Monthly Archives: August 2019

“Remember the Sabbath” 08.25.2019 Sermon

Luke 13:10-17 • August 25, 2019

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord of all healing and savior of the world Jesus the Christ. Amen.

This week gives me an opportunity to remind everyone in worship that your pastors, in fact, do not select the scripture readings we receive each week in worship. And thanks be to God for that truth. You see, if your pastors were the ones who decided which scripture readings we would use, I firmly believe the list of those readings would be quite short and the readings before us today – especially the gospel reading – would probably not be on that list.

Good Shepherd, and the majority of congregations in our denomination of the ELCA and dozens of our sister Christian denominations around the world, follow something known as the Revised Common Lectionary. The Revised Common Lectionary was first developed in the late 1960’s.

It’s a 3-year sequence of readings that walk us through the bulk of the Bible as one Old Testament, Psalm, New Testament, and Gospel reading are assigned for each Sunday and festival day of the church year.

The gospel reading from Saint Luke that is before us today is a story of Jesus teaching in the synagogue. This particular story is only found in Luke’s gospel. Even though it is unique to Luke’s gospel, it is not unique to the overarching picture that all four gospels are trying to show us regarding who Jesus is and what Jesus has come into the world to do.

There are three prominent themes in this text – Sabbath and what the practice of Sabbath may or may not mean; healing or exorcism of a woman suffering from the bondage of none other than Satan himself; and, a conflict that breaks out between Jesus and the religious leaders of the synagogue.

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The Sabbath. I hope that most of us know that keeping Sabbath is one of the 10 Commandments. It’s the third commandment actually – “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” And in our Catechism we learn the meaning of this commandment that “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.”

The challenge with the Sabbath is that culture, over thousands of years of human arrogance and sin, has driven you and me away from what I believe God actually intended the Sabbath to be.

Now, If you didn’t know that insight about the third commandment and Sabbath, maybe you recall the origination of Sabbath as it’s found within the seven days of creation in Genesis, the second chapter of the first book of the Bible. In that chapter, we hear “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day, God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day and hallowed it because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.”

Now, for some faith traditions, the Sabbath is to be observed on Saturday, for others it’s Sunday. And for many of my pastoral colleagues, it’s a different day of the week entirely.

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First of all, it’s impossible for us to think about the seven days of creation as seven 24-hour days like we have today. Our seven 24-hour days in a week system of time has only existed for 4,000-5,000 years or so. And regardless of how old you think creation is, the way we have kept time over the past 5,000 or so years is far different than the way time was kept at the beginning of creation. Or even the way I think the time is kept today by God.

What I’m trying to get at is this, if Sabbath-keeping for you is only about a prescribed time of the week or a particular day or certain practices that you must follow using a prescribed set of rules, you might be getting caught up in things which actually have nothing to do with what Sabbath-keeping is all about. I think this is at the heart of what Jesus is showing us in today’s gospel reading. And I do think it’s the reason why the religious leader is so upset by Jesus healing on the Sabbath.

On my calendar, Mondays are blocked off as my Sabbath day. Of the 52 Mondays in 2019, I’m hoping for about 15 of them to be actual Sabbath days. When my phone rings or I get a late-night text message or email, I do my best to answer. And often those calls to serve God’s children just so happen to fall on what is scheduled to be my Sabbath day.

Just because I fail to keep Monday sacred and set aside from any form of work more often than not, does not mean that I’m ignoring the Sabbath. If I was in fact blatantly ignoring Sabbath, I couldn’t stand before you today as one of your pastors and a fellow child of God claiming to follow this Jesus. Very simply and directly put, I do not believe that one can be a follower of Jesus and intentionally ignore God’s command to remember the Sabbath.

