Saturday, March 31, 2018

Year B, Easter Sunday, Mark 16:1-8 So That

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
A curious thing happens in the Gospel of Mark that leaves us wondering.
There is a secret, known as the “Messianic Secret”.
Who is Jesus?
As Jesus cast out demons, “he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.”
Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, "You are the Son of God!" But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.
He cured the leper, but instructed him saying, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."
When he cures the Gerasene Demoniac he does instruct him, a foreigner to "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you."
But then after raising a young girl from the dead he again “strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.”
After curing a deaf man with a speech impediment Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.
His disciples saw Jesus transfigured on the mountain, his appearance radiating heaven’s light and glory, yet “As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”
In spite of all these warnings, Jesus fame as a miracle worker spread throughout the region, so much so, that he could not go anywhere without being followed by the crowds.
Then, there is the turning point in the Gospel, when Jesus sets his sight on Jerusalem, and begins to teach his disciples that he must go there to suffer and die.
As Jesus was led to the cross, his disciples fled out of fear.
And on the cross, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
And he died.
Then came that morning, the women at the tomb, and the angel’s message to the women, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you."
Throughout the Gospel, he has admonished people to not say anything, but now, finally, comes the command to go and tell.
But the women “fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
And there, the Gospel of Mark ends.
For they were afraid.
Finally there is a message to proclaim, but terror and amazement seized them and they were speechless.
Hearing this ending to the Gospel, we go, “wait, what, but they must have told someone!”
There has got to be something more.  Someone has to tell the story, otherwise, how would we know?
Someone has to share the Good News.
And there is where the Evangelist turns to us.  Someone has to share the good news, how about you?

We live in a world that desperately needs to hear a good word.
A man, Stephan Clark, was standing unarmed in his back yard when the police decided to open fire, and kill him.  He was shot 8 times, and six of those shots hit him in the back.  Rogue officers once again targeting the people they are called to protect, and killing primarily black people.
This is the nation and the times we live in.
15 students and two teachers are gunned down at Parkland high school.  6 minutes and 20 seconds was all the time it took.
Our children are being killed in their schools, and they’d rather not be. 
They march, thousands filled the streets last weekend. 
“Do something” is the demand.  “Do something.”
And yet we probably won’t, and there will be another shooting, another act of violence, and the senselessness of it all will be on display for all to see, once again.
This is the nation and the times we live in.
We have been embroiled in two different conflicts, military campaigns, in the Middle East.
It all started that fateful September morning in New York and Washington, DC.  Four airliners, two skyscrapers, and the Pentagon were hit.  Over three thousand people died.  And so we responded.
In Afghanistan.
In Iraq.
Overwhelming military force quickly toppled those governments.  But the wars linger on.  The violence continues.  Are we safer?
Many of us rejoiced that the cold war was over, but now, as tensions increase once again between us and Russia we wonder where we are headed.
And North Korea is flexing its muscle, actively testing and deploying nuclear weapons.
This is the world and the times we are living in.
We could use some good news.
“But they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

We live in a Good Friday world, standing at the foot of the cross, with violence, suffering, and death in full view, and yet we look with hope to the empty tomb.
That’s the Easter message.
There are two truths that stand out for me this day:
First, that as sinful human beings, our power and authority is far too often exercised in violent ways leading to death and destruction.  That’s the power we have.
As Commander in Chief the President can order the death of whole nations.
Terrorists can commandeer an airplane and wreak havoc on our world.
A troubled youth with a AR-15, a gun that is far too easy to purchase, can in the course of a few moments end the lives of his classmates and teachers.
And a few bad officers, perhaps out of fear, perhaps out of vengeance, can open fire and end a life, at will.
This is the power we have.  Power to kill and destroy.
But secondly, the other truth is more important than the first.
God’s power and authority resides in his ability to conquer death, and give life.

“"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?"
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This last September, my father, who had come to live with us, died.
One of the things that was so important to his faith is summed up in two words:  “so that”.
As Paul states in Romans:
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
Christ died and rose again, “so that”
We were baptized into Christ’s death, “so that”
There is a rhyme and reason to it all, there is a “so that”
“So that we too might walk in newness of life.”
The prophet Isaiah describes this newness of life when he speaks God’s word:
“They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord.
So that we too might walk in newness of life.
So that we shall not hurt or destroy on all God’s holy mountain.

