Sermon, December 9, 2018, The Second Sunday of Advent

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 3rd chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord. 


In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.' “


The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ. 


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from the God who comes to save us. Yyyhy

At a precise yyu moment in time....at a precise moment in history.... 


When Donald Trump and Mike Pence were president and vice president of the United States; and Jay Inslee was governor of Washington State; and Dan Newhouse served the 4th congressional district; when Kathy Coffey was mayor of Yakima; when Elizabeth Eaton was bishop of the ELCA; and Kristen Kuempel was Bishop of Eastern Washington Idaho - the word of God comes to the people of Central Lutheran Church in Yakima, Washington.


Luke, our gospel writer for this year, set out to write an orderly account.  He cared about the details.  He listed five political rulers and two priests who were in charge when the Word of God came to John the Baptist. 


Luke was a historian.  Telling exactly when things happened is important to a historian.  Placing John the Baptist and Jesus precisely in human history is one of the gifts we receive from Luke. 


The political leaders and religious leaders were very important people in their time.  Luke names everyone who was anyone from the Emperor on down.  His first readers knew something about each of the seven people he listed.  


Most of us have only heard of a few of them because of the parts they played at the end of Jesus’ life. We would never have heard of any of them except for their relationship to Jesus. 


We do know John the Baptist, though.  We know John because the first good news in this gospel lesson is that the Word of God came to John.  


John was the son of an assistant priest and his elderly wife.  He was the child of a couple who were thought to be barren.  He was nobody special compared to the emperor and governor and the rest.  


Yet Luke makes the claim that John the Baptist is even more important than all these figures.  John is important because the Word of God came to him.  John is important because he proclaims the coming of Christ.


The Word of God that came to John was this: We are to prepare the way for the One who is to come.  


The One who is coming is bringing our salvation.  This is the second piece of good news in this lesson today. The One who is coming is worth preparing for.  


We are going to our son’s house right after Christmas.  We are very excited to visit them in Minnesota.  This is the first time they are preparing to host the family for the holiday.  This is important to them so they have already begun preparing for it.


They are important enough that they will clean and decorate the house.  They will do the laundry so the guest towels are fresh.  They will prepare the traditional holiday foods.  They are planning fun activities we can all do together.  They are buying gifts for everyone. 


The Christmas time together is special because family members are the most important people in our lives.  We prepare carefully for for the visit. 


When someone special is arriving, we must prepare.  John the Baptist tells us to prepare for the coming of the One who brings our salvation.  John tells us the One who is coming is worth preparing for.


John tells us to prepare for the Lord by repenting for the forgiveness of our sins.  Repentance means turning your life around. Repentance means setting off in a new direction, the right direction this time.


When John was born, his father Zechariah was finally able to use his voice for the first time since he doubted the angel’s prophecy that he would have a son. After naming his son, Zechariah sings a song of praise to God.  That song, from the first chapter of Luke is our psalm today.


Zechariah helps us understand what forgiveness and repentance look like. Although it seems backwards from what we expect, forgiveness comes before repentance.


That’s right, forgiveness comes first.  God saves us and forgives our sins.  We cannot earn God’s forgiveness by saying we are sorry.  It isn’t like kindergarten where you are supposed to forgive the kid who took your toy because the teacher made her say she was sorry.  


God is gracious by nature.  God forgives.  There is nothing God wants more than to be in relationship with us.  


Christian writer, Anne Lamott, says that grace always bats last.  This is true, but I would like to add that grace always bats first, too. Right now, we are in the middle of the game.  We are at the time when we are still preparing the way, still trying to find the way of peace.


Repentance follows forgiveness.  Repentance is part of the longing we have to turn our lives around and live as the people God wants us to be.  Repentance is hard work.  God is good, but we are sinners and we keep forgetting and getting lost and going the wrong way.  


Repentance is the preparation we do to welcome Christ.  It isn’t just a kindergarten version of “Sooooorrrry.” It isn’t a moping around, beating yourself up for what you did, feeling guilty all the time thing either.  


Repentance is turning your back on the past and going in the right direction.  It is not just that we make a pathway for God - we need to be sure the road is pointing the right way.  


The last thing we want to do is pave the road to the wrong place with our good intentions.  Zechariah tells us we will know when we are on the right road because it is the road that leads to peace.


You will know that you are paving the right road when the crooked things in your life look like they are starting to get straightened out.  I don’t know what those crooked things might be, but you do. You know what you did, or or what you didn’t do that you should have done.  God has already forgiven you.


You will know you are paving the right road when the rough places in your life are becoming smoother.  You know where the rough places are, too.


Preparing a pathway for God is long, hard work.  It is worth it though.  Because the One who is coming is bringing our salvation.  


This mighty Savior brings you forgiveness.  He brings you mercy.  He brings you freedom.  He brings you compassion. He brings God’s love down to earth.  And he does all this before you were even born.  There was nothing you had to do to earn it.  There is nothing you could have done.  There is nothing you can do now. It’s all grace. 


As Paul said, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”


At a precise moment in time...at a precise moment in history...

The Word of God comes to the people of Central Lutheran Church - and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.  

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. 







Sermon, November 25, 2018, Christ the King

The Holy Gospel according to John, the 18th chapter. 

Glory to you, O Lord.

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" 34 Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" 35 Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" 36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." 37 Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ. 




Grace, mercy and peace to you from the God our Creator and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.


Today is Christ the King Sunday.  This is a festival that only dates back to 1925.  You might remember that this was the decade known as the roaring 20’s. Pope Pius felt that the followers of Christ were being lured away by the increasing secularism of the world. He saw that they were choosing to live in the “kingdom” of this world rather than in the reign of God. So he set aside the last Sunday of the church year as the time to remember and reflect on who Jesus is in our lives. It seems that this is a reminder we still need nearly 100 years later. 


We just heard the gospel story that is familiar to us as the Good Friday reading.  It sounds a little strange to hear that today.  But it is the place where Pilate asks Jesus if he is King of the Jews. 


The crowd who were following Jesus had been trying to crown him King of the Jews.  Calling him that was treason.  Caesar was king.  Calling anyone else the king meant you were talking about overthrowing the government.  


Pilate was in a difficult political predicament.  He doesn’t want to be accused of treason.  He doesn’t want to upset the crowds either.  The penalty for treason was death on a cross. 


Let’s look at the scene.  We have an encounter between Jesus and Pilate. The entire passage is two chapters long but we only have one scene here. 


Try to imagine you are watching it as a play.  The stage is set in two parts. One half is Pilate’s headquarters.  The other side is the portico or patio, just outside of the headquarters.


