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, February 24, 2013

February 24 — Second Sunday in Lent

Listen to this sermon HERE.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, Lenten grace to you and peace this day. AMEN.

One of my many favorite moments in all of Scripture is when Jesus weeps at the tomb of Lazarus in the Gospel of John.  Today, while the text doesn’t specifically say that Jesus is weeping, it’s clear that he’s grieving and longing.  Only this time it’s not just for a single family — Lazarus, and his brothers and sisters — but for a whole city, that is lost in sin and violence, brokenness and pain!  

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem — the city that kills it’s prophets and throws rocks at those who are sent to it!  How I long to gather you, like a mother hen gathers her chicks.”

There’s so much happening here, because of the context of these words from Jesus:  Unlike earlier in the story of Jesus, he’s not sitting on a peaceful hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee, when he offers this loving image; he’s just been approached by Pharisees (who, btw, are not all bad in the Gospel of Luke — many are his friends and students).  And these particular Pharisees are warning him of impending danger:  “Get out of here, Herod wants to catch you!”...at which point Jesus sets up this dichotomy: Herod the Fox vs. Jesus the Mother Hen.

Who would you rather have protect you, gather you to safety?

Our Wednesday Lenten Evening Worship this year takes a slow and intentional look at the ancient old hymn “Beneath the Cross of Jesus”, where the cross is imaged as a home, our safe, dwelling place.  And so we’re invited to think of being protected by the shadow of the cross, kind of like today, the cover of a mother chicken’s wing…
Not quite the most protective images in the world’s eyes, are they?  In the world’s eye, honestly, I think I’d rather be on the fox’s side — who is stealthy and wise, sharp and fast...even better looking.

But our Mother Hen gathers us today, and longs (and weeps) to gather all under the shelter of her wing.  (That’s church, btw, here in the place, here in this barn...)

And notice, the mother hen doesn’t just want to gather only the well-behaved little chicks.  She wants to gather all of them.  Why?  Because they are all hers.  Those who are doing a great job, in their lives, in their striving for peace and justice, in their work places, in their families...and also, the mother hen longs to gather those who have fallen short, those who have gotten lost, seduced by the world, caught up in the things that don’t last, those who have even turned and ridiculed and rejected their mother hen...Why, does God long to gather us all under her loving wing, because we are ALL hers!  Beautiful image!

I am so grateful to be on this Lenten journey with you here at Shepherd of the Valley.  I know that many of you are living in Lent, in one way or another — maybe through a discipline, or through mid-week worship and fellowship, or by wearing purple, or giving extra, or by getting back in the garden…

Lots of you are journeying this beautiful Lenten season, taking an honest — sometimes hard — look at your lives, and taking the humbling steps back to God, back to the earth, back to the community.  This is a good season, a rich season, and it’s good to journey together…

Today, still in the midst of our Lenten wilderness journey, let us take comfort in the shelter of the grace and love of Christ, who stretches out, like a mother hen stretches out her wings, and gathers us in, all of us...who brings us together, especially those of us who have strayed the farthest, fallen the hardest.  It’s us sinners that God weeps for and then celebrates most!  

Gathered together by God — even and especially in the midst of the world’s violence and pain, even and especially in the midst of Herod’s hunt, even in the midst of our own natural fears and anxieties about our safety — gathered by God, we take shelter in the shadow of the cross, which though it may not offer protection in the world’s eyes (that kind of protection might look more like fox protection, sharp teeth, high towers, armored walls and security systems)...but we Christ’s brood takes shelter in the shadow of the cross, for only there, we faithful trust, is true and lasting peace, forgiveness of sin, and new life, our home and dwelling place.

As our Gospel text says, Christ is casting out demons and healing today tomorrow and the next day.  Friends in Christ,  that’s us, Christ is working on us, working on you this Lenten season, thanks be to God.  

Finally, at the end of this text Jesus says, “You will not see me again until the time of comes when you will say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”  I almost read that like Jesus is saying, “Well, see you on the flip side.”  

But friends in Christ, sisters and brothers living with me in the shadow of the cross, as our presiding bishop Mark Hanson likes to point out:  “We live on this side of the resurrection.  AMEN?”  We sing ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’ every Sunday!  We’ll sing it today, and then we see again and eat again Jesus in our midst.  
Christ is always with us...on this side of the resurrection!  he no longer disappears, saying “See you on the flipside.”  We live in the flipside, even in the season of Lent.  And so Christ is here now.  There’s no “See ya later”.  

And so we rest now in the shade of grace, in the cover of eternal forgiveness.  And soon, we will go back out in to a new week, back out into the world, to be the people—to shape and reshape our lives to be the people—that Christ has called us to be.  Lenten grace be with you and peace, even when times are hard and the journey is rocky, Lenten grace and peace, this day and always.    AMEN.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

February 17 — First Sunday in Lent

Listen to this sermon HERE.
Do you know who you are? 

This Gospel text is ultimately about Jesus being asked this question by the tempter.  Do you know who you are?  

And we have the opportunity this first Sunday in Lent to reflect on that question, and to hear anew God’s claim on us, in spite of the tempter’s great power.

