Archive for June 2012

Sharing your cookies

June 13, 2012

“The crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.  Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’— for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’ Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.'” –Mark 3:20-35

Pent2 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 6-10-12

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 we were looking for artwork for this Sunday, we came across this image of an old, run down farmhouse. What do you see?  The moon?  A ghost?  Our perceptions matter… We may have no idea what’s going on behind those closed doors.

One of my favorite stories about perception is the one about the woman who was waiting in the airport terminal, ready to board her plane and had bought a bag of cookies to enjoy on the flight. Well, you can imagine her surprise when she noticed the man sitting next to her, tearing open the cookies and helping himself to her snack – with a big grin on his face! The nerve of some people! After he went for a 2nd cookie, she indignantly took one herself to show him that they were her cookies! He just kept on smiling and helping himself. It was a small bag – maybe 5 or 6 gourmet cookies. So, in a gesture of good will, the man broke the last cookie in half and placed it in the bag for her, eating the other half. Well, that was more than she could bear. In a huff, she snatched up the cookie bag and stuffed it in her purse, ready to find another seat – when, to her horror, she discovered in her purse her unopened bag of cookies! (apparently he’d been to the same snack bar!)

When we jump to conclusions about others we are usually not seeing things from their point of view.

In our gospel lesson today, Jesus was being accused of having a demon – of being out of his mind.

It’s early in the gospel of Mark (only chapter 3), but already Jesus has drawn a crowd. He has healed the paralyzed man, lowered down through the roof… eaten with tax collectors and sinners… preached to the multitudes from a boat… healed the man with the withered hand (on the Sabbath, no less)…

Things were really taking off and Jesus’ opponents, by now, were feeling threatened by all this: “He has a demon!” they say. “Somebody call his mother to come and get him.” “He casts out demons by the power of Beelzebul!” (There’s one for the spelling bee!).  And he replies with those memorable words: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

When have you jumped the gun and rushed to judgment?

Back to the image of the haunted house.  Notice what the scripture beneath it says, from our 2nd lesson: “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” (2Cor 4:16)

This sermon is more than simply a reminder to not judge a book by its cover. It’s a call to read the book. To get to know the people in that house. To bear witness to the many ways in which God is renewing us, even though we may be aging on the outside, or even in some manner of disrepair.

This September, the Minnesota Council of Churches will be hosting some forums on the upcoming Marriage Amendment, in which Minnesotans will be asked to vote on whether to amend the constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman on the November 6th ballot. The forums are entitled: “Respectful Conversations.” And the purpose is to create some community before diving into the discussion on matters that are near and dear to the hearts of each person attending. So, there will be time for getting acquainted, sharing in some food – don’t expect a quick “for-and-against” debate setting. Rather, the goal as I understand it – is to listen and learn from each other. Not to change anyone’s mind… but to simply see from another’s point of view.

Now, I’m not going to tell you how to vote; but I will urge you to be respectful. And to believe that no one stole your cookies. As we encounter difficult people and situations, my prayer is that we would avoid the easy rush to judgment and try, instead, to understand one another.

It’s easy to call names – to accuse each other as “being crazy” or “out of his mind!”

The “blame game” has been around since Adam & Eve (as we read in our first lesson). But one thing Jesus said that is true is that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” For me the first image that came to mind was that of our nation, divided amongst itself, led by a do-nothing congress, paralyzed by gridlock, unable to span the chasm of ideology and simply get things done!

And yet, what Jesus was talking about was the division in himself – as it was perceived by those around him. “He has gone out of his mind!” Jesus says, “You say I have a demon, yet I cast out demons. I have bound ‘the strong man’ (meaning Satan) in order to plunder his house.”

It’s as if Jesus had said, “In order to save these lost souls, I’m gonna do whatever it takes to tie up the wicked one – only then can people hear some good news. Call me crazy, but that’s what I intend to do. There are people here living in fear, who haven’t heard good news in a long time. Now is their time!”

So, let’s be slow to jump to conclusion in our common life together. No matter what things may look like on the outside, we worship a God who renews from the inside out.  That is something worth sharing!  Let us pray:

O God we give you thanks for the unconditional grace and love that saves us – in spite of all our failures and sin. Help us to share those cookies with others, knowing that no one can ever take away that which you have given: the salvation of our souls, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The hardest thing you’ve ever done…

June 13, 2012

“Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.“ Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” –John 3:1-17

Trinity Sunday / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 6-3-12

What is the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do in life?
Tie your shoes?
Finish school?
Get a job?
Saying goodbye to a loved one?

