what the crowd does to Pilate.  Violence snaps him out of his other-worldly experience of Jesus.  And violence then continues.  It’s been violent up to this point.  Flogging, mocking, crown of thorns.  And that’s not even enough for this crowd (of which we’re a part, if we’re honest).  And apparently it’s not enough for Pilate either, who gets snapped out of looking at Jesus.  

Violence begets more violence.  And our text today concludes with, “Crucify him!”  We cannot be surprised at this.  This is the way of the this world.  In fact, if you opt out of violence, what are you called? (All kinds of names, right?)  

One of our prayers of the people today: The cries of “crucify” still ring in our ears every time an innocent is punished, every time a guilty one goes unquestioned, every time your creation suffers from abuse and misuse. Forgive us and show us the way that leads to life…

All this violence talk is setting us up.  Friends, we’re so immersed in violence, I don’t think we can even see it.  We’ve been “attacking” children this week in our country walking out of school in order to stand up to violence.  That’s how saturated in violence we’ve become!  We’re entertaining, suggesting and in some cases demanding our teachers to carry guns as they teach our children about peace.  

Do you see?!  Maybe you do?  Maybe you don’t.      

Here’s where all this is going.  This text couldn’t be more timely:  

Jesus’ way is not the world’s way.  Jesus brings peace.  Jesus’ condemnation is not that at all.  There is this flip that the world cannot see.  The world sees the cross and Jesus’ sentence to crucifixion as a victory of violence.  

But we know that this condemnation is rather a reflection on ourselves.  Pilate is on trial before Jesus.  The crowd is condemning themselves.  The nation being judged, not doling out the judgement.  

Jesus is the king.  Everyone laughs at this, then and now: 

“No, he’s not!  Look at him, in that silly purple cloth and crown of thorns!”  

But Jesus is the king, and the scene is about to get even ore ironic: he is about to place on his thrown, that is, the cross.  Foolishness to this world, St. Paul says, but to us who are being saved it is the wisdom of God.

The opposite of violence is peace.  The opposite of this world’s violence is Divine Peace.  

We don’t sing about God as a warrior; we sing about God as a shepherd.  

This is Jesus, and he loves you.  He loves this whole, violent world. 

This peaceful shepherd invites you now — just as he invited Pilate — to stop the violence, and come and follow and see.  AMEN.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

March 11 -- Jesus and Pilate (Lent 4)

Peace be with you in the name of Pilate.  AMEN.   ;)
Peace be with you in the name of Rome, who keeps the world at peace.  AMEN? 
Peace be with you in the name of the United Nations, the name of the United States of America, peace be with you in the name of the great peacekeeping powers of “this world.”  AMEN?  ;)

No.  Grace and peace be with you in Jesus’ name, the one who puts Pilate on trial — not the other way around.  AMEN.

Because this is the Year of John, and the passion narrative takes up the entire second part of the book of John, we are spending weeks here on Good Friday.  Started last week, while I was absent — you had the opportunity to reflect on Peter’s denial, that was Good Friday morning — continues today...

This year more than ever, because we’re spending a total of 4 weeks and 6 worship services on Good Friday, if we don’t come to understand why Good Friday is good (Christ’s absolute victory) in the Gospel of John, then I have failed you miserably.  It’s “all good” in John’s Gospel, you hear me?  Most years, we read through the entire chapters of John 18 & 19 just at the Good Friday evening service.  This year, we’re spreading those verses out over 4 weeks and 6 services!  So different, and so cool!  And so GOOD!

Today, Jesus is standing before Pilate...rather Pilate is standing before Jesus.  Jesus in John’s Gospel shows no fear, no pain, no signs of being intimidated in the least, and certainly no sorrow even and especially in Pilate’s souped-up military headquarters.  He cries at the tomb of Lazarus; not here.  

I go on base, North Island, just for a chapel service, and I get intimidated just going through the gates — heavily armed soldiers everywhere, ships in the harbor, war planes in the sky...Rome was the world’s superpower back then, you see…(there’s a reason I was reminded of Washington DC when I saw the architecture in Rome a few years ago).  Intimidation.  Pax Romana.

