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...

Sunday, January 27, 2013

January 27 — Third Sunday after Epiphany

LISTEN to this sermon HERE.
If I made you close your eyes and read you passages from all 4 Gospels, the first 4 books of the New Testament—Matthew Mark Luke & John—you would almost always be able to pick out which book was Luke because it would mention so frequently the Spirit.  (This week’s gospel text starts out “Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returns to Galilee…”  He’s been in the wilderness, he’s coming home after the Spirit drove him, tempted for 40 days by Satan.)    

The Holy Spirit figures into Luke’s Gospel more than any other Gospel, and twice as much as Matthew and John (larger books).  (Come read Luke with us on Saturday!)  You see, the different Gospels have different agendas, and one of Luke’s main agendas is to proclaim the work of the Spirit, in Christ’s life, and then that same author, Luke, goes on to write the book of Acts, where the Spirit figures into our lives too, not just Christ’s, but the life of the church (the spirit is Christ’s gift to the church) — many words are spoken and deeds are done by everyday Christians, because they are “filled with the power of the spirit”.  (Martin Luther King, Jr. was just an average man, but filled with the power of the Spirit, he accomplished great things.)  How does the Holy Spirit figure into your life and into your being?  Specifically how does the Spirit “fill” you?

Imagine a man rowing a little boat wildly at sea: a metaphor for our lives (think of all we do, rowing, rowing, rowing, even while we’re exhausted).  And now envision that man putting up a sail, and letting the wind fill that sail, and putting his oars back in the boat, off he skips across the water…

Heather and I have a friend from college, Shin Hashimoto, who flies planes for a living...sails, surfs.  And one time he was describing to me in beautiful detail that moment that he never gets tired of when he flies: when the wind lifts the plane off the ground at take-off.  If you’ve ever flown, you’ve probably felt that too…[that moment], when you no longer belong to the ground...when the wind takes you.  Shin pointed out that it’s the same kind of moment in sailing and surfing too…

The word spirit in Greek and in Hebrew is the same word for wind and breath: pneuma/ruach.

The Holy Spirit fills us like wind in our sails and allows us to move in ways we never could have...by our own rowing.  

So how does that “flesh out” for you?  

Well, in Jesus’ case, filled with the Holy Spirit, he faces temptation in the wilderness (first 13 verses of chapter 4), and then he faces, perhaps even more impressive...his hometown crowd.  For a prophet, it’s hard to return home and get any kind of serious audience.  Everybody just sees you as this innocuous kid.  Has anyone ever taken the wind out of your sails when they told everyone that they knew you when you were a teenager?  That’s what the hometown crowd can do.  There’s great power in that.  What if Becca Ajer tried to call some shots around here?  Many of us could say, “Hey, who does she think she is?  We knew her when she was in Sunday School…”  There’s a certain power that this congregation has over her, or anyone that’s grown up recently here.  

Well Jesus is only about 30 years old...but he’s got something to say, in spite of the power that his hometown crowd might have over him.  And he says it.  Come back next week (for Part 2 of Jesus’ Homecoming) to hear how they respond, but here’s what he says:   It’s Jesus’ inauguration agenda:
He lays out our priorities for the next term.  And it’s aggressive.  These are not gentle suggestions, or sweet promises for after we die.  This is what Jesus comes to do in the world now, with real people, in real time.  I tend to want to spiritualize this list, but I’m convinced that Jesus in the Gospel of Luke would chastise me heartily for sugar-coating and making excuses.  Here’s Christ’s agenda.  He declares war on my ease and comfort.  If the Gospel of John’s all grace overflowing like gallons of wine, then the Gospel of Luke is Spirit-fire.  Here’s God’s holy righteous agenda:  To bring good news to the poor.  (What would that be?  What would good news to the poor mean?)  To proclaim release to the captives.  (Lee’s retired from work in the prison system, but how do you hear that?  Prison guards out of the job?)  Recovery of sight to the blind (sounds the least problematic, most innocuous, for us...until Christ tells me that I’m the one who’s blind, and when my sight recovers, by the power of the Holy Spirit, there are people and situations that I will suddenly see that need healing), to let the oppressed go free (in case you didn’t get it the first time) and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  

This is an offensively economic reference.  The Year of the Lord’s Favor comes from Leviticus, and it’s the idea that every seven years is to be a Year of Jubilee, where every person and every nation is to forgive the debts owed to them.  The Lord’s prayer, which comes right out of the Gospels, actually says, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  The Lord’s prayer is inherently economic...and therefore problematic.  Because incurring and collecting debt is the way our system works.  Yet Christ is inaugurating something radically different.  

