“The Talk”

Sunday, June 25, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church- Manchester, PA
Matthew 10:24-39

 

Is there anyone here who hasn’t felt uncomfortable having “the talk?” You know, the conversation parents dread having with their children about certain topics. Or maybe the dreaded conversation for children who have to tell their parents, “I broke your favorite vase,” or “I broke your favorite lamp,” or “I banged up the car.” Or the conversation family members engage in with their older parents about funeral arrangements for when that time eventually comes. At one time or another we all face with dread “the talk” – that conversation we need to have with someone about any number of things, yet we don’t want to do it, because we are afraid of the reaction. And no matter how long we try and postpone it, these conversations have to happen.

Today, it’s time for me to have “the talk” with you. In fact, all across the country pastors are having “the talk” due to our Gospel reading today, which in case you don’t already know, we pastors do not select. Our lectionary is based on a three-year cycle of moving through the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, with the gospel of John interspersed through all of them. We are currently in year A of the cycle meaning churches who all follow the revised common lectionary – Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal, Catholic – are all studying the same lessons on any given Sunday. It helps to foster unity in the church, something that Jesus talked about and prayed about all the time. Except for today, which is what brings me to “the talk.”

You see most Christians have this image in our heads of Jesus as the gentle, caring and loving Shepherd, which he was and is. We think of Jesus as soft-spoken and compassionate – again, accurate descriptions. When Christians think of Jesus they often think of him as being supremely passive. Scripture calls him the Prince of Peace after all. Today, however, Jesus himself says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Well, game over, this is not the bible text any pastor wants to preach on today. No pastor wants to have “the talk” about these words from Jesus. In fact, some may just avoid it altogether. That’s a great temptation, that even crossed my mind. I can’t avoid “the talk” as much as I’d like to, because if I do, I am not doing what God has called me to do – preach the gospel.

It’s hard to talk about this text because most people want to come to worship on Sunday morning to be inspired. They want to hear the Good News, words of hope and promise. Who doesn’t? Yet, sometimes the things that Jesus says convict us to change how we are thinking and doing things. They challenge us to leave the comforts of safety and live daring lives, take risks. These tough words from Jesus don’t stir in us warm and fuzzy feelings. They make us uncomfortable. These words are disturbing because they go against every image we have of Jesus, who here is saying that he hasn’t come to bring peace, but a sword. In fact, he goes on to say that family members will go against each other like enemies. Later in chapter 21 of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus will overturn the tables in the temple, and yell at them for not being a house of worship. What on earth is going on with Jesus? Why is he saying such harsh things? One thing we can be certain of is that Jesus’ words are ones to be taken seriously.

So what is Jesus telling us with these words? Is he trying to bring us down? Not necessarily, though that might be our initial reaction. He’s trying to wake us up. He’s speaking to the reality of being his disciples and spreading the kingdom of God where we are. The church as the body of Christ everywhere is called by Jesus to be bold and daring in speaking about living the life Jesus modeled – love, compassion, mercy for all, and not everyone will welcome that because it means change. First, we have to model that behavior with each other through our words and actions. This means that we are to be kind, while still holding each other accountable to living according to our baptismal promises. What does that mean? It means that sometimes when a fellow Christian brother or sister is being unkind – saying hurtful things, yelling, or acting in ways that hurt the body of Christ we have to speak to them because the Church is Christ’s presence in the world. People look to the Church for guidance and direction, and if we as the Church are fighting and treating one another unkindly, if we are not attending to our spiritual hunger for growing in our faith and leading our children to grow in theirs, if we aren’t treating one another with the love and compassion of Christ, then we are denying Jesus, and leading others away not toward him. It’s not just clergy’s actions that are scrutinized, it the actions of the whole Church. What we do and say matters to the people around us – the people in our neighborhood. We have to live lives that mirror Jesus if more people are ever to experience him through us, and if the church is going to grow.

Jesus is continually telling us however, that this isn’t going to be easy. When you or I live our lives like Jesus we are inviting the possibility of rejection and ridicule. Our readings from the psalm and the prophet Jeremiah this morning reiterate this. God told Jeremiah what to say to people who needed to turn back to God and repent. Yet when Jeremiah spoke the words from God people ridiculed him and wanted to do him harm. Jeremiah was so discouraged at times. Not one of the prophets in the scriptures wanted to be a prophet because they knew they would be hated by many. Pastors often resist the call for the same reason – knowing that speaking the words God wants us to speak are often met with great hostility. Yet, I know I speak not just for myself, but other clergy that we do what we do because we love all God’s people, and we want the church to grow so that others can experience the wonderful love and grace of God. Mothers and fathers have a hard time when they tell their children no for their own good, but they too do so because they love their children so much. Anyone who cares for others – and that’s all of us here – knows that speaking the truth in love doesn’t always win awards, but we model Jesus’ actions. Christians aren’t called to be nice, meaning to go along with whatever someone wants; they are called to speak God’s truth of showing love and compassion and mercy towards others. When someone is being unkind, or acting out of their own desires vs God’s desires, we have to speak out even at the expense of being ridiculed.

