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, November 28, 2011

November 27 -- 1st Sunday of Advent & Year B!

In a world that is full of sweet familiarity, Advent, the Christian season of Advent, stands guard over the good news of the surprise and disorientation of God’s arrival. (I’d like to invite you to imagine Advent as the season of the Surprise of God.)
How many of us really like surprises? How many of us prefer to know what’s coming? Heather doesn’t like surprises. I learned that early in our marriage. She likes to know what’s coming, so she can make a plan. My brother (very different personality from my spouse), he needs to have a plan too, despite his non-traditional Portland lifestyle. Just needs to know what’s coming. I suppose for nearly all of us, that’s true – for one reason or another. For some, it’s because we just like to be in the know, for others, it’s because there is so much chaos and unknowable, if we can have some sense at least, of what’s coming up, it gives us some comfort and peace.
But the Sundays of Advent—and particularly these readings today—stand in stark contrast to the comfort, the peace, the security of sweet familiarity that we all crave.
Advent, the season that celebrates the Surprise of God!
A season of reflecting on the many and various ways that God comes to us. It’s hard to be surprised anymore about God coming to this earth as a babe in Bethlehem. We’ve heard the story so many times that what was once a huge surprise is now an image in our front yards, on the cover of our Christmas cards, at the center of our worship – a baby, a mother, a shepherd, some angels and some animals. We’ve seen it. Not too much is surprising about it.
Christ invites us to re-focus and re-open our eyes and our lives this Advent season, to brace ourselves for his disorienting and surprising arrival in many and various ways. To watch out. Keep alert. Stay awake. You know never know.
Some of you may have heard this story, but the most surprising encounter I ever had with Jesus was when I traveled to Skid Row in Los Angeles…
“urban walk-about” when I was at California Lutheran University…
Another time was worshiping on a Sunday in a shanty village house somewhere in the middle of Nicaragua. Open windows and doors, dogs and chickens wondering through our “sanctuary”, passing a common cup around at Communion with white upper middle-class college students from St. Louis University and poor survivors of the Sandinista revolution…
Another time, most recently, encountering God unexpectedly was holding my dog as the Humane Society chaplain-nurse put him to sleep. And I wept uncontrollably, and Christ was there.
Doesn’t have to be exotic service opportunities, don’t have to travel across the world, just be awake as you move though your week. God in the everyday arrives. Disorienting us into lives of love and service toward our neighbor.
Christ always arrives, but not always in the way we would expect. Watch out.
And in the meantime, let us wait for God together! Let us take our cues from the prophet Isaiah, who cries out, “O God, that you would tear open the heavens and come.”
Can you identify with Isaiah? O that God would enter clearly and powerfully into our existence! God helped all those people in the past, why can’t God help me? Why can’t God break into our world, our Congress, our hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness? Why can’t God conquer enemies, demolish hatred, end persecution, granting liberty to all of us enslaved by illness, anger, apathy, depression, and pain? O God, that you would tear open the heavens and come! Advent is a season for crying out. Crying out to God. Our anxiety, our fears, our concerns about the future. Get them out there, like Isaiah.
And God will arrive, albeit surprising.
And then, watch out. It’s happening already. May not be how you expected. Look for it, in the poor, in the hungry, in the lost and in your neighbor. Jesus arrives and arrives and arrives, especially when we are at our lowest, our darkest, and are least expecting of God to show up.
And, thanks be to God, not only in unexpected ways does Christ come. But Christ arrives in this place, we can be sure and secure—even if we don’t have bulletins, even if the music or the people or the space is a little different. God arrives.
God arrives in this meal and in this Holy Word. And in each one of us upon which God’s Spirit is poured out...and that might be the greatest surprise of all.

