Palm Sunday 2019

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 19th chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord. 

And when he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, "Go into the village opposite, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat; untie it and bring it here.

If any one asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' you shall say this, 'The Lord has need of it.'"

So those who were sent went away and found it as he had told them.

And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, "Why are you untying the colt?"

And they said, "The Lord has need of it."

And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their garments on the colt they set Jesus upon it.

And as he rode along, they spread their garments on the road.

As he was now drawing near, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, 

"Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"

And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples."

He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

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.

Jesus said, "I tell you, if these (disciples) were silent, the very stones would cry out.”  

This is no ordinary day.  This is no ordinary week.  We begin our holy week by re-enacting the events of the first Palm Sunday.  Like the disciples and the crowd on the road, we are definitely not silent. We sing and ring our bells. We wave our branches and shout “Hosanna” and “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.”

For us, this sanctuary becomes our Jerusalem.  It becomes the place we remember the last days of Jesus on earth. Here, this week, we will participate in Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. 

We begin our week in joy.  We have much to celebrate today. We will welcome Jackson as a new member of God’s family through the sacrament of holy baptism.  We blessed the new front doors that welcome us in for prayer and praise. 

We welcome our new friend and colleague, Pastor Gonzales, from Tree of Life.  We are looking forward to a close association with him as we share ministries in this building and neighborhood. 

We have new paraments to aid in our worship.  They are scarlet, the color of royalty.  We sing new songs, a different setting for the liturgy from the one we sang the last several weeks in lent. 

In today’s gospel, Jesus said, "I tell you, if these (disciples) were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

It seems like an unusual analogy. There are many verses in the Old Testament about nature making noise. There is the roaring of the seas, the tumult of the mountains. The fields rejoice and the trees sing out. But, there is no other verse about stones crying out. 

I can’t think of anything less animate than a stone. Trees are alive. Fields have growing plants on them. Mountains and seas are teaming with life. Rocks are inanimate. Not only that, they are hostile to life. The seeds that fall in the rocky soil do not thrive. 

There are lots of Bible verses about rocks and stones. Some of them are about stoning people as a method of the death penalty.  Some of them are about removing stones from the pathway.  That’s what “Prepare the Royal Highway” is about.  The Romans cleared the stones from the roadways before the king traveled on them.  

But, Jesus isn’t that kind of a king.  He doesn’t ride in on a big horse, the symbol of victory in battle.  He rides in on a donkey, an animal who is a symbol of peace. Nobody has removed the stones from his path.  

In several places in the psalms and prophets, stones are a sign of strength.  God is compared to a rock and a fortress and the rock of our salvation.  We have some hymns like that, too.  “Jesus is a rock in a weary land.”  “A mighty fortress is our God.” “On Christ the solid rock I stand.” And of course, “Rock of Ages, cleft for me.”

But today, Jesus said, "I tell you, if these (disciples) were silent, the very stones would cry out.”  

Jesus is telling us that something literally earth-changing is about to happen.  The Palm Sunday procession is no ordinary event.  It isn’t even ordinary in the context of things Jesus does.  Today’s procession marks the beginning of the week that changes the world for all time and eternity.  

We know that Jesus routinely used natural things to teach us about the kingdom of God.   We have parables about coins and sheep, weeds and wheat. Today, God is with us in the water of baptism as we welcome Jackson into the church, the family of God. 

Palm Sunday is no ordinary day.  We remember Palm Sunday, every week in our communion liturgy when we sing, “Hosanna, blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!”  This Thursday we will remember that Jesus promised to be present with us in a special way in bread and wine.

God does not routinely change the natural order of things.  The natural laws are part of the way God made the world. They are an integral part of creation itself.  In the beginning, God made the world and declared it to be good.  So, when Jesus says something earth-changing is happening, it’s time to pay attention.

On that first Palm Sunday, the disciples and the people in the crowd did cry out.  They did make some noise, throw down their coats and wave the palms. The stones did not need to cry out.  

This is no ordinary week.  On Thursday, this place becomes Jerusalem for us as we remember the night of Jesus’ betrayal.  On Friday, we go with Jesus to the hill outside the city wall. On Saturday evening we join our friends from 4 other churches and light a fire and candles and travel from the darkest night into the glorious light of Christ. 

Today, we are singing and waving our branches, so this week, the stones do not need to shout. But this is no ordinary week. This week the stones are like small rocks, the kind that get in your shoe and annoy you, the kind that you stub your foot on.

Just wait until next Sunday! Come and hear what God does with a really large stone!  It changes the world.  It changes your life. 

Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord. 

Fifth Sunday in Lent, April 7, 2019

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

Glory to you, O Lord.

1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

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.  

Smells bring back feelings and memories at the deepest levels.  When I smell boxwood shrubs I am taken back to Lexington, Virginia where I used to visit my grandparents.  That shrubbery lined many of the streets in that small town where they lived.  I could smell its pleasant aroma as we would drive into town on a summer day with the windows down.  My sister and I used to say we could smell Grandma’s house. 

I loved visiting there because my sister and I were allowed to walk downtown to the library and the park by ourselves.  We could smell the boxwood hedges lining the fenced in yards and enjoy the freedom and independence of being trusted to go somewhere alone.  

I know that boxwood is probably an unusual scent to bring back a memory, but I bet you have something that brings back memories.  If you are a parent, you might have wonderful memories associated with the scent of baby powder and baby shampoo.

Lots of us have memories from cooking smells.  The smell of coffee reminds us that morning is here. Turkey roasting in the oven brings back memories of big family dinners and holidays.  Maybe there was a certain kind of cookie that your grandma always baked and you think of her every time you smell it.

Some smells are not so good, though. There’s that smell that reminds you that you forgot to throw the onion away.  Or the smell that says the litter box needs to be cleaned, or the garbage needs to go out.  Or that icky smell that says we have a dead mouse somewhere. 