Standing on the patio at the beginning of the scene we have the religious leaders who have brought Jesus to Pilate.  They know they have brought him to stand trial for his life.  They know what the outcome will be.


The play begins when Pilate comes out to greet Jesus and takes him into the headquarters.  The gospel writer gives us lots of stage directions.  He tells us that Pilate moves between the patio and the headquarters several times - seven times, in fact. 


Pilate wavers between Jesus and his accusers.  He keeps going back and forth.  He knows the right thing to do.   He knows the easy thing to do.  The easy thing is the thing that is best for him politically.  He is torn between the right thing and the easy thing.


We know what he decided and we know how things turned out.  We confess it in the creed every week.  Pilate chooses the easy way out. He caves to the political pressure.  He denies the truth that is right in front of him.



Here’s the question for us today - must Pilate’s fate be our fate?  Jesus says to Pilate, “You say that I am a king.  For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”


Pilate doesn’t listen, but we can listen. If we do listen, we hear Jesus say that he loves us enough to die for us.  He loves us already, the way we are right now.  There is nothing we need to do to earn his love. 


This year, and most years, the festival of Christ the King comes right after the secular festival of Black Friday.  In worship we hear the story about a very different kind of Black Friday. 


The secular festival of Black Friday has a very clear message: Shop til you drop.  Help the economy by spending money on stuff for people that they don’t need and won’t remember three months from now. 


Most of us don’t believe the myths that our lives will be enriched by fighting the traffic and crowds to get that bargain.  Most of us are disgusted by the commercialization of Christmas, yet many of us participate in it anyway.  Why?


Like Pilate, I think many of us are wavering between the truth, which is the right thing to do, and the easy way out.  We wander back and forth several times as he does. We wander between the compulsion to spend more than we have and feelings of guilt that tell us the easy answer isn’t helpful to us, those around us, or the planet. 


Like Pilate, many of us waver between the easy choice of ignoring the problems that don’t affect us personally and the truth that there are so many people who need our help and attention. We busy ourselves then soothe our consciences by doing something small that “gives back” rather that look for solutions to systemic problems.  


Pilate’s fate does not have to be ours.  Hear what Jesus says, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  Jesus is the truth. We belong to him.  We can hear his voice.


Jesus is telling us that we are loved already.  We don’t need more things.  We don’t need more good works.  We are saved by his gracious love. 


We are free to celebrate his birth among us.  We are free to give out of generosity rather than obligation. We are free to buy out of love rather than insecurity. We are blessed to focus on who we are, rather than what we lack. 


We are free not to buy people things they don’t need or want and won’t remember.  We are free to give to those who really do need our gifts. We are free to help our neighbors who are hungry or homeless.  We are free to help people all over the globe who are less fortunate than we are. We are free to work together and seek political solutions that will provide for the homeless, the hungry, those in any need. 


We are already loved.  Jesus will never love us any more than he loves us right now.  Jesus will never love us any less.  


Every day you hear voices in the commercials telling you that you are inadequate.  They say you need to buy stuff to be more popular, smell better, and be more beautiful. Those messages are lies.  You are already worthy in God’s eyes.  God opinion is the only one that really matters.  


It is not that God wants you to have less.  It isn’t really about the gifts, or the stuff you have, or the things that you buy.  God wants you to have an abundant life. 


An abundant life is a life where God wants you to have more - more love, more peace, more joy, more contentment, a greater sense of security, a profound sense of belonging, and a very clear idea that you are precious to God, the giver of all good things. 


We belong to Jesus. Pilate knew that Jesus was a king, but he didn’t really understand the full implications when Jesus said he was the truth.  Pilate made the easy choice, not the right choice.  


But God turned things upside down. Our King Jesus wore a crown of thorns. A cross was his throne. That’s how much he loves you. 


  Thanks be to Christ our King. Amen. 




Sermon, November 18, 2018

The Holy Gospel according to Mark, the 13th chapter.  

Glory to you, O Lord.

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" 2 Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." 3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" 5Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, "I am he!' and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

The Gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ. 



Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


Last summer our family got to go on a wonderful vacation to Scotland and Ireland.  Our daughter, Bethany, planned the itinerary for us.  She asked me in advance if there were any particular places I wanted to go.  My mother’s family is from Scotland and Northern Ireland so I wanted to see the places where my ancestors lived before they immigrated to Virginia in the 1650s.   I was hoping to find graves with familiar family names in old church yards.  And, of course, I wanted to visit the churches where they worshipped. 


We went to Ramelton, Ireland, one of the places where I supposedly have ancestors. When we arrived, we were greeted by a sign that said, “Welcome to fabulous Ramelton, the best wee toon in the world.”  It was an adorable little town of 1500 people. Their website mentions a missionary with my family name who went to Maryland in the 1650’s, so he could have been a relative or an ancestor. We went to the old church yard.  The East wall and parts of the north and south walls of the church were still standing.  The rest of the building was gone.  Unfortunately, the cemetery didn’t have any graves earlier than the 1800s, so we didn’t find any relatives there. 


Then we went to Sligo Abbey which was built in 1252. It was a Dominican Priory.  It accidentally burnt down in 1414 so they rebuilt it. There were wars and rumors of wars and the Abbey was damaged in the siege of 1595 and ruined by an invading army in 1641.  The stones that remain are from the 13th and 15th centuries.  


When you walk around, you can see the stone paths where the walls used to be. There are signs telling you where the monks stayed and where the kitchen had been.  The altar was still standing where the chapel used to be.  As we walked around, though, all we could really see were the graves. In the centuries following the the destruction of the abbey, wealthy people paid for the privilege of being buried there.  The church had become a cemetery.  


As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" 2 Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”


This passage from Mark 13 has been called the “little apocalypse.”  Apocalypse means revelation, a message that pulls back the curtain and reveals the truth.  This time of the year when the daylight becomes shorter in our hemisphere and we approach the end of our liturgical church year, we have readings about the end times. 


It can be hard to find hope and see any good news these days.  It’s dark when you get to work and dark before you go home for supper. Fires have destroyed so much in California.  Thousands of people have lost everything they owned; hundreds have lost their lives.  


There have been over 300 mass shootings in this country this year.  It’s becoming almost routine to hear about them on the news.   Then we hear about the thousands of people who are fleeing poverty, political oppression, and gang violence in Central America, carrying their children and all their possessions for miles every day, desperate for the opportunity for a new start at life. 


