Saturday, May 25, 2019

Year C, Easter 6, John 14.23-29, If you love me

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
The Third Article of the Apostle’s Creed reads:
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

What is this? or What does this mean?
In Luther’s Small Catechism he offers the following explanation:
 I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life.
This is most certainly true.
Last week I was privileged to be able to attend our Synod’s Assembly in Boise.
Bishop Kristin opened the Assembly with a sermon in which she focused on the Assembly theme,
“We walk together.”
We live in a time and in a world where there are all sorts of things that would divide us and tear us apart.
But over and against all of those things that would divide us is the work of the Holy Spirit that unites us.
“We walk together, or we do not walk at all.”
“We walk together, or we do not walk at all.”
The Creeds of the Christian Church teach us that to believe in the Holy Spirit, is to believe in the “holy catholic church, the communion of saints, and the forgiveness of sins.”
This declaration of our faith means that we do not believe alone, we do not act alone, we do not stand alone.
It is always side by side with our brothers and sisters in Christ that “we live and move and have our being.”
The faith we hold is not our own.
Luther states “that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him.”
We are not here because we are such good people.
We are not here because we are in some ways morally superior to all others.
We are not here because we are smarter or stronger that other people.
We are here because of the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel.
The Holy Spirit has enlightened me with his gifts.
The Holy Spirit has made me holy.
The Holy Spirit has kept me in the true faith.
And then comes perhaps the most important words of all in Luther’s explanation:
“Just as”.
“Just as”.

“.  .  .  just as the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.”
We are here, in this Church, because of the work of the Holy Spirit.
And so also, our brothers and sisters in Christ are here, in this Church, because of the work of the same Holy Spirit.
And this is the thing, Bishop Kristin pointed out.
We do not get to decide who belongs to the Church.
We do not get to decide who our brothers and sisters in Christ are.
That decision is far above our pay grade.
That decision is the Holy Spirit’s, and the Holy Spirit’s alone.
We walk together or we do not walk at all.

One of the beautiful signs of our unity in Christ at the Assembly was the worship, where we were led by a group called “Glocal”, who shared with us a broad range of music from around the world.
Also, present throughout the Assembly were our partners from the Lutheran Church in Tanzania.
It was a wonderful reminder that this faith we share is not our own, but rather the work of the Holy Spirit throughout the world.

We live in highly divisive times, yet it is the Holy Spirit that unites us in the one true faith and calls us to loving service for the sake of the world.
For me one of the most moving parts of the whole assembly was a presentation offered by a representative of the “Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services”.
I think what was most moving about that is that in the face of one of the most divisive issues in our time, the Spirit is working to bring healing and hope.
As you all know there is a struggle in Latin America and as a result, at our southern border.
Wave after wave of people have come to our border seeking asylum from the conflicts that have endangered them in their homelands.
One of the most controversial things that our Administration has done in response to this influx of immigrants seeking refuge, is to separate the children from their parents while they are held in detention centers at the border.
This has created a problem for the Federal Government.
Thousands upon thousands of children are in custody, and there was not in place a well thought out plan about how to reunite the children with their parents when the time came.
So you know what the Administration has done?
They have turned to us.
Specifically they have called in Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services to help reunite these families, help them through this time of transition, and assist them in getting settled while they await the outcome of their legal proceedings.
They turned to us because of our expertise.
I quote from their website:
 For almost 80 years, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service has been a champion for migrants and refugees from around the globe. Our legacy of courageous and compassionate service has made a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who have sought safety and hope in America’s communities. Our history reflects American Lutherans’ deep immigrant roots and passionate commitment to welcoming newcomers, especially those who are most in need. In partnership with community-based legal and social service providers nationwide, LIRS has helped over 500,000 migrants and refugees rebuild their lives in America.
Informed by our Lutheran faith and decades of experience with migrants and refugees, we have responded to people caught in conflict and facing persecution. We have developed new service programs, birthed new service organizations, and influenced public policy in the best interests of those we serve.
Imagine for a moment, that you’re a child separated from your family, in a completely new country, surrounded by people who are speaking a language you can’t understand. At LIRS, we see the courage and resilience of children who are faced with this situation every day — and we work diligently to protect these children and reunite them with loved ones as quickly as possible.
Through our network of trusted community partners, LIRS provides assistance to the U.S. government to identify family members in the country and ensure that children in our care are safely released to loved ones who are well-equipped to care for them. After families have been reunified, we provide extended support to particularly vulnerable families as they adjust to life together and navigate the immigration system. 

