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, July 30, 2017

July 30 -- 8th Sunday After Pentecost

Friends in Christ, this is the passage to read when you’re all out of words.  These words of Paul have carried us Christians through the most difficult of times.  Through death itself.  I read this most recently at the bedside right after, LM took his last breath on this earth.  All I had was my little prayer book.  I open.  At the close of the day, at the close of Lee’s life, and we read:  “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” This is the thickest, meatiest theology in Scripture.  Right here before us on a nice, summer Sunday morning.

Don’t blow this stuff off -- these words have been present at suicides.  At car accidents.  At shootings and hate crimes and church burnings in the deep South.  Battlefields in Vietnam, coroner’s labs, the falling of twin towers, stillbirths...“The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray...but that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”  [pause]  Rip this passage out of your bulletin today, fold it up and keep it in your wallet...better yet, memorize it and keep it in your heart.  These words can save you in your darkest moments, these words can raise the dead.

I had a preaching professor, who used to talk about raising the dead in our preaching.  He would practically taunt preachers (I wasn’t a fan of his, but I remember):  “Oh, you preached today?  How lovely.  Did you tell a funny story?  Did you make the people laugh?  Did you share something touching about your personal life?  Oh good.  Did you give some good advice?  Did you impress everyone with your research of and insight into the holy text?  Hmm, that’s nice.”  

I think of my professor with passages like this one today:  “When we preach,” he’d almost shout, “we raise the dead.  We tear down walls that divide us, we defy death itself as we point -- sometimes, with all evidence to the contrary -- to Jesus.”  [Reformation art]  This one Jesus changes everything! Intercedes for us “with sighs too deep for words,” promises never to abandon us, even and especially in the most painful and horrifying of moments and days.  [pause]  

It’s kind of amazing how so many of us can keep this page in our bibles so pristine and untouched.  BUt not everyone:  I remember seeing my Grandma Roschke’s bible (AK and BN, I believe, have Bible’s like this too...BK had one). Those bibles are far from mint condition: they seem like every page is tattered, the whole book swollen beyond the width of the spine, because someone’s been literally clinging onto it over the years, crinkling and folding pages, highlighting and bookmarking favorite verses, madly scribbling notes and prayers into the margins.  And the salty water stains of tears have smeared the ink.  

Often for those with bible’s like that, the page at the end of Romans Chapter 8, is an absolute disaster.  

Paul wasn’t messing around.  He gave us a life boat.

And right here, on a nice, summer Sunday morning, we get to visit it again.  Interesting contrast, really -- at least at the moment, there’s no immediate crisis.  In fact, it’s quite a lovely morning.  We’re not hanging on for dear life.  We get to walk around these verses, like taking a tour of the fire station, calmly admiring that big red vehicle, with all its ladders and hoses and First Aid.  It looks so clean today, more like it belongs in a parade, not at the foot of burning building on the scene of a terrible tragedy.  

But this firetruck-of-a-text actually and actively (it’s not just a relic) saves lives!  Dousing the very flames of death, and rescuing suffocating sinners.  “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” 

Paul gives us the most precious gift today: the very core of our theology (Know what that is?) -- “God’s got us.”  The Spirit not only sits with us, She advocates and prays on our behalf.  Jesus extends the ladder, soaks us with grace and mercy, and brings us at last to safety.  

This is enough.  AMEN.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

July 23 -- 7th Sunday After Pentecost


What is it about waiting...that changes us from the inside out?

Waiting for something to happen.  Waiting for change to come.  Long hours in a waiting room or a holding pattern…

When was the last time you had to wait for a long time?  Often  I think of airports.  This past week that airport waiting had nothing to do with my own travel, but with Micah’s: waiting to hear that he had arrived safely home.  Waiting with hopeful expectation there.  

More times than not, I’d venture to say, we hate waiting.  Waiting is not something we do well in our culture, is it?  It’s always interesting to watch how waiting affects people in our country, especially us white, upper-middle class, privileged folks, like myself--how often we get short, aggressive, even hostile when we have to wait.  Just think about our collective disdain for traffic in North County…

Yes, waiting has usually got negative connotations, but here in Paul’s letter to the Romans, waiting is associated with hope, patience, nature and freedom.

“We wait with patience, as we hope for what we do not see.”  That almost sounds downright un-American! Who waits with patience for something we don’t even know (cognitively) for sure is there?!

