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, April 25, 2011

April 24 -- Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Sunday

Grace to you and peace from God who creates us, Jesus who bursts forth from the tombs and the death of our world, and from the Holy Spirit, who breathes into us resurrection life. AMEN.
This Gospel story is amazing, and * you are in the center of it! Resurrection happens to us now, sisters and brother in Christ.
I love that on Easter morning this sanctuary is filled with cloth hanging all over—quilts and blankets of all shapes and sizes and colors and patterns draped everywhere. We will pray over these in a little bit, but for now, imagine them as the cloths that the angel pointed to in the empty tomb. The empty tomb had cloths, holy cloths that had covered Jesus, just laying all over when the women arrived. “Come, see the place where he lay,” the angel says to Mary and Mary.
Jesus was laying here this week. In the pain and the emptiness of this Good Friday space – totally empty in here. On Good Friday, we gathered here, to ponder Christ’s death, and at the conclusion of the service, we leaned a large but very simple cross that was to represent our crucified Lord. We listened to the story as it was sung, how they pierced his side, brought him down from the cross, wrapped him in bands of holy cloth, and laid him in a tomb—sealing the entrance with a giant stone. Nothing but Jesus and holy cloths in there.
And now, it’s just holy cloths in here. “Come, see the place where he lay,” the angel says to us. Well, where’s Jesus?!
“He has risen!”
Signs of resurrection are all around us; signs of resurrection are what these holy cloths represent. Signs of hope, signs of life that will go to places where sorrow is deep, where pain is great, where the young are very sick, and the old are very lonely. These holy cloths will go ahead of us, to represent hope, new life, the promise of God’s love eternal.
Any other signs of resurrection in here? Blossoming flowers. Light streaming through beautiful glass. You. Each one of you. You are signs of Christ’s resurrection! You, the faithful, you the doubtful, you the old, you the young, you the gathered people of God on this Most Holy Day. We are created in the image and likeness of God, splashed with baptismal waters, loved and forgiven, freed to serve in God’s world. You are signs of God’s glory. Bask in that this Easter morning!
But signs are just signs. They can be explained away. De-mystified. We could suck the spirit and the holiness right out of our signs of resurrection—quilts are just something we like to do here, don’t know about all this “resurrection” language around it, I was just dragged to church this morning—it’ll make grandma happy, I’m no saint. Oh, it’s so tempting/easy/natural to explain away signs of resurrection. An earthquake on Easter? – pressure builds up and the earth’s tectonic plates shift. And the women at the empty tomb could have just as easily explained away what they witnessed, which is probably what I would have been tempted to do—“Clearly Jesus’ body was stolen, some weird dude in white is now just telling stories; this is weird. I’m outta here.”
But not these strong, faithful women. They took the leap, based on just glimpses of hope, slivers of light, whispers of truth (Jim Forbes) – and started moving outward to tell others. (based on just an “eke of grace”)
Something unique about Matthew’s Gospel is that Jesus doesn’t appear to the women until after they took those first steps away from the tomb. Jesus doesn’t appear and greet them until they’re on their way out!
So watch out, joyful and scared friends in Christ! Because we too will take steps away from this beautiful-tomb-draped-with-holy-cloths. Put your Easter glasses on so that you can see him, breathe that resurrection life that the Spirit has put into you, because Christ is out there to greet us, to tell us not to be afraid, to be with us always, even to the end of the age.
Are we ready to be encountered by and worship the risen Christ just outside these doors? Oh, Christ is in here too…but Christ will surely meet you on the way out…in your fear and in your joy. Just wait and see.
All the women had at the tomb were little signs. And they still went, based on minimal evidence—some draped cloth and a strange guy in white—they still went to tell others, even though they were terrified. They saw the signs, heard to the message, and went out. *
This isn’t blind allegiance to some invisible God that we’re gathered into. This is living out our baptismal call in the shadow of the cross, a cross through which grace ekes. This means moving outward, when all substantial evidence points us toward huddling up, cutting off, locking the doors for greater security. Let us instead follow those strong, faithful women from this place! Instead of explaining away resurrection, let us do the unnatural thing and give ourselves to being flung out by resurrection. Even if some ridicule, even if some scoff at that kind of faith.
Jesus is risen?…based on what? Some quilts? Some sunshine? Some people of God gathered to worship? Some music? A hug? Some slivers of light, glimpses of hope, whispers of truth? [nodding – “Yeah, based on that.”]
This morning we have come and we have seen. Soon we will taste. And then we will go and we will tell. We will tell the story of the resurrection with our lives. For that is how we have been marked, living out our baptisms in the shadow of the cross. We don’t deny the cross, it doesn’t disappear after Good Friday. The pain, the violence, the broken heart of God at the suffering of the world is still very real. But these do not define us, death does not have the final word. A scarred-up Jesus does!
Our presiding Bishop Mark Hanson shares, in his Easter letter, the words of his friend Pastor Josephus Livenson Lauvanus, who is the president of the Lutheran Church of Haiti. During the bishop’s visit in February, Pastor Josephus said this to him, as toured the impoverished villages, the streets lined with garbage, smell of sewage: "We will not be defined by rubble, but by restoration, for we are a people of the resurrection."
The scars of Good Friday remain…we cannot deny the cross, the signs of death – poverty, sickness, hunger, injustice, loneliness, despair, addiction and violence. But we will not be defined by the rubble. We are defined by the healing. We are defined by the resurrection. Even and especially in the face death.
We have come, we have seen the signs, we will taste the bread—glimpses of hope, slivers of light, whispers of truth. And now we go and tell as we have been commanded, now will meet Christ…for he is risen. AMEN.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

