Monday, January 21, 2019

Devotion - ML King Day

Rev King said he wanted to hold up a mirror, so America could see itself.  When that reflection met our eyes, we became angry. 

Some were angry that a mirror was lifted.  Those lashed out at Rev King.  One shot him.

Others were angry that we had allowed ourselves to become so ugly.  They joined in the marches and they promised to life their lives differently.

Looking into such a mirror today provides the same options.  

White America is not in a position to judge how well we are doing.  If white America to know how it is going, ask persons of color.  Those voices are pretty consistent.  Great strides have been made, but the most difficult steps still need to be taken.  And some of the advances are in danger of being reversed.

What Rev King preached, Jesus had already said.  Every child is a child of God.  All are precious in God's eyes.  Our brothers and sisters are not determined by blood line but by the baptismal waters.  

It begins with confession - confessing how we have been blind to the realities of others, how we have ignored their struggle, and how we have participated (even profited) from an unfair social structure.  It continues with repentance - with looking for even the smallest way in which we can turn our life around and life differently.  If we claim we don't know what we can do, we can start by merely finding opportunities to be in the presence of those who are holding up that mirror.  We too often wait for someone to come to us;  we could go to where they are.  And there we can learn together what steps might be taken.

On this ML King Day, look in the mirror and see with honest eyes.  Discover how you might alter the image.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sermon - 2nd Sunday After Epiphany - Year C

John 2:1-11    

                                                                   Just for the Hell of It

 Most of us have a favorite bible story, or a story we remember, or a story we like to hear.  I am curious whether this story from John 2 is such a story for any of you?

I always look back through old sermons.  On previous Sundays with these appointed lessons, I chose to deal with the I Corinthians reading.  Not sure why.  I don’t have any reason to avoid John 2.  I do wonder if among the reasons is the repeated opportunities I have had to speak to the story of water into wine at weddings.  This story often becomes a favorite, easily remembered, or one we like to hear as couples come before the Church to hear the promises of God upon their union.

John 2:  memorable for a couple of reasons; helpful on so many levels.

These events do take place at a wedding.  Mary, the mother of Jesus is active in this story – unlike her passive participation in the stories retold in Luke’s account or her complete silence in the events recorded in Matthew.  Here, Mary is active and an actor in the revealing of her son’s identity and role.  This story is also significant in that the events recorded here are put in proper perspective by noting that they are the first (but only the first) of Jesus’ signs.

In a sermon a few months ago, I spoke of what happened in the reading as a “miracle.”  Pastor Jon reminded me that while we tend to call them “miracles,” the descriptive word used in the Bible is “signs.”  Miracles – signs.  Perhaps only a slight difference, but perhaps a significant one.  These things which Jesus does should not be confused with a slight of hand or a ripping apart the laws of nature.  The Bible teaches us that these are events in which we are allowed to see something which we need to know.  These are occurrences which serve as a sign. They are “signs” of God – of God’s presence, of God’s love, of God’s grace, of God’s intentions toward us.

In Galilee, at a wedding in Cana, one such sign occurs.  And in this sign there is the opportunity to see and experience God’s presence, God’s love, God’s grace, God’s intentions toward us.

You know the story.  It has been read to you once again this morning.  What does this, the first of Jesus’ signs, tell you about God’s presence, God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s intentions toward us?

It is tough to regain control when a preacher asks and open ended question and begs for responses.  So let’s do that thing where you turn to someone near you and share your answer.  What does this, the first of Jesus’ signs, tell you about God’s presence, God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s intentions toward us?

Turn and speak to someone near you.

