Saturday, July 30, 2016

Year C, Proper 13, Colossians 3:1-11, "All and In All"

“All and In All”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen

“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.  In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”

There is a fact that rattles us to the core.
Most of us, I believe.
It is a fact that we don’t like to talk about much.
It is a change that will shape our identity, our culture, and everything about the American experience.
Some will embrace the change.
Others will try valiantly to oppose it.
It will shape our politics.
It will shape our religious communities.
And for those who have the opportunity to live long enough, there will be amazement at the difference a lifetime of change can make.

Forty years ago, when I graduated from high school, there were two things that defined our identity as a country: we considered ourselves to be a “White”, and a “Christian”, nation.  We acknowledged in our best moments that there were minorities, both racial and religious, but they were clearly minorities
That was forty years ago.

If we leap ahead another forty years from now,
To the year 2055, our country will have experienced two radical changes in the landscape, the demographics that define who we are.
There will not be a racial majority.  Or to put it differently, whites will become a minority alongside other minorities.  There will be more blacks, Hispanics, and Asians in our country than whites.
And by that time, if current trends continue, there will be more people unaffiliated with any religion than there are Christians.  We will have become a secular nation, without any particular religion defining who we are. 

Actually, this second fact may not come to be.  It may be that Christianity remains the dominant religion, and that many will continue this walk of faith –
But in forty years Christianity in this country will likely NOT be predominantly white.
More likely, is that the Christian Church in this country will become predominantly black and Hispanic. 

These are simply the facts.
To quote Bob Dylan, “the times they are a changin’”

And if we are honest with ourselves, as white Christians in this country, the fact that in a generation we will be a clear minority makes us uncomfortable.  And for many of us, more than a little uncomfortable.

This is part of a larger global trend in Christianity.
As Europe and North America are becoming increasingly secular, the center of Christianity is shifting.
The Christian Church in Latin America remains strong.
It is thriving in Africa.
And in what may be a surprise to all of us, as early as 2030, just 14 years from now, the largest Christian nation in the world may be China. 

Again, regardless how we feel about it, these are simply the facts. 
My own reaction to this is mixed.
I am deeply saddened that the faith we hold so dear, is not being passed on very effectively to our children.
And at the same time, it excites me that in countries like China, and Russia, where Christianity was actively suppressed throughout the communist era, it is now exploding with growth.

However, if I’m honest with myself,
                If we are honest with ourselves,
                I think we have to admit that these changes make us extremely uncomfortable.

When people rally around a political slogan such as “Take America Back” isn’t it an effort to turn back the clock to that time a generation ago when our primary identity was of being a white, Christian, nation, led by men?

This is not a new issue.
Human beings have struggled with this for a long time.
Historically, the first major struggle within the Christian Church was over this question of identity, and who was to be included.
Christianity, of course, was closely tied to the Jewish faith.  And the first thing they had to determine was whether one must first be a Jew, in order to become a Christian.  That was both a racial question, and a religious question.  Jew or Greek – racial distinctions.  Circumcised or uncircumcised – religious distinctions.

In today’s lesson from Colossians Paul goes on to list barbarians and Scythians.  The term “barbarian” was used to refer to all those people who were not part of the “civilized” Greco-Roman world, the pagans who lived to the north in Europe.
Scythians were a particular group of barbarians, that lived from the area of Iran through the western regions of Russia and the Ukraine.  They were feared as they were some of the first to master warfare on horseback.  They were the epitome of “the enemy”.
 And then Paul mentions the differences in class, slave and free, an economic difference.  He could just as well have said “rich and poor” for the poor were generally enslaved to the rich. 

In the similar verse from Galatians, Paul also adds the distinction of male and female.
Racial distinctions.
Religious distinctions.
Distinguishing between allies and enemies.
Economic distinctions.
And gender distinctions.

In general, Paul lists all the ways that we define ourselves over and against the other, all the basic distinctions that we make between human beings, all of the things that so easily divide us, and then makes this radical statement that these things are no more, for Christ is all, and in all.

He speaks of the “new self” that is being renewed in the image of its creator.
In saying that, Paul is saying that our identity is shaped, not by the distinctions that we are so quick to make as human beings, but by the very image of God.
And all people are created in his image, which means that to fully comprehend who God is, we must fully embrace the diversity of who we are. 
But this remains a challenge for us.
“Birds of a feather, flock together.”
We remain most comfortable, both religiously and culturally, when we associate with those people that are like us. 

This is particularly true for us as Lutherans.
Because of our history, we are a Church that is predominantly German and Scandinavian in our makeup.  Even when our congregations are located in communities that are much more diverse than that, we tend to remain “who we are”.
For nearly thirty years we have tried to change that and become a more inclusive Church, but our efforts have largely failed to make any meaningful progress.
But over and against our own failings in this regard, there is the promise:  That Christ is all, and in all; that none of the distinctions which we make will finally divide us, but rather that this diversity will one day be recognized for what it is, namely, the image of God.
Christ is all and in all.  What a gift it is when we can come to embrace the child of God, the image of God, in all.  Not in some.

The Jew becomes my sister.  The Muslim my brother.  The poor my friend.  The black, or Hispanic, a beloved neighbor.  It is a recognition that mommas  love their babies in Syria as well.  The world that God created had no borders, and certainly no walls.  That's our invention.  And it is not part of the kingdom of God.

The longer I live, the more I believe that God’s love does indeed embrace ALL of his children.  And when I say “All of his children” I have come to believe that it includes everyone who is created in his image, which is, everyone. 
You see, the love that God has for us, is not just for us.
It’s not just for the deserving.
It’s not just for a particular group of people.  It’s not just for Lutherans, or for that matter, Christians.
 John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world that he gave his only son. . .”
And in Revelation, as John described his vision of the New Jerusalem, it includes “the nations”, not one nation, not one people, but all nations and all peoples.
It is hard for us to comprehend the fullness of God’s grace, and his capacity to love all people.  Like the Jewish people before us, it is easier to comprehend that we are the chosen ones, and no one else belongs.

