Ordinary Time (after Pentecost)

*SEASON AFTER PENTECOST (ORDINARY TIME)

The Season after Pentecost, also called Ordinary Time, begins the day after Pentecost and ends the day before the First Sunday of Advent. It may include twenty–three to twenty–eight Sundays, depending on the date of Easter, but the first Sunday is always Trinity Sunday, and the last Sunday is always the Sunday of the Reign of Christ or Christ the King. The season also includes All Saints and Thanksgiving

Scripture for September 13, 2020

15th Sunday After Pentecost


Genesis 50:15-21

Joseph reconciles with his brothers

Psalm 103:8-13

Lord, you are full of compassion and mercy.

Matthew 18:15-35

Forgiveness within the community of faith

[Jesus said to the disciples:] 15“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

21Peter came and said to [Jesus], “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.


23“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

For the word of God in scripture

For the word of God among us

For the word of God within us,

Thanks be to God, Amen.

When any gathering of humans occurs there is likely to be disagreement. Last week we talked about Paul’s letter to the Romans where he lays out that love should be our rule of life as a community, and that in doing so we will be fulfilling God’s law. But you and I know that no matter how hard we try to do the loving thing, we will end up disappointing and hurting one another – with things we say and do, or don’t say and don’t do. It doesn’t matter the relationship – friend, family, spouse, significant other, parent, child – we will hurt one another, or at the very least find ourselves in conflict with one another.

Church, we are not exempt. And I know I am preaching to the choir when it comes to knowing conflict within a community of faith. And when conflict arises we want to make it better and smooth out the rough places in our life together, because we are the church and forgiveness is a BIG part of our life together. We are supposed to be the peaceful community right? And disention, disagreement, and conflict, well that makes it seem like we aren’t good followers of Jesus…

We talk a lot about forgiveness We include it in our liturgy, in our bible studies, and as part of our faith formation. We give great importance to it. And we should. But we don’t often talk about what that process of forgiveness actually looks like. It’s just something we do.

Unfortunately, by only talking about forgiveness as something that we ought to do, we have at times gotten it wrong. Like when we reduce forgiveness to only mean a shift in your heart or feelings towards another person, and we diminish the pain of the one who was hurt.

Or we focus too much of the burden on the one who has been hurt. That forgiveness is necessary for the person who harmed to change. Or that the one’s words release the other from guilt. That “proper” forgiveness leads to continued relationship. Leaving the one who has been harmed to be labeled as the sinful one or faithless if they cannot. This leads to people remaining in abusive relationships and toxic situations – neither of which is part of the process Jesus teaches the disciples.

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For as much as we have gotten it wrong, the Holy Spirit continues to gather us into community as the church. God created us for relationship, and Jesus helps us to live in this community and in relationship to one another in ways that acknowledge both our ability to mess things up and gives us a way forward to wholeness – wholeness as an individual, as a community, and as the church.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu used this passage from Matthew and offers a four-step process of forgiveness. His process suggests forgiveness is not just words of absolution spoken between two people, but is an actual process. The four steps are as follows:

1. Tell your story. Specifically, to the one who has harmed you. Sometimes we need to give voice to the story to someone we trust first, and that’s ok too.

2. Name the hurt. Healing cannot begin without hurt being named. Again this should be named to the one who has done harm, and if this hurt needs to be held within a trusted relationship, that is still ok.

3. Do the forgiving. If you are heard, and you choose to do so, speak words of forgiveness.

4. Repair or release the relationship.

This last one is particularly important because we often tie forgiveness as a first step to repaired relationships. This cannot be done if the other person is unrepentant and does not change their behavior. That my siblings, is cheap forgiveness.

We have focused so much on the need to forgive that we miss that Jesus also says there is a need for changed behavior. It was not just forgiveness but repentance. When that is not the case, when this process does not change harmful behaviors, forgiveness may lead to a released relationship. We need to let that be an answer to conflict too. 


Forgiveness takes time. It cannot be forced or coerced nor can it be rushed. This process is not one and done, but may take re-working and re-walking of these four steps. Healing is not linear.

Forgiveness is about bringing the damaged relationship to light. Pain, hurt, anger, the whole conflict itself cannot be minimized or dismissed.

Forgiveness is about unbinding ourselves from harm. Whether we are the one who is harmed or we have done the harm we are bound to that person by invisible, but weighty chains to one another. Forgiveness a process of undoing those chains, unbinding and loosening ourselves. It’s not about saying what happened was ok, but sooner or later, perhaps even in ebbs and flows, we become unbound to that simmering resentment. Anger about what happened is always appropriate. Anger reveals places where others have trespassed our boundaries. Being angry does not mean that the process of forgiveness has not worked, but that we may need to rework the four steps, that still more pain needs to be revealed so that it may be healed.

Forgiveness is a process where Jesus promises to be with us. We do not do this on our own, but when two or three are gathered, specifically in conflict Jesus is there. With us as we tell our story, as we hear the story of others. As we name the hurt, and as we heart the hurt we have done. As we speak words of forgiveness, as we hear words of forgiveness. As we seek to reconcile our relationships, and when we choose to release the relationship for the sake of our wellbeing.

May the holy spirit that dwells in each of us give us the courage and the humility to break the chains of harm and violence and live the peace and wholeness that Jesus offers.


Amen.

Additional resources on forgiveness:

Have a Little Faith Series - "Forgiveness" Nadia Bolz-Weber

Content notice: language

TED- "Why Forgiveness is Worth It" Sarah Montana

The Book of Forgiving, Desmond and Mpho Tutu

Announcements for this week:

  • Wednesday Bible Study 9:30am

  • Wednesday In-person Gathering 12:30pm Wednesday Gathering Sign Up

  • Thursday centering prayer 9:30am

  • Thursday zoom Gathering 11:30am

  • Sept 20th we are planning on having in person worship outdoors
    Please sign up
    Outdoor worship Sign Up
    Plan to wear masks, and be physically distanced by 6 ft from other households.
    Let me know if we can provide a chair for you

Please see Monday's connection email and September Rambler for additional dates and gathering details.

Scripture for September 6, 2020

14th Sunday After Pentecost

Ezekiel 33:7-11

The prophet's responsibility to warn the people

Psalm 119:33-40

I desire the path of your commandments

Romans 13:8-14:12

Live in harmony, accepting the diversity of the community of faith


8Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

  11Besides 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; 12the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

14:1Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

  5Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

  7We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

  10Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11For it is written,

 “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,

  and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

12So then, each of us will be accountable to God.


Sermon

For the word of God in scripture

For the word of God among us

For the word of God within us,

Thanks be to God, Amen.

Jesus said they will know you are my disciples by your love.

This must have been a fairly well-known statement by those followers of Jesus after the resurrection for Paul’s letters to focus so much on love.

It is also clear that for Paul, it was important that the communities of Jesus followers would live this love, and remember the commandments. For Paul, following Jesus does not undo the years of religious practice or the weightiness of just and merciful communal living. Rather following of Jesus becomes a way of living the commandments.

They will know you are followers of Jesus, because of your love. And this is nothing new, but a fulfillment of the commandments and the law.

I am aware that you know this love isn’t the easy kind of love, its not inconsequential love. But love that is weighty and at times challenging. It is a kind of love that transforms, heals, and unites. Paul tells us it is the kind of love that bares with the burden of others, especially those who are called weak in their faith.

The first example he uses is the believers who do not eat meat. Seems a little odd to our modern ears. But for Paul’s day and time, meat was expensive and sometimes rare. Often times the meat that was found in the markets had come from the temples. This meat came from animals sacrificed to idols in an offering or ritual. But the meat isn’t marked as meat previously used in a ritual or farm to market. For some it felt like idol worship to eat meat. For others they understood those rituals and sacrifices to be simple acts, and since they had no intention of worshiping the idols, eating the meat was not seen as participating. The each understood their acts to be acts of faith.

Then he talks about days of the week and judging others based on which day they worship. Some Jesus following communities continued the practice of sabbath on the same day as Jewish communities - what we call Saturday. Others moved to recognizing Sunday, the first day of the week, as the holy day since it was the day of the resurrection. Individuals and communities were being deemed greater or lesser in the faith depending on the day they honored as sabbath and the day you gather for communal worship.

Can you imagine the quarreling? Paul is writing this letter to the communities in Rome, he has not been there. He has sent others to share the good news of Jesus and build communities who follow him as the risen messiah. Yet Paul knows that these disputes are arising.

And it may still sound odd to our modern ears that quarreling over such seemingly inconsequential things would cause a need for mention in Paul’s letter to them. But are we much different? Do we not judge others on the basis of their worship and community practices? Are we not judged for our own?