I have a funny story about this reading.  Zach Parris retold the story to the students gathered over New Years in Memphis, and also put it on the podcast.  Some twenty years ago, an LCM couple picked this lesson for their wedding, and in my sermon that day I offended some of their more straight-laced guests.  I apologize in advance for committing the same transgression today.  But when I think of what this sign, performed by Jesus at the wedding in Cana, tells me – it tells me that God is deeply concerned with the living of a happy and joy filled life.   This sign does not allow someone who cannot see to regain their sight.  This sign does not feed 5,000 hungry people stranded in a lonely place.  This sign – allows the wedding party to continue and the host of the party to avoid social humiliation.  Many of the signs associated with Jesus meet profound human need.  This sign (and here comes the offensive phrase) Jesus does just for the hell of it.

What a wonderful and powerful first sign.  Right away it sets the stage for what Messiah is to do.  This, the first of his signs, communicates the reason for each of his signs.  This signs reveal the assurance God’s presence; they make known the depth of God’s love; they are expressions of God’s grace, and they make crystal clear God’s intentions toward us.

God does not want or demand quivering lumps of rotting flesh!  God seeks children who can find as much joy and pleasure and beauty in the creation as He does.  In Jesus (but not only in Jesus,) God sets aside any concern about the heavens and makes earth His dwelling place.  God does not want or demand quivering lumps of rotting flesh!  God seeks children who can find as much joy and pleasure and beauty in the creation as He does. 

Here is your word for the day:  Incarnation.  Say it with me:  Incarnation.

Earlier this week, and I am not going to remember where, someone was struggling to remember this word – Incarnation.  It means God taking on our form and our lot and being one of us.  Christians do not worship a heavenly being.  Our God takes on our form and lives as one of us.  No physicist or philosopher will be able to explain how it happens, but every Christian Theologian will teach that it does.  It is the full and final expression of God’s presence, God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s intentions toward us.  Out of love for us, God creates us, places in the Garden of Eden, and continues to provide for us from the earth’s plenty even after we transgress.

God is not some angry, vengeful, demanding master!  God is loving and caring.  God’s fight against sin and sinfulness and living in sin is a desire to have us united with God.  This is also a battle God wages because God knows how sin and sinfulness separates us from one another; in truth, how sin separates us from ourselves.

Jesus loves me, this I know.  I know it for many reasons, and today I am reminded by the retelling of the story of the first of the signs Jesus does.  Merely to keep the party going, Jesus changes water into wine.  Simply to help his host avoid social embarrassment, Jesus takes action.

What does this, the first of Jesus’ signs, tell you about God’s presence, God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s intentions toward us?

My hope and prayer and intention in this sermon is that it tells you that God loves you and that God cares for you and that God provides for you and that God wants for you a joyful and joy filled life.

This is the word of God.  For the people of God.  Thanks be to God.


Thursday, January 17, 2019

Devotion - Thursday, January 17

In Mark 2, Jesus heals a man who cannot walk.  His first words to the man are "your sins are forgiven."  There is a discussion among the religious snobs about whether he can forgive sins.  So, Jesus' next words to the man is for him to stand up and walk home.

This reminded me of one of the speakers we heard while at the LSM Gathering in Memphis.  He is a medical doctor, who is also a seminary graduate.  He intentionally got both degrees - much of his work is helping the Church reclaim its emphasis on caring for the sick and ill.

Charles Wesley was a doctor.  He was successful in this part of his life.  Preaching did not always bring as great a change in his hearers.

Travel and look for hospitals.  Many bear the names of religious saints.  Many were built by Christian communities.

Our speaker pointed out that it was around the turn of the 20th century that the Church stopped being involved in medical care.  Three things happened:  1) Darwin, more the debate that ensued;  2) Modern medicine brought the opportunity for profits, and when there are possible profits who wants the Church front and center; and 3) a resurgence of the non-Christian notion that we are a body/spirit dualism which can be divided, Church was given opportunity to care for spirit, body belonged to others.

Jesus heals many who were sick and ill.  He feeds those who are hungry.  Jesus understood that we are body and spirit and he attends to both.  As his followers, we are to attend to both as well.

