Come Away To A Deserted Place

Posted July 21, 2015 by bluejeremiah
Categories: Uncategorized

A sermon from Sunday, July 19th, 2015

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things… When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

Woman reaching into mailbox for mail --- Image by © Tetra Images/Corbis

Woman reaching into mailbox for mail — Image by © Tetra Images/Corbis

Pent8 / John Stiles / First Lutheran Church / 7-19-15

Children’s Time: What makes you happy? I have a ‘happy box’ that I put things in – like birthday cards, and pictures kids have drawn for me – and little notes of encouragement (it works for email, too!). So, what’s in your happy box? Are there sad things in that box? A lot of sad things happened this week, with the big storm knocking down trees all over town.  When we are sad, Jesus wants us to rest – to come away in prayer and be reminded of what makes us happy.

Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from God our First Love in Christ Jesus. Let all who hear say, ‘Come!’ Amen.

“Come away to a deserted place, all by yourselves, and rest awhile.”

Rest is the order of the day in our gospel lesson from Mark 6. And yet, given the week we’ve had – since the storm blew through – most people haven’t had time to hardly think – let alone a moment’s rest. In fact, many are simply exhausted! It seems everyone knows someone who got hit harder than they did. Even our Habitat for Humanity project has suffered for lack of help – mainly due the need for a massive cleanup effort. So, how are you hearing Jesus’ words this morning? “Come away to a deserted place…” Are you grateful that Jesus offers a moments peace? Or does ‘rest’ simply become yet another thing on your ‘to do’ list?

As I mentioned earlier, there are many joys in my ‘happy box’ for which I’m grateful to be a part of each day, thanks to you! All of you make it possible for me to be a minister in this place – to work with a staff and council leaders who are so dedicated to God’s Work, through Our Hands – to be an ambassador to this community of faith – it is an honor and a privilege to be in ministry at this church! But I must admit, sometimes I find a ‘sad box’ there in my heart. It’s full of all the hurts – and illnesses – and sadness of the people I encounter every day. You see, ministry is always at the doorstep – there will always be more to do than we can accomplish on any given day. The disciples knew this, as we read in v. 31: “Many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat!” Have you ever been so busy that you’ve had to eat lunch on the run – or at your office desk, in order to meet a deadline?

How many of you, at the end of the day, have more things on your “TO DO” list than when you started? There will always be more things TO DO – more ministry to be a part of than we can ever accomplish! That’s why it’s important to remember the One at the center of it all. Jesus holds it all together …so we don’t have to! With all the ministry going on in our gospel lesson (healings, teaching, helping) notice who’s in charge: Jesus. The disciples are exhausted, and when they get across the lake, the whole village has gone there ahead of them to meet them on the shore. Who takes control? Jesus. He had compassion on them for they were like sheep without a shepherd.

This week, the Brainerd Lakes Area has been digging out from the storm that brought hurricane force winds to our neighborhood. And yes, sadly, there have been people trying to take advantage of other’s losses by charging inflated fees for tree removal. Our first lesson had a stern warning for those who take advantage of others: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord…you have not attended to them, so I will attend to you!” (Jeremiah 23:1f)

But the reality of life is that tragedy happens. We won’t always have the words to say when a natural disaster hits – or when unspeakable violence occurs on a regular basis. Just this week, yet another shooting rocked the town of Chattanooga, TN. Five servicemen were killed by a man at the Navy Operational Support Center. So, yes, there will always be people in need of healing and of hearing the good news! I’m reminded of what Fred Rogers once said (You remember Mr. Rogers?):

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

So, we look for the helpers – and we keep the people of Chattanooga in our prayers, along with Brainerd, Charleston, Baltimore, and all the other concerns in our hearts. But never forget that it’s Jesus who is the focal point that makes this ministry possible. It’s not “my ministry” or “our ministry” it’s Jesus’ ministry.

I still remember the bedtime prayer of Pope John Paul II, who reportedly once said his prayers at the end of the day: “This is your church, Lord, not mine. I am tired. Good night.”

Isn’t that good news? That we can rest at the end of each day from our labors – confident that God neither slumbers nor sleeps. …and just in case you were wondering whether Jesus was truly human (as well as fully divine)… read the verse that got left out of this story (there’s the whole feeding of the 5000… but look particularly at v.46) where Jesus goes up by himself to the mountain to pray… then ask yourself, if the son of God needs some down time to pray now and then, who am I to think I don’t?

Because of Christ, we can go out into the world and work those miracles – the sick will be healed, the hungry will be fed, the grieving will be comforted, and yes the toppled trees and broken homes will be cleared and mended – not because of how special we are, but because we look for the helpers – we look for Christ in the center of all we are and do in the world!

Our Hymn of the Day, which we’ll sing just moment, reminds us that we have an eternal home in Christ: “O God, our help in ages past / our hope for years to come / our shelter from the stormy blast / and our eternal home.”

I want to close with a story that reminds us to look for the helpers. It’s “The Hermit’s Gift” by M. Scott Peck:

There once was an old monastery that had fallen upon hard times. Centuries earlier, it had been a thriving place where many dedicated monks lived and worked and had great influence on the realm. But now only five monks lived there, and they were all over seventy years old. It was clearly a dying order.

A few miles from the monastery lived an old hermit who many thought was a prophet. One day as the monks agonized over the impending demise of their order, they decided to visit the hermit to see if he might have some advice. Perhaps he would be able to see the future and show them what they could do to save the monastery.

