Sermon, September 6, 2015

Title: Particular Love
Scripture: Psalm 146, James 2:1-4, 8-9, 14-17

Listen to this sermon here

We are in our second week of the book of James, and though I had always planned on preaching on Chapter 2 today, it is pretty wonderful that Chad set me up so nicely with his preaching on chapter 1 last week.  If you weren’t here or haven’t yet listened to his sermon, I really encourage you to go and listen to the podcast of his thorough history of James and why it is such a significant book in the New Testament.  

One of the main points of last week’s text from James was that we cannot simply be hearers and thinkers and talkers but that we have to be do-ers.  
And as Chad said in his sermon last week, at it’s core – James is a book of action.
And that call to action continues this week as well.
Last week was a sort of general call to “do” instead of just “hear” or “say”.
This week James moves from that general call to a particular one.

James begins chapter 2 with a question – “My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in Jesus?”  Another, more literal, way to translate this is: you cannot have real faith and show favoritism.  James is asking, how can you say you believe in Jesus Christ, but treat people this way?

This one question tells us a lot about the community to whom James is writing.

We ended last week with this verse: “worship that God accepts as faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.”

James says: see, when you aren’t looking out for the orphans and widows, when you aren’t caring for the least of these, then you judge them.
He moves from vague charge to care to the least to a specific example of how this favoritism is happening in worship. When you gather, you give attention and honor to someone dressed really finely, and you ignore the poor person in dirty clothes.

You might think that’s horrible and you would NEVER do that – but how many of you, totally honestly, looked at me this morning when you first saw me and thought some version of “she’s wearing THAT?!”

How many of you have ever pretended not to see someone begging, or looked at someone on the side of the road thought “I’d give them money, but they are just going to spend it on booze”
How many of you have ever thought, someone else will do it.
Someone else will stand up for those people,
someone else will give to that cause,
someone else someone else… ??

As much as we don’t want to admit it – James is talking to US here as well.
Professor and New Testament Scholar Craig Koester said: “Christians in North America may not think of social class as a problem, yet it is worth asking how comfortable the people in our congregations are when encountering people who visibly belong to a different social class. Networks of friendships often run along the lines created by income levels, education, and, professional status. Perhaps we do not say to a poorly dressed person, “Stand there,” or “Sit at my feet” (2:3), but we may well leave them standing by saying nothing at all.”

We look around and categorize people by they way they look and act and then we judge them worthy of our care and notice or not.
I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad here this morning, but I am trying to get us to be honest about this…
The early church was erasing lines between people left and right, and the members of these congregations sometimes forgot that in the church there is no rich or poor, they might walk outside of the gathering for worship and see male and female and rich and poor and slave and free, but in the new community of Christ these things didn’t matter.

And because of this new way, how we treat the least of these matters, because they are the same as we are.  Children of God.

As Chad talked about last week, James is one of the pillars of the early church – one of the eye-witnesses to the risen Christ, listed alongside Paul and Peter. He was a big deal.

James is writing this letter to the early church, and he has some important words to say as they tried to find their way in this new way of Christ.  These early churches had been hearing from Paul as well as James, and they had heard Paul’s words on being justified by faith.  

James was writing this letter because he is worried about a misapplication of this theology – that we will be ok as long as we just believe.  I can do anything I want as long as I believe.

James concern is that this incorrect interpretation of Paul will have an adverse affect on the poor.  

In the last section of today’s text, James says “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but you do not have works?”

I’m going to go out on a limb here, but it is Martin Luther’s incorrect interpretation of this verse that caused him to dislike James so much.  Works here in James isn’t the same thing as what Luther meant when he said “works.”
Yet Luther was right. And so is James.
Stay with me.
Luther (and also Paul) were talking about works righteousness.: the things you do to earn your salvation. And Luther and Paul were clear that there is nothing you can do to work yourself into a better standing with God.

Here me say this clearly this morning – there is nothing you can do to earn the love of God.
Nothing.
And here’s the thing – it’s already been given.
God’s love and grace and forgiveness and salvation have already been given to you. That’s it.
Full stop.

So the rest of James starts with that truth.
James brings us the FOR WHAT that Chad talked about last week.
We have been saved.
We have been called and claimed and named children of God.

So now what?

James doesn’t mince words as he answers this question – “If a brother or sister is naked daily food, and one of you says to them – Go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill, and yet you do not supply their needs, what is the good of that?  So faith by itself, faith that has no works, is dead.”

James’s version of works is works on behalf of the neighbor.

Paul believed in this kind of works too – in his letter to the Ephesians he says that we are “God’s handiwork, created to do good works.”  

This is not works righteousness.
This has absolutely nothing to do with our own salvation.
But it is life and death for those we are called to help.

We can’t go up to someone begging on the side of the road and say “God loves you” or even “We love you” and walk away.
We can’t tell someone that we’ll pray for them and not do anything to meet their immediate physical needs as well.
We cannot be followers of Christ, cannot be people who have already received the love of Christ acted out on our behalf, without being ambassadors of that love to others.

Faith has to be embodied.
Faith has to be acted out.
Otherwise, it’s meaningless.
It’s dead.

James is called a book of action because we are called to be people that act.
Luther himself is famously quoted as saying that “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.”

We aren’t called to act on behalf of ourselves, but on behalf of our neighbor.
James is calling the early church, and in turn – us – to action.
Not because we need it for ourselves but because without our action in the world, the poor and needy will be worse off – and that is not what the Kingdom of God is about.

Today – James calls us to ask a new question.
“What is the good news for my NEIGHBOR?”

See, we know the good news for ourselves.
New life has been given.
We are beloved children of God.
We will come around the table and hear it again in a few minutes in the words “For you.”
We’ve heard the good news.
We know what it looks like for us.

Now it’s time to ask ourselves – now what?
What does good news mean for our neighbor?
What does good news look like for the guy you see holding a sign at that intersection every day?
What does good news look like for the person who is sitting by themselves at lunch?
What does good news look like for kid who just came out to his parents?
What does good news look like for the single mom working two jobs?
What does good news look like for the homeless kid couch-surfing again tonight?
What does good news look like for the Syrian refugees looking for food and shelter?

What does Good News look like?

Today we have the answer, Prince of Peace.
You.
The good news looks like you.   

AMEN

End of worship closing/Benediction:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_RjndG0IX8 

“If not us then who
If not now than when
It’s time for us to do something.”

Teddy Roosevelt famously said “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

We are called to be people who “Do.”
We heard and tasted the good news today – now it’s time for us to go out and be that good news for everyone else.

So do we go and do in peace, to love and serve the Lord
AMEN

Sermon August 23, 2015

Sermons are meant to be heard!  Listen to this one HERE.

Scripture: Joshua 24: 1-2a, 14-18, John 6:56-69
Title: Are You With Me?

As some of you may have seen via facebook, Layla finally learned how to ride a two wheel bicycle on Friday. Once she decided she was going to do it no matter what, it wasn’t really that bad, but the process to get her to that point was difficult, to say the least.
So many times over this summer she would get on, try a few times, and then throw her hands up, say “it’s too hard!!!” and walk away. (Or run, or stomp… You get the picture.)

One of the things I really love about kids is their pure honesty in expression. Most of them haven’t yet learned the art of restraint.
So, when something doesn’t go their way – they give up.
They storm off and quit when things get hard.
Right?
How many of you know exactly what I’m talking about?
Yeah – and how many of you, now that you are adults, have wished you could still do this?
When things get hard, you wish you could quit … when things get difficult, how many of you wish it was socially acceptable to just walk away?

Here we are, in the final week of our 5 weeks in John’s 6th chapter, and it’s finally time for us to respond to what we’ve heard. After all these weeks of hearing about Jesus as the bread of life, he finally turns to the us and says, Are you with me guys? Are you in or are you out? And some of the people there – they do just this – they walk away.

But before we get there, let’s jump back a bit. Because despite the fact that we’ve been in these 70 verses since the end of July, this whole discourse happens in a matter of a day.
So even though the feeding of the 5000 happened for us a full month ago, it is still very fresh in the minds of those listening to and following Jesus.
If you’ve missed any of these last Sunday’s, a quick reminder –
Jesus fed the 5000 and then they followed him, because they wanted to be fed again. They loved that he met their immediate needs.
Jesus then began to teach the crowd that bread can only feed you for a moment, but the true bread from heaven, the bread of life, can feed you forever.
And then Jesus says that this bread he is speaking of is him.
He is the bread of life. He is the one who nourishes and sustains us.

