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, July 30, 2012

July 29 -- Ninth Sunday of the Green Season

You know, not every Sunday lesson is for everyone…in the same way.  Sometimes the lessons hit you and they seem to be exactly the Bible passage that you needed to hear, bringing comfort, offering forgiveness or issuing a timely nudge.  Other times, the texts might seem “a stretch” for you.  Still other times, you may find lessons that you didn’t think you needed to hear, yet God once again surprises you… 

So how about today:  David and Bathsheba, and the villainous murder of Uriah (which of course is part of the ancestral genealogy that leads to Jesus’ birth).  What could such a tragic and scandalous text have to do with your life?  Or what about this text about the generosity of one little boy amid the selfishness of the multitude and the anxiety of the disciples? 

What jumps out at me – and this may not fit with where you are – but what jumps out for me is God’s voice and God’s action in the midst of abundance.  We often talk about God when things are bad.  People come flocking to the church, when there is crisis, or death, or scarcity.  But what about when we’re doing pretty well, or even great? 

Have you ever been there?  Have you ever had a moment to look around you, to look at your life, and say, “You know, I’ve got it pretty good.”  That’s why this text—or at least my read on this text—might not be for everyone.  I realize that some of us have never really been able to say that.  For life for some has been one tragedy after the next.  There’s certainly something to be said for God’s voice and God’s action amid the suffering and pain of the world, but today, I want to call out those among us who have ever had a chance to look around and say, “You know, it’s not that bad.  You know, now that I think about it, my life is pretty good – I’ve got food in my tummy, air in my lungs, a friend, a pet, a hug coming my way, a beautiful sunset out my window.  Things are pretty good.”

Today’s texts are about God’s voice and God’s action in the midst of abundance and blessing.

My hunch is that King David was feeling pretty blessed, I mean, he was certainly taking a moment to “look around” in our Old Testament lesson.

When things are pretty good, or even great, there are two ways that we can falter, according to our readings today.  The first is to start get reckless and entitled, like King David.  We humans are capable of some terrible things (particularly when things are good), and I’m not sure, if given the kind of power David had, many of us would be able to withstand our own greatest temptations either.  He did it because he could.  He even had Uriah killed because he could, and he needed to cover this up.  What is it that you’d go after, if you had all the power and money to do so?  Honestly.  What lures you?  And who might be forgotten in your pursuit?  Would those with no voice be remembered?  The poor, the earth?  Who cares about others when I’m going after what I want, right?  If you’re above that urge, then you ought to be preaching our sermons here.  David is not so different from us; we see ourselves in him, unfortunately…

When things are pretty good, or even great, we can get reckless and entitled, like King David, in hot, tunnel-vision pursuit…

…or we can get anxious and scared like the disciples in our Gospel text. 

There Jesus has just given them a sign, the feeding of the 5,000.  Just think about that for a moment:  When we volunteer at T.A.C.O. it takes us an hour and a half to serve about 170 people.  And that’s a lot of food.  Jesus serves 5,000!  Now that is an awesome God.  And I’d encourage you to have the faith of a child on this one:  I tell that story to our youngest children, and they just take it on faith.  (Oh yeah, he walks on water today too.)  At some point—and it’s happening sooner and sooner—we get this need to explain away the miracles.  Try to hear this story with the faith of a child.  Jesus feeds 5,000 and then he walks on water.  Bask in the truth of that!  

"And 12 baskets left over…" 
And now consider the disciples, they were anxious about all “those” people, I mean that would be like – Philips quick math – six month’s wages.  I don’t care if you’re blue collar or white collar – six month’s pay is a lot of money.  But Jesus does it!  He feeds 5,000…with 12 baskets of leftovers!

Scene two: Only hours later:  A storm comes up and the disciples are afraid.  Anxious before the abundance and “terrified” after.  In the midst of God’s abundance, 12 baskets overflowing just hours ago because of Christ, the disciples get scared. 