In his presentation last night, Marion Fisher lifted up poverty as a Christian cause.  This was a huge part of the work of Rev ML King, Jr.  Caring for the bodies of our sisters and brothers is the story of Jesus.  Read Mark 2.  And then go and do likewise.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Devotion - Wednesday, January 16

I have been watching the Netflix series "The Good Place."  It is the story of a young woman who dies and is greeted by a host with the news, "You are in the good place."  There are some teaching moments in the plot; but mostly it is entertainment.

One teaching moment is found in the premise.  What happens to us when we die?  Are our acts on earth graded and based on those do we end up in a bad place or a good place?

I read this morning Ephesians 2:1-10.  Paul speaks of being set free from the trap of sin.  Paul does write of eternity and being with God; but his writings do not merely address what comes next.  He is clear that being a follower of Jesus changes life now.  And that change is for the better.

Eleanor, main character in "The Good Place," is the one who exposes that doing the right thing is simply better.  Doing the right thing keeps us in a right relationship with others, with the world, with our creator.  

Paul's writings reveal that it is a trap of the evil one which allows us to think that lying or cheating or stealing or harming will somehow make our lives fuller.  It is a trap!

The way of Jesus is not some arbitrary set of rules, intended to be a buzz kill.  The way of Jesus sets us on a path toward peace, contentment, community.  The way of Jesus is the way to the good place.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Devotion - Tuesday, January 15

Today's gospel reading is Mark 1:14-28.  This is one of the places where a person with "an unclean spirit" correctly identifies Jesus.  He cries out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are, the Holy One of God."

In this instance, it is Jesus who silences the spirit.  He does so by instructing the spirit to "come out" of the afflicted person.  Let's not lose that aspect of the story.

In my prayers, I remembered other instances where the attempts to silence are made by the authorities.  Even the crowd tells one man to stop shouting!

Too often, we seek calm over the changes which Jesus would bring to the world.

Today is the birthday of Dr. ML King, Jr.  (For the sake of convenience, our authorities set the observance for the 3rd Monday of the month.)  Many tried to silence him.

Who is shouting now?  Where are the voices seeking the alterations pleasing to God?  If the calls for justice and fairness and acceptance are silenced by Jesus' acts of healing so be it!  But that is the only way in which silence ought to come.

Who is shouting now?  Do we even hear their voices?  

Monday, January 14, 2019

Devotion - Monday, January 14

We make baptism the center of much that we teach and do.  To speak of baptism as a sacrament is to acknowledge that more happens in a baptism than we can comprehend.  Sacraments are mysterious.  Sacraments are encounters with God.  In a sacrament, God is the actor.

When faced with hardship or temptation, Luther was said to have replied "I am baptized!"

In understanding ourselves as one immersed in the waters of baptism, we place our trust in God and we express our confidence that God will care for us.  To be baptized is to be assured that while the arrows may strike us, they will not pierce our heart.  Remembering our baptism assures us that we may be pressed, but never destroyed.

In this week of the Baptism of Our Lord, it is good to reflect on the significance of our own baptism.  If you can't immediately recall the date of your baptism, this is a good week to find that date and place it on your calendar.  Begin the practice of annually remembering your baptism; hang your baptismal certificate in your room.

"I am baptized!"  What more need I know or what more could I need?

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Devotion - Thursday, January 10

There are few stories which occur in each of the four Gospels.  One which does is the story in which Jesus feeds the 5,000.  In each retelling, he does so with just a few fish and loaves of bread.  

There are many reasons why this story is retold.  It is an amazing story; it speaks of God's meeting our basic needs; and it instructs us not to fear scarcity.  

Those who do not follow Jesus are inclined to remain fearful that there isn't enough.  Not enough food, not enough houses, not enough joy.  They grab and hoard and hold on to more than they need - in case some of what they have collected slips away from them.

John 6:1-14 is Holy Scriptures' attempt to set their anxiety aside.

There is plenty to go around.  We aren't going to run out.  The danger we face is the unwillingness and/or inability to share.