Monday, November 21, 2011

November 20 -- Christ the (Servant) King Sunday


Color: Blue (hope)

Symbols/actions: Wreath, simplicity, oiko-logy (care/study of home), stories of Mary, Joseph, J the B

From Keeping Time:

“According to the Christian worldview, humans need God to bring us life and salvation, and Christmas celebrates this coming of God in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Christians affirm that Christ comes not only in a past event but also in our present life and in the world’s unfolding future. So it is that Adent is not about Mary’s pregnancy but about the church’s continual prayer that God will come (the root meaning of “advent”) to us, bring life to a dying world. Advent in the Northern Hemisphere is a time to meditate on the darkness in the universe, the social order, the lives of many people, and our own hearts, and to pray for God’s salvation and wholeness for all. The holy communion celebrated each Sunday of Advent brings to us the Christ who is ever present for us with mercy and joy.”


Color: White (light)

Symbols: crèche, candle light

From KT:

“The church’s celebration of the birth of Christ is now one of its primary festivals and ways of proclaiming the mystery of the incarnation. The most significant way that Christianity differs from it’s parent Judaism is in our belief that God became incarnate as a human being. Like Hinduism, Christianity believes that the transcendent deity took on flesh, entering into our experience as a human being, through whom the divine One effects the salvation of the world. Unlike Hinduism, Christianity believes that there is only one such incarnation, who meets us weekly in word and sacrament and daily in our neighbors.”


Color: White

Symbols/actions: magi, gifts, star, home blessings, burning of the greens

Epiphany is a day, not a season. Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season. Christmas is a season that some churches have celebrated as lasting for 40 days, concluding on February 2nd! But Southern European churches, the Carribean, and most U.S. celebrate Christmas for 12 days, putting Epiphany on January 6th.

Since that is usually a weekday, at SVLC, we move it to the adjacent Sunday. Epiphany has and still is a high celebration in Eastern orthodox churches. (Early Christian practices point us toward having baptisms all at one time, remembering that we’re baptized into a community of the faithful.) And Epiphany has and still is a time for baptism, along with the Easter Vigil.

When we read about the kings at Epiphany, we are reminded that Matthew is setting up a stark contrast to what we might expected: King Jesus is praised as one who attends to the needs of the poor, unlike many earthly kings…Herod at that time. Prayers at Epiphany are offered for those on the fringes. We also get to meet the kings from the east, who give us a model of humility and sacrifice, bowing down before an economically impoverished baby, and offering up their most prized possessions. Could be a great stewardship lesson…

The Sundays that follow the day of Epiphany until Transfiguration Sunday are green Sundays.


Color: Purple

Symbols/actions: fasting, prayer, giving of alms to the poor (classics); service work, confession, preparation for baptism

From KT:

“Traditionally it was taught that Lent originated as an extension of several days of fasting in preparation for the Three Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. Scholars always assumed that a short fast grew into a period of more or less 40 days. But recent scholarship suggests that Lent was actually an extension in the other direction, following Epiphany and the celebration of the baptism of Jesus. Early church documents indicate considerable variation in the development of the season. After the Council of Nicaea, a 40-day fast became nearly universal. 4th century sermons and pastoral lessons describe Lent as a time to prepare for Easter baptism. Since it is through baptism that believers enter into the death and resurrection of Christ, the church saw the annual festival of the resurrection as the preeminent occasion for baptisms.”


Color: White

Symbols/actions: Empty tomb, grave cloths

The final part of the Three Days, and the highest, most holy celebration of the Christian story. Here is where Christ’s incarnation culminates into not just presence with us (which is what Christmas is about), but ultimately that this never ending presence and love results in new and everlasting life – both here and even now…and into eternity!

So many things to say about this, but today I’d like to connect Easter with the sharing of the peace.

Through the season of Easter, we hear time and again Jesus’ greeting “Peace be with you” (at the tomb, in the upper room). That’s an Easter greeting that we share with each other every Sunday! Let’s share that greeting now, remembering that these are such holy words – peace to you in times of sorrow and fear and loneliness and anger. This peace unites us, it calms us, it gives us new life and hope in a God who is both deeply present (Christmas), and even more, who conquers death and the grave!

