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...

Monday, January 31, 2011

January 30 -- 4th Sunday after Epiphany

Grace to you and peace…
Today Jesus climbs up onto the mountain and teaches us all. Today we have some of the core lessons of the Christian life brought to us “pow, pow, pow” in three of the most powerful, most central readings in the entire Bible. Micah, Paul, Jesus. It’s almost too much to handle.
Micah’s famous passage: What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love kindness, and walk [shrewdly] with your God.
The theme of shrewdness/wisdom ultimately being about doing justice and loving kindness is carried over in Paul. Paul talks about the wisdom of the world, the shrewdness of the world vs. the wisdom and shrewdness of God. This text of Paul’s becomes one of Martin Luther’s main focal points as he discusses, what he calls, “the theology of the cross.” Luther contrasts the “theology of the cross” to the “theology of glory”. [Lutheran Handbook, and center page on “How to become a Theologian of the Cross” – read points 1 & 3]
This leads us right up the mountain, to find Jesus preaching, the Sermon on the Mount…where Jesus takes his listeners “to the next level.” You want to follow me? You want to be elevated with me up here on this mountain? Well then, get ready for some surprises, Jesus says to us today. Because Jesus continues on the themes that the prophet Micah and Paul set forth – that faithful discipleship has nothing to do with showy offerings, or popularity, or success, or the world’s wisdom. In other words, the mountain top, is the last place you’ll find Jesus and his blessings. Blessedness is down in the valley, on the plain, in the everyday. Blessedness is shed upon the suffering, in the sermon on the mount – the lowly, the poor in spirit, the meek. Jesus is not the King of the Mountain; he’s the Shepherd of the Valley. And his followers act in a similar way. This is a radical idea.
It’s a topsy-turvy message again today. The world would expect Christ, or any deity, to reign supreme – like a super-hero with giant muscles and awesome weapons, and servants, and enemies underfoot. Conquering hero, like Mel Gibson or Russell Crowe, these characters that once were underdogs, but then overcame all the odds and now are just awesome and all the girls are screaming for them and they know how to fly helicopters and shoot guns with precision and sword fight and do back-flips. Jesus is anything but cool. Say what you will about our president, but you’ve got to admit, he’s got that cool factor, that Jesus doesn’t have. Obama’s got that swagger and smile. Confidence…and why not? He’s arguably the “most powerful man in the world”. Jesus is anything but cool, powerful, and smooth.
Seriously, if you want to step into these lessons of Scripture, think of a looser—a modern-day looser. No muscles, probably clumsy. “Despised and rejected.” (how quickly we forget that à DJ Hall’s quote) It’s a topsy-turvy message. Going to the next level means flipping everything on its head. For to suggest that Jesus is a looser is a winning statement. [back to Lutheran Handbook, read point 4]
This is radical stuff! And Jesus is just giving us a preview of what is to come, as he inaugurates his ministry with this Sermon on the Mount, lifting up all those who seem insignificant and silly to everyone else. This is Jesus’ State of the Union address: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted.”
Sisters and brothers in Christ, whether we find ourselves in these categories or not, this is Good News. Because it means that we and the rest of this world will never be abandoned by God, will never stop being blessed by God. There’s no way that God can ever disappear. If Jesus is casting blessings on the least of these in our midst—sometimes that’s you, sometimes it’s not—but if Jesus is casting blessings-upon-blessings all the way down the least of these, then we know we’re always covered by God’s love.
For in the moment when we too feel despised and rejected, clumsy, with no swagger, no muscles, no voice – Christ is right there. In the moment when we feel lost and forsaken, alone or confused, Christ is right there too. At the moment we feel so unforgivable, so broken or poor in spirit, Christ is there. We meet Jesus, not on the red carpet, but at the cross – foolishness to the power-hungry and awesome, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
May these words of Scripture this morning—not frighten us or dis-engage us. May the words of Scripture this morning give us hope and new life. May they shape us and mold us for forgiveness, for blessedness, and for faithfulness – for going to the next level – doing justice, loving kindness, and walking with God…this day and always. AMEN.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

