31 October 2010

Sermon for Reformation Day - "When Do We Get To See Jesus?

Last summer, a woman called her pastor on a Sunday morning, sobbing.  When she finally calmed down enough to speak coherently, she said, “I’m at my parents’ church - they’re doing communion - and they won’t let me take it.”  Let us pray:

We come to you, Almighty God, in all of the wrong ways.  We demand, we bargain, we insist, we judge - and all the while you give, you pay, you ask and you love.  Change our hearts - change our lives - make of us people who serve you gladly and willingly.  In the strong, saving name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

29 October 2010

Friday Sermonating

The sermon station at Cafe Milo, Ames, IA.
Spent the afternoon preparing for Sunday.  Good coffee, good reflections from commentaries, websites and *gasp* yours truly.  GREAT conversation prior to teh sermonating in our Theology for Lunch book group:  we're reading Johnny Cash and the Great American Contradiction by Rodney Clapp, and I love it even more the second time around.  Here's a song that was mentioned today:

It's stuff like this that makes my job truly enjoyable.  In some ways this has been a really crappy week:  continued financial fallout from the ELCA budgetary issues, trying to figure out how we can manage our own money better, marriages we thought were good falling apart, and, of course, the never-ending shitstorm that is the upcoming midterm elections.  But the chance to ponder all that God may be up to in the midst of this muck always brings a spring to my step and hope to my heart.  May your weekend be blessed, whatever it entails.

Grace & peace,

27 October 2010

Wednesday Night Prayer: Psalm 121 and "Faith My Eyes"

Psalm 121
1I lift up my eyes | to the hills;
     from where is my | help to come?

2My help comes | from the LORD,
     the maker of heav- | en and earth.

3The LORD will not let your | foot be moved
     nor will the one who watches over you | fall asleep.

4Behold, the keep- | er of Israel
     will neither slum- | ber nor sleep;

5the LORD watches | over you;
     the LORD is your shade at | your right hand;

6the sun will not strike | you by day,
     nor the | moon by night.

7The LORD will preserve you | from all evil
     and will | keep your life.

8The LORD will watch over your going out and your | coming in,
     from this time forth for- | evermore.

This week's lectionary gospel reading is the story of Zaccheus.  Short guy.  Wanted to see Jesus.  Got what he wanted.

I've been thinking about Zaccheus this week - I'm going to preach this text for Reformation Day on Sunday.  (Frankly, I'm a little disappointed there's only one text for Reformation Sunday, given the reformers' love of scripture in all its variety and glory.)  Maybe you know the song I used to sing in Sunday School:
Zacchaeus was a wee little man
A wee little man was he
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
for the Lord he wanted to see.
And as the Savior passed that way,
He looked up in that tree,
And the Lord said, "Zacchaeus!
You come down!  For I'm going to your house today!
For I'm going to your house to stay!"
The song, of course, misses the point.  Zacchaeus isn't remarkable because he's short: he's remarkable because he's a tax collector whom Jesus forgives and with whom Jesus eats and drinks.  Jesus chooses the disreputable tax collector to prove to the upstanding Pharisees that tax collectors need saving, too.

But what happened after Jesus left?  I'll bet that after Jesus wasn't around anymore, plenty of folks found ways to bring Zacchaeus back to earth.  That's what we do, after all.  How many of you have heard or seen someone experience a moment in the spotlight, only to get dragged back down by the jealousy of everyone around them?  And even when the people involved in the story aren't petty and envious, life in general has a way of humbling us sooner or later.

Here's the thing about mountaintop experiences like the one Zacchaeus experienced:  they are the exception in our lives.  Life can be grand and beautiful, or dark and tragic, but most of it is somewhere in between.  Zacchaeus appears in one brief story here in Luke:  what do you imagine the rest of his life was like?  Bills, groceries, the wife, kids, taxes and death - just like you and me.

But.  That one encounter.  How that changed everything.  We can't forget it, can we? 

