Archive for November 2011

Good Naps & Dangerous Naps

November 28, 2011

Mark 13:24-37
24“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Advent1 / 11-27-11 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church

Children’s Time: Do you like sunflower seeds? We usually buy them already out of the shell; but some people like to eat them like this (show bag of sunflower seeds in shell). What if we wanted to grow our own sunflowers and get new seeds? What would we do? Yes, we’d plant one in the dirt. I just so happen to have a little pot of soil here. Let’s put it in there. What should we do now? Well, we could water it, make sure it gets plenty of sun. Will it grow right away? No, so it won’t do much good to just sit here all day, will it? But we can’t forget it, either, can we? So, what can we do? Check it each day. When Jesus told his followers to “keep awake” for his return some day, he didn’t mean they couldn’t EVER go to sleep. Just that they should check every day, like this seed, for when the time was right. Let’s pray and ask God for that kind of patience to be ready for when Jesus comes again someday.

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.

Anyone who knows me knows I never saw a nap I didn’t like. I could climb into the hammock at a moment’s notice and drift off to sleep. There’s something about the gentle, rocking motion that just lulls me in a warm cocoon of safety and security. Maybe it reminds me of being carried in my own mother’s womb those nine months, gently rocking here and there as she went about her daily chores.

So, I’m coming out in defense of the nap. There’s nothing wrong with a little shuteye now and then. When Jesus warns his disciples about “keeping awake” it’s because they have forgotten God altogether – or convinced themselves that the master really won’t come back on their watch.

All throughout scripture there are cautionary tales involving sleep: the
~The disciples fell asleep in the Garden at Gethsemane when they were supposed to by guarding Jesus the night he was arrested.
~The Great Samson’s hair was cut off while he slept, by the conniving Delilah, causing him to lose his super strength.
~And the young man, Eutychus, fell asleep listening to a sermon by Paul. He was sitting in the window and fell to his death because Paul preached too long! Read Acts chapter 20 to see how that sermon ended!

But there are also many encouraging stories of sleep:
~The boy Samuel was called by God in his sleep, three times! (He thought it was Eli calling him.)
~Jesus fell asleep in the boat, during a storm. Apparently, there was nothing to worry about, as he quickly calmed the sea.
~A little girl was raised from the dead, because in Jesus’ words: “She was only sleeping.”
~And, in today’s lesson, the servants are warned not to fall asleep and be caught off guard by the master. There is no telling when he might return.

It all sounds so simple. Plant a seed. Check it each day. Take care of things while I’m away. I’ll be back. It implies that we’re only here to do God’s will. Trouble is: we forget that and make ourselves out to be the boss.

In our first lesson from Isaiah, we hear of a person who is caught between their devotion to God and their own sins: “You were angry, we sinned… all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth… our iniquities, like the wind, take us away… there is no one who calls on your name…”

How easy it is to be swept up in our own sin… to be caught in old patterns and habits… to forget our place in the master’s household. These are the dangerous kinds of naps – the kinds that cause us to forget who we are – and whose we are. It’s as if we’re being swept away by our own worst enemy: ourselves.

But how does this passage end? Isaiah plants this flag of faith dead center into the sinful slumber of his people: “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

By faith we are able to keep watch each day for the fig tree putting out leaves. Jesus reminds them: “This is how you’ll know summer is near…” When you see these things taking place, you know that he is near…

So, what do the buds look like today that might be shooting out, telling of Christ’s coming?

The call to those young parents, just beginning to teach their children how to “walk in the faith” waiting and watching for those “teachable moments.”
The call to the single person whose career opportunities are about to change – and how will she use that newfound clout to wake and watch for Jesus in it all?
The call to the empty nesters, searching for meaning and their purpose in life, with a desire to do God’s will.
The call to that 60 or 70 year-old who wonders what God is up to in their life as a grandparent or as a member of the church?

