Sunday, November 28, 2010

"One Day at a Time"

Romans 13:11-14
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Matthew 24:36–44
But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

A Message from the Pastor
Happy New Year, everyone! Yes, it’s the beginning of the New Year for the Church. It’s the beginning of Advent. It is the season of waiting, expectation, and hope. The paraments on the altar are blue to symbolize our hope. We wait, are expectant, hope for the coming of Christ. I like to think that there are three ways that we prepare for the coming of Christ, with our expectancy, our waiting, and our hope.

Of course, we are waiting for the coming of the Christ child into the manger, not a palace or a fine home. Jesus comes to us in squalor as he is laid in a feeding trough in a stable. He comes to us as one of us. He comes to us as a common person, living among us. God changes the concept of humanity forever as God becomes part of humanity in the form of his son.

Another way we think of Jesus coming to us is that he does so every day. He comes to us when we are open to his coming. He lives within us.

The third way that we consider Jesus coming is on the “last day.” It is when he comes, so to speak, in the clouds. We think of this each time we confess our faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”

Now I must confess that I have trouble discussing or talking about this final “coming.” First of all, when we ponder his coming again on the “last day,” we focus on the future, not on the present where it is best to find and relate to God. When we think about the future, we move ourselves out of the present. Secondly, many times when we think of the “last day,” we find ourselves listening to the concept of the rapture, which is that philosophy, that concept, that Jesus will come again as part of a cataclysmic event when he will snatch up those who are true believers, take them to heaven, and leave the rest for one thousand years of trial and tribulation. This is not good theology. Although there is scripture that reminds us of his coming and that he could come in the clouds, there is nothing that says he will come in some dramatic event. The concept of the rapture comes from taking snippets of scripture from different places in the Bible and developing a rapture theology. I believe that scripture should be read recognizing that each author wrote to the people of the time for specific situations that existed at the time. We need to understand that and relate it to our present situation. The theology of the rapture didn’t develop until the late nineteenth century.

As we read these texts, I would rather consider the reality that Jesus comes to us all the time, one day at a time. As we read the gospel story for today, we find that Jesus is saying that he will come again under the most ordinary of circumstances. He will come when they are eating and drinking and marrying and giving in marriage. He will come when men are in the field and women are grinding meal together. These are things that happen as part of ordinary living, not anything cataclysmic. He comes in the common, everyday part of life. He comes one day at a time.

Jesus does come to us all the time. He comes to us as part of the means of grace and word and sacrament. He comes to us when Polly read scripture this morning. He comes to us when we are baptized and we remember that when we are baptized, it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives within us. He comes to us when we come to this altar to receive bread and wine and you hear me say, “The body of Christ for you,” and a fellow worshipper says, “This is the blood of Christ for you.” Jesus comes to us every time we pray, whether intentionally or otherwise, one day at a time. Jesus comes to us, not only in this worship, but each day as we worship him. Jesus comes to us one day at a time when we open the book of faith and find Jesus. He comes to us as we joyously serve, remembering his words, “When you do this to the least of my brethren, you do it to me.” The same comments from Jesus apply when we generously give. Furthermore, even when we have fellowship after worship and we share with one another our lives, Jesus is with us for he said, “Where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am in your midst.
Jesus is always coming to us. And he comes to us one day at a time.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"He's a King?"

Colossians 1:11–20
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Luke 23:33-43
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

A Message from the Pastor (As told by a stranger from the past)
I’ve been watching all of you for over one hundred years. I have been watching how you live, where you live, how you work, how you play, what values you have, and how you relate to others. One of the peculiar things I found has to do with your jewelry. Did you know that the most popular jewelry item is a cross? Besides wearing them hanging from your neck, I’ve seen them dangling from ear lobes, attached to a wrist bracelet, and worn on a lapel. I’ve even seen a few of them hanging from a nose or from a lip. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be disrespectful of the cross. I know how important it is to you. It is the symbol of your religion and what you believe.

What is interesting is that they are always shining and bright. Many times they are covered with jewels or etched with a fancy design. I seldom see one with Jesus hanging from it.

