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.

Sermon, February 10, 2019

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 5th chapter.  Glory to you, O Lord.

1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." 5 Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ. (297)

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

Call stories are well known throughout the scripture.  A call story is the story we tell when we talk about how God calls us to serve.  People are often curious to hear the call stories from deacons and pastors and bishops.  They want to know when we knew we were called.  They want to hear if there was something special that happened in our lives or if we just always knew.  

It isn’t just deacons, pastors, and bishops who have call stories, though.  You all have call stories, too, even if you haven’t shared them out loud with anyone. There is no higher calling than being a baptized child of God.  You may have a call story with a lot of drama, or like many of us, your story might be that you grew up in the faith and never wandered. 

Our Old Testament reading is the call story of the prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah may win the prize for the most dramatic call story ever.  In his vision he gets to see the greatness of God and there are angels flying all around the Temple.  In this story we also get the hymn “Holy, holy, holy” we sing every week as part of our communion liturgy. 

Today’s gospel reading is Luke’s version of the call story for Simon Peter, James, and John. The call story of these three disciples is more of a process than a one time thing.  

Michigan ELCA Bishop Craig Satterlee has suggested that a call story is always a process, not just a one time event, and that we are always somewhere in the midst of the process, both as individuals and as a congregation. We are always in the boat with Jesus.

The first part of the process for Peter, James, and John is instruction.  Jesus gets in the boat and starts teaching the disciples and the surrounding crowd, (that is, us).  It seems logical and wise that the life of faith should begin with instruction. When we were young our parents began by reading us Bible stories. Then it was time for Sunday school and confirmation classes.

But, instruction from Jesus is not something we ever outgrow.  We are never too old to learn from God’s Word.  We can attend Bible studies throughout our lives. God is always using the word to open our hearts and minds. 

Perhaps you are at a place in your life where you are sitting in the boat with Jesus listening to his teachings.

After the time of instruction, Jesus told Simon Peter to put out the nets into the deep water. In the ancient near east, deep water was symbolic of chaos. The disciples had already been fishing all night.  They had the boats out in the deep waters already and hadn’t caught anything.  

There are times in our lives of faith that we feel like we are deep in the waters of chaos and aren’t accomplishing anything.  It feels like we are doing the same things over and over with no results, and before we even get a chance to rest, we have to go do it over again. 

This part of the story reminds me of a verse from the hymn, There is a Balm in Gilead: “Sometimes I feel discouraged, and think my work’s in vain, but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.” 

Because, that’s exactly what Jesus does next!  He revives their souls! The disciples were discouraged, but this time, Jesus is in the boat with them.  Jesus is in the boat!  

This time they catch more fish than anybody knows what to do with. This is an overwhelming experience of love and acceptance for the disciples. This is a clear sign that God has blessed them and their work.  

Maybe you can remember a time in your life when you experienced a clear sense of God’s love and acceptance.  A time when you know that you are blessed.  Last month, when we baptized four new members on a Wednesday evening and then six more new members 10 days later, I looked out on the congregation and saw your faces.  Those were times when we didn’t just know that those new members were blessed, but we as a congregation were able to experience God’s abundance. 

The next stage in the call process is resistance.  Peter recognizes that he is a sinful man.  He tries to send Jesus away.  He feels completely unworthy to even be in the same place as Jesus.  

Perhaps you have been there, too. You know you don’t deserve the good news you are hearing.  You try to get away from Jesus because you feel unworthy.  You know what you have done and what you have left undone.  You avoid coming to worship.  You stay away from anything that reminds you of church.  

But, Jesus didn’t leave Peter.  Jesus didn’t let Peter leave him.  And Jesus hasn’t left you.  He is still in the boat with you.  Jesus reassures Peter.  He tells him not to be afraid.   

Then Jesus tells Peter and Jesus tells us what the call means.  “From now on, you will be catching people.”  We know what that meant for Peter, James, and John.  Their lives were changed forever.  

Perhaps you can remember a time when you were confident in the midst of change because you can hear Jesus say to you, “Do not be afraid.” 

When we hear the call to follow Jesus, our lives are changed forever.  We don’t know what that new life is going to look like. Peter, James, and John dropped everything and followed Jesus. 

Jesus may call you to drop everything, to leave your home and family and job to follow him.  Or, He may call you to follow him by staying where you are, because he has work for you to do right here. 

