Archive for May 2012

Who Stole Your Joy?

May 14, 2012

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. –John 15:9-17

Easter6 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 5-13-12

Children’s Time: When you’re happy how do you show it? A smile? A laugh? Fist pump? Jump up and down? Woo hoo! (show pic of the kid at the Red Cross). This guy’s pretty happy – what is he holding? New shoes! He could really use them. See how beat up his old shoes are? These were given to him by the Red Cross – they help people in times of crisis or war. But this boy is also an orphan (meaning his parents are both dead). Even in sad times we can find joy, pure laughter-filled joy. In our lesson today we heard from Psalm 98: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth!” What are some joyful noises? Singing? Laughing? Saying, “I love you” to your mother? Let’s be people who make a joyful noise this day!

Intro: 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.

There once was a couple who wanted to join a church – but they were a pretty strict church.  At the new member class, the minister said that one rule they had to follow was “No hanky panky for month!  No hugging or kissing or holding hands! You must put God first in your life.”  Well they all agreed to give it a try and a month later they came back.  The first couple said they did just fine with that.  The second one, too, although it was a challenge.  But when the minister asked the third couple, they sheepishly looked at each other and said, “Well, we didn’t make it.”  “Why?” asked the minister.  “Well,” said the husband, “we were at Safeway getting groceries and my wife asked me to go pick up some apples.  But instead I decided to pick on her, and got to tickling her.  And she started giggling and we were holding hands and… well, one thing led to another and we just couldn’t do it.”  Well, I appreciate your honesty,” said the minister, “but you won’t be able to join our church.”  “That’s okay,” said the husband, “we can’t go back to Safeway either.”

…So, who stole your joy today? Who made the rules that rob you of your bliss? The scriptures are loud and clear this morning: Jesus came that our joy might be complete!  And by the power of the Holy Spirit… it can be so.

So, the Spirit is on the move in our lessons for today. And when that happens, all I can say is, “Buckle up, you’re in for the ride of your life!” When the Holy Spirit is the driving force in our lives we can either resist such change in fear – go along with it begrudgingly – or hang on and enjoy the ride!

Let’s start with the first lesson from Acts 10:44-48. So, when Gentile outsiders were hearing the Word, and being filled with the spirit, Peter knew that this adventure to which he’d been called was way beyond his control. This God who had called them to be the church until Jesus’ return – had bigger things in mind than a few hundred souls based out of Jerusalem. Peter had the dream (in Acts 10) of all those forbidden foods being lowered on a tablecloth and the voice from heaven saying, “Get up and eat.” It was food that was declared unclean by the law of Moses in Leviticus. But God had other things in mind. “Go to the house of Cornelius” (I guess they ate that kind of food at his place).

So Peter goes and preaches to them about Jesus, and before he’s even done praying God bursts into the room with the punchline of the Holy Spirit – filling the place with laughter and speaking in tongues – with lives transformed and ready to follow Jesus.

The status quo was given notice that day – there’s a new spirit in this town – and all these folks who weren’t Jewish / who weren’t circumcised or learning the 10 Commandments – they’re suddenly “in” and a part of this family of God – brothers and sisters in the faith. And ever since then they are now a part of us. And Peter must have been standing there in awe – in this strange land – with it’s weird food and foreign customs – wondering, “What in the world is God up to? Can we really let these guys into the kingdom?”

But he must have caught himself in that moment with the wisdom that it was not for him to decide who was in and who was out. Instead he simply says, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people?” And Cornelius and his family were welcomed with open arms that day into the church of Jesus Christ.

They say that the Spirit is fine for getting a movement started – for stirring up a revolution. But for the established church? Not so much. “We’re fine, thank you.” This drove the religious leaders crazy back then (and still does to this day!). The way this Jesus Movement was taking root, making all things new… doing it right now. And it wasn’t just the Jewish leaders (Pharisees and Sadducees). No, in the very next chapter when Peter goes back to Jerusalem, the first thing they asked him was, “What happened? Why did you eat with them? And let them into the church?”

But the church is operating out of a long tradition of praise and joy. Check out our Psalm for the day (98) we read that even creation itself is in on fire with this joy – the doxology of praise:

“Let the sea roar and all that fills it
Let the floods clap their hands
Let the hills sing together for joy”

Even in adversity – or tragedy – or being taken from your homeland and sent into exile… the seeds of joy are there. The spirit of the Lord helps us carry on.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! We, too, can know such joy. In our 2nd lesson from 1John we read: “Whatever is born of God conquers the world.” There is no need to be beaten down by the “world” (the “domination system”) around us that says we don’t count unless… or we don’t measure up because… or we’d better get in line or else… when our freedom is in Christ crucified and risen from the dead! There is love and there is peace in knowing to whom we belong. As Allen Sager once put it: “If you count in the eyes of the CEO of the universe, that’s all that matters.”

And in our gospel today, Jesus underlines all of this, “I have said these things to you so that my joy might be in you, and that your joy might be complete.”