Jesus shows no fear.  Peace be with you in Jesus’ name.  Peace in the face of the greatest intimidation.  Jesus puts the ways of the world on trial here today.  Next week he’ll calmly say to Pilate, “You have no power over me.”
So Jesus is always offering truth, his way of light, eternal life in the Spirit, to both insiders and outsiders.  That is, to both Jews and non-Jews. We’ve seen this all through the book of John, and it’s still happening in our text today.  Sometimes insiders/Jews accept Jesus’ teaching.  (The Jewish leaders are clearly rejecting it.)  And sometimes outsiders accept Jesus’ teaching.  

Remember the Samaritan woman at the well, way back in Chapter 4?  Compare her to Pilate — both outsiders to the Jewish faith.  She is open to Christ’s truth and believes.  Pilate does not, and that’s cinched here when he shoots back arrogantly, in our text today, “What is truth?”  

Jesus is offering his teaching even to Pilate.  How ‘bout that?!  God so loves the whole world, remember?  Even this powerful heavily-armed Roman governor!  But Pilate rejects Jesus.  This scene is not that of a defeat for Jesus; it is unfortunately a defeat for Pilate, and the ways of the world that say that brute force, violence and intimidation win the day.  Wrong.  

The cross wins, friends in Christ. Doesn’t make sense to Rome.
Christ’s cross wins, and Jesus is on his way there.  He’s been referring to that moment through this whole book of John as his moment ultimate glorification!  Being lifted up on the cross!  Doesn’t make sense to Rome!
Christ is our peace.  Not Pilate, not Rome.  
God’s love is our hope, our future and our security.

Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, not of Pilate’s world.  Christ’s eternal life and light makes so little sense to the world that often it’s not even recognized.  

There Jesus is, standing right in front of Pilate, and Pilate misses it...
When have we missed it?  When have you missed it?  When has Jesus’ truth been right in front of us, and yet we put our trust instead in the powers and the ways, the idols of this world?  Brute military force, pax Romana, riches and fame...  

You know what Jesus was doing, in this text?  He was offering Pilate and an exorcism!  And he’s offering us one too, this day.

Pray with me for an exorcism:

“Take hold of us, Lord Jesus!  Take all the sinful, self-centered, violent, angry, jealous, hateful, fear-filled inclinations of our hearts and our bodies and our cultures and our minds...take all that rips us away from seeing you right before us.  Exorcise the demons that dwell within us, the idolatry of which we are guilty. Tear out our selfishness and fear!

“And fill us instead with your deep and abiding peace.  The assurance that your cross is never a loss but a victory.  Your way of justice and peace leads us to hope.  Saturate our hearts and our bodies and our whole lives with your love and grace,  your joy and the assurance of your presence, this day and always.  AMEN.”

Sunday, February 25, 2018

February 25 -- Jesus Washes Feet (Lent 2)

“We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. x2
And we pray that all unity will one day be restored,
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love…”

Awkward!  Pretty much sums it up:
Awkward...thinking about foot washing.  Ever done it?
Awkward...reading this text at the beginning of Lent.  Isn’t it the Maundy Thursday story?
Awkward...singing together without the words or a hymnal to look at!
Awkward!  Considering anyone who betrays Jesus, like Judas, as “a devil”.  I’ve certainly betrayed Jesus.
Awkward!  Talking about and focusing so much on love.

OK, let’s “undress” this awkward-fest a bit.  
(See what I did there?)
This is one of the gifts of the Narrative Lectionary: simply reading straight through the Gospel of John.  We haven’t skipped chapters and chapters here to randomly landed on what’s usually Maundy Thursday’s text, during Holy Week.  This is only Chapter 13 of 21!  The entire second part of John’s Gospel is Jesus‘ passion, death and resurrection, and next 5 long chapters are at the table here, Jesus teaching and preaching to his disciples.  (Not arrested until 18.)  It’s like we’ll be in Maundy Thursday all the way through Lent...because it’s the Year of John!  Awkward, I know, but bask in this, this year:  we really get to experience the rhythm of John’s Gospel here.  Let this year, this spring, really highlight Jesus’ work at the table, the night before his crucifixion.  In John, this isn’t the Passover meal, like in the other Gospels: it’s the night before the Passover.   In John, Jesus is the the Passover Lamb!  

