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...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

October 19 -- David & Bathsheba

Let us pray, Create in each of us clean hearts, O God, and renew a right spirit within us.  Cast us not away from thy presence and take not your Holy Spirit from us.  Sustain in us the joy of your salvation.  AMEN.

David & Bathsheba:  a lot has happened since Joshua stood at the verge of the Promised Land last week, and week kicked off our capital campaign with Philip Reitz.  “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  We stopped reading at that quote and reflected on it.  But, do you know what happened next?  All the people respond to Joshua, “Yes, yes!  We will serve the Lord!”  And Joshua tells them back, as a sort of foreshadowing of the next few books of the Bible, “Umm, you can’t serve the Lord, you won’t serve the Lord.”

Old Testament summed up:  God blesses, people mess up, God gets angry, people repent...and on and on.      

Israel evolves into kingship.  That wasn’t the original plan.  Originally the idea was that there would be judges of different provinces.  Leadership was to be shared.  The book of Judges tells the story of those judges, those characters -- Samuel, Deborah (a woman), Gideon.  Heroes to us, perhaps as children; but with adult perspectives, they too are humans -- fallible and broken.  And so a new plan to anoint a king.  First king of Israel was Saul.  That goes horribly wrong.  And then a shepherd king: David.  And the book of first Samuel tells of his rise from very humble beginnings.  Samuel anoints him as a boy.  Slays Goliath... Outdoes Saul time and again.  He’s purer, he’s smarter, he’s more faithful, he’s even handsome.  He’s meant to be king.  God blesses.

And then if you’re wondering what this story about the new prophet Nathan going to David is all about.  Here’s the backstory:  I share this with our confirmation kids...

[story of David, Bathsheba, Uriah]

We pick up today the passages and a related psalm that follow this dramatic, seamy account.  And it’s what-happens-after that we really gather around today.  God sends Nathan to David.  One definition of a prophet is “the one who holds up a mirror”.  All Nathan does is tell David a story.  He gets David to announce judgement and then simply holds up that mirror.  

Who are the prophets in your own life?  We give thanks for the prophets today.  Those who call us on our stuff.  Those who hold up the mirror -- You know when we’re complaining about someone or something, and then you realize that the thing you’re complaining about is often something you yourself do...something that you don’t like about yourself.  Often it takes a close friend, a spouse perhaps, to turn that light on and help you see it...but that’s prophets work.  Give thanks today for the prophets in your life.   

But it’s more than that.  It’s more than just seeing your faults, whether someone helps you see them, or you know them already.  I imagine we can do that for ourselves pretty well.

What’s truly amazing...is that normally if someone who doesn’t have any power approaches someone who does, and points out a significant moral flaw, they’d be dismissed, right?

In that period, that’s putting it gently.  They’d be killed.

But David repents.  

David falls on his knees before this weak, old, long-bearded, scraggly-toothed madman prophet Nathan.  And he says:  “I have sinned.”  
We should have read that part too.  Because “have mercy on me O God," doesn’t mean much without first admitting, “I have sinned.”  

I think we can all put ourselves into this story, even into the great King David’s shoes...because we’ve all sinned.  The challenge is to come to terms with it.  To see our own reflections in the prophet’s mirror.  I almost played Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” for you this morning.  “I’m starting with the man in the mirror.  I’m asking him to change his ways.  And no message could have been any clearer.  If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make that change.”

Sisters and brothers in Christ, God sends us prophets to expose those things about ourselves that that we do a pretty great job of covering up -- I’m not talking about blemishes and imperfections on our bodies.  I mean those blemishes and imperfections on our souls, those corrupt things about ourselves, those secrets that we even lie to ourselves about.  Thank God for the prophets.  They are a gift.  Now it’s our challenge -- like David’s, I’m sure -- not to kill them.  Not to dismiss them, not to laugh them off as some out-of-touch scraggly tooth.  David is punished for his sin, and he accepts it, he grieves, he begs for mercy and finally he receives and accepts that mercy.  

