Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sermon - Reformation Sunday

                                                               499 – Will We Make 500? 

I wonder how many of you knew, before arriving this morning, that today would be our annual observation of Reformation?  Had this realization dawned on you at any point during the week?  Were there any discussions or conversations about “wearing red”?

There is something wonderful about either answer to these questions.  If you found yourself responding “Yes,” let’s celebrate your awareness of the significance of an annual lifting up of a series of events and tradition which truly has changed history.

If you answered “No,” let’s acknowledge the end to a terrible time in church life when an annual bashing of the Roman Catholics and everything “Not-Lutheran” is behind us.  And good riddance.

But today is Reformation Sunday.  And this is a significant Reformation Sunday.  Even Pope Francis has had something to say about this Reformation Sunday.  Today we begin a year-long observance of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  It was on October 31st, in 1517, that Martin Luther penned a letter to the Arch-bishop of Mainz, asking for a discussion of the Church’s practices.  The ensuing discussions and divisions altered religious life and political life and the world as we know it. 

I am not exaggerating.  Do your own Google search.  Be impressed with where Martin Luther falls in the rankings of history’s most influential persons.  And in a world where religious upheaval figures so heavily into current events, you can betch ‘ya bottom dollar that there will be discussions of the Reformation and the Peasant’s Revolt (not to mention the Smalcald Wars.)  The deaths and destruction associated with those events may equal (in significance and scope) the current strive within Islam between Sunni and Shia and within Islam and ISIS.

I don’t know if you will be pulled into water-cooler discussions of such matters, but you might.  It is highly likely that there will be reports in the secular press about the 500th anniversary and the events associated with The Reformation.  And as possibly the only real-life, living Lutheran on your block you might have the opportunity (or the challenge) to speak of these events and their significance.  You might find yourself being asked questions about The Reformation. 

So this week, I want you to take out your bulletin for a different reason. I would ask you to start making a list of the things you really should try to learn during these next twelve months.  Things which are important (perhaps even essential) to the tradition in which we stand.

You can start by putting The Peasants’ Revolt and Smalcald War on the list.

Here is the next thing for your list:  Luther never wanted folks to be called “Lutherans.”  Every copy of the Book of Concord (you also need to have “Book of Concord” on your list) has this quote from Luther:  “Who is Luther that any should be known by his name?  There is but one name by which we are to be known and that is the name of Christ.”

Reading and re-reading that Martin Luther quote is one of the reasons I can get away with saying that Luther would have been delighted with those of you who drove to a “Lutheran” church this morning without remembering it is Reformation Sunday.  Luther wanted us to be Christians, and the sooner we leave behind our fractions and fissions the better. 

But there were some things which Luther was not willing to ignore – even for the sake of the unity of the Church.  Those things are outlined in The Augsburg Confession which is contained in the Book of Concord.  The Smalcald Articles are also in the Book of Concord.  (Book of Concord – Augsburg Confession – Smalcald Articles.  Your list keeps growing.)  The Augsburg Confession was written by the Reformers as a last attempt to prevent the Church from dividing.  It lists the Articles of Faith, most of which were readily agreed to by all Christians.  There are several matters of dispute.  The “Unaltered Augsburg Confession” is the guiding document for our denomination.  Not that every Lutheran pastor or theologian will agree on how to apply the Confession.

Every Lutheran pastor is going to pull from the Augsburg Confession the articles they consider to be most significant and offer an interpretation as to what it means.  So this is your reminder to get other opinions.  But it is difficult to overlook the one which continues to dominate Christian conversation.  And that would be the articles which speak of justification – or as we are inclined to speak of it – salvation. 

Every Christian in the world will readily agree to the Reformation tag line of “justification by grace through faith.”  But not every Christian, not even every Protestant, nor every Lutheran will be in agreement to what it means.  “Justification by grace through faith.”  Make sure this is on your list – and pay more attention to this than practically anything else.  In fact, write it out.  So you can see the words.

As a footnote, let me admit that equating “justification” with “salvation” is its own problem.  The words don’t mean exactly the same thing, but unless you want another thirty minutes added to this sermon, let me get away with lumping them together.  End of footnote.

So look back at that phrase – Justification by grace through faith.  Everyone who reads it or speaks it will give a nod of approval.  Everybody agrees with this statement – until you start to discuss where to place emphasis.  Is it the “grace,” or the “faith” that brings the salvation.

Is it “faith” which makes it possible for us to receive the “grace” which brings “justification”?  Or is “grace” the gift which makes “faith” possible and “justification” a reality in our lives?

This is the stuff of division.  This is the battle which started as soon as Luther was in the ground.  This is the current division within the Evangelish communities of Germany.  It is the discussion which resulted in Halle and Geneva becoming contested centers of Reformation.

There are articles in the Augsburg Confession which address these issues.  Your homework is to read them and form your questions for further discussion.  And, with any luck, you and I will discover together that our newly arrived Parish Pastor has somewhat differing opinions than your worn-out and one-horse Campus Pastor.  A healthy discussion between he and I on such topics could model how we discuss such topics in a way that is healthy and helpful.

