Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and Jesus our Redeemer, Amen.
Ash Wednesday Reflection
This is such a holy day to me. It is an uplifting day to me. It is a day where I am reminded of how connected we are to each other, and how desperately we are in need of this connection. There is something about the tactile touch of having ashes placed on your head that is just holy.
I along with Jay, Susan, Sally and Bill spent the morning and the afternoon praying and anointing with people. Jay, Susan and I were at the train station this morning in Westwood. We managed to find a small window of time where it wasn’t raining and bleary eyed folks about to catch the train stopped for a prayer. We saw Jim M. on his way to work and were able to remind him that even though he comes from dust and that dust he shall return; through Christ he will live forever. We met “M” freshly moved from the south to New Jersey, who was happy to get his ashes from us. He told us he still did not have a church home, and I think he was still trying to make his way in New Jersey. We prayed with others who were troubled. I distinctly remember praying with one parent who was worried about his son. He was fighting back tears the urge to openly weep as we prayed with him. Another woman stands out in my mind. She seemed so young and the weight of the world seemed to be on her shoulders, even at 8am at on a Wednesday morning.
One of the conductors stepped of the train and received his ashes, letting the schedule perhaps slip a moment or two while Sue prayed for him.
And you move to the afternoon. Switching locations to stand on the corner of the Starbucks, Sally and Bill with me. Again, like this morning we are in our robes, standing in front of very simple, sign that says Prayers and Ashes. Maybe it was because school had just gotten out and people were more awake. Perhaps there was more foot traffic. Or just folks didn’t feel as rushed, but there was lines which formed as people wanted to feel the touch of the ashes on their head.
We saw familiar faces again, or rather Sally did. She prayed with a former student and then a current student. She saw her neighbors and friends from long ago. The workers start coming out from the stores, some we met last year. People were stopping their cars and coming over. Many people came with a story of how they wanted to get their ashes but X-Y- Z was keeping them from them. Several people had sheer joy that they could receive them there. One of our last people, the woman was visually and vocally relieved to be getting her ashes. You saw her shoulders get lighter and a big smile on her face.
Whether people come out of habit or ritual, I don’t believe it matters. People are searching for that human touch, and that connection with something greater than themselves.
Ash Wednesday gives a moment for us to see pause and to recognize that basic human need. It does not run from it. It does not try to explain it away. It simply says, yes, we need connection to each other.
What struck me today was how much burden we walk around with it. There are so many heavy hearts. There are so many anxieties we carry whether it is for loved ones health, our own grief. We carry burdens of worry about job situations, housing matters, kids growing up, and so on.
And I am left wondering, do we say out loud “enough, I can’t handle this. Please take it from me.”
Ash Wednesday gives us that intentional space to say, “enough, I can’t handle it,” whatever that it is.
It gives us space to acknowledge that I am human, I am not a super being.
It gives us space top put down those burdens we carry.
It give us space to recognize our own mortality, our own humanity and say it is ok, I am human. I don’t need to be perfect. I don’t need to fix everything. I don’t need to be in complete control of every situation. I don’t need any of the things I think I need.
Instead, I can just rest. I can rest in Jesus arm’s and trust. Trust in God, and instead of trying to carry our burdens we embrace that I am a human being and I am connected to God and I am connected to everyone else.
Part of the reason this day is so special, and I think it is so powerful, is we have this marker on our head which reminds us of our humanness, our mortality. It is a reminder of who we put our trust in, namely the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Jesus God incarnate.
By allowing ourselves to be marked with the cross with ashes, we have a visual surrender to God. We have a moment, a brief moment, where the cross that was marked on our heads during our baptism is brought to light with the thumbprint of burnt ash.
That moment of touch remind of us of our connections to each other. Our embodied life shows us to be creatures made to relate, to interact with a world outside of ourselves–experiencing longing, joining, bleeding, and desiring. We have the capacity to be flooded with ecstasy, pain, and everything in between. These are means through which we hear and live the gospel. These are the means in which Jesus connects to us, Immanuel, God with us.
We are meant to be in community together. One of the reasons that worship is so critical to our faith journey. We are meant to be connected with each other to laugh together, to cry together, to sing together, to grieve together.
So, I pray this evening, as we begin our Lenten journey for this season, that we have the courage to put down our burdens. Jesus said “Come to me all who weary, and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest in your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
It is ok to be human. No, it is good to be human. Let the grace come. Let God carry your burdens. You are loved exactly as you are. Amen.
Happy New Year and a wonderful Epiphany to you!
Towards the end of December, I was flipping around the radio and I stopped on Star 99.1, a local Christian station. I listen to it periodically. The hosts were talking about the New Year and asking callers what will you leave behind in 2019.
I like that phrasing. “What will you leave behind?” Regardless of whether we are one who makes new year resolutions, or speaks against the idea, we are all going to be a little reflective as the calendar turns. It is very difficult not to be. The idea of leaving something behind was a re-framing of the resolution.
People were calling in talking about a toxic relationship they were leaving behind; others were bad habits like hitting the snooze button or eating fast food. Heavy stuff, light stuff and all in between. All the callers sounded so very faithful in their love and trust of God.
What would you leave behind in 2019? Ask God to help you with that. It might just change you.
John writes in his Revelation, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
Leaving something behind speaks to that passage. God is always making things new in Jesus. We are constantly being turned into a new creation. The person I am today will not be the same one tomorrow. God comes to us. Parachutes to us like firefighters putting out the forest fire. God does not give up on us. God is always chasing us, seeking us out and loving us.
So was we enter into the new year my prayer is that we can look to God with hope. I pray we can look to God with the courage to ask God to make us a new creations in Christ.
May God’s peace and love shine through you!
Thoughts for November:
Greetings Beautiful Children of God,
As we set back the clocks, the darkness creeps in on shorter days, the leaves fall while the air is getting crisper it can be hard to be grateful. Luckily, this all happens in a month where we are reminded at a societal level to be thankful.