Where are you in your call process?  Listening to teaching, over the deep waters, experiencing abundance and blessings, resisting the call, being reassured, or dropping every thing and following Jesus. 

The good news for all of us is that no matter where we are in this call process, this process of Christian living, Jesus is in the same boat with us.  Jesus is in your boat and Jesus won’t get out of the boat without you. Amen.

Sermon, February 3, 2019

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 4th chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord.

21 Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" 23 He said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, "Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, "Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.' " 24 And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

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.

Today’s gospel is a very difficult text. I promise you, every pastor remembers this story and accepts the invitation to preach in the church they grew up in with great fear and trepidation. Pastors do not like to think that preaching can make people want to push even Jesus off a cliff.  This is a reminder that the gospel is dangerous and hard to hear sometimes.  Good news isn’t always received as good news.  

So, what’s the issue here with Jesus’ sermon?  Why are they so upset? Don’t we come to worship to hear a nice message? We want some good news that reassures us, something that makes us feel better, something that makes us feel loved by God. 

I think it’s very easy to identify with the people of Nazareth because they have a point.  Haven’t you heard the expression, “Charity begins at home.”  I mean, why doesn’t Jesus heal a couple of people there?  There must have been somebody in town who needed healing. There must have been hungry people there. He is Jesus, after all.  How much trouble would it have been?  He could have gotten a lot of good will out of doing a couple of small miracles. 

Jesus does things we don’t understand.  Sometimes other people get good news and we don’t.  Sometimes the answer from Jesus is “I’m God and you’re not” - which doesn’t feel like a satisfactory answer to us mortals. We might worry that God is rejecting us. After all, we know ourselves well enough to know we are sinners. 

It is very hard to be rejected.  Nobody likes rejection. I think of all the times I wasn’t chosen for the softball team on the playground and the captain who picked last had to take me.  Actually, that was all the time for every game. I learned to tell myself it didn’t matter since I didn’t like playing sports anyway.

I remember trying out for regional band and making last chair flute when my younger sister made first chair saxophone.  I remember many times of applying for jobs I didn’t get.  

You have your own rejection stories.  That time you didn’t make the team or the cheerleading squad. Or you didn’t get into the college you applied to.  That time you didn’t get the job you wanted, or you didn’t get a promotion you deserved.  That time your boyfriend or your girlfriend dumped you.  

Or you remember your divorce.  You remember how difficult it was to share the bad news with your family.  Maybe they didn’t take it too well, maybe they rejected you, too.  

Maybe your business isn’t going as well as you hoped.  The people at work don’t respect you or appreciate your ideas.  

One of the places I worked when I was between calls quite a few years ago was a very toxic work environment. I was mostly on the sidelines, as an observer, since I didn’t work directly with the people involved. I was sad about it because I realized I couldn’t fix things. The boss was in on it and the administration didn’t care. 

Some of the staff members formed a clique and they decided whether they liked a new person or not.  If they didn’t like a particular staff member, they tried to push them off the figurative cliff.  They worked hard to undermine that person, to get them fired or make them quit. 

They took turns individually going to the boss and telling her about mistakes the new person made.  They bullied the person, saying things like “I don’t think you are going to make it here. You are making too many mistakes. This work is really hard and you aren’t smart enough.”  

This clique all took their breaks at the same time leaving the new person alone on the floor to work, then alone to eat lunch.  They had a sense of entitlement, the idea that they could choose their co-workers.  The idea that being there for a few years meant they didn’t have to work with anyone they didn’t want to.  The idea that they deserved certain privileges.  That they were special. 

This clique had a lot of power.  The boss was afraid of them.  She didn’t want to be their victim.  She didn’t want them doing to her what they did to several others.  She didn’t want to be thrown off the cliff next.  So she tried to be their friend.  I was very happy when I could quit that job.  

There will always be people who think they are special and that they deserve certain privileges.  Jesus found that out.  Do a few miracles and preach a few good sermons in other places, and the people of Nazareth want to know why they don’t rate even better than the others got.  Don’t friends and family deserve some preferential treatment? Those are the questions they have for Jesus. 

The truth hurts sometimes.  Jesus went to Nazareth and he preached the truth and they didn’t want to hear it.  They were his family and friends so knowing this famous rabbi should make them special.  

Jesus told them the truth.  God blessed them so that they could be a blessing to the whole world.  Including everybody!  But especially including all those people that you have been leaving out.  

