This Is Reformation

Sunday, October 28, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
John 8:31-36

 

Today is a very special day in the life of the Church, not just for this congregation, but for the entire Christian Church. Not only is this Reformation Sunday, but Confirmation Sunday for three of our young members as well. Traditionally, this congregation has held confirmation on this day for a very particular reason. Both of these events involve change and transformation. They are a sign of the movement of the Holy Spirit throughout history.

Traditionally, Reformation Sunday is the day we celebrate how the Church has transformed over the centuries. While there were many reformers, it’s associated most with Martin Luther, the Augustinian monk in Germany, who in the 16th century, started the Protestant Reformation because of radical changes that needed to be made in the church. When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis, or items for debate to the castle door in Wittenberg Germany back in the year 1517, he had no idea how that would forever change the course of history. He didn’t want to start a new denomination, but begin a process for conversation and reform. It turned out to be a reformation unlike any he had imagined. God’s grace had transformed him, and in turn he helped transform the world.

That’s what happens when God’s grace touches you. It sets you free. Lauren, Logan, and Will first received God’s grace in their baptism as infants. Through the water and God’s word they were sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Today, they make public affirmation of their baptisms. They know now why they were baptized, and affirm the promises that were made for them so many years ago. They too have undergone many changes on their journey of faith. They’ve asked challenging questions and will continue to ask questions throughout their lives, but they know that God is with them through it all. The scripture verses they chose as their guide posts, and the faith statements they wrote about them are a testament to the Spirit working in each one of them. This is an important day for the entire Church not just this congregation here at Good Shepherd, because Lauren, Logan, and Will are part of an ongoing reformation. God is working through each of their unique skills and gifts to share God’s grace in the world.

It’s not always an easy message to share with others. Jesus’ words of truth are sometimes hard for people to hear, especially if it points out our own sinful behaviors. It’s hard to hear that we are by our human nature enslaved to sin. Jesus reminds us that “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” That includes all of us. We are a slave because we can’t free ourselves from sin’s hold on us. Like a mouse lured into a trap who once in can’t get free, so we too can’t free ourselves. Someone else has to set us free, no matter how much we think we can do things on our own. Only Jesus can release us. “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” Jesus has set us free from being trapped by sin and death.

Because of this truth, today we don’t just celebrate over 500 years of God’s grace in action; we celebrate an eternity of God’s grace in action. Since the beginning of creation God’s grace has always been active. Since the first humans decided to disobey God and brought sin into the world, God was working on a way to set them and us free. God made covenants or sacred promises to God’s people over and over again despite them breaking those covenants. We hear God’s covenant language throughout the Old Testament whenever we read, “I will be their God, and they will be my people.” God continued to be faithful to this covenant throughout the generations until God spoke this covenant into being through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. God’s covenant continued to be realized through reformers like Martin Luther who despite threats to his own life was compelled by the power of the Holy Spirit to make the truth of Christ’s saving power known to all people. God speaks these covenant words to us in our baptism, and speaks these covenant words to us when we affirm our baptism as Lauren, Logan, and Will are doing today through their confirmation. God says, “I will be your God, and you shall be my people.” This is God’s promise to us. This is reformation – being re-formed in Christ’s image.

God’s life-giving words of saving grace began from the moment God breathed life into us and that promise, that covenant, will remain forever. This is the gift we celebrate today. This is the truth we lift up each and every time we continue God’s grace in action through living lives of faith and commitment to the truth of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. This is Reformation! We have the gift and responsibility to carry on the work of the reformation – the work of God’s grace in action – every day of our lives. We do this when we hear Jesus’ truth, repent, allow him to change our hearts and set us free – free to live, and love like Jesus.