So we get to today’s text – and John throws us a nice little reminder in verse 59 – Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
Remember Jesus snuck away after feeding all the people and everyone followed him to Capernaum? He’s been teaching this bread of life stuff in the synagogue there, and John wants to remind us that Jesus hasn’t moved, it’s still the same discourse, in the same place, and still the same main point Jesus is trying to get across to those who have followed him.
In fact, in our reading today Jesus repeats one last time that he is the bread from heaven, coming down to feed us forever.
Then, after all his teaching on this one topic – the disciples now say:
“this teaching is hard – who can accept it?”
The “this teaching” the disciples speak of is the whole discourse. All of the things we’ve heard over the last five weeks.
The whole lesson Jesus is giving them – about who he is and what he is all about – it is THIS teaching that is so hard to hear, that is so difficult to understand.

Jesus turns to the disciples and says, “does this offend you?”
Tough love Jesus is back.
He doesn’t give them a hug and tell them to try again – Jesus says – “does this offend you?”

Now the word used in the Greek that is translated as offend is (skan-da-lee-tzo) skandalezo, which in hearing it you might think means scandalize, and that’s not a horrible way to think about it – Does this scandalize you? – but it literally means a stumbling block, or something that causes you to sin.
This is an important distinction in John’s Gospel, because it is this skandalezo, this stumbling block, that is what causes people to walk away.
It’s just too hard. It’s too much.
What is too hard? What is too much?
This whole discourse, Jesus has been stating his relationship to God, and how it affects those who follow him…
Today – in verse 65, when Jesus tells them that no one can come to him unless it is granted by the Father, he isn’t making a claim of exclusivity, he’s not saying: “you’re out unless God says so”
He is saying something completely shocking.
Jesus is saying he is in relationship with God.
He is saying that God and Jesus are one and the same.
When Jesus says that knowing him is how you know God – that is skandalezo.
And some people can’t handle it.
They think – This guy? Really?
Nope. I don’t buy it.
They think – You know, I liked the food. I liked it when he fed me, but now… now he’s saying he’s God.
I can’t.
It’s too much for me.

And they walk away.

So then Jesus turns to his remaining disciples and asks – Do you also wish to go away?
Are you with me?
I think we can all relate to the disciples’ struggle here.
Who hasn’t felt the same way about what Jesus teaches us?
Who hasn’t at some point wished it were easier to be a disciple?
Who hasn’t had moments in their life when they have questioned their faith?
Who hasn’t had a time where believing in the love and goodness and grace of God was almost impossible?
Haven’t we all been there?
This teaching is difficult. We say. It’s too hard.
It might be easier for us to just walk away.

So Jesus asks – are you going to walk away too?
And it’s Peter who responds: “Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life – we have come to believe and know that you are the Holy one of God.”

This is where today’s gospel reading ended in the lectionary.
But it is not where John’s 6th chapter ends.
There are two more verses, and while the lectionary did not include them – I think they are the core of this whole discourse and cannot be forgotten.
Jesus replies to Peter’s powerful and faith-filled words – with this:

Have I not chosen you? Yet one of you will betray me.
And then we have our introduction to Judas.
Jesus says – one of you here is going to walk away from me too, in the biggest way, and still, I choose you.
AND STILL I CHOOSE YOU.

This is it.
This is the heart of John’s good news for us today.
Three words:
I choose you.
And maybe even more powerful are the two words before them – AND STILL.
Despite ourselves, despite all the ways in which we walk away – Jesus STILL chooses us.

This morning we are going to gather around the Baptismal font and see this choosing in action once again. We will watch as God claims and calls Calla a beloved child – just as God has done and continues to do to each and every one of us.

Today Jesus turns to us, just as he turned to the disciples and asks – what about you? Are you with me?
And it’s our turn to respond….
Now some of you might respond like the followers of Jesus and say: you know what? This is too difficult for me.
I just can’t do it.
I can’t buy into what you are saying.
This grace stuff just sounds too far fetched – like something made up in a fairy tale.
And some of you might respond like Peter: We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.

But no matter what your response is today –
no matter how you answer when Jesus turns to ask you if you are in or out – the only thing that really matters is that Jesus has already chosen you.

Sermon August 2, 2015

Sermons are meant to be heard!  Listen to this sermon HERE

Scripture: Exodus 16:2-4, 13-15, John 6:24-35
Title: Filled

So we’re in week 2 of five weeks in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, commonly referred to as the “bread of life discourse”
This whole thing began last week with the feeding of the 5000. John’s Gospel uses signs (like the feeding of the 5000) to reveal who Jesus is – and then Jesus will have a conversation after the sign to help explain it more deeply.
If you were here last week or listened to the podcast you remember that we talked about scarcity, and how God isn’t about scarcity but about abundance. When we look around and think that there isn’t enough, or that we aren’t enough, God reminds us that there is always more than enough. As we go through these verses today, remember this theme of abundance – and what it means for us to change our mindset to abundance instead of scarcity.

So here we are this week – Jesus has fed the people, there are baskets filled with leftovers, and at some point Jesus and his disciples snuck away and crossed the sea of Galilee to Capernaum.

When the people (the 5000 from last week) realized Jesus was not with them any more, they got into boats and started to search for him.
They finally find Jesus and say: “Rabbi, when did you come here?”
This is where the discourse, the conversation that explains the sign, begins.
Jesus answers their simple question in this less than simple way: “very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
Um. What?
Jesus, we just asked when you came over here.

I think there is a bit of snarky Jesus here. He’s essentially saying: You didn’t come to find me because of that thing I did, where I fed lots of people with only a little food, you’re coming because you are hungry again, and you want me to give you another meal.
See? snarky Jesus.
But also, honest Jesus.
Because that’s exactly what the people were doing.
Getting enough to eat, enough that you were FILLED, was not a common occurrence in 1st century Israel.
You ate a meal and then usually, unless you were among the wealthy elite, you wondered almost immediately where you were going to get your next one.
And you didn’t eat until you were full.
You ate what you could afford, which is a very different thing.
When Jesus fed the people until they were filled?
That was a BIG DEAL.
Of course the people would want to experience it again.
So what if it wasn’t really about the miracle they had just been a part of, they were hungry!
But Jesus isn’t in the business of short term fixes.
He tells them to work for the food of eternal life that is given by the Son of Man.

So here they are, hungry, coming to Jesus to eat again, and they get this super complex response to their relatively simple question –
So they say – ok Jesus, we’ll play along here…
What do we have to do to get this enduring food?
And Jesus says, believe in me.
And then here is when the people really get into this conversation – they say, ok then Jesus – show us a sign so that we can see it and believe in you! Our ancestors ate manna from God – every day they saw this food from heaven and so they had proof that God was providing for them.
What are YOU going to do for us?
Nevermind that it was these same people who saw Jesus take 5 little loaves of bread and two fish and feed 5000 people just a day earlier.

Jesus says “Moses didn’t give them that manna, God did. And God now is giving you a different kind of bread, the true bread from heaven that will give life to the world.”
Now we’re on to something. The people think.
Yes! We want that!
Jesus give us this bread you speak of, and give it to us forever.
And Jesus says – it’s me.
I’m the bread.
I’m the bread from heaven.
I am what will sustain you over the long haul.
I’m more than a temporary fix.
You are thinking day to day, but I can fill you forever.

It’s no wonder Jesus needs about 40 more verses to keep explaining this.
This was not easy for the followers of Jesus to understand then, and it’s not easy for us to grasp now.
We too get caught up in the day to day.
We get hungry and we look for food.
We need something and we find it.

We often think of our relationship with God in the same way we think of our relationship with food.
When we are hungry, we eat.
When we’re full, we go do something else.
When we need God, we go to church.
When we feel better, don’t. We do something else… we sleep in, have a leisurely morning at home.
Sometimes, we are just like those followers of Jesus – we have an experience that fills us up, that makes us overflow with God’s love, and then we spend weeks, months, years, trying to recreate that experience, so we can feel the same way.