And all this is all because he is filled with the Holy Spirit.     

That same Spirit fills you this day!  [pause] It lifts you and me to say, do and imagine things that we never thought possible.  It’s that moment where we no longer belong to the ground.  We are taken by the Spirit, by the wind, and we are lifted.  There’s a moment as the spirit-filled body of Christ, where we no longer speak our own minds, but rather speak the mind of Christ!  

My own mind might suggest caution, but we are of one mind in Christ, so loving our enemy is Spirit-borne.  That’s not me rowing wildly alone.  I can’t love my enemy by myself, but with the community and the Spirit, I sail.  

My own mind might suggest shrewd financial dealings, but we are of one mind in Christ, so we share our wealth freely and joyfully.  That’s not me panting breathlessly on the sea, wondering how I’m going to make it.  I can’t give generously by myself, but with the community and the Spirit, I sail.

My own mind might suggest isolation, cut-off, from the messiness of the city, of civilization, of community.  It’s cleaner to just go it alone.  “Let me just paddle here!  And you paddle over there!”  We can’t live together, on our own accord.  But with the Spirit, we sail.  We lift up, we trust, and we soar.  

With the Spirit, we hear Good News, our sight is restored.  

With the Spirit, we are set free, even if that makes us uncomfortable!  We are set free.

Praise the one who frees us, this day and every day.  AMEN.          

Sunday, January 20, 2013

January 20 -- Second Sunday after Epiphany

Listen to this sermon HERE.

Jesus turns the water into wine!  The ordinary into the extra-ordinary.  The simple into the elegant.  Water is plain, but wine is spiritual…(it’s all symbolic in this story)  

I can talk up here about the sacred qualities of wine, but if you really want to taste and feel our gospel this day, I want to encourage strongly you to take a big gulp of the wine this morning at communion--maybe two gulps!--and feel this grace of God warm your whole body.  That’s a little obnoxious, I know, but so is God’s love for you, if you think about it.  Do you really deserve grace and forgiveness and love and eternal life?  If Jesus came back in body today and took a hard look at your life, your home, your work, at our world, the way we treat each other (the poor, the children, the outcast) do you really think we would qualify for forgiveness and grace and love?  Seriously, we always have extra wine anyway that Altar Guild has to pour out, so don’t be shy, gulp it!  Make the assisting minister work...
This amazing story is symbolic; it’s telling us something about God...that the kingdom of God is a great party!  And we’re called to live into that party.  Enjoy it, friends in Christ.  God’s grace and love overflows, it is obnoxious.  I feel like I say that a lot, but let’s let that message sink in, as we gulp it in...recalling the Cana feast  Drink the wine today.  Take too much.  God’s grace is too much...like loud music at a party or confetti.  God’s grace is excessive and over-the-top!  And everyone’s invited.  No secret in-groups or left-out losers.  With God’s wedding banquet, and Jesus as the host, everyone comes in (“Mine is the church…”), everyone enjoys themselves, everyone dances and is offered a beverage and stays ‘til the sun comes up.  Even the quiet and shy ones have a great time.  Even the grumpy ones crack a smile once they taste the dessert.  Because the kingdom of God is a party!  [pause]

Reflect for a moment on the places and the times in your life when God’s grace has filled you and warmed you and gratified you, brought you enjoyment, like a big ol’ gulp of wine.  Liquid grace.  This happens, obviously, at more places than great banquets and wedding feasts, which are wonderful, but only come around once in a while: God’s grace flows into our everyday.  Today is a day to celebrate these gallons of grace that are poured out for you...all the time.  What are they for you?  