Today we celebrate not just a particular protestant reformation, but an ongoing reformation that begins with each one of us – in our hearts, where God’s covenant is written. One person’s voice and actions can make all the difference in the world. We saw that in the life of Martin Luther and many other reformers, and our best example is Jesus who has set us free! This ongoing reformation continues through Lauren, and Logan, and Will. Through their baptism, and ours, we are formed into Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. We are re-formed into his image. Every time we repent, every time we forgive, every time we show compassion and mercy, every time we choose patience over anger, faith over fear, love over hate, every time we walk the way of peace ….This is reformation! Amen!

 

 

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What Really Matters

Sunday, October 21, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Mark 10:35-45

What really matters in life? For James and John, two of the early disciples, they wanted a place of honor at Jesus’ side. They wanted to be his right and left hand man so to speak. Their priority was to be in positions of power. That’s what really mattered the most to them. And when the other disciples heard this they were understandably angry. Why did James and John think they deserved more than everyone else? Jesus and the disciples were heading to Jerusalem.  Jesus knew what he was getting into. He was heading in to a place where people were angry at him for upsetting the status quo. People wanted him dead. And in Jerusalem he knew that he would suffer and eventually be killed. Jesus had a lot on his mind. He was concerned about people hearing God’s word.  He wanted people to understand who God was and what their mission was before he was no longer with them. Jesus had matters of life and death on his mind, yet all the disciples had on their mind was who was going to be the greatest among them. You might shake your head and think, “How could they be that near-sighted?” Jesus was right there with them and that’s all they could think about? That’s what mattered the most to them?

Before we get too carried away, we have to take a look at ourselves. Jesus is still right here with us, and yet we all at one time or another do the same as the early disciples. We worry, and stress, and get angry over what seems to us like very important matters, but in the grand scheme of things are very insignificant. We do this in our personal lives when we worry about every little thing. We do it in our relationships. Sometimes individuals don’t talk to each other for long periods of time over things they don’t even remember why they are fighting. It happens in it our places of work when people try to be the greatest, more valuable than their coworkers. It happens slowly and in subtle ways. And it happens in congregations too, where individuals or groups of people are angry or fight about any number of things that are not going their way. Church members in congregations all over the country fight over any number of things from the color of carpets, to the correct way to light the candles, the placement of certain objects, a dislike of certain hymns, ….the list is endless. Individuals want their own desires granted just like James and John. We can easily forget who’s church this is – Christ’s, and why we gather together as a community – to worship God, to be refreshed and renewed by God’s presence, and to live lives of service like Jesus. When we forget that we push to have things our own way.  And when things don’t go according to the way we want them too we can get angry like the first disciples and treat others unkindly. It happens all the time.

That’s why Jesus asked his disciples the same one he asks us today, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” Are you able to be truly awake and engaged in life? Are you able and willing to focus on what really matters in God’s kingdom? The things that we so often think are so important, those things we worry about as if they are life and death are in reality only distractions from what life is really about. Ask anyone who is going through cancer treatments – like several of our members – or ask someone going through some other life-threatening illness, or someone who has experienced the great loss of someone they love, and they will tell you that their priorities in life are different now. They have a new clarity on what is important. When these kind of things happen you realize what really matters in life, and it’s not the small things we so often get distracted by. What matters is our relationship with God and with one another. What matters is not how much we get, but how much we give. What matters is not individual gain, but collective kindness and love.

There are thousands of people right now in Florida and other places in the south that are devastated by losing their homes from hurricane Michael. Many lost their lives too. And there are the families of those who died in the recent limousine accident in Schoharie. There are families fleeing for their lives from war-torn countries; I’ve known some of them personally. There are families who are separated from those they love. The list is endless, and yet, so often like the first disciples James and John, we focus on the wrong things. We focus on ourselves instead of the immense problems that are going on around us. Life is too short to focus on whether or not things go our way all the time. Life is too short to let the small things in life tear us apart. Jesus came, and suffered, and died, and rose from the dead so that we would have life and have it abundantly.

