Sunday, July 12, 2020

Year A, Pentecost 6, Romans 8:1-11, Freedom


Romans 8:1-11
1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
  9But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Sermon
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Last week, I made a statement that some of the online community found controversial.
When I value my own freedom more than I value your life, it is because of the power of sin that is within me. 

Here is an irony.  Our devotion to our own personal freedoms is a slavery that can kill us.  When our personal liberties are our god, we are not free at all, but captive to our own sinful desires.
Freedom is an interesting concept, because in fact, it is an illusion.
We talk about freedom a lot in this country.  But it is not what we think it is.
When the Thirteen Colonies declared their independence from England and established this country the people didn’t automatically become “free”, as in free from any government authority in their lives.
Freedom, pure freedom, doesn’t exist.
We are always under the law, the only question is what law we are under.
When our nation fought and won the Revolutionary War what that meant was not that the colonists were set free to do whatever they want, but that they could establish a new government, of the people, by the people, and for the people.  But there was a new government.
Free from one government to serve another.
Likewise, throughout history, whenever we have had to defend our freedom, it was not actually “freedom” we were defending, but independence.  World War II was fought to make sure that we were not conquered by Germany and Adolf Hitler but rather could remain an independent nation living under our own constitution and the laws that govern this land.  But we are bound by those laws.  We are not free.
The founding fathers, for example, declared “No taxation without representation.”  But there would be taxes to pay, and we pay them to this day.  It’s just those taxes are determined by our elected representatives.
Likewise, we live in a land of laws.  There is almost no aspect of our lives that is not regulated by some sort of law or another.  Even the food we put on our table is regulated by law.  I mean we can choose whether to have beef or chicken for supper, but there are regulations that govern how that beef or chicken are processed and distributed.
Likewise there are laws governing almost every aspect of our lives, in one way or another.
To be a citizen of this country is not to be free from all laws and mandates, but rather to choose to submit to them as “law abiding citizens”.  Right?
The alternative is anarchy, lawlessness, and chaos.
This is the thing about freedom.  We are set free from one thing, to live under another thing.
In fighting for our independence from England, we became free from the rule of the King of England, but bound to the rule of our new government. 
If I moved from here to Canada, I might be free from the reach of the laws in this country, but I would need to be subject to the laws in Canada.
The Apostle Paul has been speaking about our bondage.
In Romans Paul consistently lays out two options.
We are slaves to sin, death, and the devil.
Or we are slaves to righteousness, life, and God.
In today’s lesson this theme is expressed as the choice of living in the flesh or living in the Spirit.
5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”
To live according to the flesh is to be bound by our sinful thoughts and desires.
To live according to the Spirit is also to be bound, but to live according to the law of love.
One path leads to death.
And the other to life.
To live according to the flesh, or according to the Spirit.
To be in bondage to sin, death, and the devil,
                Or to serve God in loving obedience.
Those are our choices.
There are no others.

But this is the thing:
To live in the Spirit, to be in Christ, and to submit to the law of Love, is perfect freedom for love is the fulfillment of the law.
The easiest way to illustrate this is to think about marriage.
I am bound to Karla in marriage.  And in that I am bound to her in marriage I am not free to do anything.
I am not free to abuse her.
I am not free to neglect her.
I am not free to be unfaithful to her.
If I do those things there would be a consequence to pay.
However, because I love her, I would never choose to abuse her, or neglect her, or be unfaithful to her.  I freely do what the Law requires.

To live in the Spirit is to live according to the Law of Love and it is prefect freedom for Love will always will to do what the law requires.
If I love you, as Christ first loved me, it’s no longer about what I have to do, but what I want to do, for to love is to conform our lives to Christ.
Martin Luther speaks about the paradox of Christian freedom.  He says:
“A Christian is an utterly free man, lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is an utterly dutiful man, servant of all, subject to all.”
To rephrase that, think of it this way:
Love demands nothing, but gives everything.
To love your spouse, is to demand nothing.
But to love your spouse, is to be willing to give everything.
That’s the way Christ has loved us.
Christ demands nothing of us, but gives everything for us.
And for us to live in the Spirit of Christ is to live in the same way as Christ, demanding nothing, but giving everything.
And in that is freedom.
Amen

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Year A, Pentecost 4, Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:40-42