Paul reminds these believers in Rome, and us, that nothing other than love of God and neighbor matters. For the community in Rome the fact that fellow siblings in faith were being judged and labeled as lesser in the community of faith for how they understood their practices around communal gathers to be good and faithful was a detriment to the spread of the Gospel and antithetical to following Jesus.

We are law loving by our fallen nature. We want the hard and fast rules and ten steps for following Jesus. We want to know what’s allowed, what’s not. And we want to be able to judge one another on our ability to follow the rules, and be able think more highly of ourselves when others fail. Even Jesus was challenged by those in authority in the law, and he said, “I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.” And when challenged again Jesus reminded his challengers that Loving God and neighbor are the greatest commandments, upon them rests all the prophets and the law. And Paul reminds us in another way, when it comes to the law, loving fulfills it.

Now I said earlier that this love that Paul is urging and Jesus invites us to live isn’t easy nor is it inconsequential. It isn’t just about saying things about others, or just not saying the mean things. But to love one another, we have to know one another. We cannot merely accept a call to tolerance when Jesus shows us that loving our neighbor means crossing borders. The consequence is that neither we or others are left the same when our love is lived out in a way that it breaks down barriers. This is what Jesus’ love looked like. It’s what Jesus love looks like… in bread in wine, in the sharing of his meal. Barriers are broken down, our own towards the world, others towards us. The love expressed in this meal, turns us back towards God to receive the transforming reality that we are deeply and profoundly loved by God; and turns us back towards our neighbor to live out that they too are deeply and profoundly loved by God.

Love is our way of life and our guide.

The way we see the world and others and ourselves.

Love that is made known through our every act, that seeks relationship over being right, that seeks to uplift all oppressed, and most of all to do no harm. Love that makes room for the grief, anger, hurt, and joy of others.

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A colleague shared a phrase with this week that she often likes to say: What a difference it would make if everyone knew how very much they are loved by God.

Not tolerated, not ignored, not overlooked, not neglected – but wholly embraced, known, seen, cared for. This is the Gospel. And our living out lives of consequential love – love that changes us and changes others – is the fulfilling of the law.

Our call to discipleship here is that we do not stop with kind words or well wishes, but actively seek to see, know, embrace, and care for the needs of others.

What a difference it would make if everyone knew how very much they are loved by God, and that love was reflected in all that we do.

Amen.

Announcements for this week:

  • Wednesday Bible Study 9:30am

  • Wednesday In-person Gathering 12:30pm Wednesday Gathering Sign Up

  • Thursday centering prayer 9:30am

  • Thursday zoom Gathering 11:30am

  • Saturday, Sept 12th Church yard clean up 9am-12pm

  • Sept 20th we are planning on having in person worship outdoors
    Please sign up
    Outdoor worship Sign Up
    Plan to wear masks, be physically distanced by 6 ftLet me know if we can provide a chair for you

Please see Monday's connection email and September Rambler for additional dates and gathering details.

Scripture for August 30, 2020

13th Sunday After Pentecost

Jeremiah 15:15-21

God fortifies the prophet against opposition.

Psalm 26:1-8

Your love is before my eyes; I have walked faithfully with you.

Romans 12:9-21

Live in harmony.


Matthew 16:21-28

The passion prediction and rebuke to Peter.

21From that time on, [after Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah,] Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

  24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

  27“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Sermon

For the word of God in scripture

For the word of God among us

For the word of God within us,

Thanks be to God, Amen.

I often find myself wondering about what the disciples expected their life would look like when Jesus called them from their fishing boats and apprenticeships and invited them to follow him. I especially wonder that when Jesus begins to tell them and show them that his work and teaching will lead to his own suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection. What did they expect their life to look like following Jesus?

And our gospel lesson today suggests that this would not be the only time Jesus tell the disciples what awaits him and possibly them as his closest followers. Given Peter’s response to Jesus telling them that he must suffer, this is not in line with what he imagined his life was going to look like. And certainly not for the messiah, the son of the living God. In Peter’s expectations about who Jesus is, and his expectations about what Jesus life would look like, this idea of suffering at the hands of the chief priests and scribes is incomprehensible.

It makes sense then that Peter would cry out to God and make it not so! Perhaps even plotting a way to keep Jesus safe. Jesus quickly and swiftly rebukes him, names his motivation as one that defy God’s will, and commands him to take his proper place – behind him, following. These are the human things, the desire for safety and comfort, that Jesus challenges Peter with. Jesus makes it clear that following him will not be devoid of suffering and Jesus’ challenging powers in a way that will lead to his death and resurrection.

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What do we expect our lives will look like as followers of Jesus? What do we expect Jesus will call us to do and be in the world?

Church, are we much different from Peter? We have placed Jesus as the great comforter and healer of our every ill, but does that mean that Jesus won’t challenge us beyond our comfort zones? We, the church, have become experts in keeping ourselves and others comfortable. And perhaps forgotten the discipleship practice of being uncomfortable. I think the thing that makes us most uncomfortable is the potential of discomfort in our faith, and in our congregations.

We have somehow forgotten that Jesus actively challenges his disciples and nearest followers to go beyond the boundaries of their home lands, to meet and interact with people designated as unclean and outsiders by religious authorities. And this isn’t a new forgetting. We have been forgetting this for far too long.

This week marked the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. As I read about the march I was not surprised that for many who marched, faith played a particular role. Our sacred texts tells stories of a God who demands justice and wills us to live in harmony with one another; it contains stories of liberation from oppression, and communities where all have the things they need to survive. But I also wasn’t surprised by others still who saw this protest, this march, as a threat to the constructed harmony that suited them well.

This march wasn’t the first time that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., A. Philip Randolf, other organizers, and others who marched would stir up discomfort amongst Christian siblings. King wrote letters from his jail cell just months earlier urging white clergy to see the work and protests for civil rights not as a disruption to harmonious living, but a cry for the church, particularly the white church, to hear a call for justice and peace. White clergy in particular, were quite ardent that King calm down and not stir up so much animosity. That the timing of his work was ill-fated, and we just need to move slower for the comfort of the white church.

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Here’s another look at what Jesus is doing when he asks Peter to get behind him. It’s not just a rebuke, but also an invitation. An invitation to drop human expectations, pick up the holy expectations, and get into formation… behind Jesus… not in front, not besides, but behind, following.

It is a swift reminder that God’s way of dealing with the situation is different than our quick, go-to solutions. God remains faithful to God’s work of restoring and reconciling all of creation to God’s self. That work includes the disciples, and us for sure, but we are not the ones leading. We leave that to Jesus to do.

And when Peter receives Jesus’ rebuke or invitation to continue following, Peter does not walk away – hurt and feeling dismissed – but remains and continues to follow. And Peter does not get it right from here on out. He will deny Jesus again, and he will fail to follow. Jesus will continue to call him, the others, and us to follow again and again.

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We have for a long time given preference our own comfort, rather than following Jesus. And Jesus makes an invitation to us that following him requires that we set down our human expectations for comfort, and pick up the holy expectations that following Jesus has the potential for discomfort, and suffering.

But if Jesus is leading, and we are predisposed to our own comfort rather than following Jesus, what are those holy expectations we should hold for our lives? Paul, in his letter to the community of Jesus followers in Rome, lays out a pretty good list for what these holy expectations might look like for us. That we let our love be genuine – not just in our mindsets towards others – but love with our very lives, with all that we do, and say. That we work against those things that defy God’s will for abundant life to be experienced among all, regardless of everything. That we serve Jesus, not the many other things that would allure us with comforts of security, influence and power. That we would contribute to the needs of others. That we would associate with the lowly. That we would be people who do not seek vengeance, but peace; wholeness for every person and all of God’s creation. These are the holy expectations of our life and work as we continually seek to follow Jesus.

And I cannot promise that following Jesus will always be comfortable, in fact I can guarantee that you will experience discomfort at some point. Jesus invitation to follow will come again and again and again.

Because Jesus is the One who is called “God with us” and the One who promises to be “with you always, to the end of the age.” He is the One who is already going ahead of his followers to face the worst that the world can do.

Jesus puts his life on the line ahead of all who follow him. Whether that is to go to the forsaken places of wilderness, or the centers of human might and authority. Jesus goes there first.

May God give us the faith to follow Jesus into those places.

Amen.

Statement from Clergymen to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Letter from Birmingham Jail


Scripture for August 23, 2020 - 12th Sunday After Pentecost

Isaiah 51:1-6

The enduring foundation of God's salvation.