April 22 -- Good Friday

Yesterday, we received a bold command from Jesus to love one another, with Christ-like love. Today we come face to face with the fact that we can’t. That we fall so short, even when we try our best. Today we come face to face with our brokenness, our sinfulness. “We have failed you God. We have denied you, just as your disciples did long ago. We have hurt those you called us to love. We’ve even hurt our own selves, our bodies that you gave us as your temple.” Today we come face to face with the cross. The cross of God’s divine will for us and our wanting to go our own way.
Yesterday we received a bold command from Jesus to love one another; today we come face to face with fact that we can’t. And so that leaves us totally dependent on grace. Totally lost without the crucified Christ before us. Today is good, because in the cross and death of Jesus we have hope. We have a Christ who hangs…on our brokenness. Who lifts our sin and death onto himself. We have a God who looks down from that holy cross of brokenness and sin…and declares—exactly what no one would ever expect – a triumph: “It is finished.” Those are the words of a victor. God has “finished” the sin and the brokenness of this world. God has finished, washed away, your shortcomings and denials and wrongful words and hurtful actions. According to the Gospel, this is Jesus’ finest hour, the hour of his glorification by God. “It is finished!” In this cross is triumph. In this tree, this ugly tree, is—exactly what no one would ever expect—life.
Good Friday is good…because on this day Christ takes the whole sin of the world onto himself, lifting it from us, so that we might stand up straight and live anew. And then Christ speaks to his mother and the beloved disciple, establishing a new relationship of love that crosses familial boundaries. Even from the cross, Christ establishes a new law of love, where there are no boundaries, no limits, even death itself cannot hold back this love divine. On this day, on this cross, is the hope of this world. May we glory in the cross of Christ forever. AMEN. Thanks be to God. AMEN.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

