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, June 23, 2013

June 23 — Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Listen to this sermon HERE.

Grace to you and peace...

This text is no joke: Jesus once again comes face to face with the demonic, and there is confrontation and fear and terror, and even horror, and the ex-demoniac wanting to run from his community...but the scene—at least in my reading—ends with that blessing of peace: “Go home, and tell everyone how much God has done for you.”

Ugh, I guess that’s us: I guess we’re the ex-demoniacs.  Formerly bound, formerly scared.  Who hasn’t wanted to to run and reject God: “What have you to do with me, Jesus?!”  Maybe not in those words, but how often the “Jesus road”, the road less travelled looks so much more challenging. [pause]  Leave me alone, Jesus!  I guess we’re the ex-demoniacs.

Oh, and how this culture can drive us to insanity.  Either we’re crazy, locked up.  (Did you hear how that man was possessed by many demons, and they tried to lock him up?) — Ugh, I guess that’s us:  either we’re bound by the chains of our consumer culture, social and societal pressures, roles that we have to fit into, busyness, or bound by the chains of our addictions...and our fears.  Either we’re crazy, locked up...or we’re crazy, running wild.  Screw ‘em all!  (Ever had that within you too?)  We muster the strength to go it alone: I don’t need all this.  Forget all of you!  Alone, naked, uprooted, angry, out there on our own.  [slowly] Whether we’re crazy locked up, or crazy running wild...either way, something’s got us from the inside.  [pause]  

And right in the midst of our insanity, we are threatened by Jesus, who comes before us plainly — bread, wine, water, the care of a friend or a community like this.  Nothing sexy.  Jesus just climbs out of a boat plainly.  And how we can go on the defensive.  Get out of here!  Our demons stick up for us...

Because Jesus threatens the way we’ve been doing it...those things that...yeah, maybe aren’t the healthiest, but…those things that have given us identity.  And Jesus doesn’t just threaten, Jesus casts it out.  Jesus cast out the old and the demonic.  Jesus clears us of what was.  Drowns that which chains us and consumes us and even that which causes us to isolate ourselves.  All of it — drowned!  (Got a baptism today.)       

And there is for a moment a profound peace, calm.  [Women of El Nido — once abused, victims, incapable, hunched over with fear.  Sister Margaret:  now they are standing up.]

(That scene of the pigs running off—that many demons—but now the man is free/healed.)  Profound peace, calm.  Maybe that’s here?

But the world stays crazy:  The swineherds go running wild.  The crowds are gossiping, and fearful, and uneasy.   They banish Jesus.  Violence persists.  Abuse and recklessness and insanity, is all around, still.  We ex-demoniacs can hear it, and see it everywhere.  Almost immediately—after the amazing exorcism—nothing appears all that different...except for the fact that we’ve encountered the living God.  Almost immediately, though, we identify that suffering that still exists.

Looking around at all this, who wouldn't want to run away with Jesus?  Who wouldn’t want to be in an enlightened and healthy place mentally, physically and spiritually...and far away from all this nonsense?!  “Take me with you, Jesus!” the ex-demoniac...we say. 

Ugh, I guess we’re the ex-demoniacs.  Jesus encounters us, frees us of our demons, our fears, our anger...this day.  And there is this moment of peace, this moment to stand up straight.  And who wouldn’t want to stay here, stay with Jesus?  

But he sends us back.  Back home.  Back to the people.  Back to the earth, love and care for it all.

[I know I’ve told this before, but with Father’s Day a week ago and our trip to Colorado coming up...Dad in the rugged, beautiful Colorado landscape: "What'ya think, Dad?  Retire and get a cabin up here?"  "No, my place is with the people."]

It is an image for me of trusting that blessing from Christ: “Go home, and tell everyone what God has done for you.”

Friends in Christ, it’s crazy out there.  But Christ encounters us in here, in simple, down to earth, and yet life-giving, death-conquering, chain-breaking, community-restoring, peace-filling ways.  Thanks be to God for this encounter offered freely — Jesus just comes floating up in the boat.  For this community that gathers plainly and profoundly.  For this restoration.  For this exorcism.  And even for this command to “go back out there, and tell everyone”.

So the the ex-demoniac goes back.  He responds to Jesus.  He goes back and proclaims to everyone what God has done.  And we do that too, with our lives.  You’ve been healed and sent for a long time, and you do it everyday in your workplace, with your family, among your friends...perhaps not explicitly:  “God has done so much for me, let me count the ways…”  But through our actions we share the good news:  That God is love, that forgiveness and healing and the resurrection is real, that we no longer have to be plagued by demons, and that, with all evidence to the contrary, there is peace.  The peace that passes all human understanding.  That peace is with you now, and will never, ever leave you.  To God be the glory.  AMEN.     

