27 February 2013

And Now A Word from Your Pastor...

You may have heard about The Bible, a miniseries produced and directed by Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel) and Mark Burnett (Survivor) airing on The History Channel beginning Sunday, March 3rd.  A few of you have asked what I think about it, perhaps not realizing I've seen as little of the actual show as you have.  :-)  

24 February 2013

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Lent: "Living Between Trust and Anxiety"

So last night I spent the final hours of the day pounding my head against a sermon that WOULD. NOT. BE. WRITTEN.  It happens like that sometimes.  It's no crime to admit you can't bring a new word every single week, particularly if you've got something in the hopper that folks where you're at haven't heard before.  That was the case this morning.  

20 February 2013

Faith Five: SHARE - (2 Corinthians 1.3-7)

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, 4who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. 5For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. 6If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering.7Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation. (2 Corinthians 1.3-7)

Sent to Nineveh

Today is a big day for ELCA seminarians.  It's the day regional assignments are released and students find out where they've been "drafted."  It's a day of high anxiety and fear.  Some students will find that fear alleviated by receiving the regional and synodical assignments they requested.  Some students will find that fear confirmed by being sent to a part of the country with which they have no experience and for which they feel ill-equipped.  A lucky few are able to go wherever they are needed and simply hope to find a good place to begin their ministry, but the overwhelming majority have a general place in mind where they hope they are called to serve, for whatever reasons may seem best to them.

14 February 2013

A Valentine's Post: Flirting with My Beloved

Warning:  this is SAPPY.  There's no way it won't be.  But it's fun all the same.  At least, I remember it being fun.  I can NOT believe all of this happened ten years ago.  No way has it been that long  Yet here we are...

13 February 2013

Sermon for Ash Wednesday - Saved In Ashes And Rent Hearts

The story that gives rise to Psalm 51 is terrible.  King David, the man after God’s own heart, the shepherd boy chosen by God to be the leader of God’s people, was standing on high and looking out over the city of Jerusalem when he saw a beautiful woman bathing and fell victim to his own desire and power.  He had the woman, Bathsheba, brought to his chambers, where he took her against her will and conceived a child with her.  When she told him she was pregnant, King David brought her husband Uriah home from the battlefield so that he might visit his wife, sleep with her, and thus hide the illegitimate pregnancy as one of his own.  But Uriah was faithful to King David and his fellow soldiers.  Uriah refused to leave King David’s house.  He slept on King David’s doorstep the first night, and stayed there the second night even after King David fed him wine and rich foods to get him drunk and fool him into going home.  In the end, King David sent Uriah back to the battlefield and ordered his commander, Joab, to put Uriah at the front of the army, attack their enemy and pull back quickly so that Uriah would be killed.  Joab followed King David’s orders, Uriah was killed, and King David took Bathsheba into his household as one of his wives soon after.

04 February 2013

2013 Book List

Here's the list of books I've read in 2013, updated monthly, for fun or for some sort of edification, professional or otherwise. Recommended titles are in bold, and formats are +(Kindle), *(audio/iPod).

Culture Roundup

We gathered with some friends for the Super Bowl last night and, true to form, spent more time watching the commercials than the game.  One of these years I'm going to have to adopt an NFL team I truly love so I might actually care about the game itself if said team ever makes it to the top.

As it is, I'm considering proposing legislation to ban GoDaddy from ever producing a commercial again.  Yeesh.  And as some of my friends noted, there aren't a lot of farmers like the ones Paul Harvey described who could afford the $50,000 pickup Dodge was selling in their commercial, no matter how much it might tug at your heartstrings.  That one and the Clydesdale commercial win for "most likely to make me cry if I watch it by myself."  The Oreo Riot, Miracle Montana Stain and Babylandia were my biggest Laugh Out Loud moments.  And our friends brought a "Snackadium" for us all to enjoy, which we did.  Sloppy Joes, queso, Chex Mix - it was a good night for my tummy 'round these parts.

03 February 2013

Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany - Jesus Came Into The World For...