That’s one of the things many people don’t know about the Lutheran Church.
Quietly, we have served our neighbor by welcoming the stranger and giving them a hope for a new tomorrow.
Refugees from the world wars of the last century.
A massive resettlement program during the aftermath of the Vietnam War.
And now, assisting the Trump Administration to reunite and resettle the immigrants that have come to us seeking refuge.
This is the work of our Church.
Guided by the Holy Spirit, and enlisted by our Federal Government, we seek to provide a welcome to the stranger and hope to the hopeless. 
And this we do in the name of Christ and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
We walk together, or we do not walk at all.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

From Remembrance to Hope, Year C, Easter 4, Psalm 23,

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

Life is an ever changing journey.
As we walk along life’s way, there will be times of tranquility and contentedness.
And there will be times of trial and conflict that test our souls.
For some, this journey through times of darkness and light seems to be a daily experience, a constant companion that shapes life.
For others, life is more predictable.  More stable.  And hardship rarely shows itself.
Still for others, each day is marked by almost constant struggles for life itself.
Psalm 23 speaks to this journey of life.
It is in three parts.
First it speaks of trust, recalling God’s care for us.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name's sake.
These are words of assurance, in which the Psalmist, David, speaks about God, and all that God has done for us.
The purpose of these words is to encourage us to trust in the Lord for the time is coming when we will need to have such faith.
In the next section of the Psalm, the grammar itself changes.
No longer does David speak about the Lord, he is speaking to the Lord.
It is a prayer in time of need.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
We are more familiar with the older version which speaks of “the valley of the shadow of death”.
David also lifts up the concern about our enemies, those adversaries that would undo us and the evil that threatens us.
It is here that each of our experiences of life may be quite unique, and yet common to one another as well.
We all will face our challenges in life.  That we have in common.
But each of our journeys will be different.
For some the challenges of life may come early, even in childhood, with the various forces of evil that assail us, from poverty to abuse or deprivation.
And for others, we may escape many of life’s challenges until the end, when we must face the final foe, death itself, and from that there is no escape.
And the prayer is this:  “I fear no evil; for you are with me; “
Having prayed to the Lord during his time of trial, David concludes with hope and assurance.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
This is the journey of faith.
We begin by remembering all that the Lord has done for us.
Then we call out to the Lord during our times of trial.
And we look forward in hope to the end of our suffering.
The constant throughout all of this is the assurance that God is by our side, present with us at all times, in all places.
Throughout my past, the Lord has been with me.
The Lord is with me now.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.
And nothing else matters.

And Hope.
This is the journey of faith.