So this whole long sermon begins — typical of John’s Gospel — with action.  An image, a symbol to work with:  the teacher washing the students’ feet.  Let it soak in…

How many of you have ever had your feet washed on Maundy Thursday here?  How many have never?  How many refuse?

Why?  Because it’s...awkward!  You think it’s awkward now, imagine back then.  I encourage us to do it to each other, specifically because it’s awkward.  And because Jesus told us to.  And because it’s a symbol of something much, much greater.  See, Peter wants to over do it... 

It reminds me of when we feel like — at the Sharing of the Peace — we have to shake every single person’s hand in the church.  Do you ever wonder about that?  Who do you shake? Who do you not get to and feel bad about?  

I remember my worship professor ranting even about this.  He told us only to shake the hands of those immediately around you.  Why?  Because it’s about much more: “You don’t have to shake every person’s hand in the sanctuary.  This is a symbol of something much, much greater.”  What’s our bulletin, say?  “...far more than a quick hello: It is the embodiment of conflicts forgiven, wars ended, creation restored, even death destroyed.  Jesus’ resurrection offers true peace.”  

Jesus’ symbol of washing the disciples’ feet was about much more than even just being humble and serving our neighbors.
Like the sharing of the peace, “it is the embodiment of conflicts forgiven, wars ended, creation restored, even death destroyed.  Jesus [washing our feet and commanding us to do likewise] offers true peace”... true community, true vocation.
(Church’s Vision Statement? “Washing feet like Jesus.”)
This is his final gesture with all his disciples there, including Judas!  We can only assume he washed the feet of even the one who was to betray him.  “A devil”, he calls him back in Chapter 6.  This is love outpoured.  The symbol is there, doesn’t need to wash all of Judas, or anyone else.  Just the feet.  

Friends, even though Jesus washes our feet, we still run out and betray him too, don’t we...if we’re honest?  What are ways that you’ve betrayed your Christ?  This season of Lent is long, 40-day examination of that?  A journey into the wilderness [point to altar parament].  What are ways we’ve chosen not to love our neighbors, not to love our enemies, not  to humble ourselves, not to trust God, not to take care of our own bodies, not to serve and protect God’s whole creation?  What are ways we’ve walked out our Jesus and our community, like Judas is about to do?  What has the devil put into our hearts?  “Awkward!”  Ah, Lent.

And yet, here’s the most awkward part of all:  
God. Loves. Us. Anyway!

Shared this quote a few weeks ago, inviting you to keep it close by during your Lenten journey.  It’s from mid-20th c. German-Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich (he was far from perfect, but, man, one of my absolute favorite thinkers): 

“Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. 
It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when year after year the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joys and courage.

“Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!’”
Jesus washing our feet is awkward, because love and acceptance and forgiveness and peace is pouring out.  
All we can do, sisters and brothers in Christ, is sit back and receive it.  

Even here.  Even now.  Even you.  AMEN.  

Sunday, February 18, 2018

February 18 -- Jesus Raises Lazarus (Lent 1)

Grace to you and peace from Jesus Christ, who raises the dead. Amen. 

What strikes me about the text this time — there’s so much here, and we’ve shared this text together several times over the years — what strikes me this time around, is that Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life” not at the end, after Lazarus is all raised and showered and fresh and alive, but when things are at their worst.  

There’s a scene right at the beginning of the next chapter where Jesus is actually sitting at a banquet table with Lazarus and Mary and Martha.  Everyone’s together, food is being served, wine is being poured.  You can easily imagine the good smells and the hearty laughter at the table one chapter past this point.  But that’s not where Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life...everyone who lives in me will never die.”  Jesus says this, at exactly the moment when Lazarus is stone cold dead, stinky-4-days dead in the tomb, when Martha comes at him in bitterness and blame: “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”  (And of course, beneath the anger is always sadness and fear.)  

Friends in Christ, Jesus isn’t just with us in the good times — as we’ve experienced together many times — Jesus is with us through it all.  Jesus doesn’t say “I am the resurrection and the life” at the end; he says it right smack in the middle.