Smells aren’t the only things that evoke strong memories. There are phrases that bring back things we learned in early childhood.  We only have to hear the first part and we are taken right back there.  

We can instantly finish the phrases:

“Twinkle, twinkle, little star… how I wonder what you are?”

“Now, I lay me down to sleep…I pray Thee Lord my soul to keep.”

“The Lord is my Shepherd…I shall not want.”

“God so loved the world....that he gave ...”


We have known those so long that we might not even remember when we learned them, but they certainly take us back.  We hear the first part and we automatically hear the rest of the verse.

Today’s gospel is a story about smells that evoke memories 

and phrases we know that make us automatically hear the rest of the verse.  

This story takes place the week before Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  That’s why we read it today.  

There were some strong smells in the story.  A couple of the strongest smells are in the background. They are smells that nobody is really talking about, but everyone notices.  

There was a smell of fear in the air.  The way people were talking, there may as well have been wanted posters with Jesus’ picture on them all over Jerusalem.  There was talk of killing Lazarus, too, because he was living proof of Jesus’ power.  

Along with the smell of fear, there was a lingering smell of death.  Death is a rotten stinky smell.  It is a depressing smell.  Jesus knew he was a wanted man.  He knew there were plots to kill him and that his time on earth was growing very short.  He was a dead man walking. 

But Mary showed us that God was doing a new thing.  There was a new smell in the air.  She used so much perfume that it overwhelmed the smells of fear and death.  

Her love for Jesus was so great, so strong.  She wasn’t embarrassed to show everyone.  He had raised he brother from the dead.  Death, the ultimate enemy had been defeated.  

That perfume was the smell of resurrection.  And it was a strong, beautiful smell. Better than turkey dinner at Thanksgiving.  Better than chocolate chip cookies at Christmas. Better than a dozen red roses on Valentines Day.  Better than anything you ever smelled before.  

It was the smell of new life, the smell of victory over sin and death, the smell of resurrection and eternal life.  It was a smell that the people at that dinner party would remember days later on a Friday, when the smells of fear and death got strong again and their nostrils were filled with them, and they needed to stay inside just to breathe.  

Our sense of smell brings back feelings and memories at the deepest level.  Then there are phrases that bring back things we learned in early childhood that also touch us at a deep level.  

Judas challenged Mary’s use of the expensive perfume.   He called it wasteful.  Then Jesus quoted the first part of a Bible verse they all knew.  He didn’t have to say all of it because they all knew it.  

Unfortunately, through out the years, Christians who didn’t know the whole verse have misunderstood.  Jesus said, “You always have the poor with you.”  quoting the first half of the verse from Deuteronomy 15:11.  Here is the second half of the verse - Therefore I command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land." 

Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.   Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and all the disciples knew the whole verse by heart from their childhood.  They knew what Jesus was getting at when he said that you will always have the poor with you. 

Jesus would not be there personally much longer.  He is not with us the way he was with them. He is with us in a different way. He has told us that whenever we look into the face of someone in need, we see his face in theirs.  When we open our hands to our poor and needy neighbors, we open our hands to Jesus. 

We open our hands in gratitude because we can smell the rich perfume of the resurrection.  Its fragrance reminds us of all that Christ has done for us.  

On Maundy Thursday evening, I will anoint you with oil as I proclaim to you that all your sins are forgiven.  That oil is scented with the fragrances of frankincense and myrrh.  They are beautiful scents that bring back memories of the gifts of the Magi.  They are scents that were used in the Bible when the women wrapped the body of someone who had died, scents that cover the smell of death. 

You will be marked with the scent of resurrection, the scent that covers the smell of your own sin and death. It is a beautiful smell, the smell of forgiveness and new life, the smell of baptism. I have some of the oil at the font in the back.  You can smell it on your way out if you like.  

Memories from smells, memories from what we have learned, all help us remember how much Jesus loves us. In gratitude for his great love, we show our love for Jesus. 

So, “Open your hands to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” Amen. 

Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 31, 2019

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 15th chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord.

1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." 3 So he told them this parable: 11 "There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, "Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, "How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands." 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son." 22 But the father said to his slaves, "Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate. 25 "Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, "Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, "Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' 31 Then the father said to him, "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.' “

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.

Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons.”  This is one of the most familiar stories in the Bible.  We have heard it our whole lives.  It is the longest of Jesus’ parables, so it is rich with possibilities.  

There are many traditional interpretations.  Preachers usually talk about the father in the story being God who graciously welcomes sinners home.  Then we talk about how we identify with one of the brothers, and which one that might be.  

Pastors nearly always identify with the elder brother.  I looked it up and that’s how I preached it in the past.  There are always commentators who tell us not to forget to focus on the younger brother, because we are all sinners.  

Today, though, I want to focus on a couple of the difficult questions that arise when we hear this story.  They are questions that many of us have thought about, but maybe haven’t asked out loud. 

These are questions that the older brother might be asking himself.  The first question is, “Why bother?”  Why bother to work hard all your life?  Why bother to be a good and obedient person? Why bother to do what you are supposed to do when the no good, disrespectful, disobedient prodigal is the one who gets the party?  When he is the one with the new clothes and fancy ring?  

The second question is about repentance.  Doesn’t it matter if the younger brother is sincere in his repentance? Who knows if he is truly sorry for what he did?  He had a memorized speech all prepared, but that was when he was hungry.  The father didn’t give him a chance to even apologize properly, to confess his sins publicly. To own up and take responsibility. 

And who knows if he will even stick around this time?  When the famine is over and he fattens up again and he saves up a little from his job, he might just run off. He could have made some friends over in the far country, people he partied with, who will take him in and enable him to make the same mistakes over again.  