All the things that matter most in life involve some kind of struggle. Some kind of work to be done. Even if that work is “a work in progress.”

When Jesus meets Nicodemus in the middle of the night he tells him, “You must be born from above.” Why the language of giving birth? I think he’s acknowledging the struggle of faith we all must endure. They don’t call giving birth “labor” for nothing. It’s hard work, involving muscles contracting and relaxing, the salt of tears and sweat and the cries of pain and joy.

And the child struggles, too, though the situation is entirely out of her hands, as the mother does all the pushing. Still, there she is – emerging from the womb, being thrust out of this warm dark place – gasping for air in an alien landscape!

Being born is scary stuff! It turns your whole world upside down. All that you know as familiar is about to change. And it may be the hardest thing we ever do! But it’s necessary for life to begin. To trust that this alien world outside mommy’s tummy is where we belong. And to drink deeply of the oxygen, to open our eyes and take it all in. To reach out those chubby fingers and take hold of the earth for the first time.

So… being “born again” is not much different.

Times were changing for Nicodemus. His familiar ‘womb’ of laws and rules was having a contraction. A new rabbi was in town teaching the people to do things that had been forbidden before – to associate with people who had been off limits before – to believe in a God he called “Abba” Papa. Dad. “You must be born from above,” says Jesus, “and I’m here to assist with the delivery.”

Whatever the hardship may be: whether it’s graduating and leaving home for the first time, or finding a job in this economy where jobs are scarce – or coming through withdrawal because an addiction has left your life in ruins – or having to put down your beloved pet (a part of the family) because of health concerns – if it hurts and is stretching you to your breaking point it matters to God.

And we struggle in our faith, as well. We wrestle with questions about what’s right and wrong – about whether we should be talking about politics in the church – or welcoming gay, lesbian and transgendered brothers and sisters – we wrestle with budgets and feel the growing pains of waning attendance figures in worship. We wonder what in the world God is calling us to in this time and place.

And we find it… here. In this place. Where together we worship and praise God. Where we taste the wine and chew the loaf of Christ – his food for our souls. Here is where we learn that the world needs saving not condemning, as Jesus said in our lesson today: “For God so loved the world, that he sent his only Son…” That’s what gets us through each contraction of the faith! And why it’s some important to share that knowledge with others.

There is a world out there in need of some midwives. We, who have been through the labor of faith, know that could never “do” it for someone else… but we can coach our neighbors through the process, point them to the one true source of life: the risen Christ.

I’m reminded of the image of the butterfly – which cannot be fully developed until it emerges from the cocoon on its own. To cut open the cocoon and gently lift the butterfly out won’t do it any favors. There’s some pushing involved – some prodding – some pumping of fluid from the body to the wings – some struggle – some hard labor. And YES taking flight when it’s all over!

Be an encourager for others on that journey of re-birth! No, you can’t do it for them. But you can do it. You can share your faith.

Nicodemus didn’t get it all at once. He knew Jesus was the real deal. But it took some time – some hard labor – for him to become Jesus’ disciple – and to eventually care for his burial arrangements. It must have been a struggle for this Pharisee, who’s colleagues were trying to have Jesus executed, to secretly be his follower.

Remember what Isaiah said when he encountered the Lord in the temple? “I am a man of unclean lips, from a people of unclean lips!” Through his confession and humility he was restored, his sins blotted out, ready for mission.” The angel grabbed a glowing coal from the altar fire with a pair of tongs and flew to his side, gently touching his lips with the blazing ember and these words: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed.” Isaiah’s vision involved some inner labor and acknowledging his guilt – but he was made right with God – able to hear the call at the other end: “Whom shall send?” …and to answer with conviction: “Here am I. Send me.”

We can do this – become bearers of God to people in need – having been born from above ourselves each day, through the struggles and the hardships, we know

Jesus said, “The wind blows where it chooses – you have no idea where it has come from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” We know that this God is way beyond our control, and yet we are invited to go and tell others. Let us pray:

O God, we give you thanks for sending your only Son for the sake of this world – for loving us beyond what we might ever imagine. Help us as we are born again each day, that we might not only take flight and know the joy of your love – but to carry that good news to a world crying out in pain. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.