It was sad for me and my family to see that what had once been big, beautiful church buildings were not much more than rubble and a few signs about where things used to be. It was sad to see once thriving churches turned into museums and cemeteries, especially in places where nation rose up against nation, places that my ancestors left because of famines. 


And yet, while we were there, the bells from the new church across the street were chiming. 


This passage of scripture, this apocalypse, is a clear reminder that the things we build may be beautiful and useful for a time, but the things we build will not last.  The stones the disciples pointed out to Jesus were huge.  One of them would not fit inside this sanctuary.  Herod the Great had completely renovated and expanded the Temple a few years earlier.  This Jerusalem temple was magnificent, yet it was destroyed completely in 70 AD by the Romans. Archeologists occasionally find one of the original stones. 


Yet, this passage of scripture is a message of hope.  Jesus wasn’t one to look at the world through rose tinted glasses.  His message was not that everything will be great if you just believe in God.  


I find hope in those ruined churches, those graveyards.  It doesn’t matter to me that I didn’t find any graves of my ancestors either, because I have inherited something precious from them, and from all those people who worshiped with them in those places.  You see, I don’t need their buildings.  They passed down the faith.  They passed down the message of Jesus Christ. 


I find hope in those piles of rocks and those graves.  I remember what Jesus can do with a grave.  And, maybe, I am a descendant of that pastor who went to Maryland as a missionary in 1658.  If not a biological descendant, I have still inherited his gift of faith. 


Valarie Kaur, in her message to the interfaith watch night service in 2016 said, “What if the darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?”  


What if?  Jesus compared to pains of this present life to the pains of a woman in labor.  I have been in labor twice.  If you have been there, you know what I mean. The nurse who taught the childbirth class the first time I was pregnant described labor pains to us.  She said it feels like an elephant has his foot on your belly.  As labor progresses, the elephant picks up the other three feet. 


I didn’t believe her when she first said that.  And with my first pregnancy, I had some good medication.  The second time I had a baby, they didn’t give me any drugs, and Bethany weighed over 9 pounds.  That nurse was right about the pain. But, I have 2 beautiful, wonderful children who were worth every second of pain.  


Jesus says, that in this present life, we are just at the beginning of the birth pangs. But, we know that labor pains are the signal that new life is near.  


There is an old parable about two babies. The original version is attributed to Pablo Molinaro. Perhaps you have heard it. (https://thebacajourney.com/two-babies-talking-in-the-womb/)



The Parable

In a mother’s womb were two babies.  The first baby asked the other:  “Do you believe in life after delivery?”

The second baby replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery.  Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

“Nonsense,” said the first. “There is no life after delivery.  What would that life be?”

“I don’t know, but there will be more light than here.  Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths.”

The doubting baby laughed. “This is absurd!  Walking is impossible.  And eat with our mouths?  Ridiculous.  The umbilical cord supplies nutrition.  Life after delivery is to be excluded.  The umbilical cord is too short.”

The second baby held his ground. “I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here.”

The first baby replied, “No one has ever come back from there.  Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery it is nothing but darkness and anxiety and it takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the twin, “but certainly we will see mother and she will take care of us.”

“Mother?” The first baby guffawed. “You believe in mother?  Where is she now?” 

The second baby calmly and patiently tried to explain. “She is all around us.  It is in her that we live. Without her there would not be this world.”

“Ha. I don’t see her, so it’s only logical that she doesn’t exist.”  

To which the other replied, “Sometimes when you’re in silence you can hear her, you can perceive her.  I believe there is a reality after delivery and we are here to prepare ourselves for that reality when it comes….” 

My friends, this present life is just the beginning of the birth pangs.  That is the good news for today.  Amen.


The Holy Gospel according to Mark, the 13th chapter.  

Glory to you, O Lord.

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" 2 Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." 3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" 5Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, "I am he!' and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

The Gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ. 



Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


Last summer our family got to go on a wonderful vacation to Scotland and Ireland.  Our daughter, Bethany, planned the itinerary for us.  She asked me in advance if there were any particular places I wanted to go.  My mother’s family is from Scotland and Northern Ireland so I wanted to see the places where my ancestors lived before they immigrated to Virginia in the 1650s.   I was hoping to find graves with familiar family names in old church yards.  And, of course, I wanted to visit the churches where they worshipped. 


We went to Ramelton, Ireland, one of the places where I supposedly have ancestors. When we arrived, we were greeted by a sign that said, “Welcome to fabulous Ramelton, the best wee toon in the world.”  It was an adorable little town of 1500 people. Their website mentions a missionary with my family name who went to Maryland in the 1650’s, so he could have been a relative or an ancestor. We went to the old church yard.  The East wall and parts of the north and south walls of the church were still standing.  The rest of the building was gone.  Unfortunately, the cemetery didn’t have any graves earlier than the 1800s, so we didn’t find any relatives there. 


Then we went to Sligo Abbey which was built in 1252. It was a Dominican Priory.  It accidentally burnt down in 1414 so they rebuilt it. There were wars and rumors of wars and the Abbey was damaged in the siege of 1595 and ruined by an invading army in 1641.  The stones that remain are from the 13th and 15th centuries.  


When you walk around, you can see the stone paths where the walls used to be. There are signs telling you where the monks stayed and where the kitchen had been.  The altar was still standing where the chapel used to be.  As we walked around, though, all we could really see were the graves. In the centuries following the the destruction of the abbey, wealthy people paid for the privilege of being buried there.  The church had become a cemetery.  


As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" 2 Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”


This passage from Mark 13 has been called the “little apocalypse.”  Apocalypse means revelation, a message that pulls back the curtain and reveals the truth.  This time of the year when the daylight becomes shorter in our hemisphere and we approach the end of our liturgical church year, we have readings about the end times. 


It can be hard to find hope and see any good news these days.  It’s dark when you get to work and dark before you go home for supper. Fires have destroyed so much in California.  Thousands of people have lost everything they owned; hundreds have lost their lives.  


There have been over 300 mass shootings in this country this year.  It’s becoming almost routine to hear about them on the news.   Then we hear about the thousands of people who are fleeing poverty, political oppression, and gang violence in Central America, carrying their children and all their possessions for miles every day, desperate for the opportunity for a new start at life. 


It was sad for me and my family to see that what had once been big, beautiful church buildings were not much more than rubble and a few signs about where things used to be. It was sad to see once thriving churches turned into museums and cemeteries, especially in places where nation rose up against nation, places that my ancestors left because of famines. 


And yet, while we were there, the bells from the new church across the street were chiming. 