There could be people in the far country who are looking for him, too.  We know he was involved with some women.  One of them could be after him for some child support.  It wouldn’t be surprising if he left some gambling debts, either.  

He got a taste of that kind of life. We have no way of knowing if he is sincere, if he is going to stay around. 

So, why bother? Why be good when it looks like being bad is rewarded?  And, why forgive people, why help people, who are very likely going to turn back around and do the same dumb things over again? 

We all know we are supposed to obey the law because it’s the right thing to do.  We understand that.  We understand that there are consequences for disobedience.  You run a stop sign; you get a ticket.  You get caught cheating; you get expelled from school.  You make your bed; you lie in it.

There are consequences for obedience, too.  You do the right thing and you are supposed to be rewarded.  You study hard and you graduate.  You work hard and you get a promotion and a raise.  

This whole story of the man with two sons just doesn’t fit with our idea of the way the world is supposed to work.  It doesn’t seem fair and it doesn’t seem right.  That’s how we see it.  

If we were that father, there would certainly not have been a party or a ring. We would probably make that younger son go through a probationary period as one of the hired servants.  We would garnish his pay check to pay off his debts.  And he could just wear his old clothes until he earned some new ones. Any problems with attitude, with trying to act like he was a son, not a servant, and he would be out of there, on his own, never to be welcomed back.  

It isn’t how Jesus sees things, though.  So, why bother?  Why be good if there is a party to welcome you home when you have been bad?   It is our human nature to ask, isn’t it? It did sound like a great party for the younger brother, didn’t it?

St. Paul addresses that question in the sixth chapter of his letter to the Romans.  “6:1 What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?”

By no means!  You see it is all about the relationship.  If you are like this older brother, and you probably are something like him, just by virtue of being here in church today, you need to remember why you work for your father.

Why do we do it? Why do we bother to worship weekly and work to serve the Lord?  Is it because we are waiting for our inheritance?  I hear it’s heavenly. 

Is it because you think that working hard will get you into heaven?  I sure hope not, because if you have been raised in a Lutheran church, you have been hearing the message your whole life that we are saved by grace, not works. 

We don’t serve the Lord because the retirement plan is out of this world.  We do it because of the relationship.  Why bother? Because God loves us and we love God.  We are free to serve God because we know we are already saved.  

What about our second question?  What about our younger brother?  Does it matter if he is sincere in his repentance?  Does it matter if he relapses? We elder siblings sure want it to matter, don’t we?  He is prone to wander, prone to leave the God he loves. 

Jesus reminds us that our God is gracious.  And grace always comes first.  The father ran out to meet the prodigal son.  He didn’t insist on the apology first.  He didn’t insist that it be sincere.  He didn’t say I will welcome you back if you promise not to leave again.  He said fetch a ring and the best robe and start the barbecue for the party. 

Grace and forgiveness come before repentance.  The ability to repent, to turn your life around is part of the gift of grace.  We cannot even believe in Jesus on our own without the Holy Spirit’s help, so what makes us think we or anybody else have the power to turn our lives around, pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps?  

Repentance is a gift from God, just like grace.  It is the will to turn our lives around and follow Jesus Christ.  We can never do it alone, but God is gracious.  We are captive to sin and can’t do anything good on our own.  God gives us the strength and the will to follow Jesus. That’s repentance. 

So, back to question one.  Why bother?  Because we know Our Father loves us and we love Our Father.  We want to be near our Father God and our Brother Jesus who gave his life for us.  

Then, question two.  Does it matter if repentance is sincere?  Grace and forgiveness come first.  Repentance is a gift from God.  It is not a prerequisite for grace.  If it were, grace wouldn’t be grace.  

God’s love is wonderful, isn’t it?  Amen.  

Third Sunday in Lent, March 24, 2019, Sermon

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

Glory to you, O Lord.

1 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 [Jesus] asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."

6 Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, "See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' 8 He replied, "Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.' “

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.

Sometimes God’s help comes in completely unexpected ways. God can use the gross stinky things in life to help us.

In the first part of our gospel lesson people are asking Jesus about the connection between tragedy and sin.  Jesus explains that the people who suffered at the hands of Pilate and the people who died when the tower crashed were no guiltier than the rest of us.  

A sin is a sin is a sin.  We all sin and fall short of the glory of God.   The world is broken because of our sin. Things don’t work the way God intended.  Because we all sin, we all suffer. It isn’t fair and it isn’t just.  I might suffer more for your sin that you do, and you might suffer more for my sin than I do. 

Jesus is doing some truth telling here.  This is the law and it convicts us. All of us.  We all sin and we are all going to die because we all sin.

Now what? Where’s the good news?  I would like to propose that the good news this week is found in the stinky fertilizer.  You heard me right, the good news is in the manure. 

Then he (Jesus) told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, "See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' 8      He( The Gardner) replied, "Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.' “

One of the things many of us are good at is procrastination.  If there is something I really, really don’t want to do, I will probably put it off as long as I can, and do everything else I can before I do it. 

So, I wonder if maybe the fig tree is procrastinating.  Maybe it just doesn’t want to bear fruit this year.  Or, maybe the tree did need fertilizer to bear fruit. It could be the soil wasn’t very fertile.  Or, maybe there wasn’t much rain so there wasn’t enough moisture in the ground. Maybe there was a frost that killed off the buds early in the season.  

Maybe the fig tree doesn’t have those excuses, though.  This tree seems to be singled out. It seems likely that the land owner had more than one fig tree and the others were bearing fruit.    

Did you ever feel like that?  Like everyone else seems to be able to get things done, easier, faster, better than you do?  Everyone else seems to be able to learn how to solve that work problem easily and it just makes no sense to you?  

Or everyone else seems to be able to use their computer or their smart phone, but yours just makes you feel dumb?