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Sin.
And Righteousness.
And our World View.
You’d think that after all the years that have passed since Jesus walked among us we’d have some degree of agreement regarding such basic simple concepts such as these.
What is sin?
What is righteousness?
What is evil?
And what is good?
Our answers to those basic questions form our world view.
Diversity.
Conformity.
What is good, and what is evil?
Plato, that ancient Greek philosopher, suggested that there existed an ideal to which everything in the real world ought, to a greater or lesser degree, to conform to.  The Platonic Ideal.
There is in his understanding a perfect table.  And every real table is measured against this ideal.  The degree to which each table conformed to the ideal is the basis upon which it was deamed to be good, or bad.
That is one way to view the world.
That everything ought to conform to a particular ideal, and any deviation from that ideal is evil.
But is this a human construct, or is this of God?
Another example of this is our yards.
Think of all the effort that we as humans devote to getting our yards to conform to our own vision of the ideal.
A lawn is supposed to be 100% Kentucky blue grass.  We douse our lawns with herbicides of one sort or another so that nothing else grows.
And then we draw a line and create a flower bed and there we want roses, and iris, and dahlias to grow, but no grass.
And then we draw another line and call it a garden, and in the garden we want strawberries, and potatoes, and corn, and peas, and all sorts of other edible plants.
And then, in order to maintain our lawns and gardens we weed.  Day after day we weed. 
Weeds.
Now there is an interesting concept.
Weeds.
God actually never created any weeds.
That something is considered a weed is a human idea.
We want a Kentucky blue grass lawn and so dandelions are considered a weed, as is crab grass, or clover.
And the grass that grows on one side of the line we draw becomes a weed if it grows on the other side of the line.
You see, we have this ideal to which we expect everything to conform, and any deviation from that ideal is considered bad.
But that is a human point of view.
If we look at the creation around us it is diversity, not uniformity or conformity that abounds.
And when God looked at all he had made he said “It is good.”
This basic issue of diversity versus conformity gets more complicated when we talk about humans, and what is good and what is evil in our lives.
Is there an ideal human being?
And ideal to which all people ought to conform?
And is our basic worth as a human being dependent on the degree to which we conform to one ideal?
One way of understanding the Christian faith, or any other religious movement, is that there is an ideal Christian life and our calling is to conform our lives to this one ideal.
OK, that sounds alright.
But where it gets dicey is when we seek to identify the ideal human life and being.
Every race and every culture shares a unique perspective on life.  And even within a given culture there are variations of the human experience.  Some of those are celebrated.  Some are considered deviant.
Who I am as a human being is shaped by where I came from, my ancestry, and my cultural upbringing.
I’m of Norwegian ancestry, I grew up in the farm country of South Dakota, and I have been shaped by the values my parents instilled in me.
But my experience is different than that of a person of another race, who was raised in another place, and who learned different values.
If I had been born to a Lakota family on the reservation in South Dakota my experience of life would be entirely different. 
OK, we know that.  We live with that.  We know that the perspective of a person from Tibet is going to be different than that of someone from Sioux Falls.  We know that.
But where life gets difficult, and sin enters in, is that we as humans make value judgments.
We define an ‘ideal’ human life, and judge any deviation from that ‘ideal’ to be evil.
Our own culture has been dominated by people of northern European ancestry.  Our values, and culture, and way of life have been dominant.
That in itself is neither good nor bad.  If you grew up in Japan, the same could be said for that culture.
But when we take the next step and define any variation from this northern European culture as evil you end up with the most fundamental basis of racism, and sin.
Our sinfulness leads us to conclude that one race is inherently better than another.
And it doesn’t stop there.
We have an ideal regarding every aspect of life and everything else is considered inferior.
Most of us would state emphatically that we are not racist, nor are we white supremacists. But this sin runs deeper and more pervasive than most of us would ever care to admit.
We would deny that we believe white people are inherently superior to black people. 
But, almost everyone of us, deep down, believes in the superiority of western civilization to all others. 
And not only that, we link western civilization to Christianity in a way that maintains not only our ‘superiority’ but that this is ordained by God as righteousness.
One of the ways that this has played out over the years is that Christian missionaries spent an enormous amount of effort converting people, not just to Christianity, but to western civilization.
When I was growing up we used to have missionaries come and make presentations from the mission field.  We saw before and after pictures.
Africans were pictured in their traditional attire before conversion.  And then after becoming Christian they would be wearing western attire, white shirts and black slacks, for the men, dresses for the women.
Missionaries would use the terms ‘evangelize’ and ‘civilize’ interchangeably.
This fundamental belief in the superiority of western civilization is probably never more evident than in our interaction with the Native Americans.  We so believed in our superiority that we took their children to raise them as white people.  That still troubles me because it was happening even in my life time.
What is the point?

Is diversity part of the goodness of God’s creation?
Is it to be celebrated and embraced?

Or is righteousness defined by conformity to one ideal and norm for all?