I’d like to ask you a question? Would you be willing to wear an electric chair around your neck, or as other kinds of jewelry? After all, that’s what the cross was. It was the principal means of execution at the time of the Roman Empire, just like an electric chair is a popular means of execution today. You see, I wore a cross when I was on earth at the time of Jesus. I was wearing the means of execution as I proclaimed my faith in Jesus.

In this culture, the world focuses on success. It wants to display things that are shining and bright, not those items that display truly what God is all about as Jesus hangs and dies on a cross. We want to think positively from the world’s point of view. We want to feel good as the world sees it. Humorously, this culture likes to think of Jesus in a similar way to one of your comic book heroes, Superman. He comes to this earth in a strange way, he wanders the earth for thirty-three years and he is almost done in by a Kryptonite Kross. Then he struggles into a phone booth of an empty tomb, comes out with his Easter clothes, and wonderfully leaps into heaven. You like to always think of the Christ as was describe in the second reading for today. He is the image of the invisible God, first born of creation. All things are made through him. He is the head of the body. The fullness of God dwells in him. We like to think of Christ in this heavenly way. We forget about the human Jesus.

In the gospel story for today, we read that, “The people stood by, watching . . .” I was one of those people. I saw him virtually crawling up the hill with the cross over his shoulder. I saw and heard him cry out in pain as they laid him on top of the cross and drove the nails into his hands and his feet. I saw as they hoisted the cross up on pulleys and dropped it into the hole. Is this the kind of king that you want? Do you want a common criminal for a king?

They placed a crown of thorns on his head. I saw the blood from that and the birds pecking at his head because of it while the wild dogs were nipping at his feet. I saw his bruises and stripes from the beating he took. The interesting thing that happened occurred when they were hoisting him up. With all that ugly treatment that he received, he said, “Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they are doing.” Imagine that. After all that treatment he wants them forgiven. Is that the kind of king you want, one that forgives unconditionally? Do you, as his follower, want to be the same?

What is ironical, is that all those around him, the leaders, the soldiers, and even one of the criminals, while scoffing at him and mocking him, called him a king or the Messiah of God. Isn’t that interesting? While, I’m sure, they didn’t believe it, they called him what we consider him to be.

Then the most amazing thing happened. There next to Jesus was the other criminal. He looked over at Jesus and said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Imagine that! Here is a man who is suffering greatly. Who knows what kind of person he is. He has to be in utter agony hanging from that cross. Yet, he recognizes Jesus as king. He recognizes that Jesus is coming into his power. He recognizes that Jesus’ reign is about to begin. How can that be? Does it take suffering, hopelessness, helplessness, and a recognizing that he totally lost all control to see who Jesus was? Is that the hiddeness of God? Does God reveal himself most vividly in times of suffering, agony, and defeat? Is that the kind of king that you want?

After all, when one reads about Jesus walking this earth during his three years of ministry, he/she finds him eating with the losers. He eats with sinners, tax collectors, and even prostitutes. He feeds those who are hungry. He has compassion on the ill, the lame, and the broken people. He reaches out to those who are marginalized. Is that the kind of king you want? As followers of a king, do you want to do the same?

This is the end of the church year. It is the time that a person can acknowledge that Christ is King. It is a good time to think about this king we wish to follow. Next week begins Advent. Each has an opportunity to prepare for the coming of the king. No, he wasn’t born in a palace. He was born in a stable and placed In a feeding trough, where manure and other things of a stable would be. Follow him from Nazareth to Jerusalem. Follow him to the cross and then to the empty tomb. But it doesn’t end there. Go into the world and tell others the kind of king he is and how he reveals God’s love to all.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

“Past, Present, Future”

Malachi 4:1-2a
See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.

2 Thessalonians 3:6–13
Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone's bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

Luke 21:5-19
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is near!' Do not go after them.

