God Sightings

Sunday, June 26, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA

 

This past week our congregation held VBS for the children in our congregation and in the community. We’ve helped children to see how we need to put God first in our lives. Our theme Cave Quest – Jesus is the light of the world – showed how Jesus gives us hope, courage, direction, his love, and his power. We’ve talked about looking for God sightings and how these signs of God’s grace are all around us every day; we just need to keep our eyes open and look.

In a life that’s filled with distractions, it’s easy to overlook the God sightings in our lives. It’s easy to get distracted. We get distracted with work, and projects, sporting events, and all kinds of other things. But Jesus didn’t get distracted. He kept focused on the mission God had for him. His face was always set toward Jerusalem – toward the cross – where he would give his life for us.

We need to keep our eyes focused on the mission God has for us as well. And we do that by keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. No matter what noise is going on behind us, no matter what scary things try and make us afraid, no matter how dark it gets – we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus because he is the light of the world.

So let’s watch the VBS slideshow from this week and see how the children kept their eyes on Jesus and learned to follow him…..

This week, I want you to watch out for God sightings in your life. Keep your eyes open and see the grace that is all around you. And be God sightings for each other. Amen.

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The Light of the World

Sunday, June 19, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Luke 8:26-39

Caves. The decorations for our VBS theme Cave Quest this year ties in perfectly with our gospel story for today. We want people to get a feel for what it’s like to be inside a cave. How many of you have ever been inside a cave? I’ve explored a few. In Colorado I went to a place called Cave of the Winds. Although the elevation was over 6000 feet, there were still amazing caves in the mountains. In  New Hampshire I particularly liked a place called the Polar Caves, where the temperature inside the cave even on the hottest summer day was nice and chilly and one of the caves even had ice in it year round. And one that required a bit of maneuvering to get into was called the Lemon Squeeze. Caves can be fun to explore. And the different limestone formations that create stalactites and stalagmites are a thing of beauty.

They can be a place of safety for many different types of animals. They can be a shelter for people who need a safe place to rest for a while. Many people in the bible hid in caves. People like David in  hid in a cave when he was running from Saul. Obediah hid 100 prophets in the caves when Jezebel tried to have them killed. Elijah hid in a cave when his life was in danger. Caves serve many purposes, fun, shelter, and safety. But not always. For some, like miners who experience a cave-in, they can be trapped.

And that explains the condition of the man in today’s gospel story that Jesus meets. In ancient times, people also used caves for tombs, a place to bury their dead. Yet that is where the man in our story lived. He lived a life trapped in the tombs. Living among the dead he was considered unclean. As a result people stayed away from him. They were afraid of him. He lived away from the rest of society, away from any human interactions. He had no friends, and no one to talk with. He was also possessed by demons. He was a tormented soul and when Jesus met him he asked him his name, he had none. The man only said Legion – the number of demons that possessed him – which in the Roman army meant a unit of between 5000 and 6000 men. In other words he had a lot of demons!  He had no name, no worth, no identity. He was only defined by what possessed him. That was the painful reality of this man’s life.

That is the painful reality of many people today. Far too often we are only defined by those things that possess us – those voices that plague us. Voices that try to convince us that we or someone else is anything but what God created us to be. Voices that tell us we or someone else is not good enough, that we or someone else is not worthy enough of love and belonging. Voices that tell us people wouldn’t love us if they knew who we really were – less than perfect. Or voices that try and tell us to judge someone else harshly. Voices that tell us to give up and stop trying. Voices that try and tell us that we just don’t measure up or that someone else doesn’t.. Voices that tell us that God doesn’t really love us, that God is punishing us because we are suffering. These voices are demons trying to convince us that we are failures. Or try and convince us that someone else is a failure.

The recent events in Orlando in the past week are an example of the demonic voices that try and convince people that those who are different are somehow less that worthy of love and belonging. People are being killed because they do not measure up to someone’s standards and it has to stop. Jesus came to proclaim the truth to the entire world that we are all precious beloved children of God and in God’s eyes we are all worthy of love and belonging. God’s love is for everyone. That is why Jesus went to the country of the Gerasenes in today’s story. It was in the exact opposite direction of Galilee where he preached to the Jewish people. It was where the Gentiles lived, the people who didn’t yet believe in the God of Abraham, but Jesus went there to show that God’s love was for all people then and today and forever.