Two new shoots that are budding forth even as we speak at Holy Cross, are 1) a renewed commitment to evangelism and mission, through the hiring of Lynea Geinert; and 2) a renewal of our music ministries, through the gifts springing forth in Steve Peters.

All of these shoots and buds will need our attention – some watching, some waiting, some tending to and some harvesting when the time is right.

As Advent people, we don’t despair in the midst of change and tribulation. The gospel lesson began with a day of darkness: “The sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven.” But the people of God are not without hope.

British theologian, Lesslie Newbigin, described the struggle this way. He said, “How can we, who are still in the middle of the cosmic story, know what the point of the story is, or whether it has any point at all? Only if the author of the story has let us in on the secret while we are still in the middle. There can be no other possibility.” (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, © 1989 p. 91)

Because we know how our story ends, we can live with hope and purpose here and now and be ready when the master returns.

You are the church – the body of Christ – the one last hope for the world. Let us take courage and work while it is day, never forgetting to check on that seed at least once a day. Let us pray: O God, we give you thanks for watching over us in our trials, shaping us like a potter with the clay. Keep us from dangerous naps and awaken us to your light, in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds together as one in Christ, Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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I made it myself!

November 28, 2011

Luke 12:13-21
13Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Thanksgiving Eve / 11-23-11 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church

Children’s Time: What can you give to show your gratitude? Well, when was the last time you did something and afterwards said, “I made it myself!” Have you ever made a turkey by tracing your hand? It’s easy! Even I can do it. The thumb is the turkey’s head and the fingers are the feathers. All you have to do is put a beak and an eye and some feet on it! Viola! Instant present. You may not believe it, but when you share what you have with others – you’re being rich to God! Sharing is so key to not forgetting all God has given us! Let’s thank God for all the blessings we have to share with others.

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.

Family feuds. Leave it to the holidays to bring people together who can’t stand each other! If there was ever a time that family falling outs were close to the surface, it’s during the holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas: those times you just can’t avoid your relatives. Even if they don’t show up, they’re conspicuous by their absence.

It breaks my heart to hear stories of people who’ve had a falling out with a family member. One person I spoke with recently said he wouldn’t even know how to get a hold of his sister if he tried. They haven’t spoken in years. Something happened that caused a rift. An argument over (you fill in the blank).

Even Jesus can’t avoid getting pulled into a family tussle. Someone’s complaining to him, “Jesus! Tell my brother to share the family fortune with me!” He simply says, “Who made me a judge over you? Be on guard against all kinds of greed. One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

He even told them a story to underline his take on this: the parable of the rich farmer – who had such a good crop he had nowhere to store it. “Whatever shall I do?” he wonders, scratching his head. “I know, I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones!” Problem solved.

Well, what was he supposed to do? I mean, if you’re in business and you are succeeding isn’t it natural to want to expand – maybe add on a new wing, or open another store across town? When I lived in Columbia Heights I watched them tear down the Target store only to build a Super Target on the same spot. Makes perfect business sense, right?

So, what is Jesus implying here? That he should have taken his excess grain to the market and sold it? Or that he ought to have given it away to the poor out of his abundance? What should he have done? Because tearing down his barn and building a bigger one was foolish, according to Jesus. The night of his grand opening he croaks! Now, who will get all this stuff?

Hoarding is frowned upon in the Bible – more than that, it is seen as working against God. Remember when the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years and how God provided manna for them to eat? There was a rule when they went out each morning to gather the manna: only take what you need for the day. No more. No less. And those who hoarded it found that it grew maggots and stunk up their tents. You could tell from the stench, just by walking by, who the hoarders were.

To ‘hoard’ something means to collect a large supply of something, more than you need now, often because you think you will not be able to get it later. Money is the most common example of something people hoard.

So, what was he supposed to do, that rich farmer with a bumper crop on his hands? Jesus warns them against storing up treasures for themselves, and not being rich toward God. What does it mean to “be rich toward God?” Well, we got a glimpse of that on Sunday, with Jesus’ parable about the end times, when the Son of Man will come and separate the sheep from the goats. “Whenever you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me,” says Jesus.