January 23 -- 3rd Sunday after Epiphany

Grace to you and peace…
One of my favorite times of the day is bedtime with Micah:
We read the Spark Story Bible. Micah’s fond of requesting the Spark Story Bible by simply asking, “Daddy, ‘Spark’ it up tonight?” (which I think meant something totally different when I was in college)
After reading, we sing a few hymns from the books Jenny Fenner has diligently compiled over the last year. 4 of them now! (narthex)
JesuCallUsOerTumuMelody.tifOne that Micah and I sang this week…696 “Jesus Calls Us; o’er the Tumult”. A hymn that I used to sing in church growing up, but have rarely heard in churches ever since…any familiar with it? Well sing a few verses in a bit, but righ now, Gina, would you mind just playing the melody?
Our gospel text is the great story of Jesus calling his disciples. And like every text, Sunday after Sunday, we are invited to put ourselves into the story. Some weeks that can be more complicated: For example, with the very popular prodigal son story, are you the older son or the younger son or the father or the employer or the neighbor? Or another story, are you Zaccheus the wee, little tax man, or are you part of the crowd that despised him? But today, it’s pretty easy, I think to figure out where to insert ourselves in the story because unless any of think you’re Jesus, that would leave us all in the boat with the disciples.
This hymn puts us right in the boat, and I wanted to just go through it, verse by verse and offer a few reflections on each as the sermon.
Vs. 1 –read it
Our hymnal is so full of great theology. And great theology always starts with a well-diagrammed religious sentence, where God or Jesus, in this case, is always the subject and we are the direct object. God loves you. Jesus heals us. God searches for you. Jesus rejoices in finding you. And here: “Jesus calls us”. Then there is the recognition that Jesus doesn’t call us from quiet, undistracted, green-pasture, calm-water life. [pause] Jesus calls us over the tumult, of our life’s wild restless sea. It is hard to see and hear Jesus with so much going on. It’s hard to see and hear Jesus with watches on our wrists and calendars on our phones. And yet that call is steady and calm, and the invitation to follow never ends. We just have to “put some things down” in order to hear it. What are our nets? What’s tying us up?
Vs. 2 –read it
Andrew and his brothers are on the border of the water and the land when Jesus calls. Later we’ll sing a song about Christ coming “down to the lakeshore.” How often, it strikes me, that we find ourselves too, “on the border.” Here in San Diego, we are on the border of the U.S. and Mexico. We are on the border of land and water, mountains and deserts. But even more, how often do we find ourselves on the border of following Jesus or going after a myriad of worldly invitations. Shall we turn and live and love and forgive in the way of Christ’s community…or continue to succumb to the pressures of isolation, self-centeredness and safety-at-all-costs? [Risk-taking at Bethel, St. Louis] Disciples take a huge leap, and we need to be upfront with that in an era of cake-walk Christianity. Following Jesus is not easy.
Vs. 3 –read it
Verse 3 continues on this theme. [Sing] What are idols that are keeping you from “loving Jesus more”? [pause] What do we worship in this “vain world’s golden store”? [pause] The ancient Hebrews worshipped a golden calf statue when they strayed, and that seemed silly, but it always made it pretty easy for me to figure I was good a pretty good Christian, until someone simply asked, “Yes, but what are our golden calves today?” [pause] Money, power, prestige, security, consumption.
Vs. 4 –read it
And now the song shifts from challenging invitations, to comforting reassurances of enduring presence. For whether we choose to follow or not, Jesus is there still. [sing] Jesus is always with us, friends. [Carol A.: “sitting right next to me.”]
Vs. 5 –read it
Same line; now an exclamation point! Jesus us call us, period, that’s it. Exclamation point! And now a prayer: Savior, help us to hear your call. Give our hearts to your obedience.
Our hearts can get awfully troubled and go in all kinds of directions these days. But sisters and brothers in Christ, let the text be the melody that draws you back, back in step with Jesus Christ, the subject of our sentences, who lives to call you by name, gather us in, and holds us together in this place—nurturing us with gifts of love: bread wine story, song, community. At least 3 of our hymns today, I noticed, are soft and melodic, like bedtime songs (this one, “You Have Come Down to the Lakeshore,” and the HOD “Will you come and follow me”), but all their lyrics are powerful summons for us to drop our nets and follow. It’s like Jesus coaxes us, with sweet, gentle music into a life of discipleship. He draws us out of ourselves and into the choppy waters of loving others and reaching out as his own body—not over and against the world—but completely for the world. Christ calls us together, cares for us deeply, and then finally but just as passionately sends us back out to call, invite, serve and serve others. For, as Matthew continually reminds us in his Gospel, to serve and love others is to “serve and love [Jesus] best of all.” [sing] AMEN.

