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New, but NOT Charmed, Life

Before we get into our texts this morning, I want to recap or highlight a couple things from our Ash Wednesday service.

1) We are now in Lent, which is a solemn time in the church year. Thus, many see it        as a gloomy, depressing, or sad time. However, I love Lent and find it renewing            and life-giving.

2) I shared in the past year a couple people have referred to me as a unicorn. BUT, if
I am a mythical creature I do not want to be a unicorn, I would want to be a
phoenix. The phoenix rises out of the ashes stronger than they were before.

The gospel of Mark, during this season of Lent, focuses on covenant agreement between God and people.

Human history repeats itself, be it in scripture or outside of scripture. In scripture, we see patterns of God creating a covenant with people, WE break the covenant, and God continues to reach out despite being upset, angry, and/or frustrated to establish yet another covenant with us.

We think of a covenant as a binding mutual agreement, usually associated with our conduct and being in relationship with one another. However, in the ancient world it was their legal contract which carried more weight and consequences than we tend to think of today.

The covenant that we hear this morning in our scriptures revolve around baptism, its water, and what that means for us.

Our first story comes from Genesis and is beloved. We decorate nurseries with Noah’s Ark, which seems odd since it was the genocide of all creation minus 8 people (Noah, his wife, their three sons, and their three daughters-in-laws) and two of each kind of animal.
After the flooding, for one reason or another unknown to us, God decides “I am NOT doing that again”. In fact, this covenant that God made in Genesis is NOT with Noah, his sons, or their descendants. This covenant is NOT conditional because there are no “if” statements. This covenant has NO time limits. This covenant is literally a covenant between God and ALL people, ALL flesh (animals), and ALL creation for ALL time. That is INCLUSIVE.

The rainbow, a sign of this covenant, is NOT a reminder to Noah, his descendants, or us but it is a reminder to God of God’s covenant and promise to us.

The waters of the flood are destructive and chaotic, which leads to our 1 Peter text. This letter, similar to the others, are to a community that is suffering; perhaps persecution, although we do not know the extent or frequency. The community is facing challenges and are reminded of their own baptisms and therefore they have died to their old selves, their old ways, and their own lives in order to be resurrected with Christ in his ministry and his mission.

1 Peter further builds on water and washing as an act of purification. Our baptisms purify us.

Note:
I find it interesting that when the Israelites would return with the spoils of war to be brought into the community, it had to be purified first. The first and preferred method, if possible, was to pass the item through fire. If it could not pass through fire, then it would be passed through water to cleanse it. We, human beings, pass through the waters of baptism because we do not do well with passing through fire.

But, 1 Peter claims that Christ’s mission did not end which his death because he descended to Sheol (the Pit) or the dead. This is not the fire and brimstone hell depicted in modern culture, but instead a place of separation from God where all people went after their earthly death while awaiting the final judgment.

In Christian Iconography (art), there are icons (imagines) of Jesus with one foot literally in the land of the dead and the other outside. Jesus is depicted helping Moses, Abraham, and beloved ancestors of faith out of Sheol. The covenant in Genesis (linked through water) is not limited or confined by death; that is a powerful covenant.

Then, we have Mark which is a fast-paced gospel. In these few verses, we have the baptism of Jesus when he heard the words “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased”.

Then, immediately afterwards the Holy Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness. I love that verse, especially on a Daytona 500 Sunday. The Holy Spirit drives him into the wilderness. The Holy Spirit does not lead him into the wilderness. The Holy Spirit does not suggest he goes into the wilderness. The Holy Spirit DRIVES him into a wilderness. It was a physical wilderness, but it was also an emotional and spiritual wilderness. He had to discern those words heard at his baptism and the future of his ministry. (There are debates about how much Christ knew about his own future at that moment, which we do not have an answer.)

We do know from Mark’s account that Jesus was tempted by satan. Satan is an adversary and a force that defies God but not necessarily a little red man with horns, a tail, and a pitchfork (that is Sparky from Arizona State University). Jesus was tempted for 40 days.
The number 40 is significant in scripture including the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years. (Lent is also 40 days minus Sundays).

Afterwards, Jesus emerges to learn that John the Baptist has been arrested.
What does Jesus do?

