Monthly Archives: October 2013

“Promises, Promises, Promises” – Confirmation Worship Sermon 10.27.2013

John 8:31-36 • October 27, 2013

Click here to view a video of this sermon.

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

How many of us gathered here for worship on this day of great celebration have ever made a promise?

Fantastic – now…keep your hand in the air if you to this day have kept and completely fulfilled every promise you have ever made.

OK…interesting isn’t it?

This is a great day of celebration. A day in which the people of God gather to celebrate promises. The question I always have though, is will the promises that we celebrate on festive days like this in the church last beyond today? Or are they only kept for this particular day?

The promises that I’m speaking of have been part of the church since its very earliest days. Literally, for centuries words like these have been spoken at the beginning of every celebration of the sacrament of Holy Baptism – “In baptism our gracious heavenly Father frees us from sin and death by joining us to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are born children of a fallen humanity; by water and the Holy Spirit we are reborn children of God and made members of the church, the body of Christ. Living with Christ and in the communion of the saints, we grow in faith, love, and obedience to the will of God.”

Those are words that we hear at every celebration of the sacrament of Holy Baptism at Good Shepherd. They set our life in Christ in motion. And they contain a promise – not made by you or by your parents or by your pastor or even by your sponsors or God parents. This is a promise from God. God promising you and claiming you as God’s own child. And I’d argue, that it’s probably the only promise that you and I receive that will not be broken.

So, some of you may be thinking that this is a sort of graduation day, I mean you have the graduation gowns on even. I want you to know that this day is in fact NOT a graduation, especially NOT your graduation day from day from church. Brothers and sisters in Christ who are about to participate in the Rite of Confirmation, this day, your confirmation day, is when you will stand before this congregation and make promises. Promises that I hope and pray with everything that I am as one of your pastors that you will live out throughout your life. Joyfully keeping these promises because you believe that God is present in your life and that your savior Jesus loves you and wants to live in relationship with you in all that you say and do and everywhere you will ever be.

The white robe that you wear today is not a sign of your graduation. It’s a sign of the promises that you make. And a reminder of the promises that God made to you in your baptism, and that God makes with you today in your confirmation, and that God will continue to make with you for the rest of your life in this world and for all of eternity with the communion of saints.

And to make this an even greater day of celebration, God was not the only one making promises when you were baptized. Promises were also made by parents and family, sponsors and godparents, and a Christian community of faith. The promises these individuals who love you made freed you to experience God through other people who care deeply for you and the world that God makes. Freed you to experience God during times of worship and opportunities to serve your neighbor. Freed you to experience God through activities like confirmation where you were taught significant aspects of Christian faith and life like the importance of a lifetime commitment to reading and study of holy scripture and a deeper understanding of elements that are central to Christian faith like the Lord’s Prayer, the creed, and the ten commandments.

So, comfirmands, today is your day. Today, in confirmation, is your day of promise. Your day of promising to continue your life in Christ that began in your baptism. Your day of promising that you will give thanks for everyone who has helped you get to this day.

Your day of making promises to God that you intend to keep. In a few minutes you will promise to…

Pray for God’s world and ask for God’s presence in your life.

  • Prayer is a central avenue of conversation with God. It is way more exciting and revealing than only something we do before a big test or sporting event.

You will promise to worship among God’s faithful people.

  • Our life of worship goes way beyond worshiping only at Christmas and Easter or weddings and funerals. And this promise doesn’t mean that you only should worship at Good Shepherd – find a community of faith that you feel welcome in and worship with them regularly.

You will promise to read and study the bible.

  • The bible can be a big scary collection of books – especially if you never enter into it. Get involved in a bible study group and take time to hear God speak to you through this sacred texts. As a matter of fact, I know of a bible study group that is forming right now in this congregation specifically for men and women your age.

You will promise to serve others in all that you say and do. And work for justice and peace in every facet of your life.

  • I think service to your neighbor is pretty self-explanatory, but I’d like to point out that justice and peace do not involve tailgating in traffic or lewd gestures to another human being informing them that they are number one or engaging in destruction behaviors that involve abuse of sex or drugs or alcohol

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we celebrate with you today. We celebrate the promise that God made in claiming you as a child of God in your baptism. We celebrate the ways promises have been fulfilled by parents and pastors; God parents and communities of faith that have brought you to this day. And we celebrate the many ways that God will continue to work through you in the coming days as you live your life in Christ out of the promises that you make today. My hope and prayer is that you are richly blessed in all of these promises. And even more so, my hope and prayer is that you are a rich blessing to others because of these promises. Amen.

“For What Do the Children of God Pray…?” 10.20.2013 Sermon

Luke 18:1-8

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 risen Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

Many of you may be thinking or feeling this, so I want to throw it out there right away. The gospel reading that is before us today is difficult. To be honest, it might be one of my least favorite texts in the entire bible. I want you to know that you’re not alone in any of those thoughts or feelings. But you know what, there are many things other than these few verses of scripture that I don’t think we will ever understand either, especially in this life.

I mean, why do doctors and lawyers call what they do practice?