When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately. Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

A Message from the Pastor
Well, this church year is quickly coming to a close. Today is the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost. There is only one Sunday left after this Sunday; it is Christ the King Sunday when we acknowledge the reign of God through Christ. As we come to the close of the church year, the readings always address the “end times,” or so it seems. The Malachi reading for today mentions that, “the day is coming.” Then the writer recites ominous events that will occur. In the Second Letter to the Thessalonians, the writer is also talking about the end times. Unfortunately some people read this text and refer to it as a message against such things as welfare payments, unemployment compensation, food stamps, and the like. However, what had been happening was that there were many who believed that Jesus was coming again, soon. (Even Paul believed that Jesus would come again before he died.) Some of the believers stopped working. The thought process was that there was no reason to work if Jesus would come soon. Some, of course, used the time to be busy bodies and practice idle gossip. The writer of the letter was admonishing them to continue living in an appropriate way. (Martin Luther said that if he knew the Second Coming would happen the next day, he would plant a tree today.)

Then we have the gospel reading for today in which Jesus responds to comments about the temple, its beauty and magnificence. He told them that nothing would be left standing. There would be no stone standing upon another. He talked of wars and insurrections, nations against nations, kingdoms against kingdoms, great earthquakes, famine and plagues, and dread portents and signs from heaven. They were all ominous to hear. When we read this text we can think about the past, present, and the future.

We focus on the past by considering when Jesus spoke these words. When we read more deeply into his comments, we find that Jesus was not predicting the end of the world, but was talking about how to deal with what they would face. We’ve always had wars, nations against nations, great earthquakes, famines, plagues, dreadful “signs,” and great developments in the heavens. What he did say was not to be fearful, and, then, the critical comment, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” That last comment does not necessarily say that by endurance you will go to heaven. In speaking of our souls, I believe Jesus is talking about knowing who we are and whose we are. Our “soul” represents all of who we are and what we are about.

The past continues when we think about the time this gospel was written, which was circa 90 AD. The readers were being persecuted as Christians. In 70 AD, Jerusalem was laid waste and the temple was completely destroyed with no stone left upon another. Furthermore, before this gospel was written, Mt. Vesuvius had erupted. If we remember the results of Mt. Helena, we know that such an event can be seen from great distances. The people in the Mediterranean Basin would have been well aware of the utter destruction this natural disaster caused. It would give one pause to think that the world was coming to an end. The gospel writer was reminding them what Jesus said that we are to endure and to testify to our relationship with God, through Christ.

When we skip to the future, this is what some people use to predict what is going to happen in the near future. They use fear to bring us to think the way they wish. When we are fearful, we change the way we think. We change our perspectives, our priorities, and our values. People use the words of Malachi and the Gospel of Luke to evoke that fear.

When we think of the present, I suggest we remind ourselves that God is the creator of time and space. As such, God is always in the present. To God there is no past or future. And it is in the present where we meet God and develop a relationship with God. We are reminded that, in the present, God will be there to help us testify and to strengthen us in our endurance through life.

When we hear the words of Jesus in this gospel text for today, it may not be easy to relate to what Jesus said. None of us are persecuted. Families, friends, or other relatives do not betray us. We will not be put to death. We will not be brought to trial because of our belief. However, we do need to remember that God will give us the words to speak and that we need to endure.

We have our own wars that we fight as we struggle with life. We have our own personal earthquakes as events shatter us. We have our own famines as we sense our starving for attention or love. In the midst of all this, we are called to testify, although differently than the early Christians. In fact, we have all known people who have had a difficult life dealt to them. It seems to me that this is when we see God more clearly, if we are open. God reveals himself at such times. There is a person in a church I was serving. She lost her husband at age fifty-five. She has a son who is mentally ill and a daughter who deals with certain issues. In addition, if I had a large sheet of paper, I could fill it with the list of diseases and illnesses that she experiences. Yet, whenever I talked to her, she would always demonstrate her great love, faith, and hope in God. She was positive about life. This is how she testified.

In addition, anyone I have talked to, who has had difficult times in life and has been connected to God in a strong personal relationship always talks about the blessings they receive through such experiences. For example, when I was serving a congregation in Florence, there was a group of people “out to get me.” It was not a fun time. In the midst of it, Frankie developed situational depression. A month later, I did the same. (It was really a fun time in our home.) In the midst of it, a friend of mine said at a meeting that blessings would come out of it. She told me to endure and walk through it. About a year later, exactly on Easter Sunday, at the sunrise service, I knew the depression had left me. It was true, blessings did come. I had gained my soul in another way.