Jesus continues to preach essentially the same message that John the Baptist was preaching:

REPENT.
TURN from your old ways.
TURN towards new life.
The kingdom of God has come, it is near, and it is not yet fulfilled.

Our Lenten journey is about that.
It is about new life.
It is about being restored and being a new creation.

A couple of years ago, I was asked if I had led a charmed life. I thought it was an odd and oddly worded question. In fact, I remained silent because I was not sure what was being asked when another person replied “no, she has had some struggles and challenges”. Then the intention of the question dawned on me.

A charmed life, by definition “charmed” is something that protects and is usually associated with supernatural or magical properties used to protect the item and its carrier.

There are people who believe that by coming into faith, coming to the waters of baptism, and if they live into their baptismal promises that their lives will be ‘charmed’ and they will be sheltered, guarded, and protected against the broken, messy, and sinful world that we live.

This idea is reinforced in a variety of phrases, including one of my favorite to hate: “God won’t give you more than you can handle”. I HATE that phrase, for me it invokes an image of God as a bully in heaven with a magnifying glass we are the ants. BUT, I came a sign one day that read: “God does not give us what we can handle. God helps us handle what we are given.” Often the difficult situations we find ourselves in, those burdens we carry, and the challenges we deal with are the result of our own brokenness, poor choices, and sin or that of another.

Our lives are not protected from that brokenness, poor choices, or sin. We do NOT have a magical charm, which can be a challenge for us to accept.

BUT, we do have covenants. We do have promises. We do have reassurance that no matter how dark it gets God is ever-present (and if you watch the news you know our world is dark). Similar to how the Holy Spirit was ever-present with Christ in his own wilderness and temptation.

So, we are beginning our Lenten journey.

It is a calling into new life whether we are emerging from the waters of baptism or the ashes of our own pervious lives, but that does not mean it is free from temptation, sin, or suffering. However, as our Psalm reminds us, God is faithful and steadfast in God’s love continually establishing and re-establishing those covenants with ALL flesh, ALL creation for ALL time.

That is the good news. May that be where our hope lies. Amen.

Scriptures were Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-10, 1 Peter 3:18-22, and Mark 1:9-15.
Originally preached on 18 Feb. 2018 at Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, IN).
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Posted by on February 19, 2018 in Sermons

 

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The Journey of Lent: the Phoenix

Welcome to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.

Lent is a solemn time in the church year, which for most seems gloomy, depressing, and dark.

I love Lent. I, actually, find it life-giving but I will get to that in a moment.

There are many ways Lent has been celebrated with different practices for the forty days of fasting, different philosophies and theories on the why and how. This is the normal direction of my Ash Wednesday sermons, but bear with me because we are doing something a little different tonight.

I was thinking what is the true intent of Ash Wednesday and Lent, not simply how we practice it. There is a poem in “Celtic Praise”* that, well, more poetically poses my question. It is entitled Controlling the Heart.

The priests tell me
that if I sin with my will and inclination,
it is as if the deed is done.
My conscience tells me,
that if I want to sin but restrain myself,
God will bless me for my virtue.
Does sin lie in the heart or in action?
Minute by minute I can control my actions,
but it takes a lifetime and more to control the heart.

It takes a lifetime and more to control the heart, after all that is where our intentions lie. Right? Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2018 in Sermons

 

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Epiphanies & Transfiguration

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We cancelled church today due to freezing rain and icy conditions, but I still want to preach my sermon (even if it was only to Highlander and Valkyrie). 

We have been in the Time after Epiphany.

It begun with Jesus’ baptism. The heavens opened with Christ hearing “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased”. This marked the beginning of Christ’s public ministry.

We conclude it with the Transfiguration of Christ. This turns his ministry from a public ministry to his journey to the cross, which is a perfect lead into Lent.

Let us explore where we have been.  Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2018 in Sermons

 

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Healing for Vocation

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Last Sunday, I talked about there being a common theme in Mark you would hear a lot this year. The theme is that the Kingdom of God has come, it is near, and it is not yet fulfilled.

Mark has a second common theme that was in our passage last week, this morning, and will be many times this year. We call it the Messianic secret because Jesus heals people and casts out demons but will not allow them to identify Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One that they (the Israelites) have been awaiting.

