Monthly Archives: September 2012

“Trying to Be Someone Else is Not Who You Are” Sermon 09.16.2012

Mark 8:27-38 • “Trying to Be Someone Else is Not Who You Are.”

Click ere to hear an audio recording of this sermon.

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

Let’s take a minute and try something. I’d like us to tell someone in worship today who we are. Or at least, who we think we are. I know that this is a Lutheran church, so I’m asking you to do something that is WAY outside of what is supposed to happen during a Lutheran worship service, but most of you should know by now that I’m going to do it anyway. I invite you to stand and walk around for a few seconds. Get up and go to 2 or 3 people and tell them who you are.

Very good. Thank you for that. You can go ahead and have a seat. I’m going to try and guess what just happened. Some of you made the decision not to leave the seat you are keeping warm. Some of you did stand and greet people and maybe even shared your name – first name only of course. A few of you probably described who you are by sharing what you do – I’m a teacher or a cook may be what you said. A few of you went a bit deeper and maybe said that you are a father or mother; a sister or student. My guess is that none of you said that you were the Messiah. And I would also guess that only a very few of you said that you were a child of God or even more directly, a follower of Jesus Christ. I could be wrong, but that’s my guess.

Our gospel reading today from Mark comes at a pivotal point in his telling of Jesus’ story. In what literally is the midway point in this first gospel, Jesus begins to shift the focus in his ministry from that of doing things – like healing and feeding – to that of identification. In particular identification that points him directly to the cross. It is the first time in Mark’s gospel that Jesus offers insight into his future – “That the Son of Man must undergo great suffering,” as verse 31 states strongly. That is the opposite of who the disciples have just told Jesus he is. They have just finished glorifying him with descriptions that would inflate even the most humble of egos.

You see, the exchange between Jesus and his disciples at the beginning of today’s gospel reading seems harmless enough. Jesus and the boys are walking along and he says, “Who do people say that I am?”. In other words who do others in the places that they have been, in the communities that they have already visited to this point in their journey say that he is? Remember, the Jewish community knows the scripture well. The disciples’ responses support that.

Then Jesus presses a little further. “Who do you say that I am?” You, who are my closest friends, who am I to you? Our text doesn’t tell us everything that is said in answering this question, but Peter doesn’t seem to bat an eye at saying that Jesus is the Messiah. This is the first time in Mark’s gospel that this claim has been made. Jesus is the Messiah.

You would think that the next thing to do would be to go everywhere you possibly can and proclaim Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. The Son of Man as Mark calls Jesus. To shout it out from every mountain top and valley and street corner.

But Jesus tells them to do something that is completely opposite of what the disciples think they should do. Jesus sternly orders them to tell nobody. The disciples can’t tell their families. They can’t tell people in the neighborhoods that they have already been to that have seen firsthand Jesus’ healing and feeding. Jesus sternly, as verse 30 points out, orders them to not tell anyone about him.

Maybe that’s part of the struggle we have. We are so eager to tell others about Jesus that we often fail to say anything. When Jesus asks us who he is, he’s not asking us to give him some fancy new title in order to inflate his ego a bit more, he’s asking us to lose our lives. To put aside all that distracts us in life. To see firsthand that God is present in all that we say and do and are. To not be ashamed to follow this Jesus who is headed to the cross.

This past week, I walked with two families as the life in this world of dear loved ones came to an end. By simply being together in the final moments of life in this world for these beloved children of God, we experienced rest in the sure and certain hope that death is not the final answer in our identity as children who belong to God and God alone.

At the beginning of this week, pastors from across the western North Dakota Synod, including Pastor Tim and I, gathered in Medora to wrestle with the incredible change that North Dakota continues to experience and what role congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America may serve in that change. I don’t think you’ll be seeing any Lutheran pastors handing out bibles or holding tent revival meetings in the oil field anytime soon, but you will see thousands of Lutherans laying down their life in order to support affordable housing projects that Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota is developing in that part of our state. Lutheran Social Services is the largest nonprofit organization addressing affordable housing issues that struggling families are facing in the oil field today.

On Wednesday evening Good Shepherd celebrated the beginning of another year of confirmation and church school. Through ministries like these we learn that life in Christ is a never-ending journey. A never-ending discovery that by losing our lives we don’t need to prove to God that we are successful enough or good enough or smart enough in order to experience his love in communities of faith.

On Thursday I was invited to preside at a renewal of vows ceremony for a couple that celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary this week. Through scripture and prayer; family gathered and a renewed commitment of love between two people – we witnessed a delicate moment that caused all of us to lay down everything that had consumed us that day and celebrate the love that God has for us in relationship with other people.

Needless to say, the question that has been on my mind and heart a lot this week is, “who am I?” That’s a great question isn’t it? Who are you?

In addition to having a cool last name, philosopher, theologian, and doctor Albert Schweitzer once wrote, “Jesus comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside. He came to those men who knew him not. He speaks to us the same word: ‘Follow me!’ and sets us to tasks, which he has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts and the sufferings which they shall pass through in his fellowship, and, as a ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience who He (Jesus) is.” [Quest for the Historical Jesus, McMillon Press, 1945, pg. 403]

Brothers and sisters in Christ, take up your cross and lose your life for the sake of your savior Jesus Christ this week. Experience who he is and never forget who you are. A follower of the risen savior Jesus Christ. A child of God. Amen.


“Have You Washed Today?” 09.02.2012 Sermon

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 & James 1:17-27 • September 2, 2012

Click here to hear an audio recording of this sermon.