Jesus is telling us something pretty important about the Kingdom of God in this 6th chapter of John.
Last week, Jesus reminded us that there is no scarcity in the Kingdom of God.
Scarcity is a short term fix mindset.
There’s not enough, so I’m going to grab what I can.
When the Israelites were escaping Egypt, God gave them manna to survive.
Manna was a day to day food.
It didn’t last.
And when the people began to grow their own crops and were able to feed themselves, the manna stopped.
Now here the people are again, hungry.
Here we are, hungry again as well.
And God no longer gives us manna,
God gives us Jesus.
Not manna, but the true bread.
Jesus is more than a short term fix.
Jesus sustains us not just for the moment, but forever.

The Kingdom of God is about abundance.
Today we take one more step away from the mindset of scarcity toward a mindset of abundance.
And this mindset of abundance means long term sustenance.
Where we are filled, not just once, but for good.

Jesus looks at the people, he looks at us, and says I’m not going to give you the bread that you are asking for, I’m going to give you something else.
I’m going to give you me.
Instead of giving us another miracle, Jesus gives us his own self.
And instead of being sustained for the moment, we are sustained for a lifetime.

This can be difficult – because, like the followers of Jesus on that hillside in Capernaum, we want the momentary fix.
We want to be filled now.
We want our prayers answered right now the way WE think they should be answered. We want our lives to be the way we want them to be and we want them to be that way now.

And God says – I’m going to give you me.
We are filled with the bread of life again today – not manna, not bread meant to take care of a physical, literal hunger, not manna that fills us for the moment, but the true bread.
So we come forward, and receive the bread of life in our hand, and know that we are filled.
Filled for today.
Filled for tomorrow.
Filled through all the moments of hunger we will have in all the days ahead.
Filled, and reminded that life in Jesus, life with Jesus, is one that sustains for the long haul.

Sermon July 26, 2015

Scripture: Ephesians 3:14-21, John 6:1-15
Title: Enough
(listen here)

This morning we begin 5 weeks in John Chapter 6. Yes. 5.
This large section of John (71 verses in all) is commonly referred to as “the bread of life discourse.” Most recognizable to us in this upcoming few weeks will be the number of times Jesus refers to himself as the “bread of life.”
But before we can go there, we have to start here, at the feeding of the 5000.
This miracle is what sets up the next 60 verses of John’s 6th chapter. Today we see the miracle – the next few weeks will be Jesus explaining what that miracle means.
This is the only miracle that appears in all four Gospel accounts, so we know it’s a big deal.
It’s a story we are probably very familiar with – that we’ve been hearing about since our earliest days in Sunday school. (After all, it’s a little boy that brings the food forward to Jesus that is used for this miracle, so of course we’d hear about it as kids.)

In John’s Gospel, the focus isn’t on the miracles at all, in fact, John calls them signs instead of miracles because he wants us to know one thing and one thing only – that what happens here today is a sign of who Jesus is.
Each time something miraculous happens in John’s Gospel, a little bit more of Jesus is revealed to us.
So that of course, brings us to this story today.
What is revealed about Jesus through this sign, the feeding of 5000?
Jesus sees a large crowd, finds a small bit of food, and he distributes it and somehow everyone is fed AND they have leftovers. The people were hungry, and Jesus fed them.
Through this text today – we learn that something important happens when we encounter Jesus – our needs are taken care of, whatever they are – and John wants us to know that Jesus won’t just meet a need, but will meet it in abundance. Jesus fed the people, but he didn’t just give them a bit and hope it would tide them over until they got home later.
Jesus gave them so much more than needed.
So this sign sets up the next 60 verses with a theme of abundance. It’s an important theme to remember as we move forward in these upcoming weeks, as we hear Jesus tell us that He is the bread of life, and he’ll tell us what it means to be fed this bread of life in abundance.

But before we can do any of that – before we can really understand abundance, we have to first talk about scarcity.
Scarcity is a mindset that revolves around the idea that there isn’t enough.
That the resources of the world, or our own personal resources are limited.

We see this scarcity mindset in today’s text through the actions of the disciples:
verse 7 – six months wages would not buy enough bread for each to get a little
verse 9 – but what are they (five loaves, two fish) among so many people?
Do you see how they are thinking with a mindset of scarcity?
They can’t even imagine a scenario in which what they have could possibly be enough.

Our own scarcity mindset shows up all over the place too.
We are told, quite often – that we need more.
We need more money, more power, more stuff.
And, this scarcity principle also plays out in our relationships with each other and with God.

One of my favorite authors and bloggers Glennon Melton had this to say about our scarcity mindset: we believe that there is a scarcity of good things in the universe. And that belief makes us kind of small and scared and unable to feel true joy for others or peace for ourselves.
Let’s see.
When a friend, or God forbid, a frenemy, mentions that she’s received a promotion at work, her son won an award at school, she’s just bought her third vacation home, or recently lost ten pounds…how do we feel?I know we say we feel happy for her, but how do we really feel? I think sometimes we really feel a little panicked. Like a determined bride at one of those terrifying Filene’s Basement wedding dress sales, we feel like our friend’s news means that now we have to run a little faster, push a little harder and get more aggressive in general. Because we think if our friend’s family is getting extra money, approval, admiration, and general blessings…that must mean there are fewer of those things less left over for our family. …
Like an author I love wrote, some of us believe that there is a “cosmic pie” and a bigger piece of goodness for you means a smaller piece for me.
Think about the people in your life who operate under this scarcity principle. You know who they are, right? They’re the people who cannot stand for light to shine on others. Who grab attention back as soon as they feel they’ve lost it in a conversation, who respond to your news with their bigger news. They find little acceptable ways to put people down. They are the ones who make you feel jumpy and nervous in general. And when you leave their company, you feel sort of discombobulated and smaller but you can’t put your finger on why.

I have to confess that I’ve struggled with this a lot.
I’ve felt that way leaving conversations before.
And, quite honestly, I know I’ve been the one to make others feel that way too.
I’ve bought into the scarcity mindset.
And I know I’m not alone.
I think we’ve all bought into this myth in one way or another.
We have bought into the belief that what we have isn’t enough so we put ourselves in debt to have newer bigger better.
We have bought into the belief that there isn’t enough for everyone so we have to fight for our slice of the pie.
We have bought into the belief that what we bring to the table isn’t enough. That there’s no way I’m enough…
We’ve bought into the belief that we aren’t enough.
This scarcity mindset applies to our faith as well.
We believe that God’s grace isn’t enough.
That God’s forgiveness is big enough for SOME things, but not MY thing, or not that person’s thing.
We’ve bought into this idea that God’s love is big, sure, but it’s not unlimited.
We are living in a culture of scarcity, and we are fully engaged in it.
We’re all in.

So what does God do with this?
When the disciples are fully engaged in this mindset of scarcity Jesus takes the little bit they have, the thing they believe is not enough, and blows their idea of scarcity out of the water.
If signs reveal something to us about God through Jesus – then what we have revealed to us today is that God’s kingdom is not one of scarcity, but one of abundance.
Not only did the 5000 eat until they were filled, but they had food left over! And not just a little bit left over, but 12 baskets.
Scarcity doesn’t exist in the kingdom of God.
And when we’re fully immersed in it, as we are, we can trust that God doesn’t let us stay in this mindset of scarcity for very long.
Just like with the disciples, Jesus takes our lives and fills it with abundance.
So we can stop worrying.
So we can believe that there is enough.
This is what Jesus reveals to us today.
When we think we aren’t good enough -or when we think that there isn’t enough grace and love and forgiveness to go around… Jesus proves us wrong.
Over and over and over again.

Later in that same talk about scarcity – Glennon says “quit fighting for a bigger slice of pie and just bake a bigger pie, and then invite everyone to share in it with you.”

Through Jesus – God has made the biggest pie, for us.
And there is enough.
More than enough.
Enough for you and for me.
Enough that we can eat our fill and invite others to share in it with us.

If this is mind-boggling for you, you are not alone – look what Paul says to the church in Ephesus in verse 20 that Linda read for us today:

“(Jesus) by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine…”
Imagine the most grace and love and forgiveness you can, and God’s love and forgiveness and grace is still more than that.
More than we can even imagine.
More.
This is the good news.
It’s not what we have or what we bring or what we can or cannot do that makes a difference… it’s Jesus working in and through us and our offerings to transform the world.