What Jesus offers to us is the cup of life overflowing with God’s forgiveness, mercy, love, and grace. In God’s eyes we are all equal. We drink this cup together in community with one another not for our own personal gain, but in gratitude for what God has done for us in Jesus. We drink this cup of life so that filled with God’s grace we can then share that grace in service with and for one another. We drink this cup so that others can experience God too. Isn’t that what really matters? Amen.

God’s Grace Is Sufficient

Sunday, October 14, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Mark 10:17-31

Did you ever feel like you forgot something when you left the house to go someplace? You walked out of the house and said to yourself, “I just feel like I forgot something, but I don’t know what it is.”  Or maybe you were packing to go on a vacation, and you felt the same way, like you forgot something. Hopefully, not your child like in the movie Home Alone! It might even be when you’ve tried to solve a problem that’s been troubling you, and you felt like you were just missing that one piece that would help you. There are times when I think we’ve all had that experience that we were just missing something.

In the gospel lesson today, Jesus is setting out on a journey only he is not the one missing something. A certain man ran up to Jesus who apparently had been thinking for some time about eternal life. He wanted to know what he needed to do to inherit it. He felt that he had followed all the commandments, but still felt that he was somehow missing something. What more could he do? Jesus looked at him with love in his heart, and spoke the truth in love. Jesus’ answer made him stop in his tracks. He told the man that he needed sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and then follow Jesus. The man went away grieving because he had so many possessions. Jesus continued to explain to the disciples how hard it is for those who are rich to enter the kingdom of God. He said it would be harder for a camel to go through the eye of the needle. Then the disciples wondered, “Well, then who can be saved?”  Jesus told all these individuals what they were lacking, what they were missing, but it was really hard for them to hear that. Even Peter said, “Look, Jesus, we’ve left everything and followed you!” Basically what he was asking was, “What more do you want from us?” Jesus’ answer was everything.

That answer leaves us all shocked, and grieving, and a bit angry just like Peter. This encounter is more than just money – although that is certainly part of it.  We can be obsessed with focusing on how much money we don’t have as much as how much we do.  It’s about knowing what we are lacking that is keeping us from a close relationship with God. Jesus looks into each one of our hearts and knows exactly what is lacking. We can fool ourselves, but we can’t fool him. The letter from Hebrews says, “Before him no creature is hidden.” Jesus knows what is possessing us. He knows if it is the Spirit of God or if it is other things that are taking top priority. Money is a gift from God, but if that’s what we think about the most, then money has become our God. The need to be in control, to get our own way can also keep us from God. We can also fill ourselves up with anger or resentment. All of these things can possess us and keep us from focusing on what really matters – our relationship with God.

Like the man who came up to Jesus, we may say we are following all the commandments, but none of us do that. We all fall short. It’s not what we do that enables us to inherit the kingdom of God. An inheritance, by its very definition, means that it is a gift left to us when someone dies. Jesus has already died in order for us to have eternal life. What Jesus is asking all of us is now that we already have this inheritance, what is lacking or getting in the way of using this inheritance? How are we sharing this inheritance of eternal life that we have been given?

The answer is we follow Jesus and give away the love and grace that he so freely gives us. Give away compassion and mercy. Give away forgiveness and reconciliation. Give away kind words and actions. Give the best of ourselves knowing that God’s grace continually fills us up to overflowing, and with God’s grace we lack nothing.

What is keeping you from truly following Jesus? Whatever is holding you back, let it go. With God all things are possible. God’s grace is sufficient. Amen.

God Persists

Sunday, October 7, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Mark 10:2-16

“Hitting the wall” is an expression just about everyone is familiar with. Every runner, every person who’s struggled to lose weight, every person who’s tried to achieve something and has been working on it a long time comes to a part when they “hit the wall.” Progress is no longer happening and they have come to a complete stand still. It’s during this time that it feels like all hope is lost. No matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to go any further. And you may ask yourself, ‘What’s the point?” The temptation is to just give up.