And we’re in the middle now here at Shepherd of the Valley.  I’ve been describing this past week on a family level (especially with our kids), on a staff and congregational level, and certainly on a personal level — this has been a tough week — I’ve been describing it as going down into a deep forest, into a dark, thicketed valley.  
We’ll get through it.  It’s not all death and despair, we’ll get through it, you’ll get through it — whatever “it” is for you (maybe your valley has to do with my announcement, maybe it’s something completely separate).  But whatever IT is, whatever your dark, thicketed valley is, it’s certainly no fun.  

We’re right smack in the middle of it, these days.  In this new season of Lent.  But we have a God who is here with us, in it.

And this God, this one Jesus Christ does several things: First of all, Jesus weeps.  What is that about?!  Especially in the    Gospel of John!  If you’ve been following along, or listening to my interpretations of John, I continually find Jesus to be completely in control, cool and in command.  He loves everyone, but I haven’t seen him lose it before.  After all, Jesus is all divine.  There’s no question about that, according to John.  All these signs, all these miracles, all point to his divinity.  
So what’s he cryin’ about!?  He has the power to raise Lazarus! 

:)  If any of us had the power to raise the dead, if I had the power to raise the dead, I’d show up to your house after the  death of your loved one, and I’d be like, “Step aside everyone!  Check this out!”  I don’t think tears would be my issue.  If anything I think most of us would be a little more like a stoic hero.  Like a paramedic or a firefighter or a police officer.  I mean they’re all so cool and calm amid crisis and tragedy.   I’m sure there are exceptions, but I’ve never seen them cry, right in the middle of it...  
But Jesus weeps!  Ponder that this week.  I think one could write a doctoral dissertation on this shortest verse in all of Scripture, especially because it’s John’s Gospel.  I don’t have the answer as to what that’s all about, but I will say: Jesus weeping points to Divinity also.  This is not counted as one of the 7 signs, but I think it should be: What kind of a God cries?!  
Ours does.  Tears say, “I’m with you.”  Ever been with a friend when you were really hurting, who didn’t have an answer or any wise words, but just started crying with you?  I’ve never felt so heard, so understood, so accompanied, so loved.  

And that’s just a tiny glimpse of our God, who so deeply and completely hears, understands, accompanies and loves us.  Maybe that’s what those tears were about...

Jesus is here right smack in the middle of our pain, of our sorrow, of our fear, of our losses, of our anxieties and of our tears.  All this happens — not after the raising and unbinding — but before it, when things really, literally stink!  Christ is there, present, loving, weeping.  Never felt so loved.

And then, the final sign — the raising of Lazarus is the final sign of the Gospel of John.  The whole second half of the book of John is the Passion narrative.  So this is it, and what a finale this is to (what’s been called) the Book of Signs, the first half of John’s Gospel!

Harken back to the first sign:  Back when Jesus turned the water to wine.  Mary, who was there then and is here at the tomb of Lazarus as well, said back then, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Do you remember that?  She said this to the servants:  “Do whatever he tells you.”  

As Jesus’ seven signs unfold through John’s narrative, Jesus is always giving a command, telling his “sheep” to do something:
whether it’s “fill the jars with water,” or “take up your mat and walk,” or “gather whatever food is left over,” “go wash in the pool of Sent”...and today, “Lazarus, come out!...Unbind him and let him go!”  

Let’s heed Mary’s advice: “Do what he tells you.”  Why?  Because when we do what Jesus tells us to do, good things happen, God’s glory is revealed.  Because when we listen, when we trust, then we see and walk and eat and rise from the dead...and finally understand.

We’re all sheep of the Good Shepherd, remember?  And sometimes we go astray.  And God’s gonna love us even when we fail miserably at listening, trusting, seeing and understanding Jesus…

But our life becomes abundant when we follow Mary’s advice, and “do whatever Christ tells us to do.”  

Not only has Jesus given sight to the blind, health to the sick, food to the hungry, and brought a crazy-good party to the wedding feast in Cana...and to all our feasts here in La Mesa over the years, right?!  Not only has Christ done all this, he even raises the dead!

He even brings us through our valleys, through our losses, through our pain, definitely through our tears, through death itself, and gives us life.