But God’s ability to love is greater than ours.
And one day, the promise is that we will come to fully comprehend the fullness and depth and breadth of God’s grace and God’s mercy. 
Until that day, we get only glimpses as we grow into that promise.  We have those fleeting moments when we comprehend the presence of Christ in our neighbor.

Its these moments that we cling to in the midst of all that is changing in our world.

And we cling to the notion that the love of God that unites us will prevail in the end over everything that might otherwise divide us.


Year C, Proper 14, Luke 12:32-40, Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, Fear, Faith, and Courage

"Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom."

This is a beautiful verse, a favorite hymn is based on it, and its a theme that comes up in the Bible time and time again.  Fear not.

The thing is, fear is not a choice but an emotion that simply happens.  And fear serves a pretty important role in our lives.  It helps us to respond to that which threatens us.  Yet, it also can immobilize us from responding at all.

A veteran of the Air Force once shared with me a little tidbit about fighter pilots.  It's not that fighter pilots have no fear.  In fact many a fighter pilot has returned from a dog fight with the enemy, having shit in their pants.  What sets them apart is courage, that is, the ability to act in the face of one's fears.  Courage is not the lack of fear, but the conquering of our fears.

And faith is the foundation of all courage.  It is that complete and total trust that enables us to act with courage in the face of our fears.

Be of good courage, little flock, and trust that it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.

I have been afraid.  A debilitating illness left me without a job, and on disability.  And then the disability benefits were terminated abruptly.  I feared financial ruin.  I feared losing our house.  I feared that I might never be able to work again.  I feared that the treatment options would not be effective.  I feared that I would not be able to afford the treatment without insurance.  And the list could go on and on.

Sometimes courage in the face of our fears involves a very simple response.  Just do the next right thing.  Forget the big picture and all that could possibly go wrong.  Simply do the one task that is at hand.  And have faith.

Actually faith is a gift we receive, not a choice we make.  In the midst of all my fears, and particularly in the face of one of my greatest fears, namely that we'd loose our home and become homeless, there was a promise.  "If need be, we'll buy your house and let you live in it for what rent you can afford."  It was the assurance that we were not alone.  It was the promise of help.  In the end it was not necessary, but the promise alone gave me faith.  And with that faith, came the courage to do the one task that was at hand.

And that has proven to be sufficient.

In the face of fear, we live by faith and act with courage.

And in doing that, we encounter the grace of God.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Year C, Proper 12, Luke 11:1-13, "As We Forgive"

Grace and Peace to  you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
There are two phrases in the Bible that make me feel quite uncomfortable, because they seem to set the bar so high that I can never achieve it.
The first is from the Lord’s Prayer.
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
 Really, Jesus, is this what I’m to pray for?
That God would forgive me, as I forgive?

The problem is, I’m not always very good at forgiveness.  I have too good of a memory.  I tend to harbor hurts far too long.  It’s hard to let them go.
There have been times in my life that I have been deeply hurt by people who were close to me.  Deeply hurt.
When I was an adolescent boy, for example, I developed a relationship, a friendship, with my band director.  Tony was just out of college, and single, and living alone in the small town in South Dakota where I lived.  I was a socially awkward young boy who longed for friendship, and I found it with Tony.
There was much about that relationship that was good.  From Tony I received some of the most positive affirmation that I have ever received.  He helped to build up my self esteem that was very fragile during this period of my life.
The summer prior to his arrival in our town, I had been picked up and arrested for shoplifting.  My mom and dad came down particularly hard on me.  Dad was a pastor.  Not only did I get the message that what I had done was wrong, but that in doing that, I had shamed the entire family.  My mom’s reaction after picking me up from the police station was to declare that we would have to move, that my actions would make it impossible for my dad to continue being the pastor there.
My dad’s lecture I still remember to this day.  “How long would it take me to drive a nail into the top of my desk?”  he asked.  “And how long would it take to repair the damage done by that?”  He was clear that once the damage had been done, it would never be the same again.  His point was that I had done irreparable damage to myself.  In committing that crime, I had become a criminal, and would always carry that criminal record with me.
I was devasted.
That is, until Tony laughed it off.
In his laughter I found forgiveness, and that formed the basis for a friendship that would last for years.
I would spend time at his home, watching “Laugh In”.
He’d feed me.
We’d go to Sioux Falls.
He took me to movies, R-rated movies.
He bought me Playboys.
I thought I had the best friend an adolescent boy could ever have.
Years later, when I had children of my own, I came to realize that there was much about that relationship that was in fact, abusive.  The worst of it was some inappropriate touch that took place.  I realized that if someone did to my children what he did to me, I would react violently toward them.  So deep was the hurt.
Yes, there was love and affection in our friendship, but it was abused. 
And I was not prone to forgive.
Forgive our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
No, Jesus,
I pray that God’s forgiveness is far superior to the forgiveness I’m able to offer.  I have a hard time forgiving.  And I never, it seems, forget.

The second verse in the Bible that makes me very uncomfortable comes from John 8: verse 11.
This is the story of the woman caught in adultery.  After Jesus hears the accusations against her, he invites whoever who is without sin to cast the first stone.  All of her accusers leave.
“Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?” 
“No one, sir.”
“Neither do I condemn you.  Go and sin no more.”
Go, and sin no more.
I struggle with those words, because they seem so impossible.