You feel like you could probably do it if you just had some more time or maybe if someone would just take the time to help you out.  But you don’t seem to have more time and energy.  And others don’t seem to have the patience or willingness to help.  Or maybe it’s all they can do to get by themselves. 

Or maybe you feel like you are the one who always gets dumped on?  Like you never get a break?  Like you could use some of that good fertilizer and a little more time. 

I heard this story a number of years ago on the radio.  It is a Russian fable. 

A little bird that lived in the north wanted to see what winter was like.  Her parents tried to tell her that she should fly south with them.  She refused and they waited as long as they could, but ultimately, she insisted on staying and they left without her.  Another flock of birds came through and tried to encourage her to come with them, but again, she refused.  

It started getting colder.  The leaves had all fallen off the trees.  Soon, there was frost every morning, but still the little bird held to her desire to see what winter was like.  

She was doing alright until it started to snow.  She got so very, very cold that she decided she should try to fly south.  It was too late though, and her wings became so snow covered that she fell down in a field.  

Before long, she was buried under a deep layer of snow.  A cow came along and dropped a load of manure on her head.  The pile of manure felt nice and warm and it brought the little bird back to life.  She was warm and happy again, so she began to sing.   A cat came by and heard the little bird singing,  so the cat dug her up and ate her.  

This is a fable, so there are morals to the story:

  1. Listen to your elders and the people who care about you.  They may have wise advice.

  2. Not everyone who dumps a pile of manure on your head is your enemy.

  3. Not everyone who digs you out of a pile of manure is your friend.

  4. When you are under a deep pile of manure, it is best to keep your mouth shut.

Sometimes, God’s help comes in completely unexpected ways. The good news for us is in the pile of manure.  That’s right, the good news is in the gross, stinky fertilizer.  In spite of our sin and our shortcomings, God is able to take the manure that falls on us and use it to help us grow and bear fruit.  

There was nothing that was grosser, nothing that stunk worse than the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  God was able to use that, the worse thing that ever happened in history of the world, for our salvation.  God transformed the greatest sin and evil into the greatest good.  

All of us will have times in our life when we don’t seem to be able to bear much fruit.  All of us will have times when we feel like a pile of manure has been dumped on our heads.  Maybe it is because of our own poor choices or maybe it is because of someone else’s bad decisions.  Or, it could just be because we live in this broken world. 

The good news for us is that God doesn’t waste anything in creation.  God can and does use that pile of manure to help us grow. God is willing to give it some time.  The tree will bear fruit.  After all, the cross became the tree of life for the healing of the nations.  Amen.

Second Sunday in Lent, March 17, 2019

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

Glory to you, O Lord.

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." 32 He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, "Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.' 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

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.

Psalm 27 is one of my favorite passages of scripture. The psalmist tells us that God is our light and salvation.  The LORD is the stronghold of our life.  

Light. Salvation. Stronghold. 

Such powerful words when we think of God.  Such reassuring words.

The psalmist tells us not to be afraid.  The world tells us that we have much to fear. That our enemies rise up against us on every side. That we can't trust anyone, especially if they haven't been thoroughly checked out first.  That we need to be armed or we will be left defenseless. 

The world says our enemies are coming to shoot our children in their schools.  That immigrants are coming over the border to take our jobs. That refugees from war torn places are terrorists in disguise. That people who worship God differently and pray differently from us should be feared. 

The world tells us that other people, people different from us, are the enemy, and they are here to change everything. The very way of life that we have come to expect and enjoy is being threatened.  Even our churches are declining. The world screams at us to be afraid, be very afraid. 

In the middle of this fear and anxiety, we hear the message of the psalmist, whispering words from thousands of years ago.  We wonder what possible meaning and relevance they can have for us today.  

Yet these words, this poetry, this ancient hymn, have endured for thousands of years. This part of scripture has held meaning for the people of God for all time.  This is one of the hymns that Jesus sang in the synagogue when he worshipped there with Mary and Joseph. 

The Lord is my light.  

The world is so much scarier at night. Evil seems to hide in the dark of night.  Or at least we fear it does.  It always seems safer when you can see what you are up against.  

We know this even from the movies.  The power always goes out at night during the storm just before the serial killer sneaks up behind the victim. Even in the cartoon strip Peanuts, Snoopy starts his great novel with the line, "It was a dark and stormy night."  

The Lord is our light.  As we baptize Brynn this morning we will light her baptism candle from the Paschal candle, the symbol of Easter, and of Christ’s resurrection. She will share in the light of Christ, the light that always shines.  The light that can never be overcome. 

God's light is the light of truth. God shines a light into all the midnight places of our lives and shows us what is really there.  Much of what we fear is one of the devil’s lies.  The devil knows that fear makes us more vulnerable to lies. 

Fear distorts the truth.  Fear keeps us from seeing strangers as our neighbors. The light of God shines on strangers and shows us clearly that they are also made in the image of God.  That they are also God's beloved children. 

The Lord is my salvation. 

There is no salvation outside of God. We can never save ourselves. No human being can save us.  But we have a God who loves us. God's love is more powerful than anything that tries to harm us.  

This does not mean that life is easy for us.  The psalmist tells us clearly that we are sometimes surrounded by people and things that pull us away from God. 

Sometimes the choices between good and evil are obvious.  Don't kill your neighbors. Don't steal their car. But sometimes the choices are more complicated. Should you always give money to someone who comes begging? What is the best way to help those who are hungry?

What is the best way to end poverty? How should we fix the broken immigration system?  How can we help bring about peace in the World? What’s the best way to help people who experience homelessness in our city?

Which political candidates have the best plans to solve the problems we will face in the next few years? Which issues are most important? What are the long range effects of these kinds of decisions?