The hermit welcomed the five monks to his hut, but when they explained the purpose of their visit, he could only commiserate with them. “Yes, I understand how it is,” said the hermit. “The spirit has gone out of the people. Hardly anyone cares much for the old things anymore.” “Is there anything you can tell us that would help us save the monastery?” “No, I’m sorry,” said the hermit. “I don’t know how your monastery can be saved. The only thing that I can tell you is that one of you is an Apostle of God.”

The monks were both disappointed and confused by the hermit’s statement. They returned to the monastery, wondering what the hermit could have meant by saying, “One of you is an apostle of God.” For months after their visit, they pondered the significance of his words. “One of us is an apostle of God.” “Did he actually mean one of us monks here at the monastery? Impossible. We are all too old – too insignificant. On the other hand, what if it’s true? And if it is true, then which one of us is it? Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant the abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation. On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas. Thomas is a holy man – a man of wisdom and light. He couldn’t have meant Brother Elrod. Elrod gets crotchety at times and is difficult to reason with. On the other hand, he is almost always right. Surely he could not have meant Brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, so shy. Still, he is always there when you need him, so loyal and trustworthy. Of course the hermit didn’t mean me. He couldn’t possibly have meant me. I’m just an ordinary person. Yet, suppose he did? Suppose I am an apostle of God? And on and on it went… As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one of them might actually be an apostle of God.

Now, because the monastery was situated in a beautiful forest, many people came there to picnic on its tiny lawn and to walk on its paths, and even now and then to go into the tiny chapel to meditate. As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed the aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks. It seemed to radiate out of them, permeating the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, people began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, and to pray. They brought their friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends.

As more and more visitors came, some of the younger men started to talk with the old monks. One asked if he could join them. Then another… and another… and within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order, all thanks to the hermit’s gift.

Dear friends in Christ, may we be people who can look for the helpers in each other – to treat one another with renewed respect – as apostles of God – that we, too, might be a thriving community where people can truly find rest for their souls. Let us pray: O Jesus, we hear your call to “Come away and rest.” And yet, we are pulled in many directions, with no time even to eat! Be the center of our life, that we may be your helpers, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Feeling A Bit Odd?

Posted July 16, 2015 by bluejeremiah
Categories: Uncategorized

Amos 7:7-17
This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by; the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’” And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ “Now therefore hear the word of the Lord. You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.” Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.’”

Mark 6:14-29
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.


Pent7 / John Stiles / First Lutheran Church / 7-12-15

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, our rock and our redeemer. Amen. Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from God our First Love in Christ Jesus; let all who hear say, ‘Come!’ Amen.

Let’s have a little English Grammar lesson, shall we? You remember the basic parts of a sentence. What does a sentence need to be considered a sentence? Yes, 1) a subject and 2) a predicate or a verb… and in some cases 3) an object. Oh, there are many other parts to a sentence we could go into (adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions) but for today, all we need are these 3 basic parts: subject, verb and object.m_subject_structureImagine, for a moment, that God is the subject of all the sentences in our lives that truly matter. “In the beginning, God created.” Now, imagine God’s action as the verb, calling our faith into being, holding us accountable for our actions, forgiving us and saving us from sin. And finally, imagine that we are the object of God’s compassion, God’s judgment, and ultimately, of God’s saving grace. Remember the children’s hymn: “Jesus (S) loves (V) me (O)… this I know.” Another simple phrase is one of the most ancient creeds of the church (before the Apostles’ Creed, noted in Ambrose’s writings from the year 390AD). It was three simple words: Jesus Is Lord.

This is what prophets and preachers, sages and teachers were trying to do in biblical times: to keep our grammar strait: God is the subject, we are the object, and God’s actions bring us together. Nothing else. Oh, we might eventually come around to being the subject at some point – as in: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty…” but that sentence structure comes later – our declaration of faith comes after our first receiving the faith as ‘objects’ to our one, true ‘subject’ – the Living God.

What a source of comfort! To know our place and to trust that God provides all we need from day to day – and that we are sent, in freedom, to share that liberating Word! Sounds like good news. Well… tell that to a powerful king and you may have another thing coming. What happens when we put ourselves (or anything besides ‘God’) in the subject line of our sentences?

In our OT lesson for today, Amos was pretty much minding his own business as a shepherd and tender of sycamore trees… when the Lord called him to speak out against King Jeroboam’s Israel… and Amaziah, his court prophet, is tired of being made uncomfortable. So he goes and tattles to the King: “Amos is speaking out against you from the center of the city – and we cannot bear the weight of his words. Send him away!” This is the same Amos, who called the women of Israel “fat cows of Bashan” lounging on luxurious couches while the poor were sent away hungry. This is the Amos, who so famously called upon his king to “let justice roll down like waters and righteousness as an ever-flowing stream!” And, today, he’s using a plumb line – a builders’ level – to show the people how crooked they have become. And, of course, they tried to get rid of him, “Why don’t you go earn your living somewhere else! We don’t appreciate your sentence structure!”