April 21 -- Maundy Thursday

Grace to you and peace, from our Master Jesus Christ, who kneels at your feet to wash them, who calls you friend, you, who loves you beyond measure. AMEN.
Come, sisters and brothers in Christ, let us be the church. Tonight is the night. Let us do as Christ has commanded us. Let us wash one another’s feet. Let us forgive one another. Let us love one another.
Tonight there is a sense of urgency. The palm branches are dying; the big crowds of Palm Sunday are gone. Now it’s just us, and Jesus is getting serious. Tonight we remember the last supper. A last and final word. A farewell lesson. But the thing that sticks even more than any words, as powerful as words can be…are actions. Feelings. Sensations. Tonight we get to hear that we are forgiven. We get to taste once more that we are forgiven. And we get to feel it, we get to feel that water. We get to feel that we are forgiven in a strange place on our bodies: on our feet. Feeling forgiveness on your feet. From head to toe tonight.
The first time I ever had my feet washed in church was just three years ago, it was at a service like this in Minnesota. (I had always just watched others do it, or dramatic presentations.) So this ritual was weird and scary to me. I have stinky feet, and my toes are long and goofy. Plus they had been inside my shoes all day. But I did it. And when that water first touched them, there was a tingle. I tensed and jumped a little. My heart beat kind of sped up. I almost kicked accidentally the stranger who was putting their hands on and washing my feet. A little zing spread all over my body. It was kind of intimate…which made me nervous, and for an instant, even angry. It wasn’t sexual, but it was definitely intimate. And that whole experience was so memorable and strange that I said to myself, I’ve got to offer opportunities for others to feel this. I can’t describe the sensation any more. You just have to feel it for yourself.
Come, let us be the church. Let our discipleship, our love for Christ, have consequences. Let it make us uncomfortable and scared. Let it make us feel awkward and tingly. If anyone came here sure that you were going to skip the foot washing tonight, I’d beg you to reconsider now.
Christ’s love causes us to tense up and jump a little this urgent evening, like the way you jump when someone gently blows on the hairs of your neck or pours water on your feet. Your first reaction is almost to kick them. This is a strange love Jesus has for us. Jesus calls us his friends. What kind of a God has to have friends?
A God who cries. A God who serves us. A God who becomes incarnate into human skin. A God who needs our help.
Dietrich Bonheoffer said that when “Christ calls us, he bids we come and die.” He spoke of discipleship with consequences. Let us go, friends, and die with Christ; let us be a church that first washes each others’ stinky feet, and then turns to wash the stinky feet of this world, a church with dirty—maybe even bloody—hands. Ew. Strange love. Awkward. Let us be that church: risky and sick with care for this world. For that is how Jesus loves--risky and sick with care for this world. Now he bids we come and join him. He calls us friends. Now we’ve got to offer opportunities for others to feel this love. It’s so strange and real…and good. We call each other friends, now we call the world friends.
Friendship means that no one is better than the other. Author Sandra Schneiders writes that “friendship is the one human relationship based on equality.” And there is room for patience and laughter. Friendship among nations, for friends of Jesus. For friends of Jesus, there’s friendship among religious groups. Patience and laughter. Friendship among classes. It’s one thing to give a poor man some money; it’s another to name Lazarus as one of your friends. Jesus calls us friends, he washes our feet and then he tells us to do likewise. That’s his final word, that’s his final action. The entire Gospel of John can be summed up in this event. Serving and loving.
Come, let us be the church. Let us do as Christ has done for us. Let us wash one another’s feet, for Christ has washed ours. In the end, for Christ, that’s all there is: Love. Awkward, tingly, risky, smelly, dangerous, unconditional love. AMEN.

Monday, April 18, 2011

April 17 -- Palm/Passion Sunday

--no sermon; rather an extended reading of Matthew 26 & 27, interspersed with hymns--
Check out this beautifully woven "Palm Crucifix" that my dad bought last week in Mexico.

Prayers of Intercession (from sundaysandseasons.com)
As we return to the waters of baptism during this season of Lent, let us pray for the church, those in need, and all of God's creation.
A brief silence.

We pray that the same mind be in your church as was in Christ Jesus; that we continue to bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord. God of mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray that the earth, the seas, the stars, and every living creature bow before you; that all human beings be humble stewards of the world we call home. God of mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray that those with authority show great mercy; that war-weary nations be sustained by your word; that innocent victims not be condemned. God of mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray that you feed the hungry; free the captives; clothe the naked; heal the sick; end torture; and turn our swords into plowshares. God of mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray that all of us, who desert, deny, or betray you, be forgiven; that during this Holy Week ears are opened to the life-giving story of your death and resurrection. God of mercy,
hear our prayer.
Hold us in communion with the faithful witnesses who have gone before us, until that day when we join them at the feast that is to come. God of mercy,
hear our prayer.

Into your hands, God of abundant grace, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Monday, April 4, 2011

