Archive for November 2010

Flying South With Jesus – A sermon on All Saints Day

November 8, 2010

Children’s Time: What do the geese do this time of year? (Fly south for the winter.) Yes, and so do a lot of other animals. It’s called migration. This month’s National Geographic magazine is all about animal migrations… somehow, animals have this ability to keep focused on the main mission before them: getting to where they need to be to find water, to mate, or to winter before returning up north. Nothing will deter them from the course they have set to accomplish their mission. How are we doing at that in our faith? By praying and reading the Bible together each week here in worship we are asking God to keep us focused on our mission – to share God’s love with everyone we meet! Otherwise, we may get distracted by our anger or wanting to hurt others in return. In our lesson today, Jesus says we are to love one another (even our enemies!) and to “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” If we remember that, we’ll be migrating in the direction Jesus wants us to go!

Intro: Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today is All Saints Day – a day we remember the dead who have gone before us. In a few moments, you’ll be invited to come forward and light a candle in honor of a loved one. We all have memories of loved ones… even if we’re young we have things we have lost or had taken from us. Loss and remembering… they’re a part of our lives.

The saints we most remember are people whose lives made a difference to us. Or perhaps they lived in such a way that “migrated with Jesus.”

I think it’s fair to say that Jesus’ way of living is completely out of whack with the way much of society works. I mean, really, “rejoice on the day you’ve been hated, excluded and defamed by another?” “Turn the other cheek and give up your shirt as well as your coat?” What is Jesus thinking? And if that weren’t bad enough, he wants us to love our enemes and to pray for them as well. To bless and do good to them… when all we want to do is avoid them, or worse, get even!

Whenever you feel the urge to speak badly about someone who harmed you, Jeuss says, “You’re to stop and bless them instead. As hard as it may be to resist saying, “That guy’s dumb as a post!” we, as Christians, are called to kindness – to treat others as we would like to be treated.

In his explanation to the 8th commandment, Martin Luther said this about bearing false witness: “We are to fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander or lie about our neighbor in any way… but defend them, speak well of them and explain their actions in the kindest way.”

So, maybe “Mr. Road Rage” is just having a bad day. Maybe he was tailgated as a child. Or, he could be on his way to the hospital, in such a hurry!

What will it take to restore not only civility to our national debates… but love itself? After an election in which tens of millions of dollars were spent on negative attack ads is it even possible or realistic to hope that our legislators will someday reach across that aisle with a common purpose?

I think there is hope. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for – the conviction of things unseen.” (we read in Hebrews 11:1)

The key here, I think, is to bless your enemies without blessing their actions. There are ways to speak well of someone even if they’ve done something wrong. Take 9-11 for example. One can understand why Al Qaida would target the World Trade Center – for all it stood for in terms of American affluence and our love of money throughout the world. They could just as easily targeted churches or other national landmarks. But we would never condone the criminal means by which they carried out their dissent, by killing thousands of innocent people. Loving one’s enemies doesn’t mean we condone their actions that caused pain.

Or consider the horrific murder of school children a couple years ago in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a small Amish community. What is remarkable is that after the killer turned the gun on himself, this town turned their hearts toward his family – reaching out in love and reconciliation. They had every right to be angry, to exclude and defame them. Instead, they loved them and brought this man’s family back into the community with grace and forgiveness. This is learned only by migrating with Jesus along the way – all throughout the walk of faith.

Jesus taught that we were to give the shirt off our backs if necessary. Give to everyone who begs of you. We have people who come every week to this church asking for assistance. While there are some limited things we can do, at some point one has to say no… or at the very least, make a decision between who needs our assistance the most.

Or, take this example from this month’s National Geographic about animal migrations… somehow, animals have this tenacity to keep focused on the main mission before them: getting to where they need to be to find water, to mate, or to winter before returning up north. Nothing will deter them from the course they have set to accomplish their mission.

“An arctic tern on its way from Tierra del Fuego to Alaska, for instance, will ignore a nice smelly herring offered from bird-watcher’s boat in Monterey Bay. Local gulls will dive voraciously for such handouts, while the tern flies on. Why? …the arctic tern resists distraction because it is driven at that moment by an instinctive sense of something we humans find admirable: larger purpose. The arctic tern senses that it can eat later. It can rest later. It can mate later. Right now its implacable focus is the journey; its undivided intent is arrival.”

How are we doing at that? How are we at staying focused on the mission Christ sets before us? Are you migrating spiritually with Christ?

Take just a moment and gently place your fingertips over your eyes. Just rest them there. Don’t push too hard. Have you got it? Now… with your fingertips resting on your eyelids, move your eyes back and forth, from left to right. Can you feel your eyes?

This is the same eye movement that happens when we sleep. It’s called Rapid Eye Movement (or REM sleep). But it only happens when we go into a deep sleep – beyond that little catnap you might steal in the afternoon. REM sleep is where dreams occur – its where we truly get a good night’s rest.

But there’s a medical condition that interferes with REM sleep. Anyone know what it’s called? Yes, sleep apnea. It’s when you actually top breathing for several seconds during sleep then wake yourself up again to gasp for breath.

So, by the time morning rolls around you’ve never quite gotten a good night’s sleep. Some say excessive snoring and weight gain might contribute to the problem. I have a mentor who was diagnosed with sleep apnea and he was fitted with a CPAP machine. It’s a flexible oxygen tube you wear over your nose at night to keep a constant flow of air to your breathing. He can’t believe how much better he feels after sleeping so much more soundly!

So, how are we to remedy our spiritual apnea? Those times when we’ve never quite felt at home with God, because of all the distractions that interrupt the life of faith and prayer and devotion?

