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, July 28, 2013

July 28 — Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Listen to this sermon HERE.

When my brother puts me on hold, when I’m talking with him on the phone, if I have to wait longer than 10 or 20 seconds, I hang up.  Patience?  Don’t have it, there.

Maybe this says more about me and my relationship with my brother (actually is a good one), than it does about our overall culture, but I have this sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only one who wants what I want...NOW.

In a recent review of company slogans, immediacy and instant satisfaction were dominant themes.  “Have it your way,” Burger King says.  Results, answers, what I want, right NOW — this is how you sell things.

And when we don’t get it NOW, we’re done with you.  We’re done with your conversation, we’re done with your business, with your restaurant, we’re done with your church, we’re done with you because you couldn’t give me what I wanted and quickly.

I wonder if this happens as we relate to God also…

“Here’s what I want God...”  And we make our list of demands as if we’re sitting at the drive-thru.  [pause] And as we pull around life’s next corner, what happens if we don’t get it, as we just ordered it from God...and get it quickly?  [pause]

I’ve heard stories like this from people who have given up on the church, given up on God.  Maybe you’ve been tempted to leave, because you didn’t get what you wanted.  This is part of who are, who we’ve become... 

But today Christ teaches us to pray…(the prayer we say every Sunday).  What’s interesting, is that Christ teaches to pray for the things we need over and over: Daily bread (as opposed to the biggies).  
Jesus teaches us to ask that God gives us this day our daily bread (which is lots of things, acc. to Luther = bread, shelter, breath, even peace, hope, the ability to trust God...all of these are daily bread).  

Now daily bread:  for most of us in this place, we might think, we pretty much have got those covered on our own.  Most of us can get our own food, and our own shelter and transportation, and even our own joy and hope.  It’s easy to forget to ask God for those daily things, for our daily bread.  

But by praying for them, each time we pray, which is what Jesus says (“When you pray, say this…”), by praying for these daily needs, we are remembering that God is the one who provides us with everything.  And there is a religious experience that happens when we admit that.  We give ourselves back to God, when we pray, “You know what?  Even my daily needs today: I am completely indebted to you, Gracious God!  Please provide me with what I need for tomorrow.”  This is at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer.     

And we go back and offer this prayer over and over.  It’s a totally different kind of ask, than the one we do at the drive-thru.  We aren’t admitting that by ordering a hamburger at a restaurant, we couldn’t live and move and have our being.  We aren’t remembering all the things that that the hamburger joint has done for us, in our ordering another burger.  But by asking God to give and forgive us, we are coming back to remembering that without God’s love and grace, we couldn’t exist.  That is God’s daily bread, given freely to you and me.  In praying for it, we are remembering that God has been providing it all along, and will continue giving us enough.

And in making the ask over and over again, we are staying connected.  We are staying connected with the One who never hangs up or gives up on us.  

Jesus teaches us to keep asking, keep pleading, keep coming back, keep connected?  (That’s Jesus’ illustration of the knocking.)  Are we willing to stay, to show up over and over again?

There are church members out there who get upset and disappear after the first (or last) thing happens that they don’t like.  Much like any of us who walk out of a restaurant if the service is terrible, and never come back.  And then there are church members who — we have now idea — if they are/have been upset or not.  They just keep showing up, over and over and over.  They are a reminder to me of God’s grace, and the Lord’s Prayer.  They don’t hang up, they keep pleading with God and staying connected to their sometimes broken, sometimes wonderful community.  “Stay with me,” Jesus says.  That’s how you pray.

“Keep pleading.  Keep asking.  Keep knocking.  Never hang up.  Never give up,” Jesus says. 

When was the last time you pleaded and pleaded, and even argued with God, like Abraham did?  I’m more likely to treat God like my brother on phone, and if God puts me on hold for too long...click.      

But Jesus invites us to stay with the One who never leaves us.

This is not so much about annoying God with the same ad nauseam request, like our kids can really annoy us — “I want it, I want it.  Why, why?  Why?”  Rather it’s about staying, about not giving up.  Prayer is about showing up.  Persistence is being present, answering the door, even at the most ungodly hour.  Sticking with it, through thick and thin.  

