Grace Coming Down

Sunday, August 5, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
John 6:24-35

 

The gospel readings for the next five weeks are from the sixth chapter of John, known as the Bread of Life discourse. This is a change from the gospel of Mark assigned for year B in the Church calendar. Why this sudden turn or shift in direction? It’s a question we encounter in our everyday lives. The twists and turns in our journey of life can be filled both with joyful surprises and unwelcome heartbreaks. And it’s those unwelcome heartbreaks that can leave us feeling empty and lost.

In our gospel reading today the crowds that have been following Jesus, followed him all the way into the desert where they found themselves feeling empty. Jesus was aware of this, and he turned to Philip and asked him, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip started to panic. He knew that not only could they never afford to feed that large of a crowd – over 5000 – (not counting women and children because they weren’t counted) but there were no markets anywhere nearby. Fear started to set in pretty quickly. The disciples believed that they didn’t have enough. All they could see was five loaves and two fish. This story echoed the story we read from 2 Kings where it looked like there was only a handful of food available to feed a large crowd of people.

Yet, Jesus, like the prophet Elisha before him was able to see beyond what was there. Jesus and Elisha knew that God is a God of abundance. God is a God who provides. God is a God who wants to feed the world. And God is able to do just that. The problem is that we humans so often see things out of a lens of scarcity instead of the eyes of faith. We see what is in front of us – the lack, the problem, challenges to face – and they are there – lots of them. But that’s not all there is. There is more. God is more. And God meets us in the midst of the storms. There is abundance just waiting to be tapped into.

In our readings today, God provided food – more than enough food – for everyone to eat, plus some. There were 12 baskets full of leftovers. God fed the people with what was already there. When they saw lack, Jesus saw more. It’s there; we just have to see with the eyes of faith, with the eyes of abundance and possibility instead of lack and scarcity.

God provides for all our needs. God is able to feed the world, and we are the instruments through which God will accomplish that. The children’s story, “Bagels From Benny” by Aubrey Davis illustrates how God feeds the world through ordinary people like you and me. Miracles like the loaves, and fish still happen, sometimes even through bagels. Look around there is an abundance of God’s grace in the ordinary right in front of you. Give thanks and see the abundance. Amen.

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Are We There Yet?

Sunday, December 2, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 21:25-36

You’re embarking on a trip. Maybe it’s a family vacation, or your visiting relatives, or you’re going someplace you’ve been waiting to go for a while. You’re excited and so are the children in the back seat. Maybe they’re your children, or your grandchildren, or maybe the children of friends, but after a while the familiar chant begins….”Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” At first it seems like an innocent enough question. Then it gets a little funny. But after a while, “Are we there yet?” is a source of increasing anxiety. And the longer the trip goes, the higher the tensions rise. We all want to get to where we’re going and we don’t want to wait.

When we’re young we can’t wait to grow up. As adults we can’t wait to land our first job. Then we find ourselves rushing around just to get there. Rushing around to get home. Rushing, rushing, rushing. It seems we are always in a hurry. The childhood mantra, “Are we there yet?” continues even into our adult lives whether we say it out loud or not. Waiting is not something that comes naturally to people.

That’s why this season of Advent – the beginning of the church year – is often overlooked. The word advent means coming or arrival, and for most people we focus on the destination and not the journey. We want to skip ahead to our destination of Christmas. We want to get there quickly, no lingering. “Are we there yet?” is still in our minds. “Why can’t we just skip ahead to Christmas?”

But this season of advent is meant to slow us down and remind us to savor the journey. And that’s hard to do when we are smack dab in a society that is going full speed ahead toward Christmas. The signs are all around us. Christmas trees and decorations have been up in stores now since before Halloween. We’re flooded with ads about spending more and more money and trying to get that “perfect” gift whatever it may be.  We’re told our final destination is what lies under the tree. We’re racing toward filling those lists, those things that will bring us security and happiness. At least that is what we are being told. And the race toward that final destination adds to our tension.

And there’s already a lot of tension in our lives. News of violence, war, earthquakes, floods, fires, and other disturbing stories are plentiful. Jesus’ words in Luke’s gospel today add to those disturbing images when he says, “People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” His words are as relevant today as they were when they were first spoken centuries ago. Many see these signs in the news as prophecies of doom, and it causes us to ask if the end is near.

That’s how the early church felt when this gospel was written. The Jerusalem temple was destroyed and the disciples were surrounded by turmoil both physically and emotionally. They were facing wars and persecution by rulers. They had to flee their homelands like refugees today. The early Christians saw all these signs around them and they were afraid.  How do you keep on believing when your place of worship is destroyed, when it seems like you’ve lost everything, and when you have to begin again? How do you do that? You question and wonder where in the God is in the midst of all these foreboding signs. When it seems like everything is crumbling around us where do we turn?