Let’s go back to that Sunday school story, and imagine for a moment the little boy bringing his two fish and five barley loaves forward.
Imagine how he felt when the disciples pulled him forward to give his food to the crowd.
Not only did he know without a doubt that it wasn’t enough for that whole crowd, maybe he wondered if he’d even get any of it at all, if he’d be left out of the meal.
After all, he was just a kid.
No one important.
Maybe he worried. Worried that he’d go to bed hungry tonight.
Worried he’d have to explain to his parents where his food went.
Worried that the crowd would be upset that they didn’t get more food.
And then, imagine what he was thinking as he watched Jesus bring that food around to everyone. As HIS five loaves and two fish fed everyone.
Imagine what he was thinking as he saw basket after basket of leftovers be filled up.

This is what God does with us.
With who we are and what we bring.
Jesus is working in us right now, transforming our mindset of scarcity into abundance.
Over and over and over again, Jesus tells us:
What you have is enough.
Because you have me.
Who you are is enough.
Because You are a child of God
Christ has worked for you and is working in you right now…
and you are enough.

itle: Enough

This morning we begin 5 weeks in John Chapter 6.  Yes. 5.

This large section of John (71 verses in all) is commonly referred to as “the bread of life discourse.” Most recognizable to us in this upcoming few weeks will be the number of times Jesus refers to himself as the “bread of life.”

But before we can go there, we have to start here, at the feeding of the 5000.

This miracle is what sets up the next 60 verses of John’s 6th chapter.  Today we see the miracle – the next few weeks will be Jesus explaining what that miracle means.

This is the only miracle that appears in all four Gospel accounts, so we know it’s a big deal.

It’s a story we are probably very familiar with – that we’ve been hearing about since our earliest days in Sunday school.  (After all, it’s a little boy that brings the food forward to Jesus that is used for this miracle, so of course we’d hear about it as kids.)

In John’s Gospel, the focus isn’t on the miracles at all, in fact, John calls them signs instead of miracles because he wants us to know one thing and one thing only – that what happens here today is a sign of who Jesus is.

Each time something miraculous happens in John’s Gospel, a little bit more of Jesus is revealed to us.

So that of course, brings us to this story today.

What is revealed about Jesus through this sign, the feeding of 5000?

Jesus sees a large crowd, finds a small bit of food, and he distributes it and somehow everyone is fed AND they have leftovers.  The people were hungry, and Jesus fed them.
Through this text today – we learn that something important happens when we encounter Jesus – our needs are taken care of, whatever they are – and John wants us to know that Jesus won’t just meet a need, but will meet it in abundance.  Jesus fed the people, but he didn’t just give them a bit and hope it would tide them over until they got home later.
Jesus gave them so much more than needed.

So this sign sets up the next 60 verses with a theme of abundance.  It’s an important theme to remember as we move forward in these upcoming weeks, as we hear Jesus tell us that He is the bread of life, and he’ll tell us what it means to be fed this bread of life in abundance.

But before we can do any of that – before we can really understand abundance, we have to first talk about scarcity.

Scarcity is a mindset that revolves around the idea that there isn’t enough.

That the resources of the world, or our own personal resources are limited.

We see this scarcity mindset in today’s text through the actions of the disciples:

verse 7 – six months wages would not buy enough bread for each to get a little

verse 9 – but what are they (five loaves, two fish) among so many people?

Do you see how they are thinking with a mindset of scarcity?

They can’t even imagine a scenario in which what they have could possibly be enough.

Our own scarcity mindset shows up all over the place too.

We are told, quite often – that we need more.

We need more money, more power, more stuff.

And, this scarcity principle also plays out in our relationships with each other and with God.

One of my favorite authors and bloggers Glennon Melton had this to say about our scarcity mindset:  we believe that there is a scarcity of good things in the universe. And that belief makes us kind of small and scared and unable to feel true joy for others or peace for ourselves.

Let’s see.

When a friend, or God forbid, a frenemy, mentions that she’s received a promotion at work, her son won an award at school, she’s just bought her third vacation home, or recently lost ten pounds…how do we feel?I know we say we feel happy for her, but how do we really feel? I think sometimes we really feel a little panicked. Like a determined bride at one of those terrifying Filene’s Basement wedding dress sales, we feel like our friend’s news means that now we have to run a little faster, push a little harder and get more aggressive in general. Because we think if our friend’s family is getting extra money, approval, admiration, and general blessings…that must mean there are fewer of those things less left over for our family. …

Like an author I love wrote, some of us believe that there is a “cosmic pie” and a bigger piece of goodness for you means a smaller piece for me.

Think about the people in your life who operate under this scarcity principle. You know who they are, right? They’re the people who cannot stand for light to shine on others. Who grab attention back as soon as they feel they’ve lost it in a conversation, who respond to your news with their bigger news. They find little acceptable ways to put people down. They are the ones who make you feel jumpy and nervous in general. And when you leave their company, you feel sort of discombobulated and smaller but you can’t put your finger on why.

I have to confess that I’ve struggled with this a lot.

I’ve felt that way leaving conversations before.

And, quite honestly, I know I’ve been the one to make others feel that way too.

I’ve bought into the scarcity mindset.

And I know I’m not alone.

I think we’ve all bought into this myth in one way or another.

We have bought into the belief that what we have isn’t enough so we put ourselves in debt to have newer bigger better.

We have bought into the belief that there isn’t enough for everyone so we have to fight for our slice of the pie.

We have bought into the belief that what we bring to the table isn’t enough. That there’s no way I’m enough…

We’ve bought into the belief that we aren’t enough.

This scarcity mindset applies to our faith as well.

We believe that God’s grace isn’t enough.

That God’s forgiveness is big enough for SOME things, but not MY thing, or not that person’s thing.

We’ve bought into this idea that God’s love is big, sure, but it’s not unlimited.

We are living in a culture of scarcity, and we are fully engaged in it.

We’re all in.

So what does God do with this?

When the disciples are fully engaged in this mindset of scarcity Jesus takes the little bit they have, the thing they believe is not enough, and blows their idea of scarcity out of the water.

If signs reveal something to us about God through Jesus – then what we have revealed to us today is that God’s kingdom is not one of scarcity, but one of abundance.

Not only did the 5000 eat until they were filled, but they had food left over!  And not just a little bit left over, but 12 baskets.

Scarcity doesn’t exist in the kingdom of God.

And when we’re fully immersed in it, as we are, we can trust that God doesn’t let us stay in this mindset of scarcity for very long.

Just like with the disciples, Jesus takes our lives and fills it with abundance.

So we can stop worrying.

So we can believe that there is enough.

This is what Jesus reveals to us today.

When we think we aren’t good enough -or when we think that there isn’t enough grace and love and forgiveness to go around… Jesus proves us wrong.

Over and over and over again.

Later in that same talk about scarcity – Glennon says “quit fighting for a bigger slice of pie and just bake a bigger pie, and then invite everyone to share in it with you.”

Through Jesus – God has made the biggest pie, for us.

And there is enough.

More than enough.

Enough for you and for me.

Enough that we can eat our fill and invite others to share in it with us.

If this is mind-boggling for you, you are not alone – look what Paul says to the church in Ephesus in verse 20 that Linda read for us today:

“(Jesus) by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine…”

Imagine the most grace and love and forgiveness you can, and God’s love and forgiveness and grace is still more than that.

More than we can even imagine.

More.

This is the good news.

It’s not what we have or what we bring or what we can or cannot do that makes a difference… it’s Jesus working in and through us and our offerings to transform the world.

Let’s go back to that Sunday school story, and imagine for a moment the little boy bringing his two fish and five barley loaves forward.

Imagine how he felt when the disciples pulled him forward to give his food to the crowd.

Not only did he know without a doubt that it wasn’t enough for that whole crowd, maybe he wondered if he’d even get any of it at all, if he’d be left out of the meal.

After all, he was just a kid.
No one important.

Maybe he worried.  Worried that he’d go to bed hungry tonight.

Worried he’d have to explain to his parents where his food went.

Worried that the crowd would be upset that they didn’t get more food.

And then, imagine what he was thinking as he watched Jesus bring that food around to everyone.  As HIS five loaves and two fish fed everyone.

Imagine what he was thinking as he saw basket after basket of leftovers be filled up.