Including the foreigners, including the ones from the countries you consider your enemies. Including the people you are afraid of.  Including people of different races. The ones with the different religions. Including the ones whose sexual orientation or gender identity is confusing to you. 

Including the people who need extra help, who don’t do things as easily as you do.  Like the little girl who can’t catch a softball.  You have to let her play on your team.  You can say, “But Jesus, maybe we won’t win the game. And our whole team will look like a bunch of losers.”  

Jesus says, “yep, still gotta include them.” He says, “you gotta include the new coworkers who aren’t as efficient as you are with your ten years experience.  You have to be patient and help them learn the job.”  You say, “But Jesus, that will take more of my time and if I am nice to them my friends might reject me, too.”

That’s part of the problem with rejection.  When you are rejected, people don’t know what to say to you.   I worked at hospital for a while that went through staff restructuring every year or two, and people would be laid off each time. The first few times it happened, I avoided people who were laid off. 

Other people treat you like it is contagious.  I know that’s how I felt when it was my turn to be laid off. It seems like the people who are closest to you should be the most supportive, but that is not how it always works.  I had to keep reminding myself that God chose me even before I was born, claimed me and named me at baptism, and would now call me to something new.

As the prophet Jeremiah says, "Don't be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you."  Once God calls you and names you, it is forever.  No matter how often you are rejected in this world, God still sends you out to love your neighbors.  You will always be a baptized child of God.  

Jesus knew what rejection felt like.  He was rejected in his home town when he preached the truth to them. The truth that God's love includes everybody, and that means the people that the rest of the world rejects. 

We will all experience rejection in life.  Jesus shows us how to act when that happens.  He doesn’t act spiteful.  He doesn’t repay rejection with rejection. He just keeps on going on his way, doing what God called him to do.  

God had a mission for Jesus’ life.  That mission led him to the cross.  That mission was to save the whole world, everybody, including those who tried to reject him, including the ones who are themselves rejected.  

God has a mission for your life, too.  It won’t be easy and there will be rejection along the way.  Just keep going forward.  Don't be afraid.  God is with you. God delivered Jesus from rejection and death. God will deliver you, too.  Amen.    

Sermon, January 27, 2019

The video for January 27 is unavailable. Here is the sermon text.

The holy gospel according to Luke, the 4th chapter.  

Glory to you, O Lord. 

14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

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

Grace, mercy, and peace to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

When you were a little kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?  What did your parents want you to be?  When I was in first grade, I wanted to be a teacher.  Basically, the only adult women I knew who worked outside the home were teachers, so I wasn’t aware of other options. 

My parents expected that I would go to college.  My father thought the best thing anybody could be was a doctor or lawyer. 

The year I was in second grade was when John Glenn orbited the earth.  Our teacher told us we could all be astronauts and fly spaceships when we grew up, so I thought that would be a great idea.  So, for a couple of years, I was going to be an astronaut when I grew up.

When I was in the fourth grade, our Sunday school curriculum was called “Great Christians,” and I learned about pastors, and missionaries, and deaconesses from the 19th and 20th centuries.  

From that point on, I knew I was going to be a deaconess when I grew up. Back then, being a deaconess was the only option for women serving the Lutheran church.  Men were pastors, women were deaconesses. Deaconesses served as nurses, teachers, social workers, and parish workers.  

I was definitely going to be a parish worker. I knew that because I sent for the catalog from the Lutheran School for Church Workers and marked the classes I wanted to take.  Parish workers got to take a class called “Sunday school crafts.” Who wouldn’t want a career where you get to make crafts? 

I am one of the rare people who actually did grow up to be what I said I was going to be when I was ten.  I was a deaconess for thirty years, and I did work as a parish deaconess for a while, and got to make my share of Sunday school crafts.

But, I changed careers in my fifties.  God called me to be a pastor later in my life. I am doing something that wasn’t even a possibility when I was ten.  

Sometimes people turn out to be totally different from what you expected when you knew them as a child. 

In today’s gospel, we hear that Jesus has come home to preach at the congregation in his home town.  This is the congregation where he grew up.  They have known him since he was a toddler. 

They had certain expectations about him from the beginning.  When Jesus was a boy, chances are nobody asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.  There were no opportunities for children to choose their own career.  Girls grew up to get married, keep house, and raise children. 

Boys followed in their father’s footsteps.  Jesus was going to be a carpenter just like Joseph. And he was, for a while. But then, God called him to leave that behind. God called him to go do something entirely different. 