Being rich to God happens when people open the hearts to others by donating to the food shelf. Being rich to God happens when people take home an ornament from the Giving Tree and provide a Christmas present to someone in need (they’re due Dec. 11th, by the way). Being rich to God happens when someone gives of their time on a Saturday night to prepare a lesson for other people’s children on Sunday morning, to teach them about God’s love and the saving power of Jesus. Being rich to God doesn’t consist in material possessions! We say it every Christmas: “Don’t go overboard buying people stuff they don’t need or will never wear!” Give yourself. Your time. Your prayers for a service man or woman. Give something handmade. Give your voice to the choir! Give a story to a child on your lap. Give a hug of encouragement to someone feeling down.

Being rich toward God means being thankful. It means acknowledging that all that you have ultimately belongs to God. There are no “self-made” people in God’s sight. All is blessing. All is deserving of our thanks and praise, lest we forget who led us by the hand to where we are today.

With the 50th anniversary upon us this year, we have so much to be thankful for. There are tall shoulders upon which we stand that got us to where we are today. Countless hours volunteered to build and maintain this facility – endless cups of wine and juice poured in service at the Lord’s table – countless casseroles served to grieving families – numerous tables and chairs set up and taken down year-after-year – conversations with teens around those very same tables, trying to get at the heart of why faith matters. Changed lives that have made a difference to the people touched by God through this church.

What’s your treasure? Your richness in the faith? What are you truly “thankful for?”

You, the people of Holy Cross, have so much to share – God’s love was never meant to be hoarded up in our hearts, treasured information for only a select few. It was meant to be told as a witness for others just waiting to hear what only you can share, based on your own unique God story.

Be rich to God this thanksgiving – your barn is plenty big – and open your hearts and hands to invite others to the bountiful harvest. Amen.

Butting in Line

November 22, 2011

Matthew 25:31-46
31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Children’s time: Let’s pretend we’re at the end where I pass out tootsie rolls on the way to Sunday school. Line up. Now, one of you butt in line… it’s okay, because we’re just pretending. How does that feel? Not very good? What can you do about it if it happens at school? Tell them to wait their turn? Tell a teacher? Tell your parents? Did you know this happens all throughout life? The Bible tells stories about fat sheep and lean sheep and how the shepherd takes care of them all. Let’s thank God for watching out for us when we can’t watch out for ourselves, and let’s remember to share what we have for those in need around us.

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 a day of reckoning: a day when we get a glimpse at what it will be like on that last day – when it all comes down. On this Christ the King Sunday – all that king will be concerned about is:

Feeding the hungry
Giving drink to the thirsty
Welcoming the stranger
Clothing the naked
Visiting the sick or imprisoned

And for those who have turned their backs on those opportunities over the years – well, woe to them, right? There’s eternal punishment! How do we reconcile this last judgment scene with a God who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love?

Butting in line… what happens as a result? We get “first dibs.” We get our own way. We learn to expect only the best. We get “more” than the rest. We get fatter. More mass, more weight to throw around. We require extra attention. The problem is: the poor just barely make it. Where is the shepherd when you need one?

Any shepherd worth her salt is going to see this and, of course, separate them out so that the weak & hungry ones can get some fattening up!

This is what God does – and has always done – from a biblical standpoint. In our first lesson from Ezekiel 34, we see how God intends to be the shepherd – to seek out the lost ones – to rescue those in danger – to bind up the injured – to strengthen the weak. But there’s a chilling indictment to those who are fat and strong: I will destroy you, says the Lord, I will feed you with justice.

So, what does it mean that the top 10% of Americans hold 70% of the wealth in this nation? What does it mean that the typical salary for a CEO has risen so dramatically in the past 20 years? From 40 times the average employee in the 80s to 400 times the average employee in 2000?

What is a faithful response from us, the sheep? I mean really?