I also shared that Mark’s first chapter is extremely busy…
Jesus is baptized.

Jesus is tempted in the wilderness (by Satan).

Jesus preaches his mission to proclaim the Word, and to release the prisoners and those held captive. Afterwards, he is chased out of his hometown.

Jesus calls the disciples into new vocations, into a new way of being, and into relationship with him.

Jesus performs his first exorcism in Mark.

This morning, we now have three stories that may seem disconnected and yet are deeply intertwined with one another.

When Jesus called Simon (who will become Peter), Andrew, James, and John from their boats to become “Fishers of Men”, he was calling them to leave behind their professions and their families. Thus, we often imagine that they were single men.

BUT, did you notice who the woman healed in our text today is? Simon’s mother-in-law.

Now, it is not a secret that at Jesus’ time the majority of the community believed if a person was sick it was one of two reasons either (1) the person had an unclean spirit/demon or (2) the person was being punished for their own sin or the sin of their previous generations.

Ponder that for a moment. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2018 in Sermons

 

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Divine Authority: Jesus and Demons

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The Gospel of Mark has a theme that you will hear A LOT this year…
It is that the Kingdom of God has come, its near, and yet not fulfilled.

This is a theme that we get as early as the first chapter in Mark, which has been busy:

Jesus was baptized.
He went into the wilderness and was tempted (by Satan).
He called his disciples.
He preached in his home synagogue, where he was chased out of town.
AND now, we have the first story of a healing or exorcism in Mark.

As I shared with the children, I struggle with any scripture that refers to unclean spirits (or demons) in part because I do not know how to preach it.

When we say “unclean spirits”, what are we talking about…
the “demons” that haunt us personally and are metaphoric?
mental illness and the stigma that remains around it?
the “unclean spirits” in our society and our culture as a whole?

How do you preach it?

Last night, I told my mother and sister that I struggle preaching these texts about demons. My sister asked “why” and I replied “because I do not know what to do with demons other than to cuddle with them”.

The truth is WE ALL have our own personal demons and at the very least, even if we do not cuddle with them, we become comfortable, content, complicit with our own prejudices, guilt from something we did or did not do in the past that keeps us up at night, or another unclean spirit/demon. WE ALL have our own demons that haunt us. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2018 in Sermons

 

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Invitation to Follow

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I have previously said that this Time After Epiphany is a series of God’s manifestations in Jesus as the Christ and Christ’s ministry. We see these manifestations in various, distinctive ways.

Last week, we heard the story of Jesus calling Nathaniel and a few other men to be disciples. The story was not (necessarily) dramatic… Jesus basically says:
“Hey, I saw you sitting under the fig tree. Come, follow me and do something with your life”.

Today, we have very different call story in our gospel.
Simon (who later will be “Peter”) and Andrew are in their boats fishing. They were fishermen by trade. We also have John and James (Sons of Zebedee) are in their boat mending nets, because they too were fishermen by trade.

Jesus is standing on the shoreline and shouts to them (in their boats) saying “Follow Me”.
We do not get this ‘sense’ in the English, but in the Greek it is a command: “Follow Me”.

It is not so much a question and not so much a pleasant invitation, but it is a ‘forceful’ one.

BUT, in the philosophical writings of the era “to follow” meant “to be in relationship with”. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2018 in Sermons

 

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Invitation to Vocation

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There are inter-connected themes and threads throughout scripture in different stories. These are not always the easiest to recognize or to piece together.

I want to talk this morning about Samuel, his calling, and this ‘call story’ but I want to start from the beginning. His story parallels a story that comes later in our scriptures, which is the story of Mary (the mother of Jesus).

On Christmas Eve (am and pm), I spoke about Mary’s story focusing on those pieces that we do not know or always hear.

Samuel’s mother was Hannah, who was one of many wives. Hannah, unlike the other wives, had been unable to have a child. She spent time in the temple praying and praying that God would give her a child. She prayed so intensely that the priest Eli thought she was drunk and almost removed her from the temple.