In the midst of all this turmoil and fear Jesus speaks again and tells us “when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” When we feel like things are being pulled away, Jesus assures us that God continues to come closer. When fear tries to take hold and it seems that we don’t know who to trust, we are reminded that “the LORD is our righteousness.” When we doubt that anything will work out Jesus reminds us that “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Jesus’ words are words not of prophetic doom, but of eternal hope. This is God’s commitment to us.

And our commitment – like those of the early Christians – lies in raising our heads to see the signs of God’s grace around us. Our commitment is to wait in hope, to be faithful in prayer and song, for that keeps us focused and connected to God. Prayer is our anchor in the storms of life. It slows us down from asking “are we there yet?” to savoring the present moment and enjoying the journey.

That is what the season of Advent is all about. It’s allowing the Holy Spirit to slow us down so that we can prepare for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ. We prepare not only for his coming in the manger – for that event has already happened 2000 years ago – but for Christ’s second coming or Advent. We prepare for that coming by preparing our hearts through prayer that opens a place for him to abide in and with us.

As we journey through this season of Advent, let us commit ourselves to being alert at all times for the signs of God in our midst. Running at full speed will cause us to miss random encounters with God. We don’t know where and when they may happen, so we must “be alert at all times.” It may be in the eyes of a stranger, the hands of someone to whom we reach out to in forgiveness, the voice of a child’s song, or the echo of laughter. Signs of God’s grace are all around us if we open our hearts to see that God continues to come to us each and every day.

Are we there yet? No, but our joy is not in the destination, but the journey along the way. On this Commitment Sunday, let us pledge our whole lives to God and wait for Christ’s coming by filling our hours in prayer, hope, gratitude, compassion, and love. Amen.

 

God’s Kingdom of Truth

Sunday, November 25, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
John 18:33-38

Here in American we don’t have a king that rules our country. We left that when we broke away from England, yet Americans are still drawn to the life of kings. In May, Americans and millions of people from countries around the globe watched the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. There’s something about royalty that still captures people’s attention.

When we hear the word kingdom, however, it’s usually not England that comes to mind, but the image of Disney’s Magic Kingdom. It’s a place filled with royalty – princes, and princesses – that delight children and adults alike. It’s a kingdom unlike any other on earth, and people by the millions continue to go there. In a recent article, the author writes, “Disney operates as pilgrimage site, creating sacred space where people can transcend the ordinary.” Americans who might scoff at the idea of a medieval pilgrimage, won’t think twice about traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles to visit Magic Kingdom, and see cartoon characters incarnated right before their ecstatic children’s eyes.” Even adults become like little children in the Magic Kingdom. But is the kingdom real? It certainly feels like it when you’re there. It seems real and true. But what is truth?

That’s the question that Pilate asked Jesus. “What is truth?” Pilate only knew of one kind of kingdom – the kingdom ruled by Rome. The emperor was treated like god, and he ruled by fear and force if necessary. And he didn’t want anyone trying to take over his kingdom. So the talk of Jesus being a king was a definite threat. Pilate wanted to know the truth, but the truth – Jesus – was standing face to face with him and he couldn’t even see it. He couldn’t even hear it. But deep down, deep in the recesses of his soul, Pilate knew the truth. Why else did he ask Jesus so many questions? Why would Pilate be so torn between letting Jesus go and giving the crowd what they wanted? Somewhere deep inside Pilate he knew what the truth was and who the truth was, but he didn’t want to admit it. To admit the truth would be to condemn himself – to admit that he had sold out for power and control – and so he gave in to the will of the crowd, securing his own job. Pilate didn’t want his earthly kingdom changed, and so he got rid of the threat.

Jesus is still a threat to the kingdoms and rulers of this world, because he forces us to look at the truth, and that is not always an easy thing to do. Life is filled with so many beautiful things and experiences, yet it is also filled with suffering and pain. No one was more fully aware of that than Jesus. But in order for healing to take place, the truth must first be seen and heard. It’s tempting to look away from all the suffering and injustice that is going on in our world.
It’s easy for people to blame one another for the problems, because that only diverts attention away from the problem. What Jesus confronted Pilate with – and what he confronts us with – is facing the truth. Jesus doesn’t want us to look away from the problems, but to face them head on, and to see how we can help to ease the suffering of others. God’s kingdom – God’s way of living and being – is different than the kingdoms of this world. It is not concerned with selfish power or control, but instead is based on mercy and grace. It is based on forgiveness and compassion. It is based on love.