This passage of scripture, this apocalypse, is a clear reminder that the things we build may be beautiful and useful for a time, but the things we build will not last.  The stones the disciples pointed out to Jesus were huge.  One of them would not fit inside this sanctuary.  Herod the Great had completely renovated and expanded the Temple a few years earlier.  This Jerusalem temple was magnificent, yet it was destroyed completely in 70 AD by the Romans. Archeologists occasionally find one of the original stones. 


Yet, this passage of scripture is a message of hope.  Jesus wasn’t one to look at the world through rose tinted glasses.  His message was not that everything will be great if you just believe in God.  


I find hope in those ruined churches, those graveyards.  It doesn’t matter to me that I didn’t find any graves of my ancestors either, because I have inherited something precious from them, and from all those people who worshiped with them in those places.  You see, I don’t need their buildings.  They passed down the faith.  They passed down the message of Jesus Christ. 


I find hope in those piles of rocks and those graves.  I remember what Jesus can do with a grave.  And, maybe, I am a descendant of that pastor who went to Maryland as a missionary in 1658.  If not a biological descendant, I have still inherited his gift of faith. 


Valarie Kaur, in her message to the interfaith watch night service in 2016 said, “What if the darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?”  


What if?  Jesus compared to pains of this present life to the pains of a woman in labor.  I have been in labor twice.  If you have been there, you know what I mean. The nurse who taught the childbirth class the first time I was pregnant described labor pains to us.  She said it feels like an elephant has his foot on your belly.  As labor progresses, the elephant picks up the other three feet. 


I didn’t believe her when she first said that.  And with my first pregnancy, I had some good medication.  The second time I had a baby, they didn’t give me any drugs, and Bethany weighed over 9 pounds.  That nurse was right about the pain. But, I have 2 beautiful, wonderful children who were worth every second of pain.  


Jesus says, that in this present life, we are just at the beginning of the birth pangs. But, we know that labor pains are the signal that new life is near.  


There is an old parable about two babies. The original version is attributed to Pablo Molinaro. Perhaps you have heard it. (https://thebacajourney.com/two-babies-talking-in-the-womb/)



The Parable

In a mother’s womb were two babies.  The first baby asked the other:  “Do you believe in life after delivery?”

The second baby replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery.  Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

“Nonsense,” said the first. “There is no life after delivery.  What would that life be?”

“I don’t know, but there will be more light than here.  Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths.”

The doubting baby laughed. “This is absurd!  Walking is impossible.  And eat with our mouths?  Ridiculous.  The umbilical cord supplies nutrition.  Life after delivery is to be excluded.  The umbilical cord is too short.”

The second baby held his ground. “I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here.”

The first baby replied, “No one has ever come back from there.  Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery it is nothing but darkness and anxiety and it takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the twin, “but certainly we will see mother and she will take care of us.”

“Mother?” The first baby guffawed. “You believe in mother?  Where is she now?” 

The second baby calmly and patiently tried to explain. “She is all around us.  It is in her that we live. Without her there would not be this world.”

“Ha. I don’t see her, so it’s only logical that she doesn’t exist.”  

To which the other replied, “Sometimes when you’re in silence you can hear her, you can perceive her.  I believe there is a reality after delivery and we are here to prepare ourselves for that reality when it comes….” 

My friends, this present life is just the beginning of the birth pangs.  That is the good news for today.  Amen.



The Holy Gospel according to Mark, the 13th chapter.  

Glory to you, O Lord.

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" 2 Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." 3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" 5Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, "I am he!' and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

The Gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ. 



Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


Last summer our family got to go on a wonderful vacation to Scotland and Ireland.  Our daughter, Bethany, planned the itinerary for us.  She asked me in advance if there were any particular places I wanted to go.  My mother’s family is from Scotland and Northern Ireland so I wanted to see the places where my ancestors lived before they immigrated to Virginia in the 1650s.   I was hoping to find graves with familiar family names in old church yards.  And, of course, I wanted to visit the churches where they worshipped. 


We went to Ramelton, Ireland, one of the places where I supposedly have ancestors. When we arrived, we were greeted by a sign that said, “Welcome to fabulous Ramelton, the best wee toon in the world.”  It was an adorable little town of 1500 people. Their website mentions a missionary with my family name who went to Maryland in the 1650’s, so he could have been a relative or an ancestor. We went to the old church yard.  The East wall and parts of the north and south walls of the church were still standing.  The rest of the building was gone.  Unfortunately, the cemetery didn’t have any graves earlier than the 1800s, so we didn’t find any relatives there. 


Then we went to Sligo Abbey which was built in 1252. It was a Dominican Priory.  It accidentally burnt down in 1414 so they rebuilt it. There were wars and rumors of wars and the Abbey was damaged in the siege of 1595 and ruined by an invading army in 1641.  The stones that remain are from the 13th and 15th centuries.  


When you walk around, you can see the stone paths where the walls used to be. There are signs telling you where the monks stayed and where the kitchen had been.  The altar was still standing where the chapel used to be.  As we walked around, though, all we could really see were the graves. In the centuries following the the destruction of the abbey, wealthy people paid for the privilege of being buried there.  The church had become a cemetery.  


As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" 2 Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”


This passage from Mark 13 has been called the “little apocalypse.”  Apocalypse means revelation, a message that pulls back the curtain and reveals the truth.  This time of the year when the daylight becomes shorter in our hemisphere and we approach the end of our liturgical church year, we have readings about the end times. 


It can be hard to find hope and see any good news these days.  It’s dark when you get to work and dark before you go home for supper. Fires have destroyed so much in California.  Thousands of people have lost everything they owned; hundreds have lost their lives.  


There have been over 300 mass shootings in this country this year.  It’s becoming almost routine to hear about them on the news.   Then we hear about the thousands of people who are fleeing poverty, political oppression, and gang violence in Central America, carrying their children and all their possessions for miles every day, desperate for the opportunity for a new start at life. 


It was sad for me and my family to see that what had once been big, beautiful church buildings were not much more than rubble and a few signs about where things used to be. It was sad to see once thriving churches turned into museums and cemeteries, especially in places where nation rose up against nation, places that my ancestors left because of famines. 


And yet, while we were there, the bells from the new church across the street were chiming. 


This passage of scripture, this apocalypse, is a clear reminder that the things we build may be beautiful and useful for a time, but the things we build will not last.  The stones the disciples pointed out to Jesus were huge.  One of them would not fit inside this sanctuary.  Herod the Great had completely renovated and expanded the Temple a few years earlier.  This Jerusalem temple was magnificent, yet it was destroyed completely in 70 AD by the Romans. Archeologists occasionally find one of the original stones. 