I have shared with some of you that I am a recovering alcoholic.  I was using alcohol to self medicate.
It’s not good medicine.
Part of the recovery process, outlined in the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is to do a thorough moral inventory, the fourth step, and then to share that work with someone else in the fifth step.
It asks that we document all of the resentments that we harbor within ourselves, and what we ourselves did in those situations that caused us to be so resentful. 
It recognizes that we often hold within ourselves anger toward others, but the real anger is toward ourselves.  That’s why we drink.
Getting over that involves two things.  Forgiving others, and forgiving ourselves.
And I might add, “going and sinning no more.”
I’m fortunate, in one regard, that my experience of the “rock bottom”, and the treatment that I have received for my alcoholism, has enabled me to be sober since October 15th, 2012.  1,379 days.  But who’s counting.
In that regard, I might be able to say that I’ve “gone, and sinned no more.”
Except for those resentments. 
They are a constant battle.  They continue to creep up.  It’s still hard to forgive.  And I find myself wondering if I’ve ever truly and fully forgiven anyone. 
Which brings us back to the Lord’s Prayer, and the petition “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Oh my, I do so hope that God is better at this forgiveness business, than I am.
The very fact that my experiences with Tony remain so deeply seared into my memory, shows that I have not fully forgiven him.
For that matter, the fact that I can still feel the pain that I felt as a result of my father’s lecture at that time, is a good indicator that I’ve still got work to do.
And I have come to realize, as most alcoholics do, that we must continually do our 4th and 5th step work, because the resentments and failures never stop, and we must deal with them, lest they destroy us.

Forgive us as we forgive.
Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.

Tough stuff.

Thankfully, as I’ve struggle with these verses, God has not left me there.
As I’ve come to experience the grace of the Gospel, I’ve come to understand them in a new way.
In Psalm 103:12 & 13, it is written:
“As far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.”

When I hear that verse, “go and sin no more”, I hear it in a new way.
“Neither do I condemn you, go, your sins are no more.
This you see is the nature of God’s forgiveness.  As far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.
They are no more. 
That is complete and unconditional forgiveness.
And I do not pray that God will forgive me, as I forgive others,
                But rather I pray that I might forgive others,
                As I have been forgiven. 
One of the things that has helped me come to fully appreciate the nature of God’s forgiveness, is to become a father, myself.
As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
You see, it is easier for me to resent my father, and that lecture he gave so many years ago, but it’s different with my children.  I can’t hold anything against them.
And, as I have come to know that about my relationship with my children, I have also come to realize that my father loves me unconditionally as well.
When my dad looks at me today, the farthest thing from his mind is that I’m a criminal. 
Likewise, when God looks at us, he does not see us as sinners, but as his beloved children.
That’s the promise of baptism.
One of my favorite verses from all of scripture comes from the baptism of Jesus, where God speaks to Jesus and says: “You are my  Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
These are the Words that I believe God speaks to each and every one of us in our baptisms.
You are my child.
I love you.
And with you I am well pleased.
Your sins are no more.
I do not condemn you.
And as I have forgiven you, so also will you be able to forgive others.

And I continue to pray, that I might live into those promises.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Year C, Proper 13, Colossians 3:1-11, Christ is all, and in all

"Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with a new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.  In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!"

In a world awash in political hyperbole it is probably timely that these are the words we will reflect on this next Sunday.  For all the political "fact checkers" out there, it never ceases to amaze me that we, and by that I mean all of us, continue to lap up these lies according to our own political leanings -- like a parched dog drinking from a water hose.  

One of the most dangerous political 'fantasies' that we entertain is the fabrication of an enemy in our own imagination, and then based on that fantasy engage in a crusade to conquer that imaginary enemy.  The problem is that the victims of this imaginary quest are not imaginary.  They are real.  And the damage done is irreversible.

The "Final Solution" of Hitler was no solution at all, though for many it was clearly final.

To say that for a Christian this ought naught be the case, is an understatement.  For any person of conscience, this ought naught be the case.  

The words of Paul once again focus our thoughts on the distinctions we make, distinctions that in the "renewal", the "new self", are no longer valid.  We have our own lists and categories of people that dominate our political discourse.  And human nature is such that we are too quick to credit the world's problems to a particular group of people, and then to take 'corrective action' against them.

And then these words:  Christ is all and in all!

But even in speaking those words, we are prone to make distinctions.  The most obvious distinction is that which we make regarding being "in Christ" or not, and the identification that to be "in Christ" is a particular reference to being Christian.  This of course allows us to continue making our distinctions with regard to the rest of the world.  May the Muslims of the world beware.  

But.  But.  Christ is all and in all.  What a gift it is when we can come to embrace the child of God, the image of God, in all.  Not in some.

The Jew becomes my sister.  The Muslim my brother.  The poor my friend.  The black, or Hispanic, a beloved neighbor.  It is a recognition that mommas  love their babies in Syria as well.  The world that God created had no borders, and certainly no walls.  That's our invention.  And it is not part of the kingdom of God.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Year C, Proper 11, Luke 10:38-42, Sermon: Purity of Heart is to will one thing.

Year C, Proper 11, Luke 10:38-42, To will one thing

To Will One Thing
A prayer by Søren Kierkegaard

"Father in Heaven, what are we without you?
What is all that we know, vast accumulation though it be,
But a chipped fragment if we do not know you?
What is all our striving?
Could it ever encompass a world,
But a half-finished work
If we do not know you?

You, the One who is one thing and who is all.

So may you give
To the intellect, wisdom to comprehend that one thing,
To the heart, sincerity to receive this and this only,
To the will, purity that wills only one thing.

In prosperity, may you grant perseverance to will one thing.
Amid distraction, collectedness to will one thing.
In suffering, patience to will one thing.

You that gives both the beginning and the completion
May you early, at the dawn of the day,
Give to the young the resolution to will one thing,
As the day wanes, may you give too the old
A renewed remembrance of that first resolution 
That the first may be like the last
And the last like the first
In possession of a life that has willed only one thing,
To know God."

(Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing)

"Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

Mary sat at Jesus feet, and there came to know God.
Martha, on the other hand, was distracted by her many tasks.

Are you a Mary or a Martha?
This is the question that often has guided our understanding of this text.
Primary, I think, it is asked by the “Martha’s” of this world who have devoted themselves to lives of service, and who,
                Quite frankly,
                Feel more than a little bit slighted by Jesus.
Martha is the one who was the hostess.
She had invited Jesus into her home.
It’s no small task to host Jesus,
                And the disciples that followed him everywhere.

