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, April 24, 2016

April 24 -- Fifth Sunday of Easter

Grace to you and peace…

Have you ever had a favorite pastor?  Maybe it’s a pastor when you grew up, or a pastor during your college years, or a pastor that served your church for many, many seasons and the “truth” is, you just couldn’t imagine church without that pastor in the leadership role.  That pastor was so good, that it just wouldn’t even be church without her or him.  And when that pastor moves on, you never really do/did…and when your children or grandchildren need to get baptized, or married, or someone in the family dies, it’s that long-loved pastor that you really want to reach out to (whether you do or not)...

That one pastor will always be your real pastor, and no other pastors will ever really count.  And so, in a way, you really belong to that pastor, you’re part of that pastor’s tribe.  And sometimes that pastor might just welcome and encourage that admiration and need of yours quite heartily…(As one who’s been on that side of this dynamic, once in a while, it feels amazing, to be honest).   

I know this is kind of a question for only long-time church people.  If you’re new to the church and church culture, you might not have had this experience, so please bear with us -- you often have to put up with our nostalgic stories and longings for the good old days.  But to those of us who have been part of the church for years and years, I’d venture to say we all have a favorite pastor, and maybe are still in some kind of grief if that favorite pastor’s no longer with you.  This is a pretty normal and hard part of church life, I believe...

I’m dealing with this a little bit right now:  Murray Finck, our bishop, is really my pastor, since I’ve been a pastor.  He came to San Diego this week for a final visit with our clergy here in his role, and I got choked up, as we went around the table offering our thanksgivings and well-wishes.  He retires in a month, and a new bishop (a new pastor, for me) comes to office.  I’ve only had one bishop, and it’s always been Murray...

Paul was dealing with these kinds of struggles, this kind of normal behavior, this kind of loyalty to one leader, one pastor...this kind of church tribalism in Corinth:  “It has been reported to me that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.  What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’  Has Christ been divided?”

See?  We’ve been picking favorites in the church since the earliest days of the church!

But we are called back to the truth today:  That, even as we all have that human tendency to pick and choose our favorites -- and we can expand this conversation from just favorite pastors (we pick and choose all kinds of favs) -- even as we pick and chose our favorites and “tribe up” -- you know, form affinity groups…  “Who’s with me, isn’t [this one] the greatest preacher you’ve ever heard?  The way she teaches and illuminates the scriptures, ooh, it’s like butter!  Who’s with me?”  Even as we gravitate to one pastor or another, Paul is quick to point us to the ultimate truth, and, I think, to shatter our little fences:  We are all one in Christ!  This pastor or that, this church or that, this party or that, this nation or that...does not bind us ultimately.  Christ is the one who binds us together, people of God!     

And then Paul makes this fascinating move -- just as we’re jumping on board with how great and mighty and powerful and eloquent our God is, Jesus is.  Just as we’re starting to think, “You know, that’s true: Christ is much greater than even the greatest pastor I’ve ever had.  I loved that pastor, but yeah, of course, how much greater is God?!!  Thank you, Paul.  Thanks for the reminder…”  Just as we’re appreciating that little lesson, Paul drives home the uniqueness of our God: 

Let’s not forget the cross, even and especially in the Easter season.  Paul brings us, just as he brought those early Corinthians, back to the cross.  Our God died, remember?  Ooh, that’s problematic!  That great and powerful God, that mighty king and victor…that amazing, greatest pastor of a God, who binds and loves and heals and fills all in all -- was humiliated, crucified and died.  That’s the great leader that we follow.  Isn’t that an offensive move for Paul to make?  It’s a stumbling block, it’s foolishness to those who don’t get it, but to us who are being saved -- to us who are being made whole by the richness, the complexity, the depth of the Story, and the Meal, and the Bath of God -- to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.  God’s power -- that is, the cross, the self-giving, self-emptying mystery of the ages -- is what unites us.  

Paul goes right to the heart of the Christian witness, and it’s still got teeth even today:  To be bound together, to be one in Christ, is to sit at the feet of the one who gave himself up on an ugly cross, for the sake of the world, the one whose love is so incarnated into our reality that we can’t even take a breath (even a dying breath) without being in the God’s presence and abiding mercy and peace.  