“The resurrection peace of Christ be with you all!”


Color: Red

Symbols/actions: fire, wind, church

From KT: “The celebration is set on the 50th day, in observance of Luke’s Gospel. The Jewish festival of Pentecost is the observance of the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. By fixing the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, Luke layers the assembly of the believers on to the people of Israel, the tongues of fire on their heads onto the fire of Mount Sinai, the Holy Spirit onto God’s giving the law. For Jews encountering this narrative, the Christian message would be clear: God is doing a new thing with the pattern of the old sacred story.”

Sweet, sweet spirit is so good. It revives and renews. It fills us and gives us hope and joy. In other words, that Easter peace of Christ that we just offered to one another, starts to take shape in the Pentecost experience – adding new layers to how we relate to one another and to this world. We live spirited lives of joy and hope and service and love…not because we’re awesome, but because God’s spirit dwells with us. And when we’ve been touched by God’s spirit, we can’t help but be moved by it, be connected by it, and be sent out by it. We mustn’t ever hoard the gifts of the spirit, the gifts of God’s love and mercy, and if we do, then we should question if that’s really God’s Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is made known through the Church of Jesus Christ. Pentecost is considered the birthday of the Church! And it’s been said: “The Church is God’s gift to the world” – it’s the means by which God’s love, God’s gifts of forgiveness and healing are spread into the world. Let’s sing!

Life in the Spirit: The Green Sundays

Color: Green

Symbols: trees, rivers, fishing nets, teaching & listening, bread, wine, roads, valleys…

How shall we live in the Spirit? How is God calling us to be in this world? In the valleys of this earth?

These are the “just-regular” Sundays where we go back to the stories, the parables of Jesus, his lessons – love one another, love your enemies, forgive, give, let go, hang on. Depending on the different years, we have different texts that we go back to, but we continue to gather around the ancient stories, trusting in God’s Spirit to breathe new life and new vision into our worshiping community.

The one word that continues to re-emerge is Love. In this next song, “They will know we are Christians by our Love,” I’ve never known if the composer meant that it’s God’s love for this world by which “they” will know us, or if it’s our love for each other and this world…But I believe it’s both. God so loves us, that we are impassioned to reach out to each other and into this world. Life in the spirit is inhaling God’s grace and forgiveness and then exhaling God’s peace.

Christ the King Sunday

Some churches have actually started calling this day Christ the Servant Sunday, just so that they don’t get carried away in arrogance or triumphalism about Jesus…that is my God is better than any other god. (As I said, not until 1924 did the pope in Rome begin this tradition at the end of the Church Year...and it was to remind the people that Jesus is King, not Italy or Mussolini or any other worldly leader or nation.) I think what’s important is that we give thanks this day, at the end of this good church year, that the reign of Christ in our lives is a reign of love, of compassion, of service, of deep and abiding presence with the marginalized and the poor, with you and with me. That love has always been there, reigning supreme, if you will – through the years, through the seasons, through our hymnals, and it goes with us now….

May God, creator bless us and keep us…

Monday, November 14, 2011

November 13 -- 22nd Sunday after Pentecost

What a thick lesson! Will you pray with me:

God give us the wisdom to invest the love which you have for us. AMEN.

The bottom line warning in our lesson for today, as you can probably discern is “don’t bury your talents” – which means don’t bury that which God has given you to use to serve God, be it money, abilities, time.

[Retell a bit…]

And how easily we can do this. The third slave didn’t seem to me so terrible. He was just being safe and respectful of his master. But his fear and his tendency to be safe led the master to call him “wicked.” Did you catch that? Wicked is the one who buries their talents, even themselves in the dirt.

A colleague of mine in our text study this week reminded me that C.S. Lewis defined evil as not being anything by itself. Evil only exists as a perversion or a skewing of the good. It’s a parasite that rides on Good. Without Good there would be no evil.