03 Nov 2014 --- Herodias, 1896. This unusual depiction of the murder of Saint John the Baptist shows Salome's mother Herodias (c15BC- after 39AD), rather than the more usual depiction of her daughter Salome. Colour lithograph by Robert Anning Bell (1863-1933). From The Studio, Volume Eight [London Offices of the Studio V, London, 1898] --- Image by © The Print Collector/Corbis

03 Nov 2014 — Herodias, 1896. This unusual depiction of the murder of Saint John the Baptist shows Salome’s mother Herodias (c15BC- after 39AD), rather than the more usual depiction of her daughter Salome. Colour lithograph by Robert Anning Bell (1863-1933). From The Studio, Volume Eight [London Offices of the Studio V, London, 1898] — Image by © The Print Collector/Corbis

In our gospel reading for today, John the Baptist had spoken out against King Herod, who had taken his brother’s wife in marriage – this was a “no-no.” And that little grammar lesson landed John in jail! …until the night of the king’s banquet. Why did they have to get the children involved? We are told that the king’s little girl danced for him and he was so pleased, that he promised her anything she wanted, even half his kingdom! And it doesn’t say it was a sexual, dance-of-the-seven-veils. Heck, it good have been Shirley Temple’s On The Good Ship Lollipop for all we know!  So the girl decides to ask her mother (the queen) who is already angry with John and Herodias is the one who makes the gristly request: “Give me the head of John the Baptist.” Really? It’s a sad commentary that this is the only recorded conversation between a mother and her daughter in the Bible. But as it stands, the King (rather than lose face among his guests) went through with the request; and abusive power, in all its crookedness, was on full display that night.

Now, we’ve all heard all the ghost stories about the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow and the crazed Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, shouting, “Off with their heads!” But that’s the stuff of fairy tales. When a grim decapitation happens in real life (as was the case this last year, at the hands of the so-called Islamic State), it’s almost too much for us to stomach. We’d rather change the channel or put down the paper than to dwell on such unspeakable horror.

John was beheaded for challenging the king’s grammar. Whenever we put ourselves in the subject line of the sentence, we are in danger of crossing a line reserved for God alone. And to challenge this grammar is to put oneself in danger. As Flannery O’Connor once said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.”

Whenever we stand for the truth, we come off as looking a bit odd to those around us. To use the plumb line image from Amos – it’s as if we’re walking around at a different angle to the crooked walls in our surrounding culture. This is why Jesus called his followers to a ‘narrow way’ of discipleship. “Enter through the narrow gate;” he said in Matthew 7:13, “for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

When an alcoholic decides she’s had enough and stops drinking, suddenly she is seen as a bit odd by those around her. And her attempts at getting healthy may very well be under cut by the ones she loves the most.

When a man resolves every morning to get up and say his prayers – to attend worship – to live a life of service – to tithe a percentage of his income to his church… he can’t not come across as a bit odd to those around him. “Why would you do such a thing?” “Just what are you trying to prove?” But for those who knew Jesus – who walked with him – who learned at his feet – who were recipients of his love, healing and forgiveness – they didn’t need an answer. Real ministry isn’t borne out of obligation and guilt trips – but out of love for Jesus and all he’s done for you. To those who believed in his name – he gave power to become the children of God and bestowed on them the Holy Spirit.

Fifty years ago this spring, as Blacks and Whites marched across the bridge in Selma, Alabama – to demand the right to vote – they did so, out of a conviction that God was marching with them. And as they stood tall amid those crooked walls of separation, they stuck their necks out in a long line of prophets dating all the way back to John the Baptist – who dared to question the unjust practices of the king. One of the people who was moved to make a change was Viola Liuzzo, a white housewife from Detroit (mother of 5) who left her family to answer the call to march with Dr. King in Selma, in March of 1965. She would never return home. Just days after the march, Viola was gunned down by the Klan. In an effort to discredit her, and to cover up that an FBI informant was among the shooters, J. Edgar Hoover released false claims to the media about Ms. Liuzzo, saying she was a drug addict and her husband was involved in organized crime. No, it’s not a safe thing to speak the truth to power… And even our own governing authorities must be held accountable to a higher authority.

In the 1970’s, Archbishop Oscar Romero was well-known for speaking out against the army for their human rights abuses in El Salvador. He was once quoted as saying, “When I served the poor some food they called me ‘a saint.’ But when I asked why they were poor, they called me ‘a communist.’” Archbishop Romero was shot and killed in 1980 during mass, while serving communion. Just the day before, he had spoken out against soldiers who refused to obey God’s higher order, in response to their violation of basic human rights. You might say he was a bit odd.

As the people of God, we can take comfort in the knowledge that God alone is our ‘plumb line’ the one, true ‘level’ against which we measure everything about our lives – not the news, not the weather, not Science, not tradition, not the Bible, not even our own conscience – but God, in Christ Jesus, sets the standard by which we will be measured.  To be sure, we must use all of those other measures in our calculations: scripture, our conscience, reason, science – but the subject line of our lives is reserved for Jesus Christ, the Living God.

When that grammar is in place – all things are possible! When the plumb line of the Lord of Life is what we measure our own lives by – we have nothing to fear. I didn’t say we’d have no dangers to face. Jesus, himself, warned his followers: “Do not fear those who kill the body,” (Luke 12:4-5) “and after that can do nothing more. But… fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.”

So, where’s the good news in all this? And, what does this mean for daily living? We may not lose our life (and hopefully not our head!) because of our faith. But we will be, at times, odd to those around us. We will seem off kilter in a crooked world that urges us to fall in line. All because there is nothing so high that it trumps our ultimate allegiance to Jesus Christ: no flag, no creed, no country, no one person.