One of the things I experience at this time in my life is a certain degree of anxiety with respect to our financial security.
I have just a few more years until I hope to retire.
I envision retiring from the cabinet shop first, and then, when the time is right retiring from ministry down the road a bit.
The anxiety is quite simple.  Am I adequately prepared for retirement?  Adding to that anxiety is the simple fact that there is very little time left to make any substantial changes in my retirement portfolio.  Sure, I hope to build up a bit more savings, but my pensions are pretty much what they will be.  Will it be enough?
Faced with that uncertainty, we begin by remembering.
Karla and I started out our marriage during college.
We didn’t have much. 
Looking back at it, I remember a number of things.
One of our wedding gifts was a collection of coffee mugs, and bless them, also a three pound can of coffee.  I say bless them because coffee was expensive for us.
In order to minimize the cost we used to percolate the coffee.  Then, instead of dumping the grounds out before the making the next pot, we’d simply refresh them, putting in another tablespoon or so, and making another pot.  We’d do this until the basket was full of grounds, and then, we’d empty them and start over again. 
I also remember the struggles during seminary. 
Karla got paid twice a month, and as a secretary those wages were not great. 
One of her paychecks was not sufficient to pay the rent.  Rent cost us more than half of what our monthly income was.  And so life was a constant scramble.
The one thing I’ll say about those four years was that tax time was a delight, because Minnesota had rent subsidies.  The landlord would pay the property taxes, and then the renter would receive a refund based on your income level.  It was support like this that sustained us.
What I remember now is that throughout all the uncertainty, we never were in want.  We had what we needed. 
Throughout our life together those experiences of our youth continue to provide us with a reason to trust in the Lord regarding our current situation.
Another memory.
When I received my first call to be the pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran in Thompson Falls, I thought that finally, after the years struggling in seminary, we’d have a degree of financial security.
Then I saw the offerings on Sunday morning.
I ran the numbers through my head and quickly realized that they were not giving enough to pay my salary.  And yet, we survived. 
Somehow we survived once again.
Throughout our lives we’ve experienced a variety of financial challenges.  Major expenses.  A time of disability.  Changes in vocation.  You name it.
We remembered how we made it through in the past.
We prayed.
And we hoped.
The journey of faith.
And so now, I face the uncertainty of retirement with the conviction that if we could make it through those early years of our marriage when we had nothing, we’ll make it through our later years as well, because God will be with us.
It’s that simple.
And if God is with us, nothing else will matter.
Ok, well, I do hope that I’ll never have to go back to reusing coffee grounds to brew a pot of coffee. 
I actually hope that I’ll be able to afford a Mocha now and then, as well. 
And I hope that I’ll be able to make our mortgage payments.  I’ll be paying on the house until I’m 85, part of the problem of having lived in a parsonage most of my career.
But regardless what happens, we have the assurance that God will be with us throughout our time on this earth, that he will never forsake us, and that even if we experience hardship or peril, he will see us through.
Remember how God has been with you in the past.
Pray for his support today.
And look forward in hope to the goodness and mercy of God that will follow you all the days of your life.
This is the life of faith.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

