Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Are You Wheat or a Weed?

                                                              Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23



   Today, let's compare ourselves to this parable. Let's find out if we are weeds or wheat. We can ask ourselves the question, do we want to look like the wheat only when it is convenient for us, and then look like the weeds the rest of the time? How about if I put it another way? Does our faith in Jesus Christ or the responsibility of living a committed kind of life get turned on and off when it suits us? Many people label Christians "Hypocrites" because they say one thing, or expect something from others, but not themselves. Are you like that? Am I like that? Do we have one standard for ourselves, and a different standard for others? Do we live out what Jesus has demonstrated in His life as the way of living out our lives here on Earth? We must ask ourselves if being a disciple of Christ ends when we walk out of the church doors on Sunday, and then starts again when we walk back into the church the next Sunday? Or, does being a Christian do something to your life, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? You are the only one on this planet who can answer these questions, you are the only one that knows what is hidden in your heart and mind.

   Another question this parable brings up is, are we being productive in our lives? Are we bearing fruit for God? Jesus says that the wheat bears good fruit, but the weeds bear no fruit. Are you willing to bear fruit, to get involved for the sake of the Gospel? I know my church always need people to help with projects, or responsibilities that come with the church. I have always wondered why it is so hard to find people to help feed the poor in a Christian church if we are bearing God's fruit. Jesus Christ is asking you right now, to search your hearts and souls, to see if you will bear fruit for Him. He asks us if we, you and I, are willing to get involved with what He has going on? He is asking us to bear fruit for Him......

Thursday, July 20, 2017

How many heads do you have?

                              Sermon I preached on Sunday July 12, 2015 on Mark 6:14-29

  I have to start by admitting to you that I had a very difficult time with this passage. I have spent weeks staring at it, praying about it, and what seemed like endless hours of research. I was looking for that point of brilliance that would dazzle and amaze you, once more showing my preaching skills, once more being the "Golden Boy." But, up until Friday night I drew a blank. I had nothing, nada, zip. So I started reading the passage over and over again each time getting a new thought, and then writing them down. This is what came out.

      To me anyway, this passage is pretty straight forward. Mark's intention of placing this story where he did seems to be pretty clear. It is sandwiched between 2 stories of discipleship. On one side you have the story of Jesus sending out the disciples 2 X 2 to share His ministry, and on the other side is their return from that ministry, and in between is the story of John's beheading. It's an obvious connection from this story to that of discipleship. A lot of my research went in that direction, reminding us that the Christian call is maybe a call to suffer, or maybe it is a call to face death, standing up to the evil powers of the world and not back down as they scream horrible threats at us. I thought that would be my sermon to preach. It would be easy to write. Add a couple of quotes, a sad story, talk about the bible, and voila a sermon. But, God won't let me go there, He won't let me take the easy way out.

      So then I thought about writing my sermon to assign blame. I could place the blame on Herod and his family. Then I could expand by placing blame on the power structures, exposing the powers that be, another easy sermon to write. Establish the wickedness of Herod and his family and friends, present some contemporary examples of this form of wickedness, place some blame, and voila, a sermon. But, God won't let me go there either.

      It is true, most everyone in this story seems easy to blame, there seems to be plenty to go around. So, why can't I blame these people? Why can't I hold these ugly acts against them? Because blaming limits my ability to hear the whole story. When I place blame it allows me to feel a sense of superiority. Then the temptation is too great to avoid finding contemporaries so I can continue the blame game. It's the liberals who are to blame, or it's the conservatives, or the homosexuals, or the heterosexuals, or the rich, or the poor, or the addicts, or it's the kids today. You can fill in the blank, there is always someone to blame. It's safer to blame, it's easier to blame, it hurts less to blame. When I blame, I don't have to see myself in the story, when I blame, I give up my power to change.

      But, there is another direction to go, the more dangerous of the choices, the road less traveled. So, I have danced around it long enough. It's time to head down that road less traveled. It's time to go where God was telling me to go, to face the ugly truth, it's time to face why this passage was so hard for me.

      When I read from the bible I try to identify with the people in the story. I figure out which one is closer to who I am, and it helps me to understand what is being said. In this story I want to so badly identify with John the Baptist. Mark's gospel begins with John, Chapter 1, verse 1. It is clear to me that in Mark's mind, John is critically linked with the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. The gospel writers portray John in 2 roles, that of a prophet and, as a forerunner. The prophetic part of John is of one who came out of the desert to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of Heaven, and issue the call to repentance. He wore a camels hair cloak and a leather belt. He ate locust and wild honey. The second role, a forerunner was a military term that was used to describe soldiers who would run ahead of the army to either announce or prepare for it's arrival. John announces and prepares for the Kingdom of God by announcing and preparing for the one who is to come after him, who was to be more powerful than John. He also scouts the territory, because the resistance that John receives, Jesus will receive.