They all say they have plan to save and protect us.  But only God can save us.  Now, God’s salvation doesn't release us from our responsibilities in this world.  Salvation frees us to face our responsibilities, to make the right decisions, decisions that are based on what is best for our neighbors, not just what is best for us.  

The Lord is my stronghold.  

God is the source of our strength. God is our shelter and sanctuary. 

We all know we should stay home when the weather is bad.  Most of us stock up on food when a storm is coming. We have had plenty of practice this winter in making decisions about whether we should drive if the roads might be icy.    

God is a shelter from the storms of life. God doesn't keep the wind and the snow and the floods and fires from coming.  God provides the shelter where we can be safe while we wait it out.  Then God provides the tools to clean up the mess we find when we go back outside. 

The LORD is our sanctuary. A sanctuary is a protected holy place. People often call the nave of the church the sanctuary. The church has been used at times throughout history to shelter people and protect them from harm. The law recognizes the church as a place where people can seek asylum and protection. 

Our hearts break when we see hear of other children of Abraham who were murdered as they prayed in their mosques in New Zealand. We remember other children of Abraham killed last year in their synagogue in Pittsburgh and our Christian brothers and sisters killed in Charleston as they studied God’s word. 

I cannot help but think that God’s heart is broken, too, when people have so much fear of those who look and pray differently, that they act out of hatred instead of love. 

The psalmist tells us that the Lord will be our strength and shelter even when our father and mother forsake us.  It seems to me that there could not be too many things worse for a child than to be forsaken and rejected by their parents.

In Brooklyn, NY, there is an ELCA congregation that provides a sanctuary and shelter for homeless teenagers. These teenagers were rejected by their parents and thrown out of their homes because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  Their fathers and mothers have forsaken them, but the Lord has provided them sanctuary, a safe place, a holy place to live.   

There is trouble in the world and there always will be. God does not promise us that life will be safe and easy.  God does not promise to make the storms go away. God does not even promise that our parents will be there for us no matter what.  

God does promise to be our light.  To shine into the night and awaken us from our nightmares and reveal the truth of the morning light. 

God promises to be our salvation. Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins.  He rose from the dead and gives us life and freedom. He gives us freedom to make the right decisions, even when they are difficult. 

God promises to be our stronghold, our shelter, and our sanctuary. Jesus calls us like a mother hen gathers her baby chicks, invites us to find a shelter in God’s holy wings. 

These are the promises God shares with Brynn this morning. Light. Salvation. Stronghold.  Jesus says, “Have no fear.” We will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Amen. 

First Sunday in Lent, March 10, 2019

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 4th chapter.  Glory to you, O Lord.

1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." 4 Jesus answered him, "It is written, "One does not live by bread alone.' " 5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." 8 Jesus answered him, "It is written, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.' " 9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' 11 and "On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.' " 12 Jesus answered him, "It is said, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' " 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

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.

Our lives are defined by the stories we hear and the stories we tell.  Stories shape our identity.  They tell us who we are, who we belong to, where we belong, and what we should be doing. 

People tell stories to get their point across, to get you to buy into their view of the world.  We live in a world of competing stories.  Everyone seems to have their own narrative about what’s happening, their own view about what’s going on.  Each story seems to be attached to the agenda of the person telling it. 

Stories help us define who we want to be when we grow up. You might have heard a story from a teacher, a doctor, a nurse, a pastor, and their story helped shape your identity.  

Or perhaps you even read a story in a book and the adventures resonated with you and you wanted to be like that character.

Some stories aren’t real though, as your parents gently explained that you could only pretend to be a prince or a princess, a pirate or a dragon-slayer.  

Using stories to get your point across isn’t a bad thing in and of itself.  Jesus uses parables and stories to teach us about the Kingdom of God.  Using stories is just a tool. Stories can be useful in teaching, but they can also be used to manipulate people into agreeing with something that they really don’t believe. 

Today’s gospel lesson is about two different stories.  Those two stories are competing to claim the life and identity of Jesus.  One of the stories is true.  The Holy Spirit tells that story.

One of the stories is a lie. The devil tells that story. We must listen carefully to tell the difference because the devil is an excellent liar.

The setting of the stories is important.  These two stories both take place in the wilderness and in Jerusalem.  

The wilderness is important in the history of the Jewish people.  It is the place where God met them after rescuing them from slavery in Egypt.  It is the place where they received the 10 commandments.  The word “wilderness” means the place where God speaks.  

The city of Jerusalem is the center of Jewish power and identity. At the time of Jesus, the temple had been renovated and expanded and was the center of worship for all the Jewish people.

The two characters in these stories are the devil and Jesus.  This is the first time we see the devil in Luke’s gospel.  He is bold; he is clever; he is powerful.  That’s why he is such a good liar. 

Both stories are about the identity of Jesus. Here is some background:   Jesus’ genealogy goes all the way back to Adam.  His ancestors include important people like Noah, Abraham, and David.  

When Jesus was about 30 years old, he was baptized by John in the Jordan  River. After his baptism, he was praying and the heavens opened up.  The Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove.  A voice from heaven said, “You are my son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”  Then Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to pray and fast in order to prepare for his ministry. 

Here is the devil’s story.  Remember the devil is a liar.  He’s a clever liar, though, and he hides his lies in the middle of things that really happen.  

The devil’s story begins when Jesus was tired and hungry and alone.  It was a perfect time to approach him.  Humans are especially vulnerable when they are weak.  Their bodies betray them.  Their stomachs growl.  Their heads ache.  They aren’t able to think as clearly as they would if they had a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast.  

It is best to tempt people when they are alone, especially if they have been alone for a while.  There is strength in numbers and their friends can often talk them out of bad decisions.  

So the devil appealed to Jesus’s sense of identity and power.  “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”   The devil wanted Jesus to indulge himself.  To tell himself that as God’s Son he deserves to have what he wants, deserves to reach out and take what he needs.  

