Monthly Archives: August 2013

“Always New” Sermon 08.25.2013

Luke 13:10-17 • August 25, 2013 • “Always New”

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.

You may or may not know this, I recently returned from the 13th Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the ELCA. The ELCA is the Christian denomination that Good Shepherd is part of. We are one of nearly 10,000 congregations who share in mission and ministry together as the ELCA.

I didn’t attend the churchwide assembly in Pittsburgh as a voting member, rather I was part of a six musician worship team that led Morning Prayer and worship each day as well as numerous other musical activities throughout the week. This was the second time I have been invited to be part of the worship staff at a churchwide assembly – an event that takes place in our church body only every few years.

Needless to say, I am honored to be called to serve the church at events like these. And I’m thankful for the ministry you and I share as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ at Good Shepherd and for opportunities that all of us have to participate in the life of the larger context of the church, and, so finally, thank you for graciously allowing me the time away to serve at events like churchwide assembly. And, I’m thankful to be home for a little while – it’s been kind of a crazy summer.

This year’s churchwide assembly marks the 25th anniversary of the ELCA. One document that I came across at the assembly stated that, “the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is still comparatively new as a church body, and yet our roots are much deeper than our 25 years together. The taproot of our life extends through the histories of predecessor churches in the United States, through the formative witness of the 16th century evangelical reformers and their confessional writings, to the Scriptures and the word of Christ. Our life is in Jesus Christ.”

I want you to know that you and I are part of a church that is alive in Christ in amazing and unexpected ways. You and I will have several opportunities in the coming weeks to give thanks and praise to God for the many ways that we live out our life in Christ together as part of a church that we know simply as the ELCA.

The theme at this year’s churchwide assembly was “Always Being Made New”. That theme has been running through my head and heart in the days since the assembly ended and in the days that I have spent in preparation for this weekend’s sermon.

Always being made new.
Words that echo the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth.

Always being made new.
Words that echo healing of a woman and renewed understanding of Sabbath for an entire community in today’s gospel reading from Saint Luke.

Always being made new.
Words in our worship today that invite us to be renewed each and every day in our relationship with God and each other through our savior Jesus Christ.

In Jesus’ day, the temple was still the main place for Jews to gather for worship, reading of scripture, and teaching of the law. It was not only a place of worship, but also a place of study. From earlier texts in Luke’s gospel we can assume that Jesus hung out at the local synagogue a lot. It’s pretty easy to imagine Jesus sitting among the teachers of the day, listening, asking questions, reading, and interpreting scripture.

We really don’t know why this woman who is bent over is in the synagogue on this day. Maybe she wanted to hear Scripture read or interpreted? Maybe she was hoping to be healed? Maybe a friend or family member brought her? We don’t know for sure?

Whatever her reasons for coming, it’s interesting that the woman makes no request of Jesus to heal her.

Jesus takes the initiative, invites her to come to him, and says, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” Or as I heard repeatedly this week, “Woman, you are always being made new.”
This act of healing in Luke’s gospel is powerful by itself, but on a deeper level I believe it offers you and I a chance to ask how we’re “bent over” or “unable to stand up straight” because of any number of things that consume our lives – physical limitations, emotional struggles, spiritual deserts that we may be wandering through, or burdensome schedules that blind us to the needs of others around us.

Immediately after the healing has taken place, the leader of the synagogue confronts Jesus, saying that it could have waited until the Sabbath was over. And in reality, he’s right. The law in both Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 prohibit work of any kind on the Sabbath. That’s the law.

But Jesus does something in the synagogue that day that I believe he’s still doing today; he calls this leader of the religious community beyond his one-dimensional, self-absorbed way of thinking. Jesus goes well beyond the letter of the law and appeals to the spirit of the law, challenging the community leaders with a question that almost certainly requires a grace-filled response: “Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?” The answer, of course, is “yes” they do!

The central issue here isn’t a debate over what one can or cannot do on the Sabbath. When we hold stubbornly to the law, we become like the leader of the synagogue who is so bound, so tied up in knots by his rules and regulations that he can’t rejoice in the blessing that has taken place. He can’t rejoice at this healing in order to hear Jesus say, “My brother, God is making all things new.”

Jesus calls people to look at life and the world around them differently, imaginatively. Because of Jesus, the Kingdom of God is breaking in and breaking everything open at every turn, making all things new. In Luke’s gospel today, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue surrounded by a lot of people from every background imaginable; from scholarly religious leaders to common bystanders, from wealthy elite business men to homeless people off the street. Every one of them is bent over by something. Something physical. Emotional. Spiritual. Something, that’s keeping them from standing up straight. Something, that’s keeping you and me from standing up straight.

That same document that I referenced earlier from the ELCA Churchwide assembly in Pittsburgh also offered this. I think it’s a wonderful insight and appropriate for us to hear as we receive the good news that’s before us today.

“We are being made new every day. In Jesus Christ we are not unchanged. What God does in Christ is as radical as the death and resurrection of baptism, where new creatures in Christ rise to live “no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” Our life is in Jesus Christ. We are no longer strangers, competitors or enemies to each other. We are beloved companions in one body, restored to a communion where the rich diversity of our experiences, wisdom and abilities serve the common good in Christ. The new creation in Christ rises to life among us every day.”

Earlier this week, Pastor Janet Hunt who writes a beautiful blog called “Dancing with the Word” said that “It seems to her [me] that in the moment after Jesus called the woman over to him and before he healed her, he must have bent down to look into her eyes.”