The one who buries his/her talent in the dirt is only evil or wicked because they are not good. Well that’s humbling. Because that makes us all wicked. (here’s the other side of All Saints Day from last week, where I drove home this point that God names us all saints in our baptism). We are wicked saints. How often we can shy away from risk taking, just to be safe. And it’s pretty easy to convince ourselves it’s more sensible too. But here God calls us to the “wisdom” of risk-taking…not for the sake of a thrill, but for the sake of the Glory of God. How might we use our gifts, our talents, our money, our wisdom, our lives to make God’s love and God’s welcome more known and spread throughout this world?

That’s the challenge for us today. We have a Gospel, a message of good news that is really for everybody – it’s as simple as “God loves you. God forgives you. God stays with you, no matter what.” That’s the message we’re “entrusted” with…to use wisely, to invest. How are we investing God’s love and God’s welcome. How are we investing this Good Book from which we gather all these rich stories? Are we investing these so that they multiply and grow? Or are we burying God’s word, God’s love, God’s welcome and God’s book?

We have been entrusted with a story of a God whose love is wildly welcoming – I’m going to go ahead and say that’s a liberal message. God’s love is liberal, it’s reckless, and expansive. It’s not calculated and careful (which is what I’d prefer). God’s wisdom is hidden in what the world sees as foolishness: crazy liberal love. God’s forgiveness as we hear week after week is ever-flowing – that makes no sense. That seems crazy. God’s arms are open so wide, that there’s always room for the stranger, the outcast, the immigrant, the persecuted, the lost, the gay, the straight, the people sitting right here, and the people standing hungry down on the corner of 3rd and Ash, and the people in the halls of power in Washington D.C., the coaches and the victims at Penn State, victims of abuse all over the world! God’s arms are open wide! And that’s crazy! God’s love is so cosmic through Jesus! What do we do with that liberal message of our church? How do we invest it? Or do we bury it?

When I say God’s love is liberal…my tendency is to want to keep that quiet. I know it, but I want to bury it in the sand. Keep it for ourselves. But what are the ways we can be more like the first two servants…multiplying what God has given us? That’s a question that I’d like to ponder together as we move together into a new year…How can we better invest God’s welcome? How would God want us to answer that question?


I want to shift gears a bit here. First God moves toward us and then we respond to God in lives of service and also in prayer. This is really what worship is. And I wanted to take some time today to reflect on the Psalms, and the diversity of the Psalms. This is something else that God offers us to invest and share wisely: a diversity of Psalms. I love to think of Psalms in terms of music. What music would you set to the various psalms?

As we consider risking and investing a message of a God whose love is so liberal, let us also remember that that God welcomes also all kinds of our emotions and prayers – our anger, our fear, our pain and our joy and praise. Thanks be to God for all the generosity – toward each of us, toward this world, and toward our response. And thanks be to God who goes with us now and always. Amen.


Monday, November 7, 2011

November 6 -- All Saints Sunday

I invite you to turn to your neighbor and make the sign of the cross on their forehead and say, “You are a saint of God, and God’s light shines through you.”

At the core of our Lutheran faith is the idea that we are all made saints in our baptisms. Have you heard this before? That we are all saints? We don’t have to die…or labor in Calcutta to be a saint. Do you believe that? Do you believe that you are a saint of God and that God’s light really shines through you?

This week I had lunch with the clergy group that gets together here in East County. The Methodist, the United Church of Christ, another Lutheran, (we used to have an Episcopalian, but she moved to St. Louis), and the 2 Roman Catholics – a priest and a nun.

We were just catching up and talking about our week, and the our Catholic priest in the group mentioned that “today” is All Soul’s Day. The other Lutheran in the room and I both cocked our heads and furled our brows, and said…almost in sync: “No that was yesterday, wasn’t it?” At which point he tells us that we were getting All Saints and All Souls day “mixed up.” The good Father reminded us that All Saints is the day that we honor…the Saints. And All Souls – or in the Mexican tradition Dia de los Muertos, we honor…everybody else who’s died. They’re two different days, separated by a long night.