There have been stories over the last few years about the difficulty of being a lottery winner.  You may have heard of this:  the first thing every big lottery winner should do, according to the people who run the lottery, is hire a lawyer and get ready for everyone you’ve ever known to come out of the woodwork.  Today being Super Bowl Sunday, the members of the Ravens and the 49ers have had similar problems dealing with ticket requests.  One former player interviewed on NPR said he made his spouse deal with ticket requests so he could focus on the game.  I can only imagine how well went over with the spouse.  But what it boils down to is this:  when a local boy or local girl makes it big, everyone comes running to share in the good news.  This was as true in Nazareth in the days of Jesus as it is today.  
The people of Nazareth were welcoming back the hometown boy who was building a good reputation for himself.  “Hey, did you hear Jesus will be back in town on Saturday?”  “If he healed that guy over in Capernaum, just imagine what he’ll do for us!”  “I remember Mary’s boy Jesus when he was still waddling around the house in his diapers.”  “I always knew Jesus would make something of himself.”  But Jesus had harsh words for these folks who thought they knew him so well.  First, as you heard in today’s reading from Luke, Jesus amazed the crowd by claiming that the promises of Isaiah were fulfilled as they listened to him read them aloud.  Odd, but that wasn’t the worst.  The worst was the moment when Jesus picked a fight with the hometown crowd.  
Jesus said, “I’m sure you’re expecting me to do some great things here, things you’ve heard I’ve been doing in other towns.  Well, you’re not going to like what I have to say to you here.  People who speak the truth from God are never welcomed in their hometowns.”
What happens here sets the tone for the rest of the gospel of Luke.  Jesus tells these people who have loved him that their connection to him is not what makes them special.  Jesus makes it very clear:  he has not come into the world to make sure that these people who’ve known him can exploit that connection for their own benefit.  Messiah came into the world for much more than the people of Nazareth.
Jesus came into the world for the Gentiles - for more than just one tribe, more than just one clique.  In Luke 2.10 the angels say that God has brought “good news for all people.”  A few verses later the prophet Simeon says Jesus will be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”  When John the Baptist arrives on the scene to prepare the way of the Messiah, he proclaims that in Jesus salvation will be seen by all flesh.”  Jesus was promised to Israel for centuries, but the promise was never limited to Israel.  
You have to ask yourself:  what’s the problem for the people of Nazareth?  That they want Jesus to do great things?  No!  The problem is that Nazareth wants Jesus for themselves at the exclusion of others who also need him.  If he is the Messiah, he’s our Messiah - and they will set up walls to keep Jesus in and keep the rabble out if they have to.  There’s no room for outsiders, no room for those who don’t look like us, act like us, don’t meet our standards.  Make no mistake - this is not a failing limited to Nazareth - the same problem lives in us today and will live in us forever.  Jesus is for Nazareth, but Jesus is also for those outside of Nazareth.
Jesus came into the world for sinners, no matter where they might be found.  The things he said to the people of Nazareth offended them because Sidonites and Syrians were sinners.  We can’t say this for certain, but it sure sounds like Jesus picked a fight on purpose to prove his point.  Want to know what it feels like to hear what the people of Nazareth heard?  Imagine that person who epitomizes everything wrong with the world, and put their name in the place of the widow of Zarephath or Naaman the Syrian.  It sounds offensive because it is meant to be offensive.  It is meant to be offensive because God wants to offend our sense of entitlement, which always rises up and gets in the way when we think we’ve joined the “in” group by being part of the church.  God blesses whomever God chooses to bless.  It is not under our control - God blesses whomever God chooses to bless.  
At a concert in 1997, a few months before he died in a car accident, Rich Mullins said, “Being a Christian doesn’t mean you build a community and fence it in, where there are no minorities, no gays, no sinners.  Being a Christian means loving what Jesus loved, and Jesus loved the poor.”  We simply can’t tell God what God should do, whom God should love.  God is free.  God is free to do whatever God wants, even if it doesn’t make us particularly happy.  God can and does call us to love and serve the outsider, the imperfect, those who aren’t necessarily what we think they ought to be.  Above all, the message from Jesus is this:  “DON’T YOU DARE PRESUME TO TELL GOD WHO IS IN AND WHO IS OUT.”  Living in Nazareth didn’t make for a special claim on the Messiah.  Neither does being a member in good standing of St. Petri Lutheran Church, or the ELCA, or the Roman Catholic Church, or any other community of faith.  God decides who is in and who is out, and if God wants to ignore what you might think is your better judgment, well, you’re going to have to take that up with God.  And I wish you good luck.  
Here’s the great thing, though:  you can indeed take this up with God, because if Jesus came into the world for the outsiders and sinners, that means that Jesus came into the world for you.  Or are you going to sit there and tell me you’ve never felt like an outsider - or that you’ve never been a sinner?  If being part of the hometown crowd didn’t do anything for the people of Nazareth, being here this morning isn’t going to make God feel any better about you, either.  It’s not about who you’ve been - it’s all about who Jesus is and who Jesus came into the world to save.  Ann Landers once wrote that the church “is not a hotel for saints:  it’s a hospital for sinners.”  Jesus also seemed to feel this way about faith and why he came into the world.  He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  
Jesus didn’t come into the world to play favorites.  Jesus didn’t come into the world to be the eternal nanny, forever keeping track of our spiritual chore sheets and who gets an extra spoonful of sugar this week.  That’s not how it works.  The people of Nazareth were blessed by Jesus presence, but not because it got them better seats at the resurrection:  they were blessed because God Incarnate grew up among them!  The Word of God took on flesh and bone and lived with them, and they saw his glory - that’s all the blessing we people of God could ever need!  We aren’t righteous here at St. Petri because we’ve got our theology right, or because we got the budget in the black, or because we’ve braved the elements on a cold Iowa morning when it would have been more comfortable to just stay in bed.  We here at St. Petri are blessed because Jesus Christ, the truth of God, came into the world for sinners like us, and in him we’ve been set free of all those other things we think are so important.  God’s church is meant to be a safe place, a hospital for sinners, but it is NEVER a place where the blessings of almighty God are expected as a result of what we do or limited to a chosen few that look, act, and think the way we do.  God’s church is meant to be a safe place turning itself inside out, offering God’s mercy and love to a world that needs it desperately, welcoming those who don't know the story and who haven't been part of the 'in' crowd at the church before.  
This world is changing.  God’s church is changing.   But God’s love hasn’t changed.  From our deepest history, God’s love has always sought outsiders and sinners and made them free in mercy for the sake of the world.  God's reckless love isn't happy until it gives itself away freely.  In the church, God is creating the 'inside-out' crowd, gathered by the Holy Spirit, forgiven in Jesus’ name, sent into the world to proclaim the love of God for all humanity.  Jesus didn’t come into the world to play favorites - Jesus came into the world for outsiders, for sinners, for you.  Be blessed, God’s chosen people.  Amen.