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, May 21, 2017

May 21 -- Sixth Sunday of Easter

Grace to you and peace from God who creates us, calls us together and sends us back out to love and serve a broken and hurting world.  AMEN.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians: we’ve got to remember Paul is writing to a specific community, in a specific place and time.  And still there is universal truth there to be found there.
The themes and the issues that were important in Paul’s day are not the same as ours, obviously. And yet there is still universal truth in his message.

Paul has come to the conclusion -- even at the beginning of his letter -- that it all depends on God’s grace.  But, it took him a long time to get there.  In his earlier days, he was so deeply convinced that he had all the answers, that he had the correct teachings and the correct traditions -- that he could earn his place of righteousness with God, through his own doing.

Paul walked that path for many years and even became so zealous in his convictions that he started hunting down and killing any who would oppose him.  Paul was convinced.

Have you ever been convinced?  Absolutely dead set in one way of seeing things, one way of knowing the world or just a single person or a situation?  “I am so right about how I see [this], I defy you to challenge me! Trust me, you won’t win.”

Have you known people like this?  Do you ever get like this?

Welcome to the land of the ego.  EgoLand (not LegoLand...there’s no L in ego :) In EgoLand, the ego is a brutal dictator, and there is no room for conversation or mystery or questioning, or even playfulness.  Ego Land is where Paul lived the first half of his life.  He was so hell-bent on taking everyone else down, on being right, successful and holy...that it actually completely blinded him to God’s reality.

Pay attention, friends in Christ, to the ego this week.  How often will you go to EgoLand these next few days?  The ego is clever, and the ego is brutal.  Your ego doesn’t leave much room for community, doesn’t make much space for discernment and conversation.  The ego doesn’t need all that nonsense, mumbo jumbo, fluffy stuff.  The ego already knows the right answer...

And the ego doesn’t appreciate prayer.

Because when we pray, that’s when we open up our hearts and our minds, that’s when we open up our hands -- and let the ego fly away.  And then, in our emptiness, Christ enters and offers us new life, true life, life abundant, life where we are one in Christ.

Paul has come to the conclusion, through an arduous journey through EgoLand, that the ego has to be released, so that God’s voice and God’s grace may be heard.  All the great things that we do -- that give us pride and a sense of accomplishment and even victory -- all that has to be released so that Christ may enter, and God’s voice may be heard, and grace received.
Being a community in Christ is being a community in prayer. [pause]  That might sound obvious, but I don’t mean just reciting prayers together, or making sure the pastor says grace before a meal when we eat together.  I mean sitting together in silence, letting go of that dictatorial ego self and inviting the Holy Spirit to come and fill our hearts and our imaginations with a new way of being...

One of our keynote address at Assembly last week talked about her community in Omaha, NE.  ELCA Pastor Chris Alexander is the Christian Partner in what’s called the Tri-Faith Initiative -- Muslims, Jews and Christians all sharing a single campus!
They coordinate and cooperate on sharing the space -- the kitchen, the classrooms, the sanctuary -- for worship, fellowship and community service.  Most things they do separately, but they have to coordinate and cooperate.  And they also program some events like service projects all together.  Why not?  Feeding the hungry, clothing the cold, fighting for education and healthcare and a place at the table -- this is everyone’s Godly business, they’ve determined.

I was excited to hear Chris talk about all the programs they were doing together, but she surprised me by spending most of her time teaching us about prayer.  Because -- How did they come up with this creative and dynamic idea and model for ministry?” Through prayer, she said.  Could it be that we might find our call to ministry by just sitting in silence together, by doing -- what looks to our world and even to our egos as -- nothing?  Just sitting in silence.

When we quiet our minds, and our hearts, and release our egos, it’s amazing what God will do.  I’m convinced Paul was a mystic.  He’s often seen as this razor-sharp systematic theologian, all scholarly and priestly, but I believe that he was in communion with the divine self-giving Trinity, which is beyond winning solutions and holier-than-you answers.  Paul, through quiet retreat and letting go (modeled to us by Jesus himself, btw), opened himself to God’s revelation, and then returned to the people of Galatia and throughout the ancient Mediterranean with the Gospel message of grace and unconditional welcome and love.

In a world where everyone’s sizing each other up and keeping score -- highest number of points gets to be closest to God (I’m talking about then, not today ;), in a competitive, cut-throat religious and secular world, Paul writes us too and offers a greeting of Christ’s peace...grace and peace.

We will not, we can not get there on our own.  We rely solely on Christ, whose everlasting arms pick us up where we let go, whose loving Spirit fills our hearts in times of despair, whose gracious peace calms our “monkey minds” in times of stress and chaos.

And together, sisters and brothers in Christ, trusting in this all-vulnerable, all-present, all-benevolent God, we arrive at the Promised Land, even today, even in this very moment.  God is here to dwell.

Paul bore witness to this One Lord Jesus Christ.  Even with his very specific letter to the specific church of the Galatians, he bears witness to the Gospel for all of us.  Prayer opens us to this reality: that we are bound to Christ, and so it is indeed no longer we who even live, but Christ who lives in us and through us.  This is our faith.  It is in God’s reality that we trust.  This is the truth, in Paul’s day, in our day and into eternity.

Thanks be to God.  AMEN.


Let’s sit together in silence for 5 minutes.  (Gina, set your watch, everyone else, take off your watch, silence phones.)  As distractions come -- and they will -- let them drift past like a raft on a river...God has something to say to you.  Inhale grace, exhale peace.

(Reflect this week on how Christ is living totally and completely  in and through you.  Through us as SVLC?)

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