We can bleat our impatience to the shepherd, or baaaa at the injustice of the fat ones butting their way to the front of the line. We can try and take the staff in our own hands and seek to overthrow the shepherd, who obviously isn’t paying attention.

It makes one wonder: Is God really even a player in this real life drama unfolding across the country? Does God really care about protesters being arrested for a cause? Does God take note when Dorli Rainey, an 84-year-old protester from Seattle, is hit with pepper spray in the face because of her beliefs in economic justice?

Remember Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral? My grandma used to watch his show all the time: The Hour of Power! Well, they’re not so powerful anymore in these lean times. This the news reported that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County, FL is buying the Crystal Cathedral for $54 million. This megachurch that did so much good for so many – filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy last year.

What is God up to in all this? And what does it say about the life you live each day? Are the governing authorities all just a part of God’s sovereignty? There are examples in the Bible where God clearly uses neighboring kings to work his will among the people of Israel. During the Reformation, Martin Luther wrote hundreds of letters to the dukes and governors of his day – trusting that God was working through them. So, ought we just sit back and trust that it’ll be okay? Or, does God have a role for us to play?

Clearly, the sheep and the goats are held accountable at the end of time. There’s some feeding of the hungry to do, some visiting of the sick, some clothing of the naked and some welcoming of strangers that needs to happen. God looks to the flock on that last day to see how they did with this while they were living.

So, how are you doing when it comes to the least of these? And I ask not only as an individual, but also as a church: How are we doing? As the body of Christ in the world we are his corporation, so to speak – the term corpus Christi means literally the body of Christ in the world – made up of each one of you. Is Holy Cross living out a faith that uplifts ‘the least of these?’

When I think of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, I’m reminded of the American Civil Rights movement – of how Martin Luther King, Jr. differed from Malcolm X in his approach to reform. One held the stance of non-violent resistance, of the long-suffering involved in waiting upon the Lord to effect change – while the other kept the stance of militant change by force if necessary. Both have been lauded for their commitment to positive change for people of all colors in this nation. And both involved taking action. The ones who remain silent in the face of injustice are the ones who do nothing – who accept the way things are – who turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the least of these among us.

As I watch the occupy phenomena unfold in this country, it seems as if our nation has lost course when only big corporations are given bailouts at the taxpayers’ expense. Clearly, there is something wrong with lavish executive bonuses while the majority of Americans remain uncertain about their future incomes.

You can only expect people to wait for so long before they grow restless and weary in their waiting. The change many had hoped for in American politics seems far off, if not impossible. Some believe it’s up to the people to re-take control of their government. Trouble is: we are the government. It’s made up of people and systems which are made by people to direct and order our common life. Somehow, as we move forward as a nation, we’ll have to overcome our disparities in beliefs, in politics, in age and in cultural diversity to build a stronger America.

I don’t have any clear answers through this turbulent time we are in – except to lift up what Jesus requires of us. In the end, it really will come down to who took action on behalf of the poor, the hungry, the naked and the imprisoned.

“We Are The Children” Project – Many of you know that I love to write and play music. And on a few occasions I’ve shared that here in worship. A couple of people have even said, “You should record some of those songs!” (my fan club of 2 is growing!)  So, on a serious note, when tragedy struck our community at the beginning of the school year, I began to feel a calling to do something to uplift the children in Oakdale and throughout the community.  I’m going to record an album called “We Are The Children” full of songs I’ve come to enjoy as uplifting – and others that I’ve written over the years. 100% of the proceeds will go to help the least of these in our community: The Almarez Fund, the DeHaven Fund (both at Wells Fargo Bank) and our own Building Bridges organization in Oakdale, which provides after school enrichment for the children of this community. I’m not doing it to gain God’s favor – or to get to the front of the line – but make a statement that people really do care about kids in our community.

If you’re out there to impress the shepherd, you’ve already become a goat, right? That’s the irony of the last day – everyone was surprised! Helping the least of these was just hard wired into the sheep.