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One theologian’s thoughts on Sabbath were helpful for me to hear again this week – “Maybe ‘Remember the Sabbath’ is being too polite about it.” He said. “There’s no ‘thou shalt’ or ‘thou shalt not.’ Perhaps a rewording is in order. Something like: (God saying to us…) ‘Hey, … ! What is wrong with you people? 168 hours in a week is not enough for you? I ask you to set aside just one day so that you can rest up long enough to be renewed for the coming week, and what do you do? Double overtime, 80-hour workweeks, and supercenters open 24/7! How are you ever going to slow down long enough so that you can gather together in Christian worship and sit still long enough to hear the Word that I have to share with you? Stop! Listen!” [Crazy Talk, Rolf Jacobson, pg. 150]

When God entered the seventh day of creation, he didn’t simply push it aside and ignore all he had created in order to make sure he had time to take a nap. God hallowed what had been created. Hallow – another one of those crazy church words. It means to make holy or to set apart.

In other words, the Sabbath is not about being lazy and making sure you can selfishly take a nap. The Sabbath is about time you intentionally set aside in order to see what is already holy before you. In order to be drawn closer to God.

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I gravitate quite freely and am getting better at openly admitting that I’m a bit of a workaholic. Having this tendency, and being called to serve in the vocation of pastor where the opportunity to work is always before me, there are more times than I care to admit when Sabbath-keeping is challenging. The reality is today’s gospel reading should be on my shortlist of scripture. It might help remind me of the many times hypocrisy enters into my speech, especially when I’m tired because I’ve been working too many hours; times when Satan cripples my ability to see God’s beauty in all of God’s good creation and all of God’s children; times when I need to let Jesus touch me, without even asking him to touch me, in order to be healed, so my heart can be opened and my spirit can be renewed in the regular rhythm of remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy.

In our gospel reading today, 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. And it begins with great joy as healing happens on the Sabbath.

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 in Jesus’ day didn’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 Satan.

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What does Sabbath look like for you today?

Where in your life is Satan overpowering you?

Where in your life is the chaos and noise of this world blocking your ability to hear Jesus say to you “you are set free from your ailment?”

Where in your life are the rules and regulations you’re hanging onto so tightly destroying your very soul and causing your heart to be closed to the new thing God is doing in your life, in our community, in our world?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this “is what God has given us in the Sabbath – the gift of reconnecting with our soul, the gift of reconnecting with God, the gift of once again realizing what freedom of life means. It is the chance to once again stand up straight and praise God for all that we are and all that we will become. It is the freedom to be what God intended us to be.” [https://journeytopenuel.com/2016/08/14/proper-16c-the-sabbath-is-calling/]

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Amen.


“We Are Church: A Sermon on Division & Unity” 08.18.19

Luke 12:49-56 * August 18, 2019

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

If you remember the gospel reading from last week as we began this journey through the twelfth chapter of the gospel of Saint Luke, you may recall the tone of that teaching from Jesus to be a bit more gentle. And I would argue with Pastor Julie’s thesis that mathematics is God’s language. I do not believe that. I guess we’d be divided on that thesis.

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And you know what, that’s ok. After all, we are church.

I have a dear mentor and friend, a former Bishop in our denomination, who has his own theory about math and the church. He’s told me many times over the years that he believes Lutherans are bad at math. “We spend way to much time focused on subtraction and division,” he’d say, “rather than addition and multiplication.” The longer I am called to serve as a Lutheran pastor, the more prophetic and true I think this retired Bishop’s thoughts on mathematics and the church are. But we are still called to be church.

500 years ago, in essence, there was one Lutheran denomination that emerged out of the Reformation – whether Martin Luther wanted a new church to come out of the Reformation or not is beside the point. Today, as far as I can figure out – remember I’m not much of a math person – there are more than 150 Christian denominations around the world who identify themselves as Lutheran. More than 150 different kinds of Lutheran denominations. We are church?

IRelated image don’t believe the division we’ve seen in the Lutheran Christian movement over the past five centuries is the kind of division Jesus is speaking of in the gospel of Luke. It’s not the same thing. But I do believe with everything I am as a follower of Jesus, that the division we continue to see in the Lutheran world, and really all of Christian world, breaks God’s heart. I do not believe this is what God hoped would happen in our world when he sent Jesus into it. I do not believe that the divided church today is what Jesus intended to have happen. We are church.

If you’re only image of Jesus is that of a gentle, shepherd with a quiet voice, someone who is kind of a pushover, I invite you to spend some time re-reading the gospel text that’s in front of us today.