Jesus’ words today are meant to wake us up, to realize that following Jesus sometimes means we have to make a choice between what we want to do and what God wants us to do. Our families, our friends, our society may want us to put other things first in our lives, but Jesus says we have to put the kingdom of God first. This may not always bring peace, and may cut and divide like a sword. People didn’t want to hear what the prophet Jeremiah had to say; God’s words spoken through him brought division. People didn’t always want to hear what Jesus had to say, and so his words brought division, but he didn’t back down. Jesus wanted people to experience a relationship with God through him and therefore he wasn’t going to just tell them what they wanted to hear. Jesus wasn’t afraid to have “the talk” with anyone even if they didn’t like it. If people weren’t showing compassion to another person, Jesus called them out on it. Jesus says later in Matthew 25, “Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me,” and “just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Living as disciples means we have to grow in our faith so that we can share our faith story with others as easily as we share any other story or experience that means a lot to us. When we listen and speak out of love, compassion, mercy, kindness, and a genuine concern for the well-being of someone else, then we are living like Jesus. That’s how we renew and grow this congregation and the wider church. Others will see our love, our faith, our excitement, our commitment, our joy, and they will want to experience that too.

The prophet Jeremiah was discouraged by his constant rejection, yet he professed with confidence, “But the Lord is with me like a relentless warrior.” Jesus promised to be with us always. He will give us the courage we need to be the bold courageous Christians that will lead others to experience Christ. So have “the talk” with others about how the kingdom of God has come near to us through Jesus. And “Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Amen.

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Basic Instructions

Sunday, June 18, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 9:35-10:23

Did you ever try and put together something without the instructions in front of you? It might have been as simple as an origami fish. Or maybe it was a grill, or a piece of diy furniture? Did it go together easily? Did it even look like it was supposed to? I have to admit, sometimes it’s easier to just look at the picture rather than read the long instructions that can be confusing. But what if you don’t even have a picture? What if you have no idea what it’s supposed to look like and you try and put it together? You might end up with some extra parts left over. And it’s always easier with a little help. At least one other person – maybe two – to help you get it together. You might be able to do it, you might try and Google it on the computer, but then again, you might end up really frustrated, especially if time is of the essence. Instructions are really important to put together something you’ve never built before – people to help you make the task not only easier, but more enjoyable. It might be hard work, like building a house, but as the saying goes, many hands make light work.

So why do we sometimes resist? Why do we think we have to do it by ourselves, and go it alone? Granted there is a certain peace in doing somethings solitary. It can be a form of stress relief, like painting, coloring, gardening, or even building something if we already have some sort of idea how to do it. The first time can be a challenge. After practice, it’s second nature to us. That’s the difference between an apprentice and a master. The apprentice is learning from the master. It takes time, and patience, and a willingness to one day be as good as the master. In order to do this the apprentice needs to listen and follow instructions.

Building a project, a house, or even a church requires instructions. That’s what Jesus is giving us in our reading from the gospel of Matthew today. Jesus is giving us basic instructions for how to build the Church. And to be clear, Jesus isn’t talking about a building; he’s referring to the people of God – disciples – who make up the Church. So what are the instructions for building the Church? The instructions Jesus gives are pretty simple. He didn’t say we have to memorize the 66 books of the Bible – the New Testament wasn’t even written back then. He didn’t say to make sure you memorize the Apostles or Nicene Creed word for word – again, they weren’t even written back then. The Creed – what the early Christians professed was simple – Jesus is Lord. It doesn’t get any more simple than that. What that creed says is that Jesus is the number one priority in my life – no one else is higher. That was a risky creed to say back then, because you were supposed to profess that the Roman Emperor was the lord or number one in your life. It’s a simple yet risky profession of belief even today. Are we ready to claim Jesus number one in our life above anyone or anything else? That’s what Jesus is asking of us if we are to be his disciples.