The grown man Jesus was not the little boy the Nazarenes thought they knew.  He wasn’t even the young carpenter any more.  He wasn’t even acting like the great preacher and healer they had heard about. 

When we have known someone their whole life, when we know their family, we have certain expectations about them, about who they are, and how they should act, and what they should do with their life. When they grow up they claim their own identity.  When they write the narrative of their own life it can be very different from what we expected. It can be confusing for us, difficult for us to accept.  

I think maybe it’s hard for us because it means we have to admit we we wrong about somebody. And nobody wants to admit they were wrong. 

We don’t just have these expectations about other people we know, or about our children. We have them about ourselves too.  We don’t always turn out to be the people we thought we we going to be. We don’t always meet our own expectations or others expectations about us. 

What do we think we know about the people sitting next to us in the pews today?  What do we think we know about our families and friends? What do we think we know about our neighbors?  What do we think we know about people who seem so different from us? How do we help each other be the people God calls us to be? 

Jesus has good new for us today. Jesus claims that scripture is fulfilled in our hearing. In Nazareth, this contradicts everything his home town crowd thinks they know about him. Jesus is the anointed One, the Christ. The home town crowd wasn’t expecting that for sure. Maybe a prophet, maybe a healer, but they weren’t expecting him to be the Christ, the Savior of the world. 

Jesus’ good news for the poor is that we can all be the people God calls us to be, even when that’s not what anyone expected. We don’t need to fulfill the stereotypes that society lays out for us.  We can live like the people God made us to be.  

We are set free from the captivity of our past. We are set free from the captivity of what everyone else thinks we should say and do. We are set free from the voice inside our own minds telling us that we are not enough. 

Today, in your hearing, Jesus proclaims release to you from all that is holding you back, release from everything that’s keeping you from being the person God made you to be.  

Jesus says even more, though. He proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor.  This was a familiar concept to his listeners, but may be new to us. The year of the Lord’s favor is also called a Jubilee Year.  Jubilee is declared after a Sabbath of sabbath years, meaning 7 times 7, so it’s the 50th year.  

Several things happen in a Jubilee year. The first and most important is that all slaves were set free. People became slaves because of poverty, so this was a declaration that their debts were forgiven. It was a reminder to masters and slaves alike that they were all forgiven and equal in the sight of God. 

The next thing that happens in a Jubilee year was that all property reverts back to the original family owners. The only way that a family would have lost their land would be because of extreme poverty. If they were forced to sell their land it meant they needed the money to eat and they basically became the servants of the man who bought it. So this proclamation gives people back their own homes and enables them to once again earn their own living and support their families. 

The third part of a Jubilee year is that it’s a year of sabbath rest for the land as well as the people. They are to let the fields lay fallow and only harvest what grows naturally. Then everyone will know that they are truly trusting God to provide for them. 

Jesus comes to his home town to preach. But he is not the person they think he is. He isn’t who they expect him to be. He is so much more. He is the Christ, the anointed One. He proclaims to you today that you are released from false expectations. You are free to be the people’s God calls you to be. 

Your debts are forgiven. You have your true home now with God’s family. God will always provide for you. Amen. 


Sermon, January 20, 2019

The Holy Gospel according to John, the 2nd chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord. 

1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." 4 And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." 5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. 

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.

Well, the decorating committee has taken down all the pretty Christmas things.  The paraments and banners are green again.  The holidays are definitely over.  Ordinary time is here.

We call the “green season” ordinary time, not because it isn’t a special holiday, although it isn’t.  We call it ordinary because it is numbered, or ordered.

The good news for us today is that Jesus comes to us in ordinary times.  Jesus blesses ordinary times and ordinary things and transforms them with grace.

There is a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin who was paraphrasing St. Augustine.  He says, “We hear of the conversion of the water into wine at the marriage of Cana, as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.”

Today, God is using some ordinary water and transforming it before our very eyes.  God is using this ordinary water combined with the Word to welcome new children into the family of faith and promise them salvation.  Today, like the disciples at the wedding, we get to celebrate God’s love as we welcome new members and celebrate their baptism day. 

The wedding at Cana was an ordinary Jewish wedding.  It was so ordinary that the gospel writer doesn’t even bother to mention the names of the couple or their families. 