This is what God does with us.
With who we are and what we bring.

Jesus is working in us right now, transforming our mindset of scarcity into abundance.

Over and over and over again, Jesus tells us:

What you have is enough.

Because you have me.

Who you are is enough.

Because You are a child of God

Christ has worked for you and is working in you right now…

and you are enough.

Sermon from June 21, 2015

Listen to this sermon here.

For the past two weeks, Layla has been waking up with nightmares.  Sometimes 2-3 or three times a night.  It usually goes something like this: I’m awakened from a deep sleep by Layla shouting “MOOOOM!” over and over in increasing volume and intensity until I stumble blindly and half sleeping into her room.

And then she tells me about the scary dream, I give her a snuggle, a sip of water, tell her it’s not real, but I’m here and she’s ok, I give her a smooch, and she goes back to sleep.

Sometimes I think she just wants to know that she’s not alone when she wakes up scared.
And honestly – I think that’s how I feel when I’m scared too, but since I’m about 30 years older than Layla it’s not really socially acceptable for me to call my mom when something scares me. (though sometimes I still do)

The texts today, from Mark and from Job, have this same underlying feeling.  They both describe a basic human need that we all have – to feel we are not alone when bad things happen or when we’re scared.
In the Gospel lesson from Mark, we have the somewhat familiar story of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee.
Many of us have likely heard this story before, and the lesson we hear in response to this text is usually the same:
Sometimes we are in storms, but don’t be afraid, Jesus will calm them.
And while I think this isn’t a horrible interpretation of the text, I also don’t think it’s necessarily a good one either.

Because what if you are in a storm and the storm doesn’t get better?
Does that mean Jesus didn’t hear you?
Does that mean you didn’t have enough faith?
This is why, in my opinion, assuming that this text is about trusting Jesus to calm the storm is the wrong one to make.

So what is this story of Jesus calming the storm really about then?

The text today begins with verse 35, “On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “let us go across to the other side.””
What a start!
This one small verse has so many details in it:
On that day: what day?
The same day that we heard about last week.  Where Jesus preaches all sorts of parables about the Kingdom of God to the large crowds on the hillside by the Sea of Galilee.

What time of that day? Evening.

He said to them – which we know means Jesus talking to the disciples.

And what does Jesus say? “let us go across to the other side”

So we know, from last week, that Jesus is in Capernaum, on the west side of the Sea of Galilee, and the disciples don’t know it, but we know that “across to the other side” means the Gerasene territory.

The Sea of Galilee is a stunning area.
Beautiful, warm, and in the Jordan River Valley, it’s surrounded by hills and mountains. But it’s a shallow lake, and known for being in a strange sort of ecosystem, where storms pop up with little to no warning and escalate quickly into dangerous territory.
So one thing you never do is go out on the lake at night.
It’s not done.
But it’s evening, “the end of the day” and Jesus says they should get in the boat to go to the other side, AND THEY DO.
This is insane.
They don’t question – they just get in the boat.
These disciples are fishermen, they should know this even more than the average guy.
And a storm comes up while they are traveling across the lake and it gets bad.
The boat is going down.
When the disciples call to Jesus – who is sleeping – they literally think they are dying – that this is it.
Notice they don’t ask Jesus to calm the storm.
No, they shout to him, “don’t you care that we’re dying?!”
Not help us Jesus.
But – don’t you care?
They are, in essence, asking: Where are you Jesus?
They don’t want Jesus to fix everything, they want to know they aren’t alone.

Yet Jesus gets up and calms the storm.

And then, you’d think all is better, but what does Mark say happens next?  The disciples are even more scared than before.
The Greek literally says they feared a great fear.
But it’s a different kind of fear than before… instead of fear for their lives, as during the storm, the disciples’ great fear here is more awe than terror.
Because they’ve just witnessed the full power of what Jesus can do, and they realize Jesus is a lot bigger than they had even begun to hope for.

So they wonder – in fact, this whole passage ends with a question: “Who then is this – that even the wind and sea obey him?”

And it is left unresolved.
If you’re anything like me, you don’t like it when things aren’t resolved.
You want answers, because answers mean you understand it.
But we don’t get that here.
At all.
And maybe that’s ok.
I think maybe not having all the answers might actually be the point here.

And that’s made even more clear when read next to the Job text from this morning.
Job has lost everything, and his friends have tried and tried and tried to give him the reasons why.
Even Job has tried to figure out why.
And, even though today’s text from Job is best read in the context of the ENTIRE 42 chapters, this section’s point is pretty clear.
Are you God?
Did you create the world?
No?
Then stop talking.
This whole section is basically a God smack down.
And while it seems kind of harsh, I think the core message of it is the same as Mark’s Gospel today:
Sometimes the why is not always knowable, and we don’t have all the answers, but the answers aren’t what is important… what is important is what we CAN know.

God is with us.

Job’s deeper need was to know that God had not abandoned him, that God still cared.
The same goes with the disciples – when they called out to Jesus in the midst of the storm, they didn’t ask for help, they asked if God still cared.

So what does this mean for us?

I like to think we are asked to get in the boat.
We are all asked to make a journey.
We don’t know where we are going.
We don’t know what the journey will be like.
We don’t know what is going to happen when we get to the other side.
And sometimes, the act of faith isn’t trusting that God will calm the storms on the way, but our act of faith is getting in the boat in the first place.

So today we are asked to get in the boat.
Despite all those things we don’t know.
All the variables we can’t predict.

But what we do know, what we can be completely and totally confident in is that being loved by God means we are not alone.

It is because we can’t see and don’t know and are almost always afraid – God sends us Jesus.
Someone who gets in the boat with us.
And having Jesus with us changes things.
But not always the way we think – the world doesn’t suddenly get easier when we have Jesus with us.
In fact, sometimes it’s even harder.
Storms still come.
We are still afraid.

We had a reminder of how dark and scary the world can be again this week.
When a gunman attacked a group of African American Christians in the midst of a Bible study.
We turned on the news and heard story after story about hate and anger and we felt sadness and fear.
Fear because we were reminded of how fragile life is.
Fear because we were shown that darkness can reach into any place.
And we experienced again how easy it can be to let our fear take over.
So maybe this morning, we too want to call out to God – don’t you care?!
Look – look around us God!  See what’s happening?
Don’t you see that we are perishing?
The cry of the disciples is our cry too, each and every time we encounter the darkness of this world.

I was reminded this week by my friend and colleague Pastor Kat, that we often rush into the midst of things that are scary and try to calm people down by saying “shhhh, it’s ok… there is nothing to be afraid of.”
I do this each time I run into Layla’s room in the middle of the night.
It’s our knee-jerk reaction to calm fear by downplaying it’s reality.
But, I think this is wrong.

There IS a lot to be afraid of in this world.
There’s cancer, and unemployment, car crashes, and floods, and war and violence and hate.
There is a lot of scary stuff out there.
And we can’t ignore it.
We can’t minimize it, and we can’t pretend it doesn’t exist.

Our world is a scary place.
That’s the reality in which we live.
Sometimes, when we wake up to news like we all heard on Thursday morning, we wonder if in fact the darkness is overtaking the light… if maybe the darkness is winning.
And sometimes, we let fear take over for a little bit.

But God doesn’t ever tell us that there’s nothing to be afraid of, God says, over and over again, Do Not Be Afraid.
And there is a big difference between the two.
It’s not that we don’t have things to be afraid of, but we are told NOT to be afraid because God is with us.

And today we are also reminded that the opposite of fear isn’t courage – it’s faith.
God is in the boat with us.
God is here with us.
Today, the actions of Jesus help move us from terror to awe.
From fear to faith.
Today is our reminder that no matter what questions we have,
no matter how complex the mysteries of God are,
no matter how stormy our lives get,
no matter how sinful we are,
no matter how scary the world around us might be,
no matter what happens on our journey to the other side,
God is right there with us.

We are not alone.

That’s what God wanted us to know and learn and taste and see when he sent Jesus.

We are not alone.
And we are loved.  We are SO loved.

All of us.

Those who are struggling to manage their fear and anxiety in a world that often feels more dark than light are loved.

Those who gather in churches around the world today despite fearing for their lives because of what they believe or where they are meeting are loved.

Even those who are filled with fear that has turned into hate and somehow act on it are loved.