So what are the rest of Jesus’ instructions for building the Church? We are to tell people that the kingdom of God is at hand, meaning we are to tell them that God is real, that God has come to us in the person of Jesus, that Jesus lived, died, and rose again to save everyone. We are to tell people that God is not only near to us, but around us, and in us. And we are to not only tell people these things with our voices, but through our actions. Jesus gave us authority to cure the sick, to help those who are in need, and to have compassion for people just as Jesus has compassion on people who feel harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

The temptation is to think that Jesus only gave this authority and power to the first twelve disciples, but that isn’t true. These instructions are for all of us today who profess to be disciples –followers of Jesus. He is the master and we are the apprentices. We need to listen to these instructions and follow them because Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” There’s a lot of work to be done to build the Church and to keep it going. We have to follow these simple instructions of learning from Jesus by studying his words and letting them speak to our hearts. His words are life and give meaning to ours.

The temptation is also to think that we don’t have the right words. I’ve heard people say, “I can’t pray as good as the pastor.” That’s simply not true. Prayer is listening and talking to God. No one’s prayer is more important than anyone else. God hears all our prayers. The only thing that matters is that they are sincere and come from the heart. I’ve also heard people say, “I couldn’t teach Sunday School, or visit people, or invite people to church because I’m not that good with words, but Jesus said, “Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” As long as we are willing to answer Jesus’ call to help, God will provide all we need. The Spirit will give us the words to speak.  The Spirit gives us all we need when we stop trying to do things our way and follow Jesus’ basic instructions for life. These basic instructions tell us to live more simply, to act with kindness, to love more deeply.

Is life going to be hard at times? Yes, Jesus said, “I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves.” In other words, it’s going to be dangerous at times, but we can’t let that stop us. Jesus said, there’s a lot of work to do and he needs more people to do it. He doesn’t call experts today any more than he called experts at the beginning of his ministry. We don’t have to be perfect because God is perfect. The only requirement to build the Church is a willing and compassionate heart just like Jesus that says, “Yes.” Yes, I will go where you send me. I will help those who need help. I will heal people with words of kindness, forgiveness, and love. I will not let others be mistreated, but will advocate for them and be the presence of Jesus to them. Yes, I will follow Jesus’ instructions and shine his light in the world.

As summer quickly approaches, and people begin to take vacations, we have Jesus’ basic instructions for being and building the Church. In our hallway one of our members helped to set up an interactive bulletin board about traveling with Jesus this summer. We invite you to write on the sticky notes where you have seen God in your travels this summer, and what things God is doing in your life, and in the community. On your travels today and in the weeks to come, let us go as Jesus calls us with his basic instructions and be the church. Amen.

A God of Relationships

Sunday, June 11, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 28:16-20

 

Relationships are the foundation of life. No person exists only to live for themselves. The great poet John Donne said it best in his poem, “No Man is an Island.” “No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.” He said that if a part is washed away, the continent is the less.”

Each person’s life and death is intrinsically connected to our own, because all of us – together – make up humanity. Relationships are the foundation of life. Yet, how do relationships even begin? They begin with a promise. Today, as we celebrate Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the triune God who is the ultimate model of a perfect relationship. We may not be able to explain how these three distinct persons can be one God, but we believe it through faith. The Trinity is the example of how God cares deeply about relationships, because God is a God of relationships – separate, yet one. God is made up of a dynamic relationship of three persons, yet one God – the Father or Creator, the Son or Redeemer, the Holy Spirit or Sanctifier – the one who makes us holy. This holy relationship God has within God’s very nature is built on a promise – a promise to always be there for one another, not matter what. That’s the basis for any meaningful relationship. That promise unites people. It unites people from one, two, or more individuals into one- one couple, one family, one group, one church.

Look at a couple who is decides to get married. These two individuals – while separate – become one starting with a promise. Or like I illustrated in the children’s sermon – two people who exchange halves of necklaces (one best and one friend) together become best friends. Yet these relationships at times may sadly fall apart. We are after all humans. We heard this in our psalm this morning. “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” The psalmist asks God, “How can you care so much for us, when we are far from perfect?” We make mistakes. We sin. We hurt each other. We break promises.

Humans have been doing this since the world first began. God told Adam and Eve not to do one thing – they had everything they wanted – they only had to make sure they didn’t do one thing. They promised that they would listen to God and not go against God’s wishes. And what did they do? They did exactly what God told them not to. They broke their promise. Sin entered the world, and the perfect world God envisioned was ruined by sin. Humans are still breaking promises and ruining relationships by being critical, judgmental, petty, unkind, and thinking of what is best for us instead of the whole.