Faced with all the violence and death in our world, we stand not defeated, but rather we live as and “Easter People”.
We live, trusting in the power of God to give life.
We live, trusting that death will not have the final say.
And we live as people of the promise.
The Resurrection of Jesus points us not only to a future hope, but also to a present reality.
Life is not defeated.
And Love wins.

One of the most moving things about the youth movement led by people such as Emma Gonzales, a survivor of the Parkland shootings, is that these young people have found their voice.
They are shouting out to the nation and world that it need not be this way. 
I believe that we, as the followers of Jesus, need to once again find our voice.
The women fled from the tomb and said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.
Fear seeks to drown out the message we are called to proclaim.
But we can’t let our fear, be the final word.
We need to bear witness to the Author of Life, and to the fact that life, not death, will prevail.
It is certain that the violent forces in our world will not end soon.  They will continue.
But neither is God’s work done yet.  Resurrection is happening, even now, as we gather.
And a new life in Christ is coming.
For Christ is Risen, he is Risen indeed, Alleluia.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Crabgrass and Life

Ultimate authority.  By human standards, ultimate authority is often expressed as the power to take life.  Be it waging war, condemning a criminal to death, vane attempts to use violence to control others, even making end of life decisions, it is often in the taking of life that authority reaches its climax.

I've been thinking about crabgrass recently.  One of my parishioners was a county extension agent and shared a story about an experiment conducted by his university.  Crabgrass.  Crabgrass has these pesky shoots, roots that spread far and wide, which are the bane to anyone who'd like to be rid of the crabgrass.  Try as you might, the roots continue to spring up new plants of crabgrass.  The University did an experiment.  They took a one inch piece of crabgrass root, and buried it twenty feet underground in the bottom of a pipe.  That one inch piece of root sent up a runner all the way back to the surface, and reemerged as a new plant.  Life persists against all odds.

A different kind of authority is related not to death, but to life, and herein we find God.  Try as we might to destroy, life persists.  Even crabgrass.

They buried him, the crucified one.  An exercise of human authority meant to be final.  Sealed the tomb with a stone.  All for naught.  Life persists.

An empty tomb.  A risen Lord.  And a solid declaration that the powers and principalities of this world will not have the final say.  The authority to take life is  overwhelmed by the Author of Life.

The resurrection is not an anomaly.  It is simply a sign that God's life giving authority is ultimate, and will conquer even death.  Not only for Jesus, but for us as well. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

House for all Sinners and Saints

If the Church is to be anything, let it be this, a House for All Sinners and Saints.  That's actually the name of one of our congregations in the Denver area, founded by the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber.

Nadia is not your 'typical' pastor.  Covered with tattoos that bear witness to her faith she is in high regard throughout our church, and much sought after as a guest preacher.  But this is not about her.

To be a "House for All Sinners and Saints" is about following Jesus in "the Way".  It's about the type of community that gathered around Christ, and which remains to this day.  It's about following Jesus.

Sunday we will remember Jesus entry into Jerusalem, mounted on a donkey, and heralded by his followers who shouted out "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest!"  Palm branches were spread on the road before him.  Great anticipation abounded.  And yet the path he was on led not to the palace, but the cross.  And the invitation, a simple but ominous "follow me".

The Cross, a place for Sinners and Saints.  As we stand at the foot of the Cross, we are both sinner and saint.  It is for our sins that Jesus died, and in that death, we are redeemed.

Holding these two, together, has been a challenge for all of us who have followed Jesus in the 2,000 years that have passed.  At times we are confronted in the most challenging way with our sinfulness, and this sinfulness is evidenced throughout the life of the Church.  At other times we fancy ourselves to be righteous, even to the point of looking down on those who are not like us.  "Simul justis et pecator" is how Martin Luther understood the life of faith.  Simultaneously Saint and Sinner.

Who is welcome?  Who is welcome, here?

Our human tendency, especially for those of us who are 'religious', is to ask the question "Are you righteous enough to be part of the Church?"  The real question we should be asking is "Are you sinful enough to be part of the Church?"  We are in the business of forgiving sinners, and if you have no need for forgiveness, you have no need of a Savior.

Of all the things Jesus was criticized for during his life, the one that stands out is that he freely associated with the outcast and sinners.  From the tax collector who was part of his inner circle, to the prostitute who anointed his feet, Jesus loved the unlovable.  Even, Judas who betrayed him with a kiss, was one of the disciples he loved.  Such is the grace of God.