God sent Jesus into the world, into our world, to be with us, to love us, and to be our light in the darkness.

Do not be afraid.
The light has come into the world, and the darkness, the fear, cannot and will not overcome it.

AMEN

Sermon: May 17, 2015

Sermons are meant to be heard – not just read – so consider taking a listen!

Scripture: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26,  John 17:6-8, 13-19
Title: Drawing the Short Straw

I know it’s hard to believe, but I wasn’t always this specimen of strength and athleticism you see before you today.

This week, when Katie and I were talking about her kid’s time, I told her the story of my skinny, weak, gangly self playing kickball in elementary school.  Every time I came up to kick, the other team would yell out “step in!” and everyone would move forward.

It was the worst.

And as my lack of kickball skills were common knowledge, I was most often picked last for the team.
It would usually be between me and another gangly awkward kid, and we would both be silently hoping that our name was next.  Because even though it wasn’t a great place to be, being second-to-last wasn’t nearly as horrible and humiliating as being the last picked.

So when I first read today’s reading from Acts, I read it through a different lens.
The lens of not being the a-team.
The lens of not being chosen first.
And I heard about Matthias and Barsabbas and couldn’t help but wonder if they felt at all like I did, standing there, next to the other person, hoping it’s your name called first.

The location of both of today’s texts are important – not where they physically take place, but where they are located historically and in our church year.
Today is the final Sunday of Easter.
Next week is Pentecost.
This past Thursday was Ascension Day, the day where Jesus ascends into heaven to be at the right hand of God.

So this morning finds the disciples in this strange in-between zone.  They have followed Jesus, learned from him, watched him be killed, they’ve seen him rise from the dead, and have just watched him go back to be with God.  So the question for them is… now what?What do we do now?

Well, Peter, being the practical leader that he is, decides that the most important thing to do in this moment is to replace Judas.
While it’s been argued among scholars the exact reasoning for Peter’s decision, most agree that keeping the connection to the 12 tribes of Israel and remaining true to the prophecies were the main ones.

The remaining 11 disciples decided that this new disciple should come from among those who had been with them during Jesus’ ministry. After all, who better to tell the good news of Christ than someone who had been there and had seen it all?
So they propose two guys for this job: Matthias and Barsabbas.
And then, believe it or not, they cast lots to decide.
A flip of the coin decides who is the new 12th disciple.
They didn’t take resumes.
They didn’t conduct interviews.
They just said, you two guys stand here, heads it’s Barsabbas, tails its Matthias.
Ready, set. … Tails – Matthias, you’re in.
Sorry Barsabbas.  Better luck next time.

I feel for these guys.
I’m sure for them, this moment was not great.
They hadn’t been included in the original 12, so there’s that good start.
And then this – to be picked by a flip of the coin?
Rough.

I think a lot of us can relate – even if you were among the lucky ones who were picked first for kickball and other playground sports – you can still relate to that moment that seems so important when it’s happening, but in reality doesn’t do a whole lot to the big picture.

This text makes me laugh a bit because the disciples are worrying about this one little thing and right around the corner is Pentecost and they have NO CLUE what is about to happen.  Here they are, voting to bring just one guy into their inner circle, and next week, the Holy Spirit destroys that very inner circle and brings everyone else on board.

It’s going to blow their mind.
It makes me wonder what little things in my world are going to be blown out of the water by the Holy Spirit.
And despite what is about to come, despite that we never hear about Matthias again after today, this moment is still important enough to have been recorded, for us to hear about, not because one individual is going to save the whole of God’s plan … but he matters because he was a part of what made the team complete.
He is called, but the plan isn’t contingent on him.

God is going to work.

Things are going to happen with or without Matthias.
Things are going to happen if the lot would have fallen on Barsabbas.
Whether the disciples like it or not, whether they are ready or not, the Holy Spirit is coming.
And for us – it’s already happened.
The Holy Spirit has come.
God is working in the world already.  Right now.
And the good news for us?
The lot has already been cast.
The coin was flipped, and God spoke YOUR name.
You are in.
God has called us disciples.
And while God’s plan isn’t contingent on you – your presence makes the team complete.
The team needs you.

This is what I think Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel.
We come across Jesus praying to God, praying for his disciples to God.
Jesus knows what is coming.
Jesus knows that he is going to go away, but he is praying that those disciples who are still here might be reminded that the work is not done yet.
We’re disciples too.  This prayer is for us.
We have all been sent.

John 17:18 Jesus says “As you (God)have sent me (Jesus) into the world, so I (Jesus) have sent them (us) into the world.”

That’s how it works.
There’s a plan here:
God sends Jesus.
Jesus sends us.
Because there is still a lot of work for us to do.

In the final verse of today’s Gospel Jesus says that he has made us holy.
Sanctified.
That word literally means to be made holy, or to be set apart for God.

I want to focus on this word for a second, because I think we can hear “set apart” and think it means “stay apart.”  That we should be separate from the world around us.
But it’s the rest of that definition that matters most.
Sanctified means to be set apart FOR GOD.
For God.
We are set apart, sanctified, We are being made holy FOR something, and Jesus tells us today that we are to go out into the world.

Pope Francis once said “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

I think this is what we all want to be.
We WANT to be this kind of church.  Be this kind of disciples.
But I also think that we don’t really know how.
Our world today gives us a lot of information, but not a lot of action.
We hear a lot of opinions about how to make the world better, but don’t see a lot of people actually doing the things they talk about.
I’m guilty of this too.
I can be the best armchair activist the world has ever seen.

But I’m not sure that’s what God is asking.
I think God is asking us for more than armchair activism.

This is why Jesus prays today.
He is praying for us.
Jesus knows how hard it is to go out and DO.
So he prays for us who are sent.
For the wisdom and strength to do more.
To recognize that our names have been called.   

I spent the last two days at the Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly in Ramsey, and along with a few of our congregational delegates, I heard the call to go out.
The theme was “The Word became flesh, and moved into the neighborhood”

We are asked to be about more than talking.
To be about more than focusing on things inside this building, and more on going out and doing.

Our keynote speaker Brian McLaren reminded us that being disciples isn’t about bringing people into the church, it’s about going out, into the neighborhood and BEING the church.

Now for some of you – maybe even a lot of you – this is as uncomfortable a task as when Chad asked you to change pews last week.
Go out?
Be the church out there?
But I like it in here.
It’s safe.
And I know people.
And my pew is comfy.

I get it.

This is no easy task.

But there is a lot of work to be done still, and if we don’t do it.  If we don’t go out and show the love of Christ to the community around us, the love that WE have received from God first – then who will?

There’s a story from the Old Testament, when Moses was giving one of his many arguments to God as to why he was the wrong person to lead the Israelites out of slavery – and God simply asked Moses – what’s in your hand?
For Moses – it was a shepherd’s staff, and God used that staff to make all sorts of miracles happen.

Moses didn’t go out and get something new.
He didn’t do something he had never done before.
He simply took what he knew and let God make it holy.
He let God set him apart for the work of God.

And look what happened.

This same thing is being asked of you today:
What’s in your hand?

Today, I want us to imagine.

I want us to imagine together how we might be invited to join God already at work in the world.
I want us to imagine together what it might look like to make the world a better place for God.
I want us to imagine together what our own personal gifts and talents and passions might have been set apart for.

God is already at work in the world.

We can either sit here, safe in our pews, surrounded by people who look and think and believe a lot like us, or we can go out.

God will love us either way.
God calls us beloved no matter which one we choose.

But we can go into a broken, hurting, needy world, and share with them the love we have been given.

So as we watch this video, as we are reminded of the prayer that Jesus prayed for his disciples, for us, and for the world, I want you to imagine what these words might mean for you.

Jesus has called you.

Jesus has sanctified you.

Jesus is sending you.

Now what?

 

Video

http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/jesus-said-these-things

Sermon 5/3/2015

Sermons were meant to be heard, not read, so listen here.

Scripture: Psalm 22:25-31, John 15:1-8
Title: What Remains

I like wine.  (Never thought you’d hear a sermon start with that did you?)

Other than knowing the difference between sweet and dry, red and white, and that I like it, I don’t know a whole lot more about it.

I haven’t ever toured a vineyard, and I don’t really know much about the process of winemaking other than that one I Love Lucy episode where they are stomping grapes.
A connoisseur I am not.