Being thankful is a posture we take to God. To be in this posture we are in a right relationship with God. We realize all that we have we are given from God. Though to be grateful; it is a practice. It does not come naturally to us, well perhaps I am only speaking for myself. But I do believe in order to find the right posture with God it is easier when we are intentional about being thankful. I pray as we go through this month of November which ends with a national feast of thankfulness we can be in this right posture to God by telling the people in our lives that we are grateful for them.
I will give you an example.
I am thankful for this congregation and the love you show to Christ. I am thankful for the energy you bring on Sunday morning allowing worship to be such a wonderful experience each week. I am thankful for the music that is put on by the praise band and their early morning practicing which fills the sanctuary. I am thankful for the altar circle as they prepare the holy meal each week. I am thank for the church council and their leadership. I am thankful for your generosity to our neighbors as our altar is surrounded by 18 bags of food to be donated. I am thankful for all the behind scenes which happen by the saints of this church. I am thankful for our teachers. I am thankful for the groups who find sanctuary in this space and your willingness to be hospitable. I am thankful when you stop by the office to say hi, or see how I am doing, suggest an idea or tell me something I did wasn’t quite right. I am thankful for your beautiful faces. I am thankful for you.
I am thankful I cannot name all that I am thankful for.
Go forth and shine beautiful children of God. You are the light of the world. Show it to others with your thankfulness.
Our biblical story begins with the grand event of creation. God who always was, who always is present, and who will always be, breathed life into being. As humankind was created, we were trusted to be caretakers of creation, stewards of creation if you will. (Genesis 1:28) In the second creation story, we are given a portrayal of an intimate God who molds and creates us from the Earth. In the first story, we are given the account that we are responsible for God’s creation and in the second, we see are forever part of God’s creation. We are given a theology of ecology, or rather a theology of creation care. Question: Why do you reference the second story first?
We use the word stewardship a lot in church. It is a very “churchy” word. But when we talk about stewardship, we are talking about being respectful of and responsible with the gifts and talents which God has granted and given (why both?) us. Stewardship is about participating and sharing with others this world which God deemed good as well as recognizing our part in this creation story. As Jesus told Peter and his disciples, “to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Luke 12:48).
Being stewards of creation is also about taking care of the poor. The hardest hit of our environmental excess are often the poorest around the world. This particular type of stewardship is about healthy living and balance within our community. It is also about realizing that if we care for the children as Jesus says their “will be the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14) we must tend to our Earth. As the First Nation proverb says, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
As we enter the month of harvest, let us look to the ground we walk on, the air we breathe, and the water we drink and love it as fiercely as God asks us to love our neighbors as ourselves
A Message for Epiphany:
Happy New year and a Happy Epiphany to you all! With Easter, not being to the April 21st we have a longer than usual Epiphany season. This allows us to hear Gospel lessons that we normally do not hear in Year C, the year of Luke, very often. Towards the end of February, we will hear how Jesus tells his disciples they will be “fishers of men”. We will be reminded of the beatitudes that Luke wrote, as well as the command of loving our enemies. Not easy by any means, but something we are called to do.
We are reminded during the Epiphany that God revealed God’s self in Jesus. Jesus is born and even as a baby he is a threat to those on false power. He will call an end to our destructive human tendencies of revenge and scapegoating. He calls an end to blaming each other for whatever misfortune we think has fallen upon us. He calls us to love and to love all people, even our enemies.
We will hear the stories of Jesus’s baptism, the turning water into wine, and the anointing of the Spirit on Jesus. We will also encounter Jesus through the symbols and lenses that we know Jesus like water, bread, wine, teaching and light.
Through all these stories that we will hear during Epiphany we are reminded that Jesus is the core of our life and all of heaven and Earth. Jesus who is the son who reveals the truth of the world and also our truth, that Jesus light will change us and transform us. There is a mystery to our faith. We do not have all the answers to our questions. But walk towards the light of Jesus. We trust that our path is guided with him, that we follow the light even when we are asked to go home by another way.
A Message for Christmas Day
Christianity is born in both the paradoxical the fact and the mystery, that the Word was with God.
Christianity is born in both the paradoxical the fact and the mystery, that the Word was God.
We adore and we worship Jesus as a baby, but we also adore and worship Jesus as Lord, and king, John’s Gospel of the creation is a Cosmic vision. Before there was time, there was God who is Jesus and Jesus is God. And Jesus becomes flesh.
We fall to our knees and we worship our God with a deep commitment to humanity. It is tradition that John’s prologue is read on Christmas morning. The shepherds and angels come out for Christmas Eve.
This morning, we are reading about the incarnation in a different angle. This word becomes flesh. This mystery, this power, this GRACE becomes flesh.
The Grace is going to shape the rest of John’s gospel. We are going to see what Grace looks like, feels likes, tastes like, smells like. Grace is not an idea, but a central act of being and acting.
But the Grace is also a demonstration that this is a God of abundance. God will just give and give and give, there is no scarcity in God’s kingdom.
Jesus becomes a witness to demonstrating how Grace can be experienced, lived and dwelled among us.
We worship and we adore Jesus, God in flesh, who will reveal what God’s grace looks like. We worship a God that has decided to become human, and shows this is not a one side relationship of where God just takes from us. But rather that God has a deep commitment to humanity, mutuality and affection.
Jesus in flesh means that when man cries God cries. That when we laugh, God Laughs.
God takes Grace so seriously that God is going to show us what Grace looks like.
We come here this morning, we worship and we charge, we pause and we worship, we sing and we worship, we rest and we worship, we remember the story for ourselves, there is beauty in the Glorious repetition of the Christmas story,
But we are called to go forth and to be witness to the light.
We are called to respond to the news we heard this morning and show our light to other people.