As you sit in worship today and reflect upon everything that has you bent over, I hope and pray that you feel Jesus’ gentle touch, that you see Jesus looking into your eyes with grace and mercy, and that you hear Jesus say to you, “Beloved child of God, I am making all things new.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

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“Are Your Barns Full of I’s?” 08.04.2013 Sermon

Luke 12:13-21 • August 4, 2013

Click here to view a video recording of this sermon.

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

I hope you were paying attention during the gospel reading today. If you were, hearing this good news may sting just a little – even if you aren’t fighting with a relative over an inheritance or worried about what you are going to do with all of your success as the result of being the most amazing farmer to ever live on planet earth.

We live in a time and place and culture that makes it difficult for us to wrap our heads around just how much wealth is available to us. And the challenge that I think we face as people who seek to follow Jesus is how do we remain faithful to our life in Christ in the midst of wealth.

Economist and Historian, Robert Heilbroner challenged his students studying economics to do a little exercise. Heilbroner hoped that it would help students who had lived their entire life in a first world nation like the United States to better understand the wealth that was before them and how easy it is for this wealth to consume them. He challenged them to try and imagine living their lives in the same way as one and a half billion people in the world do. The way that 1,500 million of God’s beloved children live each and every day of their lives – yes, even today in 2013.

– First, he said, take all the furniture out of your home, except one table and a couple of chairs. Use a blanket and pads for a bed.
– Take away all of the clothing except each person’s oldest dress, pants, shirt, blouse and coat. Only one pair of shoes per person.
– Empty the pantry, the refrigerator and the freezer of all food except for a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt, a few potatoes and onions, and some dried beans.
– Dismantle the bathroom, shut off the running water, and remove all the electrical wiring in your house.
– Better yet, let’s take away the house itself and move your family into the garden shed in the backyard.
– Move out of your neighborhood into a ghetto of makeshift buildings and mud streets.
– Cancel all subscriptions to newspapers and magazines and get rid of all your books. This is no great loss, since none of you can read anyway.
– Get rid of TVs, cellphones, computers and all other electronic gizmos. Leave one radio for the entire community.
– Move the nearest hospital or clinic to at least a day’s walk away. Replace the doctor with a midwife.
– Throw away all your bank accounts, stock portfolios, pension plans and insurance policies. Your family has $10 of cash hidden in an empty coffee can.
– Give yourselves a few acres to grow crops on, from which you earn $500 a year. Pay a third of that in land rent and 10 percent to loan sharks.
– Lop off at least 25 years of your life expectancy.

(Robert Heilbroner, “The Great Ascent,” Chapter 2, numbers adjusted for inflation)

By Hielbroner’s comparison, most of us sitting in this worship space today are among the richest people in the world. And it is as rich people that I think you and I are being invited to listen to Jesus today.

Someone once asked John D. Rockefeller “How much wealth does it take to satisfy a person?” To which he replied, “Just a little bit more.”

“MORE” VIDEO

Brothers and sisters, please don’t hear me trying to guilt you into thinking wealth is a bad thing. Wealth is not necessarily wrong or sinful, according to Jesus, but it can expose problems that are. And the primary problem with wealth for those who seek to follow Jesus is revealed when wealth, and acquiring more and more of it, becomes the sole focus of our existence. Instead living out our life in Christ by loving our neighbor as ourselves, we end up loving only ourselves and completely ignore our neighbor.

Saint Augustine said that God gave us people to love and things to use, and sin, in short, is the confusion of these two things.

There’s a great Jimmy Stewart movie from the 1965 called Shenandoah. I’ve always been fond of this Civil War film because my dad was an extra in it. Jimmy Stewart plays a crotchety old farmer that in many ways resembles the farmer in Jesus’ parable today. Here’s how Jimmy Stewart’s character Charlie Anderson prayed at every meal.

“ME PRAYER” VIDEO

Pastor Kathryn Huey is quite passionate about the subject of wealth. This week she wrote, “Jesus knew that material things – no matter how fun and wonderful and lovely and useful they may be – will never truly satisfy us. We will always want more.”

I share Pastor Kathryn’s passion. I have no doubt that our endless quest for more will never satisfy us. And all too often, in our endless quest, we actually end up feeling a lot more like Stanley Johnson.

“STANLEY JOHNSON” VIDEO

Again, I’m not saying that you need to get rid of everything you own and go live in the garden shed in your backyard. Money is not all bad. But in light of the gospel reading before us today, I want us to seriously reflect upon how our attitude toward money affects us and others around us.

I challenge each one of us to take a look in the mirror this week. Is the reflection you see, an individual whose only focus is on acquiring more and more? An individual who is tirelessly building bigger and bigger barns that are filled only with I’s?

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached a sermon in 1967 called “Why Jesus Called a Man a Fool”. In this sermon Dr. King said, “There are a lot of fools around. Because they fail to realize their dependence on others. Finally, this man was a fool,” Dr. King said, “because he failed to realize his dependence on God.”

So when you look in the mirror this week, I hope and pray that the reflection you see is of a beloved child of God who is rich toward God. And in your richness toward God, I hope and pray that you see the reflections of others in that mirror too. Other beloved children of God who love you and who are lived by you – your family and friends; your pastors and community of faith; your brothers and sisters in the body of Christ from every corner of this world.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, God has placed in your hands all that you are and all that you have. Everything, right down to the last breath that you and I take, God has given to us. When we are rich toward God, we live our lives as children who are completely and totally dependent upon God and each other in the body of Christ. You see, in the barns of God’s kingdom, there are no I’s.