Yet, this passage of scripture is a message of hope.  Jesus wasn’t one to look at the world through rose tinted glasses.  His message was not that everything will be great if you just believe in God.  


I find hope in those ruined churches, those graveyards.  It doesn’t matter to me that I didn’t find any graves of my ancestors either, because I have inherited something precious from them, and from all those people who worshiped with them in those places.  You see, I don’t need their buildings.  They passed down the faith.  They passed down the message of Jesus Christ. 


I find hope in those piles of rocks and those graves.  I remember what Jesus can do with a grave.  And, maybe, I am a descendant of that pastor who went to Maryland as a missionary in 1658.  If not a biological descendant, I have still inherited his gift of faith. 


Valarie Kaur, in her message to the interfaith watch night service in 2016 said, “What if the darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?”  


What if?  Jesus compared to pains of this present life to the pains of a woman in labor.  I have been in labor twice.  If you have been there, you know what I mean. The nurse who taught the childbirth class the first time I was pregnant described labor pains to us.  She said it feels like an elephant has his foot on your belly.  As labor progresses, the elephant picks up the other three feet. 


I didn’t believe her when she first said that.  And with my first pregnancy, I had some good medication.  The second time I had a baby, they didn’t give me any drugs, and Bethany weighed over 9 pounds.  That nurse was right about the pain. But, I have 2 beautiful, wonderful children who were worth every second of pain.  


Jesus says, that in this present life, we are just at the beginning of the birth pangs. But, we know that labor pains are the signal that new life is near.  


There is an old parable about two babies. The original version is attributed to Pablo Molinaro. Perhaps you have heard it. (https://thebacajourney.com/two-babies-talking-in-the-womb/)



The Parable

In a mother’s womb were two babies.  The first baby asked the other:  “Do you believe in life after delivery?”

The second baby replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery.  Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

“Nonsense,” said the first. “There is no life after delivery.  What would that life be?”

“I don’t know, but there will be more light than here.  Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths.”

The doubting baby laughed. “This is absurd!  Walking is impossible.  And eat with our mouths?  Ridiculous.  The umbilical cord supplies nutrition.  Life after delivery is to be excluded.  The umbilical cord is too short.”

The second baby held his ground. “I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here.”

The first baby replied, “No one has ever come back from there.  Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery it is nothing but darkness and anxiety and it takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the twin, “but certainly we will see mother and she will take care of us.”

“Mother?” The first baby guffawed. “You believe in mother?  Where is she now?” 

The second baby calmly and patiently tried to explain. “She is all around us.  It is in her that we live. Without her there would not be this world.”

“Ha. I don’t see her, so it’s only logical that she doesn’t exist.”  

To which the other replied, “Sometimes when you’re in silence you can hear her, you can perceive her.  I believe there is a reality after delivery and we are here to prepare ourselves for that reality when it comes….” 

My friends, this present life is just the beginning of the birth pangs.  That is the good news for today.  Amen.



















Sermon November 11, 2018

Sermon for November 11, 2018 (Sorry, due to technical difficulties, the video is unavailable this week.)

The holy gospel according to Mark, the 12th chapter.  

Glory to you, O Lord.

8As [Jesus] taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

  41He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


We hear stories about poor widows today. In the times of the Old and New Testament, being a widow nearly always meant you were poor.  It meant that your voice was not heard. Your opinion and your needs were not considered when important decisions were made. If you were mentioned in a story, your name was left out. Yet, throughout the scriptures, God sees the widows and commands the people to care for them.  


I would like to share some stories today from the perspective of four widows.  The first is the widow in today’s gospel story.  The second is a widow I met when I served Tema parish in Tanzania.  The third is a widow who lives in Indiana. The fourth widow could be from anywhere in rural America.

  

I am going to give these anonymous widows names, and add details as I share their stories.


Joanna’s Story 

My name is Joanna and I live in the city of Jerusalem.  My husband died a few years ago.  I still have the small house that we lived in while we were married.  We had a son, but he died when he was little.  


I was already past the age of child-bearing when my husband died.  That is why I did not have to marry my husband’s younger brother.  I am glad for that and I am sure his wife is relieved.   They help me when they can, but they have their own family to take care of and I understand. 


I have a small plot of land with a little garden.  I also glean from the fields after the harvest and get some grain to use for my bread.  We didn’t have rain when we needed it this year, so it has not been a good year for the crops.  I pray next year the weather will be better.  


I went to the Temple today to pray in the court of the women.  Before I left home, I took out my last two small coins that I had safely hidden, so that I could put something in the offering.  I don’t often have money, but I was able to save these coins from selling a few vegetables this week. It’s all I have, but God will provide.


As I entered the Temple Court, I went to the end of the line of worshippers.  I could see the Temple scribes at the front.   They have beautiful long robes.  How well educated and important they are! 


There are many other rich people in front of me in line.  There are thirteen different donation chests in the temple court, all labeled with the purpose for the offering.  The well dressed rich people make a big show of their offerings, putting many coins in each chest.  All those coins make a loud noise as they rattle in the brass chests.  I think God must be very pleased with them and their generosity.


I put my two little coins in one of the donation chests.  I am sure that no one heard the sound of them or even saw me.  It is embarrassing how little noise they make.  I like to come here to pray, but I come alone and no one notices me.  I wonder sometimes if God even sees me or hears my prayers.  


Jesus sees Joanna!  He saw her and he told the disciples that her gift was far greater than all the gifts from the rich people, the ones who made a show of their offerings.  Jesus valued her gift, no matter what the others at the Temple thought.  Jesus recognized the dignity of her offering.

 

Esther’s Story

My name is Esther and I live in the village of Tema in the Hai district of Tanzania.  On a clear day, you can see Mt. Kilimanjaro from my house.  I am 55 years old.  After my husband died 10 years ago from malaria, I took work whenever I could get it, cleaning and cooking for people in the village.  Then, after only 2 years, I got sick and I lost my eyesight.  


My oldest daughter took me into her home.  She and her husband have a little 2 bedroom house for themselves and their four children.  I sleep on a mat on the living room floor.  I am not much help with the children, but I do the best I can to help my daughter and not be a burden.  


I am trying to help the children learn a few words of our tribal language, Chagga.  Everyone is speaking Swahili at home these days and learning some English in school.  I am so glad the children can go to school, since my parents couldn’t afford the fees for me. 


My favorite time of the week is Sunday morning.  I love going to church with my daughter and her family.  The singing is the best part.  Once a month we sing hymns in Chagga. 


