Monthly Archives: November 2012

“The Pangs of Predictions” 11.18.2012 Sermon

Mark 13:1-8 November 18, 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. Amen.

Wow! What a gospel reading to lead us into this week of Thanksgiving.

The 13th chapter of Mark’s gospel reminded me this week of the story of a young boy who woke up early in the morning of his birthday. He looked out his bedroom window and saw that a large pile of manure had been placed on the driveway of his house overnight. He didn’t know that his father was using the manure that day for fertilizer in the family’s backyard. The birthday boy excitedly jumped out of bed and ran out of the house, grabbed a shovel, and started frantically digging into the manure pile.

His buddy from next door saw him shoveling and came over to see what in the world his friend was doing. “What’s going on?” he asked.

To which the birthday boy responded enthusiastically, “I’m digging out my birthday present. With a manure pile this big, there has got to be a pony in here someplace.”

Which of course brings us to our gospel reading today. This chapter in Mark’s gospel is often referred to as Mark’s “little apocalypse”.

So I’ll honest right away. I’m not a fan of this kind of language or literature, but it is the gospel before us today. It’s sometimes called apocalyptic literature or an area of theological study known as eschatology – the study of the end times. For some reason, human beings for several thousand years have been, and I would argue continue to be, fascinated by this type of literature and thought. Predications of the future consume us. We want to know what the future holds. Not only what will happen later this week, but also what’s going to happen when the world does come to an end as we know it. And we want to know when. I’ve never understood why we want to know when. Is it so we can be ready or something?

Believe it or not, Jesus challenging words in today’s gospel, and the words of similar apocalyptic style writings in the Bible like the book of Daniel or Revelation, are in fact not predictions of the end of the world. For as long as apocalyptic literature has existed, we have skewed its meaning into something that has little to do with what it actually means. These texts often address political unrest during a specific time in history or oppression taking place in society. They’re not about the end of the world or predicting the return of Jesus.

The word apocalypse has little to do with destruction in the Hollywood movie – end of the world – winner take all – kind of destruction that we think will happen when the world ends – in whatever definition for the end of world that you want to use. Apocalypse actually means “to reveal” or “to uncover”. So, what might God be revealing or uncovering.

I think Jesus is inviting us, to stop digging. To stop digging for predictions that we think will tell us the future. To stop digging in the manure pile so to speak trying to find a new pony or a new temple. To stop digging for an answer to a problem that you are trying to fix by yourself instead of reaching out to someone for help. Just, stop digging.

Right before this conversation between Jesus and his disciples in today’s reading, Jesus has addressed issues of power, misplaced priorities, and justice – or rather the lack of justice. It’s been a busy and grueling few days.

Now – travel with me through time from this first century exchange outside the temple walls of Jerusalem to this day, right now, in the temple of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Bismarck, North Dakota. Think about all the things that you brought with you to worship in this temple that have caused you to be exhausted from digging. Not much has changed really, has it? Human beings like you and me still misplace our hope in grandiose temples that we build, or individuals that we place on thrones of power, or our never ending quests for more and more wealth, or celebrating the strength of one that defeats another. Life is still chaotic.

In spite of great scientific and social and technological advances over the past 20 centuries since Jesus walked the earth, millions of people still suffer from oppression and injustice, still live in poverty, and still suffer from great violence. If you’ve seen any news in the last week you know this to be true. Wars and rumors of war; famine and gruesome death; earthquakes and destructive storms continue.

I know I’ve been quoting Professor David Lose from Luther Seminary a lot recently, but he has been writing some really incredible things in the last few months. Here’s what Dr. Lose wrote this week in a reflection about our gospel reading this week. “We want to know when, we profess, so that we can be prepared, so that we can be ready. But perhaps that’s the point: we are invited to be ready all the time. We are not called simply to live our lives with no thought of God or neighbor but keenly looking for the sign of God’s imminent coming so that we can clean up our act. Rather, we are called to live always anticipating the activity of God.

We are called to live now, allowing the promises of God about the future to infuse our every present moment. Because when you live looking for the activity of God here and now, you begin to see it. God shows up in all kinds of places, working with us, for us, through us, and in us. You just have to look.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, take time to look this week. God is active today making all things new, giving us hope for tomorrow. Our gospel reading today speaks a word of truth and hope that you and I need to hear. And I’m not talking about terrifying predictions of the end of the world. I’m talking about Jesus words in verse 7. “Do not be alarmed.” Jesus says.

Jesus says, “Do not be alarmed when you hear of wars and rumors of wars.” What wars are raging in your life that only the peace of Jesus Christ can turn around?

Jesus says, “Do not be alarmed when nation rises against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” What kingdoms do you need to let fall right now in order for your world to be turned around by God and made new through his love for you?

Jesus says, “Do not be alarmed when there are earthquakes in various places and famines.” What earthquakes do you feel shaking your very being today? What hunger are you trying to fill by non-stop, frantic digging? Turn around. Come to the table. Be fed.

Do not be alarmed. Jesus Christ, your risen savior and Lord, is with you today and will be with you in every tomorrow. Amen.

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“Saints are Close, but How Close is too Close?” Sermon 11.04.2012

John 11:32-44 • November 4, 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.

We celebrated a very important holiday in our life together as followers of the risen savior Jesus Christ this past week. I’m guessing a lot of us missed it because of the flurry of activity that surrounds Halloween. I missed it for many years too.