This is not the kind of life one chooses casually – it is a life that calls for a radical transformation of all that we hold dear – and putting it toward the service of Christ. Yes, be patriotic. By all means, practice good citizenship. Vote and exercise your rights and responsibilities as an American. But we must never forget we answer to yet a higher authority. You are a child of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit (in baptism) and marked with the cross of Christ forever. And because of that lineage, we can fly freely, unafraid of the burdens of the day. Let us pray.

O God, we give you thanks for being the subject of our sentence – may all that we do, acknowledge you as our Lord and Savior – that we might live free, without fear – by the power of the Holy Spirit within us, this day. In Jesus’ name we pray: Amen.

You Already Have All You Need

Posted July 6, 2015 by bluejeremiah
Categories: Uncategorized

Here’s a sermon from Sunday, July 5th, 2015

2 Corinthians 12:2-10
I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Mark 6:1-13
[Jesus] left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Pent6 / John Stiles / First Lutheran Church / 7-5-15

Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, God our First Love in Christ Jesus. Let all who hear say, ‘Come!’ Amen.

The last thing I wanted to be called, as a kid, was “a ninety-pound weakling” (even though that description pretty much fit me up until the 9th grade, when puberty kicked in). You remember all those names we call people who are weak? Wimp. Wussie. Pushover. Fairy. Coward of the county. Milquetoast. Namby-Pamby. Mama’s Boy. And, what list would be complete without: Girly-man. As if there were something weak simply by being a girl! By the way, have you seen the billboard south of town for the fitness center? It reads: “I know I play like a girl. Try to keep up!”

So, our normal reaction to weakness is to respond with bravado and shows of power. Athletes take performance-enhancing drugs, to gain that upper edge in speed or strength. We spend millions of dollars on weight loss and fitness programs that promise abs-of-steel! And this is nothing new. Back in the 50’s & 60’s thousands of young men across the country wrote in to Charles Atlas, so they wouldn’t get sand kicked in their faces on the beach, while all the pretty girls were watching.

To be sure, in American society, weakness is nothing to aspire to. But it is unavoidable …to anyone with a pulse, standing upright …sooner or later.

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 11.41.28 PMA couple months ago, the actor Burt Reynolds, made an appearance at comic book convention and some people were appalled at how old he looked, as he took the stage to answer questions, hunched over with his cane. Where’s that strapping young man we remember from Smoky and the Bandit? Heck, he is almost 80 years old, give him a break! This is what happens to us all when gravity catches up to us. And yet, somehow, the old actors keep coming back: Harrison Ford will reprise his role as Han Solo, in the new Star Wars movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger is out with a new Terminator movie. And there’s even a new Rocky movie coming out, called Creed.  and Sly Stallone is now the trainer for the young, upstart boxer. So get this: Rocky is now ‘Burgess Meredith,’ the trainer. But it’s the quote from the preview that struck me most, where Creed says: “It’s not about how hard you can hit… It’s about how hard you can get hit.”

Is that what boasting in our weakness is all about? On this Independence Day weekend, as we celebrate our freedom and the sacrifices made by those who have gone before us… just what are we to make of this lesson?  I have a hunch that it has something to do with declaring our dependence on God whose power is made perfect in weakness.

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus is getting hit from all sides, being heckled in his hometown, so to speak… “We know this guy. Here are his brothers: James, Joses, Judas and Simon. We grew up with these knuckleheads.” Surely, they’d heard of the wonders he had performed in other places. But he could do no deed of power there, because of their unbelief. Then they go for the weakness in his lineage. “Oh look, it’s Mary’s son?” Notice, there’s no mention of a father, which implied Jesus was an illegitimate child. Matthew and Luke clean it up a bit.

In Luke 4:16 – they say: “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
And, in Matthew 13:53 – they say; “Is not this the carpenter’s son?”
But here, in Mark 6:3 – “It’s… Mary’s son?” There’s no mention of a father.

This was a sign of disgrace and weakness, to have no father – especially for Jesus, born in a barn, with questionable parentage and no earthly fanfare… it’s the same weakness that dogs him all the way to the cross. “He saved others. Let him save himself!” Even Jesus prayed to God in the garden: “Isn’t there another way?” Three times, he prayed only to submit: “Not my will, but thy will be done.”

This same weakness is evident in Paul’s ministry, who describes it a “thorn in the flesh” that has kept him from being too elated. He doesn’t say what that thorn is (though many scholars have written volumes on what it may have been). Is Paul’s weakness a personal vice? A moral lapse? Did he have some bad habit – maybe he smoked a pack a day? Or, might it have been a physical ailment? A speech impediment? A limp? He never says. All we know is that it was a messenger of Satan – some ‘wicked angel’ that wouldn’t leave him alone all those years. “Three times,” says Paul, “I appealed to the Lord to remove it – but he refused.” “My grace is sufficient for you,” says the Lord, “for power is made perfect in weakness.”

What about you and me? There are no “performance-enhancing drugs” here. In fact, when Jesus sends out his disciples all they have is a staff, a pair of sandals, and each other: “Take no food, no bag, no money, no nothing! Just go… and in your blessed weakness God will provide all you need.”

Have we lowered our expectations of what God might be doing in our lives? When I think of my own life – complete with all my sins and shortcomings – it is a wonder that God is at work in me – in spite of all those things! Instead, it’s much easier to make excuses: “You don’t want me share the Gospel, I’ve got too much baggage – too many skeletons in the closet.” You could add your own list of shortcomings… inserting what that “thorn in the flesh” means to you. Maybe that’s the reason Paul doesn’t come right out and say it – perhaps he wanted us to insert our own thorns in its place – and pray that God can use us in spite of them.