That she wanted Mary to help her was a reasonable request.  At the very least, there was probably a meal to prepare.  There were many tasks, all the result of having Jesus as a guest in their home.

But rather than being understanding of this,
Jesus tells Martha, that Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her.

After all he says, there is need of only one thing.
“Yea, well,” the Martha’s of the world cry out, “that may be true, unless of course you want to eat.”
But Mary chose the better part, to sit there at Jesus feet.

Mary, according to Kierkegaard, had a pure heart.
She wanted only one thing.
To know Jesus.
To know God.

I think that as a Church,
As a congregation,
We are most often like Martha.
There are many things to do.
We are constantly in need of volunteers.
There is just so much involved in being a congregation that is hard to imagine being able to come together as a Church without an abundance of “Marthas” to make that possible.
Often we measure our success as a congregation through the eyes of Martha.
It’s all about the serving.
How much are we doing?
How many ways are we reaching out in Christian love to the community around us?
What programs are thriving?
The pride and joy of my former parish was that we built a senior housing ministry.  That’s where my wife still works.  It was my own “baby”.  And day after day, they tend to the needs of the seniors who reside there.
It’s the epitome of “Martha Work”.
The congregations of our Church do many things.
Preschools, daycares, food banks, and clothing rooms.
We host things like twelve step groups,
                And provide meeting space for scout troups.
There are lawns to mow.
And bathrooms to clean.
People bring cookies to church,
                And prepare “hot dishes”, or casseroles, depending on which part of the country you’re from, for church dinners.
Someone will prepare the bulletin.
Others will set the table for communion.
Choirs will rehearse.
In many of our congregations quilts are made and sent throughout the world.
There are Sunday school classes to teach, and youth groups to lead.
And the list goes on, and on, and on.
In many cases, we have become very good at “being the church”, and it’s a credit to the Martha in all of us.

But “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."
“Purity of heart” is to will one thing, and that one thing is to know God.

We live in a world in which people are becoming increasingly “unChurched”. 
“I’m a spiritual person, but not very religious.”
“I don’t believe in “organized” religion.”
“I believe in Jesus, I just don’t have any desire to be part of a congregation and all the Church politics that go along with it.”

And yet, there is a hunger in our world for those things that truly matter.

Thinking about Mary sitting at Jesus feet,
And Kierkegaard’s prayer,
And all the years I’ve spent in ministry –
I find myself asking a “what if” question.
What if we were to scrap everything?
And do only one thing?
What if our entire ministry plans, and purpose statements, our organizational goals and objectives, were all set aside, and instead all of our effort was to do just one thing?
And what if that “one thing” was simply this:
To know Jesus.
And what would it be like if the one and only thing we were known for in the community is that “we know Jesus”?

Alan Jackson wrote a song, “Where were you when the world stopped turning” in the wake of the Sept 11th terror attacks.  There’s a line in it I particularly love:
“But I know Jesus, and I talk to God, and I remember this from when I was young,
Faith, hope and love are some good things he gave us, and the greatest is love.”

Martha had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying.
Perhaps the “one thing” we should be doing, is sitting at the feet of Jesus, and listening.
And if we do that,
If we sit with Mary at Jesus feet,
We will also find ourselves with Mary
Standing at the foot of the cross.

For to know Jesus,
Is to see him on the cross,
Giving himself, his body and his blood, for you and for me.

To know Jesus is to experience this love,
Offered freely for all.
And finally,
To know Jesus, is to choose the better part,
And it will not be taken from us.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Year C, Proper 12, Luke 11:1-13, "For we ourselves forgive"

I've often been uncomfortable with this petition of the Lord's Prayer.  It's that second clause that gets me every time.

In the Matthew version of the prayer we ask to be forgiven "as we also have forgiven".  In the text from the RSV it is "for we ourselves forgive".  Whatever the version there is this uncomfortable link between God's forgiveness and our forgiving.

My first reaction to this has been to see this petition as an "if, then" proposition.  "If" you forgive others, God also will forgive you.  This is uncomfortable as I hope and pray that God's capacity to forgive vastly exceeds my own, for I am not always very good at it.

A second way I understand it is a "because, therefore" proposition.  That we are to forgive, because we have first been forgiven.  Our forgiving our neighbor, then, is a response to God's having forgiven us.  This is the way I understand the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18.  God forgives, and so, then, we also 'ought' to forgive.  

The third way of understanding this is that we are making this request of God, and using our own ability to forgive as a means of calling upon God to forgive.  For we ourselves forgive, so then, God also 'ought' to forgive.  

I'm uncomfortable with the ramifications of all of these explanations.

Of late, I've come to another understanding, and that is that the relationship between God's forgiving and our forgiving is intricately tied together, not because one derives from the other, but because both are part of a new reality, a new way of being, in which love forms the foundation upon which everything else is based.  When love is the norm, what happens is that the connection between what we do, and who and whose we are, is broken.  Who I am as a person, and whose I am as a child of God, is not determined by how I have behaved.  Forgiveness wipes away that connection.

Our natural tendency is to connect the two.  I have done bad things, therefore, I am a bad person.  The way of love is different.  Because I am loved, because I am first and foremost a child of God, created in his image, therefore who I am, and whose I am, is not related to what I do.  When parents consider the nature of their relationship with their children, or children with their parents, they understand this.  My kid is my kid, and I love them unconditionally, quite apart from their actions.  They may make me proud.  They may greatly disappoint me.  But regardless, they are mine, and I love them.  Period.

So it is with our relationship with God.  That we are children of God, holy and precious in his sight, is not the reward for good behavior.  It is the condition into which we were born.

This world view, if you will, is by necessity all encompassing.  If my status as a child of God is a gift, freely given, because I am created by God, and in God's image, then that must of necessity also be extended to others.  If who I am and whose I am is not dependent on what I do, then neither does who you are, or whose you are, depend on what you do.  This is the nature of love and forgiveness.  

