Category Archives: Recent Sermons

Stuff & Humility 10.14.2018 Sermon

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPP8iu2SDz4&feature=share

Mark 10:17-31 • October 14, 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.

The devil was on the prowl one day. He was out to get a Christian who’d been hanging around his neighborhood. The devil saw the Christian coming close. He shot one of his fiery arrows. It struck the Christian in the chest. The Christian wasn’t harmed. He had a breastplate of righteousness on to protect him. The devil took another shot. This time at the Christian’s head. That didn’t do anything either. He was protected by the helmet of salvation. The devil figured everyone has an Achilles’ heel. That will do the trick, so he shot at the Christian’s feet. The feet were also protected – by the gospel of peace on which the Christian always stood. The Christian smirked and turned around to walk away. The devil had one more arrow though. He fired and the arrow hit the Christian’s wallet that was in his back pocket. That arrow worked and instantly brought the Christian down.

person holding bible with cross

OK – I’ll admit, that joke is a little shocking. Maybe mildly offensive. But I think it’s also truer that any of us care to admit. Although, I believe it’s not nearly as shocking as the gospel reading we just received from Mark.

On the surface, this gospel reading of the rich man or the rich young man or the rich ruler depending on which gospel you are getting this story from, on the surface I suppose you could say it’s about stewardship. And maybe it is…but is stewardship really only about our wealth or our possessions? What’s in our wallet so to speak?

Stewardship, as defined by Luther Seminary professor Rolf Jacobson, is “believing that everything you own actually belongs to God.” [Crazy Talk: A Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms, pg. 168]

By taking Professor Jacobson’s definition into account, stewardship is not just about the things that we own or the tight grasp we have on our bank accounts or investment portfolios. At the heart of it all, being a steward of God, claiming to live out our faith as a reflection of stewardship, stewardship isn’t only about our stuff. It’s about being humbled to the point of not letting our stuff get in the way of being in relationship with God – who is the real owner of all our stuff and our entire life in the first place. Not just the parts or times when we want God to be around. Our entire life and all that is in it. Always.

achievement adult agreement arms

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Stewardship then, has to be about humility from the very beginning. Being humble enough to know that everything we have and everything that we are, is God’s first, not ours.

The Urban Dictionary’s definition of humility is helpful here. “True humility is to recognize your value and others value while looking up. It is to see there is far greater than ourself into who we can become, who others can become, and how much more we can do and be together. To be humble is to serve others and be for their good as well as your own.” [https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Humility]

The rich man’s challenge in today’s gospel is not in his inability to let go of his things. His challenge and problem is the way his possessions, which also have a lot to do with his status in the community, are blocking him from being concerned with anything else in his life or anyone else around him. He is unable to humble himself to a point where Jesus, and being in relationship with Jesus first and foremost, is more important to him than his possessions or his status in the community.

“Jesus will accept nothing less than our very selves. He wants us, and therefore also wants the things that keep us from him; he gazes upon us in love, even as he calls us to leave behind our false sources of security…eternal life (it) is a gift that claims the entirety of our lives and therefore reshapes our stewardship of whatever earthly goods we do have.” As one pastor shared this week, “Following Jesus is about loving others beyond the rules, beyond the hierarchies, beyond familial loyalty.” [www.sundaysandseasons.com]

During a speaking event in Indianapolis this past week, another pastor, Pastor Andy Stanley, said “People outside our community (of faith) should be envious of how well we treat each other and stunned by how well we treat them.” [http://deepandwidetour.com]

green and white wall plaque

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Like the rich man in today’s gospel reading, you and I know that even though we claim to keep the commandments all the time, we cannot actually do that. Get over yourself if you think you actually can keep all the commandments all the time.

Like the rich man in today’s gospel reading, you and I know that we identify ourselves by our possessions and our status in the community more often than we will ever admit.

Faced with the reality of our own sin, the grip of our possessions and our unending quest to be placed upon a pedestal of greatness, just like the rich man in today’s gospel reading, instead of humbling ourselves before Jesus, we relentlessly cling to our human illusions of power, wealth, and control.

Former President Jimmy Carter, in his book Sources of Strength, said that “God creates us with a variety of needs, desires, interests, talents, and opportunities. But these things don’t define what we’ll be. They’re like the bricks, lumber, wallboard, shingles and tiles we might see piled on the road near a construction site. It’s what we make from the raw elements of our personalities that defines who we are; and this is where priorities and choices are crucial.” [pg. 230]

Do we choose to hold tightly onto those things which keep us away from being in relationship with God through the savior of the world? Do we choose something different, even as Jesus looks upon us and loves us?

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Episcopal Priest Heidi Haverkamp offers a final thought I’d like to share as today’s sermon comes to a close. “Inheriting eternal life in Christ is not about checking off boxes, not even the boxes of the commandments. It is not about achieving extreme-sport levels of prayer or atmospheric levels of spiritual wisdom. Whatever we think eternal life means, perhaps its first lesson is that we cannot earn or create it ourselves. Perhaps the eternal life that Jesus offers means emptying ourselves and our lives rather than accomplishing anything.” [Christian Century, September 26, 2018, pg. 20]

Brothers and sisters in Christ, our culture and the world in which we live today, bombards us with the message that we will find life and eternal happiness in the things we own or the social statuses we achieve. Our life of faith, as people who claim to be followers of the risen savior Jesus, calls us into something in complete opposition to that. As followers of Jesus, we are called to live in ways that always bring life to our neighbor. Which will in turn, bring life to us. I hope and pray that you and I who make up the congregation of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, will not walk away from that opportunity. Amen.

