Tag Archives: Frederick Buechner

“Everything? Truly I Tell You, Everything” Sermon 10.14.2012

Mark 10:17-31 • 10/14/2012

Click here to hear an audio recording of this sermon.

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

A shepherd was tending his flock in a remote pasture when suddenly a brand-new Cadillac Escalade appeared out of a dust cloud, raced toward him and came to a stop right in front of him as the tires screeched to a halt. The driver was a well-groomed and well-dressed young man wearing all the latest in fashion. His suit alone was worth more money than the shepherd had seen in his entire life. This Cadillac driving, designer suit-wearing man leaned out the window and asked the shepherd, “If I can tell you exactly how many sheep you have in your flock, will you give me one?”

The shepherd looked at the young man, then at his peacefully grazing flock, and calmly answered, “Sure.”

The young man parked the Escalade, whipped out his Macbook Pro computer, connected it to his iPhone, surfed over to a NASA website where he called up a GPS satellite navigation system and scanned the area in which the flock of sheep were grazing. He then opened up a database and created a few spreadsheets with complex formulas.

Finally – he printed out a 150 page report on his miniaturized wireless printer, turned around to the shepherd and said, “You have exactly 1,586 sheep in your flock!”

“Amazing! That’s correct!” said the shepherd. “Like I agreed, you can take one of my sheep.”

The shepherd watched the man make a selection and bundle it into his Escalade. When he was finished the shepherd said, “If I can tell you exactly what you do for a living, where you’re from and who you work for, will you give me my sheep back?”

“OK, why not,” answered the young man.

“You work for an agricultural consulting firm from Palm Beach and you have never actually worked in agriculture in any way, shape, or form outside of a corporate board room,” said the shepherd.

“Wow! I guess that’s correct,” said the young man. “How did you ever know that?”

“Easy,” answered the shepherd. “Nobody called you, but you showed up here anyway. You want to be paid for providing a solution to a question I already knew the answer to. And you clearly don’t know squat about agriculture, especially shepherding sheep. Now…can I have my dog back?”

Have you ever tried to be a consultant for God? Showed up out of the blue and asked God a list of questions concerning things that you want or need – or at least think you need. You expect answers from God, of course, even though you have already formulated the answers you are planning to hear long before you even bothered to ask the question?

Or does something like this sound familiar, “OK God, just get me out of this jam that I’m in and I’ll be in church every Sunday for the rest of my life.”

I think the rich man in our gospel reading today is being genuine when he approaches Jesus. He kneels before Jesus after all as he asks the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He is a successful person in the community. And a large measure of his success has probably been because he’s had complete control in most of the decisions he’s made. I don’t think the intent of his question is to trap Jesus like the Pharisees do when they ask him questions. I think this man is genuinely interested in his relationship with God. I think he really is seeking to become a follower of Jesus. He wants to know what he has to do. By doing something though, he remains in control – not only of his stuff, but also of his eternal life. After all, he seems to have maintained pretty good control when it came to keeping the law – why can’t he do the same with eternal life? But Jesus knows there is something in the way. You and I and the rich man have things like wealth that constantly get in the way of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Jesus tells the man to go and sell everything he owns. The point Jesus is making is that you can’t do something to inherit eternal life. You can only receive.

Author and Pastor Max Lucado once put it this way as he envisioned what Jesus might say to the rich man. I think his thoughts speak to you and me today too. Lucado wrote, “What you want costs far more than what you can pay. You don’t need a system, you need a Savior. You don’t need a resume, you need a Redeemer…God does not save us because of what we’ve done. Only a puny god could be bought with tithes. Only an egotistical god would be impressed with our pain. Only a temperamental god could be satisfied by sacrifices. Only a heartless god would sell salvation to the highest bidders. And only a great God does for his children what they can’t do for themselves.”

The rich man’s wealth, and your wealth and my wealth too, can’t buy anything in God’s kingdom. All we can do as children of God is receive.

We have all probably heard the saying, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” It’s a thought that I see limiting our life in Christ in a very negative way. It simplifies our life in Christ to only be about a final journey to heaven. Heaven is some place “out there” or “up there” out of our reach or experience. And if we live good lives and are not bad little boys and girls, when we die, we will go to heaven.

Theologian Frederick Buechner said, “We think of eternal life, if we think of it at all, as what happens when life ends.” Buechner says this instead, “We would do better to think of it (eternal life) as what happens when life begins.” [Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC, Frederick Buechner, pg. 25-26]

Jesus was never controlled by possessions, as the rich man was, or as you and I often are, as our churches seem to be at times. The rich man in today’s gospel held so tightly to his stuff that his stuff had completely taken over who he was or would ever be. He couldn’t let go in order to simply receive what Jesus was offering.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, take note of what Jesus does in verse 21 of today’s gospel reading. Even though the rich man can’t let go of his stuff, Jesus looks at him and loves him. Jesus wasn’t adding to his burdens or wealth or possessions, he was offering him a loving and gracious invitation to begin life.

What’s possessing you today? Your wealth? Your job? The stuff in your garage? Needing to feel like you are in control of everything that happens? Jesus doesn’t want you to add more things to your life that burden and possess you. He simply wants you and everything that makes you, you – including the things that keep you from God, in order for you to live. And you know what – Jesus looks at you too. And loves you, simply for being you. Amen.

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“Have You Washed Today?” 09.02.2012 Sermon

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 & James 1:17-27 • September 2, 2012

Click here to hear an audio recording of this sermon.