Love that is conditional, is not love at all.  Forgiveness that is not for all, is not at all.

The prayer for forgiveness is a prayer to be loved for who we are, not for what we do.  It is a recognition that love always is a gift, not a reward.  And it is always reciprocal.  To be loved is also to love.  

This is at one and the same time most obvious and mysterious.  But it is.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Year C, Proper 11, Luke 10:38-42, To will one thing

To Will One Thing
A prayer by Søren Kierkegaard

Father in Heaven, what are we without you?
What is all that we know, vast accumulation though it be,
But a chipped fragment if we do not know you?
What is all our striving?
Could it ever encompass a world,
But a half-finished work
If we do not know you?
You, the One who is one thing and who is all.

So may you give
To the intellect, wisdom to comprehend that one thing
To the heart, sincerity to receive this and this only
To the will, purity that wills only one thing
In prosperity, may you grant perseverance to will one thing
Amid distraction, collectedness to will one thing
In suffering, patience to will one thing.

You that gives both the beginning and the completion
May you early, at the dawn of the day,
Give to the young the resolution to will one thing
As the day wanes, may you give to the old
A renewed remembrance of that first resolution
That the first may be like the last
And the last like the first
In possession of a life that has willed only one thing,
To know God.

Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing

"Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

Mary sat listening at Jesus feet, and there came to know God.

I think about the Church and its witness to the world.  We too, are distracted by many things.  How would we be received if we made this one simple resolve.

To will one thing.
To know God.

And to sit with Mary, at Jesus feet, will in the end lead us, with Mary, to the foot of the Cross.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Year C, Proper 10, Luke 10:25-37, “And who is my neighbor?”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
“Do this, and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus,
“And who is my neighbor?”

Alton Sterling was selling CDs outside of a Baton Rouge convenience store.  A homeless man persisted in asking him for money, and his response was to insist that the man leave him alone, showing his gun in the process.
The police were called; Sterling was wrestled to the ground, and then shot point blank by the police officers sparking an outrage across the nation.
Irritated by a homeless man’s persistent requests for money, Sterling lost his life. 
And wanting to justify himself, the young man asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

Philando Castile carried a weapon with him, most likely for his own safety.
Pulled over because of a broken taillight, he informed the police officer that he had a gun, and then reached—
And then he reached
For his wallet, or for the gun?
Obviously, the police officer thought the later for he responded by opening fire, and so ended the life of Castile.
And wanting to justify himself, the young man asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

Our nation grieved over what seemed to be the senseless shootings of two black men by the police, all recorded on video, and shared via social media.
Protests formed as people reacted to this use of force by the police against these black men.
Black Lives Matter
People marched.
And at least one planned.
In a well planned out attack at a Dallas protest, Micah Johnson, used his military background to stage an ambush at the protest, and in the end 7 police officers were wounded, 5 were dead, and a whole nation was shaken.
Johnson, himself, died when the police used a robot to deliver a bomb.
And wanting to justify himself, the young man asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

In response to all of this, an ex Representative, Joe Walsh, tweeted an angry message:
“3 Dallas Cops killed, 7 wounded.  This is now war.  Watch out Obama.  Watch out black lives matter punks.  Real America is coming after you.”
He latter deleted the tweet, but too late.  His anger and his words are now out there to further incite even more violence.
And wanting to justify himself, the young man asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
As commandments go, it’s simple enough.
Love God, Love your neighbor.
Do this, and you will live.
But it’s a bit like when someone asks if you will do them a favor. . .
                We can’t help but want to know first, what the favor being asked is.
If you were to ask me for some money, I may very well be willing to give it to you. . . but I’d like to know how much before I say yes.
There are limits, after all, both with respect to how much I can give as well as how much I’m willing to give.
So it is.  So it is.
The lawyer who was asking Jesus these questions was spot on in his response.  “And who is my neighbor?”
It makes a difference, you know.  Love them.  Alright.  But who are they that you would have me love?

My heart goes out to police officers in this day and age.
There is a simple fact they live with everyday:  more and more people are carrying guns.
Their lives are always at risk.  A simple traffic stop has resulted in law enforcement officers being killed.
So you KNOW someone has a gun, and they reach toward their hip.  Are they going after their wallet, to show the police their ID?
Or are they going after their gun?
In Dallas, the shooter was killed by sending in a robot with a bomb.  The reason this novel new approach was used is that being the second to shoot is not a good position to be in, because before you get that opportunity, you may be dead.  I’m sure that in Dallas, no one wanted to see a sixth dead officer.
Can we love, and yes, forgive, these officers who so often have to put their lives on the line?
And wanting to justify himself, the young man asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

This last week, Newt Gingrich was quoted as saying:
“If you are a normal white American. . .you don’t understand being black in America.”
The victim’s families feel as though they, especially young black men, are being hunted by the police.  They are dying after being pulled over because their tail light is out. 
You don’t hear of many white people dying at the hands of the police because of a broken tail light. 
When I wear a hooded Carhart coat while walking out on the street, I don’t fear for my life.  But a young black man in a hooded sweatshirt is at risk.
Can we ever understand what it is to live in such fear?
To live fearing that the officers who are supposed to keep you safe, may in fact gun you down?
Can we love, and yes, forgive, these young men who so often have their lives at risk?
And wanting to justify himself, the young man asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

Who is my neighbor?
Who am I to love?
Those questions have far reaching impacts on our lives, and they touch on many more issues than simply the violence of this last week.
Matthew Shepherd, a gay man studying at the University of Wyoming, was beaten, tortured, and left to die.
And wanting to justify himself, the young man asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
Millions of undocumented people make our beds, do our landscaping, cut our beef, and whatever else they can do to make a living for their families.  Yes, they come from south of the border.  You don’t hear of many undocumented Canadians residing in the country.
Build a wall, keep them out.
Load the bus, and ship them home.
And wanting to justify himself, the young man asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
The Mediterranean Sea is adrift with refugees fleeing the violence of the Middle East.
And wanting to justify himself, the young man asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

If we are honest there are a whole lot of people out there that are difficult for us to love.  Really difficult.
And so we prefer to avoid the whole issue and pass by on the other side of the road.
I have to admit, I’m glad I don’t live in Dallas, or Falcon Heights, or Baton Rouge.  It’s much easier to be righteous at a distance.
I have to admit, that the other day, when a young black man came to my door (really a rarity in a white community like Sandpoint), I was nervous.  Turns out he was just a youth doing door to door sales, nothing to be alarmed about.  Nothing at all.  But I have to be honest that my reaction was different than it is when a white man shows up at my door.
It’s easier to love all people at a distance.