      This story of John's death is the only story in Mark that is not about Jesus, or maybe it is.  Mark is saying that John's ministry points out the beginning of the story of Jesus Christ, John's death signals the beginning of the death of Jesus. John was a man with a mission, a man with convictions, a man who did the right thing regardless of the consequences, and a man that makes no sense to me at all. And yet, I want to identify with John, the honorable one, the one with convictions, the one who does the right thing regardless of the consequences, a man who trusted God so much that he risked his life and lost it. I want to identify with John so much, but I can't. But I do find that I identify Herod. The one without honor, the one who changes his convictions to whatever pleases him, the one who is more concerned with his own image. Herod is a man who makes much more sense to me. He is the man I am closer to if I am to be honest with myself.

      I have identified with shady people in the bible before, but they were people who eventually changed their ways. They were people who usually ended up having convictions, who did the right thing eventually. They were people whose biggest inability is one of not understanding what was happening around them. Herod, his biggest liability is is own sense of power. It is his sense of self importance, his misguided attempt to be revered, to look good, to be the "Golden Boy".

      When Herod heard about Jesus, He said it as John the Baptist raised again, but I don't think this is necessarily a resurrection confession made by Herod. To me the statement seems to be maybe more of an exasperation statement. Man, when is this all going to end? It's John the Baptist all over again, when is this going to end? Herod had John arrested because he challenged the validity of his marriage to Herodias. A popular figure that used scripture in public to declare the illegitimacy of the family was a serious political threat. This arrangement also allowed Herod to protect John from his wife, because Mark tells us that Herod loved to hear John preach.

      So then, Herod has this party. It was his way to show off in front of all the important people, the military leaders, and the first families of Galilee, and all of his supporters and potential supporters. Then, his stepdaughter danced and Herod was so pleased that he promised her anything, even half of his kingdom, which he really didn't have. Herod made empty promises in front of important friends and supporters. So she took the opportunity given and coxed by her mother, asked for John the Baptist's head on a platter. Herod not wanting to lose face in front of all these important people had to concede. The man who was allegedly protecting John conceded. And John, the honorable one, the man with convictions, the one who did the right thing, and took the road less traveled, died.

      As I mentioned earlier I try to relate to the people of the bible. From Moses to Judas, I know in me there is the possibility of being either one. So, I believe that the bible should be used to point the finger at myself and not others, seeing myself as I truly am, and reminding myself of who I am capable of being if I am not careful. When I am not careful, I behave like Herod. I don't think Herod was an evil man, I think he was just doing the best he could do with what he had. He was just trying to hold on with what he had left. I think Herod became Herod by default and not decision. I believe that if I had the power that Herod had, my palace would be filled with all the severed heads of those who stepped on my toes, because on my best day I am no better than Herod.

      So then, the question comes up, who among us is better than Herod? Who among us has not twisted events, facts, or details to suit our own purposes? Who among us has not placed more value on our own image than on human need? Who among us has not given into the easier of 2 choices, doing the wrong thing simply because it was the easy way, because the right thing was just simply to terrifying? Who among us has not given into our own pride, or fear, or our own sense of superiority? Who among us would not have cut John's head off if we were in that same position?

      So maybe this is a sermon on the cost of discipleship after all. Only the cost is not where we end up, but of seeing who we really are. Or maybe it is a sermon about blame, only we find that we are all equally to blame. We are all equally to blame when it comes to abuses of power, when it comes  to suffering, when it comes to death, when it comes to the deaths of the honorable ones. The ones who do the right thing. No one get's out without owning up to a piece of the responsibility. Maybe it is a sermon about both of these things, but if you and I Identify with Herod, then maybe, just maybe this is a sermon about grace.

       Grace is a word that is often used, but seldom pondered. It is a word that some use in very limited terms. It is a word that we sometimes use to justify our actions. But, grace is not an abstract concept. It is not a means that allows me to justify my actions. Grace is the only thing that allows me to get up one more time. It is the only thing that allows me to face my past, a past that is filled with severed heads and bogus promises, a past of which I am very seldom proud. Grace reminds me that even though I am, on my best day, just like Herod, I am somehow a part of God's activity in this world, even though I have severed a lot of heads. This story is about the good news of Jesus Christ, and that good news is that maybe, just maybe, through the Grace of God, I may make it through the day without adding another head to my collection. You know, for someone who had nothing to say, I have been saying it for a long time. So now, how do I end this sermon? How do I end this long nothing to say? How do I present grace in such a way that it can stand up to the person I know I am?How can a little word stand up to a giant past?