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 11.11.57 PMI was out to Crow Wing State Park this week and noticed a peculiar thing about the chapel area. When you drive into the park and take a right, by the ranger station, there are two signs that read: “Catholic Mission” (to the left) and “Lutheran Mission” (to the right). And if you go ‘right’ to the Lutheran mission, you’ll find a large boulder with a plaque dedicated to the first Lutheran missionary to the Indians here in Minnesota: Rev. Ottomar Cloeter (in fact, his descendents are still preaching the good news 150 years later – both in Sauk Rapids and in St. Louis). Pastor Ottomar Clouter was a Missouri Synod pastor, who ministered among the Indians and white settlers for 11 years – all with little to show in the end, and yet, here was a faithful servant of God, who dedicated his heart and life to the people in his charge. The Civil War was raging and the Dakota Conflict of 1862 had set the region on edge, forcing Pastor Cloeter from his cabin near Mission Lake to the village of Crow Wing (where a monument now stands in dedication to the mission). Six years later, he accepted a call to Afton, MN and the mission to the Ojibwe ended.

Now, if you turn ‘left’ on that road, you’ll find a Catholic chapel named after Father Francis Xavier Pierz. Father Pierz began his mission among the Ojibwe when he was 50 years old! Hello?! Seriously? He left his home in Austria at 50, at the bidding of a colleague, who saw in him the gifts for missionary work, and he came to live among the natives and pioneers of Crow Wing County. Just imagine these pioneer preachers, bushwacking through mosquito infested marshes, carrying heavy packs and birch bark canoes on their backs! These guys must have been unstoppable. In fact, the town of Pierz, just south of here, is named after Father Pierz. The Indians called him “Old Man, Black Robe” because he really was old by then! For 30 years, Father Francis preached the gospel in this area to the pioneers and Ojibwe in the area. He once negotiated a peace settlement with Chief Hole-In-The-Day of the Ojibwe, when they were arming themselves for war, knowing they would be outmatched. Fr. Francis fought against trappers and traders who exploited the Indians with their liquor – first getting them drunk then stealing all their pelts. But it was hard work for missionaries, as the Indians were quite mobile, never settling in one place – especially once they were forcibly removed onto the reservation at White Earth.

So what does all this have to do with us today in 2015? These guys went with nothing but the clothes they had on their backs. They didn’t have and special powers – but they did carry with them an inner strength – a spirit that cast out all fear. To be sure, there were many missions whose sole purpose was to strip the Indians of their culture – to give them hair cuts and teach them the White Man’s ways Thankfully, today’s mission fields are marked more with a spirit of accompaniment – that is, walking together, side-by-side – and listening to what the Spirit is calling us to learn from each other. That, I think, it was made it possible for Jesus’ disciples to go out two-by-two with nothing except a walking stick and the clothes on their backs. Jesus said they had all they needed inside them – a spirit of freedom and a message of hope.

There is nothing anyone can do to you, that can defeat the one who is within you!

They may break the body, and win the battle of the flesh; but no one can touch the soul – that which has been claimed and named as God’s child – once and for all.

You see, what you and I believe matters! What we say and do matters for God’s mission to be carried out. If we don’t believe God’s working through us then we’re already done. We might as well fold up the mission right now.

Notice how Jesus performed great miracles wherever he went – except here, in his hometown …because of their lack of faith. Oh, sure, he laid his hands on a few people who were cured… but the text says, “he could do no deed of power there… and was amazed at their unbelief.”

So, I leave you with a question: what is Jesus amazed about as he looks at us?

Us, with all our weaknesses and shortcomings? Are we hiding and heckling from the sidelines? Or, are we living out our faith – in spite of the thorns we bear?

My prayer, on this Independence Day, is that we may declare our dependence on the Lord! That we might stand in that freedom and embrace our weaknesses. You already have all that you need, to go and do what the Lord is calling you to. So, hear that gentle voice calling this morning:

“My grace is sufficient for you,
my grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Let us pray: O God, we reach for your hand when we have nothing else to give or to say – may it be enough – and may you work through us with power from on high. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Get Up And Go

Posted June 30, 2015 by bluejeremiah
Categories: Uncategorized

Here’s a song I recorded today on piano, using my dad’s old set of Ludwig drums from the 50’s.


The Balance of Power in the People of God

Posted June 28, 2015 by bluejeremiah
Categories: Uncategorized

Here’s this week’s Sunday sermon

2 Corinthians 8:9-15
For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”

Mark 5:21-43
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”
So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.


Pent5 / John Stiles / First Lutheran Church / 6-28-15

Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, God our First Love in Christ Jesus. Let all who hear say, ‘Come!’ Amen.

So, where is Jesus taking us today? Last week, we were in the boat, cast about in a storm – and this week, we’re on the move among the crowds.

To be sure, there’s urgency in the air… illness… crisis… long-suffering… even secrecy (on the woman’s part: “If I can just get close enough to touch his cloak…” / and secrecy on Jesus’ part: “Don’t tell anyone about this healing business!”)…

So, what happens when people encounter Jesus? What changes occur in their lives? What we have is this: Jesus shows up and he goes to where the hurt is. Or, the hurt comes to him. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a well-known leader in the synagogue or a no-name woman who is sick and flat broke. He’s there, with healing power. But he comes on his own terms.