In the midst of all of this, Jesus tells us the story of the Samaritan man who saw the man who was lying beside the road, a victim of robbers, and who cared for him.
The priest and the Levite had passed by, not wanting to get involved.

But the Samaritan stopped and showed mercy, tended to his wounds, taking him to an inn, and seeing that he was cared for.
And who is my neighbor?
“The one who showed mercy.”

There is a real danger in our world today, one that is always with us.
The natural tendency is to respond to violence with even more violence. 
Jesus, however speaks of mercy.
Mercy, not violence.  Love, not hate.
In the end, it doesn’t matter WHO our neighbor is.
·         If we respond to the world around us with hatred and violence, our own lives are destroyed.
·         But if we can be loving and merciful, as God has been loving and merciful to us, then we shall live.
In the end it’s that simple. 
Choose one pathway and you die.
Choose another and you live.
I think that at times like this it is easy to want to simply turn it over to God, and say “Fix it.”
And God does want to fix it. 
But the solution does involve us.  We bear the responsibility to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world.  We are called to be witnesses to his love and mercy.  We simply cannot pass by on the other side of the road and expect things to change.
If you want to have a neighbor,  you have to be a neighbor.  If you want to be loved, you have to be willing to love. 
God’s solution involves us.

That’s the uncomfortable truth.  And an incredible responsibility.  Amen

Monday, July 4, 2016

Year C, Proper 10, Luke 10:25-37, And who is my neighbor?

To your neighbor as you love yourself is easy enough in theory, more challenging in reality.

Who is my neighbor?  That the young lawyer in today's Gospel lesson asked this question in an effort to justify himself is a clear indication that there were those who he determined were not his neighbors and hence not covered by this commandment.  Which of course, makes keeping the commandment so much easier.  It is one thing to love everyone in theory, another thing to love one person in particular.

A young woman who was a member of my former parish, a recovering alcoholic, and who also was transitioning into being a man, approached me one day.  "People are always saying they'd like to grow and attract more young people as a congregation.  Why not become a Reconciled in Christ congregation and openly state our welcome to the GLBT community?  Or why not reach out to all the folks meeting at our Church in AA programs?  These are both groups of people that are actively seeking spiritual growth.  Why not offer them a place to be part of the Church?"  That was the essence of the conversation.

Mostly out of curiosity, I posed her/his two questions to the council.  I knew that it would take a miracle for the council to say "Yes", but I wanted to hear what the response would be.

"Of course, all people are welcome here, but if we have to specifically say gays are welcome, then we will leave the congregation."

And who is my neighbor?

AA groups are an interesting mix of people.  They gather in our churches as they seek to further their sobriety.  With one foot already in the door, you would think that they might be prime candidates for inclusion in the Church.  Sometimes they are, drawn to the Church as they grow in their own spirituality through the 12 Step program.  But often they are not.

One of the things that would be offensive to many in the Church, is how often the "F word" is part of the conversation in AA.  Do we even want that word spoken in our Churches?  Let alone welcome those who are so 'vulgar and crude'.  We are quick to make judgments based on the perceptions we have of alcoholics.  All are welcome, yes, so we say.  But it is difficult to love one, particularly if they are still going in and out of the program.

And who is my neighbor?

And the list goes on.  What about the Muslim.  Or the undocumented?  What about the poor?  What about people of color?  Does it make a difference to us whether one is perceived as a liberal or conservative?  What about people with a checkered past, perhaps a criminal record?  Can we love one who is on the sexual offenders list?  And if there is no possibility of love, what chance is there of grace happening?

And who is my neighbor?

The problem for us is that though, in our best moments, we may realize that we are called to love all people, the painful truth is that there are many we'd rather not associate with. Either that, or we are inclined to limit who we consider to be our neighbor, so that we might be justified in our own inability to love some people.

"Do this, and you will live."

Interesting that Jesus doesn't reference eternal life, as the lawyer did.  He simply says "Do this, and you will live.

Perhaps what he is saying to us is simply this.  That as we learn to love, more and more people, we will discover what 'living' is all about.

Here is the secret:  Love graces the life of both the lover and the beloved.  And in the act of loving and being loved, we are made whole.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Year C, Proper 9, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, July 4th

Paul writes in Ephesians 2:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. . . So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, . . .

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

These are the word’s from Emma Lazarus’ famous poem, “The New Colossus” which are engraved on the Statue of Liberty.
They expressed the welcome that our Nation,

From its founding, gave to the immigrant.
Notice what those words do not say:
They do not say, “give me your best”
Your brightest,
Your most desirable and successful
And from this “cream of the crop” I will make a great nation.

It doesn’t say that.

Your tired.
Your poor.
Your huddled masses.
The wretched refuse.
The homeless.
The tempest tost.

Send these to me.

One of Donald Trump’s most famous quotes from this last year is:
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with (them). They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

We are a nation of immigrants.
At one time we were all “huddled masses yearning to be free.”

But how quickly we forget
That we once were “far off”, the outcast,
Who came to this country, seeking opportunity and hope, precisely because that is what we lacked.

Europe did not send its best who didn’t have any problems.

We tend to idealize the first immigrants to this country.
We think about the super religious Pilgrims,
Who came to create a great Christian nation.

That’s not really the whole picture.

I served my internship in St. Paul, MN at First Lutheran Church.
It was the oldest Lutheran Church in Minnesota,
Founded by Swedish immigrants.