By showing God’s light in us we are witness to the light.
So, go forth beautiful children of God.
Go forth with your recharge from worship.
Go forth and show your light to others.
Be a witness to God’s love this morning, this day and all the days to come.
Go forth and shine. Thanks Be to God Amen.
A message for Advent:
As we enter into December the temptation is always to hurry and scurry. There will be all the external pressures from decorating the inside of the house, to garnering the outside with lights and to attend all the different social events we get invited to. The red Starbucks cups come out, the 24/7 Christmas stations pop up across the dial. Family pressures and financial worries begin to take shape. Culture and society says hurry up and do it all. Advent is a paradox. The world says its Christmas time and we say as a church; no it is Advent. As church, we say slow down and prepare ye the way.
As a church, we are waiting. The texts throughout Advent are filled with the promises of hope and peace. We are preparing the way for Christ incarnate in flesh. Christ is coming (and has come) to us as a baby in swaddling clothes meeting us where we are, in all our humanity. It is beautiful and wonderful, yet we are still waiting at times.
As a church, we are waiting for wholeness with hope. Christmas is not an antidote to pain. If we are honest as a church, there is still pain in this world. Advent doesn’t take away the cancer diagnosis or the nights of worry you may have as you pray with your loved ones for their heath. Advent doesn’t create a new job you are desperately needing. Advent doesn’t mean an end to all the wars and violence which ravage this earth. But we wait with hope.
Advent though does give us a space to be honest. Honest with our fears and dreams. Advent gives us an intentional way to go to the dark spaces of lives, those places of waiting and unearth them to God with an anguish cry say, “Come Lord Jesus, O Come Emanuel.” Advent calls us to open our eyes, be woke, recognize the want, grasp the distress, rest in the awaiting. We are a community of the assurance who wait with hope. Because we know the real truth, Christ has come, and Christ continues to come to us.
Even though there is darkness in this world, the light is already breaking through. We hold promise for others who feel forsaken by the world and ourselves when there is only shadow. We are a priesthood of all believers who too can be the voice in the wilderness which hollers out “Prepare ye the Way. We declare even though we cannot see it fully, only in glimpses to we catch the kingdom. Yet we are a people of faith and hope to bring peace to conflict. Prepare the Ye, Christ is coming and Christ has come. Thanks, Be to God.
Christ the King Sunday – November 25, 2018
Text: John 18: 33-37
Grace and peace to you from the God is who was, who is, and who is to come,
Happy Christ the King Sunday to you all! Christ the King Sunday is a fairly new addition to the church year. It only came into existence in 1925, so it isn’t even a hundred years old. It came out of the Roman Catholic church. Pope Pius XI instituted a new liturgical observance, the Feast of Christ the King. The Pope felt that the followers of Christ were being lured away by the increasing secularism of the world. They were choosing to follow the “kingdom” of the world rather than in the reign of God. So, there was this tension between our different masters that was being addressed.
Another fact that was in play was Mussolini had come to power in 1922. It was in 1925 when he declared himself dictator. I don’t think it is a stretch that this rise of Fascism in Italy was being felt by the Vatican and the Pope. The church exists in this world. Christ the King Sunday becomes this day we acknowledge, that what we as Christians and a community of faith see a little different, or a lot different than what so much of society says is power, what society says is a kingdom.
God’s kingdom is not a military parade.
God’s kingdom is not massive skyscrapers.
God’s kingdom is not a bunch of numbers on a stock market.
This morning’s Gospel lesson takes us to the Gospel of John as Jesus and Pilate meets. Here there is the give and take between Pilate and Jesus. Pilate is asking very politically charged questions. He asks if Jesus is the King of the Jews. This is not a religious question. I don’t think Pilate really cares if Jesus is the leader of the Jews or not. It isn’t a stretch to believe that Pilate felt all the Jews are beneath him, so who is their leader isn’t his concern. No, the idea of being a King as a military or political ruler is much more on his mind. Is this Jesus a threat to his power and Roman’s control of the province. That is what he is concerned about.
.What if the kingdom is also how we perceive this world. Pardon my double negative, But I don’t believe for a moment Jesus doesn’t care about this world. It is a quality statement he is making. It is not a statement of who cares what happens here, I only care about heaven. But rather a recognition of where the power comes from. And what is truly important.
The kingdom of this world is built on conquest. Ego and might.
The kingdom of God is built on service, humility and love.
The Kingdom of this world is built on fear, walls and separation.
The kingdom of God is built on trust, continuity and community.
It is a trust in God that leads us to be calm. It is a trust in God that leads us to be curious of our neighbors, not afraid of them. It is a trust in God that grants us serenity even when chaos surrounds us. It is a trust in God that allows us to have the courage to love all people.
Jesus’s Kingdom is not content but character. His Kingdom is not ruled by a king but by commitment. His Kingdom is not a thing, but a person. The person of Jesus.
Jesus teaches us to see Kingdoms in a new way. We are taught in school that a kingdom is a place on a map. We get drilled into our head from culture that a kingdom has a look of grandeur, authority, majesty. Kingdoms are taught to have perceived spectaculars.
And yet, Jesus’ Kingdom can be anywhere, anytime that Kingdom behavior is exemplified. The kingdom of service, humility. love and trust. That Kingdom character is lived out. That Kingdom witness can be heard and observed.
Jesus’ Kingdom as not a domain but an intentional way of being in the world. It is intentional. It is loving. It is built on service.
We are socialized to imagine kingdoms as nations rather than a kind of reign, as territories rather than incarnational commitments to love and liberty, as empires rather than a persistence in justice and freedom for all.
The kingdoms of this world say pull yourself up by your boot straps. The kingdoms of this world say you are a man don’t ask for help or you are woman, be quiet. The kingdoms of this world look to divide us into small and smaller groups arguing with each other, fighting with each other, being violent with each other over nonsense and fear.
