What Should We Do?

Message- Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012
Zion Lutheran Church, Hoople, ND
Luke 3:7-18

And the crowds asked Jesus, “What then should we do?” And the tax collectors asked Him, “Teacher, what should we do?” And the soldiers also asked Him, “And we, what should we do?” And the parents, family, and friends of all those affected by the recent tragedy in Newtown, CT asked Him, “And we, what should we do?” And the intern in rural Hoople, ND – thousands of miles away – asks Him, “What should we do?”

Like all of you, it has been a difficult few days. I’ve been following the news almost constantly since the announcement of the tragedy in Newtown, CT on Friday. And for me, it hits very close to home. Too close. I grew up less than 30 minutes from Newtown, CT. Several of my best friends lived in Newtown and I spent a lot of time there with them while growing up. Some of them still live very near to Newtown. CT. It’s not a big state like the vast open spaces of the West – and almost everyone seems connected in some way. Personal friends of my family have children who went to school with one of the victims. The quiet peaceful town of Newtown that I knew is now spread all over the news never to be the same again. It hardly seems believable. It hardly seems real, yet it is.

We live in a society filled with violence and hatred and innocent lives are taken every day and we can hardly make any sense of it. Yet if we look into Luke’s gospel this week, it honestly isn’t any different. At the time this gospel was written the people lived under Roman occupation. Soldiers were everywhere. There was suffering, killing, and persecution on a daily basis. It was part of the human condition – part of the sinful, and broken world we live in. It still is.
The people were waiting for a Messiah, someone to rescue them from all of that. And John the Baptist was preaching of repentance. He was asking people to turn from their hurtful ways and prepare the way for that Messiah. They asked, “What should we do? What should we do to bear fruit worthy of repentance?” John’s response was to radically share their resources with the poor, to show fairness and restraint in dealing with people, to treat people with compassion.

Here we are in the season of Advent, over 2000 years later, still waiting for a Messiah to rescue us from all of this suffering. While we’re waiting to celebrate the birth of that Savior in a manger, we’re also waiting for that Savior to come again. To come and bring all of creation back to God. There is a darkness and a sickness that still covers this earth – a sickness called sin and when faced with evil we so often ask God, “What are you going to do about this. Where are you God?”

Yet, God is with us. Emmanuel, God With Us – in our darkest moments, in our lowest places that we think no one can reach. God reached down from heaven and sent us a Savior so that when we are going through hell, we know we have a Savior who has been there. Who went even there for us.

So the question is not what is God going to do, but rather – like those who asked John the Baptist – “What should we do?” What should we do while we are waiting for that Messiah to come again? When faced with evil we must love even harder. We must hope even stronger. We must believe even deeper. Through the power of the Holy Spirit our Savior is ready to reach out to all people through us. When people look for God we as the church need to be there to show them God is here. We must show the world that love is stronger than hatred and that goodness is stronger than evil. Yet don’t be fooled, love is not easy and it is not without danger. Jesus suffered and died because of love, but it is also love that redeemed us! That kind of love means – as Jesus said – we must love our enemies. Yes, we must love those who hurt us.

A father of one of the victims in tragedy in Newtown said yesterday that he is not angry. He realizes that people have free will and God is not responsible for the free will of the person who took away his six year old daughter. He says he is praying for the family of the person who is responsible because they must be grieving too. What faith! This father says he wants to use his free will to do something good in this world, to help others, to live out his faith.

What should we do? We must do the same! We must love as Jesus loved. And this means standing up for justice. It means speaking out when laws are unjust. It means speaking out for those who have mental illness and are not getting the help they need. It means writing letters to our senators, and legislators who have the ability to change laws and policies that are unjust. It means doing what we can to end homelessness and hunger and poverty. It means giving to organizations that have the power to make effective changes – organizations like our own synod and the larger synods of the ELCA who support programs that change lives.

Don’t think that one person can’t make a difference. One person can listen to someone who is calling out for help. One person can support another when they are lonely. One person can write a letter or make a phone call. One person can reach out their hand. And when all these single individuals begin to believe that they can make a difference, soon you have a whole group of people who have an impact. Speak up; do not be silent.

One young single woman said yes, over 2000 years ago and became the mother of the Savior. One small baby was born, the Savior of the world, and changed all of our lives forever. Do not underestimate the power of one small act. That is the good news John the Baptist proclaimed. That is the good news I proclaim to you today. Amen.

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Message- Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012
Zion Lutheran Church, Hoople, ND
Luke 1-2

I want to thank the children and youth for proclaiming the sermon today. And it was a sermon. You’ve heard me quote St. Francis of Assisi before, “preach the gospel and when necessary use words.” We heard the words of Luke’s gospel proclaimed by the children and we witnessed the gospel. Through their program, the children and youth brought Luke’s Christmas story to life. We saw Mary and Joseph. We saw the shepherds. We saw the angels. They told the Christmas story in their own words and in their own special way.