Why is abbreviation such a long word?

Why is a boxing ring square?

What was the best thing before sliced bread?

How do they get the deer to cross the road only where those yellow signs are posted?

And my guess is that all of us have days when we feel a little bit like Norm from one of my all-time favorite sitcoms, Cheers. Norm walks into the bar and Sam the bartender asks him, “How’s it going, Norm?” To which Norm pretty matter of factly says, “It’s a dog eat dog world out there, Sammy, and I’m wearing Milk Bone underwear.”

So if these eight verses of scripture from our gospel reading today are the only verses from the bible that you have ever heard, I won’t be surprised if you are looking for the nearest exit so you can get out of here as quickly as possible. Or maybe you’ve claimed to be a follower of Jesus your entire life, but after hearing today’s parable from the gospel of Saint Luke – you feel like throwing your arms up in the air and shouting to God, “You know what God, I give up! I just don’t get it.”

Don’t give up too quickly though, the gospel reading today might seem a little challenging, but at the heart of it, I think it’s also very encouraging. Prayer is central to Jesus ministry and teaching throughout Luke’s gospel. So the question that I’ve wrestled with while preparing for today is, what is Jesus trying to say about prayer through this challenging parable.

Prayer, after all, is one of the core disciplines or practices that Christians are invited to focus attention on in their life in Christ. And I would claim that we are to take spiritual practices like prayer way more seriously than simply viewing them as something we’re invited to do if we are able to squeeze it into our day or feel like doing it from time to time. As people who claim to be followers of the risen savior Jesus, I believe that we are expected to live out spiritual practices like prayer in response to God’s love for us through Jesus Christ.

And I can’t say this strongly enough, when I say that I believe spiritual practices are as significant to our life in Christ as is breathing or eating to our physical body. If we’re ever going to experience life in Christ at its fullest as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, believe it or not, we actually need to participate. But too often, spiritual practices like prayer fall by the wayside just like others do – regular worship in community gets in the way of seemingly more important activity or we think that serving our neighbor is too much of a burden to us or giving of our resources is really not necessary for making a difference in the world or taking time to experience rest once in a while is only for the lazy.

You and I are distracted by many things. If you’ve ever felt like you don’t pray enough or think you don’t know how to pray in the right way or maybe it’s something that you’ve given up on a long time ago because you feel that you just aren’t very good at it, Jesus says to you today, “pray always and do not lose heart.”

One of the great teachers on spiritual practices over the last thirty years or so is Richard Foster. He formed an organization called Renovere’ many years ago that travels around the world teaching people like you and me about spiritual practices and how to incorporate them into our daily life. Actually, they’re going to be at the University of Mary right here in Bismarck in a few weeks teaching about that very thing at a conference called Renew. I encourage you to check it out – I’m planning to be there. Anyway, Foster writes this about prayer – “To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives.” [Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, pg. 33]

Foster claims that prayer transforms us. Transformation through prayer is one thing, but before we get there we should probably take a step back and consider Pastor Kathryn Huey’s thoughts on prayer. Because she wonders, “how many of us Christians are ‘deeply engaged’ with Christianity. Jesus wanted his followers to do more than pray as a habit or a requirement.”

Prayer, for followers of Jesus is not like remembering to brush your teeth each morning. Barbara Brown Taylor suggests that prayer, “keeps our hearts chasing after God’s heart. It’s how we bother God, and it’s how God bothers us back.” Like the widow in today’s gospel reading – be persistent in your prayer. And by persistence all of your prayers should not be about asking for your favorite football team to win a game. If prayer is transforming us, the prayer that we offer to God better involve more than winning football games.

And I also believe that if we are truly transformed through prayer in our life in Christ, our response to the deepening relationship with God that takes root in our hearts through prayer should cause change in us that everyone around us will notice.

Pastors Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne recently wrote a book together called “Red Letter Revolution” The subtitle to this wonderful book is “What if Jesus Really Meant What He Said?” Pastor Shane reflects about the transforming change that prayer can cause in God’s children. He says, “I’ve learned that prayer is not just about trying to get God to do what we want God to do but about getting ourselves to do what God wants us to do. Training ourselves to be the kind of people God wants us to be.

A lot of times,” Pastor Shane says, “we use prayer as a way of excusing ourselves from action. You know, when you share a deep dilemma you face and someone says, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ often they are really sincere and don’t know what else they can do. And we do need to prayer for each other. But sometimes when someone says, ‘I’ll pray about that,’ it is code for ‘I’m not going to do anything else for you.’ So we have to be careful that prayer and action go together. If we hear someone asking for prayer over and over because they need work done on their leaky roof, we should keep praying, but we might also get off our butts and get some people together to fix the roof! When we ask God to move a mountain, God may give us a shovel.”

Maybe when Jesus said, “Pray always and do not lose heart.” He really isn’t all that interested in whether we are always praying in the right way or in the right location or even for the right things. He simply wants us to pray and to not be surprised when we are transformed by it. Brothers and sisters in Christ, for what do the children of God pray…?