That’s the one who holds us together!  Not some human pastor, not some razor sharp theology or doctrine or preaching style.  Not some king wearing banners of medals and backed by the world greatest army.  We belong to Christ Jesus, whose name is love, who holds the whole cosmos in grace, who shows us how to bend to our knees and offer our neighbors humble service and welcome, rather than dominance. destruction and brutal force.  

Sisters and brothers in Christ, we are members of a different tribe, we are members of a peaceful tribe, that extends far beyond the walls of this or any sanctuary, that extends to the far corners of this earth.  

We. Belong. To Christ.  ..who seals and marks us with the cross [pause], promises never to leave us, and sends us to share that welcome with everyone we meet along the way.  

You belong to Christ.  AMEN.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

April 17 -- Fourth Sunday of Easter

Grace to you and peace from God, who calls us to share that Good News, that grace and peace this day.  AMEN.

I wonder sometimes if we lose track of the vision.  

I know I can.  With all the activities, good and bad, swirling around in our own lives and in the lives of our congregations, how we can loose track of what we’re called to do.  

Today’s readings call us back to that vision:  the Gospel is meant to be shared.  We’re being called back to the vision -- back “to the ends of the earth” -- this Easter season.

To whom will you witness this week?  To whom will you bring this Good Word of God this coming week, sisters and brothers in Christ?  We have a word of faith, hope and love to share with the world.  We’ve received it over and over again in this place...or in whatever place you’ve heard, touched, smelled, tasted, and held the Gospel.  That Good News is not meant to be kept to ourselves.  It’s meant to be shared.  I wonder sometimes if we lose track of this vision.

We have two texts today.  One from Acts and one from Thessalonians.  I want to talk mostly about Thessalonians, because it’s the older writing.   Might even be the oldest in the early church -- older even than the Gospel accounts!  This might be the very first writing we have concerning Jesus!  Imagine that!  In our canon -- that is, our order of books of the bible -- it kind of gets lost in there.  But scholars date this letter back as early as 43 AD.  (Even the oldest gospel narrative, which is Mark, wasn’t written for another 20 years!)  So these are the first words we have from the Early Church...and they deserve our attention and our re-examination here today.  

Paul writes: “To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, grace to you and peace.  We always give thanks to God for you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”  These are the oldest written words of the early church!  “For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the Gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”  Scholar and translator Eugene Peterson puts that part like this:   “When the Message we preached came to you, it wasn’t just words. Something happened in you. The Holy Spirit put steel in your convictions.” 

I would say that the Thessalonians, to whom Paul is writing and encouraging, have not lost track of the vision, in fact they have/are actually inspiring and encouraging even the great Paul and Silas to continue in their work of sharing and spreading the Gospel, even in the face of danger and protest and resistance.  (We see that in the accounts of Acts.)  

We too are chosen to bear witness...

I mentioned this in council this week:  My grandpa -- who was pastor for ~15 years of a large church in Kansas City, Missouri -- every 5 or 7 years, as they continued to grow, would sit down and talk about some of their best leaders leaving Holy Cross Lutheran Church, in order to go plant a new church in the outskirts of Kansas City, where there was no church.  “The Message of the Gospel wasn’t just words.  Something happened.  The Holy Spirit put steel in their convictions!”  It wasn’t easy, Grandpa once told me.  In fact it was often a fight.  No one wanted to be the one to go.  But they did. And they planted some 5 churches in his 15-20 years as pastor!  
Do we need to split up and start planting new churches right now?  I’m not sure about that...yet.  But we definitely need to keep the vision of going outward with this Good News of faith, hope and love, through Christ, on our hearts and minds, and in our planning and envisioning.  AMEN?  

It’s a scary thought -- witnessing, moving outward in a sometimes hostile world, with this counter-cultural message of love -- but that’s where we’re called to go, friends in Christ.  That is a dominant Easter theme.  Time and again in the Easter season, Jesus appears to the disciples, sometimes locked in fear and doubt and even anger, and calls them to move out!  [Text last week in Houston -- “I’m goin’ fishing.”]  