But we, sisters and brothers of a Protestant tradition, we do get the days mixed up…and even more because we even honor the living on all saints day: “You are a saint of God!” This is a theme that carries over from Reformation Sunday last week. This idea sets us our doctrines apart from Roman Catholicism.

Can you believe that God names you “Saint” in your baptism? And so, that sermon on the mount, that we share today, is talking about you today – in baptism, you are made whole, despite all appearances and even experiences to the contrary: you are offered the kingdom of heaven in this life, you are comforted, you inherit the earth, you are filled, you receive mercy, you can see God, and you are called a child of God! You are blessed even as people utter all kinds of evil against you; you are blessed even as people revile you and persecute you. You are the blessed saints…

…not because of anything you’ve done, actually, but because of what God has done. In God’s dying, in the way of Christ on the cross, death has been destroyed, and in Christ’s rising from the dead, we too rise. We are joined to Christ in the waters of baptism, and so we live—in this life—anew! (Amen?)

Because of this, yes, we get all “mixed up” with both the Saints that the church has honored traditionally and with all those who have gone before us. Lutherans are messy…because not only are we mixed up with all the traditional Saints of the Church, we’re also mixed up in sin. (We don’t need to go into that so much today. I think we’re pretty good at burying ourselves in our sin. But we are sinner-saints.)

In a little while we’ll name those in our congregation who have died in recent years. We honor them today as saints: But we remember them not for themselves and in themselves (even while that’s very important and meaningful to us in our grief), today we remember them not for themselves and in themselves, we name them and celebrate them today because of what God has done through them.

Think of all the things that God has done through Lars Hellberg, Susan Goyette, David Reith, Janet Stevens, Jeannie Smith. We’ll name them all later, just a few examples.

God’s light shone through them, didn’t it? Even in their darkest moments. And we read it again at Jeannie’s memorial service this week, gathered around this font: “When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead, we too might live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him a resurrection like his.” That’s holy scripture, friends.

We trust and believe that we are all given the name saint in our baptism, and sometimes I feel like a broken record saying that, but we sure need to be reminded of it weekly, even daily (as Luther said), because it is so easy to forget. It is so easy to relegate sainthood, simply to the holier-than-thou. It’s easier to keep it separated – All Saints Day and then the Rest of Us Day.

But this is God’s grace coming at us in these waters, God’s grace coming at us, relentlessly, rushing at us, before many of us can even say a word. God’s grace crashes down on us and claims us. Calls us saints. Promises us eternal life in the hereafter, yes, but God’s grace is so good we are even granted the kingdom of heaven in this life, that means a flood of comfort when you mourn (that’s not material comfort, in means that when you’ve lost what is most dear to you, only then can you be embraced the One who holds you closest). God’s grace is so good that we are even granted the inheritance of the earth , contentment, peace, mercy, a glimpse of God. God’s grace is so good that you are now called a child of God!

I’ve got a book that I try to read daily. It’s a proposed calendar for commemorating all those “saints”, for lack of a better word. I really don’t want to get into Catholic-bashing – (that’s what my grandparents did, how we’re better and they’re just mindlessly praying to saints). The Catholics actually have offered so much to God’s church, as they so reverently remember those who have died in the faith. I think we can only stand to benefit as we peer back into the pages of Christian history.

Today we praise the saints – I’m just saying that for us Lutherans, it gets a little more complicated, because the truth is that we’re all mixed up in that category of saint. For we too are sinner-saints.

Here’s a quote from that book: ‘When the church praises the saints, it praises God himself, who has triumphed through them. Those who are still in the church on earth are supported and encouraged by the fellowship of a throng of witnesses, who fought their way with effort and pain, and who now in the company of the redeemed are watching and supporting the church on earth in its present struggle’”.

Today we rejoice, for all the blessed saints: Those who have gone before us, those saints still among us, and those many saints of God…still to come! “You are a saint of God, and God’s light shines though you.” Blessed are you. AMEN.