Sunday, June 16, 2013

June 16 — Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Listen to this sermon HERE.

Our texts today helps us think about worship — about what it means bring our sin honestly before God, to release what we have done and what we have left undone, to place it all at Jesus’ feet, and to let God’s forgiveness roll down over us!

Today, on this Father’s Day, we have some powerful stories and images from the Bible about coming to terms with our sin, our mistakes (known and unknown), and then opening our selves to accepting God’s forgiveness.  That’s the greatest gift for those of us who are fathers:  God’s forgiveness for the things we have done and left undone.  And that’s for all of us, not just our fathers.  God’s forgiveness comes rolling toward us today, like a wave.  Ever been washed over by a wave in the ocean?  So cool and refreshing!  What a gift!  

Our gospel text gives us two characters: a Pharisee and a woman of the city, it says.  The truth is, Jesus loves and forgives (and is friends with) both of them actually.  (Jesus accepts the invitation and takes a seat at the table at the Pharisee’s house.  In Luke, more than other Gospel’s Jesus is friends with the Pharisees.)  But the great lesson here comes from this weeping woman.  She teaches us about worship and about faithful living…

Wood carving of Martin Luther "holding court",
taken in the basement of the Lutherhaus in Wittenberg, GE 
See, the Pharisee is guarded.  The Pharisee is in control.  He holds court, he calls the shots (even with Jesus:  “Teacher, speak.”).  That’s actually true of any dinner host in that period of time.  They conduct the conversation at the meal.  (Meal with Martin Marty, easily in the Mount Rushmore of Lutherans:  During the appetizers, throws out a questions, that we would discuss over dessert.)  It’s that style of holding court: a glass of wine in one hand and a gavel in the other.

This is the Pharisee.  And this is us too.  We like to be in control, maybe not necessarily of a room, maybe not holding court, but we all like to be in control of our lives, of our possessions, of our bank accounts, of our children, of our safety, of our futures, of our emotions, the list goes on…We all like to be in control.  

And when something or someone threatens to crack us from the control that (we think) we have, that’s pretty much a threat.  And we put up our resistance.  Some through fight or flight, but we resist anyone or anything trying to break us of our control, trying to take our control away.  

Have you ever been on a roll with a thought or a story, and someone interrupts and not only breaks your focus, but also takes the attention away from you?  Dads?

In comes this woman, making a scene before Jesus.  “Hey! Excuse me, I’m holding court here!”  But she’s crying and looks all remorseful, and it was actually not uncommon for people to wander in to a home during a dinner party, looking for handouts or whatever.  Culture was much more public back then.  (Describe the u-shaped tables, reclining and open-air dinning spaces.)  In comes this woman, and she couldn’t contrast the Pharisee (and maybe you and me) more sharply.  She’s out of line, and out of control.

She’s weeping uncontrollably, she’s covering Jesus’ feet with a special ointment and with kisses, and wiping them with her most prized possession: her hair.  

I doubt any of us would ever make a scene like that.  For one, we just don’t do that in our day in day-in-age.  But also, we don’t loose control.  That’s a sign of weakness and submissiveness.  No way!  Now, lots of people do make scenes in our day-in-age, but I’m finding it’s usually more for glorifying themselves in a blatant show of humility:  “Look at how pious, or holy, or humble, or good, or faithful I am!”

This woman is up to something different.  It’s hard for us to see today (we’re too savvy and suspicious), in quite the same way, but she is bringing everything she has before Jesus, starting with her honesty.  She brings her whole life, her real life—the good, the bad and the ugly—her sin and her brokenness, her gifts (that alabaster jar of ointment), and wipes Jesus feet—in a show of, we’re not sure: joy, sorrow, confession—she wipes Jesus feet with her most prized possession: her hair.  She brings it all, and releases it...in total submission.

She teaches us about worship, sisters and brothers in Christ.  Not just worship on Sunday morning, although that’s a big part of it.  But she teaches us about worship, which is, at the heart, offering.  Did you know that?

If I asked you what is the whole purpose of worship, what’s at the center, what would you say?  But at the very core and center of worship is the offering.  Where we bring all that we are and all that we have and pour it out, and  offer it to God.  How do we wipe Jesus feet with our most prized possessions?  See, this woman teaches us a great lesson about worship, about living faithfully, and in total submission to God.  She reminds us of what we hate to admit:  that we are not in control.  (Malcolm lifting up the plate on his tip toes.)