I believe that when we seek to impose our ideals on all people and force their conformity to those ideals we are dealing with our own sinfulness.  That’s my conviction. 
I believe that God created a diverse world in which the rich variety of life is the ultimate good, not evil.
And that we are called to celebrate this diversity, not  despise it. 
Racial tensions are running high in our world.
The “Black Lives Matter” movement is in the forefront of the news.
Why is it important to say “Black Lives Matter”?  The reason is that for far too long black lives have been devalued as deviations from the norm. 
It is true that “all lives matter”, but that is not our legacy.  We have clung to the notion that some lives matter more than others, that some humans are inherently superior to others.
We have lived our lives believing that there are good plants, and weeds.
But God didn’t create any weeds.
God didn’t create any weeds.
God looked at all he had made, and behold it was good.
Exceedingly good.  That’s the point.
It is our sinfulness that leads us to believe that deviation from the norm is evil.  That conformity is righteousness.  But that belief leads to hatred and death, the consequence of our sin.
To understand the basic goodness of all creation is to open ourselves to love and acceptance.  And that leads to life.
Amen

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Sixth Sunday of Easter 2020, Peace Lutheran Church, Otis Orchards, WA





To love as Christ loves is to practice social distancing so that we do no harm to our neighbor.

To love as Christ loves is to bear one another’s burdens so that we can lessen the economic burdens caused by this pandemic.

And to love as Christ loves is to do willingly without compulsion, that which benefits our neighbor.

That’s my prayer.

That somehow in the face of all our divisions love might prevail.  And that through love we might be united not only as people of faith but as a nation as a whole.




Sunday, May 10, 2020

Fifth Sunday in Easter service, Peace Lutheran Church, Otis Orchards, WA



Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Fourth Sunday in Easter 2020, Peace Lutheran Church, Otis Orchards, WA



There is one truth that endures throughout the ages and that is this.
In every time and every place there will be both the good and the bad. 
Life is like a patchwork quilt with shades of light and dark all intricately woven together.
And there is another truth.  Whether we are experiencing life as a blessing or a curse, God is with us.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Year A, The Resurrection of our Lord, John 20.1-18




Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Entering the subways in St Petersburg, Russia can be frightening.  The escalators are some of the longest in the world as they descend down, down, and even farther down.  One passes through the turnstiles and steps onto the escalator before you can actually see how far down the down escalator goes.  And then as the steps go over the edge you finally get a glimpse of the depths to which you are descending and the only choice you have is to ride it to the end.

Imagine, riding a ski lift down the mountain, in the dark, with no idea how far down it is, but only the sensation of the descent into the darkness.

There is a spiral stairway, of which you cannot see the ending.  If you dare look over the edge, you see nothing but stairs, one after another, each one a little lower.  Desperately, you'd like to turn around but it is as if there is an unseen force pulling you down the staircase and all the energy you can muster does nothing more than slow the descent.

Its as if one is chasing the sun, hoping to stay ahead of the darkness that is coming, and yet, try as you might, you cannot run fast enough, and the darkness always descends, and one has no choice but to wait out the night.

It is an all too familiar path.  Perhaps, if one is lucky, there are landings along the way that provide a place to rest awhile.  It might be a distraction such as a recreational activity, a good conversation, or a good meal.  But it is short lived.  As with an escalator, one can turn around and try to walk up the down escalator for awhile.  If you are capable of walking up faster than the steps are carrying you down, you can reverse the descent.  But only for awhile, a moment, for the relentless downward momentum of the escalator is more powerful than the ability to climb the stairs.

Sensory perceptions dim.  The world goes black and white, and shades of grey.  (I realize this dates me, as there are many today who have never seen a black and white TV screen.)  It becomes hard to hear.  Sound becomes jumbled.  People seem to drift away, out of one's reach, isolation becomes overwhelming.  And then, as though cruelly planned, the force of gravity increases and your body becomes heavy, incredibly heavy, making it difficult to walk, impossible to move freely, and even while resting, it is though one is pulled forcefully into the bed.

Lying alone in the darkness, one waits for the dawn.  No effort on your part can hasten the rising of the sun.  One voice in your head screams out in despair that the sun is gone forever, another calming voice speaks of faith, and that the light will return in the morning, once again, after the night has run its course.  But first the night must run its course.
Five years ago I wrote these words about my experiences of depression, that deep darkness that envelopes one’s life.
Darkness.  And waiting for the dawn.  It’s not a good place to be.  And yet in the waiting there is hope.
In Psalm 130 we read:
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
We sit in darkness, waiting for the morning.
Our world languishes in darkness, a darkness brought on by a virus, COVID 19.
It’s like we are on that escalator in St. Petersburg, descending into the abyss, unable to see the ending.  We don’t know how long the virus will be among us, how many will get ill, and whether we will be the ones who die. 
We sit in darkness, waiting for the light.