So let’s be people who join the shepherd in Seeking out the lost, in Rescuing the sheep in peril, in Binding up the wounded, and in Strengthening the weak.

The good news is that God does watch out for us when we can’t watch out for ourselves. This is, after all, Christ the King Sunday. A day we commemorate the strength and power of Christ made perfect in weakness and in unseen acts for the poor.

Let us pray: May the peace of God which passes all understanding guard and keep our hearts and minds together as one in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

Living Jesus’ Dream

November 14, 2011

Matthew 25:14-30

The Parable of the Talents

‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Pent22 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 11-13-11

Children’s time: What can you do with a piece of paper? Well you can crumple it up into a ball and play catch. You can write a poem on it or draw a picture. You can give someone directions so they can come to your birthday party. You could use this paper to start a fire. It might be made into slips of paper so the family can draw names at Thanksgiving (Who am I getting a present for at Christmas?). You could even fold it up into different shapes or make an airplane to fly. The same is true with God’s gifts.   In our lesson today, the master gave the slave some money and rather than using if for good, he buried it in the sand!  God has given you a life to live and if all you see is “a plain old piece of paper” you’ve missed what it could really be in this life! You were meant to fly! Let’s not bury the ways God made us special.  Let’s ask God for ways we can shine: Dear God, help us to find the best way to live our life this day – and to see new ways to serve you! Amen.

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.

When I read today’s lessons I almost thought we were in the season of Advent – that time just before Christmas when we’re called to “stay awake” an “be watchful” for the coming Christ. They are lessons about a stern reminder: The Day of the Lord never ends well. Why? Because when someone falls asleep and isn’t ready for the master’s return, we all suffer. That night’s not gonna be a good night. It’s not gonna be a good, good night.

And yet, through it all, there is God taking care of those who put their trust in God. Those who obey – who still believe – who’ve been watching and waiting faithfully. Those who have put their talents to good use – even risking an investment, never sure what the outcome will be. That saying: nothing ventured nothing gained applies to this parable, in which some servants invested their master’s money while another simply buried it in the sand.

Last week, in the comic strip Blondie, Dagwood Bumstead visits a pizza place with his wife where he recognizes one of the employees: “Hey, didn’t you used to work in my office building?” “Yeah, but I always wanted my own pizza shop, so I followed my dream. I mean, what good is life if you don’t follow your dream?” On the way out Blondie says, “I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy your pizza, dear.” “The pizza was fine,” says Dagwood “but from now on, we’re having it delivered.”

You ever feel that way – wondering if you’ll kick the bucket before you get to that bucket list of things you need to do in this life? We all have dreams. But the call to be faithful is about more than fulfilling our dreams. It’s about following Jesus dream that all would be saved.

This one, who entered the world as a little baby, raised by a common carpenter, who taught and healed and showed us a new way to live, sends us to invite others to know the transforming power of God.

Dagwood is on to something. But he would rather stay home and not have to meet people who are actually living out the dream. The difference is – it’s not our dream in the first place: it’s God’s dream. All that we’re given: our talents, our money, our possessions, our time – all belongs to the LORD. We have no right to decide what to do with this amazing gift of God’s grace and mercy – this unconditional love and acceptance – this power of the Holy Spirit. Who are we to be holding it in our hands as the mast walks away, as the scripture says, “for a long time.”

It’s easier to stay home and bury it. To lock grace up in a cabinet well beyond anyone’s reach – even our own.

But we know better than that. We, who have experienced the undeserved smile – the hand upon the cheek (not slapping or patting condescendingly, but lifting up our chin with confidence and encouragement). That is the charge in our second lesson: “Encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” (1Thess. 5:11)

This is the calling of the slaves entrusted with the master’s talents: to share them, to invest them, to stay awake to the wonder of this life: a deer stepping into an open meadow at dawn, a surprise gift from your boss or coworker, as stirring crescendo on the organ or through the voices of a choir.