The choir and the congregation sing during the offering time, too.  The elders put the baskets up front and the people walk up to put in their money offerings or some offering from their garden, like bananas or avocados, or even eggs from their chickens.  


Since I can’t see, my daughter waits until near the end of the line to help me walk up there.  I don’t have any thing to give.  My back is to the congregation, so they can’t see that I just pretend to put something in the basket each week.  


Jesus sees Esther!

When I was serving as pastor at Tema Parish, I sat up front during the offering, and I could see Esther and her daughter come up every week. I was the only person in the church who could see her, but Jesus saw her. She didn’t have to do what she did.  She could have just sat there in the pew and no one would have minded.  


Esther’s gift was walking up front and showing everyone that the offering matters, that we give out of thankfulness for all God has given us.  Even a poor blind widow can be thankful to God for her life. 


Elizabeth’s story

My name is Elizabeth, but I go by Liz.  I live in Indiana now, with my son and his family.  I am Burmese, but our country is now called Myanmar.  I haven’t been home for a long time and I will probably never be able to go back.  We were refugees in Thailand for many years, waiting for approval to enter the United States.  My husband died while we were there.


I struggle to say a few English words.  That’s why I love my church so much.  They are all people like me and they sing and pray in our language.  It is the only time all week when I can get out of the house and really talk to people.


My church has a basket in the entryway.  There are envelopes in there with a dollar in each one.  If you don’t have any offering, you can take one and put that in when it's time to go up front.  They don’t want anyone to be embarrassed when we go up front to put in our gifts.  


I always have to take one of those envelopes. I try to take it when no one is looking.  I wish I had something of my own to give. 

Jesus sees Liz.  He blessed her with a loving church family who provided for her so that she could feel a part of the whole worship service, so that she could have dignity and self-respect.


Lois’s story

My name is Lois and I live in rural America. It doesn’t matter where, I could be your neighbor.  I hate that I have to call the food pantry.  I hate that I have to go there.  I used to believe that everyone who worked hard could take care of themselves.  I used to believe that only lazy people asked for help. 


My husband and I got along OK.  We didn’t have much, but we could eat and pay our bills every month.  But then, my husband got sick.  He was sick for a long time before he died.   Medicare didn’t pay for anywhere near all of the bills and I had to quit work to take care of him.  The medical bills took everything we had.


I hate that I have to ask for help, but this social security check only goes so far.  The only place I can afford to rent doesn’t have much insulation, so the utility bills are terrible.  I can’t risk having my lights and heat cut off, so I had to call the food pantry.  


I told them I can’t pay them back with money, but I said I would volunteer down there a few hours, whenever I can get a ride.


Jesus sees Lois.  He loves her and values the gift of her time,  given to help others. He blesses her for her care and concern and her compassion for those who find themselves in need. 


These widows all wondered if God saw them, if God even noticed them. They wondered if their small gifts of money or time or even their gestures in place of a gift mattered at all.  They wondered if things they did ever made a difference. 


There is good news for these widows and for us.  Jesus sees them and Jesus sees us. No matter who you are, no matter how small you think your gift is, even if your gift is only a gesture, even if no one knows your name, even if no one notices you at all  - Jesus sees you.  


Jesus recognizes you.  Jesus calls you by name.  Jesus values what you do.  Jesus gives you dignity.


What gift do you have?  Is there something you feel isn’t worth giving because someone else has more to give?  Is there something you feel you shouldn’t volunteer to do because someone else might be better at it?  


Jesus sees your circumstances.  He is with you in the midst of all your struggles and challenges. He knows the pain of all those who are discriminated against because of their ethnicity or their language or their gender or their marital status.  


God sees even the smallest gifts, the smallest gestures and gives them dignity. God says that your salvation doesn’t depend on giving a loud noisy gift or two tiny mites. God will use whatever you give to proclaim the good news that Jesus loves you enough to go to the cross for you.  Jesus loves you enough to rise from the grave for you.


Jesus honors your gifts and he honors you. He invites you to really see your neighbors and honor their gifts, too.  Amen. 


All Saints Sunday, November 4, 2018

The holy gospel according to John, the 11th chapter.  Glory to you, O Lord.

32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" 37 But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?" 38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." 40 Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me." 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go.”

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.  




Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.


This morning we come together as the Christian family, the family of Christ, to celebrate the festival of All Saints.  This is the day the church remembers all those who have died in the faith.  In a sense, it’s the Christian version of “Memorial Day.”  


It is the day we come together to especially remember those members of our congregation who have died in the past year.  We celebrate those who were baptized this year and joined the church on earth.  We remember everyone we have loved over the years, who has claimed the promises of their baptism, and now rests with God. 


Our first reading today is the beautiful passage from Isaiah about the feast of fat things with well aged wines.  The prophet writes that God will swallow up death forever and wipe away every tear from our eyes.


Our second reading is from the book of Revelation where St. John writes about the new heaven and new earth - a glorious picture of life at the end of time when death will be no more and there will be no more pain, or mourning, or crying. 


Isn’t it interesting that in the first two readings, there is no more crying, all tears are wiped away. Then we get to the gospel lesson, the one with the well known verse, “Jesus wept.”  After weeping, Jesus raises his friend Lazarus from the dead.  It’s just a temporary resurrection, though, not like the resurrection of Jesus, not like the resurrection we will all experience on the last day when the trumpet sounds and God makes all things new.


So why the juxtaposition of weeping and tears being wiped away? Why raise Lazarus from the dead, only to have him die again? It seems contradictory, doesn’t it? Why raise someone who has to die again later? 


I think the message for us today is that although we have the reassurance of the resurrection at the end of days, God isn’t finished with us yet. 


Do you remember that saying?  “Be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet.”  I think that might be one of the points of the gospel today.  Lutherans are big on dichotomies.  We talk about the reign of God as something that is “Already, but Not Yet.”  


And maybe that’s the reason for combining the Lazarus story and the first two lessons today.  Maybe Jesus is trying to tell us that God isn’t finished with us yet.  We still have work to do here on earth.  


Lazarus still had work to do on earth.  His sisters depended on him.  In addition to their sorrow over the death of the brother they loved, Mary and Martha had another reason to grieve his death. As single women, they had no means to earn their own living in that culture, but were dependent on their nearest male relative for economic support. His death threw the family into turmoil.  


But God wasn’t finished with Lazarus yet.  This wasn’t just another miracle.  Lazarus, Mary, and Martha were friends of Jesus.  Jesus was deeply moved by the sisters’ grief and the grief of the crowd.  He wanted to show them how much God cares about us when we are grieving.  


