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 22, 2014

June 22 -- Second Sunday after Pentecost

The journey changes us.  

I’m thinking this morning about all those journeys that have changed me in one way or the other.  

When I was in college, I took my first journey south of the border to build houses with Habitat for Humanity in Tijuana.  I’d never had an experience quite like that -- just some 20 miles south of us actually -- bouncing up a dirt road into a sprawl of corrugated metal-mixed-with-cardboard-and-plywood houses.  And I remember a shiny American-built factory in the distance, at the top of the hill, towering like a castle over the whole shanty city.  We built one of those homes that week for a kind family, and played soccer with the children on the dirt roads and fumbled through our Spanish.  And in the evening, we’d go back to the very basic retreat center in the same area, with a Luther rose painted on the entrance sign.  I remember that week was marked by laughter and sweat, and beautiful sunsets and rain, and the smell of homemade tortillas.  

And when I got back to school, I was talking to one of my professors [Jerry Slattum] about the trip, and I said just quickly the cliche: “Yeah, it was so sad.”  And he challenged me, having been to such places himself: “Was it sad?  Were the people sad?”  And then I paused for a minute -- “Well, come to think of it, no, it wasn’t sad.”  It was joyous, despite the rather harsh, impoverished environment, and the imbalance of wealth.  My professor smiled, and then he said something that I’ve never forgotten:  “Poverty doesn’t breed sadness.”  There’s lots to learn in places like that.  In in times and communities where people have less. And it reminds us that we have a lot of work to do.  

That journey changed me.

I think about the trip we took here at Shepherd of the Valley to Germany back in 2012.  How that journey changed us!  

We came back with new relationships, and new learnings.  A new insight for me, just in terms of the Luther stuff -- seeing the town of Wittenberg, where Luther spent most of his life -- was that Martin Luther was a campus minister.  I had to go to Germany to figure this out, but he spent all of his time with students.  He was not actually the called pastor of any church, although he guest preached all the time!  Luther was a professor, and -- along with his spouse Katie -- a master of hospitality.  They were community gardeners, they cared about ethical business practices of their city and supported building strong communities.  They fought against poverty and disease and homelessness.  They were beer brewers.  They gave students a place to sleep and fed them, and you can read whole volumes of the kinds of table conversations that they would have about life and theology and worship...Luther was a campus pastor.  And I came back wondering why we as the Lutheran church today don’t just pour our resources into supporting campus ministries across the nation and the world.  Because nothing would be more Luther-an.  

    Just one example of how that journey changed me.   

We have a tough Gospel text this morning...that I’ve been trying to avoid for the last few minutes.  “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword...I have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother...whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me...and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”  Those are the verses that seem to glare at us, once again.  Welcome back to Matthew’s gospel, and Jesus’ tenacious teaching there.  
The journey changes us.  I think at the heart of this passage -- and I encourage you to take this bulletin home and read it again -- I think at the heart of this passage is yet another invitation into a life-altering, life-changing journey.  How is Jesus calling you today; how is Jesus calling us as community? [pause]  And never does Jesus say that this road -- as it’s practically lived out -- is an easy one.  I’ve told you before about the guy I met once who said, “My life was great, until I met Jesus.  I had lots of money, I did what I wanted, I served no one.  Now I’m giving my money away; trying to do not what I want, but what Christ would have me do, like forgiving my enemies; and I serve others now: the poor, little children, the earth itself...and those who don’t look like me.  My life was great, until I met Jesus.”    

Sisters and brothers in Christ, in our baptisms, in our being “buried with Christ,” as Paul says in Romans today, we enter a new journey.  In that journey we get strapped in with Christ, through that little bowl of water, and those holy, holy, holy words:  “I baptize you...” On that journey, we go bouncing down the dirt road of discipleship as the oil is streaked across our foreheads, and we hear the words, “You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”  We have died to death, and now we live, raised to new life in Christ.  And so now everything is different.  Baptism is a journey that changes us.  It a journey that changes everything.  

When we get back from that trip, everything is new when we return.  We see things differently.  We see joy when others see only sadness.  We see hope when others only see despair.  We see life when others only see death.  I think of Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching Christ crucified and risen as he literally stood on smoldering ashes of burned-out, bombed-out churches in the deep South.  
But, we don’t just see the positive in the midst of negative.  Having returned from our journey to the holy waters of baptism, we also now see pain and injustice, when others refuse to, ignore it, or just can’t.  We see poverty, abuse, exploitation and name it as such, and strive for justice in all the earth.  We see the inequalities, and we Jesus followers don’t turn away.  We see racism and sexism, and call it like it is, and then like Martin and Katie Luther of long ago, we become ambassadors of hospitality, of radical welcome for all.      

Maybe that means we find ourselves parting ways with our families of origin, and moving in with our former enemies, as Jesus said.  Maybe that has us slicing through the unhealthy behaviors and systems in our lives and our world, cutting through the hurtful silence, with a sword of honesty and integrity, with a non-anxious word, speaking the “truth in love.”  [pause]

This journey of the baptized life is not an easy one, but it’s the greatest one we’ll ever take.  In Christ, we lose our own lives in order to follow after our servant-king, our servant-master.  And we are promised again that we will be OK.  More than OK.  Every single hair on our head is counted.  In other words -- and I like to think of it more like this because not everyone has hair on their heads -- every single cell of our body is like an autographed Babe Ruth baseball to God.  (Eye on the sparrow)

This is what makes everything different -- because this muddy road that we walk, with all it’s challenges -- this Christian life of the baptized -- we don’t walk alone.  God goes with us, Christ leads us and beckons us.  And so we join hands and arms and we walk together.  This journey changes us from the inside-out.  We have lost our lives, and in so doing, become a very part of God’s life for the world.  AMEN.        