Psalm 138

O Lord, your steadfast love endures forever.

Romans 12:1-8

One body in Christ, with gifts that differ.

Matthew 16:13-20

The profession of Peter's faith.

13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Sermon

For the word of God in scripture

For the word of God among us

For the word of God within us,

Thanks be to God, Amen.

Identity. Who we are. It is our very foundation as individuals, communities, and organizations. Who are we? And why do we exist? Every “life crisis” – whether it be quarter, half, or even three quarter – seems to circle around these questions. Who am I? What am I doing with my life? Not to mention what a global pandemic that continues to creep and spread which also makes us ask questions of who are we.

As followers of Jesus, we are not exempt from these questions of identity. In some ways I think we have specific tools and skills to help us navigate these questions. Spiritual practices like contemplative prayer, labyrinth walking, study of scripture, time in community, and working towards building beloved community. Not only do we ask questions about who we are as individuals, but we include one other foundational question. Not just who are we, but whose are we?

In our passage from Matthew’s accounting of the gospel, Jesus is dealing with identity. But not just his own, but also those of his closest disciples. As they walk towards Caesarea of Philippi Jesus knows they are walking towards a capital city of the empire where the emperor and the Herod were Lord and ruler of all. One where a temple has been erected for a pantheistic god. Here is a city where many little gods reign– power, money, greed -- and it is a place firmly set in the hierarchy of a few and oppression of any that could be deemed others.

And yet, these will be the things that Jesus will begin to confront as his journey and ministry turns towards Jerusalem, and the religious authorities who have made God’s word and God’s will into an oppressive regime – more mirroring that of the Roman empire than the covenant people Israel. Jesus confronts these things in the little ways that he teaches and heals, the way he feeds the masses and breaks social barriers to reveal the abundance and the wideness of God’s mercy… but he will lead these disciples and others to take these radical words closer to Jerusalem. It is work that could lead to crisis for the disciples. And these foundational identity questions are more about the disciples’ trust in the one whom they follow.

First who does the world say that I am?

Then, who do you say that I am?

Simon Peter’s confession is not the first time that these words were spoken. Just a few weeks ago we read the story of Jesus walking on the water. And in response to Jesus and his saving of Peter as he slipped into the water, the disciples worshiped him and said “truly you are the Son of God.” But this is perhaps the first public confession. Not off in a boat. Not separated by stormy waters from the multitudes of people milling about the city. And Jesus names this not of Peter’s own knowledge, but a revelation from the one who sent Jesus. And based on that, that which God has revealed, based on what God has done the church will be built.

It is important for us to know who we are as individuals and as a faith community, they are foundational things. But more importantly, we need to know and remember whose we are, and trust the one whom God has sent, Jesus. These are the foundations of our faith, and who are as the church.

And this foundation gives us our stability as we follow Jesus out into the world to proclaim not just with our words, but with our very lives who Jesus is, to confront the places in our society where oppression and injustice exist. God has called us to be the church. We are each a part, and God is using us to build the church in this place and this time.

And just like Simon Peter and the other disciples, we probably aren’t the best or the most likely. We probably doubt that God could be using us to build up the church here and now.. and yet God has chosen us – just as God chose to reveal who Jesus was to Peter, so God has choosen us here and now.

It reminds me of something that Anne Lamott wrote in her book “Traveling Mercies,” she says –

“I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But when I grew up, I found that life handed you rusty, bent tools – friendship, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said, “Do the best you can with these. They’ll have to do.” Mostly, against all odds, they’re enough.”

As Lamott says, God hands us strange tools with which to build a life and a church, but it is God who is building the church, not us. We are being built up each day into the holy people God has already declared us to be. Just as Jesus called Simon by the name of Peter long before Simon became a rock of faith; God has called us church and is continually leading us forward in becoming what Gad has already declared us to be.

The job today is to take the tools God has given us, tools like the friendship and prayer and conscience and honesty that Lamott mentioned, and tools like serving and teaching and giving and encouraging and leading and caring that Paul lists in Romans. We are to take those tools and build a community built on the foundation of who we are to Jesus.

It is our calling to live up to our identity as the church, it is our calling to make this place a place where everyone is welcome and everyone can find compassion and forgiveness and community and faith, and joy and peace and hope and most of all love.

Jesus has given us care of the keys, he has placed them in our shaky hands. It is the holy spirit that gathers us as the church. And God has put us in community and has called upon us to bind up the broken, set free the captive of shame and guilt.

May we be so bold as to follow in Jesus’ way.

Amen.

Scripture for August 16, 2020 - 11th Sunday After Pentecost

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

A house of prayer for all peoples

Psalm 67

I Let all the peoples praise you, O God.

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

God's mercy to all, Jew and Gentile


Matthew 14:22-33

The healing of the Canaanite woman's daughter


10[Jesus] called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.



Sermon


For the word of God in scripture

For the word of God among us

For the word of God within us,

Thanks be to God, Amen.

Well, there is no easy way around today’s gospel story. The story of the Canaanite woman is one of faith, persistence, and Jesus sounding like an absolute jerk. Some scholars and preachers have suggested that the woman’s persistence changed his mind, others say that he was trying to teach the disciples a lesson, others still say that Jesus is responding out of his own context and deeply held divisions about a community that had done great harm and violence to his. But knowing and believing that Jesus is fully human and fully divine, this is a story that leaves me baffled, a little angry, and very shocked.

And I think we ought to be shocked at Jesus calling a woman a slur. I think we ought to be shocked that Jesus’ words, regardless of intent, were harmful to this woman. Whatever Jesus was trying to do by telling this woman off, she was not in on that, and this interaction is cruel.

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The first half of this passage implies that it is what comes out of our mouth and what lives deeply in our hearts and minds that defiles us… not our race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality disability, class, or any other arbitrary human division we place between us. So yes, we may be surprised – perhaps shocked—at Jesus’ silence and response to this woman.

But how often have we heard the request of others and failed or refused to empathize with people whose life experience is different from our own. So often, when we hear stories of oppression, injustice, or harm and pain that isn’t happening in our homes or our neighborhoods, or simply does not impact us, our response throughout history has been first to ignore it, and respond with silence. And the more we hear about these stories that do not seem to impact how we perceive the world because it doesn’t include our race, gender, class, or sexuality, we move to dismissing these stories as unwarranted and unnecessary noise. Is that not what the disciples did when they asked Jesus to send the noisy woman away?

I can only imagine what she would have felt when Jesus said, “ I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” As if their common humanity, and their relatedness did not move Jesus to act with that same gut-wrenching compassion that moved him to feed the five thousand households just mere days before. She pleads again, persisting in her hope that this Rabbi who has healed many will have mercy on her daughter.

Her plea and her persistence are met with Jesus referring to her as a dog. Not only is he reminding her of the cultural distance, but also of the spiritual distance between the Jewish community and the Canaanite people. She is as much of an outsider as anyone can possibly be. She is the wrong gender, the wrong religious background, the wrong ethnicity, the wrong race. In this moment when Jesus speaks this slur, he has defiled himself.

And yes, there is a long history of the Canaanite people engaging in war with the Jewish people. Yes, she is an outsider. Yes, she is asking for inclusion in a tradition, that her own people have been violent towards. And none of that is an excuse for Jesus’ words nor does it change the fact that Jesus is in need of repentance here. And he does turn around. He sees and acknowledges her faith. He hears her cries and their shared humanity.

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Jesus reveals in his slur that there are many ways we as humans divide ourselves up, and in a really shocking way, how that defiles the one who speaks. And those words, start in with the barriers and the walls that we erect in our minds and in our hearts about who is deserving of recognition as human. Who is deserving of being labeled as image barer of God.

We live in a world that is still so fragmented. Just as in Jesus’s day, there are the cultural and ethnic and historical barriers. These were not intended by God, but in our being hurt or our fear of the other, we have erected walls in our minds and in our hearts, shutting ourselves off to the possibility of community. And to maintain these walls, to justify them, we find ways of speaking that dehumanize, dismiss, and diminish others. Perhaps we feel ok to keep others out when they are not like us. I believe this saddens God’s heart to see us siloed away from our siblings.

And the church is no different. We find ways to divide ourselves up. We find ways to label ourselves as superior and others as inferior through our denominational structures, with our liturgy, how we see our mission in the world, and how and with whom we engage outside of our community of faith. And as it always happens in a major election year, there will be even more tugging at us. Even more dehumanizing labels and slurs slung back and forth. And I believe that all of this saddens God’s heart too.