A sports analogy I heard recently (lean toward baseball):  “Football is an affair, but baseball is a marriage.”  Not just fireworks prayers once a week, but 9 slow innings every day.  Jesus teaches us that prayer is about showing up:  being with God, who is with us, through thick and thin.

We tend to pray for others.  But Jesus teaches us here to pray for ourselves.  ...to pray that we can stick...that we not lose track; that we not stop trusting that God will provide enough; and that we not forget that God has been providing enough; that we not stop opening ourselves to God’s forgiveness; and that we not stop hearing God’s call to go now and forgive others.  

How’s all that sound for a sermon?  Pretty churchy?  Pretty nice?
Let me slap this ancient, powerful prayer into a real world example (and I encourage you to do the same during the week—or let’s talk about it together—but here’s my example):  Last night, actually this morning, at 2am, a sheriff knocked on our door and informed us that someone had broken into my car.    [pause]

Now how do I pray, Lord?  (my old iPod was stolen, my bluetooth, and some important wires to connect those devices)

I use these little things all the time, so dealing with that is a decent inconvenience...not to mention losing sleep, not to mention the sense of violation that happens when you get robbed.  Talk about trespasses.  We had a trespasser last night.  

So now how do I pray now, Lord? 

"Lord, teach us to pray."
Let’s put some flesh on this prayer.  (And my car being broken into is just one case study, but it snaps us into the present.)  Jesus teaches us in Luke to pray like this, “Our Father, hallowed be your name.”  In other words, God is here with us right now, even as my car is being broken into.  Luke’s version leaves out “who art in heaven”, emphasizing God is right here with us.  “Your kingdom come.”  Luther reminds us that we don’t will God’s kingdom to arrive, it’s already here.  This petition is to say, “Help us put on different glasses so that we can see your kingdom here with us...even as our cars are being broken into.”  “Give today our daily bread.”  You’ve given us everything we need, God, even as our cars are being broken into, you’ve kept us safe this far along the way.  “Forgive us this day, as we forgive others.”  This is how Christ teaches us to pray.  This is how we should pray, even when our cars get broken into.  We are forgiven, sisters and brother in Christ, for all the ways that we have fallen short.  Thanks be to God for that.  “Now, God, help us to go and forgive.  Help us to stay with you, as you have always, always stayed with us.  Thank you, for not giving up on us.”  AMEN.

Monday, July 22, 2013

July 21 — Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Listen to this sermon HERE.

Grace to you and peace…from Jesus, who is with us.  Amen.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, we are distracted by many things.  Often times when this text comes up or this story is told, we are invited to think about whether we are Mary’s — sitting at the feet of Jesus, or Martha’s — worried and distracted by many things.  [It’s true, we can be both Mary and Martha at different times in our lives.]  But today, for the sake of this sermon, I’m going to just assume that we’re all Martha’s — worried and distracted by many things.  Yes, there’s a little Mary in each one of us too, but in this day-in-age, we are almost programmed to pick up and respond to distractions...  

I’d like to just take a moment and ask you to jot down about 10 things things that are distracting you right now…in this place and in your life.  

Are we relating to Martha yet?  (Distractions in the world, in your life, in the news, in the community...) And how when we’re busy/serving, it’s easy to be judgmental of those who aren’t?  “Huh, must be nice to go on vacation.”  “Huh, maybe someone ought to work a little harder.”  And then Martha pulls a classic triangulation with Jesus.  Do you know what triangulation is?  

Dr. Murray Bowen teaches about triangulation
Concept introduced by Dr. Murray Bowen.  (We see this all the time in the church:  Instead of going directly to the person with whom we’ve got a problem, we go to someone else, and try to rope them into our conflict and get them on our side… For example, if I’ve got a problem with another pastor in the area, instead of talking face-to-face with my brother or sister, I go to the bishop: “Tell him to behave...but don’t tell them..”  Another example: Husband and wife:  She’s very frustrated by her husband’s work habits:  long hours, time away from the children.  But instead of talking to him, she calls her sister, and tells her, but tells her not to say anything because she doesn’t want to damage her relationship with her husband.  Is triangulation a healthy way of communicating?)

Kacy Brown of the Well Counseling Center (just one of many resources out there) suggests some ways to avoid triangulation:  1) Go directly to the person with whom you have the conflict.  2) Avoid trying to draw others in and get them on your side behind the scenes.  3) And try as much as you can to de-triangulate...stay out of triangles.  Encourage others who are venting to you to go directly to the person with whom they have the conflict.  