For Jesus kingdom is all the opposite.
For Jesus’ Kingdom chooses relationship. Jesus’ Kingdom chooses the challenges and brokenness of our lives. Jesus’ Kingdom tells the truth about the Truth — that God so loved the world.
The Kingdom of God is coming, own its own. We simply get to be witnesses to this love. Examples of God’s love. Speaking God’s love, witnessing to God’s love. What a gift! What an honor.
Thanks, be to God.
November 22, 2018 – Thanksgiving Day
Text: Matthew 6: 25-34
Grace and peace to you from our merciful God,
A husband and wife each received a bad health report. So, for the last month they had changed their diet for themselves and their family. Gone was all the steaks, ribs, fried foods and creamy meals. So that with their kids at their thanksgiving table, no meat on the table, no stuffing, no bacon filled bean dish, no creamy mac and cheese. Just layers and layers of fresh vegetables all steamed for the eyes to see.
The husband looks at his wife and says. “You better thank God for the food. If I do it, he will know I am lying.”
It is a silly joke. But sometimes the holiday season is not everyone’s favorite time of year. It could be reminder of a loved one’s passing, the life you imagined just isn’t what you thought it was going to be. There is the big three of secular holidays, Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day and to a point Father’s Day, where society gives us all a certain set of expectations. It is hard to come through this week and not have someone ask what are you doing for Thursday? You hear stories from I have only having 37 people over this years to working in a soup kitchen. But none the less there comes an expectation of action and feeling when we come into the holiday seasons. For many, that feeling of gratitude is just not going to happen because it is the fourth Thursday in November. It is a reality, and that’s OK.
So, whether you are hosting those 37 people for dinner, or a guest at that table or doing anything in between, beware that part of our witness to Christ’s love is to be able to listen to others, especially those who may not be feeling that thanksgiving spirit today.
Let us be aware of that as we enter the season of Advent for us a church, and to everyone else the Christmas season; we move into this place of business and action.
Action? Why do we put so much pressure on action? Society and culture pushes us to be busy. But here in worship, here in a setting of faith, we continually are counter cultural. Never forget that what we do here each time we gather is counter cultural to what the rest of the world do.
I got plenty of strange looks when I invited people I know to Thanksgiving Day worship. And more than one person said, church on thanksgiving?? One person said Isn’t that our day off? I won’t lie that response made me laugh.
But maybe being grateful is the only we can do? Everything in our lives is about God coming to us. God willing creation into life. God coming to Abraham to make the covenant. God hearing the cries of God’s people in Egypt. God coming to use as a baby in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes in the simplest way possible. God being with us when we are sad. God being with us when we are happy. God revealing god’s power with the resurrection. God coming to us in the waters of baptism and holy communion. It is always a downward aspect from God to us. Even our word for Eucharist means Thanksgiving.
All we can do is respond to this grace with thanksgiving. That is a freedom in itself.
That is the freedom I see that Jesus is getting at today in our Gospel lesson. We do not need to worry. Of course, that is easier said than done. But it is a reminder that God has taken care of us already, regardless of whether or not we feel it or not.
I will keep my sermon short this morning, put it more in the homily category than sermon. You can be grateful for that.
Part of learning how to live in the moment, to learn to Trust God and not worry about tomorrow requires practice and intention. The ability to live in the moment is not a natural human trait. It requires God and Jesus to be with us. Though, I think there are ways to live into that mindfulness and intention.
I am borrowing these ideas from a colleague of mine who talks about how being a grateful person can open us to a new level of transformation and spirituality.
The first exercise is a Gratitude. Find a partner in this congregation after the service. Every day for the next week send them however you like, whether it be phone call, email, face to face conversation or text, five things each day you are grateful for. And they will share the five things with you. This intentional living will crack open your heart in a new way and will create a deeper connection with the person you are partnered with.
The second is a simple prayer that you can practice when you wake up or when you are falling asleep at night, or any time during the day when you are feeling stressed. You may know this prayer from you camp days, and it is appropriate whenever you are feeling stressed.
Hold up your hand, maybe you remember your kids coming up with their hands made like Turkeys. It is called the five-finger prayer.
The Thumb – is the sturdiest part of our hand, so we use that to pray for the anchors in your life, this is your family and friends
Your second finger, or your pointer fingers, this is for the prayer of all the people in your life who have and do point you to God, your pastors, your Sunday school teachers, faith mentors and so forth.
The Third finger, our tallest fingers, this for the leaders of the country, town, and the world, our teachers, choir leaders and so forth.
Our Fourth finger, the ring finger, the hardest finger to hold up by itself and our weakest finger. This is the prayer we do for– pray for people who need help, the forgotten, the impoverished and so forth.
Finally, the smallest finger, our Pinky finger. This is the prayer we use for ourselves. It is OK to ask God for help in your life.
And we have this simple five finger prayer, and we can think of it as Jesus is holding our hand and keeping us safe.
Thanks, Be to God.
May the peace of God keep your hearts on minds on Christ Jesus and May God shine on you this Thanksgiving Day.
November 18, 2018
Text: Mark 13:1-8
Grace and peace to from God our creator, Jesus our redeemer and the Holy Spirit our rejuvenator,
Author Kate Bowler, who wrote about her experience of being diagnosed with cancer at a very young age in her book, “Everything happens for a reason and other lies I’ve loved”, says before one of her surgeries, “I am preparing for death and everyone else is on Instagram.”
Do you think Jesus felt like that this morning?
We are still are in passion week in Mark. And Jesus and disciples have the left the temple. The temple is a massive building and the most important center of Judaism. When you think about historic buildings in the US, if you combined the White House and capital plus Yankee Stadium (the original), I don’t think you reach even half the importance of what the temple was. So, this was a building of grandeur and magnificence, both spiritually and how it looked. And there is a disciple looking up at the building. You can almost hear this “Goll-E Jesus…that sure is a big building.”