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The Canaanite woman reveals God’s mercy is wide reaching for all. Her bold proclamation to Jesus that even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the children’s table, is reminder to us that God’s mercy isn’t pie, and there is more than enough for all who call out in God’s name.

This is the kind of persistent faith I believe God is calling the church to live out in these days of divisive name calling and dehumanizing rhetoric. It certainly will not be easy. And somedays we may be met with a reminder that we have work of our own to do, and are in need of repentance. And that repentance may look like realizing that we have our own well-fortified walls and barriers about who others are and who we are, and that these walls ultimately keep us further from living God’s will for us.

Just as the Canaanite woman’s faith in God’s mercy persists, so may our lives reflect that trust.

Just as her faith in God’s inclusivity persists, so may our community reflect that inclusivity.

Just as she persists in faith, so may our faith be so bold to insist on the kin-dom of heaven be made here and now.


Amen.

Scripture for August 9, 2020 - 10th Sunday After Pentecost

1 Kings 19:9-18

The Lord speaks to Elijah on Mount Horeb

Psalm 85:8-13

I will listen to what the Lord God is saying

Romans 10:5-15

Hearing and confessing the word of faith

Matthew 14:22-33

Jesus walking on the sea

Immediately,[Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side [of the Sea of Galilee], while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

  Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Sermon

For the word of God in scripture

For the word of God among us

For the word of God within us,

Thanks be to God, Amen.

Like many of our Jesus stories, this story of Jesus walking on water is a familiar one. One that has been claimed as a favorite by many, including me, and interpreted enough to be worn smooth, and possibly even tamed by the tell, re-telling and meaning making. Perhaps it is because this story appears in three of the four accounts of the gospel. But I also think it is one of the most well-known “miracle” story, and one of those defining characteristics of Jesus – like when Jim Carey’s character in Bruce Almighty “checks” to see if he is in fact God, or any other “test” given to a character to make it clear that they are a Jesus figure in the story. So it makes sense, that I like many others who find themselves preaching this week, wrestled with what could possibly be said about this well-worn text.

But the passage today is unique in some ways. Of the three accounts from Mark, Matthew and John, Matthew’s accounting of the story is the only one where Peter insists that Jesus call him to get out of the boat. I don’t know about you, but for most of my life I heard interpretations that pointed to Peter as being someone to emulate here. In fact, I was handed a book by the title If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat written by a Christian leader who has since its writing been removed from his role. And regardless of this leader’s status, this is a common focus of this story. But one of the beautiful things about the lectionary is it invites us turn over these familiar well-worn stories and take a new look with eyes shaped by our experiences and our current world.

I am also shaped by a very rocky boat ride on the sea of Galilee. One where our boat ride across the sea was delayed by winds and when we finally got on the boats, I wondered why they let us on the boat! I am sure that I experienced only a fraction of the storm that these disciples experienced. And it was in the daylight. I cannot imagine being on that water, in a fisher’s boat, in the dark.

And this go around with this text I am shaped by a world enveloped by grief and ravaged by covid-19, a country crying out against state sanctioned violence and policies and practices that are racist and preference whiteness. I am shaped by the conversations of all who are struggling with incredible hardship, and unimaginable challenges. My eyes see through the lens of a community struggling to make the “right” decisions about going back to school and plan for anything and everything even the possibility of canceled plans, a community working out what life together looks like in a time when physical distance is a necessity.

This all feels like a storm, and we are being rocked about in our boat. Everything that we do, isn’t helping us move forward. We are a situation where everything that we have known, is not going to help us. We are having to adapt and try and make things work that we have never needed to do before. And yes, as a community we are staying afloat, we have others ready to help us when we needed it and ask for it, and we are surviving in this time. But it is still a wilderness time – a time when the next moment is uncertain and we are merely in survival mode.

For the first time, because of how our world has shifted, I read this story as a wilderness story. There are three things about wilderness stories that always occur: it’s unclear how long it will last, there is an element of struggle with nature – often a struggle for survival, and God always draws near. I am sure that the disciples in the boat trusted that the storm would subside at some point, they always do, but in that moment there is uncertainty. I am sure that at some point each of the disciples wondered if they were going to make it through the night, and wrestled with the wind and the waves and wondered it their wooden vessel would actually withstand the beating. And Jesus comes near to them, physically walking towards them.

I also wonder if we get Peter wrong here. After all Jesus is walking towards them, and when they seem afraid he told them who he was. Not just by name but the name that God gave to Abraham and Sarah, I am. Peter should not need more proof that it is in fact Jesus coming towards them. Yet, Peter insists on testing Jesus. Demanding that he, Peter, be able to perform a miracle of walking on the water.

It causes us to move our focus away from Jesus and onto Peter. And, I fear, we in our attempt to get discipleship right, want to emulate Peter, he after all will be the one whom Jesus says you are the cornerstone of the church. But do we, should we, “test” Jesus to prove himself to us? No. For so long I, and maybe you, have heard that Peter’s action is faithful and the disciples were lazy for their inaction. I am more and more convinced that waiting in the wilderness is an act of faith. Staying in the boat, is an act of faith. Trusting Jesus when he says I am, is an act of faith.

Yes, faith will ask of us to do things that are uncomfortable, and even sometimes dangerous. Like confronting our own complicity in the injustice of others. Or confronting the broken places in our society and world, where practices and histories of injustice must be addressed. But faith will not ask us to do these things for the sake of proving that God is who God says God is, and not for the sake of proving how faithful you are. Your faith will not be measured by the number of times you asked God to prove God exists through your acts. God’s proximity to you is about God desiring to be close to you, not on how well you can make your way to God.

And yes, we are living a wilderness time. We don’t know when it will end, and pray that the end comes soon. We feel like survival, with all our sanity and wellbeing intact, is a struggle. But also know that wilderness places and wilderness times are places and times when God draws near.

Remember, dear siblings in Christ, that…

God is drawing near to you and to me, and to all who cry out.

Our God is the same God who has been at work mending all of creation, is doing it here and now, and will continue to draw near in the future.

Jesus seeks the lost, and it is ok to feel lost.

The Holy Spirit within you is that still small voice that steadies you while we wait in this wilderness time.

Amen.

Scripture for August 2, 2020 - 9th Sunday After Pentecost

Isaiah 55:1-5

Eat and drink that which truly satisfies

Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21

You open wide your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing

Romans 9:1-5

The glory of God's people Israel

Matthew 14:13-21

Christ feeding five thousand families

13 Now when Jesus heard [about the beheading of John the Baptist], he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Sermon

For the word of God in scripture

For the word of God among us

For the word of God within us,

Thanks be to God, Amen.

If you were to guess the most frequent activity in all of scripture, what would you guess? Possibly prayer or praise of God, maybe begetting… there is lots of that in the accounting of the generations, or, perhaps wars and violence.

But I would wager that the most frequent activity in all the bible would have to do with feeding and eating. Adam and Eve eating in the garden, the meals associated with Isaac’s two son – Esau and Jacob. Then there are the feast and famine years where Joseph is in Egypt; and the eating of manna from heaven as Moses lead the desert exodus. Throughout Deuteronomy and Leviticus, we hear of rule after rule about proper conduct around food – and the importance of providing food for all, especially the sojourner, the foreigner, the widow and the orphan. The prophets speak of rich meals; one such image we read today in Isaiah. The psalmist uses food as a metaphor again and again. It makes sense, then, that Jesus would also be about food, and feeding, and table fellowship.

At times Jesus’ eating habits get him in trouble – like when he is seen feasting with the outcasts of Jewish society: the tax collectors, and women of means - other times Jesus uses food and great feasts as parables for what the kin-dom of heaven is like.

This story of Jesus from Matthew today does a little bit of both.

Jesus has just learned that his cousin has been beheaded, in part because of his message, and in part because of his large following. Now is NOT a good time to be looking like you might have a group of followers or a message that threatens the very hierarchical structure of the empire – a structure adopted and adapted by the religious leaders to assert and maintain power. Jesus also demonstrates a bit of what the kin-dom of heaven looks like in a very real and tangible way. One that is filled with compassion, healing, abundance and feasting.

Often we remember about this story as the feeding of five thousand families, but I rather wish we would think about it and remember it as Jesus’ miracle of compassion.

After all, Jesus has just learned about the death of his cousin – the one who baptized him, whom he likely played with as the families made pilgrimage to Jerusalem – and he goes off to have a bit of time to himself out on the lake to think, pray, probably weep, and pray some more. But just as word got out about John’s execution, so word got out about Jesus’ whereabouts, and soon a crowd was gathered on the shore.