And after Jesus healed the man of the demons that possessed him, he left the country of the Garasenes. It would seem that this was the only reason that Jesus went to that place. Perhaps his only purpose was to heal this man. Because while this man felt he had no worth and no name, to Jesus he had a name. To Jesus he was important, important enough to make a special trip just to heal him.

Jesus makes a special trip for each and every one of us and meets us right where we are. We don’t have to go searching for Jesus. He come to us. Jesus wants to free us from the demons that possess us. Those voices and fears that keep us trapped in caves where we don’t want to come out from. Fears that keep us from shining our light into the dark places. Jesus’ light is more powerful than the darkness. Jesus’ light is more powerful than our fears. Jesus’ light is more powerful than anything that may try and destroy us. Jesus is the light of the world.

We are all plagued by demons, some of our own making and some caused by the actions of others. We are all “captive to sin and cannot free ourselves”, but there is One who can – Jesus. He is One who can rescue us from the bondage of sin and death. Jesus, who has already rescued us through the sacrament of baptism. Through baptism we know who we are – children of God. We have worth and value and a purpose in the kingdom of God. We are no longer bound by the false lies that evil tries to persuade us to believe.

We only have to remember our identity as children of God to know the truth. We will all sin. We will all make mistakes, and fall down, but we have the promise of Jesus’ forgiveness. We do not have to do anything to earn God’s grace through baptism. Baptism is a gift from God who reaches into our lives and claims us as God’s own children. We are claimed by the living God and we are sent.

We are sent to proclaim what Jesus has done for us. Just like the man possessed by the legion of demons in today’s gospel was given a new identity and sent to proclaim the glory of God, so too are we claimed and sent to proclaim God’s glory wherever we are. We are not baptized into ourselves; we have been baptized into the entire body of Christ, the church, here on earth. We are called to let our light shine.

When someone says, “Hey, you. What’s your name?” Remember your baptism. Remember you have been marked by the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit and proudly say that you are a beloved child of God. And when you look at others – no matter how different they may be – remember they too are a beloved child of God. No one needs to be trapped in the darkness of the caves forever. Jesus has risen from the dead. The stone has been rolled away. He is alive and his light is waiting to shine into the darkest corners of the world through us.

This week let the light of Jesus shine through you. Be kind. Be loving. Be caring. Return to your homes, your work, your schools, your neighborhoods and tell everyone how much Jesus has done for you. Amen.

 

The Chance of a Lifetime

Sunday, June 12, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Luke 7:36-8:3

Stories. They’re what make up life. We were created to communicate with one another and to share our stories. Maybe that’s why movies are so popular. The Disney movie, Finding Nemo, as I mentioned in the children’s sermon is one that reminds me of the faith of the woman in today’s gospel story. Dory, in Finding Nemo – took chances and risks, yet Marlin was always worried and played it safe all the time. That is until he met Dory. And on that fateful day when things were so uncertain he asked her, “How do you know something bad isn’t going to happen?” Dory said, “I don’t.” But that didn’t stop her from taking the risk to try and find Nemo.

Thrivent Representative, Ron Louder, is with us today and the Thrivent slogan on the banner is Live Generously and Positive Change Begins by Taking Action. These words are so fitting to the story in today’s gospel (and we didn’t even plan it that way; yet the Holy Spirit it seems had a plan in it.) The story we hear today is about a woman taking a chance, perhaps the chance of a lifetime. You see, she – like Dory- was an outcast. In the movie, Marlin said about Dory, “There’s something wrong with her.” They people in the city said the same thing about the woman in our story. She was known in the city as a sinner. It wasn’t written down what kind of sin she was guilty of – although over the years people have assumed they were certain sins and so the stories began – but one thing we do know was that everyone was talking about the stories about her. They all said there was something wrong with her. She had a reputation of being someone you shouldn’t be seen around. She was looked down on by the rest of society – even the devoted religious communities and their leaders. They only saw this woman for her sins.

And she- like many people today – began to believe the stories being told about her. She began to believe that she wasn’t worthy of love and belonging, that she wasn’t good enough like the rest of the religious community, that her life was never going to amount to anything spectacular. And so she kept to herself. She was lonely and she came to believe that this was the way her life was always going to be. Until one day….