Move outward...And to do so in peace.  “My peace I leave you,” Jesus says.  “My peace will never leave you.  My grace is sufficient.”  Grace and peace, these were some of the very first words of greeting in early Christian writing.  Grace and peace is yours, even as you move outward, into strange, uncharted territory.  So how will you witness this week, in the heart of this Easter season?

I don’t think this means you have to recite Bible verses in secular places, in people’s faces.  Maybe there are some situations where that could be powerful, but oftentimes, that can feel like you’re beating the bible over people’s heads.  The Good News of God comes to us not just through verses in the Bible alone, but through the Holy Spirit.  

How will you be an agent of and bear witness to the Spirit’s work in this world this week?  How will you move outward?  The Easter season is all about going outward with boldness and joy, from the empty tomb.  

I think of the stories I’ve heard about sisters and brothers from our community here at SVLC, who have been told in their work place, when someone actually found out you were a Christian or even a Lutheran, people would say something like:   

“You never said you were a Christian, you never talked about God, but I always thought there was something about you…”  A deep foundational faith, hope, and love.  Paul could write a letter to many of you too:  “I always thank God for you.  For your ‘work of faith and your labor of love and your steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.’”

Sisters and brothers in Christ, we worship a different God.  We don’t worship the empire.  The people in Paul’s day, worshipped the empire very overtly -- coins called Caesar the ‘Son of God’, people referred to him regularly, without batting an eye, “our Lord and Savior”.  Literal idols were all over the cities.  It’s not quite as overt today.  But there are plenty of other gods to worship.  Just look at credit card statements, national budgets, where parking lots are filled… There are plenty of false gods and idols today.  

But sisters and brothers in Christ, we worship a different God -- a God whose name is Love, a God who build us and this world up, rather than incites fear and terror, which only breaks us down and tears us apart.  We worship a God who breathes grace and peace upon us, who choses even you and me, and gives us a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and the fear (i.e. the awe) of the Lord, joy in Christ’s presence!  We worship a God who overflows with compassion, beauty and mercy.  And we continue to follow that God outward into the world, we continue to try to be imitators (as Paul put it) of that one Jesus Christ.  We continue to share the Good News.  We continue -- despite our temptation and tendency to let the vision go blurry -- we continue to cling to the clear call of God, to faith, hope and love, to the promise of our Risen Lord.  AMEN.

Friday, April 15, 2016

April 10 -- Third Sunday of Easter (Dad's Retirement Sermon)

The Rev. David A. Roschke (aka, my dad) and his final sermon as Pastor of Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Houston, TX.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