A couple years ago, a book came out called Death by Suburb: How to Keep the Suburbs from Killing our Soul.  Written by a pastor in the suburbs of Chicago.  [If you’ve got my copy… :)] And the basic structure of the book is that he highlights about 7 or 8 “toxins” of suburban living and suburban thinking.  And he counters each one with an ancient spiritual practice.  

One of the toxins of suburban culture, he argues, is “I am in control of my life.”  And do you know what he counters that with?  Offering.  Opening ourselves (our time and our possessions) up to God, an ancient spiritual practice.  Remember our forefathers (this Father’s Day)?...Abraham, Isaac, Jacob sacrificing their very best sheep?  That’s their whole worship service!  The offering-up.

And in that offering-up, in that total honesty, in that total submission — comes total forgiveness.  (King David)

Let’s bring it all to God, sisters and brothers who follow Jesus!  Let’s offer it all to God, dads!  Even us!  Let’s lay our lives at the feet of Jesus.  Let’s confess our sin, really [not just traffic sins]; let’s get that burden off our backs.  Christ will take it, all of it.  Let’s go up on our tip toes, let’s offer our everything.  And wipe Jesus’ feet with our most prized possessions.  

The truth is, Jesus forgives (and is friends with) both the Pharisee and the woman, but the honest one, unguarded, out-of-control, real, penitent one receives the greater gift here!  And that gift of grace and forgiveness is waiting for you too.  There’s an offering for you too.   All we can do is open our hands and our arms, and receive that forgiveness and grace.  It comes rushing, like a wave of mercy, crashing over us.  (Go to the beach this week, the Pacific Ocean — what Ben Stewart call’s “the world’s largest baptismal font”, and let God’s grace crash all over you.)  It cleanses us, heals us, forgives us, and washes us back up on the shore to be the people that God is calling us fathers, us all, to be.   Thanks be to God.  AMEN. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

June 9 — Third Sunday after Pentecost

Listen to this sermon HERE.

Jesus is on a little road trip around Galilee.  Last week he was up in Capernaum, where he healed the centurion’s beloved servant.  That’s in the northern part of Galilee, and that’s verses 1-10.  Now today Jesus approaches a smaller town called Nain, which is further south and west from Lake Galilee, but still in that same region.  A little road trip, little summer vaca?

And this passage that we have before us today is just quintessentially Lukan.  Did anybody read the book of Luke this week?  Last week, we jumped back into Luke, and we’ll be swimming and playing in Luke all summer long.  So I would still encourage you to put the Book of Luke on your summer reading list…

And today’s story taps the major themes of Luke.  It’s the Lukan sampler platter, the taster, right smack in the middle, Chapter 7:  

Outside City Walls, c.1647, by Jan Asselijn 

One of those themes:  Jesus meeting people — you and me too — on the margins, on the edge.  How do you hear that?  On the edge of faith, on the edge of life and death, on the edge of society, like an outcast?  Here in the story Jesus comes toward a town, as the people of the town are coming outside its walls.  There is an opportunity when we’re at the edge, an opening, where Jesus is moves in.  

Some of the most significant moments and insights in my life have been when I was exhausted.  It’s also when I tend to be far more susceptible to tears, to crying.  What is that about?  Is that true for you too?  I guess when we’re at the edge, when we could crash any minute...there’s an opening.  My grandpa, who I’ve spoken about before — 89-year-old widower: very susceptible to tears, now at the edge of life and death.
Jesus meets us on the edge, and not just the emotional edge, and the spiritual edge, but the societal edge.  Jesus here meets a widow.  And do you know, widows in those days were at the very bottom?  They were those who were no longer under the shelter of any one’s wing.  Widows were no bodies, that’s where this mother of the young dead man was headed.  He would have offered her a sheltering wing, but he died.  And that funeral procession outside the walls, presumably to dump the body, may as well have dumped two bodies. [pause]

And this is where Jesus approaches.

Where in our world are bodies dumped, discarded, ignored, or just plain overlooked?  Yet, this is precisely where Jesus approaches.

Then it says he sees and has compassion for this widow.  That fantastic Greek word splaghitzomai!  Means literally Jesus’ “guts rolled over” for her.  He was so moved that Jesus actually has a physical reaction-in-his-guts to her suffering!  Writhing innards.