"The Way" leads us to the Cross, and from the Cross, to the empty tomb and the redemption and new life that is ours in Christ.

Sinners and Saints, the people of God.  It's not that some are sinful, and others saintly.  We are all both.

There are times I wonder how a person such as I could end up being a pastor.  I don't feel very holy.  I have struggled with my sinfulness in many ways.  I could hardly recommend that you 'follow ME!"  Believe me, you don't want to be where I have been, and too often, remain.  And  yet I have also experienced forgiveness.  And so I bear witness.  I can preach about God's love and forgiveness because I need it, and have experienced it myself.

Who is welcome here?  Well, in a word, you.  You are welcome here.  Not because you're righteous, but because you're not.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Year B, Lent 5, John 12.20-33, Sir, We wish to see Jesus

Peace Lutheran Church, Otis Orchards, WA

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you:you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 "Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
Luke 2:4-14
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
John 1:10-13
Sir, we wish to see Jesus.
And John testified, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. ' 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God."
John 1:32-34
Sir, we wish to see Jesus.
Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." 4 And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." 5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now."
John 2:2-10
Sir, we wish to see Jesus.
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
"Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 "Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
"Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
Luke 6:20-23
Sir, we wish to see Jesus.
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!"
John 2:13-16
Sir, we wish to see Jesus.
26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me"— 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
Luke 8:26-33
Sir, we wish to see Jesus.
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" 11 She said, "No one, sir." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again."
John 8:3-11
Sir, we wish to see Jesus.
21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live." 24 So he went with him.
35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader's house to say, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?" 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe." 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!" 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Mark 5:21-24, 35-42
Sir, we wish to see Jesus.
32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."
John 12:32
Sir, we wish to see Jesus.
33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "Listen, he is calling for Elijah." 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down." 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.
Mark 15:33-37
Sir, we wish to see Jesus.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." 16 Jesus said to her, "Mary!"
John 20:11-16
Sir, we wish to see Jesus.
Sir, we wish to see Jesus.
1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
Sir, we wish to see Jesus.
You have seen him.  And you will see him.  Amen & Amen.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Year B, Ephesians 2.1-10, John 3.14-21, Wherefore we flee for refuge to Thine infinite mercy. . .

Most holy and merciful God,
we confess to you and to one another,
and before the whole company of heaven,
that we have sinned by our fault,
by our own fault,
by our own most grievous fault, 

in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done and by what we have left undone.

ALMIGHTY God, our Maker and Redeemer, we poor sinners confess unto Thee, that we are by nature sinful and unclean, and that we have sinned against Thee, by thought, word, and deed.
Wherefore we flee for refuge to Thine infinite mercy, seeking and imploring Thy grace, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“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.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God-- not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Words which have been at the heart of our confessions.
And words of love and forgiveness.
This is the spiritual journey on which we have embarked.
And apart from this, there is no true spirituality, no genuine human experience, and no knowledge of the depth of God’s grace.
We often live with an illusion.
That illusion is of our own righteousness.
We defend ourselves as good, often afraid to admit otherwise, ashamed, perhaps, of the person we truly are.
As I was growing up, one of the most troubling phrases of all, spoken during our confession of sin, contained the words:  “our secret thoughts and desires which I do not fully understand, but which are fully known unto thee.”
If you had known me at that time, you would have seen a young boy whose behavior was generally commendable, at least my outward actions.
But these words troubled me for I knew that what was going on within me, did not match what appeared to others.
We are our own worst judges.
We judge our insides by other’s outsides.
And we recoil at what we see.
One response to our own self judgment is to deny what we see, and to seek to craft an image of ourselves that is more presentable to the world. 
Underlying this quest to create a public image of ourselves is a question.   “Would you love me, if you truly knew me?”
And the fear is that you wouldn’t.
Secret thoughts and desires. . .
What if people knew?
We shudder at the thought.
“our secret thoughts and desires which I do not fully understand, but which are fully known unto thee.”
God knows, and that is what is frightening.
God knows.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians:
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
A friend of mine in college once related an image of the final judgment.  It began with an understanding that we live much of our lives as though in a deep fog, hidden from one another.  And then on the judgment day, the fog lifts, and everything is exposed in the bright light. 
We stand naked before God.  That is the scary thing.
We cannot hide behind a fig leaf.
We cannot hide at all.
Our human response to this transparency is twofold, shame and guilt.  We are ashamed of who we are, and feel guilty for what we’ve done.
There are moments in life when we are exposed for who we truly are.  These moments when others are given a glimpse of who we really are can be frightening, but not nearly as much as when we look into the mirror and see ourselves.
Sometimes, we simply don’t like what we see.
We’d like to run from the mirror.
I had that experience when I hit rock bottom as an alcoholic.  When I woke up in the morning after my last night of drinking, the first thing I did was to reach for my glasses.
They were a mangled mess, evidence of the fall I had taken the night before.
I rushed to the mirror in the bathroom, and discovered my face was not much better, with scabs on my eye and ear from where I had injured myself. 
And then I began to remember what had transpired.
I wanted to flee.
I consented to going to the hospital that day, and entering the treatment program there, in part because I simply wanted to flee and hide.  I literally did not want to show my face in Sandpoint, and being hospitalized in Coeur d’Alene was one way to avoid that.
I was running from the image in the mirror.
But even though we’d like to run, there is another option:
Wherefore we flee for refuge to Thine infinite mercy, seeking and imploring Thy grace, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The grace and mercy of God.
Divine intimacy.
To be fully known, and fully loved.
To be entirely exposed, and entirely forgiven.
Most of us understand physical intimacy more than we do spiritual intimacy.
A gentle touch, a hug, or a kiss.  And for many of us, the close intimacy of a spouse, who knows our own body better than we do ourselves.
Physical intimacy we understand.
God knows not only what we have done, and left undone, but the secrets thoughts and desires of our hearts.
And he loves and forgives us.
That is intimacy.
We need not hide, because there is nothing left to hide.