But the Good News is that God never breaks promises! The Good News is that no matter what we do, if we repent and are sorry God will forgive us and give us another chance to get it right. And the Good News is that God won’t allow our sinfulness to ultimately destroy what God has envisioned for all of creation. That is why God became flesh in Jesus, so that Jesus could bring us back into that holy dynamic relationship with God the Creator and the Holy Spirit. That’s also why Jesus commanded the disciples – and that includes us today – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Baptism is God’s gift to us. Through our baptism we become part of God’s holy family – the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. We receive the promise of God that we are “sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” That’s a pretty amazing promise and one to hold close each and every day.

That’s the reason today is such a great day. Because today, not only do we remember our baptisms, but we three young adults in our congregation – Emily, Paige, and Conner – affirm their baptism. They will affirm that they understand the importance of their baptism, and make the promises their parents and Godparents made on their behalf when they were babies. Today they profess that they will commit to living into their baptismal promises as part of the family of God. “No man is an island.”

We as a congregation also re-commit to the promises we made to them and to all the children and youth in our congregation- the promise to bring them to worship each week, to teach them the holy scriptures, and to teach them the faith story so they can teach it to others. We made these promises to God and they cannot be taken lightly. We cannot let them be among the promises that we make and break.

This day marks the beginning of a new stage in the life of Emily, Paige, and Conner. It’s not a graduation from faith formation classes, but a new level on their journey of faith. They will now be young leaders in the congregation. They’ll be voting members in our congregational meetings, and will help decide the future this congregation is growing in. Now – more than ever – they need to study scripture even deeper – so they can feel more and more comfortable sharing their faith story with others. They’ve chosen favorite scripture verses that they feel will help them on this journey of faith. Over the years I’m hopeful they will add more to that list for God’s word sustains us and gives us the confidence we need to live as faithful disciples.

Three individual confirmands, a very fitting number for this feast of the Holy Trinity. They are each unique and separate individuals, as is each one of us, yet we are all one congregation, one church with all the other churches in our synod. We are many, yet one body in Christ Jesus. It is Jesus’ promise to never leave us through the gift of the Holy Spirit that makes this unity possible. It is this same Spirit poured into us through our baptism, again at confirmation, and each time we repent and receive Holy Communion that gives us a new beginning through the forgiveness and grace of Jesus Christ.

In gratitude for this gift of grace, let us recommit to our baptismal promises to re-commit our lives to living like Jesus wants us to live – lives of total trust in God, lives of total dependence on God.. Today is a day when we all recommit to the promise of putting God first in our lives. It ought to be a no-brainer as we have the best promise from God ever.  Jesus said, “Remember, I am with you always till the end of the age.” Jesus has promised us that he will always be with us. No matter what we do, or where we go, no matter what struggle we face, Jesus is always with us. And not just Jesus, but the triune God. Jesus said, “If you know me, you know the Father, because I and the Father are one.” And the Holy Spirit is also with the Father and the Son, and is the Father and the Son. We have the power of the triune God with us all the time. Through our baptisms, we are united through the promise of God. We have the assurance of salvation through Jesus.

What would you dream, dare, and do if you really believed the promise of Jesus that he is with you, no matter what? This question isn’t just for Emily, Paige, and Conner; it’s for all of us. Don’t worry about failing, because going for a dream involves risk, and possible failure. But name in your mind the thing you would you do if you knew that God was for you and with you no matter what, and that this promise is forever. The truth is that we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. The Holy Spirit has put dreams into each of us, we only need to trust the promises of God to turn God’s dreams for us into reality. Relationships are the foundation of life. Today we celebrate the joy of being included in the great relationship of God. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!

 

Breathing In the Holy Spirit

Sunday, June 4, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
John 20:19-23

 

There’s nothing like a breath of fresh air. In fact, there’s nothing like a nice deep breath of fresh air. Breath, breathing, it’s essential to life. Without it we wouldn’t exist. Yet, it’s something we can easily take for granted because it happens automatically. We breathe approximately 18 times per minute, 1,080 times an hour, and 25, 920 times a day, and we don’t even have to think about it. It even happens while we’re asleep. And if we can’t catch our breath….well, ask anyone who has ever experienced trouble breathing and they’ll tell you how frightening it is, and how valuable and precious a deep breath of air is. It can literally save your life.