As a crowd began to form on the way to Jairus’ house, what does it matter that someone touched him? He took notice; but others didn’t. Jesus saw what everyone else missed: A woman – an unclean woman – in need of touch. Is there anyone who isn’t in need of touch? The power of touch!  (In the Greek, the word used here is dynamous, the same word we use for dynamite).  Something powerful is afoot, and Jesus senses it – just as clearly as does this woman.  “You, you bleeding woman with open sores, unclean and untouchable in your community – yes you – come forward.  Your faith has saved you.” Dirty, desperate and without a penny to her name, she came to Jesus and he noticed. “Whoa, whoa, whoa…slow down, there, people. Who touched me?” A silly question, considering the crowd was pressing in on him on his way to help Jairus’ daughter – who’s really, really sick, by the way. “C’mon, Jesus, there’s not a moment to spare!” “But wait, there’s another daughter in need here. Show yourself.” See, the miracle had already been dispensed – the power had already gone out from Jesus, and he knew it. With fear and trembling the woman came forward to tell her story. To this woman with no name, Jesus gives her one: “Daughter, your faith has healed you.” Her whole life savings had been wiped out by rising healthcare costs and she was worse off than when she started. Until she met Jesus.

What happens when people meet Jesus? What does he do for them? For you?

St. Paul writes about this in our 2nd lesson (2Cor 8:9) “Though he was rich, he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” This is the Christ who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. Though he was ‘God-in-the-flesh’ he poured out all his power – relinquishing it to those in need around him. And this, says Paul, is the way you ought to live – by pouring yourselves out for others.

The church at Corinth had begun a good thing, but had lagged behind in their giving. “It is appropriate for you, who began a good thing last year… now finish doing it.” Do what you said you were going to do. Don’t lose heart. Get caught up on your pledges. Finish what you started. And that can be hard to do once time rolls on and we become discouraged.

It’s one thing when Jesus is the one doling out the miracles. But who are we to think we could do any better? Why bother? Even when it seemed that all hope was lost for Jairus’ daughter: “Why trouble the teacher any further – it’s over – she’s dead.” Jesus said, “No, no, no, no.”  “No.” Come with me. And taking the child by the hand he whispered, “Talitha Cum” (“Little girl, get up.”) And. She. Did.

When you’re in crisis mode, it seems nothing else matters except getting the help you need for those you love. We can grow impatient and bitter. Or we may give up hope altogether, “What’s the use!”

This week, we continue to mourn the senseless deaths of those were killed during a Bible study at the AME church in Charleston, SC.  We can take heart with President Obama, who gave the eulogy at Rev. Pickney’s funeral. He called our nation to work for meaningful change to prevent such all-too-common acts of violence among us. Because it’s tempting to just throw up our hands and say, “Why bother? They’re dead. It’s over.” How many more children need to die in the classroom, or in a movie theater? “Why trouble the teacher any further?”

Far too many people know the despair of losing everything – loved ones, taken too soon by accidents and illness – natural disasters, or violent crimes that wipe out our livelihood. How to you manage in your despair? When all hope is lost? When, as it seems, even Jesus can’t help us now!

Was he really ‘too late’ to save Jairus’ daughter? Emerson Powery, from Messiah College in Grantham, PA reminds us of how African American slaves once sang the song:

“God may not come when you call him, but he’ll be there right on time!”

You see, the moment we give up is when the Lord goes to work. “Talitha cumi.” “Little girl, get up.” And she did. The doors were open last Sunday for worship at Emanuel AME. The interim pastor, Norval Goff, gave the sermon. And at one point he said, “The moment you find a situation that is beyond your control – too big for you to handle – it’s just right for the Lord!”

So, take it to the Lord. Take it with the reassurance that God will hear and respond. Take it when you’ve got nothing else to lose. Like this woman with no name – who is the first woman to speak in the New Testament. This one whom the community had written off as unclean and untouchable. And see how God not only notices her – but desires to know her. Jesus cares about her story, enough to stop everything and call her by a new name: “Daughter, your faith has healed you.”

When I think of situations in life that have a tendency to overwhelm us – I am reminded of the landmark decision this week of our Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states. And how the news of this ruling might also seem overwhelming – either with joy, that God is doing a new thing among us – or with grief and frustration that this won’t be helpful in the long run, and is unfaithful to our calling.

I wasn’t with you in 2009 when our church (the ELCA) voted to allow for gay pastors to serve on the roster. But I was here in 2013 when we hosted a Respectful Conversation on the matter, and committed ourselves to journey together faithfully, during this time of discernment, to commit ourselves to Bible study and conversation with those who are different from us, and to be welcoming and respectful as we figure out what this means for the church. Our council adopted a welcome statement that now appears in our bulletin every Sunday – not as a “rubber stamp” that anything goes – but as a commitment to be in dialogue – and to surround all people with a community of faith that calls us to live lives that bear witness to God’s grace, forgiveness and righteousness. The statement reads as follows:

Welcome to long-time Lutherans, Christians from every tradition, and people new to the faith. Welcome to all who have no church home, want to follow Christ, have doubts, or do not believe. Welcome to new visitors and old friends. Welcome to people of every age and size, color and culture, every sexual orientation and gender identity, socio-economic status, ability and challenge. Welcome to believers and questioners, and to questioning believers. This is a place where you are welcome to celebrate and sorrow, rejoice and recover. This is a place where lives are made new. Welcome on this day.

