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, February 28, 2011

February 27 -- Eighth Sunday after Epiphany

Will you pray with me: Loving and ever-present God, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, for you are our strength and our redeemer. AMEN.
Do not worry about your life? Are you serious, Jesus? Is there ANY WAY we can take today’s text seriously?!
Do not worry about your life? All we do is worry about our lives; it’s how we survive! What we will eat, wear, do, how we will keep the lights on, cover our pensions, pay our taxes, protect our loved ones, get safely home after church...WE WORRY constantly. How can we possibly even hear what Jesus is saying to us today? Do not worry? Easy for him to say, right? He didn’t have a family. Jesus probably had people who traveled with him and cooked for him. And if he didn’t then he’d just turn a few loaves and fish into a feast. Do not worry, indeed. [pause]
I had a classmate in college who decided not to worry: I still remember the night before a final exam in microbiology, she came by our room where we were working as a group – worrying our little hearts out, as we studied our little brains out. “How’s it going?” she asks us calmly. We all gave our panicked answer, and then someone asked her. “How about you; are you ready for the test?”
“Well,” she said, “I’ve just decided to stop worrying about it.” [What?] “Yeah, I’m just going to ‘let go and let God.’ That’s my new mantra. It’s in God’s hands.”
And then I actually remember feeling a little judged as a Christian for not taking God more seriously the night of that test as I powered through with my study partners until early morning. I mirrored and harbored the same irritated tone with her that you’re probably hearing from me right now. Are you serious, don’t worry? [pause]
This is an extreme example—this college classmate of mine—but it begs the question: At what point does our “not worrying” become irresponsible, shortsighted and foolish? Sometimes almost unfaithful.
How can we possibly hear this comforting, “still, small voice” of Jesus…today? I think this text is as quiet as a whisper for us who worry.
Worry is inevitable. It’s how we’re built. Once again, I don’t think we can take this text literally and just turn off our worries. But I do believe that there is a powerful message here that we can take seriously, and while it is simple, it is a message that we must hear again and again.
Ultimately my classmate was right, even while I didn’t agree with her actions (or non-actions). Her words were right, about God’s hands. All things are ultimately in God’s hands.
I think now is not enough time to meditate on this passage, it is too profound, so I should wrap up—we’re worried and distracted and anxious about too many other things. But that doesn’t mean we can’t ever meditate on it. We need to marinate with these words, not slap them on quickly. This is the kind passage that doesn’t do much good, at a glance…as we rush through our Sunday morning routine or our 1 hour Bible Study or our individual 15 minute devotion. Jesus-calling-us-not-to-worry must be instead a constant prayer…it must sit with us, and be [slowly]…as readily available to us as breathing. [pause] When you lay down tonight try breathing, “Do not worry. Do not be anxious. God is God.”
At the center of our Gospel text today is a message about God: “God is faithful.” [turn and see on p. 4]
I’m not sure we ponder enough on God’s faithfulness. Faithfulness seems more like something for us humans to worry about. But God is the one with the Great Faithfulness. And God’s faithfulness is to us! God’s unending commitment is for us. God will not abandon us. This is what Christ is finally saying, but it takes some peeling away of our worrying to hear it. Our worries and anxieties, our panicked and irritated tones, can make Jesus’ voice so hard to hear. But Jesus speaks nonetheless: God will not let you go. Stop worrying so that you can hear that. God will never leave you alone, God will strengthen you and never forget you.
And so as we move into new territory—a new year of life (for those celebrating birthdays), a new way of life (for those experiencing loss and grief), an onward journey as a congregation (as we meet today to celebrate the past year and get excited about 2011), or simply as we venture into a new week of work or searching for work, of family or searching for family. As we venture into a new week of life—sisters and brother in Christ, know that with God there is new life always. We mustn’t let our worries cloud this fact (and worries try to cloud this fact): that in Christ there is always new life, and that new life, pushes aside our fears and anxieties, and finds us this day. Jesus Christ raises us from the dead today and proclaims: God is faithful, God will not let you go, God will never leave you alone, God will strengthen you and never forget you. AMEN.