Sunday, June 15, 2014

June 15 -- Holy Trinity Sunday/Father's Day

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

This -- and our Gospel message for today, the last lines from Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus says, “Go, baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” -- are closest references we have from Scripture to the Holy Trinity.  One God three persons.  Our creed comes from a time where there was fighting going on among Christians in the the 4th century and Constantine ordered the bishops to gather at his lakeside palace to work it out.  That’s where we get our creed -- an ancient synod assembly!

Christians couldn’t agree on whether Jesus was actually God the Father, and whether Jesus was above all other lords of the lands, especially the imperial lord who also was also commonly said to be the son of God.  So the newly converted Christian emperor calls these theologians together and says in 325AD, “Work it out!”  And they came up with this trinitarian formula and wrote a creed for all Christians to say and unite together.  

Isn’t it amazing that -- given this very human way that our creeds came to fruition -- we still say them today, and confess this trinitarian formula?!  That we believe in one God, three persons? That God Almighty who creates the cosmos, who was there at the very beginning...is also Jesus the son who redeems the world...is also the Holy Spirit who comforts and challenges, who rushed in like a mighty wind and appeared like flames of fire on the disciples’ heads and in our hearts even still today?!    

I am struck by that!  How a holy, sacred, timeless creed like the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed can come from imperfect humans.  How that confession of faith stands at the center of our worship even still in 2014!  
Why do we need these creeds?  Do you believe them every week you come and we gather together and stand and speak them after our Hymn of the Day?  I once heard a pastor say he honestly didn’t believe the creed on most Sundays he was leading it -- there was just too much either distracting him or making him doubt and question too much to swallow the words of the creeds whole -- but that’s exactly why he needed to gather with others who did believe when he could not.  [pause] Just like in the baptism of an infant, we understand that faith is something we share with each other, something we borrow from each other like flour for our bread:  

“[Lois], I don’t have enough faith today, can I borrow some of yours?”  
“Sure here, here’s this creed our people have been saying since the early centuries of the church.  Take as much as you want.”     
“Thank you.  If you’re short on faith sometime, let me know and I’ll see what faith I can come up with for you to have.”

This creed, this faith, is what we celebrate ALSO on this Father’s Day.  It’s fitting that Father’s Day falls on Holy Trinity Sunday:  fathers too ought to share what they have, when someone comes in need of not having enough.  And so often they do.  The great fathers among us love to share advice, and stories, and humor.  They love to share food and drink with neighbors and friends.  I think, the great fathers share their faith -- with their words, but even more importantly with their actions.  And fathers ought to ask for help when they need it.  This one is debatable if we fathers are honest.  Sometimes we need to work on that.  I think the great fathers also know when to say they need something, when to reach out for help.  None of us can go it alone.  
I love how Father’s Day has become a day in our culture about bbqing and being together, having fun... That’s community.

We are made for community!  We express and confess God as a Divine Community -- a Father, a Son, a Holy Spirit (some icons picture the trinity as three beings at a table) -- God who we express as Divine Community creates us for community.  “Let us make human kind in our image,” did you catch that?  The earth and the human was created from a divine community!  None of us can go it alone.    

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

From the Divine Community to our broken and fallible communities: God is with us!  

Go and share that Divine community, that Holy Trinity, with everyone you meet.  The fathers among us can be examples of that...  

Man, Micah’s baseball coach modeled that for us this season!  This guy, Coach Chris, he was always tying baseball, into strong community life.  It was about a lot more than a great game.  We had the year end party last Sunday after Mr. Ron’s celebration, and I got to witness him do this again -- as he praised everyone for not just being ball players and supportive dads and moms, but for being committed to community.  He fed us all with this lavish spread, the thanked everyone, he praised and lifted up the children.  It’s like that council of Nicea, man!  I’m sure there’s lots of pain and brokenness in Coach’s life.  I’m sure he’s not a perfect person.  I don’t know him that well.  But out of that human imperfection comes a glimpse of God’s love.  

Community has got to be connected to experiencing God’s love.  I don’t think we get that isolated.  I don’t think we get the whole picture of God, just experiencing a beautiful sunset in solitude.  The Christian life is a life...together.  Bearing one another’s burdens, lending and receiving a dose of one another’s faith, sticking it out, not walking away and just taking care of “number one”.  Community is God’s gift to us.  

Say a prayer of thanksgiving today for the community you’ve experienced in your life.  Maybe your experience of community isn’t a traditional one, but it is a gift.  Your community is who shows up for you, who’s there in your dark moments, and who celebrates with you too.   This is how we know God.  I know we’ve all had these experiences -- just don’t forget to name them as God, the Holy Trinity, working and moving among us.  “Lo Jesus is with us always!”

Our Hymn of the Day this Father’s Day is “Eternal Father Strong to Save”.  And I do love this hymn.  It was first made popular by the British Navy, the Queen’s Royal Navy Hymn.  The United States Navy also claims this song.

The third verse is such a vivid picture of this first Chapter of Genesis:  

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

God was there at the very beginning.  God takes the chaos of our world and of our lives and “[gives], for wild confusion, peace.” May that peace be yours this day, and every day, in your life and in your community.  AMEN.