She heard about Jesus. Our story doesn’t tell us where or when, but she heard about Jesus and the things he spoke about. She heard about the healings that he brought about. And she heard that he was eating in Simon, the Pharisee’s house. He was a well-respected leader and she was an outcast – a woman who in our story isn’t even respected enough to mention her name –  but Jesus was going to be at his house and she decided to take action. She was going to take a chance.

It was a big chance she took that day going into the house with all those important people there- particular Jesus. People were telling stories about her – and not good ones – and she ran the risk of being thrown out and even worse killed. She could have been stoned to death at that time for doing what she did. But this woman decided that an encounter with Jesus was worth the risk. Jesus was there and it was the chance of a lifetime. So she brought an expensive alabaster jar filled with ointment – maybe the most expensive thing she owned – and she went in the house where Jesus was and….in his presence she felt something. He didn’t even have to say a word, but she could feel the love that emanated from him. She could feel that he did not judge her. She could feel his forgiveness and grace even without him saying a single word. And she was overwhelmed by this encounter with Jesus and began to weep. And she kept on weeping until her tears bathed his feet. Then she took the only thing she had – her hair – and began to dry them. Then she kissed his feet and anointed them with oil. This encounter with Jesus – without the exchange of words – changed her life forever. And she couldn’t help but overflow with a generosity of thankfulness expressed in her actions. She took action when she heard Jesus was going to be there. She took a chance – a great risk – and she experienced a more than positive change in her own life. She experienced a transformation.

You’d think the rest of the people in the room would have been moved to tears themselves, but that wasn’t the case. They were stuck in the same story that they were used to telling. “This woman is a sinner. She has no business being here. Jesus shouldn’t even be talking to her. If he really were a prophet he would have never allowed this kind of action to take place.” And the talk continued. They knew only one story. We’re good. She’s bad.

But Jesus tried to help them to see a different story. They only saw her great sin, but not her great love and gratitude. They only saw her great sin and not their own lack of hospitality and generosity. Jesus was right there in their midst offering the same forgiveness, grace, and love to them, but they didn’t respond with generosity, because they couldn’t see who Jesus really was. And they couldn’t see it because they didn’t see themselves clearly. They were sinners in need of a Savior who was right there among them and they didn’t even see it. The faith of the woman however, saw Jesus. And the response when you experience Jesus is nothing short of extravagant generosity.

We are all sinners in need of a Savior. We – like Nemo – are all lost. We are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves, but Jesus is the Savior we need who can and has freed us through the cross. He lived, and died, and rose again from the dead so that we would have eternal life. He offers us forgiveness, acceptance, love, mercy, and grace upon grace. Jesus offers us an extravagant amount of grace, and once we really take that in then we too can’t help but be overcome with emotion and tears. We may have challenges in our life, things may not be easy for us, disappointments will come, heartache will hit us, but Jesus will stay with us every step of the way. That is what faith assures us. That is what faith motivates us to do. It compels us to take chances and risks for the sake of Jesus, because Jesus risked everything for us. We have been given an abundance of grace and love by being accepted and embraced into living a life as disciples of Jesus. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” This is reason to live a life of generosity just like Jesus.

Jesus gave generously – all he had in order to save us and bring us back to God. We who are called to be disciples of Jesus are asked to give generously of ourselves too. If Dory and Marlin in the story Finding Nemo never took risks, they never would have found Nemo. If the woman in our story today never took a risk, she never would have encountered Jesus. We need to have the faith to take risks too in order to encounter Jesus. And we don’t have far too look because Jesus is here among us and in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Starting today don’t be afraid to take risks and chances for the sake of the gospel. Don’t let a single opportunity go by without trying. Have the courage to risk making mistakes and live generously. Make each day matter. Live a life of generously loving and accepting all people with the love of Jesus. Live a life of generously using your gifts and talents to show others that Jesus cares for them. Live a life of generously giving of your time to the needs of others Live a life of generously giving of the finances God has blessed you with to the work of the church so that God’s mission may be spread through this congregation. Live a life of generously telling the story of how much Jesus means to you every day so that others can know him too. Invite someone to worship with us next Sunday. Invite them to an encounter with Jesus. May the Holy Spirit open our hearts individually and as a community of faith this week to make every moment count by giving glory to God. Every day we have the chance of a lifetime to encounter Jesus. Live it generously. Amen!