Do you have a forgiveness story?  A time when you thought you were really going to “get it” for something you had done, and instead you hear an announcement of forgiveness? 

When I was in high school, I was coach of a swim team, and I abused the privilege and the trust of our boss, a great big Texas football coach in the regular season.  LeeRoy Johnson.  A group of us snuck into the pool at night and threw a party once.  Abused the privilege of having a key.  And when we got busted, we thought that he wasn’t just going to tell our parents and fire us, we thought he was going to have our hides too.  Smack us around a little.  

And yet, he called us together, and told us (me and the 3 other older boys, the leaders) that he loved us like his own sons, and if anything ever happened to us, he wouldn’t know what to do.  

Grace.  Water to wine.  Love overflowing.  Surprising and undeserved.

Have you ever had a friend or a parent or sibling just forgive you for something that you said to them that was terrible.  Just  plain old fashioned “Look, I forgive you.  And l love you.  Let’s just put this behind us.”  Grace.  Like a gulp of wine, going down.  Makes us warm and giddy.  And a little bit dizzy.  That’s God’s grace.  That water into wine.  What are your grace stories?  Just little things.  

A child giving you a hug, or a scenic vista take your breath away, or an entree that makes you just blurt out at a formal dinner party, “Oh my God, this is so good!”  That’s what we’re talking about today.  God’s grace.  The Kingdom of God is a party.  Over the top.  Not just 3 or 4 bottles of wine, 180 gallons of grace and joy!  
Have some fun this week--whatever that means for you (have dinner with a friend, or take a walk by yourself, take your grandkids to the park, drink a bit of wine, or just go to bed early if that would be a treat…) have some fun this week, go a little over the top--and do it with a mind to prayer and thanksgiving, knowing that God blesses your holy celebrating.  The kingdom and grace and love of God is a party.  

I’m afraid we don’t hear that enough, as followers of Jesus, and it’s not not whole picture of who we are, but it’s a big part of it.  We are a people of celebration!  Not celebration for our own sake, our celebration and no one else’s, a private party, but celebrating with strangers.  Like the way strangers celebrate with each other over a World Series trophy and there’s dancing in the streets, or a presidential inauguration...  

I was in Washington D.C. for 2 days this week to visit my brothers, and we read a story about a metro train back in 2004 broke down in a tunnel underground for over an hour.  It was on the way to the Presidential Inauguration in 2004.  And the article said that everyone was in such a festive mood, they just broke out into song: started singing “Lean On Me”.  Their particular joy was just that great on that day.  Isn’t it a great image?  Trapped in a dark tunnel, singing?  Probably made them late for the event, but joy poured out of the windows of the train.  Water into wine.  And it’s not just a party with your friends: it’s singing with total strangers.  Imagine the maintenance crews running into that dark tunnel to rescue the trapped civilians, only to hear a hope-filled melody echoing down the cold, damp chamber.  

Saw the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, too.  A great stone monument of King, standing upright, with a quote etched into the side.  “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope”.  Think of all the singing with strangers that happened during those civil rights days that we recall in these days.  Talk about water to wine!  

God’s party.  Grace and forgiveness, that flows like wine, friends!  Like a song in a dark tunnel.  It’s all for you, freely given.  Take it in this morning.  Christ turns our ordinary into extraordinary, our water into wine.  Gulp it.  Enjoy it!  It is poured out for you.  And there’s plenty for us to share with fellow travelers on the train--even those we don’t know or don’t like.  Pass the cup around.  Jesus turns our water into wine, and that’s worth celebrating.  Cheers!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

January 6 -- Epiphany Sunday

Listen to this sermon HERE.

Highly quoted author, speaker and consultant in Lutheran circles, Peter Steinke, has noted the root of the word “disaster”.  Do you know what that word literally means?

It comes from the negative Latin “dis” (connoting not being able to do something, or a lack of something) and “aster” (star).  So literally a disaster is when you have no star to follow. 

