“You are Welcomed. Now Go Welcome.” Sermon 06/29/2014

Matthew 10:40-42

Click here to view a video of this sermon.

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

So the last time I was with you during this time, I shared something from one of my favorite contemporary theologians – Charles Schultz the creator Peanuts comic strip. And after that sermon, several of you shared some of your favorite theologians along the same line as Charles Schultz. And I think that one of them, from Calvin and Hobbes, relates well to this section of Matthew’s gospel that we have been walking through in recent weeks. And rather than just describing it to you today, I can actually show you the strip.


As someone who seeks to follow the risen savior Jesus, there are many times when Jesus words seem to paint an incredibly complicated picture – is it black and white or color. Many times when Jesus’ challenging words seem overwhelming. Many times when I think it might be better to just lay down and take a nap until dinner.

So here’s a question for today, why do you do the things that you do? We all do things, right? Things that we are incredibly proud of and things that we are not very proud of and wish people would quit posting them on Facebook. So, why do you and I do the things that we do? We live in a culture where what we do often determines who wins and who loses. And frankly, I think we do the things we do because we like to win. And we believe that when we put forth enough effort to win, we are entitled to something in return for our effort. A reward for winning.

If there is no reward, why bother? Why put forth the extra effort at our jobs? Why volunteer at the church or a food pantry? Why give my hard earned money away to God’s work through the church or non-profit agencies? Why build relationships with people in El Salvador or on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation or in south Bismarck or even those who are visiting our community this weekend for the McQuade Charity Softball Tournament? If there is no reward, why bother?IMG_8354

You and I want the reward. We want to win. To be honest, I’m not sure how many of us would continue doing the things we do if we didn’t think there was some sort of reward associated with it. Case in point, I once asked a woman from our congregation if she planned to do some volunteer work in her retirement. She replied pretty directly, “Why would I do that. I don’t get paid to be a volunteer!” Looking back at that conversation, I wish I would have invited her to read Matthew 10.

Matthew 10 is a difficult chapter in the Jesus story, but one that answers a lot of the questions about our life together as followers of Jesus. As the chapter begins, “Jesus’ summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.” The focus of this chapter is Jesus sending the disciples into the world to live out God’s mission for the world. He is offering instructions that tell the disciples a little about what they will be doing as followers of Jesus. Doing that may not always be easy, that will may be filled with uncertainty and probably include difficult and painful experiences. Believe it or not, being a follower of Jesus doesn’t mean your life will be carefree and painless. And the biggest surprise for many American Christians in the last few decades is that following Jesus has nothing to do with making you rich.

In his book With Open Hands, the great Henri Nouwen wrote, “The challenge of the gospel lies precisely in the invitation to accept a gift for which we can give nothing in return. For the gift is the very life breath of God, the Spirit who is poured out on us through Jesus Christ. This life breath frees us from fear and gives us new room to live.”

Nouwen’s words remind us that our life in Christ exists not because you do something or because I have done something for you as your pastor. Your life in Christ, and my life in Christ too, exists because God does something. God loves us with a love that will never let us go – in our life or in our death. God lives in relationship with us through a savior named Jesus. God seeks relationship and reconciliation with all of creation. God claims us as God’s own and joins us together as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. All of this is because of what God has done, what God is doing, and what God promises to do for all eternity.

As 19th century British philanthropist John Ruskin said, “The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.” God gives us everything – yes, everything. And because of that gift, we become children of God.

In the three verses of our gospel reading today, the word welcome is used six times. I don’t think Jesus was just being lazy and couldn’t think of a better word to conclude his instructions to the disciples as he sends them out. I think maybe, just maybe, he is using the word welcome so extensively because the welcome that he is speaking about is kind of important to our life in Christ and God’s mission in the world. We have been welcomed by Jesus into relationship with God. Our relationship with God is lived out by how we are welcomed into the lives of others and by how we welcome others into our own lives.

I love how Pastor Eugene Peterson interprets these verses in his paraphrase of scripture called The Message. “We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.”

I don’t know, maybe our life together in Christ really isn’t that complicated after all. Brothers and sisters in Christ, as the body of Christ, our work together is too important and too exciting to just take a nap and wait for dinner. Blessings as you do the things you do. Amen.

“Forgiveness. Fire. Fear.” 06.08.2014 Sermon

John 20:19-23 • June 8, 2014 • “Forgiveness. Fire. Fear.”

Click here to view a video of this sermon.

