Raising Expectations. 09.11.2016 Sermon.

Luke 15:1-10

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

An elementary teacher asked his classroom one day, “If all the bad children were painted red and all the good children were painted green, which color would you be?”

Think about that. What color would you be? Red? Green? And would the color you choose change if we asked someone who knows you well what color they thought you would be?
After a few minutes of thought, one wise child in the classroom answered the teacher’s question by saying that they wouldn’t be red or green, they would be “striped.”

Image result for luke 15In today’s gospel reading, and in our world today if we’re being honest with each other and ourselves – Jesus is the only one who isn’t striped. There are times in all of our lives when we are among the lost. There are other times when we are among the found. There are times when we are good. And other times when we are not.

One of the reasons I’m a Lutheran Christian today is in part because of one word that is so central to Lutheran theology and how we understand ourselves to be in relationship with God and each other in the body of Christ. That word is “and.”

Image result for sinner and saintIn the words of Martin Luther, “we are simultaneously saint and sinner.”

In the words of that wise young student, we are red and green.

Or in relation to our gospel reading today, there are times when we are sheep simply grazing quietly and obediently amongst the flock and other times when we are so lost that we don’t have the faintest clue what life would even be like as a sheep that is in fact part of the Shepherd’s flock.

The good news about being in relationship with God through the savior of the world Jesus, is this. God knows that we are at the same time red and green, saint and sinner, lost and found. And God loves us anyway.

Image result for eats with sinnersYou and I are so often stuck behaving like the Pharisees and scribes at the beginning of today’s gospel reading. The Pharisees and scribes complain that Jesus eats with sinners. The question I always ask myself is…who else would Jesus eat with? I mean, the Pharisees and scribes don’t realize that there is no other kind of person. Even when Jesus is eating with society’s most elite and seemingly most righteous people, he is eating with sinners.

Jesus offers these parables about being lost in response to those who criticize him for welcoming sinners and eating with them. Pastor Bruce Epperly wrote that, “The Pharisees and scribes believe they are righteous – good citizens, faithful churchgoers – but they lack grace and forgiveness. Their hearts have closed down to sinners and in so doing they have closed their hearts to God.”

I can’t tell you how many times I have thought or behaved in a way toward another child of God that resembles the way of the Pharisees. And I can’t begin to share with you how many times I have heard or witnessed the same thing from others toward me or someone else.

Why is it so hard for us to move beyond finger-pointing and name calling? To move beyond all of that and into a realization that we are all the same. We grumble and say to Jesus, “you’re not going to eat with those people, are you Jesus?” The truth is, we are all those people. Sinners in need of the Savior’s loving embrace, bringing all of us back into a flock whose shepherd is the God of all creation.

Image result for luke 15The fifteenth chapter of Luke is filled with stories of God’s unconditional love. God’s unrelenting quest to find every lost sheep, every lost coin, every lost person. God’s welcome to sinners all and God’s invitation to join in an everlasting meal. There’s that and word again. An everlasting meal that begins today. Do you and I believe this? Do we really believe that God loves us and is on an unrelenting quest to find us?

I heard a great sermon a few weeks ago in which the preacher made this claim about Christ’s church today. He said, “Having little or no expectations for change is a dangerous situation in which to find ourselves.” And he went on the prophetically challenge the church to raise our expectations!

As we celebrate Rally Sunday this weekend, I think we should raise our expectations a little. You see, Rally Sunday is not just about the start of youth programming or church school or the return for many of us to a more regular schedule of worship attendance after a summer away.

Rally Sunday gives the church – which includes all of us who seek to follow the risen Christ Jesus and claim to be members of this little part of the body of Christ known as Good Shepherd Lutheran Church – Rally Sunday gives the church a chance to raise our expectations.

To raise our expectations about what it means to worship together as a community of faith grounded in the Lutheran Christian tradition.

To raise our expectations for what it looks like to educate our children in the faith.Image result for raise our expectations

To raise our expectations for how we are connected to our community as the hands and feet of Christ serving our neighbor.

To raise our expectations and claim ownership for our own life-long journey in education and growth in the Christian faith. Not a journey that ends when confirmation is over.

To raise our expectations as we are called to be the hands, feet, and voice of the risen Christ in the world today. May our words and our actions be reflections of the Shepherd’s love for all of God’s children.

To raise our expectations that we truly do believe that God is on an unending quest to find us when we are lost.

To raise our expectations that God will paint us green again and again and again in spite of all the ways that we insist on behaving like the only color available to us is red.

Every single one of you here today is an important part of this congregations ability to raise our expectations. None of you can sit this one out and let someone else do the work.

BeImage result for you matter to godcause every one of you matter.

You matter to the person sitting next to you. And you matter to others who are also part of Good Shepherd that you may never have an opportunity to meet in person. You matter to your friends. You matter to your family. You matter to me as one of your pastors. And most importantly, you matter to God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Rally Sunday I hope and pray that you and I will raise our expectations. And in doing so – there’s that and word again – God will change you and I in ways that are far greater than anything we can imagine with human minds and hearts. Raise your expectations and be changed forever. Come Lord Jesus, come and be with us in each day. Amen.

“Freed and Renewed From Bending Over”08.21.2016 Sermon

[A sermon on the Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath in Luke 13]

Luke 13:10-17 • August 21, 2016

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

Image result for elca churchwide assemblyI just returned a few days ago from the 2016 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I wasn’t attending as a voting member though. I was attending as a musician. I was invited to be part of the worship team that led a couple thousand people in worship during each day of the assembly. For followers of the risen savior Jesus, our life of faith is centered in worship. Even during a legislative business meeting of our church, worship was central to the assembly’s work.