“Look,” the devil said to Jesus, “with your kind of power you could turn all these stones into bread.  I’ll tell you who you are: you’re hungry.” [pause]

And Jesus was hungry: he hadn’t eaten for forty days, when this happened!  How we can do some pretty destructive things when we’re hungry!  In our family we have a word for how we can get:  HANGRY!  Hungry and angry.  Do you think Jesus was hangry?  He was fully human, we confess in our creed.

[slowly] When we are hungry, we are susceptible to forgetting who we are.  Our immediate desires take over — need food, protection.  This economy in 2013 can be a sort of wilderness, where we are hungry.  Our own personal, strapped bank accounts can be a sort of barren land.  And in this climate of horrific violence that makes us think twice or perhaps even downright terrifies us just to send our children to school, it’s like we’re crawling through a desert yearning for an oasis of safety.    

How we too can relate to starvation, for not just nutritional security (food), but also financial security, national security... school security!  And how our starvations can make us hangry.  (Bishop yesterday: “What’s holding us captive?”  RAGE.)

And in our rage and in our hunger, the tempter tries to disassemble our identity.  “Do you know who you are?  Here, take control, turn all of these stones in to bread, make all of the kingdoms of world bow down to you, force them to.  Here, let the angels (like a mighty army) back you up, with force, and be at your beckon call.  [whisper] That’s who you are.  That’s what you deserve.”  [pause]

What strikes me about this story of Jesus’ being tempted in the wilderness is that the devil’s voice never sounds that bad.  It’s always subtle — what’s so bad about turning stones into bread when you’re hungry?  What’s so bad about over-padding my bank account and sheltering my children from the scary world?  Hunger starts slowly and grows.  [pause] And when those fears start creeping in, like hunger pains, the tempter moves in and questions our identity, starts taking it apart so slowly we don’t even notice, giving us an answer to the question “Do you know who you are”.  “How about this?” the devil slyly suggests: “You’re entitled.  You deserve all this blessing, unlike all those other sinners, losers, murderers, slackers, Gentiles, unchosen, unblessed ones.  You should get all you have...and more.  Look at all the good things you do.  Go ahead, treat yourself to more:  more money, more security, more food, more pleasure, more things.  It doesn’t hurt.  [pause] Plus you deserve it.”

O we are in a wilderness, too, these 40 days!  And our identity is rattled constantly.  And we are susceptible to others defining us.  Because frankly saying, “I am a child of God” doesn’t always seem so great, compared to “I am a powerful CEO.  I am the starting pitcher.  I am a mother.  I am a pastor.  I am an American.  I am a hard worker, who’s made something of his life.  I am a club member, a subscriber, a friend of this person or that.  I am so connected.  I am home-owner, a world traveller, a college graduate, a decorated general, a brother, a survivor, a church council chair.”  All these other titles, drown out the most important one, the most central to our identity.  

Long before all our titles and resum├ęs and descriptions of ourselves—some good, some bad—God described us, God claimed us, with a promise:  “You are my beloved child.”  And long after all the other descriptions and accomplishments and titles fade, God’s blessing and presence and still small voice will remain: “You are my beloved child.”   [pause]

Early last December for 3 days, I visited my Grandpa, who is slowly but peacefully dying in Colorado Springs.  Grandma died a few years ago, and he has been so lonely and sad.  But he still rests in that promise of God’s enduring love and claim on his life.  A pastor for over 60 years in the Lutheran church.  His largest congregation in Kansas City 1000‘s of people; his doctorate in ministry and preaching that he earned in Chicago, under the great scholar and author Martin Marty; his beautiful and accomplished family spread out across the country (4 children, grandchildren, great grandchildren); his loving partner, my grandma — when I walked into that little assisted-living apartment, where he’s now moved, none of those things were visible.  None of those titles were apparent.  I actually knocked on the door a few times and then just walked in.  And he was taking a nap.  And he was shrunken by age.  I hand’t seen him for a few years, and couldn’t believe how tiny he looked on that bed.  My strong, funny, vivacious, hard-working grandpa: curled up, like a child, shriveled by age and life...and a recent stroke.  
I sat in that dark room and watched him sleep for a few minutes before waking him up, and I cried quietly, both tears of sadness and tears of joy.  Francis Roschke: child of God.  Always was, always will be.  

And that is the truth for you too.  Look at yourself alone in your bathroom mirror tonight, and say your name, and splash water on your head, and remember that our identities cannot be shaken by the tempter—and all the great temptations of this wilderness world.  For Christ has triumphed over the devil, and even death itself, and therefore we are brought into this eternal relationship with God, where we are forever sealed and marked by the Cross of Christ, and gifted with the Holy Spirit.  And we are named...given a title that will outlast any medal or diploma on the wall.