“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.”
Two of the most grace filled experiences I have had, and there have been many, are going to A.A. and engaging in years of therapy with a psychologist.
In A.A. the first thing we learn is that we are not alone.  As ashamed as we maybe, we quickly discover that others have had the same experiences, and that in spite of those experiences, there is hope.
And as I turned over every stone in my life, or at least the greater share of them, seeking out the skeletons in my closet with the counselors I have seen, one of the discoveries of that process is to realize that these things that had caused such deep shame and guilt were simply a common part of the human experience.
There is grace in the word “we”.
we confess to you and to one another,
and before the whole company of heaven,
that we have sinned by our fault,
by our own fault,
by our own most grievous fault, 

in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done and by what we have left undone.
We are not alone.
And in the abundant mercy of God, “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.
We are not alone in our sinfulness, nor in the forgiveness God offers to us.
There is no sin you have ever committed, that is not common to many others.
And the forgiveness God offers to you, freely, as a gift, is the same forgiveness he offers to all.
To be fully known by God, yet even more fully loved.
Can we grasp that?
This intimacy is almost too much for us to understand and embrace.
Polite discretion is more our way of living.  There are things you do not know about me, and quite frankly, things you do not want to know about me.  “TMI” is the rule of the day.  “Too Much Information”.
The unwritten rule of polite society is that discretion ought to be practiced.  Those “secret thoughts and desires that I do not fully understand” are best kept to myself. 
That is one of the reasons we will never experience the type of intimacy God envisions for us with each other.  We simply don’t want to know each other that well.  It’s too much work.
And perhaps we fear that the other does not have the capacity for grace and mercy that God does.
If my wife knew my secret thoughts and desires would she still love me?  Is she that gracious and merciful?
What about my children?
Or you?
I don’t know the answer to those questions.
But what God assures us is that he will still love us.
In fact, it is precisely because he knew us fully, that he sent his Son to save us. 
Intimacy.  To be fully known, and more fully loved.
That is grace.  And it is a gift of God for you.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Year B, Lent 3, Exodus 20.1-17, As it should be, it will be