David’s sin is not commendable.  Neither is ours.  But the aftermath of David’s sin is what we’re lift up in church -- his acceptance of Nathan’s prophetic visit, his admission of wrong-doing, and finally his openness to God’s mercy.  At any one of those three points we can get off track.  We could reject the prophet’s visit, we could refuse to repent, and finally and maybe most difficult for us long time church people, we can reject God’s forgiveness, and go on living in guilt and fear, blocking our ears to hearing the prophet’s good word -- the prophet has a good word for us too:  “The Lord has put away your sin.  You shall not die.”  Happened to Adam and Eve in the garden, happened to Sarah the unbeliever, to the Jacob the devious, happened to David.

Today we ask God to create in us clean hearts.  To renew a right spirit within us.  And God answers our plea.  God, through Jesus Christ forgives our sin.  We will not die, but live eternal, and the response to that undeserved gift of forgiveness starts now.  We can lift up our heads and smile, even if we’ve done terrible things in our pasts.  God is good.  And God is faithful, and God does not abandon us, even when we abandon God.  

You are blessed too.  God doesn’t ignore our sin and our brokenness, the error of our ways, just like a good parent doesn’t ignore their children’s misbehaviors.  It’s because God loves us that God sends us Nathans to hold up the mirror.  Grace falls even fresher when that happens.  

That grace is for you.  Yours to receive, yours to revel in, yours to celebrate, yours to share with he world.  AMEN. 


Sunday, October 12, 2014

October 12 -- Joshua Renews the Covenant

Today we welcomed Pastor Philip Reitz.  He is our Stewardship Key Leader capital campaign consultant, and he helped us kick-off our capital campaign, entitled "Today's Mission, Tomorrow's Vision: Faith Needs Room to Grow".  Thank you, Pastor Philip, for being among us!

Listen to his sermon here:

Sunday, October 5, 2014

October 5 -- Covenant & Commandments

Well today is a good day, because there is nothing but good in the Ten Commandments!  On October 5, 2014, thank God for the Ten Commandments!  

These are not rules meant to break us down and take our fun away, they are rules meant to build us up and bind us together, even more in Christ.  They are rules--that is, ways of living--that enrich our lives, not detract.  And in this boundary-less society, these 10 commandments are liberating. 

Heather and I had a friend in college who once told us about her childhood:  how she had parents who never really gave her any rules.  One of my most vivid memories of her recollections is how she talked about playing out in the neighborhood before supper, and about the same time the street lights came on, all the mothers and fathers were calling their kids, her friends, in for “dinnertime!”, but little Suzanne never had that curfew or boundaries.  I imagine a little girl left at dusk in a lonely cul-de-sac with street lights sputtering on and the faint sounds and smells of families in their warm houses around her:  healthy suppers and family conversation around the dinner table.

The 10 Commandments are a warm house, and without them we are left out.  They are not rules meant to break us down, they are rules -- ways of living -- meant to build us up, nurture and sustain us.  They are rules meant to free us even more.  The one left outside is the prisoner, the one who is gathered in and given structure, routine, work, play, community -- that’s where we find freedom in Christ.  The 10 Commandments, God’s covenant with the wandering Israelites then, is still God’s grace and love poured out on us today in 2014!

Rule #1: I am the Lord your God, I’m the one who brought you out of Egypt.  (Remember your story.)  Don’t make anything else your god.  

There is so much freedom in that!  We are tempted and even taught to bow down and worship so many other things: money, fame, power and authority, sex, sports, security and military might, family, technology, entertainment...the list goes on.  What is it for you that draws you away from trusting God, and letting God be God?  So many foreign gods as we wander through the wilderness of this life.  But, sisters and brothers in Christ, we don’t have to let those other things rule us.  There is so much freedom in this first and most important commandment.  All the other commandments, actually, point us back to this one: 

Let God be God.  We don’t have to play that role anymore, or seek it out anywhere else: it’s right here.  Let God be God.  Don’t forget who got us all here in the first place.  Put your faith only in one thing -- not in money, not in fame or power or strength, or even family or friends, not in the the technologies of the future, and not in “the way things were”.   Let’s try again to stop worshiping those false idols and start worshiping God.  Worship comes from the same root as worthy, and if you’re wondering what it is you worship, just look at your credit card bill.  That’s a spiritual document -- it’s where you put your money, it’s what’s worthy of your money (actually its all God’s money).  Where are you spending what God has entrusted to you?    