That’s our God, sisters and brothers in Christ!  Not a god who is far off and could care less when we’re sad or scared, launching sentimental platitudes from on high, no!  The God who made us, is a God whose guts turn over for us when we’re hurting, when we’re grieving, when we’re alone, or on the edge.  Our God has splaghitzomai for us; and approaches all those on the edge, this day.

Then this same Jesus touches the bier.  And everyone stops.  

You have to remember, that in that time there were two categories of people:  clean and unclean.  And a dead person, (and a widow too for that matter) — you can guess what side they fell on.  Everyone stops because another boundary is being crossed.  Jesus touches death!  [pause]

And he speaks life into it.  “Young man, I say to you, get up!”  In a minute we’re going to sing that great African American spiritual “I’m so glad, Jesus lifted me.”  The earliest publication of this song is 1971 by Episcopalians, but I’m fairly positive that song’s been around far longer than 1971.  It’s another great example of oral tradition.  Some say 100’s of years old.  It’s a song creed, a musical statement of faith.  

We’ll sing it in just a bit, but just in case you think that this text doesn’t apply to you, we have verse 2:  “Satan had me bound, Jesus lifted me.”  I used to laugh at this verse, like, “Oh this is so archaic!  Nobody talks about Satan anymore, except in comedy sketches or Hollywood movies.”  But then it occurs to me that I have the potential for evil in my deepest being — evil thoughts, hurtful words, caustic actions.  Don’t be fooled: Oh, Satan does try to bind us.  Tries to center us on ourselves and on the things of this world.  How we can be disciples of evil.

Rapper Lupe Fiasco has one of the most haunting songs I’ve ever heard “Put You on Game”, where the listener has to infer that the words of the song are from the perspective of Satan, and the last line is “I hope your bullet holes become mouths that sing my name.”  And there’s this echo of gun shots throughout the song...  

Oh God, Satan has us bound.  But Jesus approaches and speaks  life into our death.  So we sing a different name.  We don’t have to be carried out in a coffin for Jesus to raise us.  Jesus lifts you now, sisters and brothers!  Jesus frees you now.  Jesus forgives you now, clean slate.  And hands you over — just like he handed the young man over — Jesus hands you back over to the community...so that you can care for us, and we can care for you.  It works both ways.  That young man is going to be cared for by his dear mother, but he’s going to protect her again also, in that cold, widow-forgetting society!  It works both ways.  

This is our God:  approaching us in our sorrow and fear and pain and sin.  Stopping everything with a compassionate—life-altering, gut-wrenching—touch.  And a word: “Rise.”  And then restoring our life and our relationships.  Handing us over to the world, to our community, so that we can care and be care for.  It works both ways, when the Holy Spirit gets in there.

And finally, the last scene in this Gospel text:  we are invited—like the crowd of old, who bears witness to the things God has done—to go and tell.  Those final verses are like a throwback to the Christmas story earlier in Luke.  I suppose this whole story is a repeat pattern of the Christmas story...here in the summer:  Death, sadness, night time, sin is everywhere, but Jesus approaches, at the margins of town (the stable, the outskirts), touching down where no one touches (death, stinky, barnyard animals).  Meeting old worthless widows, young poor maidens, and drunken, mangy shepherds.  Right into the midst of it all, comes new life!  “Rise!”  And the crowd, like the shepherds or the angels or both, then sing the story: they glorify God, and spread the word throughout the country side.  Let us go and tell this good news now, for God has look with favor upon us and this world!  Alleluia!  Praise be to God!  AMEN.     

Sunday, June 2, 2013

June 2 — Second Sunday after Pentecost

Listen to this sermon HERE.

Micah’s Little League baseball season is over.  It’s been a great first-time experience for us as a family — first-time cheering as baseball parents for our child, and tons of firsts for our little Micah, who played a great season...  It all closed out yesterday, where his team, the VDO Yankees, made it all the way to the championship game against the mighty, mighty A’s (earlier in season: line drive, grand slam to CF).  Yankees put up a valiant effort, but lost the game, just in case you were curious, like most of us scorekeepers-in-life tend to be.  But I was so proud of—not just Micah, but—all the kids, boys and girls, who are learning and developing and having fun…and I was proud of Micah...

I could talk about Micah’s season and baseball in general all morning, but I wanted to reflect particularly here on words at a little league baseball game, namely the words from the parents and fans in the stands.  (We know they can hear everything as they step up to the plate…)

I don’t have to tell you that words are powerful and necessary, and can make us or break us.  [pause]  And when it comes to what words we use when we cheer for our kids from the stands, after this season, no surprise, I’ve been reminded again that our words have great effect.  (unlike For the Love of the Game: “clear the mechanism”.)  Obviously a parent has great effect on their child.  Certainly true, when down on his/her kid from the stands.  But even more, I’m thinking about the subtleties in all positive words we use and how those words can help or hinder.  I got to the point where I was probably over-analyzing every word I said, and heard others say to the kids.  