      The thing about life is that so much of it is trial and error. Some of us have made so many mistakes that we are afraid to try. We have made so many errors that we don't feel worthy to try. Yet, when God calls us, He does not call us as the people we will become, He calls us as the people we are. And I can guarantee that there is not one person here whom God is not calling. On one occasion, when I was doing some research, I found the Heidelberg Catechism, and in that I found these words that have echoed in my head since I read them. The question is asked, what is your only comfort in life and in death? and the answer is, That I belong, body and soul, in life and in death, not to myself, but to my Faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of His own blood has fully paid for my sins.

      You see? That is the good news brothers and sisters, we do not belong ourselves, we belong to Jesus Christ. The Christian promise is not that we will be free from pain, fear, pride, violence, or abuse, the Christian promise is that whether we receive  pain or cause it, whether we find ourselves in the position of John the Baptist or of Herod Antipas, we belong to Jesus Christ......... Amen
   
   



   

   

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Love

    The Bible has a lot to say about love. It says that God wants you to love Him, it says God wants you to love your neighbors, but it also says that God loves you. There is so much written about love in the Bible that some call it God's Love Letter.

    At the time when Jesus was born all people cared about was the rules. Do this, do that, wear this, don't wear that, worship here, Rule after rule. There was a little love, but most people were only concerned about following the rules. But Jesus cared about love, He came down among us to show us how much He loves us. He loves us so much, that He died on the cross to wash our sins away so that we can live with Him forever and always.

    There were a lot of people who really liked Jesus' message of love, but there were also a lot of people who thought following the rules was the only thing that counted, but they forget that we are human and we make mistakes. Then what? One mistake? Is that it, and then it's over? No way people, Jesus came so when we make mistakes, He has saved us. It is such an awesome way to show how much He loves us.

    One day the rule followers tried to trick Jesus and asked Him which rule was the most important one to follow. Jesus said "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and with all your mind, This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is "Love your neighbor as yourself." All of the laws hang on these 2 commandments. Jesus turned all of those rules into just 2 simple ones. Love God, Love others.

    When you keep the Sabbath for Jesus, that is a way of showing Him love. When you honor your mother and father, that is a way of showing them love. Every single rule fits into Love God and Love others, every single commandment is about showing love. It's so simple if you just look. Jesus loves us so much that He forgives us when we forget to love Him or our neighbors like we should, but that is great news, because we could all use a little more love.            

Monday, July 10, 2017

Rest For Your Soul

       Sermon I preached on Sunday July, 9th at Messiah Lutheran Church in Auburn Washington
                                               
                                                   Matthew 11:16-17, 25-30

   I don't think anyone here would call me a biblical scholar. Heck, I barely have a high school education, but for those of you that have heard me preach before, you might remember me mentioning that I like to argue with God while I am writing them. When Pastor Chuck and I got together to discuss what I would preach on and this reading came up, I was like yeah I got this one. I have done bible studies on it, and blogged about it, I have this one God.

   I had this sermon written pretty much 2 weeks ago. I even had a part about baptisms in it because Pastor Chuck said there would be baptisms today. I went over it at Family Camp, practicing how I would preach it, but that entire time I had this little voice in my head telling me that is not what I was supposed to preach, this is not the message that is supposed to go out. But, I kept pushing that voice aside, I have this one God.

   I argued and fought with that voice all week, right up to about 12:30 AM Thursday morning. I sat straight up in bed, wide awake, because I hit my head on the upper bunk. Then I realized we were having an earthquake, and I was like OK, I get it God, so I rewrote my sermon......

   I am going to start with a question. Have you ever found yourself dissatisfied with someone that it doesn't matter what they do, you aren't going to like it? No matter what this person does, it annoys you? I think I might be that person to God. But, when you stop and look at the situation, you discover it isn't really what they are doing that annoys you, but it's who they are. Or, maybe when look closer you might find the issue is not with them at all. but with you, your own heart, your own unwillingness to love thy neighbor, or your unwillingness to change.

   It sounds like Jesus is going through a time when it doesn't matter what He does, or how He tries to reach the people, they will not be satisfied. Jesus points out that John the Baptist was sent living an austere life, neither eating or drinking, and the people said he has a demon. Jesus comes eating and drinking, and He is called a glutton and a drunkard, and ridiculed for eating and drinking with the wrong kind people. Well people, what is it that will make you happy? What is it that will satisfy you?

   Both Jesus and John were dismissed by many as irrelevant in their day and time. Jesus says that the people are acting like children who can't play nicely together. The one side wants one thing, and the other side wants something else, and they cannot agree, so in the end they will do nothing.