I’m certainly not suggesting that we look for misery or catastrophes so we can be blessed or can testify. However, by revering God as Malachi says, and doing what is appropriate, we can, by our endurance, know who we are and whose we are. We will gain our souls.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

“Being a Saint in the Church”

Ephesians 1:11–23
In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Luke 6:20-31
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.

But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

A Message from the Pastor
It was not easy to prepare for the message today for two reasons. First of all, there are some “cradle Lutherans” here today that have no problem recognizing All Saints Sunday and what it means. It happens every year, the first Sunday after All Saints Day, which is always on November 1. However, there could be some who are worshipping who are not used to a liturgical service. They could have picked up today’s bulletin, saw that it was All Saints Sunday, and wondered what the heck this was all about. Well, we do celebrate and commemorate those who have gone before us. However, we also acknowledge that we are saints. Yes, we are sinners. That’s why we make confession at the beginning of every worship service. But we are saints. Martin Luther said that we are saints and sinners at the same time. Well, what is a saint all about?

The other challenge was the readings for today. How do those readings connect with being a saint? The first one, from Daniel, is prophetic. There are some people who believe that this reading prophesizes the end of the world in the near future. The second reading, from Ephesians, is a glorious description of God’s relationship to us and ours to God through Jesus Christ. However, the Ephesians text is not the easiest to read. The author writes as if it’s a stream of consciousness. Then we have the Gospel of Luke, and what do we hear? Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor.” How does that connect with being a saint?

Let me begin by reading from the Letter to the Ephesians as written by Eugene Peterson, in The Message.
It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the over-all purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.

It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free – signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.

That’s why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the Saints (these are believers who are alive), I couldn’t stop thanking God for you – every time I prayed. I’d think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank, I ask – ask the God of our Master Jesus Christ, the God of glory – to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, [the) eyes [of your heart] focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for [Saints], oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him – endless energy, boundless strength!

All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. (Folks, that’s us. We are the church.) The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.

We are the church. We are the body of Christ. Yes, we are sinners. That’s why we confess our sinfulness every time we worship. However we are also saints. We are at the center of God’s world, through Christ. This world is on the edge of God’s world, the one to which we belong; although I’m sure it doesn’t always feel like that. You see, we have been marked with the cross of Christ forever, since we are signed, sealed, and delivered through the Holy Spirit. What has happened to us, through Christ, doesn’t wash off. We are marked forever as a saint.

Well, if we are saints then what is all this about in the gospel when Jesus says the poor, hungry, and mournful are blessed. What connection does that make? Well, as we develop and maintain a more personal relationship with God, we begin to see the world through Jesus’ eyes. We begin to see how God might perceive God’s kingdom.

The word “poor” used by Jesus in this reading is the description of the poorest of the poor. If someone is poor but knows that there is someone poorer than him/her, then it isn’t her/him that Jesus is talking about. And why are they blessed? When you have nothing, when you are utterly empty, all you can depend upon is God. It is then that you might realize and experience God’s reign breaking through. And being poor brings on sorrow and hunger. God promises that such people will laugh and be filled. That’s what we begin to understand as saints. Unfortunately, in the world, we “automatically” think, when we see people who have material goods, who appear to be wealthy, and are in good spirits, that they are blessed. Not so, says Jesus. Jesus helps us to understand that God turns our perception of life upside down.

And with that understanding, Jesus continues to make everything “topsy turvey” from the world’s perspective. He says we are to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who abuse us. What kind of silliness is that?

The world doesn’t think that way. Just think of this last election campaign. Did you ever hear about loving our enemies? Was it ever suggested that we do good to those who hurt us? Did we see anyone blessing those who curse them? Or did any candidate pray for those who abused them? That’s not the way the world operates.

However, as we become closer to God, through Christ, we begin to see how God’s world operates and how we are to become. Oh, yes, we are sinners. There’s no doubt about that. But, we are also saints.