We had a member, Gerhard Alexis by name, who loved to research the archives of the congregation and learn about these early immigrants.  He unearthed one incredibly interesting fact about those early years as wave after wave of immigrants from Sweden arrived in St. Paul.  Buried in the minutes of the congregation was the record that First Lutheran Church used to employ four off duty police officers, every Sunday morning, to break up the fist fights that routinely broke out on the Church grounds, on the steps to the Church.

You heard that right.
It took four police officers to keep these Swedish immigrants, these Lutherans, in line.

Can you imagine having to have four police officers here?

Apparently, Sweden didn’t send its best either.

Give me the “wretched refuse of your teaming shore”.

When Jesus sent out his disciples to gather the harvest, and announce the coming of the Kingdom of God, it was not to the righteous, the religious elite that Jesus sent his disciples. Rather it was to those who genuinely needed a savior.

We come, totally dependent on the grace of God, that welcomes the outcast, the sinner, the downtrodden,
And then, as recipients of this incredible grace of God, we quickly forget.

We forget that we once were lost, saved only by the grace of God offered unconditionally to us.

Instead, rather than remember that what we have is a pure gift of grace, we consider ourselves to be privileged.
The chosen ones
The insiders
The worthy.

We turn God’s grace, into our own privilege.
We turn God’s grace, into our own privilege.

And those on the outside, well, they are the undesirable, the lost and condemned. Not really good “church folk”.  And we struggle to welcome them.  It’s even harder to go out of our way to reach them.

We forget that we once were “Aliens”.

There are constant reminders of who we were,
Where we’ve come from,
And that we are all dependent on God’s grace.

Paul writes to the Ephesians and calls on them to remember who they were.  They were the uncircumcised, the outsiders, the ones that were not welcomed by the first Christians who were Jewish.  As Gentiles they were of the wrong race.  As Gentiles they had not obeyed the law.  They had not met the requirement of circumcision.

And yet, by the Grace of God,
Those who once were far off, have been brought near, by the blood of Christ.

God’s grace seeks out the lost.
And welcomes them in.
Welcomes US in.

This reminder didn’t stop with the Gentiles,
The new converts to Christianity.

God also reminds the Jews from whence they came.

Remember that you were slaves,
That I set you free.
Remember that you once wandered homeless,
And I gave you this land to call your own.

God says,
That Jesus “came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near”.

Remember that you received God’s grace freely, not because you deserved it, but purely for the sake of the Love that God showed to you in Jesus Christ.

Who is welcome here?

Who is welcome?

I was delighted to see that you have a purpose statement that you recite at the conclusion of each worship service.
God’s purpose for our congregation is to welcome, love and serve all in our local and global community.

I would be absolutely delighted to find out that you truly believed that and lived it out as a congregation.

Much of the time, we are simply liars when we answer that question.
Churches want to say: “All are welcome!”  When actually, the reality is that “Some are welcome. And some are not welcome.”  The unwritten rule by which we live is that some are welcome, some are not.

I once told my church council, that if we were really truthful, we wouldn’t put “All are welcome” on our signs. We’d put instead: “Some are welcome, inquire within.”
But those are our rules, not God’s.

God continually reminds us, that once “we were far off, but now have been brought near.”

In our Gospel reading Jesus sent the disciples on ahead to proclaim the Good News that the kingdom of God has come near. “Peace to this house!” they were to say.

But to whom were they sent?
To whom are we sent?

What Jesus told his disciples was to proclaim to simplest message of Peace, and if they received the peace, great, if not, just go your way.

Do you think that when the disciples went out on their journey, that they sought out only the brightest and best, the good “church folk” if you will?

Or was their mission to the tired, the poor, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore?

Actually, the answer is both.
They went to the good “church folk”,
And to those who knew nothing of church.
They went to the insiders,
And to those who seem forever to be on the outside.

But whether we’ve been here since the beginning,
Or seem so totally unlikely to be here at all –

We have this one thing in common,
That we are here because Jesus cared enough for us
To welcome us, regardless of our background.

And as he welcomed us, who once were “far off”,
He continues to welcome those whom we consider to be “far off”.

What makes us most uncomfortable, though,
Is that we are called, as the Body of Christ, to be the voice of Christ calling out to the lost, and welcoming them into the fold.

And like a shepherd that leaves the ninety nine sheep behind, and goes out to seek the one lost sheep, so we are called to take the risk of reaching out to those who are still, “far off”, that they might be brought near.

I have a challenge for you as a congregation.  Consider who it is, that would be most difficult to welcome into your midst.

Who is it that seems “farthest off”?
Who is it that makes you feel most uncomfortable?

And then consider this:
That those are the people that you are very specifically called to seek out and to welcome, for they are the ones who most need to hear the Gospel.

They are the ones to whom Jesus is sending you to bring that message of “Peace” and the Kingdom of God.  In fact, it’s the very thing that makes us feel uncomfortable welcoming them, that is the very reason they so desperately need to hear the Gospel in the first place.


Year C, Proper 9, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, Laborers for the harvest

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
There is a sense of urgency in our Gospel lesson today.

The harvest is at hand, now, not tomorrow, not the next day, but now.  And laborers are needed for the harvest or all will be lost.

I’ve lived a fair portion of my life in farming communities and this I know to be true.  When harvest comes, everything else stops.  A day’s delay can mean the difference between harvesting a bumper crop or being hailed out.
Gardeners know this too.  That beautiful ripe strawberry isn’t going to be there next week.  Apples that are not picked fall to the ground and rot.  The crows will gladly clean up a cherry tree, if you don’t pick them yourself.  And so it is.  Harvest time is time to act.

Jesus sensed this urgency:  “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.”  Now is the time.  The opportunity is at hand.  No action is to lose the moment. 

And so Jesus sent his disciples ahead of him, two by two, to carry his message about the Kingdom of God.