It was in the darkness that Mary walked to the tomb.
It was not just that the sun had not yet risen, it was that death hung over her world like a dark blanket that cut out the light.
And having witnessed the death of Jesus there undoubtedly was a fear that another shoe might drop, a fear that all the disciples shared, and that was that death might strike again.
It was Thomas that had voiced this fear when Jesus decided to go up to Jerusalem to raise Lazarus.
"Let us also go, that we may die with him."

Times of darkness, yet we wait for the dawn.
More than watchmen for the morning,
More than watchmen for the morning.

And in our darkness we cling to the promise.
The promise that God’s eternal light will conquer the darkness and even death itself.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.
The Prophet Isaiah declared:
2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
And Jesus said:
"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life."
And in Revelation we read:
And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
Though we sit in darkness, we wait for the light.

Waiting, though, is hard for we are an impatient people.
When we first decided that we could not gather for worship, following the advice of the public health authorities, we cancelled worship until Easter.
Well, Easter is here, and still we each remain in our homes unable to gather together to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord.
We are like Mary, standing alone in the darkness that first Easter, not yet able to see beyond her tears to the joy that was to come.
And we are like the disciples who gathered behind closed doors, out of fear.
You know why we wait.
We wait so that death might not claim us.
We wait out of loving concern for one another.
We wait because we are not yet out of this ordeal.
We wait upon the Lord, like watchmen for the morning.
But we wait, knowing that the night will pass and the day will dawn.
This Easter is different than any I have ever experienced before.
I, like you, long for the full sanctuary, the fragrance of lilies, the bright colored dresses (I remember when all the women would get new dresses for Easter, and the men a new shirt and tie) and of course, the Easter breakfast with which we celebrated the end of the Lenten fast.
I long for the day when we can look back at the COVID 19 virus as a disease that we long ago have overcome.
But that is not today.
That is not where we are at this Easter.
This Easter, we walk with Mary in the darkness to the tomb, not yet aware of the future that God has in store for us.
We wait for the dawn.
We long to hear the voice of Jesus.
I offer to you at this time of waiting, a song particularly dear to me through times of trouble.

1 Be still, my soul: the Lord is on your side;
bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
leave to your God to order and provide;
in ev'ry change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: your best, your heav'nly Friend
through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
2 Be still, my soul: your God will undertake
to guide the future as he has the past.
Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake;
all now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
his voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.
3 Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
and all is darkened in the veil of tears,
then shall you better know his love, his heart,
who comes to soothe your sorrow and your fears.
Be still, my soul: your Jesus can repay
from his own fullness all he takes away.
4 Be still, my soul: the hour is hast'ning on
when we shall be forever with the Lord,
when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Year A, Palm Sunday, Matthew 21.1-11, Phillipians 2.5-11

https://youtu.be/PKsgGNwrvTA


Sermon:  The King they wanted, and the King we got
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
 “Hosanna to the Son of David!
  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
 Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
With these words on the lips of the crowds, Jesus entered into Jerusalem.
And make no mistake about it, to proclaim Jesus “the Son of David” was to praise him as the Messiah, God’s anointed, who would establish his Kingdom in Israel and reign from the palace in Jerusalem.
 “Hosanna to the Son of David!
  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
 Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
That the nation of Israel would be free from the Roman occupation—
That the nation of Israel would be at peace—
That the nation of Israel would once again experience the glory of David and Solomon’s Kingdom—
That the nation of Israel would prosper—
These were the hopes of those people welcoming Jesus as the Son of David.
A victorious King and a land flowing with milk and honey. 
And then Jesus came, humble and riding on a donkey.
A servant King.