Earlier this week I was talking about this sermon to Sam and he asked if I had preached on it in another year, because he was pretty sure he remembered me talking about growing things before this.
While I haven’t preached on this particular text before, it is true I have certainly not hidden my lack of skills in the area of horticulture.
And really even if I was particularly green thumbed, which we know is not true, my summer veggie garden isn’t quite the same as grape vines in a vineyard.
All this is to say that when you combine my lack of knowledge of winemaking with my black thumb, you get a Gospel lesson that is a bit problematic for me.

So even more than usual, it’s important to try to understand what Jesus is trying to say his 1st century middle eastern disciples, and what it might have to say to us, 21st century american ones, when he talks about vines, branches, fruit and vine-growers.

Two main themes come forward when we listen to today’s text.

Jesus says the same few words over and over again, while it can make this text seem repetitive, it does not make it difficult to figure out what Jesus is trying to communicate.  The two words we hear throughout this text are “fruit”, and “abide”.  And it is with these two words I’d like to stay today.

If you’ve ever planted veggies from seed, the little packet of seeds tells you to sprinkle them on in there, and let them sprout, and then when they start coming up, you’re supposed to remove sprouts until they are 1-2 inches apart.

I can never do it.

For some reason, it goes against something in my core to pull out veggies plants and let them die.  The fact that I got it to grow in the first place is a big deal, then to just pull it out when it’s doing so well?  It makes me feel so guilty.

But while from the plant’s perspective, that might seem very nice of me, when I don’t thin them out, those rows of veggies end up getting a little crowded.  And then they can’t really grow. In fact, they either don’t grow at all because there isn’t enough space or nutrients, or they can only grow a little and you end up with mini carrots and mini radishes.  (Not like I know from experience or anything.)

This thinning that the seed packets ask us to do?
That is pruning.
And unlike pruning of grapes and vines, it’s the kind of pruning I understand.
Pruning for health, not to destroy things.
And it’s this kind of pruning Jesus is talking about today.

I think we often hear the verses about pruning this morning and hear them in a few ways –
The first is to think Jesus is saying watch out, God is hanging out with pruning shears ready to go to town so you’d better start producing some fruit, or else.
Or, it’s also pretty easy to hear this verse and look around and say, alright, who do I see in here that needs to be pruned?  I’ve got this God, leave the pruning up to me.

Pruning is not something that we decide.
We are not the vinegrower, God is.
And God prunes because pruning is necessary for health and growth, and for fruit.

If you look back at verse 2 Jesus says that he prunes the branches in order to make them bear, not just fruit, but MORE fruit.
There is a purpose for pruning.

See, pruning happens not to get rid of dead, bad branches, but in fact, a lot of pruning happens just like it did in my garden. We prune things that are living and doing well, but that are making it difficult for the nutrients in the vine to go where they can be used for fruit.  Sometimes branches are cut simply because they are in the way of the fruit.

So what remains after pruning is fruit.
And not just any fruit, but healthy, abundant fruit.

The phrase “bear fruit” is found 6 times in 8 verses.
And three of those add the word more, or much to fruit.
So this passage is first about abundance.
It’s not a condemning passage, and I think it’s a mistake to read it that way.

The vinegrower isn’t seeking bad stuff and cutting it out, instead the vinegrower is finding good stuff and giving it a chance to be even more fruitful.
It’s a perspective shift that’s important.

Pruning is about life and growth, and the result of pruning is abundance.

And pruning, though necessary, is sometimes painful.
When we take time and ask, how do I need to be pruned? We find ourselves faced with the difficult task of being honest with ourselves.
Honest in relation to our place in the community: am I connected and bearing fruit, or am I taking nutrients away from fruit makers?
And honest with ourselves in our relationship to God:  Am I connected to God?  What things in my life get in the way?

How do I need to be pruned?

The answer to that question is found by remembering the purpose of pruning is fruit bearing.

So what does it mean to bear fruit exactly?
And how do I know if I’m doing it?

I think we look to see how Jesus is manifested in our lives.
Do we care about the things Jesus cares about?
And if we care about those things, do we care without action?

I think when we look around, we can see evidence of places where fruit is happening.
When one person hears and is inspired by a story of service and steps forward in faith to serve as well… that is fruit.
When a small group of POP members serves a meal for cancer patients staying at Hope Lodge… that is fruit.
When hugs and prayers and time are given to hurting friends… that is fruit.
When rival gang members stand unified to protect police officers, because they believe a broken system can’t be solved with more brokenness… that is fruit.
When emergency personnel and aid workers rush toward the scene of utter devastation instead of away… that is fruit.

When we are Jesus’s hands and feet in the world, fruit happens.

If we want our lives to bear fruit, we need to be connected to Jesus.
Abundant life, or, fruit producing life, isn’t possible apart from the vine – apart from Jesus. And John’s Gospel makes that very clear with his use of one word: Abide.
The word abide, in Greek Meno, occurs 8 times in these 8 verses.

John is not hinting at something.
He’s not being subtle.
Abide with me. Meno
Stay with me. Meno
Be with me. Meno
This passage, besides being about abundance or fruit-bearing, is also about relationship.
The relationship between God and us.

In verse 4 Jesus says we should abide in him as he abides in us.
God is already in us.
But it’s a two way street.
God is with us, and we need to be with God.
When we separate ourselves from the vine, we cannot grow.
Just as cut flowers have a limited life span, so too do we when we disconnect from Jesus.
Sure, we can survive for a while, even look pretty, but we cannot thrive.
We can’t bear fruit.

“Abide in me as I abide in you.”
It’s already happened people.
God is in us.
We are a part of the vine already.
God is with us.
This isn’t about God being with us, it’s about us being with God.
Our relationship with God is a two way street.
And God has done God’s part already.
Verse 3 reminds us that we’ve already been cleansed, and verse 4 says God is with us.

Nothing changes that.
Nothing.

And now it’s our turn to abide with God.
To “be with” God.
When we stay close to the vine, things happen.
Abundant life happens.

After the year of tiny inedible radishes and carrots, I learned to prune.
But I have to tell you, I have never stopped feeling horrible taking something out and just letting it die.   So for the last two years, I have pruned and replanted.
I sort of think of it as my version of grafting.

Grafting, in case you don’t remember from junior high earth science, is when a cut section of tree or plant is attached to an existing tree or plant and it grows anew.
Grafting is how vinegrowers make new varieties of grapes, or even help small vines become stronger and more resistant.

So maybe you’ve been listening and thinking to yourself, you know, if I’m brutally honest with myself, I don’t really feel connected to the vine anymore.
I’ve walked away, I’ve put distance between myself and God, I’ve struggled with that relationship.  I think I’ve been pruned.
Or maybe you’ve been thinking, you know, I’m pretty sure I’m connected to the vine, but I don’t think I’m really a fruit producer.  I’m not pruned yet, but I think I could be.
If either of those feel true for you today –  I want you to know that it’s not the end.
If you’ve ever wondered what grace means for you, today we have a reminder.
Today, we come forward, we come here (move to the altar) and get reconnected.

We have confessed our sins, we have been cleansed and freed, and now we are brought back to the life-giving vine.
Because even if you have walked away, even if you have disconnected, that doesn’t change what remains.  It doesn’t change what God has already done for you.

For it was on the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread, gave thanks…. (communion)

End of service closing:

There’s one more fun fact of today’s text I’d like to leave you with today.

It’s the yous.  All of the you’s in today’s Gospel are plural.
You can read it as “You all”
I am the vine, YOU ALL are the branches.
Apart from me YOU ALL can do nothing.
My Father glorified when YOU ALL bear much fruit and become disciples.

Because a vine doesn’t have one single branch.
It’s made up of many branches.
Our culture lifts up autonomy and independence – but we are challenged to go against the grain and bear fruit not by ourselves, but in community.
Community matters.
Church matters.
We are here together, because even though one little branch can and does produce fruit, a vine full of branches produces fruit in abundance.  (and then we get wine)
So we go, confident in our connection to the vine, regrafted into this community, to bear fruit, and love and serve the Lord.

Broken but Beautiful. (Sermon from 4/12/15)

Text: John 20:19-31
Sermons were meant to be heard, so listen.