The message for us today is for us to tell that same Christmas story in our own words and in our own way. This season of Advent we are waiting and watching for the coming of Christ. The rest of the world is waiting and watching too, but they don’t always know what they are waiting and watching for. Our culture is pre-occupied with watching reality shows, and watching sports events, and watching many other things, but what they need to see and hear is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Like the children shared with us today, share this story with others you meet. Share it at your places of work. Share it at your schools. Share it at the grocery stores, the supermarkets, with your friends and neighbors, wherever you go. Let others see the gospel through you. Let them hear about the wonderful things God is doing in your life. Let them see what the coming of the Christ child means in your life. Share the story.

Stand Up and Raise Your Heads

Sermon- Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012
Zion Lutheran Church, Hoople, ND
Luke 21:25-36

For over a month now stores and media have started to advertise that we are in the season of Christmas and that may be true for secular society, but not for Christians. I think a brief history lesson on seasons is in order here. Secular society celebrates two main holidays – Christmas and Easter, yet for Christians we have seasons in between those two – Advent and Lent. Advent and Lent are seasons that only Christians celebrate, but they are very important. Today is the first Sunday in the season of Advent. What, you might ask is that? The season of Advent is that time of preparation before the Christmas season, which by the way, begins on Christmas day and lasts for 12 days until Epiphany on Jan. 6th. Epiphany means manifestation and on that day we celebrate when the star led the magi to the infant Jesus. But back to Advent……

Advent means coming. The Aramaic word or really words maranatha can mean our Lord has come or Come, O Lord. It all depends how you translate it. Yet the message is that we are waiting, but what are we waiting for? Advent is not waiting for the Christ child to be born. That event already happened over 2000 years ago. Advent is the season in which we wait for the coming of Christ again. Advent is an in between time. It is that time when we wait for the celebration of the birth of Christ and the expectation of Christ who will come again and who comes to us each day. Advent is a time of hope – hope in the midst of darkness and chaos.

And there is plenty of darkness and chaos all around us. Wars continue to break out, climate change continues to worsen and cause devastation, hunger and homelessness increase, and grief and suffering are a constant part of life. How can one be hopeful in the midst of all of this? Jesus says in the gospel today, “Look” “Be on guard.” “Be alert at all times.” Those don’t sound like words of comfort, but more like warnings that could cause one to feel more than a little uneasy. In fact, Jesus says, “There will be signs – signs of distress.” And people will “faint from fear.” Yet, Jesus does not want us to be afraid. He tells us, “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Normally, when faced with trouble, we don’t raise our heads. When trying to walk in the midst of a severe storm, we lower our heads to avoid the direct impact of the rain, snow, or wind. We want to protect ourselves and stay low. We don’t want to “stand up and raise our heads.” We don’t want to witness all the trials that are coming.

On the battlefield in Gettysburg, PA, there are a few very large trees that are called witness trees. They are called that because these large trees were there before the civil war battle and they were standing when the battle took place. These trees stood tall and witnessed the horrors of the war. One can only wonder if these trees could talk what they would have to tell us about what they saw. Jesus is asking us to stand tall amidst the horrors we may witness because our “redemption is drawing near.” Jesus uses tree imagery as well to show that as the tree begins to sprout leaves, we know that spring is coming – just as when suffering and chaos surrounds us we know that Christ will be coming again, yet at the same time is already here to sustain us and give us hope. Tangible today as we receive His body and blood. Hope reminds us that the storms of this life will not last forever, but God’s words will last forever. It is the word of God that sustains us and allows us to hold our heads up confident that God is by our side. That hope allows us to wait knowing that God is in charge not us.

We want the troubles in our lives to be over as soon as possible, but sometimes we have to wait and patience is not something that comes easily for most of us. That is one of the gifts of prayer. Prayer takes our focus off our problem and onto the One who is bigger than our problems. Prayer may not change the situation, but it will change us. Prayer will teach us to wait for God’s will to be done, in God’s time. Prayer will not allow our hearts to be weighed down. It will help us to see God more clearly in the midst of chaos.

And chaos is something that seems to be in abundance during this time of year. The secular world is stressing that we are in the midst of the Christmas season – the time the media tries to say is for shopping for more than we need, spending more than we can afford, rushing here and there to get more, do more, all in an effort to prepare for what? Some commercialized Christmas? That does not promote a spirit of waiting – only waiting for the season to be over.

That’s why this season of Advent is so important. This is the time to pause from all the busy-ness of life and see that the kingdom of God is near. We need to take time this Advent and prepare for Christ’s coming by spending more time in prayer with God and less time planning for the perfect holiday. This is not a mad race to the finish line on Dec. 25th. The Christmas season begins on Dec. 25th – it does not end there. Right now our focus needs to be on slowing down when society wants us to speed up. Right now is the time to prepare ourselves for Christ’s return by raising our heads in praise and witnessing to others the awesome things God has done for us and through us. Advent is the time to prayerfully reflect on the promises of God – to draw near to God.

This Advent season read daily devotions, take at least 15 minutes each day to still your mind and quietly spend time with God. Feel God’s presence as you take time to pray. Prayer will ease your anxieties. It will give you peace. It will enable you to “stand up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near.” Amen.