There is an incredible irony in this story, and that parade welcoming Jesus as the Messiah.
And that is that the King they wanted was the king they actually had, not the one mounted on a donkey.
Rome ruled.
And during this time, the whole Mediterranean world was united under the rule of Rome, and enjoying what historians would later call the Pax Romana.  The peace of Rome.
It was a time of prosperity and peace almost unknown in the ancient world.
The Romans built a glorious empire.
Remnants of that Empire remain to this day.
There were palaces and ampitheaters.  And of course, the Coliseum. 
But actually two of the most impressive accomplishments of the Roman builders were the roads which united the Empire and paved the way for commerce, and the aqueducts that provided fresh water in abundance and made modern cities possible.
The Glory of Rome.
That’s what the people wanted. . .only they wanted it to be their own Kingdom.  Israel.  They longed for the glory of Rome, but the freedom of Israel.
 “Hosanna to the Son of David!
  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
 Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
And there was Jesus.
5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6who, though he was in the form of God,
  did not regard equality with God
  as something to be exploited,
7but emptied himself,
  taking the form of a slave,
  being born in human likeness.
 And being found in human form,
  8he humbled himself
  and became obedient to the point of death—
  even death on a cross.
What we know now, that those crowds did not know then, is that Jesus did not come so that the people might prosper, but that they might be saved.
Fast forward two thousand years to today.
It was in 1992 that James Carvelle, Bill Clinton’s political strategist coined the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid.”
What Carvelle and every politician since recognized is that what the people want is prosperity.
The people welcoming Jesus as the Son of David wanted prosperity.
The people who elected President Roosevelt during the Great Depression wanted prosperity.
The people who followed Hitler wanted prosperity.
The people who voted for Bill Clinton wanted prosperity.
And so it is in our day that every president is judged on the relative health of the economy.
We elect that person we believe will prosper the economy, and their re-election is dependent on whether the economy is thriving or not.
But what is more important?
                That we prosper?
                Or that we are saved?
That is one of the most important questions facing, not only us, but the whole world today.
The economy was great.
Just a few short weeks ago, the economy was great.
Our president, Donald Trump, like all the presidents before him was banking his hopes for re-election on the thriving economy, because, after all, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
And then COVID 19 transformed the world we lived in to a world we could never have imagined.
It is now illegal to gather.
Were I to hold worship services in public today I could be fined $5,000 and sent to prison for up to 364 days.
You could be as well.
We are taking precautions to stem the spread of this virus, and the cost is high.
Two fears dominate our world today:
·         The fear for our  health, and the health of our neighbors;
·         And the fear of an economic collapse.

What a choice.
What a choice we are faced with.
This dilemma is not playing out in Washington alone.
Every congregation across the nation faces this choice as the people of God.
We cannot gather together for worship.  We are trying our best to find other ways of being the Body of Christ, but it is not easy.
We are isolated, not only from each other, but from our families and friends.
And we long for better times.  We want to gather around the Lord’s Table for communion.  We want to sing the hymns of faith.  We want to pray together.  And we are worried about the future of the Church.  Can we weather this storm?  How will our finances fair? 
Our hearts yearn for life to return to normal.
How long will this last?  You’ve asked that question.  I’ve asked that question.  Everyone is asking that question.
The most soul searching question of all at this time is how many lives are we willing to risk for the sake of the economy? 
The second question is like it.  How much suffering are we willing to endure to save lives?
Jesus emptied himself,
  taking the form of a slave,
  being born in human likeness.
 And being found in human form,
  8he humbled himself
  and became obedient to the point of death—
  even death on a cross.
The people longed for a King that would bring glory and prosperity to Israel.
What they got in Jesus was a savior.
One who was willing to suffer and die so that we might live. 
And it is this one who we call Lord.
Jesus said that we should take up our cross and follow him.
What does that mean?  For us?   Today?
It means that we be willing to love one another and to make sacrifices so that lives might be saved.
It means that we stay home and stay healthy.
It means for us as a church that for the present time we will not gather together to worship God, so that in time, all of us, might gather again.
That’s the bottom line.  If we rush back to worship some of you might die.  If we care for one another and accept this time of being apart hopefully all of you will live.
Tough times.  Tough choices.
There are two things that give me hope in the midst of my fears.
First, that healing was such a major part of Jesus ministry.  He cares about our health.  He touched people and made them well.  We need that now.
And second, that throughout history God has led his people through one ordeal after another.  Economies have collapsed.  Empires have fallen.  And lives have been forever changed.
But through it all, God remained faithful to his word, that nothing in all of creation can separate us from his love.
May this peace which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Year A, Lent 5, Ezekiel 37.1-14, John 11.1-45