No Going Back Year C, Easter 3, Acts 9.1-20, John 21.1-19

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
“I am going fishing.”
Faced with uncertainty, we revert to the most familiar.  That’s our tendency, isn’t it?
For the disciples, that meant fishing.
For three years they had followed Jesus, witnessed his miracles, heard his teaching, enjoyed his friendship, and were touched by his love.
But then the tragedy of the Cross.  They watched him die.
For the disciples, the events that unfolded after that seemed to raise more questions than answers.
First the report from Mary, the tomb was empty.
Then, she saw Jesus in the Garden.
That night, Jesus appeared to the disciples as they gathered behind locked doors in fear.
The next week also, he appeared again. 
“Now what?”
That was the question the disciples were asking themselves, and the answer was to return to the familiar.
Back to Galilee.
Back to their boats.
Back to the life of fishermen.
There must have been some great comfort in that.  It likely felt like going home.  Returning to that ‘safe place’. 
Their world had been turned upside down, and now all they wanted was some normalcy.  Having faced the dizzying unfolding of events in Jerusalem, Jesus death, his resurrection, and not knowing what that meant—they cast their nets, doing the one thing they truly knew how to do, and what to expect.
Faced with the turmoil of life, many of us would also like to go home, to return to the familiar.
President Trump’s campaign slogan has been “Make America Great Again”.
The reason that resonates with so many people is because of this ‘homing instinct’ that we have.
We’d like to return to an earlier time, a time when we felt safe, and a time that we’ve now idealized in our minds, that brief but shining moment in our memory.
For Americans, we remember the golden years of our history, and usually that means the nation of our youth.
We idealize the post war period of the fifties and sixties, when America emerged on the world scene as a superpower, when economic prosperity was transforming our country, when people were in church, and our homes were filled with children.  Jobs were abundant.
At that time we could send men to the moon and seemingly accomplish anything we set our minds to.
We turned on the TV and saw depictions of the American way of life like “Father Knows Best”, and “Mayberry, RFD”, and “Leave it to Beaver”.  On Sundays we watched “Bonanza” and “Disney”. 
Make America Great Again.
Implicit in that sentiment is an idealized understanding of a time gone by that was indeed great.  And we want to return home to that time.
What we tend to forget, however, is the reality of what it was truly like.
Life was not all “Ward and June Cleaver”.
There was a dark side to the post war years of that “golden age” of the American experience.
McCarthyism and the Cold War.  Fear of communism led to the attempt to purge America of its scourge, and that resulted in the wrongful accusations against many innocent Americans.
There was the racial strife that precipitated the Civil Rights Movement.
And of course, Vietnam.
And while we watched “Father Knows Best” a revolution was taking place.
From Haight Ashbury in the West, to Woodstock in the East, the times they were a changing.
The point being, that while we often remember the fifties and sixties as the Golden Age of the American experience, it was actually a time of transformation and cultural revolution.
Not only that, but we cannot go back.
You cannot return to your childhood.
As much as we’d like to return to the familiar, we can’t.
“I am going fishing.”
But they didn’t catch any fish.  Returning to the shore after that long night of fishing, they see Jesus, and hear him calling out to them.
“Children, you have no fish, have you?”
Being called a child, likely was not a compliment.  I find it a bit humorous. 
What followed was another encounter with the Risen Christ.  And Jesus made clear, the times were a changing.  There was no going back. 
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Three times, Simon had denied knowing Jesus.
Now three times, Jesus asks him if he loves him.
And how is he to show his love for Jesus?
Not by going back to a life of fishing.  There is no going back.
Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”
“Follow me.”
I wonder if today, Jesus is asking us that same question.
Do you love me?
Do you love me?
Do you love me?
And if so, how does that change things?
In John’s first letter he writes:
We love because he first loved us.  Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this:  those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.  (1 John 19-21)
We live at a time when our ability to love one another is being challenged each and every day.
Polarization, discord, and a battle for the soul of the nation seem to be much more the status quo.
We cannot say “We love God” and hate our brothers and sisters. 
Actually, we can SAY that, we do all the time.
What Jesus is saying is that if we love God, we will care for his flock.
If we would love Jesus, we must love one another, and if we don’t love one another, we cannot love God.
7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God's love was revealed among us in this way:God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.  (1 John 4:7-11)
Do you love me, Simon?
Jesus doesn’t just ask that question of Simon Peter, he asks it of each and every one of us.
And when he does, we have a choice.  To follow him into a new way of relating to the world.
Or to revert to our old ways.
And the hardest thing of all, as a human being, is to avoid reverting to our old ways of judging and condemning one another. 
I am a pastor, called to be a shepherd of the Flock.
And you know what?
It’d be easier to love all y’all if you’d just be more lovable.  If all y’all would repent, it’d be easier. 
“But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
“Do you love me?”  Jesus asks.
“Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”
“Then love these brothers and sisters of mine, even though they are still sinners, love them anyway.”
“God’s purpose for our congregation is to welcome, love and serve all in our local and global community.”
We continue to remind each other of this.
I think if I could change it in any way it would be to add the word “sinners” to it.
“God’s purpose for our congregation is to welcome, love and serve all sinners in our local and global community.”
The reason for that is that too often we are tempted to add a condition to that love, namely, that people repent of their sins. 
Well, repentance has its place, but we are still called to love every one.  Nowhere in all of scripture does it say that if someone has not fully repented of all their sins, we don’t have to love them.
Jesus loves us, “while we were yet sinners.”
And because he first loved us, we are to love one another, ‘while we were yet sinners’.
Do you love me, Simon?
Feed my lambs.  Tend my sheep.  Feed my sheep.
And these sheep of Jesus are all sinners.
Once we realize that, there is no going back.  We cannot return to a time before the cross, before the resurrection, and before the saving grace of Jesus Christ was made known.
We can only follow him, loving as he loved.  Amen