There must be a part of Jesus that is thinking, how you be thinking about stones at a time like this. Haven’t you been listening. I have told you three times already I am going to Jerusalem to die, and you are looking at the stones.
But Jesus, ever patients simply predicts the collapse of the temple which can easily as well be a metaphor for him going to the cross as well. And of course, the disciples want to know when. Don’t we ask when all the time?
When lord, when will it all happen? How often do we ask when and why to God?
Jesus doesn’t sugarcoat it. Times are going to be tough. There are going to be “wars and rumors of wars”, false leaders are going to emerge, fear is going to be out there, but don’t let that distract you. It is just the beginning of the birth pangs.
You can’t have a baby without birthing pains. Rebirth and birth may and will be painful. But it does not mean you are being abandoned or not loved.
One of the many aspects I love about Lutheran theology is our Theology of the cross. One of the tenets of it is that we recognize a thing for what it is. When we see pain, we acknowledge it is pain. We do not sugar coat it. We do not try to explain it away. Pain is sometimes just pain.
I am not a fan of the expression that when one door closes God opens another door. That implies a bit of a puppet master God, and how often do we feel like we are stuck in the hallway? Why isn’t God opening that door?
But rather Theology of the cross says God is going to meet us right where we are, in the brokenness of the world, in the muck and mire of our lives, God is going to be present with us, because that is what Jesus shows us on the cross.
I am not talking about the cross which is shiny Gold or silver plated cross that adorn our churches. Luther’s theology wasn’t built around an image that we take for granted that has lost its power. No, he built it on the instrument of death and execution.
The cross, what does it reveal to us?
We can look at that cross and we can see who God is. We can look at the cross and we can see the character of our God. We can look at the cross and we see God nailed to the cross, God hanging to the cross, we can look and see God saying to us, pay attention to how much I love you.
God reveals God’s self in Christ. God chose to reveal God’s self-first in a cradle, then in the miracles, all through the teachings of love for all to finally God reveals God’s self on a hill top under a hot sun.
God saying to us I will never abandon you.
God suffers with us. God does not stay above like a watch maker God instead walks with us. Laughs with us, eats with us, and weeps when we weep. As Luther wrote “God for us, veiled in the flesh of Christ.”
The cross tells me of God’s character. God is intentional and deeply embedded with God’s people. God suffers and is sad when God’s creation strays being kind and loving to each other. God is so deeply embedded in the covenant made to Abraham that God’s transfers’ Gods being into relationship with humankind. God takes so seriously this action that God is willing to be condemned, punish and suffer with man to show the deep relationship God has with us. God suffers in God’s passion for God’s people. God indwells with us.
The cross shows us why we do not need to be afraid of the birth pains. Though that can be easier said than done.
Author and Priest Richard Rohr wrote “We must wait and work with hope inside of the darkness—never doubting the light that God always is, and that we are, too. That is the narrow birth canal of God into the world.”
Isn’t that what worship is all about? We gather each week to enter the kingdom, to live into the future. We sing our songs of praise, we lament our losses and pains with our heats stirred by the Word of God. We anticipate the feast with Jesus through communion. Then we go back into the world with its birth pangs to live as God’s redeemed people and to witness to everyone God’s love, the best we can. We are pilgrims, sojourners and servants in a world of pain marching to the light of God and marching with God at our side, living on this side of heaven birth pains and all.
Thanks be to God!
November 11, 2018
Texts: Mark 12: 38-44 and Psalm 146
Grace and peace to you from our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
Our Psalmist writes this morning, “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.” I think that is a very appropriate line to remember and to hear the Sunday after election day, regardless of whether you voted red, blue or neither. Our faith and eyes are called to look upwards to God and to Jesus, and we are reminded to where true power is.
Though I do feel little self-conscious this morning as I read from the Gospel Jesus’s warning, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!”
Here I am your scribe in a white robe who by the way, attended a banquet this back week with Joan, Gretchen, and Vicki Lynn as we honored our volunteers at the Bergen County Council of Churches this past Monday. It was a wonderful evening by the way and I am grateful for their service and all the service that this congregation gives to praise God, both in the four walls of Church of the Savior and in the community.
But none the less, it is a line in Mark that gives me pause for a moment. And it is good for me to be reminded that I am proclaiming God’s word, not Paul’s word.
A week or two ago Bill and I were meeting to review the music for a month. During the course of the conversation he gave me a nice compliment but then he quickly reminded me that is God working through me, not my doing. And I liked that. It is something I try to remind myself constantly that this is God’s work and not mine. This is only my hands.
I speak for myself here. But I also think as we live in Bergen County, in one of the more affluent counties in the country, it is easy sometimes to think we are doing it all ourselves. We can go home at night to our house, or drive our car, or sit in our nice office at work, and take great pride in the work that WE do, forgetting that we are stewards to God’s kingdom and God’s glory. A friend of mine likes to say to me “Don’t forget, power is only loaned, it is never given. It can be taken back at any time.”
God loaning us the power through our hands. It is a nice reframing to how we live.
Johann Sebastian Bach, raised in a Lutheran family by the way, one of the greatest composers that have ever lived. He is quoted as saying “I play the notes as they are written but it is God who makes the music.” As he would compose he would finish his compositions with the initials SDG. It stood for Soli Deo Gloria – For the Glory of God Alone.
One of the reasons I believe that 12 step groups have such success is because there is an aspect of hitting bottom found in everyone’s recovery. Whatever their addiction may be whether it is drugs, alcohol, gambling over consumption what have you there is a moment when they realize that they can’t do it themselves. Whether it is financial loss, health reasons, troubles with the law, massive debt, frayed relationships, homelessness the pain points them that they will need a power greater themselves to be freed of their addiction. Their own “white robes” will not be enough. It is to God we lean on.