As Lutherans, we do not tend to be very evangelical.  Specifically, evangelism is not our strong suit.  We may share cute videos of dogs and cats on Facebook, even a recipe or two.  But to share our faith is a matter that makes us uncomfortable. 

Going out two by two is not something we are inclined to do.  We point to the Mormons and tell ourselves that no one likes it when the young men come knocking at the door.  And so we won’t do that.  And that generally means that we don’t do anything.

Not a lot of adult conversions are happening.
The church is declining.

It’s not that we’re reaping what we sow, it’s that we often haven’t sowed anything at all. 
We justify our actions in many ways.  One of the most common is that we tell ourselves that those people who want to go to church are already going to church and so what’s the point.  People who aren’t going to church have made their decision, and there’s little we can do to change their mind. 
And so, we are often content with the status quo.

We are also comfortable with our intimate little communities of faith.  When it comes to church, most of us are introverts.  We prefer a few good friends rather than large crowds.  A bunch of new people, people we don’t know, makes us nervous. 
That’s just the way we are.
But it’s not the way we have to be.

Ekalaka is a gem isolated in the Southeast Montana prairie.  Depending on the time of year, there might be 1,500 or so people who live in Carter County.  Mostly, there are cattle, a few buffalo, and a lot of open space.  Actually there are forests there, too.  And medicine rocks.  The town was established when an entrepreneur headed west in his covered wagons laden down with the fixings for establishing a bar farther west in Montana.  When he got to Ekalaka, his wagons got stuck in the gumbo.  Unable to free them from this eastern Montana clay, he exclaimed "Hell, any place in Montana is a good place for a bar!" and he unloaded and built his bar, and the town of Ekalaka was born.  Of Ekalaka it has been said, "Ekalaka, where every night is Saturday night, and every Saturday night is New Year's Eve."

I was asked to serve as the pastor for a small group of people meeting in Ekalaka during my time at American Lutheran Church in Baker.  I think there were 10 people at my first service there.  We gathered in the Catholic Church at that time.  A couple of mothers had a Sunday School for their children who were in 1st and 2nd grade at the time, three children.  I started a bible study Wednesday nights for the adults, that was well received.

One Sunday, the lone 4th grade girl approached me.  Valorie was a bit precocious in a good sort of way.  "Pastor, I've been thinking about our Church a lot.  We have services on Sunday.  They have Sunday School for the little kids.  And you're doing a Bible study for the adults.  But there is nothing for kids my age.  I think we should start a youth group for my age."

"That's a great idea Valorie, but I see one problem.  You're the only youth your age, and it’s hard to have a youth group with only one kid."

"Pastor, I told you I've been thinking about this a lot.  And you know what?  I knew you would say that.  (As she shook her finger at me.)  So, I have a deal to make with you.  If you will come and start a youth group, I'll bring my friends."

So we started a youth group.

The first day Valorie was disappointed and discouraged.  She had invited here whole class from school, and only her best friend Sam (short for Samantha) came.  And so, Valorie, Sam, and I had a youth group meeting.  They insisted that we start with a bible lesson of some sort, and then we could play games.  Soon, Sam's little brothers and sisters came.  I still tire when I think of trying to keep up with them.  Their favorite game was a form of tag, and I was always "It", and they would escape from me under the pews and every which way.  In order to keep up with them, I'd use my long legs and run over the top of the pews.  Rowdy behavior, I know, but hey, this was Ekalaka.

What was amazing is what happened the next Easter.  10 people were baptized, including three generations of Sam's family.  Later, St. Elizabeth's Lutheran Church was formally organized as a congregation with about 60 or more members.  And this happened in one of the most isolated, rural, areas in our country.  A few years ago, I was blessed to attend the dedication of their new sanctuary which they had built with all sorts of volunteer labor.  It is quite an amazing building.

"The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few."  What Jesus meant, quite frankly, is we need more Valories.  "You bring the message, I'll bring my friends."

The problem is we don't actually believe there is a harvest to be had.  And so, many of us simply think that we are off the hook as evangelists.  The result is that congregations are dying in communities that have hundreds of thousands more people than Ekalaka.  I mean, if anyone had reason to be pessimistic it would have been the Ekalaka folks.  No one in our Church's evangelism offices would have tagged Ekalaka, a small isolated rural community with a dwindling population, as a good place to start a Church.

Perhaps the reason why St. Elizabeth's worked, was the make up of the farmers/ranchers there.  You see, Ekalaka is not Iowa with deep rich loam and abundant rain fall.  For soil they have this gumbo.  And what rain they do get, evaporates quite quickly in 100 degree temperatures with 30 mile per hour winds.  But somehow, against all odds, they've learned to prosper on this land,  harvesting a crop that many would think impossible.

"All, hell, any place in Montana is a good place to start a bar."

Can it be true for the Church as well.  Any place is a good place to start a church.

That is, if you'll make the same deal as Valorie.

In some ways I wish this had not been the text that we read on this Sunday. 
After all, there is a lot on your mind these days.

Pastor Dennis just had his final Sunday here last week.

The future is somewhat up in the air right now.
Questions abound, and a lot of the answers will take a while to sort out. 

Perhaps a better text for today might have been, Luke 12:32:
Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
There’s something to be said for words of comfort during a time of uncertainty.

Or maybe it would have been good to have a sermon that focused on some topic such as “freedom”, considering it is July 4th this weekend.
The danger of that, of course, is that it can border on being political, and I wouldn’t want to experience the backlash of that on my first Sunday with you.
And so we have this text.

And the more I think of it, it’s a good text to begin with as you as a congregation go about making decisions in the coming months about what the shape of your ministry will be in the months and years ahead.

One of the things I have become certain about is that we are at a crossroads, not only as a congregation, but as a whole church.

Change is in the air.  The church is simply not going to look and feel like it has for a number of generations now.  But two things will not change, nor will they ever change.

The first is that we are called to bear witness to Jesus Christ.  It’s why we are here.

The second is this:  That if we will do our part, God will do his.