I’m talking about All Saints Day which was this past Thursday. In case you haven’t already noticed, it’s the focus of our worship together this weekend as well. I was drawn to spend a lot more time in prayer this past Thursday than I typically do in a day. Prayer for brothers and sisters in Christ whose funerals I have presided at this past year, many whom we lift up through prayer and special candles on the altar this weekend. Prayer for family and friends that I love deeply, but often fail to spend nearly enough time with. Prayer for you, fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, as we continue to discover ways in which God is making us holy and calling us in service as saints in this world. Prayer for the dozens of organizations and hundreds of people who use our facilities each week or simply stop by Good Shepherd to spend a little time in prayer before heading back out into the world.

All Saints Day is important to our life in Christ because it connects us together as brothers and sisters in ways that many of us don’t think about too much as we walk, or maybe the better term here is run, through life. The saints of God are not just people who have died. And funerals and All Saints Day worship services are not the only time when we should remember saints, or give thanks for their presence in our lives, or remember that you and I in fact are saints too!

The 11th and 12th chapters of John are kind of a crossroads in the life and ministry of Jesus. This is the turning point in John’s gospel where Jesus makes his final move toward Jerusalem, coming to the village of Bethany to care for one of his dear friends, Lazarus who has been dead for four days by the time Jesus gets there. With the raising of Lazarus from the dead, we come face to face with one of the most dramatic signs of Jesus’ power in the gospels – his power over death itself.

The story of Lazarus being raised from the dead is an announcement that Jesus is Lord – of life and death. And if Jesus can breathe life back into a man who has been dead for four days, then there’s no stopping him from breathing life into you and me for the sake of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, alive in our world today. Breathing life into you and me and setting us apart as holy, as saints of God, for God’s work to bless and serve the world.

That’s not an easy aspect of Christian faith to get our heads or hearts around. That we are holy or that we are saints of God.

As I attended the ordination of a friend of mine a few years ago I had an experience that helped me better understand this part of our life in Christ. It took place at Saint Joseph Lutheran Church in Rosholt, South Dakota. It’s the church she grew up in. It’s a little country church in the middle of corn fields that was built in 1890. There’s a picture of it in your bulletin today or on the screen.

As I walked through the cemetery of this little church, which is immediately outside the front doors of the sanctuary, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the thousands of saints of God who have walked on this holy ground, who have worshiped in this holy place, and the hundreds of saints who are buried in this sacred soil. When you worship at a place like St. Joseph, you only need to look out the windows of the sanctuary to better understand what it means to be part of the communion of saints or the body of Christ. One can’t help but have a profound sense that I am, a saint of God. Standing on holy ground.

There is no cemetery directly outside the sanctuary doors of Good Shepherd, at least not that we know about. But saints of God, do you believe that the place you are sitting in right now is a holy place? Or when you get home today, do you believe that God is with you and present where you live? Or how about the holy place that you know as the grocery store? Do you believe that your hands and feet and every word that comes out of your mouth is part of the body of Christ and is holy? That your very being, is a holy place?

The Bible calls things holy that have been set apart for God’s work. Brothers and sisters in Christ, you are holy. You are saints that have been set apart in your baptism and called to participate in God’s ongoing and miraculous work in this world. In our gospel reading today, Jesus does what is considered to be one of his most significant miracles. Note that he doesn’t let everyone stand around and gawk in awe at what they’ve just witnessed. Actually, he instructs and expects them to participate in and I’d argue, to actually complete the miracle. Jesus says to “Unbind him, and let him go.” I don’t believe that the miracle is complete until Lazarus has been removed of everything that has bound him up in death, and Jesus instructs those who are gathered around Lazarus to do just that.

As Professor David Lose said this week, “It is Jesus who has the power to heal, to feed, to restore, to bring to life, to redeem. At the same time, he seeks to involve us in these actions and, indeed, perhaps expects us to complete them.”

A major portion of the United States experienced unprecedented destruction this past week in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Saints of God, you unbind the death of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction and help bring about Jesus’ healing miracle of restoration and new life through your prayer, by listening to one another’s concern for those in need, and offering yourself financially to organizations like Lutheran Disaster Response and the Red Cross who will provide healing care directly.

Holy saints of God at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, you need to know that you help complete miracles in the name of Jesus every day. They may not be on the level of raising people from the dead like our gospel story of Lazarus today, but they are just important to God’s work in the world.

Like the amazing gift of hospitality that you provided to hundreds of young families and their children at a Halloween Festival on Wednesday night.

Or helping unbind the death of poverty in our community through simple gifts of a few gallons of gas or a bag of groceries.

Or partnering with other congregations in our community this winter to provide a warm shelter for the homeless to sleep.

Or helping build homes for brothers and sisters in Christ of Cristo Rey Lutheran Church in Santa Ana, El Salvador who have never lived in a home before with clean running water.

Or simply giving a friend a ride to work or school or a polling location to vote on Election Day.

Or on this All Saints Day weekend, remembering the many ways that we hold each other up during times of grief and death that come before our congregation.

You and I may not see these things as miraculous or holy, but I believe God does. Brothers and sisters in Christ, as you walk out the doors of this sanctuary today and enter a new week, I pray that you remember that every place is a holy place where God’s work to bless and serve the world can be and is being lived out through you. Amen.