Jesus throughout the Gospels teaches and he heals, he critiques the current systems and times he warns as well. Today’s Gospel is a teaching and warning lesson. We have continued directly from we were last week in Mark. It is the passion week. Jesus is in the temple and he is teaching. The scribes and him are debating over scripture. It is in this context we are introduced to the widow giving away a pair of two small copper coins worth a penny, all her possessions.
Now there have been two interpretations over the years with regards to this widow. The first is she becomes the model of generosity. She trusts God and gives God all the glory through what she has. We are invited to see not so much what matters is the gross amount that which we give but rather what it means to us. The widow gives from a place of more altruistic place than the scribes who are given to be noticed. Look at me, how generous I am. The loud, boisterous scribe who reminds everyone who listen how great they are at all times. The widow shows through her generosity how trust she is of God that God will provide even when she has given away her most valuable possessions. She leans on God fully.
Then we can be asked to live up to her as this model of stewardship, and let us be honest. Few of us will ever be able to emulate her. And It becomes so difficult to follow, it becomes ridiculous and therefore only condemns us.
Another interpretation that gets put forward is this is a critique of the systems. Remember the line the scribes will “devour the widows” and by accepting this donation, vs. trying to help her, she is falling prey to exactly the thing that Jesus is warning against. Jesus sits apart from the treasury, and by doing distances himself from this practice of the giving to the temple. Perhaps Jesus is saying his position the scribes should take care of her, not expect or even accept her gift from her poverty. But at the end Jesus lauds hers.
It is a difficult passage. It is uncomfortable. You go with the former, it is a nice story, it is easy to preach but impossible to live. The latter approach why are they accepting her money. It’s just not right.
The Bible does not always give us easy answers. It fact it rarely does. That is one of the reasons we read it again and again and again, often in groups to see how the living word is speaking to us on this day. We are trusting in the holy spirt to be here in this very moment of our lives.
But maybe the takeaway this morning, and what is speaking to me is that Jesus notices the widow. Perhaps the widow isn’t an object lesson at all. Maybe the grace in this passage is that Jesus pays attention to the woman. He notices her. He acknowledges that she is there. She is not invisible.
Think about all the invisible in our life. Maybe it is the homeless person in the street when you are walking from the subway to your office. Or maybe it is the person standing on the corner hoping to be hired for the day. There are so many people we (and I am using myself in this as well) that are there but yet I /we fail to notice.
What amazing grace is that Jesus pays attention to us all?
What freedom to know that is it not our white robes, or are education or whatever we hold dear about ourselves that draws Jesus’ attention to us, but rather our mere existence is enough to gather God’s attention. What GRACE!! What a gift? What freedom in how we can live.
Jesus always and always is an example to us of how God love’s us. And what a wonderful God we praise. We do not need to relay on ourselves. We have the Gift of God to rely on. Let us praise this!!
Our Psalm this morning, a psalm of praise address how wonderful God is. Take note of the verbs of our God.
God who made heaven and earth,
who executes justice for the oppressed
who gives food to the hungry
The Lord sets the prisoners free.
The Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow,
The Lord will reign forever.
This is a God who is in our lives just as we are. Our God is not an idea or an abstract concept but rather a God who is present in our day to day activity, a God who is active for us and with us.
God notices us when we are down. God loves and sees us. And for that we can give praise and witness to.
A way we can continue to give witness to God is to notice people, to see them for who they are. To not ask them to be anything more than they are, simply a child of God.
We are called to see all people as children of God. There are no humans that are less than. There are no humans that are not worthy of our love and getting to know Jesus teaches us that. The God in our life that is present as a verb reminds of that we are all children of God. Let us act accordingly and give God all the Glory.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Thanks be to God.
November 4, 2018
All Saints Day
Text Mark 12: 28-34
Excerpts from the All Saints Sermon:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Dealing with death is holy sacred work. An example of loving your neighbor as yourself is how we deal as we deal with the questions of death.
Jesus must be thinking about his death this morning. Now it may not be obvious at first glance, but let us take note of the placement of today’s Gospel reading. It is Mark 12. This passage occurs after the triumphant entry into Jerusalem with the palms being raised and the shouts of Hosanna toward Jesus. Jesus is in his passion week, and he is teaching to the end. A scribe comes forward and asks him what is the most important commandment of all. And Jesus invokes to ancient teachings. Teachings that come from Deuteronomy and Leviticus.
He recites the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The Shema, the Hebrew word for hear or listen, is the centerpiece of the daily morning and evening prayer services and is considered by some the most essential prayer in all of Judaism. It is an affirmation of God’s singularity and kingship. So, this is a powerful commandment to understand.
Jesus then recites from Leviticus, 19:18 for those of you keeping score at home, “You shall love the neighbor as yourself.” Leviticus often gets a bad rap. It is full of commandments, over 600 and it is very difficult to read from beginning to end. It also has a bible verse in there that is used as a weapon to harm and exclude people. Take note of the commandment Jesus pulls from the 613 commandments found in Leviticus before he goes to the cross. The one he quotes is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I think that tells us something.
I am digressing a little bit into a little lesson on Judaism, because I think it can never hurt to be reminded about how much we share with our Jewish brothers and sisters. It can only help us to understand each other better and to love better when we know how much of heritage we share with our Jewish sisters and brothers. It is from the Hebrew scriptures which Jesus taught, and it is the two vital commandments he proclaims: Love God and love each other.
I will go further to make the bold claim that attacks against Judaism are attacks against Jesus himself. It is an attack against God. It is attack against the communion of saints that we proclaim. In the wake of last week’s events, it is important for to remember and continue to call evil evil when we see it.