Why would anyone hide what the master has given? Hiding is a sign that something isn’t right. There’s shame and hurt involved. Denial and violence. Hurtful words and actions. Adam and Eve hid from God when their eyes were open to the sin they had committed. And it happens today whenever we live in fear. Hiding, even when the welfare of our children is at stake, as in the Penn State child sex abuse scandal.

What does the wicked slave say about the one talent he was given to invest? “I was afraid and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” What a waste of a life. And of one’s talents.

Fear has a way of messing with the mission of God. They say the twin enemies of ministry are worry and flurry. Worry constipates our energy and flurry dissipates it. I might also add a third one in this screen-obsessed-culture in which we live: blurry, which is how our eyes get when we’ve had too much screen time.

Somewhere in between “doing nothing” except burying our talents – and doing everything like a busy Martha who has no time to stop and sit at Jesus’ feet – we find our way to invest these talents entrusted to us. But it doesn’t happen without risk.

Our bishop, Peter Rogness, preached on this text about “God’s economics” at a gathering this week of pastors and church workers. He said this lesson goes way beyond pledge cards and time & talent forms (though they are certainly a part of the talents entrusted to us). Here we see that belonging to the master means risking the investment of our lives. Our whole lives belong to God. We don’t own a single dime of what we have. Not one hair on our heads. But there it all is – a whole life just waiting for us to live it. There it is – a richness unmatched by anything Wall Street can produce. Each day is full of minutes and hours that we decide on how to use – to dedicate them to what matters most.

How could you stay home (with Dagwood) and have it delivered? Better to stay awake and not be held back in fear. Let us risk being ridiculed or persecuted and try living this dream rather than laying it away.

God calls you out – yes YOU! to invest the amazing gift of grace you now hold in your hands, shining as a precious jewel for all to see and share and believe.
Amen.

Don’t call me a saint, unless…

November 8, 2011

All Saints Day / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 11-6-11 / John Stiles

Psalm 34:1-10
I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.  My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.  O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.  I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.  Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.  This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble.  The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.  O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.  O fear the Lord, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want.  The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Children’s Time: Ribbon Cutting Ceremony.  What’s a ribbon for?  To wrap a present?  To tie in your hair?  How about to open a new restaurant or a library?  What if we imagined every Sunday as a ribbon-cutting day for church?  What if we couldn’t wait to invite others into this place to meet Jesus, to pray and worship, and to learn in Sunday School?  Let’s cut the ribbon today while the others give us a count down, and remember to invite others to know the same love we share in Jesus!

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.

Please don’t call me a saint. I’m no saint. It’s such easier to refer to saints as those who’ve passed away – or who’ve gotten special dispensation from the Roman Catholic Church. To be a saint you either have to have done something really remarkable with your life or you have to give away all your possessions and live in the slums of some third world country, serving the poor. Right? Not just anyone gets to be a saint.

Or, at least, that’s what I thought growing up. In just a few minutes we’ll recall the names of those who have died from our community in the past year and toll the bell in their honor. But why is it that we believe only dead people are saints? The saints are those who have crossed over to that heavenly home and become a part of that Great Cloud of Witnesses in the sky – cheering us on from the upper ionosphere. Today we honor them and carry the legacy of their faith with us into tomorrow.

But don’t call me a saint… unless… unless being a saint includes flawed human beings who get easily distracted from their calling. Unless it includes those who hurt others’ feelings or who send mixed messages or who drop the ball when others were depending on them.

Don’t call me a saint… unless by that you mean someone who lives each day by faith – trusting in the goodness of Jesus, rather than in my own. I just don’t / nor will I ever / cut the muster to be a saint.

Maybe this is why Martin Luther once said we are simul eustis et peccator (“simultaneously saint and sinner”). Maybe that’s what John meant in his vision from our first lesson (Revelation 7) by saying the faithful have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb – without the lamb they are simply clothed in filthy rags. Without the lamb – going silently to the slaughter on our behalf – we are simply blood-spattered in our own sin. Because of his death on the cross – because of his pouring out of blood at the Last Supper – for the forgiveness of sins – and only because of Jesus – can we, his people, shine like the sun.

