Category Archives: Recent Sermons

“5 + 2 x 1 = 12” 07.29.2018 Sermon

John 6:1-21 • July 29, 2018

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

If you’re a liturgy geek like me, you have already read the introduction for today’s worship on the front page of your bulletin. And you already noticed that today is the first of five weeks in which we will spend time in the sixth chapter of the gospel of Saint John. And most of those weeks will have a bread theme.

Image result for bread of lifeToday’s gospel is about bread, Jesus feeding a few people in the middle of nowhere, and later in the story, Jesus walking on water. As I’ve studied these two stories and thought about how God is speaking through them today, I was struck by something new this time. Which is good, because to be honest, I grow weary of talking about bread every three years when these readings come around in our worship.

That something new is this time control. Or rather, who’s actually in control.

So often in my life, I’ve thought that I was in control.
Anyone else feel that way. Believe that you are in control??
How’d that turn out for you?Image result for in control

My social media feeds, email inbox, and countless other times each day are full of suggestions for how I can regain control of my life, my job, my rest, my marriage, my happiness. Take control of you the advertisements tell me.

If I’m experiencing success, it’s because I’ve controlled things in such a way as to bring about that success. I’m in charge of all that is mine. And…often times…to be honest…I think I’m pretty darn good at being in control of the greatness that I am. I don’t know, maybe some of you can relate to that. We think we have everything figured out and the things that are happening in our life are happening because we have controlled their happening in the first place.

And then all of a sudden, the winds of life start to blow a little harder and rock the boat a little more. In ways that we hadn’t anticipated or planned for or saved for. We begin to be overtaken by waves of an unexpected change or an unforeseen medical diagnosis. And in those times we question ourselves and wonder if we are still in control? Can I save myself when life seems to be spiraling out of control? Was I really ever in control of anything to begin with?

Image result for storms of lifeHere’s the reality of life in this world and in this body. It’s also why Jesus is so important along this journey. You and I can’t avoid storms. They come to every one of us – the good and the evil, the rich and the poor, the compassionate and the judgmental, even the republicans AND the democrats.

God doesn’t promise, and following Jesus doesn’t eliminate, challenging storms from happening in our life. What God does promise, and what following Jesus does give us, is someone to walk with us during all of life’s hills and valleys and storms. That’s the good news you and I are being invited to receive in our two stories from the gospel of John today. We are not the ones in control. Jesus is. Jesus has always been. And will always be the only one who actually is in control.

Maybe that’s why the miracle story of the feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle story found in all four gospels. It’s that important for us to receive. And maybe that’s why Jesus walking on the water and calming the storm is appropriately connected to the feeding of the 5,000. And maybe that’s why the math equation that is the title of today’s sermon makes sense.

5 + 2 x 1 = 12. That makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

5 loaves of bread, plus 2 fish, multiplied by Jesus – the one who is actually in control, equals 12 baskets of leftovers after everyone has had more than their fill.

Image result for feeding 5,000So let’s back up a little. In the first story of today’s gospel reading, Phillip is faced with an unsolvable problem that he can’t control, even though he thinks he can. Seeing the large crowd pressing in, Jesus asks him, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Phillip, still wanting to control the situation, thinks Jesus may have finally lost his mind.

They are sitting on a hillside after all, far away from a town that can sell them bread, and are nearing the point of having a riot of hungry people on their hands. Phillip’s attempt to control the situation fails because he only thinks about what they don’t have – they don’t have enough money to buy enough bread; rather than what they do have – Jesus, the savior of the world standing right beside them. Giving thanks for what they do have.

Another disciple in this same story has another idea. His idea may possibly give him control of the situation. “There is a boy here” Andrew says, “who has 5 barley loaves and 2 fish.” To which everyone around him replies, “But what are they – 5 loaves of bread or 2 fish – among so many people?”

Throughout this story, who is actually in control here? Not Phillip. Not Andrew. Not the hungry crowd. Not the little boy with the lunch his mom had packed for him before he left home that day.

Jesus is in the middle of all of this. Jesus gives thanks for all that God has provided. All are fed.

And if we go back to the second story for a second. Jesus is there too. And tells the disciples in the boat, and you and me today, do not be afraid. All storms are calmed.

The key piece of the story the disciples find themselves in – whether it’s along a hillside or in a boat or any other location that we encounter them in the gospels…is Jesus. Jesus, who is always in control, even when the disciples least expect him to be. Even when they thought they had everything under control.

Image result for jesus is in controlWhen we finally begin to open ourselves to Jesus being in control, miracles and wonders and other things happen that are far greater than anything we can experience by ourselves or imagine on our own.

The words of our Benediction today will wash over us with blessing and send us into the world to live as followers of Jesus this week. Followers of Jesus who live believing that Jesus is with us always and has everything under control. And if you’re a liturgy geek like me, you’ll notice that the words of today’s Benediction echo the ancient words from the Apostle Paul to the church in Ephesus and the church in Bismarck today.

“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,” Paul proclaims, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, for those of us who claim to follow this Christ Jesus, the equation 5 + 2 x 1 = 12 makes complete and perfect sense. And walking on water is just a simple part of the way our Savior calms life’s unforeseen storms. Jesus has got it covered. Jesus is in control. Thanks be to God that he is. Amen.

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“How Is This Good News?” 07.15.2018 Sermon

Mark 6:14-29 • July 15, 2018

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

Whenever this gospel reading comes along in our worship – which is every 3 years in case you didn’t know – I hesitate a little to conclude the reading by saying “The Gospel of our Lord.” After all – the gospel is the good news of our Lord. The good news of God’s love for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. How in any way are these 15 verses of the gospel of Mark good news?