But just as Jesus finishes the two commandments, he leaves us with a promise: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
And maybe that is the promise we can remember on this all Saints Sunday. All Saints Sunday celebrates the baptized people of God, living and dead, who make up the body of Christ. With thanksgiving, we remember all the faithful departed. Our Revelation reading is filled with rich images of eternal life promised to all the saints. The Holy Meal is a foretaste of that great and promised feast where death or pain will be no more. Even in the midst of loss and grief God wipes away the tears from our eyes and makes all things new.
Death is inevitable — we will all die. We will all go home eventually to rest with Jesus.
But we can taste the promise of God’s kingdom by loving each other.
We all have the ability to witness to God’s love. We all the ability to witness to the promise of Jesus that the “You are not from the Kingdom of God.” We do not need to be priest or pastors. We are a priesthood of all believers with the power to serve each other.
At stake in our lessons today are the meaning of life as Christians. And perhaps our lessons this morning mark how we stave off death, for just a little bit, by the ways in which we honor our present life, and the lives of those around us.
Death is painful. Death will happen to us all. Death is near for some loved ones our life. We are all aware that we will die someday. There is a certain-ness to death. We live in the liminal place, the in-between place between our baptism and heaven. But we can give witness to the resurrection without dismissing the here and now by loving each other.
We do not love our neighbors as ourselves to get into heaven, but rather we love our neighbors as ourselves is a response to God’s love for us. Loving our neighbors becomes a means to overcome death in the here and now.
We can do this because we are freed by grace
Our salvation was taken care of 2000 years ago. The work was done on Golgotha. We are freed by this work to love each other. We are free. We are freed to respond and to love each other.
We live in a world that has pain — the Shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue last week proved that. People fleeing their homelands because they are too dangerous to live is proof of that. The internment last week of Mathew Shepherd in Washington’s National Cathedral, a man who was brutally murdered as a hate crime, is proof of that pain.
Without loving our neighbors as ourselves, death will continually move in on our lives prematurely. With a God so magnificent and merciful, why do we let death creep in on us through hate? Stand up to hate.
The whole story of the conversation between Jesus and the scribe is for the man to realize that life
because of God,
lived in the promises of God,
with us as created in the image of God (Lewis, working preacher)
is here and now when our neighbor is loved.
Believing that Jesus is the way of truth and the life and loving the neighbor as yourself are synonymous claims. They go hand in hand. You cannot believe in Jesus as the way without loving your neighbors. To think otherwise is to be blind to the entirety of God’s kingdom. The resurrection means life abundantly for all. (Lewis, working Preacher)
And that is freedom. We do not need to worry about who is in and who is not. We do not need to concern ourselves with salvation because of Grace. Instead we just need to respond to God’s grace and realize that All means All.
Our life as saints is now. A lived life as a saint and a sinner is what we are called to be.
We are freed to not be afraid. We are freed to not buy the fear that is so often sold to us. We are freed to see every person we meet as a child of God. We are freed to seek out and love our neighbors, the ones we know and don’t know. The ones who are next to us and the ones who live far away.
God raptured to us. God raptured to us as a baby in the manger. God raptured to us to remind that death has been overcome through Jesus. Death has been overcome as God wipes away every tear. When we love each other, the Kingdom of God is that much nearer.
Thanks be to God.
Reformation Sunday, October 28, 2018
We are up to 501! 501years since the reformation! Long time for sure. 501 years based on a simple concept and simple idea. We could talk about the political climate of Europe or the technological advances in the printing press that triggered the reformation. All true. We could talk about human institutions that were being abused. We could talk about a variety of things that got us to where we are 501 years after a German monk posted 95 discussion points on a church door.
But what I want to focus on is that Martin Luther read his bible, and the holy spirit working in him let him see how grace allows us to be free!! Grace is freedom. Freedom to be in relationship with a loving, caring God through Christ Jesus. Freedom to be in relationship with our neighbors in a new and powerful way. Freedom to look outward beyond ourselves to God and to others.
Luther read his Bible and the world changed.
Now Luther did not invent grace. Nor do I think that the Lutheran church has the market cornered on grace. The concept of God’s grace was around for 1500 years prior in the Christian church. God’s grace can be found all through the Hebrew Scriptures.
In order to understand the Reformation though, it is always important to understand what was being reformed. I am going to use a football field analogy. Let’s suppose that the End Zone is heaven. Our goal as a football team is to move the ball across the field through passing and running into the end zone. In Luther’s day, the church was the keepers of the field and they set the rules of play. You moved our football through doing things like going to mass, confessing, taking communion, giving alms to the poor, praying. All this good stuff. All the rituals of church life helped move the ball down the field. The people did the work. The priests prayed for the people. In tandem, this moved the ball down to the field. Then as you got on the goal line to heaven, you died, God’s grace gave you the final push into the end zone. We did as much as we can. God’s grace does the rest.
This concept of Grace and humans working together helped create concepts like purgatory, something we as Lutheran don’t practice, was created out of a place of love not punishment. Priests were wrestling with the ideas of childhood deaths. What do we do when a child dies early? Have they done enough to get down the field? The bubonic plague of the middle ages heightened this concern. So many people were dying, some many kids were dying. What do we do? Purgatory came out of a response to untimely death and the concern for everyone’s soul. It came from a place of love.
But there was some human greed that became attached to the idea of Purgatory. Prayers were being sold. The idea of trying to free our loved ones from purgatory became corrupted. Luther struggled with his own salvation, was he doing enough to be worthy of the grace that was going to push him into heaven.
But then one day, Luther was reading his bible, reading Romans in fact and he saw grace in an entirely new light.
What Luther saw though, is that we are already in the end zone. Right here. Right now. We don’t even have to play the game. It’s already been played and won, football spiked, Gatorade dumped. That is the grace that is discovered in Romans. That is the powerful wonderful crazy grace that Paul is writing about in our passage this morning from Romans. There are no works to be done to earn Grace.
“For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,”
St Paul goes on to say “28 For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.”