The needs of the community are palpable for Jesus. Each seeking relief and restoration. Jesus could have stayed out on the boat, his disciples probably thought he ought too, but he is filled with compassion when he sees the crowds. Now this compassion is not just about Jesus having the warm and fuzzies for people who are hurting; no, this is a gut feeling. A feeling that compels Jesus to act. And it is from that compassion Jesus returns and begins to offer healing of every illness – physical and spiritual.

As the time goes on, and Jesus is continuing to make his way through this crowd, the need changes. The need shifts from illness to hunger. And as the disciples take notice of that shift, the ask Jesus to send them away. In that moment Jesus notices a different need, and has compassion once again. This time Jesus is filled with compassion for the disciples and their lack of imagination, and trust that God does fill the gaps when we are working to address the needs of our neighbor. So, he asks his disciples to feed them. Of course, we know the rest of the story – the five loves and the two fish are multiplied and all are fed.

Not only does Jesus feel, he also feeds. And this is nothing new. God has been feeling compassion towards God’s people, and nourishing us from the very beginning. What does it mean to us that our God is one who feels? Not just the happy feelings of life, but has gut-wrenching feelings when we are experiencing suffering and pain. What does it mean that God feels compassion towards us?

I wonder if it eases our pain a little to know that God in human form felt compassion, and trust that God has compassion towards us. God sees the hunger we have and feeds us not just with ordinary food but with food that satisfies our deep spiritual need in the form of our Eucharist meal. But also, that Jesus sees the hunger we do not have, that we ought to have; those times when we are more like the disciples wishing away the needs of our neighbors because we do not feel we have enough or are enough. God has compassion for us in those moments too.

Often when communities of faith consider how they might be of service, we ask what do we have – gifts, skills, resources- and determine the kinds of service we offer to those outside of our faith community. But I think this miracles story shows us a different way. Jesus’ way. Jesus doesn’t start with what’s available, but rather the need of the neighbor.

What are the needs of our neighbor? Yes, of course the one experiencing food insecurity who will greatly benefit from the food pantry reopening at Good Shepherd, but what about the neighbor who is experiencing great struggle but doesn’t want to show it out of pride, or fear that their need will be met with shame. And what about the neighbor sitting next to you… maybe not right next to you, but sitting adjacent to you in the zoom grid of faces? Do you know what their need is? What are you noticing right now?

And when we do notice needs, are we filled with pity or compassion? They are very different things to be feeling. One responds to need with a quick, band-aid-fix that alleviates immediate need, but ultimately is the work that never fully satisfies the need. The other responds to need with a gut wrenching feeling that no human should be facing this need – whether it be food or housing security, the ability to work for a living wage, or access to healthcare without going bankrupt, or a faith community that accepts them for all that they are and tells an honest story of a God who is merciful and offers grace. This is what compassion does to us.

And, I will be honest, when we let compassion drive us, we will be confronted with a call to discipleship that makes us feel a little underprepared, no, woefully underprepared. This is where Jesus asks us to trust that God does fill the gaps, and we just need to show up, and begin addressing the needs of others.

We worship a God who feels compassion, and feeds with an abundant and rich foods that satisfy all who hunger. This includes us, even when we seem woefully unprepared for the task ahead of us, whether it be our ability to imagine this kin-dom where all are fed, or our doubts that God’s abundance really will come through. God still has compassion, offers an abundance, and feeds in ways that satisfy every fear, doubt, and need.

As we join as a community today, some of us for the first time, some of us for the first time in a long time, and share in Jesus’ communal meal for us. Let this bread and wine and juice satisfy our deepest hunger, and trust that God is working in you to be an abundant worker in the world of need.

Let God in God’s compassion heal you, and send you into the world to be filled with compassion for the brokenhearted and outcast, and let God set your mind and work to always building up the kin-dom of heaven where all are known and fed and loved.

Amen.

Scripture for July 26, 2020 - 8th Sunday After Pentecost

1 Kings 3:5-12

Solomon's prayer for wisdom

Psalm 119:129-136

When your word is opened, it gives light and understanding

Romans 8:26-39

Nothing can separate us from God's love

Matthew 13:31-33,44-52

Parables of the reign of heaven

31[Jesus] put before [the crowds] another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Sermon

For the word of God in scripture

For the word of God among us

For the word of God within us,

Thanks be to God, Amen.

Where have you seen God this week?

Perhaps it was in the face of another who extended you an extra measure of patience in these trying times. Or maybe when you found an extra measure of patience to grant someone else.

Perhaps it was a glimpse of an interesting critter or flower that gave you a moment of awe. Or maybe it was in the beauty and grandeur of a sunset.

Perhaps you noticed God in the quite stillness of the morning. Or maybe the stillness of the evening, trying to catch a glimpse of the comet Neowise.

All of these are quite small and quite grand.

They all have the ability to offer peace, and perhaps a smile, and transport us to a different place – a place where we feel nearer to God.

But maybe you didn’t see God this week. Not because you weren’t looking, or because those moments of awe didn’t exist around you, but you just didn’t see it.

You see there is a funny thing that happens when we experience grief. Our vision narrows, we miss things, even common things. Our imagination seems to be turned off and our dreams about future things cease. It happens without our noticing, and without our permission. Its just something that happens when we experience loss.

Grief isn’t something we experience when someone dies, but any response to any loss. Certainly, some losses, like death are greater, and experienced more intensely. And other losses are so little that we don’t think about them or seem to notice them until they begin to add up. Often it’s not the losses we notice first, it’s the feeling like we are losing control, feeling more depressed, feeling like we need more support from counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists.

We are in one of those times here and now. If you are one who is noticing a narrowing of imagination, and a greater sense of “this is all too much,” well you are not alone. We have experienced a lot of loss in this pandemic. Loss of dreams – for our young people and ourselves. Loss of the social interactions we are accustomed to. Loss of face-to-face community. Loss of trust in leaders ability to lead in this time. Loss of trust in our neighbor to care for us as we care for them. Loss of plans we were really looking forward to. Loss of ability to do our jobs, or the feeling that work is not secure. Loss of certainty about how things will look in a week, or month. Loss of loved ones, and the loss of ability to gather and mourn according to our typical rituals.

I don’t name all these things to make you sad, but to acknowledge the massive amounts of loss and our responding grief even if you haven’t named it as such for yourself. Ignoring it, and denying it means it will likely come out in sideways, misguided and displaced ugliness to ourselves and those nearest to us.

Grief is at play here.

And it is NOT a bad thing to feel it, nor to feel overwhelmed, nor seek a mental health professional to get through this. Nor is it your fault.

Now I don’t think that Jesus knew we would be in month 5 of a pandemic response that would have us stretched thin when he spoke these parables about the kin-dom of heaven. Nor would the creators of the lectionary nearly 3 decades ago. But Jesus knew what it was like to be human, and the ways our imaginations and vision can narrow when faced with the losses that comprise our lives. Jesus is speaking these parables to crowds that have likely only ever experienced religious leaders and authorities who set the bar of inclusion higher than they could attain, or at least not without great sacrifice and strife. These crowds likely had only a sliver of hope that God’s coming reign would include them.

Jesus offered these parables about the kin-dom of heaven to help expand imaginations, and more clearly see that the kin-dom of heaven has come near, and is right before them then, and right before us now.

Jesus talks of small things that become massive. Like a small mustard seed, which in the Judean hills is considered a bit of a weed, because it can grow into a massive bush. And while a nuisance to some, hence it being called a weed, it provides a home to many critters, and shade to weary travelers. And like a small measure of yeast that is able to transform a massive amount of flour into live yeasty dough for bread.

Jesus talks about treasure that makes people do seemingly ridiculous things. And an abundance and wide cast net to bring in far more than expected.

But in each of these things, Jesus talks about the kin-dom of heaven with common place things. He doesn’t talk about the temple or armies, or mighty rulers. But he describes it with the lowly tasks of life – sowing fields, tending to both wheat and weed, providing shelter and food for the least, catching fish. Jesus tells us we will find God in the places we don’t expect, the things we least expect, and in the ways that stretch our imagination about who God is, and what God is up to in our lives and in our world.

Yes we may catch glimpses of the kin-dom of heaven in the grand things, but its also in these little mundane things. The sacred is all around us, so my dear siblings, where will you look for God in the coming week? Where do you expect to find God? Where are you being invited to take pause and notice the small, the ridiculous, the abundant, and the expansive that reveal this kin-dom that Jesus speaks of?