We’ll need the Lord’s help to live out that welcoming statement. Because most of us in the church don’t know what it feels like – to be singled out and left alone on the edges of society. And yet, the people who made up the early church were in the minority: they were outcasts and sinners, Jews who lived with their backs against the wall, under Roman occupation. So, for me – being strait, white, male and a US citizen – it’s hard for me to identify with those who have no privilege or position in life – who get stopped on the road because of how they look – who get followed in the department store – or who receive unwelcome advances. Or, who get barred from visiting their partner in the intensive care unit, as if they didn’t even exist. If you’re like me, you need that still small voice that says “I might be wrong.”

So, what are we waiting for? Let’s find ourselves in this healing story this day! Are you the one reaching out today, desperate to touch the hem of his robe? Good news! God sees you – and will not fail you. Even when someone else’s life is on the line… Jesus has time for you. Are you the one shaking your head because it’s too late? Look again. Or, are you, perhaps, the one who is able to help? Just waiting for a call to be generous in your giving? How will you empty yourself this week and become a miracle for those reaching out? How will you “become poor” so someone else might know the riches of God’s love?

There is no roadmap for this path that we journey on. But we do journey together; and we have the GPS of God’s grace to guide our way, and here is the compass of compassion as we face the forest of our fears. Grief and ridicule are to be expected; but Jesus calls us still – to see the dead raised, with or without our help. God is on the move, bringing hope to the suffering and healing to the sick. My prayer is that God’s power will go out from each one of you this week in ways you never expected. And may we have the eyes to see it, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Now, the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds together as one in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

Unanswered Questions After Charleston

Posted June 22, 2015 by bluejeremiah
Categories: Uncategorized

Here’s my sermon from Sunday morning, after the racially motivated shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.


Pent4 / John Stiles / First Lutheran Church / 6-20-15

Job 38:1-11
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?— when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?

Mark 4:35-41
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, God our First Love in Christ Jesus. Let all who hear say, ‘Come!’ Amen.

Why do bad things happen?
To good people!

It’s a question that’s been on my mind all this week, since news broke of the massacre, on Wednesday, of nine people at a Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. Why?

Our Bishop, Tom Aitken, had this to say: “As Lutherans, reading Scripture through the lens of the gospel, we see [violence] is condemned; It is addressed by the prophets and most clearly by our Lord Jesus Christ in his life, actions, teachings, parables, death, and resurrection. Violence against the earth and violence against people are actions cut from the same piece of sinful thinking and sinful action. They are the refusal to respect and steward the gifts God has graciously given us and more: They are the insolent slap to God’s face and the move towards becoming our own ‘god.’”

And this word, from our Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: “The nine dead in Charleston are not the first innocent victims killed by violence. Our only hope rests in the innocent One, who was violently executed on Good Friday. Emmanuel, God with us, carried our grief and sorrow – the grief and sorrow of Mother Emanuel AME church – and he was wounded for our transgressions – the deadly sin of racism. I urge all of us to spend a day in repentance and mourning. And then we need to get to work. Each of us and all of us need to examine ourselves, our church and our communities. We need to be honest about the reality of racism within us and around us.”

And, then today’s lessons offer plenty of danger and violence, but not much of an answer. We heard a section from Job where God replies to his complaints; and we hear Mark’s re-telling of the stilling of the storm.

I suppose there’s no better place to start than with Job. You remember the story, yes? About a man of God who was tested? On TV this weekend, we watched a movie: Clash of the Titans. It’s the heroic tale of Perseus, the demigod, son of Zeus who had to save his people from the wrath of Zeus’ brother, Hades. You see, the people had thumbed their noses at the gods, desecrating the temples, knocking over the statue of Zeus at Mount Olympus – and so it was payback time. Or, as Liam Neeson (who played Zeus) so declared: “Release the Kraken!” (which was this giant sea monster who eats everybody up to appease the gods). It makes for plenty of action, but it’s totally opposite our story in the Bible.

Here, Job lost everything and it wasn’t his fault. God trusted him… and knew he was a model person of the faith – the “straight-A” student in God’s heavenly academy! He had it all – health, family, riches, cattle, devotion, happiness – he was right with God and in one day… he lost it all. The Devil sauntered up to the Lord, “So, I’ve noticed what a good man Job is.” “Yes,” said the Lord, “one of my finest.” “Well, that’s fine and good when all’s hunky-dory; but what do you say you give me a whack at him – let me test his faith – take away some of his security. Then he’ll curse you to your face!” “Give it your best shot,” says the Lord.

And so, within a matter of days, Job’s whole family is killed in an earthquake – except his wife, whose advice to him is: “Why don’t you just curse God and die!” It must have been a horrible experience. Then Job’s cattle died of disease – he breaks out with sores all over his body – I mean, how much can one man take? “Why is this happening?” he cried out to God. And this was God’s response? “Who are you to question me!” That’s what we get in our reading for today: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Gird up your loins, like a man, and face me!” Now, I’m not sure I like the tone of God’s voice in all this. But Job doesn’t give up. Even in the face of unanswered questions, Job never curses God. He kept the faith.

Or, what about this story in Mark, of Jesus stilling the storm? They’re together in the boat and a storm blows in and the waves come crashing down upon them. They’re fighting for their lives and where’s Jesus? Taking a nap in the stern.