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=si6N4YZyxro


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
By the time you hear this sermon I’m not sure where we will be.  We recorded it 10 days ago so I’m not sure what will have happened already since then.
Life is at one and the same time on pause as we step back and spend our days social distancing to prevent the spread of the COVID 19 virus, and also a frantic whirlwind as changes are coming every day.
I pray that you are doing well, taking your precautions, and most of all remaining healthy.
Two weeks ago I talked about viewing this time as a time of solitude, not isolation.  Solitude in a spiritual sense of stepping back from the world to reflect, and most of all, to listen.  To listen to God, and in a new way, perhaps even to one another as we find different ways to connect.
So this is a time of solitude.  A different sort of Lenten journey for us.
Still, amid all the changes and closures and shortages caused by this outbreak there are those that question whether this is really a threat or not.
Let me share a couple of statistics from China that were current as of March 16th.
What they’ve experienced in China is that the COVID 19 virus is not seriously affecting young people.  For example, no children under the age of 10 have died.  And for those under the age of 40 the mortality rate is 0.02%.
But then it becomes more deadly as we age.
Those in their sixties have a mortality rate of 3.6%.
Those in their seventies have a mortality rate of 8%.
And 15% of those over eighty who contract the disease will die from it.
Again, those are the statistics from China as I write.
“Max Roser, Hannah Ritchie and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina (2020) - "Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – Statistics and Research". Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: 'https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus' [Online Resource]”
Put in perspective, if the virus were to spread through our little congregation of 20 to 30 people we could expect numerous deaths.
That’s why we are taking precautions. I don’t want to do any funerals for a while.
That’s why this service is being done remotely.
And that is why we must remain cautious and careful, limiting the contact with one another.
As we do this, I pray we can act in love, not fear.
That is, I’m going to stay home, not because I’m afraid of getting the disease from you, but rather because I love you and want to avoid possibly giving the disease to you.

In the midst of it all, we listen to God’s Word.
1Out | of the depths
  I cry to | you, O Lord;
2O Lord, | hear my voice!
  Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my | supplication
6My soul waits for the Lord more than those who keep watch | for the morning,
  more than those who keep watch | for the morning.
Of all the prayers we could offer at this time, perhaps the most critical would be for the health care professionals who are diligently working to care for the sick and to come up with a vaccine or cure.
Lord, help them.
The impact of this will be far reaching.
Businesses are being forced to close.
Children can’t go to school.
Churches across the nation have cancelled worship and all other activities.
And all of a sudden our telephones and computers have become our only safe source of connection with one another and the world in which we live.
Four weeks ago, I would have never imagined this scenario.  But here we are.
Today’s lessons speak to hope in the face of disease and death and the unraveling of a country.
Ezekiel wrote at the time of the exile.
He saw a vision of a valley of dry bones.  Those dry bones represented what was left of their country after it was destroyed by Babylon.
Nothing but dry bones.
But then he was instructed to declare the Word of the Lord and from those dry bones the nation would reemerge. 
And then we have the story of Lazarus, and Jesus calling him forth from the tomb.
Both of these passages in scripture point to one most important reality.  Hope is never lost for those who trust in God.
We need that kind of hope right now.
We live in a time of fear.
I find myself dealing with a variety of fears.
I’m concerned for my family, but not nearly as much as they are concerned for Karla and I, we being the elderly, now.
I’m concerned for you.  To put it bluntly, I’m concerned that when we are finally able to resume worship you will all be there.
But having said that I wonder about the impact of this on our little congregation.  Can we survive?  What will happen to us if this goes on for a long period?  If we lose members to the virus?  If the offerings dry up and we become bankrupt?
I’m concerned for our nation and the impact this is having, even beyond the health threat.
Businesses will close.
Life savings are dwindling.
People are hoarding stuff, creating a situation of the haves and the have not’s.
And I’m left wondering about our world.
I can sort of understand why people are stock piling toilet paper.  Sort of.  I mean, really folks, toilet paper?  Even in a worst case scenario there are other ways to clean yourself.
What I really can’t understand is why people are rushing out and buying guns.  I mean really, it’s not as though you can defend yourself by shooting the virus.  Have people gone mad???
Fears.
But then there is hope.
I hope because we have great people in the medical field, many of whom are working non-stop to find a solution.  This likely won’t be as bad as the flu in 1918 because we have made many advances in medicine since then.
I hope because we can do this.  We can wash our hands and live in solitude for a while to stave off the spread of the virus.
I hope because rather than destroying our congregation this may be a time of renewal.  When we can finally meet again we may find ourselves cherishing that opportunity more than ever.
I hope because often adversity brings out the best in people, not the worst.
But most of all I hope because God can bring forth life from dry bones and call us out of the grave.
We are fasting in the broadest sense of that word.
But the time is coming when we will be able to feast once again.
I don’t know how long that will be, and the guidance we are receiving from the government changes daily.
When we cancelled services, our understanding was that we might be able to resume meeting on Easter Sunday.
Now, it appears likely that it will be much longer.
How long until the threat passes we simply do not know.
But I remain hopeful because, as Jerry Kramer, the hall of fame football player and Sandpoint native, said:  “You can if you will.”
We can meet all of these challenges.
The only question is if we will.
We can wash our hands, for Pete’s sake.
We can avoid unnecessary personal contact for a season.
We can care for one another in new and safe ways.
We can be the people of God even when we cannot assemble here in this place.
The only question is will we?
And I have confidence in you and your spirit to do these things.
But more than that I have confidence in the Lord to watch over us and our comings and goings and to renew us by the power of his Spirit and to restore our good fortune.
May this peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Sabbath Blessing


Sabbath Blessing
We welcome the Sabbath as a sacred time with a meal, a remembrance of creation, of the daily bread which sustains us in this life, and as a foretaste of the feast to come.  This meal traditionally takes place on the eve of the Sabbath.  For this celebration you will need three candles, a glass of wine (or grape juice), and a loaf of bread.  In honoring the Sabbath it is suggested that we share in a special meal, a feast, to celebrate Emmanuel, God with us.