No matter what may come, we are Jesus' own now, gathered and sent in grace to serve.  Sometimes, like Derek Webb sings, we are called to leave familiar places and beloved people behind, to strike out on the road.  Zacchaeus had an incredible encounter with the Savior of all - and, after he exited the stage on which Luke presents his story, he kept on going.  He lived.  We don't know how long, or with what struggles, but we know at least for a while he lived, without the immediate presence of Jesus.  Such a life requires much grace, and much faith.

The Spirit in you calls you, like the psalmist, to look to the hills and be reminded:  you are not forgotten.  The road you travel is not without a guardian.  You may not be on the mountain, or deep in the darkest valley, but wherever you are, your feet do not walk this path alone.  Zacchaeus saw his Lord, and knew grace and faith - you and I know it, too.  As Derek Webb sings, "[We] walk with grace [our] feet, and faith [our] eyes."  May it always be so.  Amen.

20 October 2010

Wednesday Night Prayers - Psalm 90 and "Ants Marching"

Psalm 90

1Lord, you have | been our refuge
            from one generation | to another.
2Before the mountains were brought forth, or the land and the | earth were born,
            from age to age | you are God.
3You turn us back to the | dust and say,
            "Turn back, O child- | ren of earth."
4For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when | it is past
            and like a watch | in the night;
5you sweep them away | like a dream,
            they fade away suddenly | like the grass:
6in the morning it is | green and flourishes;
            in the evening it is dried | up and withered.
7For we are consumed | by your anger;
            we are afraid because | of your wrath.
8Our iniquities you have | set before you,
            and our secret sins in the light | of your countenance.
9When you are angry, all our | days are gone;
            we bring our years to an end | like a sigh.
10The span of our life is seventy years, perhaps in strength | even eighty;
            yet the sum of them is but labor and sorrow, for they pass away quickly and | we are gone.
11Who regards the power | of your wrath?
            Who rightly fears your | indignation?
12So teach us to num- | ber our days
            that we may apply our | hearts to wisdom.
13Return, O LORD; how long | will you tarry?
            Be gracious | to your servants.
14Satisfy us by your steadfast love | in the morning;
            so shall we rejoice and be glad | all our days.
15Make us glad as many days as you af- | flicted us
            and as many years as we suf- | fered adversity.
16Show your ser- | vants your works,
            and your splendor | to their children.
17May the graciousness of the Lord our God | be upon us;
            prosper the work of our hands; pros- | per our handiwork.

From Sundays and Seasons.com. Copyright 2010 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission under Augsburg Fortress Liturgies Annual License #20449.

Driving home from the gym tonight, my oldest daughter asked, "Daddy, where are all these cars going?"  I said, "Well, honey, some are coming home from work, and some are going to work.  Some are going to the gym, and some are going to church.  I don't know where all of them are going, kiddo - they're going lots of places."  

It made me think of the song "Ants Marching" by Dave Matthews Band.  "He wakes up in the morning - does his teeth, bite to eat and he's rolling - never changes a thing - the week ends the week begins..."  I've always understood the song as a call to awareness, a call to recognize that every day is a precious gift from God, even the ones in which it feels like nothing extraordinary happens.  

The psalmist writes:  "The span of our life is seventy years, maybe eighty, but they are marked with hard toil, they fly by and then we're gone...teach us to number our days so we might apply our hearts to wisdom."  How have you marked today?  Take a minute and name one thing that made today different, even if it seems like an insignificant little difference.  It can be pleasant, or painful - what God wants for us is the thing for which the psalmist asks:  awareness, perspective, the sense that, even on the most ordinary of days, things of consequence are taking place.  

In his book The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis describes heaven as a place in which reality is so overwhelming that it is painful.  Those who are unaware of where they are and what power has brought them hide in their grey lives, unwilling or unable to experience the reality around them in all its depth and power.  They are so insubstantial the grass feels as hard as diamonds and they can't even disturb the delicate morning dew.  Could the ants marching in Dave Matthews' song be so different?

You're going lots of places.  Some of you are just getting started, some of you are looking at graduation as soon as this December.  The prayer of the psalmist is not for power, or strength, or vindication:  the psalmist's prayer is for wisdom, understanding, and the chance to spend the day working on God's behalf.  In the end, that's a pretty substantial reality in which to live.