Here at the beginning of this year’s Lenten journey, do you know who you are?  Today and forever, you are a child of God.   AMEN.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

February 13 — Ash Wednesday

Listen to this sermon HERE.
Whenever it’s time to pack for a trip, I always pack too much.  I’ll admit it.  That might not be a problem for everyone, but I’ll admit it, I always stuff too much in there.  Rarely do I bring exactly what I need, which, truth be told, is really not much at all.  I drag around with me that extra jacket, an extra pair of pants, or a whole other set of shoes.  And that’s just clothes, I’ll throw in a few extra packs of shampoo or soap.  And when I get home after the trip and unpack, there are things in there I never even touched.  My wife will tell you, I’m a terrible packer.

I dragged around too much extra stuff all over Germany in November; and I overburden our family when we’ve traveled in our little Toyota across the country in the summer.  I have yet to perfect the art of packing only what I need for the journey.  [Spaceballs: “Take only what you need to survive.”]

I think I’m afraid I won’t be OK, if I don’t have extra.  “What if I need it?”  “Just in case,” I justify. 

And then you know the funny thing?  Despite all that extra packing, there’s always something that I really do need, that I don’t have.  

Sisters and brothers in Christ, welcome to the season of Lent!

Lent is often envisioned as a journey, a 40 day journey, through the wilderness.  (40 days because of Jesus’ 40-day period of temptation in the wilderness and the Israelites 40 years of wandering in the desert.)  And we’re starting out, this Ash Wednesday — those who want to participate — c’mon let’s go, let’s take the Lenten journey.  Not everybody goes — just those who want to participate.  That’s one of the things that I love about Lent — as opposed to, say, Christmas, where everyone is caught up in one way or another.  Observing Lent, on the other, hand is much more discrete — especially given the Gospel from Matthew: we don’t practice Lent out in front of people; we do it quietly, behind closed doors and with no fanfare.  The rest of the world continues as usual, but we mark and travel a Lenten journey.

So how shall we pack?  

Lent is a time for shaving away all the extras in our life.  Traditionally Lent observers give up things during Lent, we can fast.  [pause]  These disciplines are encouraged, because they are ways of emptying ourselves.  Mother Teresa said, “God cannot fill what is already full.”  We shave away the extras at Lent so that God can fill us.

And we are full, aren’t we?  Mother Teresa was right, there’s not much room for God.  We are “stuffed” in so many ways: Stuffed with food, stuffed with things in our closets and garages, stuffed with ego, stuffed with desires, stuffed with fear, stuffed with worry.  “What if I need it?  Just in case.  But it means so much to me.”  But with all our overpacking, the one thing that we do need gets left out...or just squeezed in at the last minute.  I don’t think we leave God out...but...

The grace and peace of Christ just gets stuffed into the outside pocket of our lives, like that last-minute pair of socks that I almost forgot, so the grace and peace of Christ then becomes just one more thing that I drag around.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, Lent is a time to empty our bags, to lighten up.  Ever travelled light?  The gift of Lent is in the shaving away, the clearing out, the cutting back, the fasting (“God cannot fill what is already full”), in the giving up, in the quieting ourselves, and the opening of our hands in prayer and our ears in attentiveness.  Paul Tillich: “We are most powerful, not when we possess, but when we wait.”

How will you keep Lent?  I hope you do.  

If you choose to give something up or take something on (like walking or gardening or meditating), do it because it will ultimately clear some space for God’s grace and peace in your life.  If your Lenten discipline becomes just one more thing on your to-do list, then it’s already become just one more item you’re stuffing in your luggage.      

Somehow Lent and its disciplines got to be burdensome…all about gloom and doom, when it is, in fact, the Old English word for “springtime”!  

Is the fig tree in my back yard all about gloom and doom because it has no leaves right now?  Or is it wonderful because the tiny brown buds, if you look a little closer are not dead and depressing, but rather starting to turn green ever so slowly because something is about to happen!  That’s Lent!    

Lent is a gift.  Packing light is a gift.  Clearing out is a gift.  It means there’s room being made for something to happen — for God’s ever-present grace and peace to move in and take over our lives in Christ Jesus.  

It comes, however, when we’re honest (first), and when we clear out our excess stuff/empty ourselves (second), not when we’re proud and bloated.  We have to be honest — that’s what the ashes are all about... But it’s hard to be honest: “We almost have to woo humility during Lent.”  It’s like a skiddish deer at the brook.  You have to be patient and still before our humility tiptoes out. [pause]

Let’s be still and honest during Lent, honest about our sin, about where we’ve fallen short and where we’ve hurt others…Let’s woo humility.

And then, as a community of faith, let’s try to lighten up and unload our excess, our pride, our stuff, our fear...our whole lives.

It’s time to be honest, it’s time to let go, it’s time to fast.

And Christ awaits our unpacking, and guides us into the flowering desert, into the budding garden, into the springtime.  Christ awaits and abides with us into the journey.  

May we follow, and may we go light.  


Monday, February 4, 2013

February 3 — Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

This week, The Great Aaron Tidwell, from Lutheran Retreats Camps and Conferences (LRCC) visited us at Shepherd of the Valley.  He preached the sermon.

Support Lutheran camping.  Here's the website!  Thanks for being with us, Aaron!

Sign your kids up to go to camp this summer and/or plan to bring them to Day Camp here at SVLC July 29 - August 2!