This little side note on triangulation may be an unintended gift of this gospel text for us today, helping us communicate better with one another and reminding us of some unhealthy pitfalls in our communication styles, to which we’re all susceptible.

So, poor Martha.  Poor you and me.  Not only is she getting nicked just for being busy, but also for being a poor communicator.  Yep.

But here’s where Jesus gives her a gift:  “Martha, Martha, stop, sit down, breathe.”  “_____, _____, stop, sit down, breathe.”  Rather than getting hooked into the triangle Martha is trying to form, Jesus invites her to stop.  To breathe.  (Probably doesn’t help that he uses her sister as the example, but we do get an image of the human being from Mary...as opposed to the human doing.)   “Stop, sit down, breathe.”

How we too can be distracted by so many things in our lives, in our world, even as we sit here in the sanctuary on Sunday.    How we in the church can be all about church all the time, and yet never truly worship...even when we’re in worship.  

How is Jesus inviting you to stop, sit down and breathe?

This, Christ says, is the “better part”.  There is so much here that relates to us today.  We are called to listen, more than talk; to watch and wait, rather than run, run, run all the time.

But Christ invites us to rest this day.  To stop.  To center.  To listen.  And to know that God is God.  We are human beings, not human doings.  And Christ makes us that this day, Christ redeems us from our incessant doing-ness — making us fully human being.  In our busyness, in our fallen communication styles, in our running around we can almost loose a piece of our humanity, becoming like robots knocking tasks off our lists.  I heard a story this week about “a mother who coached, drove her kids around and volunteered for every school committee.  She was a supermom.  She loved her kids. Thing is, one of the kids [at church youth group], confided in [her pastor] that she hardly ever saw her mom. Her mom was so busy coaching, leading, volunteering ‘for her kids’, she was too busy to spend time with them.  This is a phenomenal lesson for those who are leaders in the church. We can become so obsessed with doing ‘God’s’ work, we lose track of God.” 

But Christ redeems us today.  Our humanity is restored, and we are offered a place and a time to center, and breathe and refocus.  Prayer, listening, centering — it’s precisely when we say we don’t have time for these things, that we know we need them.  It’s not that we shouldn’t serve, of course.  It’s that centering and listening, sitting at the feet of Jesus like Mary, must come before the serving so that we don’t loose sight of the vision.  (scrubbing the deck of the ship, but not at the wheel, so the ship crashes)

Jesus speaks gently to you this day.  Calls you by name.  Invites you to slow down for a change.  “There is need of only one thing,” Christ instructs us.  God is love.  In Christ, is our hope.  We are gathered this day back to the center, the ultimate concern.  And here at the center, we are forgiven and we are fed.  The time will come to go and serve.  But not before sitting at Christ’s feet, receiving God’s gifts, which are poured out for you in abundance.  God’s forgiveness washes over you in this time.  God’s peace shines upon you.  God’s presence fills every fiber of your being.   In a moment God’s very body, the bread of life, will fill your body, Christ’s own blood, will co-mingle with yours.  Stop, listen, watch, breath.  Christ’s own gifts are being poured out for you and for many.  There is peace and grace to go around, that never runs dry.  Come and rest, here at the wellspring of hope.  Here at the center.   Here at the feet of Jesus.  AMEN.    

Monday, July 15, 2013

July 14 — Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Listen to this sermon HERE.

Grace, mercy and peace to you this day from Jesus Christ, who meets us along the way in grace, mercy and peace.  Amen.

The Good Samaritan: perhaps the most popular bible story out there.  When was the last time you heard it?  The term Good Samaritan has even entered our secular realms—such a thing as a Good Samaritan Law.  It’s a pretty common term, but it all goes back to this radical story of God meeting us along the way in grace, mercy and peace...and Jesus’ imperative that we now go and do likewise.

This is a good day to get baptized, surrounded by a text like this.  Because this text goes to the very heart and soul of what it means to be Christian: to be kind.  I hope you hear that instruction (to be kind)—parents, sponsors, community of the faithful—in the questions we ask at baptism.  Do you intend to “live among God’s faithful people, to bring your little boy to the word of God and the holy supper, to teach him the LP, the C and the 10 C’s, to nurture him in faith and prayer so that he may learn to trust God, to proclaim Christ through word and deed, and care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace in all the earth.”  In short: to be kind.