Yet love does not ignore the truth, no matter how hard it may be to see. It does not plug its ears or refuse to listen. Love does not condone sinfulness. It does not approve of violence and greed. Divine love demands justice. Divine love demands mercy. Divine love demands freedom from oppression. Divine love demands servanthood. And that’s a stark difference from the kingdom mentality of this world that encourages individual wants and desires to be served over service for others. People are searching for truth, sometimes in all the wrong places. But there is one sure way to truth.

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. The truth is that he brought God to us. He brought God’s kingdom here on earth. The kingdom of God is where truth is revealed, where human worth is treasured more than material gain, where peace is valued more than power, where forgiveness is offered over anger, where compassion is shown rather than revenge, where love is given unconditionally without exception.

“Thy kingdom come” is a powerful prayer. It’s a powerful statement of faith that sees the painful truth of the cross and the joy of the resurrection. Christ is King. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He is the Almighty who is, who was, and who is to come. And he is with us always. In this we gather and life our voices in thanks and praise. Amen.

Priorities

Sunday, November 18, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Mark 13:1-8

In last week’s gospel reading we heard about poor widow who threw in all the money she had into the offering at the temple. This really caught Jesus’ attention. It spoke to his heart as he could feel the woman’s faith. But the disciples didn’t notice her at all. Yet, immediately after they came out of the temple one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” They didn’t notice the poor woman, but the large elaborate building caught their attention. That’s what they noticed. That’s what impressed them. And Jesus’ response was “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” The disciples were distracted by this amazing building, but Jesus was trying to get them to understand that nothing physical is permanent. That great temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed, and that caused fear in the disciples. They wanted to know when, they wanted to be ready, and needed a sign for assurance. But Jesus didn’t give them assurance. He continued with words that caused their fears to increase even more – wars, the threat of wars, earthquakes, and famines would happen. And Jesus added, “This is but the beginning…”

That’s not the comfort they were looking for, and it’s not the comfort we are looking for either. When you read this passage, it’s hard not to feel a bit fearful too. Especially because all of these things are taking place now. Actually, they’ve been taking place for centuries. And every so many years certain people and groups start telling us that the end of the world is coming. These alarmists try to strike fear in people. And it works, at least for many. But as Christians, we are to look at these events through a different lens. We are to keep our focus on what really matters. That’s what Jesus was trying to tell the disciples then, and us today – “Keep your eyes on what really matters, and don’t let others lead you astray.” Jesus said, there will be many who will try and do just that. They will say, “I am the savior.” “I’m the one you can turn to who will get you out of this mess.” Jesus says, “Don’t believe them. Don’t be alarmed.” There’s only one Savior, and that is Jesus, the Christ.

But Jesus knows it’s not so easy to stay focused. It’s easy to be distracted by so many things. It might not be large buildings like what the disciples pointed out, but it might be large homes, or cars, or presents. We can get caught up in the drama of all the fear that is spread around both in the media and through individual conversations where power struggles happen because of a lack of listening to one another. We can become drawn into a constant battle of competition as to who is right and wrong, instead of what is God’s way. We live in a society that encourages a 24/7 distractions of electronic devices, entertainment, and constant drama that actually encourages fear. It’s easy to be led astray.

So what do we do? The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” That is what the Church is called to be – the people of God who provoke one another not with fear and intimidation, but with love. The poor widows in last week’s story – both at the temple and at Zarephath – didn’t know when they were going to die – very soon – but just because the end for them was coming they didn’t lose faith and that gave them courage. They didn’t react with fear, but instead relied on the permanence of God’s grace and faithfulness. We are called to do the same.

None of us know when our last day will be. I recently read an article by Matt Fitzgerald, a pastor in Chicago, who talked about the WeCroak App. Has anyone heard of it? He begins his article with, “It feels ridiculous to say that a smartphone app changed my life. I’m not that shallow. But it happened. A smartphone app changed my life.” The WeCroak app is inspired a a Bhutanese folk saying to be a happy person, one must contemplate death five times daily. Each day, they send you five invitations to stop and think about death. Our invitations come at random times and at any moment, just like death. When they come you can open the app to reveal a quote about death from a poet, philosopher, or notable thinker. The app encourages you to take one moment for contemplation, conscious breathing or meditation. They believe that a regular practice of contemplating mortality helps us accept what we must, let go of things that don’t matter and honor the things that do. I’m not sure everyone wants to sign up for the WeCroak app, but it’s message is what Jesus is talking about in this Scripture passage. We need to focus on what really matters instead of all the things that distract us. If we really thought today was our last, wouldn’t we be kinder? Wouldn’t we show more forgiveness and compassion?