Monday, February 21, 2011

February 20 -- 7th Sunday after Epiphany

Grace to you and peace…
Well Heather and I have just travelled half way around the world and back, and Jesus is still on the mount preaching his sermon. We’ve moved incredible distance, but he’s been there all along. You have gone through so much in recent weeks, perhaps not geographical changes— but we are all journeying in some way or another. I can’t help but think of your mourning the death of our beloved Lars Hellberg, your giving thanks for his life and commending him to God, as you gathered around Lois and the family yesterday. (I deeply regret that I was not able to be here with you because our flight was canceled.)
We’ve all been journeying in some way or another in recent weeks. So when I looked at the Gospel text for this Sunday having been out of touch for so long it seems, expecting that everything would be different even in our lectionary, I was struck that Jesus was still up there preaching the Sermon on the Mount, the great Matthew Chapter 5. There is something wonderfully comforting about that. Jesus still there, teaching us about love, teaching us about peace and leading us into full maturity as God’s people – NRSV translation calls it “being perfect”, but I think that’s a bad translation, Jesus guides us into full fruition, just as our God in heaven has come to complete fruition.
Love your enemies, Jesus specifically teaches us today. Love your enemies—perhaps the greatest challenge in all of scripture. And perhaps the most striking characteristic of the Christian. This is what sets us apart: People of God, followers of Jesus love their enemies. Nothing new about loving the people who we love, Jesus almost seems to taunt his listeners. But loving those who are most unlovable, most unlike us, even our enemies: this is what Jesus-followers do.
Heather and I made a bit of a last minute decision last week while we were in Edinburgh, Scotland. And we decided do one of those guided bus tours up through the Highlands all the way to Loch Ness. It was one of the highlights of our whole two weeks for me, as the scenery was just incredible. (We even got video footage of the fabled Loch Ness Monster for Micah.) On the tour, we saw breathtaking glens and lochs and mountains, locations where they filmed parts of movies like Braveheart and Harry Potter. Sometimes we just listened to various types of Scottish music as we enjoyed the passing dramatic landscapes and weather.
At one point, our guide pointed out a tiny island in the middle of a loch (lake). There were no trees on this little island—about the size of this sanctuary—it looked like just a mound of mud or peat. But he told us that in the summer time that little island changes colors as flowers cover it with blossoms. And he told us that the ancient clans of the Highlands would use that island for meetings. They called it Peace Island, and it still holds great meaning as a symbolic place for local Scots. The story goes that ancient chiefs would come from all around the Highlands, literally lay down their weapons on the shores of the mainland and paddle out to the island with nothing but food, where they would meet and negotiate and eat and carve out roads for peace among their peoples.
Now it sounds quite idyllic; how much is myth and how much is reality, I’ll never know. But, I was struck by the image of Peace Island in the highlands. I wish I had gotten a picture of it, but I was too taken up in the moment, and of course the picture wouldn’t have done it justice. I couldn’t help but share this image with you today as we consider Jesus’ invitation to us, to love our enemies. [pause]
Imagine the church as a certain Peace Island. Where our weapons, our cruel words, our prejudices from our main-lands/our everyday lives, are laid down. And we paddle out together to this place where flowers grow during some days of the year and other days, well, it’s muddy and ugly, it’s painful and mournful and rainy. But we meet there together, and eat there, as sisters and brothers in Christ, followers of the crucified one, to carve out ways, while we eat, of loving and caring for each other through our differences. Peace Island. [pause]
And this might be a stretch from what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, but I think Paul says it in today’s Corinthians lesson: may our bodies be a Peace Island as well. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. What a powerful idea – the Spirit is housed in you, because of Christ! How many of us may experience our own selves as one of our greatest enemies. (Picture on the cover of the two men shaking hands: I saw that as Dan shaking hands/making peace with Dan.) How we can do battle with all those voices in our own heads, all those countering sides of ourselves. But Jesus tells us to love our enemies, that our lives and our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Let us put down the weapons that we use to cut our own selves down, let us put those aside and paddle out to true selves that God has created us to be. A Peace Island, God makes us each.
God is filling us this day, sisters and brothers in Christ, with love. I was looking at some notes I made for this day a few months ago, before we thought that Lars’ death would come as soon and as quickly as it did. And I had jotted down as an illustration for this text, what the Hellbergs have on their answering machine. Have you heard it? “This is Lois and Lars. You’re all our friends; we have no foes. Please leave a message.” This is true Christianity come to fruition, on an answering machine message. (God shows up in surprising places.) The enemy is destroyed, but not with swords or words or mighty arms. With love. When we love our enemies, they cease to be our enemies. “You’re all our friends we have no foes.” Only a God of grace can offer us such a gift, such an island of peace.
May that love, that peace that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in faith in that Christ Jesus this day and forever. AMEN.