This is a good day to get baptized (or to come to church for that matter) because it’s all being summed up here:  be ye kind to one another, merciful, and compassionate.  

That might sound kind of “Mickey Mouse”, kind of simple and straightforward and fluffy—be kind—but I’m afraid it is exactly the opposite of the way the world works.

If a country owes us money, we charge them interest on paying us back.  If a stranger is in the ditch, we pass by them because we don’t want to be late for church, or the ball game, or whatever.  If a brother or sister is down and out, well, that’s probably their fault, right?  All those wrong decisions that they made along the way.  The way the world works is that you’re not obligated to stop and help anyone but yourself...and maybe the people you like the most.  How often do we hear it:  “It’s a cold world out there.”  In other words it’s not a kind a place.  As Douglas John Hall points out, we’re driven by competition, greed, and individualism, and even the more ethically minded among us “often seem apt to be more concerned for rights than for forgiveness, for justice than for mercy, for equality than for compassion”.1 Brrrrr..chilly out there. 

But Jesus, perhaps huddled around a fire, tells a story, and the he sets the characters in the story so diametrically opposed to one another, it would have made his listeners‘ skin crawl.  “A no-good, cheating, alien, lazy Samaritan?!  Really, Jesus?! Did you really have to go there?”  Who would be your modern-day equivalent?  That’s exactly who Jesus would put in the role of the care-giver today.

Jesus tells a story, and he flips the world on its head.  The wounded are healed, the dead are raised, and the unkind are the kind.  The cold world becomes a place where acts of compassion, mercy and hospitality come seeping out of the fabric of society.  And we are made human again — We weren’t created to walk past each other, we were created by God to help one another.  

Jesus tells us a story today, and YES that story challenges us, but it’s more than just a finger-wagging at us and at our children to be kind.  This story, even more importantly, also tells us something great about God:  That God’s love extends over boundaries, beyond difference (even the most volatile of differences like religion and politics), that God’s love reaches out to the stranger and the alien—sometimes that God’s love even comes in the from of the stranger and the alien.  That God’s love turns this cold world on it’s head...and lays out a new path from Jerusalem to Jericho, from suburbs to the city, from the barrio to the country side...where instead of a rocky and dangerous journey, the world becomes a safe and a radically welcoming place for everyone to be.  Imagine that!  

[Vacation and staying with total strangers, and just being totally overwhelmed by their kindness.]

Our little family had just a minuscule taste of the being “in the ditch”, tired from the journey, only to be taken in with open arms, fed, and given a warm place to sleep, to heal.

This is a glimpse of God’s welcome.  And that welcome is waiting for you, sisters and brothers in Christ!  God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love for you.  God is at the waters edge now as we prepare for another baptism—waiting for little Halo, and waiting for each one of us as we remember our own baptisms and return to the waters this day!  And here God heals you, restores you, forgives you — this is a story about mercy...we don’t know anything about the man who was robbed, but chances are pretty good that he wasn’t a perfect person.  (Maybe the robbers were only taking back what had been stolen from them...we don’t know.)  What we do know is the broken person is restored, loved, forgiven and shown mercy that can’t be repaid, only repeated.    

“Go and do likewise,” Jesus wraps it all up.  “Go and do likewise.”  We can’t repay God’s love and mercy for us; we can only repeat it for the world.  You and me: we are echoes of God’s grace.  

I don’t know what Bible story you think of when you read our congregation’s Vision Statement (Anyone know it? Feb. 2008: "Extending God's welcome to all we meet along the way").  But I always think of the story of the Good Samaritan and Jesus‘ command that we go and do likewise, that we welcome one another, and be kind to one another.  For in so doing we extend a glimpse of God’s love which has been so gloriously poured out for each one of us.  Thanks be to God for this lesson from Jesus today, the powerful story, and this love and mercy and forgiveness that flow to and through you this day and always.  AMEN.  

1 Douglas John Hall, Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 3, “Luke 10:25:37” (Louisville: Westminster, 2010), 240.