Jesus saying “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” Doesn’t exactly give us a picture of a gentle Jesus.

Jesus saying, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”  Doesn’t exactly plant in my mind a gentle shepherd sitting by a lakeshore sharing stories that are easy to understand and apply to my life in ways that I can control. Ways that I’ll then apply to my life as I see the need. Ways that I can choose to do or not do in three easy steps from the comfort of my living room couch.

Jesus calling us “hypocrites” doesn’t exactly speak to unconditional love and acceptance and encouragement to continue destroying each other and sinning without thought of how it hurts us and our neighbors. We are church.

Today’s gospel reading is one of the only times where I think Jesus is actually a bit ticked off. He doesn’t like the way things are and the way they seem to continue to be. Remember, Jesus didn’t come in to the world to start a new church or religious denomination because he disagreed with the one that was already here. He came because God knew that we needed a savior. God knew that we were going to screw things up and it was only because of a savior that we were ever going to be able to start getting any of this right. We are church.

Jesus wasn’t talking about division in the ways we think about it today. I mean, come on, if I just say the word division, every one of you immediately has a picture in your mind of what that looks like for you in our world today. Our sin-filled world continues to be fed by division and it seems to get more and more divided with each passing day. Our unquenchable thirst and appetite for division didn’t surprise God 2,000 years ago. And I don’t believe it surprises God today.

Which is why Jesus is so eager to light a fire. Because it’s a fire of change. A fire of God’s goodness and activity in the world. A fire that will bring about God’s kingdom now. No wonder why Jesus is so excited to get this thing started. It’s really too bad that we still miss that today. After all, we are church.

Image result for we are churchI just returned from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Churchwide Assembly. This Assembly meets every three years and is the highest legislative and policy-making body of our church. I was not a voting member. However, this was my fourth Churchwide Assembly. I participate as part of the worship leadership team. I’m grateful for the invitation to help with leading worship each day of the Assembly.

And I’m grateful that we have something called a Churchwide Assembly in our denomination – they do a lot of good things. They also do a lot of things that leave me scratching my head for a long time after the dust of a Churchwide Assembly has settled.

The theme of this year’s Churchwide Assembly was simply “We are Church.”

There are policy decisions that were made at this year’s Churchwide Assembly that I’m not sure I will ever agree on, but I am thankful that the we in “We are Church” still includes me. Maybe that uncomfortable feeling I have in cases of decisions made that I don’t agree with is a little of the fire that Jesus is speaking of in today’s gospel reading. Fire that is challenging me to rethink my theological understanding of something. Challenging me to be open to a new way of doing something. Challenging me to stay connected to my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ that we call the church even as I struggle with my own belief.

There are also decisions that were made at this year’s Churchwide Assembly that I celebrate and cheer. But I know in the shadow of my celebration, there is someone who is grieving or even angry at the same time. Sin calls me to just push them aside. Jesus calls me to not be a hypocrite and to interpret the present time as an opportunity to offer care for the one I may have already pushed away. We are church.

Pastor Debbie Thomas wrote this week that, “If ‘tender Jesus, meek and mild’ is what we prefer, then this week’s text is not for us. If feel-good religion is the comfort zone we refuse to leave, then we’re missing out, because the peace of God is about so much more than good feelings. Or to put it differently, if neither you nor anyone within your sphere of influence has ever been provoked, disturbed, surprised, or challenged by your life of faith, then things are not okay in your life of faith.” We are church.

By the end of the Churchwide Assembly week, aside from being exhausted mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, I was also very grateful. Grateful to have discovered anew how holy and beautiful the theme “We are Church” is. And how grateful I am to be able to be part of this thing called church. I am a long way from agreeing with everything we do together as a denomination or everything we do together as the congregation of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church for that matter, but in everything you and I do together as followers of the risen savior of Jesus … “We are Church.”

I hope and pray that God continues to want us to be church for a long time to come. And I hope and pray that Jesus lights a fire in each one of us in ways that inspire us to get better at math – math that involves addition and multiplication rather than subtraction and division. Because we are church. Amen.