There is so much that can drain us of our ability to see God in our midst, which is why Jesus gave us common objects and metaphors to give us glimpses of that kin-dom which is here. Even in the pandemic, even in our losses, even as we struggle. God is here. We can be like Solomon and ask for God to give us discerning eyes and minds. We can trust what Paul reminds us, that the Spirit of God that is given to us in our baptisms intercedes when we do not have the words to pray, and that we can indeed ask God to show us the vastness, and the abundance of the kin-dom of heaven.

May it be so that we are given eyes to see and ears to hear that God’s reign has come near, and it is far more expansive, far grander, far more common, and far more near than we ever expected. And trust neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor pandemic, nor grief, nor lack of imagination, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen.

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Scripture for July 19, 2020 - 7th Sunday After Pentecost

Isaiah 44:6-8

There is no other God than the Lord

Psalm 86:11-17

Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth.

Romans 8:12-25

The revealing of the children of God

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

The parable of the weeds

24 [Jesus] put before [the crowds] another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ”

  36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”

Sermon

For the word of God in scripture

For the word of God among us

For the word of God within us,

Thanks be to God, Amen.

In a typical spring, Chelsea and I would find ourselves with dirty hands as we prepared and panted our patio garden. We tilled and mixed our soil with our compost, and gently planted our beet and carrot seeds, and tomato and pepper plants with precision and diligent care. We watered our freshly planted pots and went about the rest of our day. A pattern of watering and waiting for tiny sprouts and blooms was added to the mourning routine. And it continued for a few days, until one morning when we came out to find the carefully tilled and planted soil was thrown about. The enemy in our gardening saga…. A squirrel.

I recovered our sprouting seeds and replaced tossed soil around the seedings. I made guesses about which seed went where, but that precise order and distinct rows of carrots and beets was now destroyed.

To make matters more interesting is that when you compost your veggie scraps that have seeds, and you don’t give the compost enough time to break everything down… well you end up just planting those seeds! Not to mention the seeds and nuts left behind by squirrels. Little sprouts of this and that began to poke through the soil. It was impossible to tell what was this or that, or maybe something altogether unknown, until more discernable leaves began to form. Sometimes these sprouts were undiscernible until they began to produce fruit.

On the surface of this parable about wheat and weeds, it is a lot like our patio garden. It is too hard to tell one from the other, and once you are able to distinguish, uprooting one will cause harm to the other It is a lesson about judging, and the one who is the true judge. And it is not us, its God. And in this story Jesus names his disciples as ones who are to cultivate an environment able to sustain and nurture, regardless of whether the seed was the intentional wheat or weed. In other words, our role to be loving, not judging, and to allow Jesus to be the one who sorts in the end.

Perhaps you are like me, I am good with this loving and not judging part, but still Jesus is talking about throwing people into a fiery pit! And where do I end up in this parable… I wonder if am I bearing good fruit, or if I am a mere weed mascaraing as wheat only to be tossed away!

For this I am grateful that Jesus spoke in parables, and that others far wiser than me have reminded me that Jesus loves me and you far too much to write us off as a lost cause, and leave us where we are. And more and more I am convinced that in this parable we are not just one or the other.

We are both.

Wheat and weed.

Saint and sinner.

With parts of us that offer life, and good fruit. While other parts of us, remain in need of redemption, Jesus’ redemption.

I am reminded of how Jesus transforms the lives of his disciples and those who would follow him. The way that he healed, and rebuked those in power who would prefer to restrict access to God, and the life of the community. I am reminded that Jesus spoke in parables to help his disciples and others to be able to hear that what we might think is a weed, is actually wheat; that what we may see as bad might actually be God’s redemptive work in our midst.

We don’t need to look very far for these examples today; especially this week as we remember two civil rights activists, C.T. Vivian, and John Lewis. They were called, disrupters of peace, rioters, and instigators of public disorder. They were arrested and called criminals. They were named weeds by many. While the work of these two men was and is far from over, we now know these men, and others who marched, spoked out, and resisted oppression, to be wheat. Ones who have insisted on equitable treatment, who have made way for life to thrive, and given hope and life to many. These men went from being imprisoned, to being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Now, this transformation from criminal to honored individual is not a transformation of who they are, but of how we as a society have been changed, how we see them.

We have had our minds changed.

This is what it means to being open to Jesus’ redemptive winnowing. There are parts of us, learned patterns often, that cause us not to be bears of life, but bearers of death. Sometimes it is our judgement – that says someone is weed, and unworthy of life. Sometimes it is our ingrained nature to turn away from God and neglect the neighbor – our fruit, the things we produce, our words our actions, do harm. Those are our weeds, that is our bad fruit.

And hearing that we may be bearing bad fruit, or causing harm to the things and people God has called good, can make us feel uncomfortable. And to that I can only say that sometimes the Gospel that Jesus proclaims, is about turning around, having our minds changed, and learning new – and uncomfortable – ways of living, for the sake of life and neighbor.

Paul says in his letter to the communities in Rome that living in the Spirit – the Spirit poured out into you when you were baptized – means that we will find ourselves crying out and groaning for the kin-dom of heaven. We are able to see the ways that the world, society, even ourselves at times, do not do the thing that is life giving. Paul says our lives in the Spirit will be uncomfortable. So that discomfort we feel when confronted with the truth and reality of others whose lives are weighed down with oppressive powers, I wonder if that isn’t the Holy Spirit working in you, winnowing away a weed part of you, so that you may live a more wheat-like life.

We are not either wheat or weed, we are both. And Jesus is at work in us to untangle the roots of one so that we may become more of the other. Cultivate and nourish the good fruits in you and in others. And hold tight to your faith in the one who redeems us, who saves us from our weedy-ness, and is making us into wheat.

Amen.

Fixed Link

Please use this link to view and sign up for items to fill backpacks for Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountain's fall backpack drive!

Please sign up for items, or a whole bag to fill as a family. Items need to be brought to the church building no later than July 28th! Please arrange a time with Pastor Mandy or Sara to drop off items.

"The cartoonist David Hayward who goes by nakedpastor has a cartoon that depicts this best. He illustrates this as many people with giant pencils in their hand, drawing lines to complete boxes, or thickening already established lines. Jesus is also holding a giant pencil, but instead of drawing lines, he is feverishly erasing them. Some of the people near Jesus have expressions of shock, others of anger. I wish that there was a second and third frame to this cartoon, one that showed an expression of relief, and another where some of the people began to erase the lines along with Jesus." -- Pastor Mandy, July 5, Sermon

Scripture for July 5, 2020 - 5th Sunday After Pentecost

Zechariah 9:9-12

The king will come in humility and peace

Psalm 145:8-14

The Lord is gracious and full of compassion

Romans 7:15-25

The struggle within the self

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

The yoke of discipleship

[Jesus spoke to the crowd saying:] 16 “To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,

17 ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;

we wailed, and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Sermon

For the word of God in scripture

For the word of God among us

For the word of God within us,

Thanks be to God, Amen.

One of the first things I noticed when I started to talk to people about who St. Stephens is as a community, was the language of seeking, exploring, and longing for God. Time and time again these words kept reappearing in my conversations with people. Today’s gospel story is about seekers, those who desire relationship with God. One might argue that the whole of the Gospel story is about those who want relationship with God, but this story in particular tells us something about what it means to seek God in Jesus day, and in our own day.

Throughout the gospel stories Jesus names those who fail to see him, it is one of the most common themes of Jesus’ teachings and sayings. Here and in Matthew 11, these failings read:

“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

Jesus’ point here is that people are not really serious about finding God, they avoid God and complain about God’s messengers. They say they have been ignored by God, but have they really been ignoring God? These who are complaining certainly seem like they are serious about finding God but I wonder, I wonder if they are not seeking and searching for a God made in their image, not the God in whose image they were made. They are seeking a messenger, a messiah, who will fit into their ideas of a religious experience. One that will fit into their lifestyle, and a spirituality they can control and make normal.

That’s certainly what the Pharisees would have you believe. Their way of approaching God took the teachings from the Torah, God’s living and exciting invitation to holy living, and made it into a heavy, joyless, burden on the people. They expanded law after law, creating long lists of what was clean and what was unclean. They made rituals necessary for relationship with God, but denied access, or restricted access to only those who could afford it. They turned God’s word of steadfast love, into words of perpetual judgement and duty. The yoke of this law, was heavy and unbalanced, difficult and unyielding. They have taken life and turned it into death.