We don’t have to be slaves to those things anymore.  This commandment is calling us out of self-serving, idol-serving lifestyles, and into lives of service, of worship, of trusting God.  This is grace poured out on us.  We don’t have to seek after and bow down to foreign gods and graven images any more!

Rule #2: Don’t make wrongful use of God’s name.  Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.  Yes, watch your language.  But even more, this is a follow-up on the first and most important commandment.  Almost, a bit of a corrective, a clarification:

“OK, God, if I’m supposed to trust you so much, I guess I’m supposed to just sit here and let you do everything...let you find me a parking spot, let you ace my math test, let you take care of starving children and homeless veterans, and abused seniors.  You’re God, not me, so I’ll let you take care of it...”  

This commandment expounds on the first.  Don’t just throw your hands up and hope God takes care of everything, all our world’s problems.  That’s missing the point.  Live as if it all depended on us -- hunger, housing, health care -- don’t call on God’s name for that.  [Dali Lama refusing to pray for world peace.]  I heard it said once “Live as if it all depended on you, and pray as if it all depends on God.”  Don’t use God’s name in vain, asking for God to fix things, and ducking our own culpability and responsibility.   The trash on the ground, and in the ocean, and in the sky: that’s on us!  All the violence we’ve perpetrated and endured as a human species: that’s on us.  Don’t use God’s name in vain, asking God to just take it all away, and getting angry at God when it doesn’t all just disappear.   Let’s take responsibility with our words and with our actions.  That’s liberating.  We don’t have to live helplessly.  This commandment frees us to live and speak helpfully.

Rule #3.  Take a break...to remember that first commandment.  Practice, live out these commandments, don’t just memorize and recite them.  Make sabbath a part of your weekly life.  

We have no boundaries anymore.  With smart phones and wireless connections, we mix up free time and work time all the time.  We’ve lost the ability to take it easy.  But even God rests on the seventh day.  This commandment calls us to stop, and go to church -- not to see what’s in it for me -- but rather to worship God.  To remember our story, to gather around the gifts of God: Word, Wine, Water, Wheat.  We forget so easily that God is God.  I wonder if we’ll remember it by this afternoon, when all our games are on, our families are beaconing, our cell phones are buzzing with little tasks in preparation for Monday morning...See?  This commandment frees us to stop.  Breathe.  Remember how we got here.  Remember that God will bring us through.  And -- I think this part has been lost too -- the Sabbath is to be joyful.  People get stressed out being told they should take a break, so that’s missing the point too.  The sabbath is meant for joy.  Let me put it like this: the sabbath is for sex, healthy, fun sex.  Morning at church -- remembering and giving thanks that God is God.  And then a little afternoon delight.  [Tell ‘em you heard it here!]  Yes!  You get what I’m saying, though?  The sabbath is for relaxation.  The sabbath is for re-creation.  The sabbath is God’s gift, the way we were intended.  We were made for frolicking.  That’s the original state of things, right?  Adam and Eve in the garden -- what do you think they were doing?  Just sitting there, checking their work email accounts?  They were having fun.  This commandment frees us to have fun.

I’m not going to talk through every single commandment here, but let me just say that when God says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, who freed you,” is an intro for continued and enhanced liberation, and that’s what these commandments are:  Sabbath liberates God’s people from only working.  We have a freer society when people aren’t stealing from each other, when people aren’t killing each other -- how locked up would you feel if you’re always fearing for you life?  Or fearing that your spouse is committing adultery, or fearing that someone wants what you have?  See, each of these commandments point us, continues to lead us out of bondage and into freedom.  Out of fear and into life.   “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes.”  AMEN.