   I was having a conversation with a pastor friend of mine a few weeks ago, and I asked him what it takes to get past the many distractions in the world and get people motivated and inspire them to engage in the ministry of the church, or even come to worship or bible study? He said to me that while it may seem that we have to compete with many things in this world that would take people's time and energy, our greatest challenge is to overcome their inclination to do nothing. That just blew me away, I had not thought about it that way, something so simple and it seemed so profound to me. Doing nothing is easy.

   Jesus has carried out His work in word and deed so that the people may learn who He is. In previous chapters Jesus has taught the crowds with His sermon on the mount, He has healed the centurion's slave, the paralytic, 2 blind men, and many others. He has cleansed a leper, cast out demons, and yet His contemporaries prefer to sit on the sidelines, not involved  in what Jesus has going on. Doing nothing rather than taking seriously Jesus' message of life and salvation, His ministry to the people or the work of His disciples. You see my friends, this Gospel Lesson is a call to discipleship, a call to take up the work of Jesus in this world that needs to hear what He has to say, a world in need of healing, love, and care.

   Jesus calls to us over the other voices, desires, and pressures. Come to Me, take My yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle  and humble at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. It may sound like Jesus is inviting you to rest for awhile in some of these words He says, and at the same time there is this taking up of His yoke, His cause, His purpose, Jesus' ministry.

   To me, there are a few things to notice about what Jesus is saying here. First, there is this yoke of Jesus. You may have noticed that I have interpreted as Jesus' purpose or cause, His ministry. This is what He calls us to, but then He shows us an easier way through the use of that same word.

   I am not sure everyone here knows what a yoke is or what it is used for, so I will explain a little. A yoke is a farm tool that is placed around the shoulders of a horse, or an ox, or even a mule, to pull equipment such as a plow, to do it's work. Sometimes a yoke would be used to hook a number of horses together to pull a covered wagon or coach to provide transportation. But, the interesting thing about this yoke, which makes it relevant for us here today, is that you can hook a number of animals together, you can yoke them together, so they would all pull together. The yoke helps them pull together in the same direction.  Jesus' yoke, His mission, does that for us today. It draws us together, binds us together to carry out the mission Jesus has given to us, to spread His message of life, love, and salvation, and to carry out His message with deeds of healing, caring for, and providing for others.

   Jesus also says, learn from Me. There are  many ways we can learn from Jesus. We can read the gospel stories about Him and allow Him to teach us by example. We can read Paul's letters and learn from them what the church is called to be about, how the church members are to live and work together, how the church carries out it's ministry in the community and the world through it's members.

   One of the commentators I was reading while writing this sermon talked about a pastor he knew that required all new members to go out on visits to visit the sick at care facilities and hospitals, to mentor and teach. Some of these members would say what are we paying a pastor for? The Pastor's answer was you are paying me in part to teach you how to be disciples. Discipleship is an important witness to our faith in Jesus.

   Finally, Jesus says, you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. If you are carrying out the ministry of Jesus, how can that ever be restful and how is that yoke easy and light? First off, it doesn't say that it will be restful for your body, but for your soul, which casts that rest into a whole different light. You will experience joy, love, and the Grace of  God as you carry out the ministry that He is calling you to. I know some of you have experienced this in serving others. How many times have you heard it said by those who went on a mission trip or served in the community, That I got more out of it than they did?

   We all have burdens, things we carry around with us. Sometimes they are worries, sometimes job stresses or retirement stresses, or the sense of burden from the things you believe you are expected to do. If you are doing something because you feel like you have to, or it is expected, or you want something out of it, then you can sense that task as a burden. You will become weary physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But, that is not what Jesus is talking about here. He is envisioning another motivation for taking up His cause. That would be appreciation, thanksgiving, and joy for what He has already done for you. Your relationship with Jesus takes on another dimension when you think of doing what you are called to do from this perspective.

   You see? Jesus calls you to be yoked with Him, to take up His cause in word and deed, He calls all Christians, not just Lutherans, but Catholics, Baptists, all Christians to be yoked together, unified, all of us working together with one purpose, His purpose. It is Christ Himself who is the yoke that binds us together. It is in Christ where we find our rest.

   With all that goes on in this world, you may find it difficult to imagine where or how, but it does happen, and it happens right here. It happens right here through baptisms, it happens right here when we come together again and again to hear the word of God proclaimed, to give thanks for all God has done in Christ Jesus, and it happens right here when we receive, touch, and taste the word of God shared as we gather around the sacred meal of bread and wine, grace and acceptance.

   You are weary come, you who are carrying heavy burdens come and leave them here, at the cross. Know the joy of Christ's presence in your life, and then go in peace and serve the Lord....... Amen