All members of the household gather around the table.
The Lighting of the Candles
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, for in the beginning you said “Let there be light!” and there was light.
            Light the first candle.
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, for you are the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.
            Light the second candle.
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, for with a powerful wind and tongues of fire your Spirit moves among us.  Amen
            Light the third candle.
This hymn or another may be sung. 

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise him all creatures here below.
Praise him above all heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  Amen”

The Cup of Blessing
The leader holds up the glass of wine (grape juice).
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, for you bring forth the fruit of the vine.
With this cup we remember that you quenched our thirst in the wilderness; that your Son is the living water who offered his life for us; and that by your Spirit you have gathered us together and made us One.  Amen
The cup is shared with all present.

The Breaking of Bread
The loaf of bread is lifted up.
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth the bread of the earth.
You feed us in the desert with manna from on high; you are the bread of life that satisfies all our hunger; you are the foretaste of the feast to come.
Bless us (me) now with your presence; surround us (me) with your love; and fill us (me) with your grace.  Amen
The bread is broken and shared with all present.

The Lesson for the Day
The Gospel for the Day, or a Psalm, or another passage of scripture is read.
The Lord’s Prayer.
The meal is eaten.

We give you thanks, O Lord our God, for this food which we have eaten.  May it sustain us throughout our journey until we rest in you.  Amen

Notes:
This Sabbath Blessing follows the model of the blessings offered over the Sabbath meal in Judaism; with the lighting of candles and the blessing of the wine and the bread.  Judaism is the foundation on which much of Christian practice is built.  Our scripture, our prayers, our life of worship, our honoring the Sabbath and even our understanding of Christ as the Messiah all have their roots within Judaism.  We gratefully acknowledge that. 

In offering these Sabbath blessings and the sharing of the wine and the bread, a Christian will be reminded of our celebration of communion.  The Sabbath meal, as well as the Seder meal, may well have shaped our weekly celebration of communion.  This, however, is not a communion service, per se, and should not be viewed as such.

It is a formal way to do what Christians have always done, namely gather for a meal and ask God’s blessing over the food, and share in a time of devotion.  It is to remember that the ‘breaking of bread’ with one another is a sacred act in and of itself that celebrates being part of the Christian family.

Within Judaism the Sabbath meal occurs at sundown on Friday evening, thus welcoming the beginning of the Sabbath.  We might gather for these prayers on Saturday night, or if your tradition is to have a special Sunday dinner, it is also appropriate to honor the Sabbath at that time.

The text for this blessing is all either in the public domain, or my own writing.  Permission is granted for its use.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Year A, Lent 4, Psalm 23, Chicken Noodle Soup




Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen
Sometimes you just need a bowl of chicken noodle soup.  Or whatever other ‘comfort food’ that warms your soul.
Comfort food.
For me ‘comfort food’ is that which I associate with my mom.  And home.  And that place where I know I’m always welcome no matter what is happening in my life.
Chicken noodle soup has memories associated with it for me.
First and foremost I associate it with saltine crackers and 7-Up, the first foods I was able to have after being sick.  It was always an indication that my ordeal was approaching an end and I would soon be better.  And I remember my mom.
There are other foods I connect with my mom and heartwarming memories.
Banana bread.  A staple at our house.
Apple tarts.
Rhubarb delight.
Homemade cinnamon rolls with freshly ground whole wheat flour from the fields around their home in Joplin, MT.
At Christmas time it was the lefsa.
And of course, the cookies:  sandbakkels, and crumkakka.
And also, for me, rice cereal.  Mom would make the rice with milk, and we’d put butter (Norwegians put butter on everything) and cinnamon, and sugar on it.  It was an evening meal for us.  And I loved it.
All of these foods connect me to a time in my life when I still experienced the comfort of my mother’s bosom.  Wrapped in her care and love.
It was a simpler time.
A time when the great problems of my life melted away with a word of encouragement, the assurance that I was loved, all within a safe place that was home.
As the years passed by, the problems of my life didn’t melt away like that.  There were times of rejection out in that cold cruel world.  And there have been times of a desperate yearning to feel that love once again.
Ironically, now that I’m older I’m beginning to feel a lot of other connections with my mother.  Connections related to my health.
Bad knees.  Achy legs. Hypothyroidism. And on the list goes.
And I yearn for that warm cup of chicken noodle soup that makes the hurt go away.