Sisters and brothers of Shepherd of the Valley, I don’t know if we have exactly 12 baskets overflowing, but we have an abundance here.  We have bread.  We have able bodies.  We have love and concerns and passions.  And we have money here.  Part of it is in your own pockets and in your own bank accounts, part of it is in the church’s bank accounts, with the bequest, with the preschool, with our tithes and our offerings – but we have money here.  Which means we get scared and anxious.  And we want to protect it, and keep it and fix ourselves up nicely, our children up nicely, our carpet up nicely, our kitchen up nicely, our garden up nicely.  Just hours after Christ has “taken the loaves, blessed them and distributed them” and there were 12 baskets overflowing!  Oh, we can relate to those disciples.  Anxious before the abundance, and terrified after…

But friends in Christ, all that we have and all that we are, comes from God and belongs to God.  So help us, God, to be faithful with your abundance!  And God recognizes our fears and our anxieties, our entitled attitudes, our greed, our recklessness, our need to protect ourselves at all costs.  And God holds us in love, as we journey through all those feelings.  God hears our confessions:  “Yes, we’re scared.  Yes, I’m selfish.  Yes, we can be reckless and act like we deserve all this.” And God holds us in love as we get knocked around by the waves of this life…as the tragedies and pains of this world try to erode away our trust in this God, and so easily we forget who multiplied and blessed the loaves.  But God holds us in love through it all…God holds you.  But there’s more…

But there’s Ephesians today: A prayer:  that we be “strengthened in our inner being with power through the Spirit, that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith, as we are being rooted and grounded in love.”  Not only does God holds us in love; then God roots us, God puts us down into the soil of this earth, in love, so that we may grow outward.  God waters us, nourishes us, and up and out we grow.  We Christians are held by God, planted by God, and tended by God, through the Spirit.   We Christians are rooted and grounded in agape.  And so, we don’t need to be afraid…this day or ever again.  For God feeds us…with the “bread of peace”.  AMEN.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

July 22 -- Eighth Sunday of the Green Season

Micah and Katie at a rest stop just south of Portland, OR
Grace to you and peace.  I want you to do something with me that we haven’t done for a while.  Inhale grace, exhale peace.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, last week we had a difficult text where Jesus bids we come and die.  I started out the sermon by saying, “I don’t know that I’d be willing to die for Christ,” and we pondered martyrdom as we remembered John the Baptist, who was willing to die for Christ. 

Discipleship is not easy, we were reminded last week.  And it looks like this week is part 2, a fine compliment to the cost of discipleship:  this week it’s the joy of discipleship.  Both are make up the Christian journey.  This week Jesus invites to come away and rest a while.  A beautiful summertime text.

When we first looked at this Gospel text as a worship planning team months ago, I started dreaming about bringing a massage therapist in.  Actually called Beth Buller, but I didn’t follow up, and I’m glad I didn’t.  But think about that for a moment: Consider massages or pedicures or a day at the ballgame or an afternoon in the garden (however you relax) as not just as a treat to yourself, but as a very gift of God.  This is part of our text today.  God offers you hard-working people grace and joy that looks like retreat: come away and rest a while.  To get in a boat, literal or figurative, and sail away for a while.  Sabbath.  Rest.  Worship.  Joy.  They’re all wrapped together.

I said I’m glad we didn’t follow through on the massage thing, not because I don’t think it would be awesome and really drive that message home (imagine someone massaging your shoulders)…but because it’s not the whole message. 

You look around our culture and you see plenty of people going away and resting.  Perhaps for more than just a while.  A recent study found that Americans spend $11 billion every year on massages (wiki.answers.com).  And here’s what the average household in 2009 spent on fees and admission to sporting events and other types of entertainment: $628 (topstockanalysts.com).  Average.  Just getting a massage, just going to chill out, is not the whole message.         

It’s never an either/or for the followers of the Good Shepherd.  We are called to care for both ourselves and the world around us.  The message today, as one of our worship planners pointed out to me, is much deeper than a deep massage. 