Worship is always central to the work of the church – whether it’s the national expression of the church at a Churchwide Assembly that only meets every three years or the local expression of the church in congregations like Good Shepherd that meet every week.

Worship is at the heart of what we do together as part of the body of Christ.Image result for elca churchwide assembly

The theme of this year’s Churchwide Assembly was “Freed & Renewed in Christ: 500 Years of God’s Grace in Action.” In so many ways, I think today’s gospel reading speaks directly to the Churchwide Assembly theme of being freed and renewed in Christ.

And I do not believe the woman in today’s gospel text is the only one who is bent over and in need of the freedom and renewal that only Jesus can offer. The leader of the synagogue, all of Jesus’ opponents who are shamed and even the rejoicing crowds are all bent over and in need of freedom and renewal from Jesus. But this isn’t just about us looking at these poor, poor people in this quaint little bible story from Saint Luke. This story is about you and me too.

Image result for healing of the bent over womanYou are bent over.

I am bent over.

Every living human being walking on planet earth today is bent over. Bent over with something or by someone that only the savior of the world Jesus the Christ can set us free from. Setting us free from the evil that bends us over and holds us in bondage. Renewing us in ways that are impossible for us to receive without Jesus.

Luther Seminary New Testament Professor Dr. Matthew Skinner believes that there are two different views that run throughout the New Testament and are present in Christian tradition across denominational and historical boundaries.

“To put it rather simply,” Dr. Skinner writes, “one of these views commends patient endurance as people wait in expectation of what God will bring to fruition in the future. The other view expresses a restless desire to see God’s intentions for human society spring into existence now. Both views agree that something new has happened through Jesus, and that God has set the world onto a new course, but both views also know all too well that life continues to be filled with misery, oppression, pain, and loss.” Dr. Skinner sums up his thought by stating that “The first view says that faith in God makes people content to endure the current miseries. The second view says that faith in God makes it crucial that we can’t wait.”

All of us can attest to times that required a bit more waiting and patience than we felt was necessary. And equally so, I think most all of us can attest to times when we simply couldn’t wait any longer. When something had to be done. Waiting longer was not an option.

Image result for jesus healing on the sabbath iconIn our gospel reading today – which by the way, is a story that is only found in the gospel of Saint Luke – in one sense Jesus is breaking the Sabbath in the present moment. Disregarding all of the rules that one is supposed to follow for proper Sabbath observation. In Jesus’ opinion, this woman’s suffering has gone on long enough and she simply cannot wait another day for healing to take place. Her future begins now. Even though, as the woman stands up straight for the first time in nearly two decades, I’m guessing she sees that she has been raised up into world that is still quite broken and filled with people who are bent over.

In another sense, Jesus is not breaking, but fulfilling the commandment of Sabbath. Fulfilling the commandment of the Sabbath in ways that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day couldn’t understand because they were trying to hold on as tightly as they could to the rules and regulations of the past. Rules and regulations that Jesus, the savior of the world, came to fulfill. Imagine the relief that the woman in our gospel reading must have felt after 18 long agonizing years of being crippled by an evil spirit.


Please take note that this woman doesn’t ask Jesus to heal her.

Please remember that.

Image result for jesus chooses usThe healing that Jesus offers this woman and the way it takes place is so significant to our understanding of how we as Lutheran Christians believe to be in relationship with God. The woman doesn’t act or beg or even reach out to Jesus for anything. Jesus acts first – freeing and renewing the woman in Christ. Jesus simply noticed that she needed rest. Sabbath that couldn’t wait any longer. In spite of the rules of religious tradition that thought it could wait another day.

What needs rest in your life? True Sabbath. What cripples you and I so much so that we are not able to stand up straight and gaze into Jesus’ eyes?

The woman was bent over with an evil spirit. Without even asking, Jesus freed her and renewed her.

The leaders of the synagogue were bent over by rules and regulations about what the Sabbath even sax and how it was to be observed. Rules and regulations that caused them to focus on the past instead of looking toward the future. A future with Jesus standing before them to bring freedom and renewal into the world. A future with Jesus that continues to bring freedom and renewal into the world today.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, when God is up to something, prepare to be made new – whether from a debilitating disease or social stigmas about persons that are different from you and I or even holy pieties that keep you and I from being fully present to one another as brothers and sisters in the same body of Christ.

In a commentary on our gospel reading today, Elizabeth Palmer shares that in “Reading this healing story, our tendency is to side with Jesus and the woman and the crowds, and against Jesus’ opponents, even to be glad about their shame. But perhaps,” Palmer offers “instead of rejoicing in one person’s exaltation over the other, we could simply aim for kindness and healing in this complex, broken world, where everyone needs Image result for hands reaching outsimultaneously to be exalted and humbled. Perhaps grace could replace judgment in our assessment of those who appear to be our opponents. Rather than aiming to be lifted up while our enemies are stooped down, perhaps we could focus on seeing what God reveals to us no matter where our gaze is aimed, no matter how tall we stand. When we notice the person next to us stooped down, we might take on some of her burden without judging her worthiness. Perhaps that’s where the real healing begins.”

During my time in New Orleans at Churchwide Assembly, over and over again, I heard voices raised in praise for God’s presence in our lives through Jesus and witnessed healing taking place as our church gathered in assembly freed and renewed in Christ.

Image result for good shepherd bismarckI can’t help but hope and pray that the same thing can and is happening right now at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. May you and I live into the freedom that only Christ Jesus gives. And may we never stop offering God our thanks and praise for the gift of being renewed in Christ in all that we say and in all that we do. Amen.