John the Baptist – Jesus’ close relative and first proclaimer of the good news of the Messiah coming into the world – is in prison. Although many seem to think he’s already dead.

 

Herod’s wife used to be his brother’s wife. And she seems like someone who holds onto grudges by seeking revenge. Revenge at any cost.

 

Herod’s wife used to be his brother’s wife. And she seems like someone who holds onto grudges by seeking revenge. Revenge at any cost.

Herod’s daughter is dancing at her father’s party. Dancing in ways that are pleasing to her father and his guests. One can only imagine what kind of incestuous dancing this may have been.

Herod gets caught in a trap to murder John the Baptist by his wife and daughter, even though he is intrigued by John’s teaching and proclamation. Herod even protects John.

Jesus is never mentioned. In fact, this is the only story in the gospel of Mark in which Jesus doesn’t even make an appearance.

How is this gospel? How is this good news?

We are spending the bulk of our worship time this year in the gospel of Mark. It’s the shortest of the 4 gospels and definitely the fastest moving. It’s also the gospel that spends the greatest amount of time on the story of John the Baptist. A story of intrigue, greed, revenge, murder, and family dysfunction that extends far beyond anything that I have ever witnessed.

Why is this shocking story so important to Mark’s telling of who Jesus is?
One possible answer to that question might be found in the recent writing of Dr. Leroy Huizenga, a theology professor at the University of Mary.

His most recent book is called “Loosing the Lion.” It focuses entirely on the gospel of Mark. The first words of Professor Huizenga’s book solidify why I think today’s gospel reading is important for us to receive – even if it only appears once every 3 years. “Our age is numb.” Huizenga writes, “It’s numb to beauty, to goodness, to truth, because it’s numb to grace, and ultimately numb to God.”

He uses these opening words to remind us of the shocking ways in which the gospel of Mark tells us the beautiful story of the good news of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world.
In other words, today’s gospel reading may not seem like good news on the surface. But if we dig just a little deeper – something that you and I are not always willing to do in our faith journey – we will discover something much more. Something that will bring forth gospel and restore new life in each one of us and the neighbors that God places on our path along the way.

A time long ago, but a time in human history and society quite similar to today, theologian G.K. Chesterton wrote, “It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, but tried and found difficult.” Or in my own words, being a follower of Jesus ain’t always easy. And if you think it is, I question whether or not it’s Jesus you’re actually following.

The Jesus we follow did not die in a quiet and peaceful way at the time and place of his choosing. The Jesus that we follow was crucified on a cross. One of the most painful and destructive forms of death to ever exist in the history of humankind.

It

is in the shadow of that cross we live and move and have our being as followers of Jesus. It is in the shadow of that same cross that makes the story of John the Baptist that much more significant for our own lives and our time.

John the Baptist’s proclaiming the coming of the Messiah results in his head showing up on a platter for Herod’s daughter. And 10’s of thousands of other followers of Jesus throughout the centuries have found a similar fate as John the Baptist because of their proclamation of Jesus as Lord.

I’ve prayed a lot about that recently. What have I done, or better yet, what am I doing today as a follower of Jesus, the might warrant my head on a platter – metaphorically or otherwise? Or, am I too chicken to actually live out my faith in words and deeds that may cause a little risk to my being and the relatively comfortable lifestyle I enjoy?

You see, brothers and sisters in Christ, you and I live in a broken world that continues to mirror the story of John’s beheading. We have all been part of a similar story at one time or another.

Persons in power deflecting fault.

Times when we have sought revenge at all costs on those who have been bold enough to speak truth to us.

Making vane promises that we know will cause harm to others if we ever have to, in fact, bring those promises into reality.

Lording power over another part of God’s creation because we think they are somehow less important to God than we are.

In the words of Pastor David Lose this past week, “Herod’s beheading of John seems rather brutal, something we look for on Game of Thrones but are surprised to see in a Gospel (conveniently forgetting, of course, the brutality of the cross!). Yet are Herod’s actions really all that far from the callous manipulations of power we see today?” Pastor Lose boldly asks. And then, offers this concluding thought. “This is our world and our story, and perhaps we forget that only because we have become so numbingly accustomed to seeing it play out daily in the headlines.” [www.inthemeantime.com]

It is my hope and prayer that we haven’t become numb – like Professor Huizenga and Pastor Lose suggest. Or have somehow forgotten that following Jesus may in fact not be as easy as we think it is. But if we have become numb to God or forgotten what following Jesus is all about, I hope and pray that the shocking good news that we are invited to receive from the gospel of Saint Mark today gives us pause to recommit ourselves to this work. And for that, I give God thanks and praise.

Like Herod, you and I are invited each and every day to really listen to the challenging voice of God in our day and age and to turn away from the lures and temptations that attempt to seduce us away from loyalty to God. And like John the Baptist…through us – through you and through me – God speaks words of peace, love, forgiveness, and mercy. Words of truth that challenge the world’s appetite toward violence, hatred, deceit, judgment, and ultimately death. [sundaysandseasons.com]

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I’m grateful for your commitment to this work. Commitment to this call that following Jesus invites us into. As we await God’s final redemption of the world, may we continue to be beacons of God’s love for all of God’s children. After all, that’s all John the Baptist was trying to do. That’s the gospel of our Lord. And that most definitely is good news indeed. Amen.