If Jesus wants this for us who are we to turn away from it?  What did the blind man do when he was healed by Jesus?  Did it show on his face, as he gazed into the faces of those around him for the first time?  What did the man born lame do when Jesus said, “Take up your mat and walk?”  He probably had a dance in his step as he made his way down that street.  What did the disciples do when Jesus turned the water into wine at Cana?  Lord knows, God must have a sense of humor for that story – not only did he reveal his son’s glory, but no one went thirsty when Jesus was around!

Now, this isn’t just a sermon to say, “Hey, live a little, why don’t ya!” (okay, maybe I am saying that a little).  And that minister wasn’t all wrong to ask his members to put God first in their lives.  How might people who are experiencing pain and hardship hear this message. This very Mother’s Day, for me, is a bitter sweet day, since mom died from cancer in 2010.

But that’s when I remember one thing she taught me. Actually, I think she learned it from Jesus, who said: “Love one another as I have loved you”

There is a reason for joy – to revel in this life, even as we strive to put God first in our faith.  We may not always be able to see that joy – be we are always invited to the table – to lift our voices in song and dance! To join our hearts in one cosmic doxology.  Let’s close by singing that together:

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise God all creatures here below
Praise God above ye heavn’ly hosts
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost

Saying “Yes” on Confirmation Sunday

May 14, 2012

”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. –John 15:1-8

Easter5 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 5-6-12 / Confirmation Sunday

Children’s Time: bring a stick from home. See this stick and this old branch I cut down last March? They are off an apple tree in my back yard. Do you think they’ll grow if I put them in the ground? No, they need to be connected to the tree, right? If not, it’s just an old stick-in-the-mud.  There’s no root here. Only then can we pick apples off them at the end of summer. Jesus said something similar to his disciples: “I am the vine you are the branches.” He wanted his followers to imagine themselves as connected to him – the one, true root of the church. If we stay connected to Jesus we’ll be all right. We’ll bear the fruits of the spirit: peace, joy, patience, kindness, gentleness – all the good things that life has to offer us. Do you want to be that kind of branch or an old stick in the mud? Let’s pray and ask God to keep us close to Jesus – so we, too, can bear much fruit!

Intro: Grace to you and peace, from God our father, and from our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.

I want to thank these young people for sharing their faith with us this morning. It’s a big step in one’s faith journey to say “yes” to the promises your parents made for you when you were baptized. To say “yes” to God. “Yes” to the forgiveness of sins. “Yes” to the church, this worldwide family of believers.

We rejoice with you and we’re proud of you in this moment.

“Getting confirmed” isn’t something we do for you, though. And it’s not even something you do for yourself. It’s God’s blessing upon you. Much like those words spoken at Jesus’ baptism: “You are my son/my daughter, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” If only we could remember those words each day – of how God says to you: “My son… my daughter… I love you and I’m proud of you. Well-pleased.”

Let this day be a day of remembrance in your baptism – that moment God reached out to you through the water and the Word and called you “mine.” “This one’s mine.” “No one can lay a hand on this child of mine,” says the Lord. “She is mine for all eternity.” “He is mine to the end of time.” What a blessing to know and trust that you are held in the palm of God’s hands!  Not only does God say “yes” to you – you say “yes” to God.  The stoles are a sign of that commitment – like a yoke that is put over an ox, we are yoked to Christ in the faith, recalling his words: “Take my yoke up you and learn from me.”

So, let this be a day that changes how you will live your life – knowing how precious you are in God’s sight. Live what you believe. Live like there’s no tomorrow. Love as you have been loved by this maker of heaven and earth. Keep your heart wide open to those around you in need. Watch for the eyes of Jesus in the poor and the hungry. Don’t be afraid of the haters – all those who would threaten this freedom you have living in the power of the Holy Spirit. For the Lord shelters you under her feathered wing. Your foot will not be moved, as you build your house on the Solid Rock of Jesus Christ.

The beauty of this faith is that you get to all say what has meant the most to you – to choose your favorite Bible verse – words to live by – words of hope and healing. And we are blessed in the hearing! I thank you for your faith statements (straight from the heart) about how God is calling you at this point in your life. May your testimony move us to tell our own God stories today.  Because we never know when it will be our time to share our faith.  This is merely a rehearsal for the day to come when you will be asked to bear witness to the hope that is within you.

In today’s Gospel Jesus said: “Abide in me, I am the vine, you are the branches… Apart from me you can do nothing.” May we all find our voice this day and tell others how we are branching out in our faith, rooted in God. Let us pray:

O God, we give you thanks for these young people and their faith statements. Make us certain that you are them in our faith journey, as well. Give us all we need to thrive and grow, rooted in you. Amen.