January 16 -- 2nd Sunday after Epiphany

To quote the Apostle Paul in his letter to the congregation at Corinth: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” AMEN.
Thanks to John the Baptist/Pointer/Finger’s words in the Gospel of John, we have a very striking theological statement about who Jesus is…only place in the whole Bible where it says this…but it’s a statement that we sing every Sunday during Communion. “Behold, look! Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
I want to look at this statement today. And the first think I want to point out is that the word sin is singular. Jesus forgives sin. What’s the difference between Jesus forgiving sin and Jesus forgiving sins? Well, Jesus does both.
At the beginning of the service each week, we hear the words: your sins are forgiven. During our apostle’s creed we say, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins”…although the original Latin version, interestingly, has it in the singular, says the forgiveness of sin: remissionem peccatorum.
I’m nitpicking here because what John says to us today about Jesus forgiving sin, adds even more depth and power, more layers, to what we believe and confess about Jesus each week. Pay attention to whether we sing “Lamb of God you take away the sin [or sins] of the world,” each week. We sing both; but the actual quote from Scripture is singular.
Jesus forgiving our sins means Jesus forgiving all the things that we’ve done this week that are selfish, immoral, hateful…
It’s amazing grace to think and believe that God forgives every one of your individual sinful actions, isn’t it? Sins are individual actions.
But the statement that Jesus forgives our sin, or takes away the sin of the world—this is a statement about our condition, not just an individual action here and there. Lutherans are not shy about confessing our sinful condition, and the sinful condition of this whole world. And it’s not so trendy anymore to talk about sin as a condition, as a state that we’re in, even in many theological circles.
I’m not even sure we’re totally at a consensus here. Think about what you believe here: Lutheran theology, based on an understanding of and grounding in Scripture, says that a baby, sweet little beautiful baby is sinful, simply by virtue of the fact that that baby is earthly. Humanism says no, absolutely not, our babies are not sinful creatures. I struggle with this idea myself; and continue to live with that struggle, even as I confess with the Lutherans that “we are in bondage to sin”, that a sinful condition exists from our very beginnings. It would be very interesting to hear your thoughts on this sometime.
Are we humans sinful from the beginning? Luther would counter the humanists, both secular and religious, and say yes, we are dirty rotten sinners from the start. I had a professor who was reflecting on this debate and giving validity to the argument that “we’re not sinful in our mother’s wombs, c’mon.” But then he said, “But if you don’t think sin [as a condition] is real, just open the window and breathe the air.” [pause] We all commit sins individually, but sin is so real, it is such an all-pervasive condition in our world that it’s [slowly] even in the air we breathe.
And so to confess that “Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” becomes a powerful statement of faith.
In the midst of our world, that is so saturated with anger and selfishness and violence…Jesus forgives sin, he takes away sin…and sins. We don’t have to look far to find examples of sin as a condition because all we have to do is look in the mirror, if we’re honest. If we’re honest we too are overcome by anger, selfishness, violence….it’s everywhere. Anger and selfishness and violence—we don’t have to look far to find examples of this in our world either. [pause] So many sins (that is, demonic individual acts) and so much sin (as a pervasive condition). And sin as a condition actually and unfortunately unites us. And this is where Lutherans/Christians may differ from others.
Anyone can point a finger at the shooter and Arizona and condemn his individual sins. But Lutherans would say that because of humanity’s sin, as a condition, we are joined to the shooter in Arizona, to the guy that throws trash on the highway, to embezzlers of giant corporations, to the little boy who doesn’t want to share his toys. We are joined to them all not because we necessarily committed those same heinous, individual acts, but because we all share that human sinful condition.
Oh God, is there a force that can overcome us being joined only by our common ground of sinfulness? We cry out like the Apostle Paul, “Is there anyone who can deliver us from this body of death?” “We are in bondage sin and cannot free ourselves. We confess that we have fallen short of the life you desire for us. We choose our priorities over you commandments. We divide the body of Christ. The earth groans under our demands.” Is there anything, anyone who can help us because, we are stuck in the state of sin.
The road to healing must begin with a confession, with an admission of our wrongdoing, which is why our worship begins with confession.
And then an answer: Sisters and brothers in Christ, the answer as Christians, as the ones who boldly point and look to and follow Jesus, the answer is YES! Yes there is a force that is even greater than the force that joins us in sinfulness. With John the Baptist, and all the martyrs and prophets down through the ages, with MLK, with our families and our children, we point together to Jesus. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the whole world!” Christ is our Light and our strength, our salvation in times of trouble, our love in times of hate. Our peace in times of violence. Our hope in times of despair. Our comfort in times of need. Our forgiveness in this times of sin. Our life even and especially in times of death. Thanks be to God for the Lamb, the One Jesus Christ, who ccomes into this world to take away our sin, to lift us up, to hold us forever in his grace and favor, from this day and for ever more. AMEN. AMEN.