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
So, written in stone, and handed to Moses on the mountain, these commandments of God were not intended to be mere “suggestions”.
They do three things:
1.       They reveal to us God’s expectations about how we should live our lives;
2.       They expose our sinfulness and how far short we fall of God’s expectations;
3.       And they offer to us a promise of how we one day will live in the Kingdom of God.
They are for us a prohibition and a promise.
These are the things you shall not do.
And one day, with or without our cooperation, these are the things we will not do, for they will have no place in God’s new world.
They are to be taken with utmost seriousness for God was not just fooling around when he gave the law, the Ten Commandments.  God was serious.
It’s no accident that the first thing God did when he led the people out of slavery in Egypt was to give them these laws.  They are that important.
And as we ignore them, we pay the consequences.
It’s not just that God is a demanding God and will arbitrarily punish us for disobeying him.
God is a loving God, and gives us this law that we might understand and know that there are certain natural consequences to our actions.
It matters how we live.
Our choices have consequences.
We can submit to the will of God and experience life as God intended it to be.
We can rebel against the will of God, and suffer the consequences of our many missteps and mistakes.
And make no mistake about it, this is reality.  What we do today has a direct impact on the our lives tomorrow. 
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
This first commandment of God is the most important.
God exists.  There is a God.  One God.  One Lord. 
Oh, and yes, this God is in  charge.  Sovereign.  King.  Ruler of the Universe.
This is not something that we vote on.  It is simply the way it is.
And we, whether we like it or not, are subject to this God.
Yet, in spite of all that, we have many other gods that we submit to, and we pay the price.
One of the most pervasive god for us in this country is freedom, the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.
This is another way of saying, that we, like so many generations before us, would rather be our own gods, than to submit ourselves to the reign of the God who created the heavens and the earth.
Freedom is an American ideal.
Submission is not.
Frank Sinatra sang our song, when he sang:
And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I'll say it clear
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain
I've lived a life that's full
I've traveled each and every highway
But more, much more than this
I did it my way.
That’s the American creed.
I did it my way.
And it’s idolatrous.  Sinful. 
I did it my way.
And God says, “Yes, indeed you did, and that is the problem.”
When Moses gave the commandments to Israel, he concluded by saying:
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,  loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”
Life and death.
Blessings and curses.
" 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. ' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it:  'You shall love your neighbor as yourself. '”
Do these two things, God says, and see what happens.
God is not a ruthless dictator.
Our God is a loving God.
And though we are called to love and serve him with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind this is not a bad thing.
And, as if to prove to us that he is indeed a loving God, one of the first things God promises us is a beautiful gift, even though it comes by way of a commandment.
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
Take a break.
Have a day off.
Take time to be renewed and refreshed.
Imagine going to work for an employer and the first thing the employer tells you is that you will have a day off, and vacation time, and not only will it be given to you, it is required of you that  you take it.
That’s what God is like.
One of the interesting things I learned about the banking industry is that bank employees are required by FDIC regulations to have a minimum of two weeks of vacation in a row.
The FDIC does this to insure an internal safeguard.  You see, embezzlers have to be present at all times to cover up their fraud, and the two weeks of mandatory vacation is specifically designed to give the bank a chance to discover fraud if it is present.
That’s not why God gave us the Sabbath.  It’s not a requirement placed on us to counter our sinfulness.
It is intended to be a pure day of rest, for one, and only one reason.
We need it. 
And God, being a loving God, wants us to have it.
Six days we are to serve the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind—and on the seventh, God serves us.
As you know, I put in a long week.
I work at the cabinet shop in Hayden, putting in almost 40 hours a week there, and then come here to serve as your pastor.  There are days I leave the house at 4:45 in the morning and don’t return until 9 or 10 o’clock at night.  It’s partly because that’s what I need to do, at this time, and partly because it’s what I want to do at this time.
One of the things I’ve learned as a result, though, is the importance of the Sabbath.
Saturday is my Sabbath. 
I rest.  I simply rest.
Sometimes I feel guilty about it.  Shouldn’t I be doing something around the house?  “Yes, maybe I should,” I tell myself, “but first I’ll take a nap.”
God’s love for me, and my wellbeing, has given me this day of rest.
That’s the type of God, God is.
And then God says:  Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”
This commandment contains the promise.  It’s right there for us to see.
So that your days may be long. . .
Care for your parents, and you will in turn be cared for in your old age. 
And the rest:
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
All of these commandments are given to us, because God loves us and wants us to enjoy a good and blessed life.
They are not intended to be a burden, but a blessing.
And yet, when our lives are measured against these loving commands of God, we end up failing miserably. 
That’s where God’s promise of forgiveness and redemption comes into play.
You see, these commandments reveal to us not only how we should live now, but how we WILL LIVE in the Kingdom of God.
My pastor in Newport once asked a rhetorical question, “Do you know what the Kingdom of God looks like?” expecting everyone to say “No.”
Being somewhat contentious that day, I wanted to raise my hand and say “Yes, in fact, I do.”
Yes, we do know what the Kingdom of God looks like, because these commandments are the blueprints for that Kingdom.
They are the promise of what will be, because God will make it so.