For example, “C’mon get a big hit now,” I think puts a lot more pressure on a kid than just, “You can do it, buddy, you got this!”  

There’s a way that our words can get into our heads, and either help or hurt.  I don’t have to tell you this, and you don’t have to experience Little League baseball to know it.  

Words are powerful; they make a difference.

I hope you can call to mind the greatest compliment anyone has ever paid you.  And I bet you could tell me verbatim the meanest thing anyone’s ever said to you or about you.  Words have power.

And this is a recurring theme in our gospel text from Luke today: the power of words.  Unlike other stories in the Gospels there’s no touching or embracing, or Jesus lifting the sick person up...Jesus never even sees the centurion or his beloved servant — it’s all just words.  

This Roman centurion, like a Captain or a Colonel in the Armed Forces, has been hardened by battle, and experience, and time; and he more than most knows the power of words: He’s gotten to where he is by following words, orders.  And now, the people that he commands from his high rank live or die by his words.  Like the text says, when he says “go,” they go, and “come,” they come.  We’re not playing around here: he’s a centurion in the great Roman army, the world’s super power.  

Yet we see a different side of this Roman centurion today, when, it says, one of his dear servants becomes sick and is close to death.  Chances are, he’s seen a multitude of deaths in his time as a soldier, but something is causing him to reach out here. Something has cracked his tough exterior, and this brave, old soldier is scared, scared to the point that he’s not even going to leave this boy’s side; he sends others with a word.  (Old cowboy that Jim Hanson saw in Arizona: broken)

The centurion sends others to go find this one Jesus, who—word on the street (another powerful word) has it—is a healer.  This Jesus..heals people with his words.  We can use our words to do all kinds of things.  Jesus uses his words to bring healing healing and new life.  

Well, the story goes on, and the Roman centurion gets honest.   Once Jesus is on the way to help him, the centurion sends his friends out to admit something to Jesus, “You know, I’m not worthy of this power that you have.”  I have not earned it, I cannot repay you, I’ve made too many mistakes along my way to justify you offering my beloved boy, my faithful friend, this gift of healing.  

But the centurion asks anyway, despite his shortcomings: “But only say the____and my servant will be healed.”

Here we are.  We’re all the centurion.  Probably afraid to get too close to Jesus, really, afraid to leave the things we love.  We’re all the centurion...when we’re honest:  unworthy of Jesus’ healing, unable to repay the gift, and making far too many mistakes along our ways, hurting people with our words and our actions.  [pause]  We are all the centurion.

But the centurion goes on:  “(I am not worthy) but only say the word and my servant will be healed.”  Despite it all, that hardened, old centurion asks something of Jesus: that Jesus “only say the word,” and then we see the faith of that centurion because he trusts that Jesus’ word will heal, his acceptance of Jesus’ word is enough.  We’re all that centurion:  In the end, all we can do is be faithful, that is open our hands and receive; accept the gift of grace.

We are all the centurion, practicing our faith, by (1st) being honest about our shortcomings, and (then) despite them, still demanding from Christ a blessing—the healing, the salvus—that lasts. (Katie demanding a blessing).  Finally all we can do is accept that gift of grace, open our hands and receive those words of healing.  [pointing to Table] “This is my body given for you; my blood shed for you.”

Words are serious.  We’re not playing around here.  They are a matter of life and death.  They can break us or they can make us anew.  They can “crack” open, news about this one Jesus.  And the word that we receive again this day, from the Divine, is “yes”.  “Yes, you are mine. Yes, you are loved.  Yes, you have fallen short.  And yes, I forgive you.  Yes, I will come under your roof this day, to bring healing, and to dwell in your midst.  Yes, I will gather you into a beloved community with other sinner/saints.  Yes, your servant is restored to health.  And yes, you have my blessing today and every day.”  This is God’s word to us.  And all we can do is open our hands and accept it.  According to Luther, this is the definition of having faith.

God’s “yes” makes all the difference, friends in Christ.  

Like a parent’s  word from the stands, God’s word has serious effect.  It can shape us, and it is just the right word, just what we need to take the pressure off, to give us concentration and focus for the tasks that are ahead of us, and to allow us to let our past failings go (can’t dwell on your last strike out), so that we can now give it our very best.  
Jesus’ words heal.  To him be the glory.