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

It’s always easy to pick on the Pharisees when they come up in our scripture readings, isn’t it. How about a few Pharisee jokes in the style of redneck comedian Jeff Foxworthy to get us started.

You might be a Pharisee if you’ve ever shouted, “Amen!” more than 51 times during a single sermon…about somebody else’s sin.

You might be a Pharisee if you think the world would be a better place…if everyone were just like you.

You might be a Pharisee if you’re sure nobody…has ever had to forgive you.

You might be a Pharisee if you go to church…to prove you’re good.

You might be a Pharisee if you leave worship today…thinking that you didn’t get anything from it because you didn’t like the singing or how Holy Communion was served.

It’s easy to laugh a little at the first two. For most of us the last three might actually sting a little. When we see and hear the Pharisees gathering around Jesus, it’s easy to pick on them and think, “Wow, these guys are sure full of themselves, aren’t they?”

But let’s not too quickly forget the words that we heard from the book of James today and ask ourselves if we are “like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.” (Verse 23-24)

We need to back up for just a minute. For the past several weeks our worship has centered on Jesus being the “bread of life” and the “bread come down from heaven” as we’ve walked through the dense and complex sixth chapter of the gospel of John. This week we return to the gospel of Mark. By this point in Mark, Jesus has been busy – feeding five thousand, walking on water, healing the sick. Today’s encounter is between Jesus and a few Pharisees. And these are not just any ordinary old Pharisees. These Pharisees are from Jerusalem. They are the cream of the crop. The best of the best. Not only highly regarded within the Temple, but across nearly every facet of Jewish life. People knew who these guys were and looked to them for insight and direction and understanding regarding every aspect of life – spiritual and secular. They’re questioning Jesus on deep seated traditions in the community. Traditions that go much further than simply keeping Jewish law. Jesus quickly cuts to the chase and quotes the prophet Isaiah, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.”

Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisees and the crowds that are gathered is to say that these traditions are human creations, not from God.

Lutheran theologian Frederick Buechner imagines our life in Christ a little like a young child learning to play the piano. Buechner thought, “The child holds her hands just as she’s been told…she has memorized the piece of music perfectly. She has hit all the proper notes with deadly accuracy. But her heart is not in it, only her fingers. What she’s playing is a sort of music, but nothing that will start voices singing or feet tapping.”

When it comes to our faith and our life in Christ, I want to ask you a question: Are our hearts in it or only our fingers? That’s what I hear Jesus asking you and me today.

Are we majoring in the minor things? We worship God with our words and the physical presence of our bodies sitting in beautiful sanctuaries like this one and ignore that God is part of our lives as soon as we walk out the door – never giving the words, “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.” a chance to be implanted on our hearts before we leave and run off to chase the next thing we have to check off of our to do list.

I think that might be why I’ve been struggling with this gospel reading in Mark this week. As one of your pastors, I won’t stand before you and yell at you for having feelings or thinking thoughts or doing things that you know are wrong. I can’t formulate some sort of personalized strategic plan for you that will bring about a radical change in your financial wealth or emotional well being. I can’t shower you with enough guilt that may actually cause you to behave differently for a few seconds after you leave worship today.

You see, Jesus is not only attacking the Pharisees and the traditions they are trying to protect. In fact, his direct criticism is to the human being. Eleven times in the seventh chapter of Mark, the Greek word anthrōpos is used, which translates as “human being” or “person”.

Duke Divinity School New Testament Professor Joel Marcus says that, “The basic problem Christians should be concerned about is not how or what one should eat but the internal corruption of the anthrōpos. It is this malignancy that chokes the life out of tradition, turns it into an enemy of God, contorts it into a way of excusing injustice, and blinds those afflicted by it to their own culpability for the evils that trouble the world.” [Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8 (Anchor Bible 27; New York; Doubleday, 2000), 460-461]

Brothers and sisters in Christ – in the middle of all the evil that we face in this world. In the middle of all the things that come out of us that defile us. You see, I will never stop reminding you that you have a God who loves you and claims you as his own. I will never stop praying that you live your life in the promise of resurrection, with joy and thanksgiving that God has freed you from sin and death in your baptism. I will never stop celebrating Holy Communion with you and hope that in our celebration of the sacrament you are fed and strengthened and then feel called to be a blessing to your neighbor in all that you say and do. I will never stop believing that our God comes to every one of us, broken anthrōpos that we are, and says to each one of us, I love you. I forgive you. You are mine. This God lives in us today and in all the days to come.

I invite us to take a minute right now and wash together. Using the words for confession and forgiveness that are printed in your bulletin or on the screen behind me, let’s wash together and be made clean. We do not live out our life in Christ by just washing our hands. Our hearts need washing too. Please stand as you are able.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

God of Light, we admit that we are much faster at talking, and too slow at listening. We are quick to engage in power-pleasing acts, but hesitant to hear your simple words of hope, of justice, of renewal. We do not notice how our casual speech can cause great harm and pain to those around us. Forgive us, God of majesty and mercy, and let your grace refresh us like a gentle rains. Pour your hope into our empty souls until it overflows to all we have damaged. Call us to new life through the words and witness of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, in whose name we lift our prayers to you.

Silence for reflection and confession.

ASSURANCE OF FORGIVENESS

Did you hear the voice of the God speaking to you – whispering words of hope, of grace, of forgiveness into your heart and into your soul? This is the good news that is for us! In the name of Jesus Christ your sins are forgiven!

Click here and check out this video from the 2012 ELCA National Youth Gathering. I couldn’t help reflect upon it as I walked through this week’s text.