Weddings held symbolic importance for the Jewish people.  Marriage was often used to describe the relationship between God and the people.  Just as our reading from Isaiah says, " the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”

We think weddings and receptions are ridiculously expensive now, and they are.  But our weddings have nothing on the Jewish wedding celebrations in New Testament times.  

In those days, weddings lasted a week.  The whole town was invited to the party.  The hosts were expected to keep the party going with food and drink the whole week.  Running out of wine would have ended the celebration early and the unhappy guests probably would have left.  

Hospitality was extremely important in that culture.  Running out of wine would have been a major social embarrassment.  It would have been the story that everyone told about that couple for the rest of their lives.  

Cana was a small town.  It was so small that Bible scholars aren’t even sure where it was. If you have ever lived in one, you know how things are in small towns.  This would have been the topic of conversation at every wedding in town for years and years. 

Everyone would be snickering about it. “Remember how they ran out of wine after only three days at Dave and Carolyn’s wedding? Everyone went home early.  I sure hope this couple isn’t embarrassed like that...” 

Wine had a different meaning for them, too.  Wine was a symbol of God’s abundance and blessings. 

Back then, people of all ages drank wine just like we drink tea or pop or coffee.  Thomas and Charles Welch didn't develop the process to make “unfermented wine” until 1869, so grape juice as we know it did not exist back then.   

The gospel of John is full of symbolism and this story is no exception. Jesus and his family and disciples were at a wedding party in Cana.  They had been there a while already, and it was the third day.  

We of course, remember that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.  So when, John tells us it was the third day, we know something important is going to happen.

The mother of Jesus was there.  Her presence is also a signal that something important is going to happen.  Jesus protested to her that his hour had not yet come.  He used that expression to refer to his time of suffering and death. Mary was there then, too.

I love the interaction between Mary and Jesus in this scene.  She tells him the wine has run out. He says that isn’t their concern. After all, it isn’t their party.  She tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them. 

It is kind of like a mom asking her son to play the piano for their dinner guests.  The child protests that they aren’t there for a recital.  The mom hands the child the music book and pretty soon everyone is singing along. She knows he is going to do it even when he protests. 

The servants had six stone jars there.  Six is the biblical number of incompleteness.  God created the world in six days, but creation was not complete until God rested and gave us the Sabbath day.  

The six jars were large - 20-30 gallons a piece.  They were used for the rites of purification.  These rites consisted of hand washing and bathing.  They were prescribed by the law and required before religious activities.  There were varieties of reasons that someone might need to either wash their hands or take a full bath.  

Because they are used for the purification rites, the jars full of water are symbolic of God's Law. 

The Law is good.  It is a gift from God.  It gives us information about how the world works and helps us make decisions about how we should live.  If we all follow it, we will live well.  The law promotes justice and order in society. Many of the psalms celebrate and praise the gift of the law. 

The Law has another purpose besides promoting justice and order.  The law convicts us.  The law shows our sin.  The law shows us that we never, ever, can keep it perfectly. We all fall short of obedience. 

Jesus does not get rid of the Law for us.  He does not tell the servants to empty the water and break the jars used for ritual purification.  He does something new.

Jesus transforms the Law.  He fulfills it himself.  He makes something new.  He changes the water into wine. He makes it into something that is a sign of God’s blessings for us.  He transforms something ordinary and gives us grace.  

It isn’t just a little bit of grace either.  He makes one hundred eighty gallons of wine. More than enough for the wedding feast. There is enough wine there that the bride and groom could toast the joy of their marriage every day and every night for the rest of their lives.  

Not just the cheap stuff, either.  No cheap grace here.  This is the best wine ever.  

Interestingly, it is the servants who know what Jesus did. The steward didn’t know and the bridegroom had no idea.  Neither did the party guests.  The servants and the disciples are the only ones who know who Jesus really is. 

We are the servants and disciples in this story.  Jesus comes to us in our ordinary times.  Our ordinary times may be work or school or family time or even a party. 

Our ordinary times are the times when we are just trying to get along and do what we are supposed to be doing. Our ordinary times may be going all right. 

Or maybe not. They could be the times when the law seems to convict us.  Our ordinary times may be the times when, as hard as we try, we just can’t seem to do what we need to do. 

No matter what they are like, Jesus comes to us in ordinary times and ordinary things.  Through his love, he transforms the law that convicts us, into abundant grace.  Grace enough for us to celebrate every day and every night.  Grace enough for everyone. Amen. 

Baptism of Our Lord, January 13, 2019

Due to technical problems, this week’s video is not available.