What Jesus is really saying is not just, “Go get a massage, go rest a while,” but rather, “Rest in me.”  Rest in my arms, no matter what you do.  Be still, be calm, inhale grace, exhale peace, and trust in my love and my promises…whether you’re working or playing.  Treat yourself…and then turn and treat the world, treat the stranger, treat your enemy…and then treat yourself again.  And keep treating…a cycle of treatment.  That’s discipleship: getting caught up in this good cycle of treatment and care.

What’s funny is when care for yourself and care for the world gets intermixed.  When service and retreat are all part of the same thing.  I think we find that when we volunteer, whether it’s at a hospital or at Third Avenue Charitable Organization downtown, or tutoring your neighbor.  When we break from our regular routine and go help someone else, it’s a blessing to all, including to ourselves…it’s even care for ourselves. 

Many of you know that my family and I went on vacation about two weeks ago.  Drove up the coast to be with family and friends in Oregon.  And one of the joys of travelling on the road (for the last couple years) with 2 small children has been stopping at rest stops.  I don’t really remember rest stops growing up, and I never used them as an adult, before kids.  But I have discovered rest stops.  (Think about today’s text and rest stops.)

What occurs to me, about those really fun stops that we make as a family, is that rest isn’t really part of what we do there.  In fact it’s the opposite: when you’re cooped up in the car with kids, we all want to run and play at the rest stops.  And we do: whiffle ball, Frisbee golf, tag, riding scooters, some even with playgrounds and small baseball diamonds.  We love rest stops, and I think about all the different ones we’ve been to…some with beautiful vistas, some with great open spaces to play, and some with much needed shade.  And it’s not like I’ve never stopped and put my feet up at a rest stop either.  It’s all of the above!  

Where am I going with this?  When Jesus calls us, it’s all of the above.  It’s both massage and sweat.  It’s both baseball game and work over a hot stove.  We rest in Christ’s arms, and so there is peace, no matter what we are doing. 

Peace for Margaret and Jane, for ultimately they rest in Christ’s arms.

Peace for our 35,000 ELCA who have been in NOLA this week for the National Youth Gathering…

Peace for our soldiers, both home and away, and for all who find themselves in harms way, for ultimately they rest in Christ arms.

Peace for all affected by the terrible shooting this week in Aurora, Colorado…even while it might not seem like it.  For ultimately they rest in Christ’s arms.

Peace for all who labor away this summer, perhaps longing for a literal rest stop.  But ultimately they rest in Christ’s arms.

Peace for all who travel and play, for no matter where they are in the world, ultimately they rest in Christ’s arms.

Help me for a moment and preach the Gospel to your neighbor and turn to them and tell them.  “Peace to you, for ultimately you rest in Christ’s arms.”

And there is peace for little Nicholas, as he is carried to the waters of new life at the very beginning of his new life.  And washed in the waters, marked with the oil, with the cross of Christ, that peace goes with him for his entire life, no matter where he goes or what he does.  Isn’t that amazing?!            
This is not a text about resting and taking a break; it’s a text about peace.  The deep and lasting peace of God which never leaves us, even if we try to leave it.  “Oh give thanks unto the Lord for God is good, and God’s grace and mercy endures forever.”  God’s peace is a lasting peace, and because of it, all are welcomed into the fold, all are given a place at the table, all are freed to be the people God has called them to be.  It’s impossible to fully comprehend God’s peace, resting in Christ’s arms, so we just trust it.  This is life in the faith.  Welcome to it, little Nicholas! 

May this peace of God, which passes all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in faith in that Christ Jesus, this day and forevermore.  AMEN.   

Thursday, July 19, 2012

July 15 -- Seventh Sunday of the Green Season

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’m really willing to die for my faith.  Just being honest.

I was hoping I could come back to a more gentle text today.  This one is a tough one, and invites us to think about some ideas that we probably don’t have the opportunity to ponder, nor would we like to, very often.  Martyrdom – John the Baptist, decapitated for his discipleship, for his willingness to speak the truth, caught in a world of seduction, power and violence. 

Are we willing to die for Christ?  Sometimes I think I’d be more ready to die for my country than to die for Christ.  Dying for Christ just sounds so nebulous in our day in age.  What does that even mean?  What would it look like for you to die for Christ?  When was the last time anyone asked you that? 