There’s a deep humility that must accompany someone who dares call himself a saint. She who would claim sainthood in this life – does so only by first acknowledging her utter unworthiness to the title.

This is why the writer of today’s Psalm (34) could say in verse five: “Let not your face be ashamed.” Me, I get busy – or even worse: lazy. I get distracted. I get caught up in the trivial or all that glitters and woos for my attention. There are plenty of reasons to hang one’s head low.  At times like that, I find that I neglect the ‘pause button’ on life.

We sometimes forget to pause and fear the LORD. I don’t mean cowering in utter fear of God (though, that may be the case in some instances). What I mean is stopping all that we’re doing – to simply stand or kneel in awe and wonder of this LORD. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,” (we read in Proverbs 9:10). There’s something so other-worldly about this God who has drawn you to worship today – something so wonderful – and at the same time so terrifying – so full of awe – so life-changing.

This is why we invite others to the ribbon cutting ceremony each week. If lives were unchanged who would bother to come? Hear the invitation from the psalmist: “Proclaim with me the greatness of the LORD. Let us exalt God’s name together.” There’s this boldness in verse 5: “Look upon the LORD and be radiant. Let not your faces be ashamed.” It’s as if there’s this invisible, angelic encampment surrounding all who believe and put their trust in God.

This force field of faith gives us room to breathe and invite others to “taste and see” In verse 8: “Happy are they who take refuge in the LORD.” It’s not our own strength or fortitude that emboldens saints in this life. It all comes from the LORD.

We’re not saints by virtue of our own faith. When people say, “My mother was a saint.” (which I do believe). It’s not because she raised 4 boys who were more than a handful – It’s not because she held down two jobs while putting me through college – It’s not because she persevered through a marriage and home life afflicted with alcoholism. It’s not even because she had faith.

It’s because Jesus had faith in her.

And she believed that. And we should too. Not just anyone can be a saint. Only those who are readily acknowledge the sinner inside them – and their utter dependence on the Holy Spirit for everything in this life.

In this week’s lesson in confirmation, our students wrote prayers about “daily bread” – about all the ways God provides for us. We’ll be praying their prayers instead of the usual petitions I write each week. This is not only to thank God for providing for us but it’s to pray for all who are still hungry or in need of basic necessities.

The writer of 1John says it plainly in our 2nd lesson: “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us – that we should be called the children of God.” Don’t keep it to yourself. In v. 1 John says the goal is to be known by the world. So let it shine. Do not be ashamed.

That’s our stewardship theme this fall (5 for 50). Find five ways you’ll shine to honor our 50th anniversary in 2012. Find your spark to see how God has given you a unique way to shine in this world. Then let it rip! Don’t hold back. Stand tall and firm in the faith, shining as beacon, inviting others to come, taste and see, that the LORD is good.

Did you catch that? No saint says, “Come, see that I AM good!” According to Jesus, who gets blessed? The meek. The persecuted. The poor in spirit. The hungry. All those who thought they wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans! We don’t stand a chance at sainthood on this All Saints Day, so long as we stand on our own merits.

So, stand on the merits of this Lamb, seated on the throne. Stand before this one whose blood washed us clean of all shame and self-loathing. Stand up y’all! Go out as saints this All Saints Day and shine to all you meet. Cut the ribbon and invite others in until that day when John’s vision comes to fullness – of a multitude too great to count from every nation, tribe, people and language. Let your life shine and be the saint God created you to be.

Let us pray…
Most Holy and Gracious God, on this All Saints Day we give thanks for all who have gone before us, who rest now in you, remembering especially those who have died in the past year from this community of faith… Kenneth Wallin , George Marshall , Marty Boche , Linda Morency , Earl Carlson , Mary Kaye Niebuhr , Al Frank and all those we hold in the quiet of our hearts this day.  Make us your saints, this day, O LORD, ready to shine to all the world.
Amen.

