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, November 24, 2013

November 24 -- Christ the King Sunday

This week we journeyed through the past year, the Year of Luke, with readings, hymns and these notes...


  • Out of something so tiny and dead (stump)...Bethlehem, stable

  • Colors blue for hope; symbols: wreath, blue, simplicity, less, “Big Dipper”

  • Preparation, yes, but even more a celebration of the peace, hope, and life that comes with Christ’s arrival.  Our preparation is clearing a path...John the Baptist

  • New Year’s Day -- church’s gift: puts us just a little out of sync
    • I may be the only one (?), but this really feels like a New Year’s Eve to me, next Sunday Advent New Year’s Season.  Gift.  


  • Christmas = light come into the world.  Light shining in the darkness & darkness has not overcome it.  

  • Quiet time, contrary to culture, silent night

  • Colors white for light, symbols: stars (panel), creche

  • Preparation, yes, but even more a celebration of the peace that comes with Christ’s arrival

  • New Year’s Day -- church’s gift: puts us just a little out of sync

Epiphany (a day, not a season)

  • This tiny quiet entrance of God (Christmas), is made known on a global scale!

  • Greek:  epi - on, to  +  phanein - showing  = manifestation

  • Colors white -- traditionally a celebratory, go-to color, light

  • Symbol: Magi, stars, 3 gifts

  • Marks the 12th day of Christmas, January 6th 


  • In our brokenness we get lost, Lent is an honest journey through the wilderness, back to Christ, back to the waters of our baptism

  • Color purple for repentant, reflective and paradoxically royalty -- forgiveness

  • At the end of 40 days of Lent comes Holy Week, and we have this reading that K is about to share, but first a few comments:

    • This is actually the assigned reading for today, Christ the King Sunday...if we weren’t doing something different

    • Reading about Jesus on the cross: tortured and yet still forgiving sins: today, you will be with me in paradise

    • Jesus says this to you too, friends.  Despite all that we’ve done, God still gives us a place at the “welcome table”!  (What if we sang that on Good Friday? It would be appropriate.)

    • Welcoming sets the tone for all the lesson’s from this year of Luke that are to come...

  • Panel...Lent journey.  Holy Week.  What do you see?

  • This is quintessentially Luther-an -- cross at center.


  • Climactic conclusion of the Great Three Days.  At the heart of the Christian story.   

  • Colors white, symbols:  butterflies (panel), eggs & rabbits (? - careful, appropriation fertility), empty tomb, empty cross

  • Unlike Epiphany or Pentecost, Easter is a whole season, not just one day -- Seven Sundays

  • Unique features of Luke’s resurrection story: women, Emmaeus, breaking of bread -- there’s that welcome table again!


  • Spirit is given as gift to the disciples -- to you and me

  • Color red; Symbol fire, languages, Ezekiel’s bones, birthday cake :)

  • panel --  new insight: “Christ the vine, not consumed, for we carry on”?

  • That same spirit, wind, breath that Jesus had, now fills the church

  • birthday of the church -- Acts 2: shared what they had, were together in prayer and worship, and went out to care for the poor -- early church.  Luther, btw, tried to return the church to this -- for him: Sacraments, Education, Care for the poor

Green Time

What themes to you hear?

* Compassion, mercy, justice pouring out extravagant

* With Jesus, everything changes.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE -- For what are we thankful?  For what shall we ask God?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