1The Lord| is my shepherd;
  I shall not | be in want.
Words I need to hear.

2The Lord makes me lie down | in green pastures
  and leads me be- | side still waters.
3You restore my | soul, O Lord,
  and guide me along right pathways | for your name’s sake.
Images of a safe place,

4Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall | fear no evil;
  for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they | comfort me. R
What a wonderful assurance that someone is there.

5You prepare a table before me in the presence | of my enemies;
  you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is | running over.
There you have it, the chicken noodle soup, a sign that the ordeal will soon be over.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days | of my life,
  and I will dwell in the house of the | Lord forever. R
Home.
Psalm 23 is our spiritual chicken noodle soup.
Throughout our lives and at the time of our deaths we take comfort in these words.
Within this psalm, David has included three things:
                A memory.
                A prayer.
                And a hope.
A memory.
1The Lord| is my shepherd;
  I shall not | be in want.
2The Lord makes me lie down | in green pastures
  and leads me be- | side still waters.
Faced with the uncertainty of trying times, we look back.  We remember.
That’s where the chicken noodle soup gets its power.
It evokes the memory for me that my present illness will soon be over.  It recalls my mom’s loving care. 
The bed my mom prepared for me.
The cup of soup on the bedside table.
The glass of 7-Up always present.
Healing powers.
Most of all, these memories form the foundation of hope.
We have hope for the future because we remember the way God has cared for us in the past.
I have faced many trials in my life.  And in spite of all my worries that each one might be my comeuppance, grace intervened.  God watched over me.  God delivered me.
I remember that.
I shall not be in want.

And in that light I pray:
3You restore my | soul, O Lord,
  and guide me along right pathways | for your name’s sake.
4Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall | fear no evil;
  for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they | comfort me. R
5You prepare a table before me in the presence | of my enemies;
  you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is | running over.
Now we are talking to God, not about God.
You restore me.
You guide me.
You are with me.
You comfort me.
You care for me.
And you anoint me with the healing oils.
And I am blessed beyond measure.

Our greatest fears surround death.
COVID 19 is among us.  And we don’t know what the future holds.  So we turn to God.
4Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall | fear no evil;

It is fear that too often drives us.  Some fears are rational.  COVID 19 is much more lethal than the flu.  We are learning that.  And for some there will not be enough 7-UP and chicken noodle soup to make them well.  And so fearing it, we take precautions.  Social distancing.
When I was sick as a child I was sent to my room.  It feels like that now.  “All y’all just go to your rooms.” 
Rational fears.
And then there are the irrational ones.  Like the “Oh, my God, I must run and buy every roll of toilet paper I can!” type of fear.  Kind of funny that we take comfort in, of all things, having a closet full of toilet paper.  Come on folks!
But whether our fears are rational or irrational we have this prayer.
You restore me.
You guide me.
You are with me.
You comfort me.
You care for me.
And you anoint me with the healing oils.
And I am blessed beyond measure.
Like our moms, God is present.  Loving.  Caring.  Healing.
And so we hope:
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days | of my life,
  and I will dwell in the house of the | Lord forever. R
Here there is a bit of a disconnect with my childhood home.  A big disconnect. 
My mom made it a point to teach us to fly.
Independence was a major value in our home  growing up.  We were to learn and grow, and then leave the nest.
I’ve joked many a time that mom gave us an 18 year nonrenewable lease. 
And yet even so, home was always there.
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
This sentence comes from the opening of St. Augustine’s “Confessions”.  When I looked it up, one author called it the greatest sentence ever written.
It ranks right up there with the conclusion to Psalm 23:
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days | of my life,
  and I will dwell in the house of the | Lord forever. 
Faced with all the turmoil and uncertainty of life we are invited into the Lord’s rest.  Embraced by God’s goodness and mercy, we are at home once again.  Secure in the bosom of God.
Here the most powerful image and most blessed of experiences comes back to me.  That of a baby nursing at its mother’s breast.
What a way to enter into this world.
And perhaps that’s the way we will leave it.
Wrapped in the tender embrace of our God, our souls are soothed by God’s beating heart and nourished by God’s own flesh and blood.
Sometimes we need chicken noodle soup.
And sometimes, what we really need is to be held tight at our Mother’s breast once again.
Amen