I recently heard about a relatively new device called Spire. It’s a mindfulness and activity tracker for smartphones. The unique thing about this device is that it measures your breathing and provides feedback for a more focused and calm day. Why is this important? Because most people don’t normally breathe optimally. They take short shallow breaths and don’t get enough oxygen into their system. (Try it, take a nice deep breath in for count of 4, hold it for count of 2, release for count of 6.) When we don’t breathe in deeply, oxygen that is essential to our brains, nerves, and other organs is deprived and leads to all kinds of health issues from breathing to digestion. So researchers have come up with something to help us called Spire – a small tracker like Fitbit that we can wear to tell us when our breathing is shallow and tense with a gentle reminder to stop and take a deep breath. You can even see a live feed on your phone that shows you an image of your breath as a wave. Technology is pretty amazing, but not everyone has $130.00 to spend on one of these devices, and not everyone wants to wear one all the time. If only there was something else to help us, to breathe new life into us…..

“Peace be with you.” As always, Jesus has the answer. Jesus is the answer. We can look elsewhere, but there’s no substitute for Jesus if we’re looking for real fulfillment. When the first disciples were locked in fear behind closed doors, Jesus came and breathed the Holy Spirit into them. The original translation is in – not on – and they received the breath of life, for the meaning of Spirit is breath or wind. It’s the same word that was used in the book of Genesis when God’s Spirit breathed life into the first human. It’s the same word, the same Spirit that when Ezekiel preached the word of God and prophesied to the valley of the dry bones, breathed new life into them. It’s the same word, the same Spirit that rushed in as a mighty wind and appeared like tongues of flames on the first disciples giving them the gift of communicating in various languages so thousands would come to believe. It’s the same word, the same Spirit that Jesus continues to fill us with today so we will no longer be disciples who follow Jesus, but apostles who are sent out not just to be like Jesus, but to be Jesus in the world.

That’s why we celebrate this feast of Pentecost. The gift of the Holy Spirit is not just something that happened thousands of years ago, it’s something that is still happening today. It’s critical that we get this. Every time we greet one another and say, “peace be with you” we are stirring up the Holy Spirit within us to breathe a breath of fresh air, a breath of holy peace into another person. It’s not just a time to meet and greet people’ that’s what a fellowship time before or after worship is for. The sharing of peace is a holy time when we call on the Holy Spirit to breathe new life into each other, echoing the words of Jesus on that first Pentecost, “Peace be with you.” It’s a holy time to experience the Holy Spirit and Christ among us.

Jesus has filled us with his Spirit, so that we can breathe that same Spirit into others. This is needed now more than ever. We may not personally feel a sense of fear about anything, but there are many who do, and Jesus has sent us out to care for each other. When one person is afraid or is suffering, Jesus has given us a command to do something about it, because God loves all people and wants us to live lives of abundance and peace. This is the mission God has given the church.

At our Synod Assembly these past couple of days, Rev. Dr. Dave Daubert, keynote speaker at the assembly, gave us some hard facts about the status of Lutheran churches across the country that we’ll share more in depth with you in the coming weeks. With the aging demographic in our county and our congregations, the fact that only about 9% of the people in our congregations are committed to growing deeper in their faith formation, the lack of putting Jesus first in our lives instead of other commitments…most congregations have only about 5 – 10 years left before they will be closed if we don’t change the way we are doing things. He didn’t say this to make us feel hopeless; he informed us so we would have the truth, and as Jesus said, “the truth will set you free.” There’s a holy urgency that we need to address, an urgency that we need to center our lives on what really matters – Jesus. We need to breathe in the Holy Spirit and get excited about this Jesus whom we profess is risen and is alive! People in our world are hungry for something to fill them up. They are hungry for Jesus, and we first need to fill ourselves with Jesus so we can share it with others. It’s time to experience Jesus not just think about Jesus, or read about Jesus, or even talk about Jesus as if Jesus is someone from the past. Jesus is alive and is with us through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

This is what is means to celebrate Pentecost. It means to breathe in the Holy Spirit, and to let that breath of fresh holy air fill us, empower us, and move through us to breathe new life into each one of us, into our congregation, and into those around us. The Holy Spirit has given us – like the early apostles – a language that can renew our congregations and all people. It is the language of love, of kindness, of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of welcoming, of patience, compassion, mercy, wisdom…peace.

We don’t need a Spire to remind us to breathe deeply. We don’t need that device to keep us focused. We only need Jesus and the amazing power of the Holy Spirit who can breathe new life into any person or situation. We just need to breathe the Spirit in, and then release it. Take a balloon. Fill it with air. Now let it go. What happens? Like a balloon that’s filled with air and then released, watch where the Holy Spirit goes. It will take off. It will move you to places you don’t expect. It will breathe new life into dry dead places. It will change the shape of things, and they will never be the same again. The Holy Spirit will change the shape of you, and you will never be the same. Breathe in the Holy Spirit deeply every day, and get ready for a life changing experience! Come Holy Spirit! And let God’s people say Amen!