Interesting isn’t it?  Especially in the context of this Epiphany story?

So ancient sailors loosing their way at sea in the fog and the clouds, no star to follow: that’s a disaster.

Contrast that to the journey of the Magi (btw, the text doesn’t say how many magi there were, just that there were 3 gifts, so artists have always assumed that 3 wise men went with those 3 gifts, but there could have been a hundred star-following wise women and men and their children all hiking through the sands from the East…) The point is, they had a star to follow, and they did.

Disaster is when we have no star to follow.  Problem is, there are lots of stars in the sky. [pause]

Which star do you follow this new year?  Is it the star of fame and glory?  The rock star?  The pop star?  The sports stars? Shooting stars…like the housing market?  Sometimes it’s hard to find the star of Bethlehem amid all the competing stars. 

But here’s a clue:  STOP LOOKING UP.  [pause] For Christ always comes to us from underneath—from where you’d least expect—from the manger, from the shepherds, from the poor, from earthly stuff like wheat, grapes, and water.  The magi, the text says, bowed down, to pay him homage.  Bow down, look around on the floor of our world, to find the Christ child.  Look to Bethlehem, that is, the most out-of-the-way, insignificant, underneath place.  And that’s where the star, the light of Christ, stops and stays.

This is such a wonderful story.  Because it has cosmic implications.  This love and presence of Christ, that comes from below, has the ability to move the stars!  To call people from all corners of the earth to gather, to praise, and then to go home by a different road: changed.

It means God’s love for you, calls you, as far off in a distant land as you might be—as downtrodden, or hopeless or sick or afraid as you might be—God’s light, albeit hard to see at times, God’s star rises in the east—the bright morning star—symbolic of hope and a new day—Christ Jesus’ star rises in the east and lights your way this new year of 2013, this new year of life that God has given us!

The same star that world leaders saw, “Three Kings” as the songs and art pieces go, world leaders, the wealthy and powerful and wise—the same star that guided them, that came to them, and lit their path, comes to you and guides you…even today.  That’s how dear you are to God.  Not forgotten in some far-off land, but forgiven, and guided.  What a gift that Bethlehem, eastern star in the sky is for us! 
God’s love for you moves stars!  What a gift!  And so in response, not because we have to, but because we can’t help it, we bring our gifts – our gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  And, looking down, bowing down, kneeling down, we pay him homage.  How can we do that with our lives?  What can we bring?  How can we serve and give and trust evermore in this Christ child?

For we need not dwell in dis-aster.  For we have a star to follow!  A star of love, a star of life, a star of hope, and a star of forgiveness. 

Sisters and brothers in Christ, we too have been changed, by this star.  So changed, so transformed that we are about to pray for people beyond just those we like and love.  Prayers of intercession, prayers of the people that reach even to far-away lands, countries and people and situations far from our own.  We pray even for our enemies—the Herods—of our world.  That’s how transformative this Christ light is! 

We have been changed, by this star.  So changed, so transformed that we have hope, in the midst of darkness, we have a way, and that way is Christ, and that way is Love, and that way reaches beyond borders and oceans.  Even when the world comes crashing down around us, God’s people, looking down, not gazing up, looking down at the world, God’s people find the hurting, the oppressed, the sick and the lost, and there with them is Christ.  “A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  That’s how changed we are!             

We have been changed, by this star!  So changed that we go home now by another road.  So changed that we “gonna lay down our sword and shield, down by the riverside” as the song goes, “hammering our guns into gardening tools” to modernize Isaiah’s vision.  We are so changed that now we practice peace (not just pray for it, we practice it).  We’re not going back to Herod, the road of violence.  We’re going home by a different road. 

“Star of wonder, star of light, star with royal beauty bright.”  “Christ be our light, our hope, shine in our hearts, shine through the darkness.  Shine in your church, gathered today,” we’re about to sing.

God has given us a star.  We are free of dis-aster, sisters and brothers in Christ, for we have a star.  And in that star is the hope, and the salvation, of this whole universe.  And in that star is your freedom and everlasting life.  For in this star is peace.  AMEN.