Hannah would have her wish granted, her prayer heard. She gave birth to a son, who she named Samuel. Hannah, similar to Anne (mother of Mary), would give him to the Temple into the service of God and under the care of the priest Eli.

Eli had a couple sons, who were significantly older in age than Samuel. These sons were, well, trouble makers. These sons were not pleasing to the Lord. These sons dismissed their expectation to serve as priests and the Lord.

Samuel as a little boy, perhaps approximately seven or eight years old, was sleeping one evening when he is awoken by a voice calling his name. Samuel thinks it is the priest (Eli) calling for him, so he jumps out of bed and responds “here I am, you called me?”.

Eli responds “No. I did not call you. Go back to bed.”

A voice calls again “Samuel”.

Samuel: “Here I am, you called me.”
Eli: “No. I did not call you. Go back to bed”.

Again, a voice calls “Samuel”.

Samuel: “Here I am, you called me”.
Eli: “No. I did not call you, but you know what… maybe you are hearing the Lord.”

Note the scripture says that visions, experiences of God, and divine mysteries were not common at this time.

Samuel returned to bed. When he hears his name called again, but this time he responds “here I am, Lord, your servant is listening”.

Samuel is told that he will be a prophet (a mouth piece for God) and receives the first message he needs to deliver. The message is for Eli, his mentor, an aging man whose life had been and was still in service to the Lord. However, Eli was being warned due to his lack of discipline and concern for his children’s unpleasing behavior to the Lord.

Imagine:
You are a seven years old child and you must tell your mentor that the wrath of God is coming for him and his family.

That is NOT something that I would want to deal with in my 30s, let alone as a young child.

Samuel continues to have conversations with God. Samuel continues to grow into the role of a prophet gaining respect with the Lord, Eli the priest, and the people as a whole.

This ‘call story’ of Samuel is a prime proto-type.

The role of a prophet, or one who speaks prophetically, is to speak for God serving as a mouth piece. The messages delivered by a prophet are often not words you want to hear. It is not sunshine and roses, warm and fuzzes, or unicorns. However, it is the task of speaking truth into the world including needed changes to come.

If I took a poll of our world today, many people would say we also are living in a time when visions of the Lord are rare. I believe many people would also say we live in a time when we need prophetic voices to tell us the “way of God” or to be a voice calling for us to “prepare the way” as we heard it in Advent.

BUT, what if I said that similar to Samuel, we all have the vocation to be prophetic?
We received it in our baptismal waters, which I spoke about last week. It is included in our promises to seek justice, to act with mercy, to love, and to serve.

ALSO, there are still prophets (speaking truth into the world) today, for there have been, there are, and there will continue to be people speaking prophetically.

In fact, tomorrow (01-15-2018) is a celebration of a man who has been described as a prophet. The man is Martin Luther King Jr. (the face of the American Civil Rights Movement).

Note: In addition to being named after his father, he was named after Martin Luther (founder of Lutheranism).

Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in a world, a place, a time that was filled with injustice. He spoke a message of truth that was not necessarily well received. Yet, he had that calling (vocation) to do so.

In the Lutheran tradition, we hold vocation as one of the highest teachings in our Christian faith. Our vocations, however, speak to more than one profession, relationship, or role in our lives for we all answer the call of multiple vocations.

We all have a Christian vocation rooted in our baptismal waters.

We all have a vocation to speak truth into darkness bringing forth God’s light.

We all have a vocation in our relationships as mothers/fathers, sons/daughters, aunts/uncles, nieces/nephews, and friends.

Therefore, we may have more vocations than we can count. BUT the theme that should thread through all of them is to act with love, mercy, and compassion while seeking justice. As Micah (a prophet) would add “to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

My hope is that during this week, this season of Epiphany (“ah ha” moments), we take the time to question our vocations, to explore what it means in our daily lives inside the church, our families, and our communities. Ultimately, this was Christ’s invitation to Andrew, Peter, and Philip to join in his mission, his vocation, to love and serve people. It is an invitation extended to Nathaniel, who has an epiphany of his own about who Christ is and Christ’s mission/vocation.

May we have that same epiphany in the week to come and beyond. Amen.

Focused Scripture was 1 Samuel
Originally Preached on January 14, 2018 at Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, IN)

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2018 in Sermons

 

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