April 3 -- Second Sunday of Easter

He is risen!  … Alleluias abound.  We are Easter people with signs of the resurrection all around us and around this world.  Christ is deeply present in our pain and in our joy.  In our hope and in our sorrow.  Christ is as close to us as our very breath! ...
So what’s Jesus doing ascending into heaven, as we read today?  Why’s he leaving us?  Why’s that closeness shrinking and shrinking as he lifts up into the clouds?  I thought he’s always promised to stay with us.  
Oh well, let’s just wait.  I’m sure he’ll be back.  [stand looking up]  
Will you wait with me?  It’s very Christian to wait, together…
I’m being a little silly right now, but this may be a little how those disciples long ago felt:  Can you imagine the joy that they had just experienced on reuniting with their friend?  Forget for a moment all the theological implications of Jesus’ resurrection—these men and women had their brother, their son, their favorite teacher, their friend back!  
But just as soon as he’s back in the flesh—walking with them down their roads, fishing in their waters, sitting around their tables—he’s gone again…this time ascended into heaven.
So they’ll wait, and long, and gaze upward:  
The text says, “While Jesus was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.”
Jesus hadn’t even been gone for but a few moments -- and they could probably still see him way up there (like when a little one accidentally lets go of a red helium balloon, and we all watch it drifting up and up) -- and angelic strangers are sidling up next to them!   Jesus was never even gone completely and angels are already sidling up!
How we too may be caught staring at the heavens.  How nice it is to “gaze up,” to enjoy the serenity, to be wistful.   
Maybe not literally, do we gaze at the sky.  We’re busy, productive, task-oriented, egotistical types here.  But what is your drifting balloon that you gaze up at dreamily?  [pause]
Paying off the house?  Retiring in fine style?  Keeping the kids perfectly safe and sound?  Finishing the backyard?  Just getting to heaven?
All nice things, to be sure; pretty normal really.
But our God doesn’t operate in the realm of “pretty normal really”!  Jesus doesn’t just leave us gazing up.  And he doesn’t drop us a ladder from on high either, affirming our longings and blissful dreams, so that we can leave all this behind.  (Left Behind is wrong.)
Instead Jesus sends angels sometimes in the form of other human beings, sidling up, to snap us out of our gazes [“suddenly”], and to position us for ministry in this world.  These angels locate us.     
When we stare at the sky, we see no one else.  I wouldn’t even know if you were here or if you left, if just kept staring at the sky.  I wouldn’t know where I am.  And I might not even care.  
But when I’m snapped out of my gazing up, I see you, I see us, I see the corner of Avocado and Fury, I see the hungry and sad.  
[for me: gazing up = wanting to yell at my neighbor with a great reason, snapped out = call from Cheri about her dad]  For you?
These angels snap us out of our gazing and locate us, help us to see.
And this is just Luke’s version.   (The author of Acts is the author of Luke.)  In Matthew’s version there is no ascension story, Jesus in fact never does leave.  Jesus says, “Lo, I am with you always.”
[And my systematic theology professor’s interpretation on this story in Acts: Jesus comes to us from beneath. “Jesus will come in the same way as you saw him go up into heaven.”]
Whether its angels or Jesus himself or the poor, we have our focal point re-adjusted again today.  From gazing at the sky to seeing the sister or brother, and what really matters, right before us.  
And then starts a wonderful progression, a holy procession.  “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria [cross that border], and to the ends of the earth.”  
We are called to be witnesses, sisters and brothers in Christ, witnesses to the resurrection 1) in Jerusalem – those who are hurting in Spring Valley, El Cajon, La Mesa,  downtown San Diego.  2) in Judea and Samaria – that is both in our country and across our borders – those who are hurting in Arizona and Mexico, in Florida and Cuba, in the flood plains of Louisiana and Colombia.  And then, to the ends of the earth -- Madagascar, Afghanistan, Bakersfield.  
WE are called to be witnesses, schematically from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth -- sharing the Spirit of Truth, the Word of Life, Bread of Heaven, the Cup of Salvation.  
Teresa of Avila prayer:  God of love, help us to remember that Christ has no body now on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours.  Ours are the eyes to see the needs of the world.  Ours are the hands with which to bless everyone now.  Ours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.
And, we’re not alone.  You’re not alone.  Christ goes with us as we witness, for Christ gives us that same Spirit which both enlivens us, gives us the courage and strength we need to go forth, and it binds us together.  We are never offering our hands to Christ’s work alone.  Even if the whole Christian church around the world dwindles, dwindles, dwindles there will always be two or three gathering, reading Scripture, sharing the meal, and being sent in Christ’s name!  [slowly]  You are not alone.  We are called together, bound by the Spirit, nourished by Christ’s body and blood, and sent.
I love that at the end of this text, after this amazing experience of being dispatched locally, nationally and internationally, after the ascension and the angels, from gazing to seeing, from dreaming to scheming—after it all...the disciples returned to Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s walk from where they experienced all this.  They don’t go out from the hillside of the Ascension:  first they gather. And they start this whole mission into the world in prayer.  “They devoted themselves in prayer.”  
That’s a picture of a Sunday morning!  A Sabbath day’s walk.  Devoting ourselves in prayer.  Telling and rehearsing the sacred story to ourselves again before we carry it outward.  Pausing for a moment to give thanks that God is both up there and right here, at the very same time.  Lifting our hands in gestures of thanksgiving, that this world is not ours to rescue, but only ours to serve.  Opening our arms in a gesture of openness of heart and mind, for God to take us once again this day, and mold us into a people with eyes set not on the cluster of clouds and a one-track dream, but on the cluster of sisters and brothers across the tables and across the borders, and a one-track Gospel message of LOVE.  

We are gathered, we are baptized, we are fed, and we are sent...with God’s many and various angles, sidled up right next to us all the way.  Let’s tell the story with joy.  Thanks be to God!  AMEN.