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 3rd chapter.  Glory to you, O Lord.

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." 21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

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

Grace, mercy, and peace to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The baptism of Jesus changed everything.  It changed the very nature of baptism itself. 

John knew that baptizing Jesus was different from baptizing anyone else.  Could he have realized just how different things would be?  

Luke tells us that after Jesus was baptized, he was praying.  While he was praying, the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove.  A voice came from heaven and said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism.  And when the Holy Spirit comes down, everything changes about baptism.

You received the Holy Spirit at your baptism, too. The pastor marked a cross on your forehead with oil and said your name, “Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”  

Baptism is forever.  It is God’s action.  God makes a forever promise to us in baptism.  It isn’t like the baptism of John.  We don’t have to repent and say we are sorry for our sins first.  That’s because baptism is all God’s work, not ours.  Baptism brings the gifts of the Holy Spirit to us. 

We Lutherans talk about Jesus a lot.  We talk about God the Creator, a lot.  We talk about the Holy Spirit usually once a year, on Pentecost.  We need to remember that our God is Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  

So what does the Holy Spirit do for us in baptism? 

First of all, the Holy Spirit calls us.

Luther says we don’t even believe in Jesus on our own.  He says we can’t.  No human has the power to believe in God.  We receive our faith as a gift.  The Holy Spirit calls us through the message of the Gospel and gives us faith.

We hear the message of the Good News, that God loved the world so much, that Jesus came to live among us as a human, just like us.  

While he was here on earth, Jesus preached the good news of God’s love.  He healed the sick and fed the hungry.  He showed us how to live - how to be the people God calls us to be. 

He gave his life on a cross for us.  He rose from the dead and opened the gates of heaven for us.  

When we hear that good news - that God loves us that much - we respond in faith.  That faith is the gift of the Holy Spirit.  

The Spirit gives us many other gifts, too.  We hear about them in the baptism liturgy. In it we pray that the newly baptized will be sustained with the gift of the Holy Spirit: “the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, and the spirit of joy in God's presence.”

These gifts of the Spirit enlighten us.  Wisdom and understanding show us what we need to get along in the world.  They help us see how to live.

The gift of counsel is the gift of good judgment.  It shows us right from wrong.  It helps us decide what we should do when the world is confusing.  The gift of counsel helps us we are faced with all of life's choices.

The gift of might is the gift of courage and strength to do the right thing.  It is also the strength to endure suffering for the sake of our faith.

The gift of knowledge isn’t about knowing facts. It is the gift of knowing the Lord. 

The fear of the Lord is a sense of awe in the presence of God.  It is the gift that calls us to worship the Lord in holy splendor, as we prayed with our psalmist today. 

The Holy Spirit gives us the spirit of joy in the presence of God.  All joy comes from God and being in God’s presence.  There is no joy without the presence of the Holy Spirit. So, the next time you experience joy in your life, remember to thank the Holy Spirit.  Joy means that you are in the presence of God. 

The Holy Spirit calls us and enlightens us with gifts in our baptism.  But, baptism is not just about an individual's relationship with God.  The Holy Spirit gathers us together with the whole Christian church.  

When we are baptized we become a member of the church. As we confess in the Apostles Creed, we are part of the holy catholic church and the communion of saints.   We are joined with all the Christians of every time and every place. 

That sounds great - until you look around you and see that means you are also part of this great company of sinners.  You belong to the family of the church. 

The good news for us is that the Holy Spirit has another gift.  The Holy Spirit is often called the “Sanctifier,” which means, the saint maker.  The Holy Spirit is the One who makes us holy, or makes us saints.

When I say all Christians are made holy, I don’t mean we have a “holier than thou” attitude.  I can’t make myself holy.  You can’t make yourself holy either.  So we can’t take the credit for our sainthood. It is just like believing in Jesus, we can’t do it ourselves.  

The Holy Spirit makes us holy, makes us saints, by forgiving our sins.  As Luther said, “Daily in this Christian Church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins - mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.”

It can be said that the promises and gifts of the Spirit in Baptism are like the promises at a wedding.  At the ceremony, the couple makes lasting promises to each other.  

It can’t stop there though.  To make a marriage work, you have to regularly tell each other, “I love you.”  

The Spirit makes lasting promises to us in baptism.  Every week in Holy Communion, the God the Spirit says, “I love you.  Your sins are forgiven.” 

Thanks be to God. Amen.