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

It’s always easy to pick on the Pharisees when they come up in our scripture readings, isn’t it. How about a few Pharisee jokes in the style of redneck comedian Jeff Foxworthy to get us started.

You might be a Pharisee if you’ve ever shouted, “Amen!” more than 51 times during a single sermon…about somebody else’s sin.

You might be a Pharisee if you think the world would be a better place…if everyone were just like you.

You might be a Pharisee if you’re sure nobody…has ever had to forgive you.

You might be a Pharisee if you go to church…to prove you’re good.

You might be a Pharisee if you leave worship today…thinking that you didn’t get anything from it because you didn’t like the singing or how Holy Communion was served.

It’s easy to laugh a little at the first two. For most of us the last three might actually sting a little. When we see and hear the Pharisees gathering around Jesus, it’s easy to pick on them and think, “Wow, these guys are sure full of themselves, aren’t they?”

But let’s not too quickly forget the words that we heard from the book of James today and ask ourselves if we are “like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.” (Verse 23-24)

We need to back up for just a minute. For the past several weeks our worship has centered on Jesus being the “bread of life” and the “bread come down from heaven” as we’ve walked through the dense and complex sixth chapter of the gospel of John. This week we return to the gospel of Mark. By this point in Mark, Jesus has been busy – feeding five thousand, walking on water, healing the sick. Today’s encounter is between Jesus and a few Pharisees. And these are not just any ordinary old Pharisees. These Pharisees are from Jerusalem. They are the cream of the crop. The best of the best. Not only highly regarded within the Temple, but across nearly every facet of Jewish life. People knew who these guys were and looked to them for insight and direction and understanding regarding every aspect of life – spiritual and secular. They’re questioning Jesus on deep seated traditions in the community. Traditions that go much further than simply keeping Jewish law. Jesus quickly cuts to the chase and quotes the prophet Isaiah, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.”

Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisees and the crowds that are gathered is to say that these traditions are human creations, not from God.

Lutheran theologian Frederick Buechner imagines our life in Christ a little like a young child learning to play the piano. Buechner thought, “The child holds her hands just as she’s been told…she has memorized the piece of music perfectly. She has hit all the proper notes with deadly accuracy. But her heart is not in it, only her fingers. What she’s playing is a sort of music, but nothing that will start voices singing or feet tapping.”

When it comes to our faith and our life in Christ, I want to ask you a question: Are our hearts in it or only our fingers? That’s what I hear Jesus asking you and me today.

Are we majoring in the minor things? We worship God with our words and the physical presence of our bodies sitting in beautiful sanctuaries like this one and ignore that God is part of our lives as soon as we walk out the door – never giving the words, “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.” a chance to be implanted on our hearts before we leave and run off to chase the next thing we have to check off of our to do list.

I think that might be why I’ve been struggling with this gospel reading in Mark this week. As one of your pastors, I won’t stand before you and yell at you for having feelings or thinking thoughts or doing things that you know are wrong. I can’t formulate some sort of personalized strategic plan for you that will bring about a radical change in your financial wealth or emotional well being. I can’t shower you with enough guilt that may actually cause you to behave differently for a few seconds after you leave worship today.

You see, Jesus is not only attacking the Pharisees and the traditions they are trying to protect. In fact, his direct criticism is to the human being. Eleven times in the seventh chapter of Mark, the Greek word anthrōpos is used, which translates as “human being” or “person”.

Duke Divinity School New Testament Professor Joel Marcus says that, “The basic problem Christians should be concerned about is not how or what one should eat but the internal corruption of the anthrōpos. It is this malignancy that chokes the life out of tradition, turns it into an enemy of God, contorts it into a way of excusing injustice, and blinds those afflicted by it to their own culpability for the evils that trouble the world.” [Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8 (Anchor Bible 27; New York; Doubleday, 2000), 460-461]

Brothers and sisters in Christ – in the middle of all the evil that we face in this world. In the middle of all the things that come out of us that defile us. You see, I will never stop reminding you that you have a God who loves you and claims you as his own. I will never stop praying that you live your life in the promise of resurrection, with joy and thanksgiving that God has freed you from sin and death in your baptism. I will never stop celebrating Holy Communion with you and hope that in our celebration of the sacrament you are fed and strengthened and then feel called to be a blessing to your neighbor in all that you say and do. I will never stop believing that our God comes to every one of us, broken anthrōpos that we are, and says to each one of us, I love you. I forgive you. You are mine. This God lives in us today and in all the days to come.

I invite us to take a minute right now and wash together. Using the words for confession and forgiveness that are printed in your bulletin or on the screen behind me, let’s wash together and be made clean. We do not live out our life in Christ by just washing our hands. Our hearts need washing too. Please stand as you are able.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

God of Light, we admit that we are much faster at talking, and too slow at listening. We are quick to engage in power-pleasing acts, but hesitant to hear your simple words of hope, of justice, of renewal. We do not notice how our casual speech can cause great harm and pain to those around us. Forgive us, God of majesty and mercy, and let your grace refresh us like a gentle rains. Pour your hope into our empty souls until it overflows to all we have damaged. Call us to new life through the words and witness of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, in whose name we lift our prayers to you.

Silence for reflection and confession.

ASSURANCE OF FORGIVENESS

Did you hear the voice of the God speaking to you – whispering words of hope, of grace, of forgiveness into your heart and into your soul? This is the good news that is for us! In the name of Jesus Christ your sins are forgiven!

Click here and check out this video from the 2012 ELCA National Youth Gathering. I couldn’t help reflect upon it as I walked through this week’s text.