Jesus resisted, and the first temptation didn’t work, but the devil had more ideas.  He led Jesus up to the top of the hill and showed him all the kingdoms of the world.  And he said, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.  If you then will worship me, it will all be yours.”  

That is quite a temptation.  All the kingdoms and all the power and all the glory.  The kingdom and the power and the glory.  That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  And that’s how we know the devil has told a great big whopper of a lie.  Because the kingdoms and the power and the glory don’t belong to him.  They are not his to give.  

The kingdom and the power and the glory belong to God.  The devil is lying when he says they are his to give.  He is lying when he says that anything is his to give.  Anything he is offering to sell you or give you belongs to God.  He is trying to get you to take stolen property.  Everything belongs to our God who created it. 

We renounce the devil and all his empty promises as part of our baptism liturgy.  Jesus quoted Deuteronomy in response to this second temptation, but the devil had another trick up his sleeve.  

The devil had memorized a few Bible verses himself. This just goes to show that you can’t always trust someone just because they can quote scripture.  You have to read it for yourself.  You have to study it and learn the context.  You have to hear scripture from the perspective of Jesus. 

Next, the devil took Jesus to the top of the Temple and tried to get him to prove his identity.  He told Jesus to jump off and make some angels fly over and catch him quickly.  Jesus knew he didn’t have to make God prove anything.  So the devil left him, and waited for another opportunity. 

The Holy Spirit has a different story.  You see the Holy Spirit was there with Jesus the whole time.  It was the Spirit who led him into the wilderness to fast and pray.  

The Spirit was there to remind Jesus of his true identity as the Son of God.  The Spirit prayed with him when he was alone and hungry and tired.  The Spirit gave him power in his weakness to resist the devil and his empty promises.  The Spirit gave him the power to see the truth of God. 

The Spirit was there when devil came and tried to tempt Jesus three times. 

First, the devil tried to get Jesus to use his power for selfish reasons.  The devil told him to make bread just for himself, to feed his own hunger.  Jesus resisted that temptation.  

Instead of turning a stone to bread, Jesus gave up his very life to become bread, the bread which gives us strength, the bread which gives life and salvation to the whole world. 

Next, the devil tried to get Jesus to worship him in exchange for the kingdoms and power and glory of this world.  Jesus knew that the kingdom and the power and the glory belong to God alone and he told the devil so.

Finally, the devil tried to get Jesus to prove who he was by calling in the angels to verify his identity.  Jesus knew that God doesn’t have to prove anything to the devil.  In the end, the devil cannot win.  The Holy Spirit was with Jesus in the wilderness.

Sometimes we find ourselves in the wilderness, tired, and hungry, and alone.  The devil tries to deceive us with all kinds of stories and lies.  Tempts us with empty promises of things in this world.  Tries to get us to forget who we are and who we belong to. He is a good storyteller, and an excellent liar, so sometimes we fall for it.   

When we are tired, Jesus invites us to come to him and rest.  When we are hungry, Jesus has given himself as the bread of life and forgiveness.  When we feel alone, Jesus gives us this community of believers to strengthen us in our faith.  He sends us the Holy Spirit who promises to be with us always.

Jesus’ true identity was revealed in his baptism. He is the Son of God. In our baptism we are claimed and named as children of God. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.  The mark is indelible. The Holy Spirit promises to be with us forever.  

The devil lies.  He loses in the end. 

The Holy Spirit’s story is true.  Jesus is the Son of God.  

We are the children of God.  Amen. 

Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Holy Gospel according to Matthew, the 6th chapter.  

Glory to you, O Lord.

[Jesus said to the disciples:] 1 "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 "So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

5 "And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 

16 "And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 

19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

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.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; 

in your great compassion blot out my offenses.”  

We pray for God’s mercy every time we come together to worship.  I open my sermons by greeting you with a prayer that God’s mercy and peace be with you.  We pray, “Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.” in our prayers of intercession each week.

When I was in elementary school, our next door neighbors were Baptist and we sometimes went to church with them.  The neighbor girl, Sheila, was between my age and my sister’s and we played together all the time. Sheila lived with her grandparents and her older brother. 

One Sunday, her grandmother finally consented to have her attend Sunday School and Church with us.  We were all threatened with dire consequences if we didn’t behave at church.  We got through Sunday School just fine, and the first part of church.  Then we started singing the Kyrie, and Sheila got the giggles.  She had the giggles so bad we were scared for her, because we knew our mom would tell her grandma. 

Most of us are used to Lutheran liturgy, so sometimes we miss the importance of the words we sing.  You see, Sheila’s grandma was an elderly woman raising two challenging kids. Her favorite expression was “Lord, have mercy!” and she said it all the time.  Sheila was amazed that we sang it like that over and over in church.  

You remember the settings in the old red book.  The tune was a dirge.  The poor little girl just lost it.  She talked about it for weeks afterwards, finding it incredible that we sang “Lord, have mercy” over and over like that every Sunday. I am pretty sure she was never allowed to go to church with us again. 

Psalm 51 is a penitential psalm, a psalm prayed as a confession to God.  We use it on Ash Wednesday to begin this holy season of Lent.  We pray in this psalm for God to have mercy on us.  The psalmist is asking for God to take pity.  We don’t know for sure what the psalmist did to feel so guilty, but from the tone of the confession, it was bad.

Some have said that this is a the psalm David wrote after Nathan confronted him about his behavior with Bathsheba and Uriah. It would certainly be an appropriate psalm for someone with that kind of guilt.  

We may not be guilty of the same things as David - stealing another man’s wife, then sending him to the front line to be killed - but we are all sinners and we know what we have done.  