Remember how birds fly south for the winter? Or how wildebeests migrate to where the water is? Stay focused on your calling to love our neighbors – even our enemies – and migrate with Jesus to that place where the dreams occur – where our vision is restored – where, with all the saints we come to know who we are.

There is reason to rejoice, because our sorrows and pain will come to an end. Jesus’ promise is that we have nothing to fear when we face persecution, hatred and exclusion. It does get better when we migrate with him.

Let us pray: O God, we thank you for those who have gone before us – and the paths they have trod. Guide us in our own migration of the faith – keep us from spiritual apnea – and awaken us to your Spirit in our lives. …in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Keep Your Eyes On The Road – A Reformation Day Sermon

November 8, 2010

Children’s Time: What are you going to be for Halloween? It’s fun to get dressed up and pretend to be someone else! But what if we pretend that we don’t need God anymore? What if we pretend that it’s more important to have money or a good name than to trust in God? That’s what some of Jesus’ followers had been doing (trusting in Abraham or themselves). But Jesus said, “The truth will set you free.” God loves us very much… so let’s stop pretending we don’t need God. The truth is, we are God’s children. That’s what I want to be for Halloween!

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

I love that story told by Leo Buscaglia, about the guy who’s driving up the mountain – and it’s a very narrow road going up a very steep hill – only two lanes – and he gets to the point where there’s a precarious turn in the road… and a woman comes zipping around the corner and she sticks her head out the window and cries, “Pig!” And he looks back at this woman stunned, and yells back, “Why you…. fat cow!” And he turns the corner and runs right over a pig!

Does this sound familiar? Does it sound anything like the current feeling in our society? With the election coming up this week and the economy still struggling to rebound there just seems to be a high-strung atmosphere in the country. And it’s exacerbated by the polarization between the right and the left leaning values that make up this great country.

And yet, underneath it all, I’m afraid that we don’t believe people want to do good anymore. Before we make that turn, we need to take a deep breath and focus on what’s really going on.

The same could be said of this festive celebration we commemorate on this Reformation Sunday. There’s a danger in celebrating our heritage… we run the risk of running right over it – of dwelling so much in the past that we forget how important that heritage is for guiding us through today and into the future.

The Reformation was born out of a society where the truth was often suppressed. In Martin Luther’s day the pope served as the head of the church. He had supreme authority over all Christians – at least those who followed his rule. We didn’t have all the denominations you see today (no Lutherans, Baptists, or Pentecostals). The people simply did what the pope required of them in return for the assurance their salvation. This papal tradition comes from Jesus first naming Peter as the head of the church: “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church. I give you the keys of the kingdom.”

Over time, of course, many Christians lost a personal connection to their faith. They couldn’t read the Bible, because it was written in Latin, and relied on their religious to leaders to interpret it for them. They entrusted their faith to their priests and pastors. Theses leaders promised to grant them the forgiveness of sins based upon the purchase of indulgences – sort of like selling tickets for forgiveness. People were able to (literally) “buy off” their sins. Even the sins of loved ones who had long-since died, but were perhaps trapped in purgatory, could be “paid-for.”

One well-known priest, Johann Tetzel, was said to have walked the streets in grand procession, selling indulgences with the familiar refrain: “When into the coffer a coin clings, a soul from purgatory springs!” That may sound ridiculous to us today, but to a 16th century believer, who lived by the requirements, it was the difference between eternal life and eternal fire. At least they would know they were forgiven, so long as they could afford it.

And so, when Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenburg Church, they were in direct protest to these practices, which taught that people were dependent on human requirements to gain God’s favor. Luther had a different message: “The truth will set you free.” Change was in the air. Everything they had been taught about God was coming into question.

Sort of like those Jews who believed in Jesus in our lesson today… they were looking for reassurance in their ‘father Abraham’ but Jesus says they are to believe in ‘the Son.’ If the Son makes you free you will be free indeed. And they just about ran over a pig on this point: “We aren’t slaves to anything!” Jesus said, “You are a slave to sin.”

Tetzel is still alive today – he lives in people who maintain power and control over us through fear. He lives in people who spread the fear of change and who rely on themselves, or their good name, or money & possessions for every good thing in life.

That’s why the battle cry of the Reformation was simply put: Grace Alone. Faith Alone. Word Alone. That’s it. You can’t miss it!

Bishop Allan Bjornberg, from the Rocky Mountain Synod ELCA, reminds us that God’s grace needs the correct punctuation. “Is it grace. (period) Or grace, (comma)?”
Before the Reformation it was a comma… “God loves you, (comma)… if… or, (comma) when… or, (comma) so long as… you do this first.” But after the Reformation it is a period. They all end with a period.
Grace Alone.
Scripture Alone.
Faith Alone.

And yet, commas die hard. Even us shy and humble Lutherans have our pockets full of them.

Jeremiah 31:31 – I will put my law within them… it will be a new covenant, not like the one I made with your ancestors… We are in a new time and age… when God’s law is written within us! It’s nothing to be feared… but to be welcomed and embraced.

Two words Jesus used that drove people up the wall: “NEW” and “NOW”

Change is upon us every day – and especially on this coming Tuesday, Election Day. Regardless of who you vote for, one thing is sure: it’s happening now and it will bring new changes to the way we live our lives. I look at it as a time of anticipation and of great opportunity!

But there are difficult situations we all face that present great changes:
The death of a loved one…
The loss of a job or a home in this Economic recession…
The death of a friend through suicide…
The Internet revolution…

What are you going to be for Halloween? Let’s be people who look to the Son – who yearn for the truth that will set us free. Let us pray…

O God, we thank you for the truth that sets us free from our sin – the truth that saves us by your grace through faith – help us to see with clear eyes what lies ahead in the road before us and to live without fear by the power of the Holy Spirit… in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.