The Pharisees and the scribes were probably not the first to do this, and they were not the last to do it either. Throughout history, there have been efforts to control how and where God is found; attempts to bring some sort of order to the wildness and wideness and seemingly chaotic ways that God interacts with the world. We human beings like systems. Especially systems where we can assure ourselves we are right and in good order, and we can clearly point to others who are not. We want to make sure that we are good … good with God and perhaps with one another.

The cartoonist David Hayward who goes by nakedpastor has a cartoon that depicts this best. He illustrates this as many people with giant pencils in their hand, drawing lines to complete boxes, or thickening already established lines. Jesus is also holding a giant pencil, but instead of drawing lines, he is feverishly erasing them. Some of the people near Jesus have expressions of shock, others of anger. I wish that there was a second and third frame to this cartoon, one that showed an expression of relief, and another where some of the people began to erase the lines along with Jesus. I’ll admit, I want those things because the image as it stands simply leaves me uncomfortable, and I want a happier depiction of the church, the world, and those of us who follow Jesus.

Paul gives us some words to understand our predicament here, “ I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but the very thing I hate.” And again, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it” No matter how clearly we put together and neatly package faith, there is always a flaw, and the flaw is us.

The promise in all of this is that Jesus has come to name our flaw, and rescue us from ourselves. Jesus proclaims,

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus comes to us, names our reality, and reorients us back to God and neighbor. It is a reminder that the divine and human encounter is not controlled by us, but by God. We cannot neatly package it, nor can we contain it. We do not find our way to God, but God finds us and reveals God’s self to us in the least expected ways, through the least expected people.

Jesus extends an invitation to lay down the heavy burdens cast onto us by our trying and willing to be “good,” and to rest. It is the rest we feel when we see Jesus erase those hardened lines that separate us from God. I wonder what burden each of us might need to put down this day in order to take up the yoke of Jesus? What of our past haunts our present? What doubt in our mind troubles our spirit? What feeling of inadequacy or unworthiness keeps us from offering ourselves as a fellow laborer with Jesus in the Kin-dom of heaven?

Jesus’ call to discipleship will still bring with it a burden, the burden to care for others, to extend hospitality, to see those separating lines in our world and work to erase them, to work for peace and justice throughout the world. This is the work of discipleship, and like the cartoon this work will bring with it the burden of judgement from others, and constant reworking of hardened barriers. But Jesus’ yoke is balanced and his burden is simple.

There is much that will keep us from answering Jesus call to follow; none the less Jesus invites us to put it down and leave it behind as we embrace the opportunity to share in the work of the Kin-dom, the work of sharing with the world God’s grace, God’s goodness, God’s love.

In all of our seeking, as a community, and in all of our work of following Jesus in this world, may Jesus words remind us that he is seeking after us too… calling to us and saying “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

Amen.

Scripture for June 28, 2020 - 4th Sunday After Pentecost

Jeremiah 28:5-9

The test of a true prophet

Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18

Your love, O Lord, forever will I sing

Romans 6:12-23

No longer under law but under grace

Matthew 10:40-42

[Jesus said to the twelve:] 40“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

Sermon

For the word of God in scripture

For the word of God among us

For the word of God within us,

Thanks be to God, Amen.

One of the years I was in Seminary, there was plethora of infants and toddlers. We often referred to them as the seminary babies, and because of the work load and intensity of grad school, we often cared for them as a village. Jesse, one of the seminary babies, would come and stay with me for three hrs every Tuesday afternoon. As a one year old, Jesse was full of curiosity about the world around him, learning new words, and trying to figure out how things worked. We would often read a book, play with my battery operated candles – turning them on and off was the greatest things – taking a short walk to the swing set, and snacks. Jesse, as the child of a single parent, was used to being cared for by a village, and found delight in spending time with his many caregivers. Jesse had one quirk that made him a challenge to care for by this village. He was a great sleeper, but only when he was in HIS bed at HIS house. Even with favorite blankets and lovies, he still wanted his bed. This normally wasn’t a problem, his caregivers would often just go over to his house and watch him there. But for me, with serious allergies to cats, staying over at his house with his cat sibling, for three hours was just not possible. Jesse napped in the late morning so it wasn’t a problem. Except for the one day when he didn’t take his morning nap. His mom warned me, but also said that he seemed to be doing fine. We went about our routine of finding things to play with and eating afternoon snacks. He looked tired and was laying his head like he might take a nap. But anytime he neared that point of closing his eyes, he would throw them open and start babbling. The babbling turned to sobs, as his exhaustion set in. He knew he was tired, he kept trying to lay down. But it seemed the more he tried to will himself to sleep the more his body seemed to fight him. His sobs continued as I wrapped him in his blanket and started to rock him. His fight for sleep continued. No matter how hard he tried, he could not sleep.

I don’t know how long I held him and rocked him but slowly his sobs grew into whimpers and almost in an instant his body just relaxed, heavy in my arms.

It was in that moment, looking at this sleeping child, who once was fighting the very thing he desired and needed, now utterly relaxed, I wondered if this feeling I had looking at Jesse is how God feels when we finally stop fighting for grace, and just allow ourselves to trust in God’s grace.

We can expend so much energy trying to be worthy, so much time trying to parse out what is good or bad, what will make God love us less or more. So much time. So much energy. And in a society where we have very little that we don’t have access to, we are used to thinking of our worth in terms of our productivity, our receiving of things is a sign of hard work, this trust that grace just is… well that just doesn’t fit. Too often we get wrapped up in trying to be good that we forget to rest in God’s promise. Or we get too concerned with who is in and who is out, who is truly obedient to the will of God and who is not – sending the one who is not away to keep things pure and right.

In his letter to the communities in Rome, Paul lays it out, “sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under the law but under grace.” (6:14) And “you have been set free from sin,” (6:18). God has done these things. Not your goodness, not your busyness, not your zealous love of Jesus, not your condemnation of others, not your correct worship, not your doing of anything in the least. So much time, so much energy.

We can try all we want, and try to will ourselves to earn grace. But that’s not how it works. It simply is, and all we can do is trust that God does what God promises to do, and allow ourselves to relax and allow that relief to set in. This is Grace.

Let that relief set into your body. Let it seep into every fiber of your being, every muscle, every sinew, every cell. Let it seep into your every thought of should or should not, and dismantle every bit that says you can earn God’s love. Let that relief seep into your bones and become the foundation for every move and act you take.

If we are not worried about doing the things that will earn us grace, or make us more worthy, then life – what we do day to day – is not about trying to earn anything, but an abundance. What might we do with that abundance? Jesus offers this: provide hospitality to the ones Jesus sends to you. Accept the hospitality when Jesus sends you to others. Offer the cool water of relief to others who need the reminder that they are beloved by God. Accept the cool water of relief when others remind you that you are beloved too.

God calls us worthy, and there is nothing that can change that.

God loves you, and there is nothing that can change that, either. and there is nothing you can do to change the fact that God loves you.

Go and live that love out in the world, share that good news.

Scripture for June 21, 2020 - 3rd Sunday After Pentecost

Jeremiah 20:7-13

The prophet must speak despite opposition

Psalm 69:7-18

Answer me, O Lord, for your love is kind.

Romans 6:1b-11

Buried and raised with Christ by baptism

Matthew 10:24-39

[Jesus said to the twelve:] 24“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

26“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

32“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

35For I have come to set a man against his father,

and a daughter against her mother,

and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;

36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Sermon

For the word of God in scripture

For the word of God among us

For the word of God within us,

Thanks be to God, Amen.

This week’s gospel reading is one of those that has me wishing Jesus hadn’t said what he said. Not because I don’t believe that he said it, or because it convicts me deeply. No, I just wish he hadn’t said it. I know it is true… faith does take courage, and opposition to the gospel message is real. I wish he hadn’t said it, because it means a reality check.

To be sure following Jesus is joy-filled, soul nourishing, and restorative – that’s what Jesus is trying to reveal right? That the God who created the heavens and the earth and all creeping things and flying things and swimming things, created you and me and desires nothing less than for us to have life, and have it abundantly, regardless of anything. Is there anything more we could ask for?

Those things remain true, but also our human inclination to reject God’s desire, to try to work for that abundance on our own, or the thoughts of “what if there isn’t enough…” start to creep in… and we are quickly reminded that not everyone and not everything is set to the will of God. That life isn’t abundant for all, that we have put restrictions or qualifications around who gets to live abundantly. Jesus still calls to us, asks us follow him, to do what he did, to bring about the kin-dom of heaven here and now. But Jesus wants us to do this knowing full well that this will come with opposition, and may require our lives to look different, maybe even be handed over to the powers and principalities that see and hear the message of this abundant life for all as a threat to their own power and wealth.