There will probably be a line in the confession prayers today (tonight) that will hit each one of us.  None of us will be able to say, “Thank you God, that I am not like these other sinners here.” We all know what we have done, and so does God.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; 

in your great compassion blot out my offenses.”  

We have all been sinners for as long as we can remember.  Admit it, you can think of things you did even when you were a little kid.  Things your parents found out about, and things you are glad they never knew.  As adults, we know we have done things we should not have done, and we have ignored some things we should have done.  

The holy season of Lent is a gift from God for us.  God, who loves us as a mother and father love their children, wants us to be honest about who we are and what we have done.  God is not asking us to confess in order to punish us for our sins.  

God wants to change our hearts.  Our Old Testament ancestors considered the heart to be the center of our will, the seat of our decision making. Changing our hearts means opening them to the will of God, not our own selfish desires. While this might seem like we are giving up something - that is giving up our own will - it is not meant to be a sacrifice.

God does not want a sacrifice.  God is not interested in offerings if we are giving them to pay for our sin.  God can’t be bribed or bought off.  That’s not the kind of God we have. 

You see, God wants only what is absolutely the best for us.  God knows what that is better than we do.  Being open to God’s will, allowing the Holy Spirit to direct our hearts, is accepting the gift of this holy season of Lent. 

The Holy Spirit has given us the longing for something more than our own selfish ambitions.  The Holy Spirit has given us a longing to turn toward the One who made us, the One who loves us, the One who even died for us. 

The Holy Spirit gives us the gift of knowing, that when we do turn to God in confession, we turn to a merciful God.  We can dare to throw ourselves on God’s mercy.  We would not dare to do this if our God were vengeful or angry.  

Yet, we do dare to come to God, begging for mercy, because our God is loving and kind and full of compassion.  God gives us the joy of knowing our salvation is in Christ alone.

We can come to this holy season in thanksgiving because God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  


Transfiguration Sermon, March 3, 2019

The holy gospel according to Luke, the 9th chapter.  Glory to you, O Lord.

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. [37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not." 41 Jesus answered, "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here." 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.]

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.

Spoiler Alert!  You know what that means.  It means someone is about to reveal an important part of a story - a part that you haven’t seen yet, either in a movie, or on television, or read in a book.  

We get excited or get worried about what might happen to our favorite characters.  Does the couple get married and live happily ever after?  Is she pregnant? Does someone die?  Who killed him?  

Some people don’t want to know.  They don’t want to hear anything before they read the book or see the show themselves.  Others enjoy the story more if they read the end first and find out who done it.  

Today’s gospel lesson contains a spoiler. I have read to the end of the book and I can tell you that what you have heard is true. 

Here it is: Jesus is God’s son.  He dies a horrible death, but then he rises from the dead.  

Jesus wants the disciples to know the end of the story, so that they will not be afraid about what is happening. He doesn't make them wait until next season or leave them with a cliff-hanger.  

Jesus takes his closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, up to a high mountain by themselves.  Mountain peaks are important.  Moses received the Law from God at the top of a mountain.  On the seventh day, the LORD called to Moses. On that day, the appearance of the glory of the LORD was bright like a devouring fire.  

Jesus took his disciples up to the mountain peak on the eighth day.  Seven is the number of completeness, the number that means we are coming to the conclusion of a major part of the story.  That's why this story is a spoiler. 

But, eight is the number of infinity. It’s the number for God’s time. For us, stories have conclusions.  They have a beginning, a middle, and an end.  When we talk about time, we talk about the past, the present, and the future.  It makes sense to order our lives that way.  We can understand when things happened.  We know we can’t change the past. We live in the present. We can’t know the future. 

We have time lines. Time is linear for us.  It travels in a line. 

We count our years by the number of times the earth goes around the sun.  Our days are measured by the earth’s rotation on its axis. 

Sometimes when we travel by air and we go through different time zones faster than the earth rotates or even in the opposite direction.  When we experience time changes like that they seem strange to us because we are so bound by time as hours and days and years.

I know you already know this, but I am reminding you of the way we think about time, because time is different for God than it is for us.  The story of the Transfiguration helps us see that.  We have past, present, and future.  For God, there is the present.  When Moses asked the name of God, God said, “I am.” Present tense! 

For God, the creator of the earth and sun and stars, time is not marked by the rotation of our planet. Time does not move in a line.  God’s time is always present tense! 

Jesus took his closest friends up to the mountain top and they entered God’s time.  Their vision was not marked by the linear human understanding of time.  They saw Moses and Elijah, the two most important people from the Old Testament, and they saw them alive, and they knew who they were.

Think about that for a minute in human time.  Moses lived approximately 1250 years before Christ.  Elijah lived about 900 years before Christ.  They didn’t have photographs back then, yet the disciples recognized them. They knew them because up on that mountain top, they were in God’s time.

In God’s time, the past and the future are always present.  God can reach backwards and forwards in our time.  God's time is resurrection time. 

One thing that means, is that for God, nothing is ever wasted.  We waste a lot.  We waste time. We waste energy. We waste money.  We made decisions in the past that we wish we could change.  We look back on some of our choices with deep regret.  

With God, nothing is wasted.  God is the redeemer of the past as well as the redeemer of the present and the redeemer of the future.  God doesn't go back to the past and erase our mistakes or our bad choices. God does something new with them.  God resurrects them.  God transforms the evil into good.  

God is able to use our past in ways that bring comfort or health or peace to someone.  From our perspective in human time, it is often very hard to see how God could possibly transform some of the things we have done. That is why God gives us a different perspective today. 

Jesus takes us up to the mountain top where we can see a bigger picture.  He shows us that in human time we are only in the middle of the story.  In God’s time, all has already been accomplished.  Jesus is the Son of God.  He has overcome sin and evil.  He has overcome death and the grave. 