When we last left the disciples, at the end of Easter Sunday, they had scattered in fear and grief after witnessing the loss of their Lord and teacher.  Women came to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus and were told: “He is not here, He is risen.”  And they ran away in fear.

And as we come upon them in today’s Gospel, there they are,still afraid, hiding in a locked room.

There was likely a complex mix of emotions going on in that room.
Fear, yes.
But maybe, just maybe, there was some hope sprinkled around that fear.
Hope that it wasn’t a joke.
Hope that Jesus really had risen from the dead.
And then, quickly on the heels of that hope, comes the questions.
Is rising from the dead is even possible?
Did the women just hear what they wanted to hear?
Was it a product of their grief?

And if it’s true, what does it even mean?
If it’s true, then where is he?

This text, of the disciples hiding in the locked room, and Jesus coming to see them, occurs each year on the Sunday immediately following Easter.
Jesus appears to them, despite their fear, despite their questions.
Despite the locked door.
And there is a lot to be gained from hearing this story year after year.

Because we often feel like the disciples after hearing the good news on Easter Sunday. Not only does it feel like Easter happened a month ago instead of just a week, but we too have that mix of emotions … wondering if it’s simply too good to be true, if maybe we misunderstood it, or if what we heard last week is even possible.

So year after year, we need this reminder on this day, that God comes into the locked places we are hiding, comes to us, not the other way around, and says:
Yes it’s true.
Everything you heard last week is true.
It’s true if you are scared,
it’s true if you are hiding,
it’s true if you are questioning.
Jesus is risen.
Death didn’t get the last word.
Love won.
It is all true.

The text we hear this morning, of Jesus entering in and showing up will be a good enough reminder for a lot of you.
But then, there are a few of us that are, if we’re honest, really happy that Thomas is in this Gospel too.
Thomas of the worst nickname in the Bible.
Thomas asks for something that I think a lot of us also would like to ask for: proof.
Real, actual, let me touch the risen Jesus, proof.
And he’s forever known as “Doubting Thomas”
Yet he’s not so much doubting, as wanting more.
And not only does he ask for it, but he gets it.
Jesus shows up another time, and this time Thomas is there.
He asks for proof, and gets it.

And while I could spend the whole morning talking about doubt and fear and the burden of proof, I want to take some time and focus in on another aspect of this text that we often breeze past in our haste to talk about Thomas and why he’s not really deserving of his nickname.

Have you ever noticed in romantic movies or books or television shows, when someone does something hurtful and ruins a relationship, they run away, then have an epiphany, and then they come back and say they are sorry and have the I love you moment and then suddenly, magically, everything is ok?
You know what I’m talking about?

Literally every single fictional love story ever has these plot points.

And after the big I’m sorry and I love you moment, what was bad turns into something good, and everything is forgiven and it’s like the bad never even happened at all?

I think, as much as we logically know reality is not like the movies, this is kind of what we think about Easter.

Jesus died for us and rose and now everything that happened before is better and happy and shiny and we can all just go back to the way we were and everything is going to be ok.

Jesus is back!  Everything is fine!

But is that reality?
Or is that the Hollywood version?

Because, yes, things ARE different.
We’re in a new normal.  We’re in a post resurrection world now.
Today’s Gospel is a reminder of what happens in this new normal, this new world we are in where resurrection has happened.

For a lot of us, we left here last week and life wasn’t magically better.
We still had empty seats at our Easter meals.
Our cancer didn’t go away.
We were still unemployed.
Our marriages were still struggling.
Our kids still threw tantrums and yelled that they hated us.
Wasn’t life supposed to change?
Isn’t that what Easter is about?

We come to this text year after year on the Sunday after Easter because we need the reassurance that it’s ok to have doubts when things don’t seem to change. It’s ok because even Thomas, one of the actual disciples, he had doubts too.

Last week Pr Chad ended by reminding us that the story isn’t over because you are a part of it now.
You matter in the story of God.
You matter in this post-resurrection world we now find ourselves in.
You.
Do you still doubt?
Do you still think that’s not true for you?
That others can be brought into the story but not you…
never you.
You’re too sinful
have too many questions
or are too skeptical
or too broken

Sin and death aren’t the end of Christ and they aren’t the end of you either.
And, in reality, it is those things that cause you to question your place in God’s story that make you perfect for it.

I want to go back to Thomas for a minute.
Because I think Thomas gets something really, really important about the post-resurrection world.

Notice what Thomas asks for.
He doesn’t ask to see shiny, perfect, resurrected Jesus.
“Thomas said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Thomas gets it.
Thomas gets the reality of resurrection.
The trauma of the old life isn’t erased, but transformed.
Everything isn’t perfect, but it is different, it is new.

There’s an ancient Japanese art form, called Kintsugi, or kinsukuroi.
The story of kinsugi began in the late 15th century when a well-known shogun warrior broke one of his prized tea bowls and sent it to be repaired.
When it was returned to him, it was held together with bulky and ugly staples.
He thought this was unacceptable.
He asked some local craftsmen to find a way to repair it that could make a broken piece look as good as new, or better.
These artists pulled out the staples and mended the pot together seamlessly, with gold.

In doing so, the broken places were clearly visible, but the finished product was even more beautiful than the original product.

In kintsugi, the flaws are not hidden, are not wiped away, but are highlighted, and represent an essential moment in it’s history.

Jesus rose from the dead, but his scars were still present.
It’s the week after Easter, and our scars haven’t disappeared either.
Our brokenness still exists.
You only had to turn on the news this week to hear how broken the world still is.
But just like those artists did with a little gold and plaster,
Jesus takes our brokenness and fills in the cracks with grace and love.
And what we get is much more beautiful than anything that came before.

This Easter we have been resurrected and redeemed and repaired.

Ernest Hemingway once wrote: “The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong in the broken places.”

We are a part of God’s story now, and we take our beautiful resurrected selves into this world to continue the work of Christ that started last week.
We go into the broken world with our own patched-up brokenness proudly on display.
We go into the broken world to love and serve others from those places where we are now most beautiful.
We go into the world confident that we are not alone, that we go with God, that God goes with us, and we go with each other.

This is what it means to live in a post-Easter, post-resurrection world.
So go.

The sermon I didn’t preach yesterday…

“Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.”  Isaiah 40:4

Yesterday (Sunday) I came into the office early to prepare for preaching, and read verse 4.  BAM.  Lightning struck.  Or the Holy Spirit.  Either way, I read the above verse in a totally new light.  If it hadn’t been an hour before I was supposed to preach – then maybe everyone would have heard a totally different sermon.  And I’m not sure people would have loved it.

Because this time when I read Isaiah 40:4, instead of the good news I preached it as yesterday, I read it as a warning.

In light of the events of the last week, the continued injustices, the protests, the fear, the hate… this verse meant something different.

In light of more news about people being killed for standing up for what is right or challenging cartels in Mexico, this verse meant something new.

In light of my own ability to jump online to my instant access internet, in my heated home, after a nice hot healthy meal, and purchase Christmas gifts with little or no thought to the cost of any of it… this verse was drastically different.

See, what I read differently yesterday wasn’t so much about the people in the valley being brought up, or the people in rough ground being given smooth paths, but about the earth being made level.
Christ is coming into the world and everything is going to be made equal.
See if you’re in the valley, this is great news.
But, I’m guessing that’s not most of us… most of us are on the mountain.
And if you’re on the mountain, looking down into the valley, this new Kingdom that is coming will bring you face to face with those whom you perceive to be below you.
And God will ALWAYS take the side of the oppressed.
Which is really good news for the oppressed, but really dangerous news for everyone else.

As I said yesterday, Isaiah is a prophet, and the job of a prophet is to hold up a mirror and force us to be honest about what we see.
And for most of us, we are on a mountain.
We are not the oppressed, we’re the oppressor.
And I know, we don’t want to admit it.
But it is most likely true.

In these next few weeks… look in that mirror that Isaiah is holding up.
Be honest about how you really, truly treat those around you in the world: those who are different than you are, those who occupy a world that is not like your own.
And then ask yourself, when Christ comes this Christmas, where do you want to be?

Do you want to be lowered from your perch up on the mountain?
Or do you want to be raised up from the valley? And not raised because you’re suddenly oppressed but because you are down in the valley WITH those who are being oppressed.  Fighting for them, caring for them, being with them.

I know which one I want to be…