Jesus doesn’t just tell us these things, but shows with his own life and work what this opposition will look like. So that when it happens, when Jesus call to follow him and reject the ways that deny and defy God’s will that all should have abundant life, and we face opposition because we choose to live and speak and act as Jesus would, we will run away in fear, but have the courage to continue.

Jesus shows us the way. Not only Jesus, but that great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us who have taken up their cross so that others may know this love of God and grace of Jesus. We do not have to look far to see the reality of opposition.

Sometimes it comes from those closest to us, like a parent or teacher. I can only imagine the dismay of his parents when Martin Luther came home to tell his father that he would not be pursing the family work as a lawyer and would be going to take vows, become a monk, and study scripture instead. All of the resources that had been poured in to young Martin would be seen as tossed away so that he could study the bible, and take on a religious life. Only to get himself in so much trouble with the religious powers that he spent his days locked in a room long enough to translate the bible into the language of the people.

Sometimes that opposition to following Jesus, and proclaiming the good news of God in Jesus, requires our bodies and our physical presence in the midst of danger. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran theologian, could have chosen to stay at Union Seminary in New York. He could have written out his opposition to the Nazi regime and his displeasure with the church becoming a pawn to the radicalized state from afar. It would have been safer. But Dietrich recognized Jesus in the faces of those being harmed – those being placed into concentration camps and killed, and his siblings in the church who were being led astray by pastors and local political leaders – and heard a call to return. When he returned, he gathered other theologians and pastors, began an underground seminary, and set to work untangling the church from the grips of nationalistic and violent state, only to be imprisoned and executed by the state just mere days before liberation. His work, his writing, and his willingness to see God from the view point of the oppressed continues to influence modern theologians and pastors.

Sometimes the call of Jesus doesn’t require the rejection of our family or take our lives, often times its more subtle. As we chatted about this scripture reading, my spouse reminded me of a fellow alumni of the Citadel, who’s life and commitment to following Jesus turned her world upside down. Her name is Olivia and she was an incredibly bight student, gifted in understanding business management and set to begin an MBA program when a speaker came to her church during her senior year. He was coming as part of an appeal to raise money to build wells and bring sustainable water to war torn and violent Burundi. At that time they were in the middle of a 17 year civil war and so when she approached the speaker, he insisted that her money would be sufficient, she insisted that Jesus was calling her to go and to be with the people in Burundi. She has since taken his job of building relationships with people in Burundi and helping them become more sustainable. Her story has a happy ending, but it is not without danger, or lament from family and friends back home.

While these stories of Martin, Dietrich, and Oliva show us the extent to the life that Jesus calls us, I would be hard pressed if any of them thought they would end up reforming a religious structure, start a resistance church, or build a network of support for communities ravaged by war. They simply heard Jesus call them. They were attentive to seeking and seeing Jesus in the face of others.

Jesus tells us about the big things that we might face, so that we will not run away in fear, but have courage in our faith. Courage to engage in the uncomfortable places of life, to see Jesus in the face of the oppressed, the outcast, the prisoner, the hungry, the lonely, the sick and dying. To name the ways that greed seeps into our societal systems and pits sibling against sibling and denies God’s will for abundant life for all. To apologize for places where we have caused harm, and work to do better for our siblings. To be Jesus’ hands and voice in this world.

Yes, following Jesus is the big things, but it starts with the attentiveness of where Jesus is calling you to care for neighbor.

Yes, following Jesus will bring opposition, but you do not follow Jesus alone, but with the great cloud of witnesses, and the body of Christ gathered together as the church.

Yes, we fail Jesus daily, but his call to us remains, to proclaim life, abundant life, for all.

Trust in the one who will not forsake you, who claimed you in your baptism, and remember Child of God, you have been marked by the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit, Forever. Amen.

Scripture for June 14, 2020 - 2nd Sunday After Pentecost

Exodus 19:2-8a

The covenant with Israel at Sinai

Psalm 100

We are God’s people and the sheep of God’s pasture.

(Ps. 100:3)

Romans 5:1-8

While we were sinners, Christ died for us

Matthew 9:35 - 10:8

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in the synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, "The kingdom of heaven has come near.' Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

Please pray with me: Lord we thank you for the gift of your Word, and as we think on these things open our hearts to your will, and illumine our minds to hear your word for us. Amen

Today we return to the ordinary time in the church. A season in the church calendar that turns from focusing on Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection to the growth and life of the church and the expression of living God in the world. To be fair we’ve been living in a different ordinal time, the season of marking the days since we’ve been able to gather in community. And while I know this ordinary is meant in the sense that count our Sundays (as in ordinal season) but also it feels weird in this time in our society that anything should be called ordinary. So, while the church of history may call this the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, this year we may also call it the 14th Sunday in Quarantine.

I don’t know where you are today, but I’m feeling a little weary and exhausted. I resonate with the crowds, and want, hope that Jesus will see me, and our world, with some compassion.

I didn’t just see myself in that crowd, but many of us, perhaps all of us?

I know that the gospel writers could have never known what the year 2020 would be like, but the emotion is definitely there … Weary and exhausted… and confused … absolutely worn out … harassed and helpless…

I keep thinking, “What a weird time to be the church!” To have all that we do set aside for the sake of one another’s safety, well being, and life all together.

And yet, I also find myself wondering, “Is there a better time to be the Church?”

I look at the world that is eager and hungry for community. I notice the ways we are being called to pay attention to others around us, and to be intentional in how we include one another. We are rethinking every facet of our lives, how we work, how we teach our children, how we interact with one another, what makes up community, how we celebrate milestones. Never have these conversations seemed so at the forefront. And all I can hear is Jesus words, ”The harvest plentiful”

"…but the laborers are few…" I hear those words too.

Jesus doesn’t offer quick fix to solve this problem. He asks the disciples to pray for more laborers. And then he sets apart the twelve apostles by name and sends them to do the work of preparing the laborers. To prepare the people, to lift them up, to teach them, to make disciples of them.

It isn’t anything new really, Jesus only asks them to continue to do the same things Jesus has been doing. To tell proclaim that the kingdom of heaven has drawn near to them, to be healed of illness, give life to the lifeless, cleanse the outcast, and send demons away.

Jesus does not ask them to go to ends of the earth or far off places, but to start with those most prepared to do the work—faithful Jews like themselves who may have already heard the work Jesus is doing or even heard Jesus preach and teach in the synagogue. We start with our best, most robust options, and move out from there as our confidence and experience grows. Jesus has gone to the gentiles and to those outside of the house of Israel, and the mission outward will continue, but the harvest is plentiful and we need laborers now, so start at home.

And through our baptism we are summoned to do the same work! To proclaim the good news of Jesus grace, that the kingdom of heaven has come near, and is here now. I think we shy away from this because we have either visions of, or memories of, sharing the good news with harsh words. Jesus isn’t asking us to convince people of God’s love for them, or to scare them to Jesus. No, Jesus only to commands us to simply tell them the reality that they are loved by the God who created them. And this doesn’t need to be with words entirely, but maybe we can proclaim this in the way we see others. Do we really act as if, and treat others as if they actually are deeply beloved by God?

That alone is healing and cures sickness of our souls, and the souls of others!

Not only are we to care about the well being of souls, but also of their bodies. We are to be engaged in helping people’s lives now, living as if the kingdom of heaven is here and now. Not with miraculous healings, but with the skills we already have – to teach, to heal, to build, to serve -- and we are called to do the work to figure out that is going to work in the midst of a pandemic and our current phase of life.

These long days of social separation and on going cries for justice and peace in our cities and streets may feel like an unending battle, and we may even feel a little harassed and helpless in the midst of all of it. Jesus call remains. A call to remain open to both the problems of the world around us and the mission God has given to us in our baptism – that is when God called us by name and sent us out to name in word and deed that the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.

These days and these times come with added complication to be sure, but we are still called to find ways to practice hospitality, even to those we don’t know or don’t understand. We are called to keep our hearts and our minds open to the people and places God calls us to go – to keep the doors of our spirits open even while doors to our church buildings remain closed as an act of love to one another. We are called to notice and reach out to those in need, experiencing compassion and going to those who are helpless and harassed, doing all that we can to bring aid, comfort, and the compassion of Jesus. We are called to use our voices to speak out against evil -- to raise our voices with others against cruelty and injustice, whenever and wherever we see it. We are called to bring comfort to the hurting, and confrontation to that which is doing harm in equal measure.

Never has there been a better time for us to be the church, because the love of God in Christ both compels us and carries us as we go.

May we be so bold as to live Jesus’ way. Amen.