Teacher! Don’t you care! We’re perishing!

And, of course, being a chip off the old block, he uses the same tone of voice with them as God did with Job: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”


What do we do with the unanswered questions of our faith? How do we explain suffering?  Years ago, I remember hearing a lesson about this. Murray Haar, who teaches at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, once described the 5 ways we try to answer the question of suffering in the Bible. They don’t work, he says, but they’re very popular, and they’re all right there in scripture. And I don’t like any of them either!

1. It’s your fault. You’re a sinner. You must’ve done something wrong. This is the voice of Job’s well-meaning friends who ask: “What did you do to deserve this?” When everything bad that could happen – did – they think it must be his fault. It’s also the voice of the NRA Board Member, Charles Cotton, who blamed the pastor for the death of his parishoners in Charleston, saying, “Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead.” So, you can see how playing the blame game just doesn’t work.

2. The enemy did it. There are people “out there” who did this… ISIS or Al-Qaida, or even the devil made me do it. And this may be true, to some extent. I do believe that there is evil in the world that we cannot fully contain. As we believe, Satan was dealt a ‘mortal blow’ 2000 years ago at the cross. Yeah, he still has some damage to do – there’s no doubt about that as we turn on the news this weekend. But his days are numbered. We know how the story ends. With death being swallowed up in victory.

But danger of saying “the enemy did it,” is that it gets us off the hook. This time the alleged shooter of those bullets at Bible study, Dylann Roof, was none other than one of our own: a member of an ELCA church: St. Paul’s Lutheran in Columbia, SC. No, the enemy didn’t do it. It was one of our own, raised in our faith, heck, his confirmation picture is probably hanging in the fellowship hall! So we go to number three…

3. It’s God’s fault. How could God have allowed this to happen? God must be incompetent, or somehow limited… or maybe not so all-powerful after all. Sure, God may be all-loving, but if that’s true how could God allow such suffering? Which leads us to number four…

4. There’s a good reason for this, but we don’t get it. It’s all a part of God’s plan. Everything happens for a reason. And you know the slippery slope that leads us down, when we begin to believe that God causes the suffering of innocents for the sake of some grand plan that’s beyond us. No, I cannot imagine a God who willfully causes suffering. So, we come to the fifth way people try to make sense of suffering…

5. One day God will come and set things right. Soon and very soon… God will come. Hang in there. Help is on the way! Well, tell that to the families of the Charleston Nine, for whom it’s already too late.

No, today is not a day for easy answers. It’s never easy to stare into the face of a situation sparked by senseless violence, fueled by centuries of racism, and fed by the fears of those who are different from us.

Today is a day to call out, and to trust that even in the unanswered questions and the storms of our lives, God is with us. In the end, Job’s fortunes were restored, in all their fullness. He found joy in life again. He and his wife had many more children, and lived a full life. But God never did answer him. There are no easy answers to the deep grief that can visit us when we least expect it. Oh, I’m sure Job never quite got over the loss of his family… but what mattered most is that God never left him – not one step along the way.

I wish I could say that church is a safe place, but we know better now. It is a good place… but if it’s safety you want, there are no guarantees. Because where are they headed after Jesus stills the storm? Right smack into another storm. Here’s how Pastor Kate Layzor describes the lake they were crossing… and how these disciples, most of whom were fisherfolk, were suddenly out of their element, just like I feel sometimes in ministry. She writes:

“Jesus’ ministry is one dangerous crossing after another… ‘Let’s go across to the other side,’ he says, sounding like someone proposing a pleasant evening cruise. But he’s talking about the Decapolis: pagan territory… It’s as if he turns to his followers at the end of a long day and says, ‘I’m beat. Let’s go touch base with the Roman occupation,’ and they set sail straight into a waiting storm…”

And who do they meet on the other side? A demon-possessed man at Gerasene… tormented by Ghosts in the graveyard – so many that he names them Legion.

How would we ever be able to stand without Jesus in the boat? By our sides? In our hearts? In closing, I want to leave you with one more story of how people have made sense of suffering in this world. It doesn’t come from the Bible. I comes from a church in Charleston, SC – a church built by freed slaves, forged in the crucible of a faith that sustained their ancestors – who labored in forced servitude on southern plantations. What can we learn from this church? Let me remind you of the name of the church where this horrific act of violence took place: Emanuel, which means: God With Us. Take it from people who know from experience, that the only thing that gets us through the storms – is Jesus, God with us. And then decide what you’re going to do as you go out into the world this week. A good place to start is the home page of their website (at There you can read their mission statement, which simply says:

“Jesus died a passionate death for us, so our love for Him should be as passionate.”

Many of the families of the victims have already set the tone, by showing that passionate love and forgiving the alleged shooter, and calling for God to have mercy on him. What will we do this week amid all of the storms and unanswered questions in our own lives? Let us begin by crying out and trusting that the Teacher is still there. Then, let us too, be passionate in our love for all people.

Let us pray: O God, guide us through our stormy seas. You alone know the dangers each one here faces as we leave this place and cross to the other side of our homes, our work places and our neighborhoods. Wake up from your slumber and save us, that we may be about the work you have set before us, in Jesus name we pray. Amen.


Posted June 6, 2015 by bluejeremiah
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: , ,

Here’s a little song I wrote to say “Thank You” to all the wonderful people who volunteer where I work. Where would be without you?


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