November 17 -- Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Listen to this sermon HERE.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, 
Today’s Gospel, today’s good news is for the tired believers.  It’s for those of us who are a little bit, and especially for those of us who are very tired, and frightened about what the future holds.  (If that’s not you, say a prayer of thanksgiving, and come stand with those who are tired.)  This is a text for those who look around and see a world that has abandoned the teachings of Jesus and the prophets.  The text I just read, said “you will be hated by all because of my name.”  Maybe that’s true for Christians today in some circles, but mostly in our culture, I think the contemporary version of this is not that we will be hatred but really just treated with apathy or ignor-ance or misinterpretation, which in some ways is even worse.  If you’re hated, then at least your argument has got traction, it’s getting under someone’s skin.  But if you’re ignored, well then you don’t even have a place.  Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Elie Wiesel once said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s apathy.” [pause] 
Do you ever feel totally insignificant or ignored?  Without a place, a voice?  Not even given the affirmation of a counter-argument.  Just brushed off – perhaps by the culture, perhaps by our leaders and law makers, always by the weather, perhaps by the church, perhaps by your family or friends? “You will be irrelevant because of my name,” Jesus might say to us today.  (If that’s not you...) 
Today’s Gospel message is for those of us tired followers of Jesus…feeling unimportant and hopeless…like our work and our words are in vain, and the ship is going down.  “Why bother?  What’s the point?  Who cares?”  
This Gospel is for those of us who can feel ourselves being sucked into all that apathy, ignorance and misinterpretation flying all around us, like a typhoon.  
It’s easy to just give ourselves to the gale-force, typhoon winds of this culture—“take care of yourself, it’s all about you, cover your butt, they are not your problem, protect yourself, security, security, personal security, draw your circle of family tight and neat, don’t worry about anyone else but you and yours…’cause the ship is going down”—watch for those subtexts in all the holiday ads that are already well on their way in our culture…these messages whipping by us like wind.
I grew up on the Gulf Coast, and I’ve been in a few typhoons (although we called them hurricanes).  
I’ve got this image in my head of “Christians in a typhoon”, with this text:  
Christians, like any creature, would seek cover during a typhoon.  But then, as they wait for the storm to pass, they toil away together in a safe place—maybe a basement, maybe a community center or a church.  They would gather together and work away… knitting, quilting, assembling packets, planning their strategy for reaching out very soon, assisting one another with words of comfort, bandages, hugs and long conversations.  Small teams would even venture out into the storm to gather in those who could not find shelter.  They would risk their lives for a stranger.  And when they returned with a cold, wet, lost child or elderly adult, all would be greeted at the door and ushered in with blankets and bowls of tomato soup and plates of grilled cheese.  And a cot with a pillow.  
The typhoon pounds, and the Christian waits and works.  And then a time would come for worship underground.  They would gather in a dark place.  They’d pray and sing.  They’d read scripture by candlelight – they’d hardly have to look for passages about earlier believers riding out storms, lights shining in darkness, life overcoming death, peace in times of chaos...because they’d already know them by heart.  And they’d hang on every word from that Holy Book.  And then they’d eat – the body of life, the blood of forgiveness – and they would be filled…with all physical evidence to the contrary.      
Today’s text is about hunkering down.  Patiently working.  Lovingly watching .  Thoughtfully reaching.  Faithfully hoping.          [pause]
The Gospel of Luke is written by the same author as Acts.  And commentaries reminded us that this text, especially the bits about the hardship that’s coming—the imprisonment, the ridicule, the persecution—is of course a foreshadowing of what happens in Acts.  
One of these events in the book of Acts:  there’s a story of Paul traveling by sea with his comrades and they are terrified because they’re caught in a storm...but Paul speaks to them:
“I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship…'Do not be afraid…God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.'  So keep up your courage.” (Acts 27:22-25)
“The ship is going down, and you’ll be OK,” Jesus says to his disciples.   Jesus is unimpressed by the temple, by the building, by the ship (nave).  Bricks and stones and fancy cargo, will all go down.  [pause] But you’ll be OK.  In one sentence, Jesus says, “you will be betrayed and some even put to death,” and in the very next, “but not a hair on year head will perish.”  Malachi: “The sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.”  Psalmist: “Sorrow spends the night, but...”
This is a text about hunkering down, patiently enduring.  “By your endurance you will gain your [souls],” Jesus says.  psuche—mind, sanity, calmness.  Our Buddhist sisters and brothers teach: “Chop wood, carry water.”  Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:  “Do not weary in doing what is right.”  Hunker down: chop wood, carry water, wash, bake, stitch, weed.  One of the great quotes attributed to Martin Luther: “If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I’d plant an apple tree today.”  The ELCA’s Malaria Campaign goes on (not to pat ourselves on the back too much, but it’s a great illustration!)...talk about patiently enduring, planting an apple tree in the face of the plague of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa.  Lutherans are saying, “We’re going to try to wipe it out.”  
Hunkering down, sisters and brothers in Christ, patiently doing what is right.  And we do it, not alone, we endure with all tangible evidence to the contrary, we endure in the glorious company of all the saints—who we celebrated a few weeks ago and each time we gather—we endure together and we endure with Christ.  “My peace be with you,” Jesus says, “my peace I leave you—my peace will never leave you.”  AMEN.    

Blessing of travelers: O God, our beginning and our end, you kept Abraham and Sarah in safety throughout the days of their pilgrimage, you led the children of Israel through the midst of the sea, and by a star you led the magi to the infant Jesus. Protect and guide Larry and Stephanie (Kimberly, Eric, Ty, Sydney, Erica, Ian, Kade and Jillian) now as they set out to travel. Make their ways safe and their homecomings joyful, and bring us all at last to our heavenly home, where you dwell in glory with our Lord Jesus Christ and the life-giving Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

November 10 -- Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Listen to this sermon HERE.

Got a voice mail mail message from my friend Edgar on Wednesday.  “Dan, how you doin’ buddy.  Been a long time.  Things are good here.  You know: [chuckle] ‘first world’.  I got first world problems...” He goes on...