Seeing things from the mountain top perspective can be confusing and terrifying.  The brightness is overwhelming. God is sensitive to our needs and understands that we mere mortals are unable to see well in such glaring light.  So God provides a cloud to give us shade.  

We can only see and hear in God’s time through the shadows of that cloud now.  But we have seen enough to know that we have all had times where we were with Jesus on that mountain.  

God's time intersected with human time when we were baptized. God's time intersects with human time when we declare the presence of Christ in the meal we share. 

Through the cloudy shadow, we have all caught a glimpse God’s time.  Like Peter, James, and John we, too, are sometimes overwhelmed. 

But Jesus went to them and touched them.  He told them to get up and not to be afraid.  He explained to them that he was part of our human time.  He also experienced life as past, present, and future. He told them that he would experience death as all humans do.  

He told them that he would be raised from the dead.  They didn't  understand that yet, of course.  Resurrection and transfiguration are understood only in God’s time.  

Jesus tells us to get up and not to be afraid. Now we measure time as past, present, and future.  Like Jesus, some day we will no longer count our days by the rotation of the earth’s axis. We will experience death, as all humans do.  

When that day comes, we, too, will be resurrected.  We will enter God’s time, and we will no longer need the cloud to shade our eyes from the glory of the LORD.  

Jesus says, "Get up and do not be afraid.  Go down the mountain and live out your lives as people who know the end of the story."  


Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, February 17, 2019

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 6th chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord. 

He (Jesus) came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.  And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. 

Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.  Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

"But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.  Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

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.

Sometimes it feels like the world is upside down and things are going backwards. But we hear today that Jesus came to turn the world right side up. He came to give us a picture of the way things are in the realm of God, the ways the world is meant to be, the way of life that God intends for all of us. 

Justice and fairness in the realm of God are themes in the gospel of Luke. Mary sings about them in the Magnificat at the beginning of the gospel. God brings down the powerful and lifts up the lowly. God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away. 

Justice and fairness don’t always mean equal treatment.  They don’t mean that every one gets exactly the same thing. Justice and fairness mean that everyone gets what they need. In the realm of God, things are just and fair, and the world is right side up. 

Have you seen the cartoon where three kids are standing behind fence watching a ball game?  

There’s one kid who’s tall.  He can see over the fence easily just standing there. The second kid is medium height.  He can see if he cranes his neck and stands on his tip toes, and maybe jumps up once in a while to catch an important play.  The third kid is a short little guy.  He can’t see over the fence at all. Not even if he jumps as high as he can.  

In the second panel of the cartoon, they each have a box to stand on.  This is equal treatment. The tall kid doesn’t really need the box, but he’s standing on it anyway.  The second kid can finally see over the fence, so he’s fine. The short kid still can’t see, even when he’s standing on his box.  

In the third panel, the tall kid has given his box to the short kid. Now the short kid is standing on 2 boxes.  The second kid is on his one box. With this arrangement, they can all finally see over the fence.  This is justice.  This is fairness.  Everybody has what they need.  

Jesus came and stood with them on a level place.  We are familiar with the the beatitudes in Matthew’s sermon on the mount.  When Jesus gives this sermon in Matthew’s gospel he climbs the hill and preaches, presumably so they can hear him better.  But Luke is making a different and important theological point. 

Luke is teaching us that Jesus came to be one of us and bring the realm of God to earth.  Jesus became fully human.  He stood in the midst of the crowd, just like everyone else. Jesus brought the realm of God into the midst of the crowd, right there among the people.  The realm of God is no longer just in heaven.  Jesus brought the realm of God into this world.

Jesus came and stood with them on a level place.  The people were coming to him from all around the countryside.  They were seeking healing.  They wanted to hear God’s Word.  Power came out from Jesus and he healed everyone who needed it. 

Those who were sick were healed. Those with unclean spirits were cured. They all got what they needed and were restored to their rightful places in the community. 

Maybe you came here today in need of healing.  Maybe there are demons who are bothering you.  If you don’t need special healing today, you know someone who does and you are holding them in prayer, asking Jesus to be with them. 

But what about those who are rich and powerful? What about those who benefit from the way the world is right now when it’s wrong side up? What about those who benefit from the unequal distribution of resources? 

We don’t usually think of ourselves as rich and powerful. However, we might not want to admit it, but sometimes we identify with the tall kid at the fence.  We can see the ball game just fine the way things are.  Life is working out pretty well for us. We secretly think the other kids should just work harder to grow taller on their own like we did. 

But life doesn’t work that way.  I am 6 inches taller than my sister. She’s younger, so I always have been taller. And I always will be taller. There is nothing she can do to make herself grow.  But, I can give her a box to stand on when she can’t see.  And if she can’t afford her own box, I can buy her one. 

Those of us who benefit from the way things are in this wrong side up world will experience discomfort and change. Because Jesus is here and he is turning the world right side up.  He is showing us not just what the world of heaven looks like; he is showing us what the world can look like here on earth, here in this life. 

Jesus isn’t here to condemn us. He is showing a pastoral concern for the wealthy of this world.  He is encouraging us to repent and use resources the way God intended. Because ultimately, the resources we have of time, talents, and treasures don’t belong to us.  They belong to God. We are just the stewards, the servants trusted to use them wisely as God intends. 

Yes, there will be changes when Jesus comes and stands in the middle of the crowd. Jesus understood the cost of bringing the realm of God into our midst.  He paid the ultimate price on the cross. He descended to the dead and rose again in order to turn the world right side up once and for all. 

Jesus comes to us today in this level place and brings the realm of God to us.  He has promised to be with us whenever we are gathered in his name. 

There will be changes whenever Jesus stands in the midst of the crowd. But, these are changes for the good, changes to the way God wants the world to be.  

Jesus stands in the midst of our crowd as we come to the meal at his table. He brings power and healing and forgiveness for us all.  Amen.