This life is ours — not just at the Great Feast That is To Come — this “resurrection and life” is ours right now, right smack in the middle.  Right here in our valley, the Shepherd is with us.  

Now that’s something worth celebrating!  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Friday, February 16, 2018

from Pastor Dan

February 16, 2018 — The Season of Lent

Dear friends and family of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, 

It is with an incredible spectrum of emotions — both a very heavy heart and great excitement — that I share with you this news:  I have received and accepted a call to be the pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Fairfax, Virginia.  It’s a small but solid congregation just outside of the Washington D.C. beltway.  I will be resigning my call here at Shepherd of the Valley, effective June 15.  My last workday among you will be May 27, 2018, Holy Trinity Sunday.

This letter comes at the conclusion of a long and painfully private journey of prayerful discernment. I have served as your pastor since July 2008.  We have walked together through both magic and tragic days: baptisms, weddings, funerals, confirmations, anniversaries, preschool chapel and graduations, an exciting building project, trips, camps, retreats, and lots and lots of every-days.  Through the seasons and the years, we have striven to be the community in faith that God has called us to be, together.  And I am so grateful for that...for you. This congregation is in a very strong place, with a bright future for dynamic Gospel ministry, continuing always to “extend God’s welcome to all we meet along the way”!  It’s just that my time has come to move along, as a new chapter begins.  

Please know that I am not leaving because of any conflicts or grievances.  Quite the opposite!  I feel so comfortable and safe here.  I am leaving because change and movement — I would call it “procession” (like what we do every Sunday in worship) — is how God’s church thrives.  I think of our beautiful sanctuary banner from Guatemala, with God’s people always in procession.  I have discerned that it’s time for a new pastor and a new voice to be in your midst, and there are so many great ones!    

SVLC will be an extremely attractive site; Bishop Andy Taylor and his Assistant for Mobility, Pastor Terry Tuvey Allen, will be a blessing in this process; and I trust that God will absolutely direct your steps into your next chapter.  Meanwhile, I am stepping into a new call, where — trusting in God — my gifts and passions are a fit for their next chapter.  Can you see God’s church moving?  Always in procession, pressing on in faith, even as ministers come and go, never dependent on any one leader...except Christ.

I remain hopeful, nervous, nostalgic and excited.  I’ll aways be so thankful to God for you — to have had the privilege of serving, sharing life and vocation together.  My family and I absolutely love you all and this place, which makes this extremely difficult.  
I will especially miss working so closely with Jenny, Ron, Tanya and Gina...and Dusty Holycross — all absolute angels, as you know, faithful and loving shepherds among us.

While this announcement may come as a shock today, this new season of farewell and re-visioning is a somewhat extended period of time — longer than usual, I understand:  Heather and I would like our children to finish their school year, and we would like for them, and all of us, to have some time to transition and say good-bye.  (Micah and Katie are just learning about this big move too.)  All that is to say, we’re not gone yet... 

I look forward to sharing ministry with you for some more months: Lent, Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost are before us.  The Gospel of John continues.  Potential projects together abound. (Solar panels, becoming “Reconciling in Christ”, new carpet, landscaping, youth ministry, serving the growing numbers of people who are homeless in our area, and reviving the Community Garden are just a few that come to mind, right off the bat!)  What would you like to do together while I’m still here?  Every day is a day of grace, amen?  And Jesus guides our remaining days together.  There is plenty of Gospel work — and Gospel play — yet to share.  And the good Holy Spirit certainly still stirs among us in this Lenten journey, as in all times and seasons.  

After all, look at how far our God has brought us!  What words have we been repeating from the Scriptures all these years?  “Do not be afraid” (67x throughout the Bible).  God’s got us, no matter what...today, tomorrow, into new ventures, and into eternity.  Let us continue to hold each other in prayer, as we carry on in faith, hope and love.

Inhaling grace, exhaling peace,
Pastor Dan

“Light our way, O God of the living, May we learn to see with new eyes!  
Jesus the Lord, our power and promise; light for the blind, and food for the hungry: 
God is alive!  Alleluia!” (SVLC’s Hymn of Praise in 2017, by D. Haas, verse 4.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

February 14 -- Ash Wednesday (Good Shepherd)

Grace to you and peace on this Ash Wednesday.  AMEN.