None of us know when Jesus will be coming again. But what we do know is that God is true to all the promises God makes. And God has promised to be with us always. God’s covenant has been written on our hearts. It is eternal. Since God’s love is permanent, we can let go of fear and any other distractions, and live with courage. Through faith we can live each day as if it were our last focusing on what really matters – God’s kingdom, God’s will, God’s mission for the world. We can live each day with thanksgiving in our hearts because of God’s great love for us. We can live in a spirit of generosity – a generosity of kindness, a generosity of compassion, a generosity of love. When we focus on God, we shine like the brightness of the sky and lead others to Christ who is our guiding Light. Amen.

Seeing the Divine

Sunday, November 11, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Mark 12:38-44

Imagine what it was like in the temple centuries ago when the events in our gospel took place. It was noisy in the entryway to the temple that morning. There was quite a crowd. People coming and going, talking loudly, animals adding to the noise. People were tossing their money in the collection boxes as they passed. The sound of the brass coins made a lot of noise. It was hardly the kind of place you’d go to find a place to relax, to rest and take a break.

But it was the kind of place that you could blend in with the crowd. The kind of place that one could remain unnoticed – if you wanted to – especially if you were poor. And if you were a poor widow, well, maybe you didn’t want to be noticed, because you knew everyone would look down on you. They’d judge you because you were not only a woman, but were alone with no one to care for you, no job, no way to earn your way into a respectable place in society. You weren’t anyone special. One poor widow that day threw in two coins. The only two coins she had. Hardly anything compared to the coins everyone else was throwing in.

Jesus sat down across from the treasury, next to the places that people were throwing in their money and he watched them. He watched and he listened. All of a sudden, one thing grabbed his attention. What did He hear? What did He see? What was it that caused such a reaction? The disciples didn’t hear or see anything unusual. But Jesus did. Jesus not only heard it, He felt it. He felt the stirrings of the Holy Spirit. He felt the outpouring of faith and trust. He felt the faith of a poor widow who threw in all she had because she believed that it was God who gave her whatever little she had and it was God who would take care of her. It reminded him of the story in the Hebrew Scriptures of the Widow of Zarephath. When the prophet Elijah told her to make him something to eat and give him something to drink, despite the fact that she had only enough for one more meal for her and her son before they would starve to death, she showed hospitality to this stranger, and gave all she had. Jesus remembered that story, and it seemed to come to life for him that day. Because Jesus took notice that day, he saw faithfulness, trust, and complete reliance on God in that widow. He saw the Divine that day because he was aware. No one is invisible to God.

In the busy world we live in it’s just as easy today as it was back then to rush through life without taking the time to “smell the roses.” We can be so busy doing things, or thinking about things, that we don’t live in the present moment. And as a result we miss so much. Sometimes we can walk right by something and not even notice it’s there. If you’ve ever lost your keys only to find they were right in front of you, you know what I’m talking about. We can go about our daily lives without even noticing the people around us. The cashier at the grocery store, the clerk at the hardware store, the person in front of us at the bank….all these people have a name and a story, but how often do we take the time to really get to know them? We’re busy, places to go and people to see, we’re on a mission, but is it a mission from God?

God’s mission is all about people. That’s why Jesus came to save all people. It’s not the amount that the woman gave that struck Jesus, it was her willingness to rely totally on God for everything she needed. Maybe like the widow of Zarephath she put in all she had because she thought that was her last day too. Others may not have noticed, but Jesus did, because faith is an active energy that changes things. It might not always change the situation we are in, but it changes the way we deal with that situation. It changes our hearts, and that is the first place that real change takes place. We have to be the change we wish to see in the world. If we want peace in the world, we first have to have peace in our hearts. If we pray for God to help the poor, we first have to see that we ourselves are poor in spirit, and that in order to help others we must first allow God to work in and through us. And we must see that God works in and through each person – like the poor widow – who was noticed by Jesus.

This story from our gospel is a reminder that we need to follow Jesus’ example and be more aware of the people around us. It’s easy to generalize people. Friday and Saturday – Nov. 9th & 10th –  were the anniversary dates of Kristellnacht – night of the broken glass –  when the Third Reich back in 1938 in Germany began their destruction and genocide of the Jewish people. They didn’t see them as individuals. They were invisible. It’s easy to say that group or those people are doing this or that. It’s easy to label people as good or bad. We hear it all the time in the news. There’s a lot of fear that’s being spread around about caravans of people coming. But do we really know what they are actually going through? Do we know their names? How is God working in their life? What is God saying to us through them?