I’ll hang up on my own brother if he makes me wait more than one minute, so that he can take an incoming call from his wife, who’s got a short grocery list for him!  “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”
What the heck, Paul!?!  Why are you trying to slow us down?  We are trying to get places faster, accomplish more, impress each other more, see more, consume more, make more…

If you’ve never considered Paul a mystic -- that is, a person with a deep mystical awareness of God’s deep presence right here and now, and God’s deep connection to you and all creation -- consider it today.  Maybe you already do, but Paul can often be considered by many scholars as merely a systematic theologian -- a big brain, making very cool, logical, calculated cases and arguments for the reality of God in Christ in a Greco-Roman culture (much like ours: “if you can’t see it, prove it, understand it cognitively, it’s not there.”)  But here, Paul’s tapping into something that can’t grasped like that:  

It’s really hard to wrap our minds around “suffering that’s not worth comparing to the glory about to be revealed to us…”  We’d rather convince each other how bad the suffering we’re experiencing is...how the long hours we’re working makes us way more worthy of respect and admiration, maybe a raise; how the troubles in our past make us way more entitled to the good things we enjoy now; how the hardships we’ve endured make us tougher and justify our behavior.  Comparing suffering is embedded into our egocentric DNA.  In other words, it’s embedded into our “flesh”.  (Remember a couple weeks ago, I shared Fr. Richard Rohr’s suggestion? -- Whenever you read “flesh” in Paul’s writing, think “ego”.)

Pay attention in your conversations this week for “suffering one-uppers”.  Are you a “suffering one-upper”?   It often starts with, “You think that’s bad…”  Why do we feel this need to let others know how bad we’ve got it?  How hard life is for us?  How much greater my pain is than yours?  
One word: ego.  Another word: sin.
Paul, calls us, just as he called the early Christians in Rome to recognize and celebrate an even deeper reality than the reality of our sin and ego.  Yes, those are there, nagging at us.  But there’s something much deeper keeping us connected, this ancient mystic tells us again today.  There is a “glory about to be revealed” that comes alongside our sufferings.  Ready? ... 
We have been adopted.

We’re caught up in all this egotistical comparing and impatience, and yet much deeper, way down there -- last week I shared that quote from Terese of Avila, who talked about the deep well that is God’s love -- much deeper than all our selfish and competitive, suffering-one-upping stuff, is a God, who sits at the desk in the adoption agency and says, I want this one, and “signs on the dotted line” for you, in order to take you home and be -- not just your guardian -- but your “Abba”. That’s the greatest term of endearment for a parent.  (My kids have asked me why they can’t call me “Dan” like everyone else.  And I’ll say, “Everyone calls me, Dan.  But you’re the only 2 people in the whole universe, who get to call me ‘Daddy’.”)  That’s the kind of intimacy that God has with you, friends -- every single one of you, God signs for.  The egotistical, impatient, tit-for-tat stuff we get caught up in has got nothing on the way God still feels about us.  Just like when your kids bicker and argue (mine don’t, but yours probably do) -- it’s annoying, but it doesn’t even come close to the kind of love you’ve got for them.  That well is so deep, they can’t dig themselves deep enough into trouble.  

This is our God, the God Paul is describing here in Romans.  This God walks alongside us, and all creation -- that’s another thing: it’s not even simply an “every single one of us human beings” -- it’s every single creature, the whole creation waits with us, the whole cosmos is in longing for the kind of freedom we need too.  Isn’t that so deeply mystical?
The insights from our kids up at Confirmation Camp this week are too many to share.  But the wisdom and the faith of our young people -- 6th, 7th, 8th graders, and our incredible staff of 20-somethings up at Camp Luther Glen.  I love it, every time.  We ought to pass the keys of our churches over to these young people, and let them lead us -- with all their hope, wisdom, computer-savvy ;) and trust in this God of the universe.  

So much of our problem, as we get into our middle ages and more secure, more able to take care of ourselves, protect ourselves and our futures, ensure our comfort -- is that we no longer need to trust in God.  “Why go to church and be in some broken community, when I can have my own customized spirituality?”  These kids, I watched again this week, model this incredible trust in God as they lived in community -- not even aware always that they’re swimming and splashing in that deep well water of God’s grace and provision!   We tap back into that child-like faith at the end of our earthly lives -- as we rely on others and on God once again.  

But that deep water covers us here and now too, friends in Christ!  We don’t have to just be a young person or close to death to enjoy this God.  Despite our impatience and brokenness, the renewal is now.  And God is already here, holding us.  No waiting need, in this case.  The pardon and the grace, the new life is ours for the enjoying...as we wait, and even as we suffer.  The well water runs deep and never runs out.  So, let’s share that as we go out together!  
To close in prayer, I’d like to you repeat after me:
(song from South Africa we learned at camp)  
“Hum-a-na-ti.  Ko-lu-lu we-tu. Come walk with us.  The journey is long.”