Today at the beginning of Lent, we reflect again on Christ as our shepherd, our Shepherd of the Valley.  But here in this Gospel text, Jesus also very clearly states (vs. 9) that he’s the gate.  This image is often lost or subsumed by the Good Shepherd image.  Lots of Good Shepherd Lutheran Churches out there.  I’ve never been to a “Holy Gate Lutheran Church.”  

But the image of Christ as the gate is a very important one too.

It really gives us…and gave the people of John’s day…an opportunity to reflect on “church” – those who reside both inside and move outside of the fold, the sheep, us – we are in here now within the fence, we’ll go out there into this Lenten season, we’ll come back in here on Sundays (and Wed.)...  

John the Gospel writer’s community had tons of different “church groups” popping up in his day.  It must have been terribly confusing—all of them claiming to be the right way (that’s the “hired hands”, false prophets).  This image of Jesus as the Gate of the church is poignant.  It gives us an opportunity again here on Ash Wednesday to stop and check ourselves at the door, at the gate.  Here’s the question:
Do we, sheep of God, live as though Christ is our gate?  In other words, is Christ the means by which we come and go from this place?

Or is something else the means by which we come to and go from church, the fold?  Is it the friends, or the escape from the world?  Or maybe it’s the pastor... 
This is a really good question about pastors too.  We have to be careful that pastors aren’t the means by which we come and go from this place.  
I always get so uncomfortable when people say to me, “It’s your church, Pastor.” Or worse: “It’s your show.”  Partly because I like that idea.  [pause]  What if it was “my church”— put yourself in my shoes — what if people looked to you to dazzle us, “give us a great show”.  Enticing maybe?  All to many story of pastors getting drunk on their own egos...I’m sorry, but the pastor’s picture outside in front of “their” church, down by the street, I think, really sends a strange message…Who is the gate there?  (We have a cross out front.)

Even the Bible, I think, can become an alternative gate!  Do we point to Christ or do we point to the Bible?  Luther and his companions were very clear—and I think very helpful—on this, saying that the Bible is only meant to point to Christ.  “Cradle of Christ”.  
Is Christ the means by which we come and go here at SVLC?  I think our answer is — most honestly — a wonderful blend of yes and no.  We do some things really well:  The text talks about having “life abundant”?... I see that here, in so many ways!  I am proud and thankful to be a part of it—not just a leader of it—but a part of it.  SVLC has pastors that come and go, council presidents, leaders that come and go, people that come and go.  There’s never been one, single human being we can point to who captures the absolute essence and embodiment of SVLC; rather, there is a spirit here that endures  through the seasons and through the changes...because I believe we do strive to live in ways that reflect the reality – that Christ is truly the means by which we come and go!

And of course as a church, we wouldn’t be a church or human beings for that matter, if we didn’t still have some work to do…

Welcome to Lent.  That’s what Lent is all about.  Now we’re invited to take that honest look, that inner journey: 

How might we even more share what we have with those in need, how might we even more give ourselves to the teachings of the Jesus and the Apostles, who shared with anyone who had any need.  How might we even more delve into the Word of God, hear even more the voice of our Good Shepherd, beckoning us to greater trust, deeper faith, higher risk, nudging us out into the world and back into “the fold”/the church.  Where is Christ the Good Shepherd calling you this new contemplative season?  Leading you toward more inner work, leading you outward beyond the fences?  Christ is that gate through which we walk in either direction.

[slowly] What do you see as being the thing most needed...is it the same thing you think Christ sees as being the thing most needing attention?  Jesus opens our eyes to a new way of seeing.  Last week we had the story of the blind man, right before this episode: these Good Shepherd and Holy Gate texts are the explanation texts for that sign that Jesus performed: restoring sight to the blind.  This is what that means!  It means that now we see as Christ sees that which is most important...  

Jesus continues to be our Gate, sisters and brothers in Christ, the means by which we come and go.  Thanks be to God our Good Shepherd – who guide us even now, who still lead us, who watches over us, who nudges us both into the fence and back out, and who always, always enfolds us with eternal love and abundant life.  

Today, we begin anew the Lenten walk with Jesus.  AMEN.