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“A Cup of Water” 09.30.2018 Sermon

Mark 9:38-50 * September 30, 2018

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

I returned just a few days ago from a time of vacation – or rather staycation I should say. It was good.

I had planned to do a lot of things. Nearly every one of my well thought out and well-intentioned plans for this staycation did not actually get done. I guess, once I entered into this time of rest, my body and the Holy Spirit had other plans for this time. It reminded me once again how important regular, intentional times of rest are for one’s body and soul.

Hopefully, I’ll keep that in mind in the coming days and won’t be quite as worn out at the beginning of my next staycation.

In our gospel reading today, the disciples discover that they are not the only ones doing the work of Jesus in the world. By the time the disciples discover this, the good news of Jesus had already extended far beyond the things that only 12 disciples were capable of doing. And they are upset about that. They tell Jesus that they tried to stop him because he’s not part of our group. Jesus doesn’t seem to share their disgust or to be too worried about this outsider’s work on Jesus’ behalf.

Photo Sep 09, 1 47 34 PMDuring my recent staycation, Jesus’ work through Good Shepherd continued in miraculous and amazing ways. This was another reminder for me that this work – God’s work through our congregation – is not only dependent upon me as the Senior Pastor. Or on any one person for that matter. I’ll be brutally honest, sometimes my ego has a problem with that. Jesus doesn’t seem to share that same problem that I have. A problem I have way more often than I care to actually admit.

So, rather than preaching about cutting off our limbs or plucking our eyes out, I felt the Holy Spirit calling me to focus a little attention on Jesus’ exchange with the disciples that led him into these shocking statements about losing body parts in the first place. Losing body parts to describe what should happen when people get in the way of God’s work unfolding in the world through other people.

Image result for cup of waterI’m not all that concerned about losing an eyeball or a leg. As someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus, I’m far more concerned with the ways my own ministry and leadership as a pastor get in the way of God’s work happening through people like those I’ve met recently.

During my staycation, I think learned something new about myself and my faith journey. Things that I hadn’t considered much before I began these few days away from my official duties as a pastor. I discovered once again, that God’s work in the world is not dependent only on me. There are nearly 4,000 brothers and sisters in Christ who are part of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church casting out demons and providing healing to hurting souls and doing miraculous acts of service in the name of Christ every single day.

In the past week or so, I was able to step away from the intensity of my daily work as a pastor and see that maybe I’m the one needing to receive a cup of water once in a while. Maybe I’m not the only one who is able to give someone else a cup of water.

In more ways, than I can begin to share with you today, I’ve been blessed to receive a cup of water from brothers and sisters.

IMG_1354.jpgI’ve received a cup of water from brothers and sisters who are part of our community of faith at Good Shepherd. A congregation who allows their pastors and staff time away for staycations and rest once in a while.

I’ve received a cup of water from brothers and sisters who are not part of our community of faith, yet warmly welcomed a stranger like me into their worship and fellowship. St George'sI’m thankful for God’s work happening through Saint George’s Memorial Episcopal Church.

I’ve received a cup of water from brothers and sisters who don’t believe in God and in a relationship with Jesus in the same way I do. Yet in spite of our theological and biblical interpretation differences, we share a common belief in the good of all humanity in God’s good creation.

The good of God’s creation even though wars rage on endlessly as we long for peace.

The good of God’s creation even though disagreements and death seem more important to us than respect and life.

leaves hang on rope

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The good of God’s creation even as we live in a time and place that is consumed by a seemingly endless barrage of political and personal and professional attacks and rhetoric that seek to destroy the very fabric of all God has created and is creating.

I’ve even received a cup of water from brothers and sisters, who frankly, I’m not sure if they are followers of Jesus at all. But I was blessed by them. I was blessed by them as they cast out demons I was holding on to, provided healing to things that were causing me pain, and quenched thirst deep down in my soul that freed me to live more fully into a much needed time of rest.

Whether any of the people I’ve encountered in the past few weeks during my staycation knew or not – they were doing the work of Jesus in the world. God’s work that was done by a variety of people in a variety of places with a variety of understanding on what they may have actually been doing. God’s work that was a blessing to someone just needing a cup of water.

Jesus said to his disciples some 2,000 years ago and to his disciples gathered together in worship today, “Truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as children of God, who began bearing the name of Christ in the sacred words and holy waters of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, when have you not only given a cup of water to someone but received a cup of water from someone. Maybe even from someone whom you’ve attempted to stop while they were simply trying to do God’s work.

What if this is how our conversation with Jesus might take place today, instead of the way it happens in our gospel story today. What if this is what the disciples of today say to Jesus,

person pouring liquid to another persons cup

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“We saw some people, Lord, who were casting out demons, working for justice, advocating for those who have lost their job and feel left behind, caring for veterans and single mothers, volunteering to feed the hungry and give money to those in need without anyone guilting them into doing so, and so much more, Lord, all in your name. They do not follow us, Lord. In fact, we really disagree with them on a lot of things. But we did not try to stop them, and they gave us a cup of cold water. And that was pretty cool.” [I give thanks for Pastor David Lose’s inspiration for this thought at http://www.inthemeantime.com]

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as you live out your faith in your work and your play this week, how are you receiving a cup of water from someone else. Take a minute to give God thanks when those holy moments happen. Amen.