But I’ve been chuckling and thinking about his check-in all week.  And I think about it today as we revisit and are reshaped by this beautiful story about Christ’s transformative forgiveness and self-invitation.  I think it helps to start all that from Edgar’s angle: “first world”.  In other words, it helps to start by realizing that we’re up in the tree too, with Zacchaeus.  First world problems: can’t get a nice enough view.  

Some of you know we’ve been doing some painting in our house this week.  I can’t think of a better example of first-world problems.  I mean I’m stressed out about this, maybe you have been before too -- “What if we buy the paint we think we like, but don’t once it’s up on the wall?”  [And I imagine we can argue why the color of our walls is so important.]  First world.

We’re up there with Zacchaeus, friends, looking down on the rest.  Maybe we haven’t intentionally defrauded anyone quite like that dirty, little tax-collector Zaccaeus, but we’re all broken sinners.  And those of us in the first world have certainly squandered more than our fair share of resources over and against our neighbors, sometimes totally unknowingly.  (I remember when I learned what my carbon footprint was, just in eating a hamburger, much less driving a car or flying in an airplane.)  We’ve all defrauded or cut ourselves off from the rest (pretending not to see or just not caring).  Who would have thought that ‘falling short’ (of the glory of God) meant ‘climbing high’?  But we’ve got a perfect visual of that today.    

And not only are we separated and isolated from other parts of the world, we’re separated from each other.  And we know we need each other, know we’re meant to be together, but we still want to climb that tree.  So we’ve tried to get both -- we’ve invented the internet and Facebook so that we can have it all — the glorious tree house up high and the connection too.  But of course that’s not a real connection; that’s not sharing a meal together.

It’s a pretty good view from up here, in the tree.  That is until Jesus comes walking into town, stops at the foot of our tree...[pause] and then the view gets even better...

Sisters and brothers, God didn’t create us to live up above the rest, or apart from one another.  Isolated.  God made us for community-- both in our neighborhoods and across our globe.  Community is at the heart of this passage.  Zacchaeus is being restored to the community, and that restoration of community is at the heart of his salvation:  “Salvation has come to this house today.”  Even with all our defrauding one another and grumbling about each other, we are meant to be together.  God made us for community.  

Sisters and brothers in Christ, Jesus walks up to our trees this day, looks up at us, and calls us down too.  Each of us.  We can all get caught up there -- not just because of our first-world problems, but because of our human problems -- our pride, self-centeredness, and our fear.  We can retreat up the tree and want to live out our days up there, but Jesus walks up to our tree and says, “Come down.  What are you doing up there?  What are you doing locked up there apart from the neighborhood?  What are you doing walking on other peoples’ backs?  Come down from there.”  Jesus gently calls us down.  Not with a lecture about wealth and poverty, or a guilt trip about our first-world problems, but with another surprise: the self-invite.  

Biblically sanctioned intrusion (just for when you feel like you might be barging in on a friend.)  “I’m coming to your house today,” Jesus says.  Didn’t see that one coming.  Like later in John’s Gospel — “Do you have anything to eat?” — our Lord lovingly intrudes and, in so doing, empowers, even the most unlikely of characters -- the tax man, even you, even me.  All of us, called out, called down and called back to the earth.

This story is amazing because, notice the order here: Jesus didn’t offer forgiveness and salvation and then Zacchaeus came down and invited Jesus over to celebrate.  Jesus just invites himself over, tells him to come down.  And then Zacchaeus makes this incredible statement -- “Half my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor.  And anyone I’ve defrauded, I’ll pay back 4x as much”!!!  Jesus didn’t ask for any of that, but Zacchaeus just couldn’t help himself.  He had been flung by God’s grace out of that tree...and just went crashing into a new life of radical generosity.  And that’s when Jesus says, “Salvation has come to this house.”  Zacchaeus has been restored to the community.  He’s come back to the earth.   

Unlike you and me, who generally don’t go around inviting ourselves into each others’ homes, Jesus is so bold, sisters and brothers in Christ.  Jesus invites himself into our homes!  I don’t know about you, but my home’s a mess right now (especially in the middle of our painting).  The last person I’d want to invite over is Jesus.  But we don’t have to invite him, he invites himself.  

This is where I don’t understand the language of some who say, “All you have to do is invite Jesus into your heart.”  He invites himself!!  

And as a result, everything changes!  It’s grace that turns our lives around, not guilt or shame about our first-world lifestyles.  It’s love that changes our ways, not lectures about our self-centeredness and isolationism.  Do you see?  It’s grace, it’s love that brings us down --  back to the community, to share all that we have. 

Salvation comes to your house this day...as the bread and the wine intrude, as the rain waters of our baptisms cause us to slip right out of the trees of our self-congratulatory exploits and carry us back into the muddy village.

It was a bird’s eye view of Jesus.  But now we’re sharing a meal with him.  Now we’re across the table from Christ and from each other.  Now everything changes.   AMEN.