April 3 -- 4th Sunday of Lent

Spiritual awakening. When was the last time you had one? The lights go on, and everything is obvious: your place, God’s voice, what God desires for you and for this world, and what you should do in response to that. It’s all clear and obvious. When was there absolute clarity for you in terms of what God was motioning?
This Gospel text – Jesus healing the blind man (which only takes 7 verses) and the ensuing controversy (which takes 34) – this Gospel text is a metaphor for spiritual awakening. Jesus healing a man who once was blind but now sees. “All I know is once I was blind, but now I see.” Plain. Obvious. The Pharisees try to muddle it up, but the real clarity comes – ironically – in the “mud of Christ.”
In mud – water and earth – pasted on your eyes by Christ comes clarity! It’s time for a spiritual awakening, this 4th Sunday of Lent! That’s the gift of this text. Might not be a glamorous, high energy spiritual awakening, with dancing and singing, maybe like we see with our Pentecostal sisters and brothers. That might not really be your style for spiritual awakening. But Lutherans are not exempt from spiritual awakenings! Do not be mistaken: Christ is pasting water and earth in your eyes this morning, and calling you into the light.
How are you blind? Blindness is a metaphor for spiritual dryness. How has your spiritual life started to look cracked and flakey like the surface of the Sahara, desperate for a good rain?
How we can get dry! Dehydration sneaks up on us. I don’t know about you but even during the Spring time, all this rain, all this beautiful imagery in church during Lent of journeying, renewing, rich texts, Wednesday night services, fresh produce at our door, baseball season (Cubs and Padres both won yesterday!), and I still can get so dried up.
Dehydration sneaks up on you and suddenly you’re dizzy with “Pharisee business”, and it’s almost impossible to see.
Pharisee business is the stuff we have to do, or we get in trouble. Pharisees, were not totally bad people. [easy to separate us from them] They’re just about the business of doing what they—and keeping close tabs on what others—have to do: pay your taxes, get a job, “memorize it, because it will be on the test”, (in their day) honor all laws of the Hebrew Scriptures, stop at red lights, give to the needy. You can skip all that, all that Pharisee business, but you’ll get in trouble. The Pharisees were like the children on the playground, who run and tell the teacher when someone’s breaking a rule, the kids who get very upset when they themselves get in trouble for something that they didn’t realize was wrong (I live with a little boy like that…), because they’re just obsessed with doing what we have to (supposed to) do – Pharisee business.
But that Pharisee business is only a stage, a phase, in our Christian evolutions. For God is comin’ at us with mud and water for our eyes, with bread and wine for our bodies, with holy words of comfort for our troubled hearts, and holy words of challenge for our minds and hands and feet. And with a little smearing, we are ushered out of the walled-up region of Pharisee business as usual, and into a much wider world, a totally new realm we hadn’t seen before. During this Lenten season, we rub and wash and rinse and open.
And now we see in a new light. We walk as children of the light through the valley of the shadow of darkness, fearing no evil. For the light of Christ shines on us. We are nourished and fed at this table. Hydrated at this font. And we are sent by baptism – our pool of Siloam (which means Sent) –we flung from here, flung by God’s costly grace, to proclaim Christ crucified and risen.
“Spiritual awakening” means that this Pharisee business no longer defines us. We follow the good rules, we go back into that walled-up region, but not because we have to. We follow the rules because it’s just a small part of the much bigger picture that we now see, in this healing – for it’s now “Jesus business”.
From Pharisee business to Jesus businessJesus business covers much Pharisee business, but is so much broader and richer and more real and more meaningful, in light of Christ.
Jesus business. That’s how we see now. It’s like a blessed spring, that has gushed all over our dry, cracked, dehydrated lives. We are filled with meaning and purpose and clarity. “Here’s mud in your eye!” (it’s a toast that means “Here’s to healing and seeing the world in a new way. Here’s to clarity through mud!”)
If we profess to be followers of Jesus, then we ought to be able to describe how we see the world differently now vs. before. How do you see differently, now that you’re about the work of Jesus?
The disciples and the Pharisees only saw and sin in the man born blind. “Who did it? Who sinned? Was it him or his parents?”
But Jesus throws out that parched concept of God and says, “This man was born blind so that God’s glory might be revealed.”
Japan. “Who did it? Who sinned? Was it this generation of Japanese or the generation before? Must be because they’re not Christian. Something like that will never happen to us – because we can see. We’re a Christian nation.”
That’s Pharisee talk, Pharisee business. What did Jesus say? “Right when you say ‘we can see,’ your sin remains.” That kind of judgment and pride and dehydrated compassion could put us right at the Pharisees’ side.
But Jesus work is what we’re about! We see tragedy differently – not something to celebrate, by any means, but a place for “God’s glory” to shine in the darkness. From the March 25th Japan situation report of our church body:
The ELCA has an expansive network of global companions through which it engages in relief and rehabilitation following major international disasters. Our church’s ongoing relationships – both Lutheran and ecumenical – enable us to engage swiftly and effectively with communities in need, as they recover from disasters.... To respond to the disaster in Japan, we are working very closely with the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Lutheran World Federation, and Church World Service in providing direct assistance to survivors of this disaster – and we’ll continue to walk with them as they rebuild their lives. On March 18th, the ELCA made an initial commitment of $240,000 to our companion’s relief efforts:
100,000 to the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church for initial relief efforts;
· $40,000 to enable the Lutheran World Federation to deploy an emergency relief advisor from India; and
· $100,000 to Church World Service for an immediate response to 5,000 households, about 25,000 individuals, now living at 100 evacuation sites in the northeastern area of Japan.
Jesus business. One example. We’re not Jesus, but we follow him. If it wasn’t for Christ, we’d still be stuck doing Pharisee business, but we have been found. We have been washed and healed by Christ. So we now see – not through the eyes of judgement and condemnation – but through the eyes of love. We are awakened and given fresh eyes. We are enlightened, not by the law of the Pharisees, but by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The scales have fallen, the spring is flowing, the water is splashed and now we are sent to where Christ will meet us and stay with us. AMEN.