Leaning Back and Forth

May 14, 2012
Note: My computer crashed during Holy Week this spring… and I am still getting files back online… thank you for your patience… Here’s a sermon from April 29th

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long. –Psalm 23 (NRSV)

Easter4 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 4-29-12

Children’s Time: Who here has a pet? Do you take care of it? What do you feed it? How about playtime? What would you do if it got away? You’d go after it, right? Having a pet is a big responsibility. They rely on their masters to take good care of them. In our Bible reading today, we hear about Jesus being a Good Shepherd – one who looks after his sheep, takes care of them, defends them, and love them very much. You know, he’s talking about us – all who believe in Jesus and follow him are like sheep of the Good Shepherd. And, while we’re not like ‘pets’ to God, Jesus does love us and watch over us every day. There’s great comfort knowing that God will watch over us. Let’s thank God for that in prayer…

Intro: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, our Rock and our Redeemer.

There comes a time in everyone’s life when we must learn to trust. It may be as simple as trusting the clerk at the store to give you the exact change – to trusting a surgeon to perform a delicate operation in order to save you life. Or, as in today’s case, trusting the Good Shepherd to guide us safely home.

Trust means letting down one’s defenses and leaning back into the unknown.
Trust means finding one’s voice and leaning forward, boldly into what lies ahead.
Trust happens when fear has been shown the door.

In fact, the most common command in all of scripture is not The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s not the Greatest Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” It’s not even Jesus’ command to “Go, make disciples of all nations…” No, the most common command in all of scripture is: “Do not be afraid.” It’s there time and again, through the old and new testaments: “Fear not,” God says to Moses at the burning bush, “Fear not” the angel says to Mary in her bedroom. “Do not fear, it is I,” says Jesus to his disciples, as he came to them walking on the water.

When we fear, we cannot follow. Instead, we are like sheep gone astray – hurried and harried, anxious about every distraction (real or imagined) that might cause us harm.

And nowhere is this more clearly seen in the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.”

There is a peace that passes all understanding in the poet’s heart that penned this verse. When can we lie down in peace? When can we sit at table even with our enemies and eat in peace? When Thou art with me.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for thou art with me.
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

I want to trust God in this way – with no reservations – as naturally as breathing.

In a recent article in Weavings magazine, Jan Johnson points out that the Hebrew word for “the valley of the shadow of death” does not mention death – but refers instead to all dark and bitter experiences. This would include surprises and all kinds of disaster, anything that threatens us or creates dread and fear. Such valleys are also filled with physical or emotional pain, diseases, depression, grief, rejection, failure, abuse, or endless toil.

Today we’re raising awareness and money for Cancer research and to support the Tartan High School Relay For Life. There is nothing quite like hearing a loved one say those dreaded three words: “I have cancer.” So begins a long walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Each one travels his/her own way on that path. And yet, as people of faith, we cling to the promise of this Good Shepherd – that no one walks alone.

The cover story from this month’s Lutheran magazine reads: “1 in 3 harmed by domestic abuse.” The statistics are staggering. According to a recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention study, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 10 men have reported intimate partner violence – but these numbers underestimate the problem, because so few people report domestic abuse.

And abuse can take many forms – it’s not just physical (where bruises might give away a deeper problem). No, abuse often starts in small ways, in controlling another person, in making them feel inadequate, in name-calling and making threats. In fact, abuse may never come to physical blows and can still be just as destructive.

The Good Shepherd meets us in those dark valleys and walks beside us. In fact, the church has a responsibility to do the same – to reach out to those who are suffering in silence, too afraid to say anything. Remember the most common commandment? “Do not be afraid.”

Jan Johnson concludes her study of Psalm 23 by inviting us to imagine ourselves sitting down at a table across from an enemy (anyone you find difficult today).

As you sit there, I come behind you and rest my hands on your head. Close your eyes and try to feel those hands. Then I being moving my hands down and resting them on your shoulders as if I were releasing oil on your head – anointing you, as God does in this psalm. So as you sit across the table from that difficult person, you feel secure because you are anointed by God. The difficult person sees that you are special, set aside, anointed by God in some way. You have everything you need. But you may still feel anxious across from the “enemy,” so God – again from behind – reaches over you and keeps filling up the cup of water. One’s throat is often dry when afraid, but God can provide everything you need in these tense moments. (Weavings, vol. XXVII, no. 3)

My prayer for us all is that we might know such grace – such peace. Even in our darkest valleys we are not alone. This risen Christ is our aid – our strong deliverer – our cup-filler in dry places.

I want to close with one final blessing – one I hope never to give you until your life has been filled with years of blessings and happiness. You see, whenever I’m called in the middle of the night to a death bed – these words are spoken to call one final time on the Good Shepherd of the sheep.

Into your hands, O merciful Savior,
we commend your servant
Acknowledge, we humbly pray,
a sheep of your own fold
a lamb of your own flock
a sinner of your own redeeming.
Receive her into the arms of your mercy
into the blessed rest of everlasting peace,
and into the glorious company of the saints in light.

It is a peace that sustains here and now – and in the life to come. Now, the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.