In the Gospel reading this morning, Jesus yet again, hits another wall. The Pharisees are testing him trying get him to say something that will give them another excuse to get rid of him. Jesus came to show us who God is. He came to show us who we are – God’s beloved children made in the image of God – and how we can live as the best reflections of God’s image. Yet time and again we read in the gospels how Jesus himself “hit a wall” with the people he was communicating with. They didn’t want to hear new things that challenged their traditional ways of doing things. Many wanted to stop Jesus – even his disciples – when they felt he had gone too far. Jesus at times felt like giving up, yet he persisted in following God’s mission.

Jesus wasn’t the only one who felt like he had hit the wall. The issue of divorce that was brought to Jesus was a painful one – just as it is today – but especially for the women of that time in history. Women were not allowed to divorce men. In fact, they had no rights at all. A man could mistreat her, abuse her, or violate her in any way and she had no recourse. If divorced – which was simply a slip of paper he wrote – she was left homeless without money or any way to earn an income and provide for small children. Basically without someone to care for her she was left to die. It was a hopeless situation for women and children. They too felt like they had hit the wall with no means for life to ever improve.

When Jesus answered the question of divorce he spoke of women who divorce their husbands, which at the time was not even a possibility. Why would he say that? It seems Jesus was trying to level the playing field. Jesus’ response to the question of divorce was not one of judgement, but one that spoke to the reality of the pain that divorce creates, particularly for women and children at that time. When relationships end the pain is deep.

When the disciples spoke sternly to those who were trying to let the children go to Jesus, he stopped them. He wanted the children to come. He wanted to bless them. At first it might seem like there is a disconnect with the divorce question and the children, but they are one in the same. They were both questions of relationships and putting up barriers or walls to separate people. Jesus’ response was to tear down the walls that divide and reach out with love and compassion.

Earlier this week, a local pastor who is part of our weekly clergy study group about her recent eight day trip to Mexico with a group to learn about the situation at the border. Those in the group spoke with those at the border and witnessed first-hand the wall between Mexico and the United States. She shared with us overwhelming and painful stories. She also told us about a section of the solid wall that has been cut out and bars put in that look like small squares. Every Sunday for two hours that area is exposed to allow people with families on each side to see each other. While hundreds may come from each side, only ten people are allowed. They stand there, face to face, not able to embrace each other. It is heartbreaking. They – like the children in Jesus’ time – long for a loving and healing touch. Yet, all they can do is to slip a finger between these small squares and touch fingers. The wall of separation is painful.

The wall of separation is not just a physical wall. It’s built by angry and hateful words spoken or written. It’s built by an unwillingness to listen. It’s built by a determination to win one’s own case by whatever means necessary. It’s built by hard hearts not willing to let go of old hurts. It’s built by separating people into us and them. It’s built brick by brick, wire upon wire, higher and higher until all that can be seen is the wall, until we no longer see human beings who as we read in Hebrews are “made a little lower than the angels.”

God created a beautiful perfect world. God created humans to be in relationship with each other and with God, but human sinfulness built a wall that separated God and humans. Yet, out of God’s great love, Jesus came to tear that wall down and connect us once again with our Creator. Jesus tried again and again to show us by his example, to teach us through his words of divine wisdom how to live as God’s Beloved Community and out of the hardness of our hearts, Jesus hit the wall of the cross. It seemed all hope was lost. It seemed like evil had won. But on the third day God raised him from the dead. God persisted, and God will always persist in finding a way when we hit the wall and all hope seems lost.

As Christians we are called to live each day as people transformed by the resurrection, healed with the touch of God’s grace, and empowered to persist with hope in the face of adversity for the sake of the Gospel. On this World Communion Sunday as Christians from diverse denominations join together at God’s table, may the Holy Spirit stir up within us all the compassion, love, and courage to carry out God’s mission of unity and peace in all we do.  Amen.