Luther read his Bible and the world changed.
The temptations of Reformation day is to waive our flags, sing ‘Our God is a Mighty Fortress’ and take a victory lap around the day. It is a temptation to thinking we got it right and everyone else, come on now, don’t you see how good this is. You don’t see this grace, you got it all wrong.
Another pastor I know, talks about this temptation. He likened it to the locker room of a game 7 team in the World Series. I am sure most of you have seen one of those celebrations. The lockers get draped with plastic. The wheelbarrows of champagne are rolled in. The cameras always show this locker room waiting and ready for the victory celebration. Then the winning team comes in and there is laughter, cheers, hugging and champagne sprayed everywhere. Our temptation is to think that we are that winning team but what if we are in the wrong locker room.
What if we are in the locker room of the team that hasn’t won? We are in the locker room of the unused champagne and the plastic that is quickly being taken down, not needed. What if the victory hasn’t quite happened yet? There is still brokenness; there is still division in the church. Forget the greater church; there is still great division among Lutherans in America. Think about any great issue in the church, sexuality, who can be married, who can be a pastor, who can come to receive the Lord ’s Supper and on and on. We are divided there. We are in the locker room taking down the plastic that isn’t needed because there is no champagne being sprayed.
The Reformation can’t be about dividing us. The Reformation, if it created more divisions, was not a success. I urge us not to fall into the temptation of flag raising. I urge us not to fall into the temptation of “victory lap Sunday”. The Reformation speaks to the heart of unity but our humanness still falls trap to things that divide us.
The work of the Reformation must continue. We live in scary times. Bombs are being sent in the mail. Radical hatred seems to be louder than it has in decades. There was a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh yesterday. Armed soldiers are being sent south. Fear of the other, fear of the different is getting strong and stronger.
Be not afraid.
The work of the Reformation must continue and the world is a need of the church to be a beacon of hope and unity.
The world probably needs a reformation, but that is out of my hands. But what I can do is remind people not be afraid because of the cross.
We can remind people to not be afraid because of the cross.
An event happened at the cross; it was beyond an innocent man being crushed by violence. Because the event that occurred was the resurrection and the cross and the tomb are empty. The resurrection points to this abundant grace that is poured down to us. And Jesus returns risen from the dead, forgiving, grace abundant, grace, and teaches us to leave behind the old idea of violence and punishment. God dives into the violence to turn the world inside out. God took this unjust punishment and by the resurrection of Jesus created a peaceful reversal of the punishment to flood the world with hope.
We can be a beacon of hope and a beacon reminding people, ‘Do not be afraid.’ We can be the beacon of hope shining our light to others. We can be the candle in the darkness and reflect God’s grace to others.
What if our faith in Jesus is not an idea, but rather an experience to God’s love?
I will say that again, because I want that to sink in,
What if our faith in Jesus is not an idea, but rather an experience to God’s love?
We all have these experiences. Perhaps it an experience of finding joy after grief, a freedom from addiction, the birth of a new baby, the celebration of life’s milestones, the experience of community, the tangible aspect of taking communion every Sunday. These are but a few. I know you have more.
We can use our faith to be witness to that experience of Jesus’s love filled power. We move faith from being passive voice in our lives to an active voice in our lives. When we witness to and talk to our experience of faith, it becomes active.
The gospel lesson points to that experience. The crisp action in the Gospel lesson strikes out at me today. The blind beggar, Bartimaeus, cries out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He cries out refusing to be silent. Jesus hears the cry, “Call him here.” And the disciples bring him over with the command “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” The man throws of his cloak comes to Jesus and asks to see. Transformed, he follows Jesus.
Take courage, get up, God is calling you.
Be brave, stand up, Jesus is calling you.
Throw off your cloak, let go of your old life, let the experience of Christ transform you.
The work of the Reformation is not finished. God’s work is not finished. Our hands are still needed. As long as oppressive systems exist, our hands are needed. As long as victims are told to be quiet, our voices are needed.
As long as hatred exists, disharmony reigns, violence occurs we need to stand up.
Take courage, get up, God is calling you.
Have nerve, have daring, have audacity, God has chosen you.
God has chosen you to be a beacon of light and hope and examples of the abundant grace that has showered been down up on. Be the light of grace. Be the beacon of hope. Be the candle in the darkness. We have been freed by grace to love. Our salvation is taken care off, it was handled two thousand years go.
So, go forth and shine. Sin boldly. Love boldly. Be bold. God is with you.
Thanks, be to God.
Church of the Savior-Lutheran is happy announce the calling our new Pastor, Rev. Paul Miller, September 2018
I am humbled, honored and excited to begin serving as the Pastor of Church of the Savior-Lutheran, Paramus New Jersey. I am a second career Pastor who grew up in Westchester County, New York. I have worked for nearly twenty years in corporate America in various roles from finance to project management to first line management. I am the proud father of two wonderful daughters.
I believe that that we are called to love God and to love each other and shares the following.
As a minister of Word and Sacrament, I will walk side by side with people on their journey of faith; through listening and guiding, I envision helping them to identify the gifts and talents they possess and can use to serve God. We are not all called to be priests or pastors, but we are called to love each other. We have been freed by Christ to love each other. God’s presence is always there, regardless of our roles or our circumstances, and as Christians, we have the opportunity to be the presence of God’s love for all people. As we sit with, listen to, and walk beside others, we can be “little Christs”. This is our response to Christ’s deep love and Grace – that God’s grace is endless and is open for all people.”
I was first drawn to The Church of The Savior – Lutheran by the congregation’s wonderful hospitality and welcome. I consistently saw and felt the Congregation’s deep love for their community and for all people. Their joy was evidenced when, through song and praise, they worship each Sunday. The faculty and staff of Savior’s preschool, with deep passion for their students and God, also drew me in to serve at Savior.