I want to invite you this week to pray over this question of dying for Christ.  “Lord, what does it look like to die for you?  Because I’m confused and I’m scared, and I’d rather just go back to the world.  But what are you calling me to do?”  I’m not totally convinced that we’re all called to go charging into today’s equivalents of King Herod’s courts.  But I do believe we are called to ponder, at the very least, this idea of speaking truth to power.  Truth to wealth, truth to luxury, truth to prestige, and truth to ignorance and apathy.  God’s truth to “the way it is”.  What does that look like?

One of our resources for today, suggests that the most tragic character in our Gospel text is not John the Baptist, but Herod the King.  John’s message about repentance and his pointing to Christ lives on, despite his death.  But King Herod just becomes yet another fallenruler in history.  Herod never got it. 

He fell for the temptations and seductions of this world.  He went back to the world.  And it’s a raunchy story.  This “daughter” of his dancing in front of him, Herod being caught up in it, making a promise to give her whatever she wanted, almost like he was in a trance, the mother’s desire to kill John the Baptist, and that gruesome image of his head on a platter.  Ugh.  At first glance I wonder if we can even relate to this stuff.

But then I think, well, we sure can fall for the temptations and seductions of this world.  As much as we try to put ourselves in John’s shoes, we often find ourselves in Herod’s.  What is it that tempts or seduces us?  There are certainly some obvious sexual connotations in this story, but there are many ways that we can be lured away from following Christ.

Micah asked us a while back while we were having a special treat, ice cream or chocolate or something:  “Daddy, why are things that taste so good, so bad for our bodies?”  I think that’s the question, isn’t it?  Why are things that are so much fun, or so simple, or so affordable, or so tasty…so bad for our bodies?  [pause]  And not just our own physical bodies?  So often,as we indulge, we can hurt others—perhaps unconsciously—the whole human family, the body of Christ, or the earth, what some theologians have called the Body of God.

Yesterday after visiting Margaret Sunde, I went to buy some new shorts.  And only after I bought them, because they fit me and liked the color and the price, only after I indulged did I look at the label “Made in Bangladesh” and I looked up the company that made my shorts, and couldn’t find anything about the conditions of the factories in Bangladesh.  But I gave money to that company yesterday, as if in a trance, and I suppose I gave a boost to economy in some tiny way, created jobs and all that, but I would be pretty surprised if the conditions for those teenage girls in Bangladesh who sewed my shorts together are very healthy and positive.   

There are some powerful forces in this world.  And it’s all very complicated.  Sosometimes it’s good to have a text that lays out the two ends of the spectrum, just to help us get our bearings…today we see two extreme characters:  John the Baptist and King Herod.  “Lord, give us the courage and the faith to be more like John.” 

“When Christ calls us,” as Dietrich Bonheoffer once said, “he bids we come and die.”  God, give us the courage to risk our lives for your sake.  Give us the words to speak what needs to be said.  Give us the eyes to see those who have been forgotten.  Give us the ears to hear, and the hands to reach out.

Friends, Margaret Sunde, our sister in the faith, is dying.  She’s in hospice care, and it’s only a matter of time.  And as I was saying good bye to her yesterday (I plan to go back again today), but I was leaving she reached out to give me a hug from her bed.  Now you have to understand that she has difficulty moving her arms at all, so when she reached out her arms and lifted her feeble arm around my neck as my able body leaned over her bed, I couldn’t believe it.  And I was struck by this thought and this image:  that even on our deathbeds we can still reach out.  And that reaching out is Christ.  Yes it was Margaret hugging me yesterday, but it was also Christ showing me love and joy with all evidence to the contrary.  With such a dear woman dying in my arms.

This is the love Christ has for you too.  The crucified Christ’s feeble arm wraps around us, even and especially in our King Herod moments, even as we fall short, and get lured away.  Christ reaches out his hands to us and offers us forgiveness, calls us back, bids we come and follow even if it means death, and promises never to abandon us.  For in Christ, death is ultimately conquered forever.  AMEN.