So, what does Jesus do?  Jesus wept with the people who were grieving.  When you are grieving, Jesus weeps with you.  


The next thing Jesus did was pray.  When you are grieving, Jesus prays for you.  Remember this: When you are grieving - Jesus weeps with you. Jesus prays for you.


How often have we been like Mary and said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died?”  Or insert whatever happened that you wish had not happened.  “Lord, if you had been here…” Like Mary, we hope for a miracle, we want Jesus to bring back our loved ones, to restore them to community, to raise them from the dead, like he did for Lazarus. We also still want a Jesus who’ll show up and prevent mass shootings, provide housing for all homeless and end world hunger and all violence in the world.


Jesus isn’t with us now the way he was with Mary and Martha and the disciples, those biblical saints we honor on their special days. He isn’t walking around on the earth, raising people like he raised Lazarus.  But we still have his word and we still have the witness of the saints.  And, most importantly, we have his promise that he is always with us.  We have his promise that he will come again and make all things new.


It’s important to note what Jesus said after Lazarus came out of his tomb.  He told the crowd, "Unbind him, and let him go.”  


“Unbind him, and let him go.”  God wasn’t finished with Lazarus yet.  God still had work for him to do for a while here on earth.  


God isn’t finished with us yet either.  We remember those we have lost, especially those who have died this year.  We weep for a time.  Jesus weeps with us.  Jesus prays for us.  


But God isn’t finished with us yet.  God still has work for us to do for a while here on earth.  Some of us are sitting with Jesus and weeping and praying.  For some of us, it’s time for us to be called out of the tombs of our grief.  Some of us are being called out of the graves of our sadness.  


The rest of us are being called to “Unbind them, and let them go.”  We are called to the work of walking beside our grieving friends, weeping and praying with them, and then unbinding them.  Because God isn’t finished with any of us yet.  


Jesus died and rose to swallow up death forever. Jesus died and rose that we might live in that new heaven and eat that feast of rich food and drink that well aged wine, strained clear.


And when that last trumpet sounds and the dead are raised, and God wipes every tear from our eyes, when the gates and the ancient doors are lifted up, and the King of Glory comes in, then we will sing with all the saints in glory.  In the meantime… God isn’t finished with us yet.  Let us be glad and rejoice in Christ’s salvation!  Amen.




Reformation Sunday, October 28, 2018

The holy gospel according to John, the 8th chapter.  

Glory to you, O Lord.


31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." 33 They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, "You will be made free'?" 34 Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.


The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.


Sermon Reformation 2018


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.  


We celebrate with Heather today as she affirms her faith in the rite of Confirmation.  As we rejoice with her this reformation Sunday, we will focus on two key words - truth and freedom. 


Jesus says to his disciples and to us: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”


Truth and freedom are the two key words for us today. We hear a great deal about truth and freedom these days in the news. So we ask the perpetual Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” 


Truth is important.  People need the truth to get along in the world. If you have beliefs that aren't true, you are going to have problems.  You will make bad decisions based on false information and fake news. 


Telling something that is not true can get you in trouble.  We can all remember getting trouble for telling fibs when we were little. If you are an adult and you do that in a courtroom, you can be in legal trouble. 


Truth has had a variety of meanings or understandings throughout history. The dictionary gives the first meaning as being faithful or constant.  Think about it as being true to your principles.   


Being true means being faithful to what you say you stand for - being true to your word.  In this definition, being true is also being sincere in your actions.


The next definition of truth is factual truth.  Something is true if it exists.  Something is true if it actually happened the way you say it happened.  


The fact checkers who monitor our news and our election process are concerned with this meaning of truth.  They check carefully to see if the politicians are stating actual facts, or embellishing them, or just plain making things up. 


The fact checkers have a scale that starts at true, then goes to mostly true, half true, mostly false, false, to finally - “liar, liar, pants on fire.”  Fact checkers don’t see truth as black and white.  They see stages.  They see shades of gray.  


The fact checkers would probably call, “Pants on fire” to Jesus’ audience in today’s gospel.  They said, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.”  What???  


Have they totally forgotten the most important story in their history? The descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people, were slaves in Egypt.  And they were slaves to the Assyrians, the Persians, and the Romans.  


Another definition of truth goes beyond the facts.  There is something called ultimate truth.  Jesus is usually talking about ultimate truth, the deeper meaning. 


For example, Jesus uses parables to teach people the deeper truth about their relationship with God.  C.S. Lewis writes about the truth of the law that was written at the beginning of history which explains how the world works, and the deeper truth, the truth of God’s love, that was written before the dawn of time. 


For example, the parable stories themselves are not historical truth.  There was never really a person who was the Good Samaritan.  And an actual man did not sell everything he owned to buy a field with a pearl in it. 


Does it matter if these stories did not happen in history?  Does that make them untrue?  Of course not.  They are true because they teach us about our relationship with God. They teach about the deeper truth of God’s love. 


Jesus is talking about ultimate truth, our relationship with God, when he tells the disciples two important truths in today’s gospel. 


Here is the first truth.  It is a hard truth.  Jesus tells the Jews who believed in him that they are slaves to sin. They don’t want to hear it. They are in total denial.  They have forgotten their past.    But, here is an even harder truth. Jesus is talking to us, too.  We are also slaves to sin.  


When we are slaves to sin, we cannot free ourselves.  Sin makes it hard for me to trust anyone.  Sin makes me think that people are out to take advantage of me, or make fun of me, or hurt me in some way.


Sin makes it hard for me to share with other people.  It makes me afraid that there isn’t enough to go around and I should get mine first.  


It makes it hard for me to see the future the way God sees it, and the way  Jesus preaches it.  It makes me want to keep things the way they are and just do the best I can for myself, without taking care of my neighbor. 


And it isn’t just my individual sin that enslaves me. The whole world is broken and fallen.  Every decision I make - from the way I spend my money to the way I spend my time - can contribute in negative ways to the health of the planet and the well-being of my neighbors, as well as people who live in other countries and on other continents. 


The words, “We are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves” may be the truest words we speak every week.  When someone asks us how we are doing, we can say that we are fine, but the truth will always be that we do not live up to the vision God has for us.


The truth is, we can grow and do better, but we can never fully change ourselves.  We can help the world, but we ourselves can never save it.  We can never save ourselves or anyone else. 


That is the first truth - we are slaves to sin.


The second truth is the good news for today.  The second truth Jesus tells - is about God’s great love for us. The second truth is about freedom. 


Slaves are owned by their masters.  They can be bought and sold.  Their families, their wives, their husbands, their children can be bought and sold.  They have no control.  It isn’t their house. They are at the mercy of the master.