Throughout history people have looked for God, yet God seemed invisible. Jesus came, yet the messiah still seemed invisible to so many. God is here with us today, yet God still seems invisible because we aren’t opening our eyes. God is all around us. Don’t let the distractions get in the way. Let God use you to be an offering. Let God use your voices, your hands, your all. Get to know people. Listen to their stories. Be kind. Be caring. Be Compassionate. Be generous. God is in our midst if we only stop long enough to see. Amen.

A Great Cloud of Witnesses

Sunday, November 4, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
John 11:32-44, Isaiah 25:6-9, Rev. 21:1-6a

 

Tears. All three of our readings this morning contain tears. Our gospel reading today contains perhaps the shortest sentence describing Jesus, yet it’s one of the most moving. “Jesus began to weep.” It catches us off guard because we don’t always think about Jesus’ deep humanity. Yet, here in this description of what happened when his friend Lazarus died, Jesus poured out his heart. Tears didn’t just roll down his face. Jesus wept.

Most of us know what it means to weep- at one point in life – to cry so hard that you wonder if the tears will ever stop. You pour your heart out, and wonder if it will ever be the same. That’s how Mary and Martha felt at the site of the tomb of their brother. He was dead. Their hearts were broken. Their grief was painful, and when Jesus finally arrived after a several day delay their response was, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Others added, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Jesus was getting bombarded from everyone with criticism. I can understand the remarks. Can’t you? Jesus and the disciples were out of town and when Jesus received word that Lazarus was sick he didn’t rush to get there. In fact, John’s gospel says that Jesus and his disciples stayed two extra days. Didn’t Jesus care? Certainly that’s what many wondered. They asked, “Where were you?”

It’s a question that’s still being asked today. When accidents happen, when illness strikes, when a loved one dies, when tragedy hits like the recent horrific shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the question arises, “Where was God?” There’s a tendency to believe that God is absent in these situations, but the reality is that God was there. God was weeping and God weeps right along with us. God weeps over the way God’s beloved creations treat each other. God weeps over injustice.  God weeps over the way anger turns into hatred, the way hatred turns into violence and death. God weeps over the sin of selfishness and greed that causes war and oppression and poverty to continue. God weeps.

And then, as Jesus did at the tomb of Lazarus, God brings resurrection. Because of Jesus, death does not and will not have the final say. Evil will not win the day. There is hope. There is salvation. There is resurrection. And while God does not need us for the work of resurrection, God allows us the gift and honor to participate in resurrection. Just as Jesus told the people to unbind Lazarus, Jesus tells us to unbind others. He tells us to unbind them with God’s love. We unbind them with forgiveness, kindness, and compassion. We unbind them by making sure that they are treated with justice. God resurrects, but we participate in that resurrection when we live not just to make our lives better, but to improve the lives of all. God changes the world through saints like us.

Saints are not just those special individuals the church holds up as models like St. Francis, or St. Bridget, or St. Nicholas. We are all saints –those living and those who have died in Christ – because we are God’s beloved creations. We are all saints together. Because of Jesus, our connection with each other and with God is never-ending. It is the reason why when we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we remember that we celebrate it with all the saints both here on earth and in heaven. When we say or sing the Sanctus – Holy, Holy, Holy – we join with all the saints triumphant in praising God. When we are here worshipping together as the body of Christ and receiving the Body of Christ all the saints are here as well. Those who have died as we hear in the readings from Isaiah and Revelation are celebrating with God in a great and victorious feast and we are celebrating in a foretaste of that feast to come. Right here as we gather around this table we gather with all the saints. It is a sacred space when the veil of heaven is thin and we and those we love are united. The Holy Spirit is here; feel this most sacred experience.

And through this sacred experience, this blessed sacrament, Christ comes and dwells within us and works in and through us. Christ unbinds us from our fear. He unbinds us from our worries. He unbinds us from our grief. Death no longer need terrify us and life no longer need terrify us. Yes, terrible things happen in life, but God is stronger than the evil in the world. Some of us are afraid to live again, afraid to experience joy again, afraid to be alive, but through Christ Jesus we are all made alive. He has overcome death and the grave. Jesus has overcome the enemy and removed all reason to fear. It is time to live again. It is time to live as the resurrection people we are called to be.

Jesus unbinds us through His forgiveness and grace and as disciples asks us to unbind those who need to be set free as well.  It is when we do this for one another that we reveal that God is with us in the midst of our suffering. Where is God in the midst of our pain? God is present through each one of us – saints of God. St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Hebrews – “Therefore, since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight of sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” On this All Saints Day, look around, we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. Let us begin to live today in the joy of that promise! Amen!

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!

 

 

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.