Running on Empty

November 1, 2011

“He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…” (Philippians 2:7)

Matthew 21:23-32
When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

28“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

Pent15 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 9-25-11

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.

Some days it seems there’s always someone who  has something to prove. That’s the danger I see in talking about today’s parable: is that we make it all about us…

Peter was like that, says noted author and preacher, Anna Carter Florence.  She reminds us that: Whenever Peter shows up he changes the subject and makes it about himself. Walking on water? “I can do that!” Transfiguration on the mountaintop? “I’ll get the tents, Jesus! One for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah.” Jesus gets arrested in the garden? “I’ll cut off your ear with this sword!” It’s as if he has something to prove – as if Jesus doesn’t really love him unless he’s the best at all aspects of being a disciple.

This, I think, was the sin of those religious leaders. They were trying so hard to be successful that they had forgotten to go work in the vineyard. This is why Jesus said tax collectors and prostitutes were going into the kingdom before them!

We have to “walk the talk.” Don’t just say one thing and do another. Take care that our actions match our words. But God doesn’t need to be taken care of.

The image of an arrow always comes down… is what has stuck with me over the years…  It reminds that we don’t do anything to earn our way into heaven.  God always comes down and meets us where we are.  God’s grace is for all: for those who say ‘yes’ and don’t go to work… and for those who say ‘no’ and do.

What if there is no light. I must have a dead battery. What am I doing wrong?

God’s grace is for all!

A pastor-friend of mine, Bonnie Wilcox, once described to me what she called “the tsk factor.” Have you ever had someone give you that look (tsk!) and then say to yourself, “I’ll never go there again.”? It takes 10 welcomes to overcome one ‘tsk.’

Humility – comes from the word – humus – dirt – human beings were formed from the dust, as depicted in Michaelangelo’s Creation of Adam.

It is as such a humble servant that God chose to enter this world.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:7)

Back to the gospel lesson: The question the religious leaders ask Jesus is: “By what authority do you do these things?” They want to know if he got it right – not so much about living faithfully.

Tony Campolo once described something like this by lifting up those in the Bible who had a “title” vs. “testimony”

Pharaoh had a title – Moses had a testimony / Jezebel had a title – Elijah had a testimony / King Darius had a title – Daniel had a testimony.

What’s your testimony? Have you ever felt like there just wasn’t anything going on between you and God? Maybe you’ve been away from church for some time, and then when something bad happens you feel guilty. Like, the very last place you’d find a welcome – or deserve to go to – is YOUR CHURCH! How could this happen?

When you feel like Giving up?
Burning out?
Winding down?
The church is HERE FOR YOU!

I’ve doing this pastor thing for years. And I must admit, there are days where I wonder: Does what I have to offer matter? Does it change anything? Does what I have to say matter? That’s when I remember that deeply religious song by BB King: “You might be old, about ninety years, but you ain’t to old to shift them gears! You can shake it up and go!”  That’s how the Lord animates us by the power of the Holy Spirit, reaching out to lift us up daily.

I know in my heart that I am merely a conduit – a conductor between God and people. So let the love flow between us. Grab on, hold on, don’t let go.

And yet, that current must flow between you and I, God. Yes, between us both.
What if I let go? Which I’m bound to do sooner or later?

Will you still come like at Christmas? And join the cold, shivering peasant girl, giving birth in a stable? What about the woman who has found cancer in her body and is full of anger and fear? What of the young person hurt by the “tsk factor”? What of the tired, middle-aged man who doesn’t know who he is anymore? What of the older person whose eyesight has become clouded over the years?

When Jesus told the Pharisees that tax collectors & prostitutes are entering the kingdom before you, he didn’t mean to exclude the Pharisees – just to show them that God’s grace is for EVERYONE – every. Last. One.

Praise be to God, who frees us from having to “get it right” and reconnects us in the faith each day!

Amen.