Freedom means new life for a slave.  Former President Franklin Roosevelt talked about four freedoms that should be world-wide objectives: Freedom of speech, Freedom to worship God, Freedom from want, and Freedom from fear. A slave has none of these. 


The children in the house have a permanent place.  They have security.  They have a home. They have a future. They have freedom from want and fear.  They have freedom of speech and freedom to worship God. 


If you are a child in God’s house, you have these freedoms. You have been redeemed from your slavery to sin.  You have been forgiven.  


One version of the Lord’s Prayer says, “Forgive us our debts.”  Our sin is like a debt we owe.  When we forgive someone we take on the burden of their debt.  We don’t keep asking them to repay us or make it up to us.  We no longer remind them of what they did.  We don’t hold it against them. 

When God forgives our sins, Christ takes on the burden of the debt.  Christ no longer reminds us of what we did.  Christ does not ask us to repay, not that we ever could. 


The truth that makes us free is the truth at the heart of the 95 theses that Luther nailed to the Wittenberg church door over 500 years ago.  It is the truth that we are sinners, sinners that no indulgences or good works could ever redeem.  


It is the truth that we are sinners for whom Christ died.  We are the sinners who are now free to love and serve our neighbors, care for the poor, share all that we have, and spread the good news of Jesus Christ.  


It is the truth that we who have died with Christ - will rise with Christ. We will have new life.  To God be the glory, now and forever. Amen.

22nd Sunday after Pentecost

Gospel and Sermon for October 21, 2018

The holy Gospel according to Mark, the 10th chapter.  

Glory to you, O Lord.

35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." 36 And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" 37 And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." 38 But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" 39 They replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." 41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


It was the third time Jesus told his disciples what was going to happen to him.  He says that he will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes.  He will be mocked, flogged, and killed.  On the third day he will rise again. 


James and John, along with Peter, have been closer to Jesus than any of the disciples.  But they still don’t get what he is teaching them.  


The first time Jesus tells the disciples what is going to happen is right after Peter has declared that Jesus is the Messiah.  Then Jesus started talking about suffering and death and Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him.  Peter, the first to declare that Jesus is the Messiah, didn’t really understand what he was saying.


The next time Jesus talked about his upcoming suffering and death, the disciples were afraid to say anything.  Nobody asked him about it. They were scared to ask the teacher a question.


The third time Jesus talked about his death and resurrection, James and John, sons of Zebedee, are the ones to come forward.  They haven’t gotten the message any better than Peter did, but they have a different approach.


They know Jesus is the Messiah, but they still see the Messiah as an earthly king.   They want to be sitting in the best seats right next to him at the royal banquet.  They are bold enough to ask Jesus about it, too.  


The other disciples are not very happy with the brothers’ request.  It isn’t that the others understand Jesus anymore than James and John.  They just wish they had thought of it first.


Before we get started feeling all superior to the dumb disciples who don’t understand Jesus’ teaching, we need to remember something about ourselves.  Don’t we sometimes do the same thing James and John did?


If we are honest with ourselves, I bet we can all remember a time when we have asked Jesus for the best seats.  Maybe we have asked for a promotion at work.  Maybe we have asked for the best grade on the test, or to win the purple ribbon at the state fair.  


Maybe we have even mentioned to Jesus that we sure hope that our team wins the big game this week so that we can have bragging rights? Or maybe we haven’t asked to be number one.  Maybe we have just asked to be ahead of our rivals, whoever they might be.  


Whatever it is we have wanted, we have probably been just like the Zebedee brothers and told Jesus to say yes before we even asked for what we wanted.


Jesus uses their request as a teaching opportunity on leadership.  He reminds all the disciples that the Gentile rulers are tyrants and lord their power over everyone else.  He tells them that things will be different in his reign.  


Everywhere that Jesus reigns, the greatest will be the servants.  Jesus will set the example for all of us.  We are all called to be servants for each other. 


What does it look like when we are servants?  When I first think about servants, my mind goes initially to two British television shows, Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey.  They both tell the stories of two groups of people. The rich people own the huge mansions and live upstairs. 


The servants work downstairs.  The servants do everything for the upstairs family.  The rich people wouldn’t know how to prepare a meal or even dress themselves without the servants’ help.  


This model of servanthood is not what Jesus is talking about, though.  This model is like the model that the Gentiles have. Jesus is describing a very different kind of world where everyone is a servant.  In the reign of God, all leaders are servants and all servants are leaders.


Robert Greenleaf wrote extensively about servant leadership.  He said that if you are a servant first, then a leader, you will look to the needs of the people and ask how you can help them solve problems.  You will be very different from someone who just wants to be a leader. That person just wants power and possessions.


Jesus listens to our concerns, no matter how big or small they are. When we are servant leaders we listen to others.  We learn of their concerns.  We hear their ideas.  We hear their stories.  We give them our time and our patience.  We recognize them as children of God, brothers and sisters in Christ.


We don’t just tell other people what to do and walk away. We help them figure out what would work best to solve their problems.  And we help them implement the plan.  Jesus does not just tell us what to do and walk away.  He promised to be with us always.  He walks with us and helps us when we ask. 


When we are servant leaders we care about others. We show respect for them in the way we talk and act.  Jesus did not distinguish between the rich and poor.  He showed respect for everyone he met. 


Jesus healed people everywhere he went.  We might not have the power to say a prayer and cure a disease like he did.   But we do have the power to pray for others.  When we are servant leaders, we are healers. We can work to heal broken relationships.  We can use kind words.  We can show forgiveness.  We can encourage others to forgive also.  


Jesus talked about what was going to happen to him when he reached Jerusalem.  He tried to prepare his disciples for the future.  When we are servant leaders, we are forward-looking.  We have long term goals and we stay focused on the way things can be.  We hold to the vision of a different way of living.  We hold to the vision of life in a world where Jesus reigns.


We know that all that we have and all that we are is a gift from God.  God trusts us to use our lives wisely.  God trusts us to use the earth wisely.  God trusts us to be wise in our relationships with each other.  


When we are servant leaders, we are good stewards.  Stewardship has always been a part of the servant’s job.  The servant knows that everything belongs to the Master.  Nothing really belongs to the servant.


Jesus tells us that things will be different in the world where he reigns. Like James and John, and all the disciples, we are called to be servants to one another.  


We know Jesus’ words to the disciples are true.  Christ has died.  Christ has risen.  He reigns at the right hand of God.  We pray that the reign of God will come also to us. 

Amen.