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

There are many times when I think that some of the best theologians of our time are writers of cartoons and comic strips –Charles Schultz, the creator of the legendary comic strip Peanuts is a great example of this.

In one strip Charlie Brown stops by Lucy’s psychiatrist help stand and confesses, “My trouble is I never know if I’m doing the right thing. I need to have someone around who can tell me when I’m doing the right thing.” Lucy says, “OK. You’re doing the right thing. That’ll be five cents, please!” Charlie Brown walks away with a smile on his face.

In a few minutes, he returns with a frown. “Back already?” asks Lucy, “What happened?” Charlie Brown says, “I was wrong. It didn’t help. You need more in life than just having someone around to tell you when you’re doing the right thing.” To which Lucy says, “Now you’ve really learned something! That’s be another five cents, please.”

In our gospel reading from Saint John today, the disciples are locked in a room in fear, Jesus comes to them and says “Peace be with you” – not once, but twice. He also says, “As the father has sent me, so I send you.” And if that wasn’t enough, Jesus challenges his followers with a seemingly impossible task by saying, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Did you hear that? If living in peace, being ok with the fact that you and I are sent by God into a broken world, and forgiveness are what it means to follow the risen Jesus, I think I’m with Charlie Brown in thinking, “You need more in life than just having someone around to tell you when you’re doing the right thing.”

Because what you and I experience in life often has a whole lot more to do with division and hatred, not peace; judgment and blame, not forgiveness; and fear of everyone and everything, not great explosions of the fire of the Holy Spirit sending us out to let everyone know they are loved unconditionally by God.

On this Day of Pentecost, the Christian church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit. Notice that the disciples don’t ask Jesus to give them the spirit. They don’t go out and prove themselves worthy before Jesus. And they sure don’t seem to have let go of their fear before Jesus breathes on them and sends them into the world.

In his newest book, We Make the Road by Walking, Brian McLaren argues that the disciples on that Day of Pentecost didn’t try to explain what was happening or think it through before letting it happen or do something to stop it from happening or become perfect in order for it to happen at all. McLaren believes that the disciples simply let the Spirit of God come. And as the spirit of God came to them, their lives, and really the lives of every human being to ever live changed.

Good Shepherd’s Transformational Ministry Leadership Team has been reading a book by Pastors Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken called Renovation of the Church: What Happens When a Seeker Church Discovers Spiritual Formation. In this book, the good pastors offer a great reflection that I think relates well to our celebration of Pentecost.

They write, “We’d be better off if we just admitted it. It is sufficient for us that Jesus has forgiven our sins and secured our eternity, leaving our daily lives relatively unaffected.” The pastors continue their insight by stating that, “We are still the self-absorbed spouses we’ve always been. We continue to have a miser’s heart. We use anger to overwhelm our opponents. We are trapped in lust. We manipulate and control to get what we want. We trust our political party more than Jesus. We ignore the poor. We have personal policies that are categorically opposed to the teaching of Christ. But we aren’t bothered enough by these disconnects to put forth the effort to cooperate with the Holy Spirit because, in spite of what we claim, we really don’t believe transformation is that important.”

Pastor Carlson and Lueken conclude by saying, “Its good [transformation] when it happens, and perhaps we should be more diligent at pursuing it, but it is not a natural or necessary consequence of salvation.”

What I hear them saying is that just because you believe the spirit of God is in you, doesn’t show others that you are a follower of Jesus any more than standing in your garage will show others that you are a car. Jesus sends us out with the spirit of God – you and I should behave and look and be different in the eyes of the world because of that.

So the question that each of us should probably be asking on this Day of Pentecost is, “How has or better yet, ‘how does’ the spirit of God coming make any difference at all?”

How does the spirit of God coming to you change how you look at a sunset or hold a newborn baby?

How does the spirit of God coming to you change how you ask someone for forgiveness or receive forgiveness from someone after years of hurt and pain?

How does the spirit of God coming to you change how you celebrate the noise of dozens of children running through the hallways of Good Shepherd during Day Camp this past week?

How does the spirit of God coming to you light you on fire in ways that destroy every fear you have ever had?

How does the spirit of God coming to you send you from this time of worship to share God’s love that is a gift for all of God’s children?

How does the spirit of God coming to you change you, change me, change the world?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the spirit of God is upon you – which is way more significant than someone who tells you when you’re doing the right thing. May you be blessed as the spirit of God comes to you, and may you bless someone else, as you share the spirit of God with one another in this walk along the road of faith. Amen.


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