There are a few more entries for that list on the back of your bulletin.  The Small Catechism needs to be there.  The three confirmands can attest to my approach to their final instructional meeting.  Pastor Danielle had been meeting with them.  There was one instructional session remaining and that one was to cover the Small Catechism.  We did meet and discuss the Small Catechism, but in the weeks prior to our meeting we reverted to the original purpose of the Small Catechism.  We turned it into poster-sized handouts and told them to put it on the wall in their home where their families could review this material with them.  The Small Catechism was written for parents to instruct their children in the home.

Parents – don’t send your kids to confirmation ministry class to learn about the faith.  Teach it at home.  And if you don’t know the Small Catechism yourself, don’t ask them to learn it.  Another mark of Luther’s reform?  His instruction that every day every Christian would repeat from their heart the 10 commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer.

I have been missing in action most of this first month that Jon has been with us.  So he and I haven’t discussed a shared strategy for this 500th anniversary year.  It is obvious that I plan to pay attention to this history and am likely to talk about it over these next twelve months.  We are not to hold to the Lutheran identity as if it were in itself that important.  It isn’t.  And at least one of the reasons why our Lutheran congregations seem to be in decline may be due to something which lies at the base of our whole existence.  Our Lutheran Theology is crystal clear that when it comes institutions – there is no reason – ever – to place the survival of a particular denomination above the preaching of the Word and the distribution of the sacraments.

Learn more.  Then decide if this is where you belong or if there is a reason for any of us to belong. 

Learn more.  So you can turn those water-cooler conversations into fruitful discussions of God’s desire to love his children and help them to live meaningful lives.

Learn more.  Not because it will change the way God sees you or how deeply God loves you – but so that you might more joyfully celebration the justification which, by the grace of God, has come into your life.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Devotion - Thursday, October 27

Luke 10 contains the story of the Good Samaritan.  You will recall that the parable is told in reply to a question regarding what one is to do to enter the Kingdom.  When told to love one's neighbor, the man asks, "Who is my neighbor."  The neighbor is the one in our path who could benefit from our help.  We prove to be a neighbor when we aid them.

This simple exchange is all that Jesus asks.  While we may tend to look at changing the world or reversing social trends, Jesus points out doing the simplest and smallest of acts.  Our response to Jesus isn't to make national headlines, it is to care for the wounded individual whose life path crosses our own.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Devotion - Wednesday, October 26

One of the tasks associated with reading our bibles is to reflect on where we fit into the story.  Is the story being told to us, or being told about us?  Are we to hear this story as an affirmation of our choices, or should the story challenge us adopt changes?

The professor in my preaching class told us, "Don't take the side of God too quickly."  It was his way of reminding us to consider well the perspectives of those who hear the story and to ask how those to whom we are currently speaking are included in the story.  "Don't always assume they are the heathens!"

There are many parts of the bible which do (and should) challenge our choices and our thinking.  There are many parts which call for us to re-examine our lives and our responses to God's calling.  But let's not allow those parts to overshadow the abundance of places where God speaks tenderly to us, where God affirms us, and where God stands up for us and our needs.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Devotion - Tuesday, October 25

The Tuesday Night Bible Study Group is making our way though the minor prophets.  These are the twelve books at the end of our Old Testament, which occasionally show up in the cycle of Sunday readings, but are seldom read from start to finish.  There may be more than one reason why these books don't make it to the top of our devotional readings.

They tend to be rather dark and alarming.  For the most part, these twelve servants of God were pointing out the ways in which the people of God have abandoned God's word and God's way.  For the mos part, these twelve prophets were pointing out that the culture no longer reflected the promises of God but was consumed with self-advancement and amassing more and more wealth.

This may be a great time to be reading these twelve books.  Every four years we complain about the extended election cycle, but a least during this period of time we are asked (and sometime asking) about the direction of our country and our culture.  These twelve books have something to say to us.  They have many things to say to us.

Unlike other portions of the bible which are more easily reduced to individual piety issues, the Minor Prophets ask us to look at the culture around us and ask whether we as a people are doing God's will.  It isn't enough that the prophets themselves are hearing God's word and doing what God asks; these prophets challenge us to examine how that devotion is affecting those around us.  

It should be we, the followers of Christ, who ask whether the culture and the country are were it needs to be.  It is us who need to articulate a vision for the society in which we live and insist that it reflect the vision of God's beloved community.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Devotion - Monday, October 24

"I don't know Who - or what - put the question, I don't know when it was put.  I don't even remember answering.  But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone - or something - and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal."  Dag Hammarsjold

Hammarsjold was a Swedish Lutheran, Secretary General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize recipient.  This statement of his resonates deeply with me.  It was offered by my devotional guide to compliment the line in Luke when Jesus says, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God."  Those words of Jesus' frighten me;  and I worry if I look back.

But Hammarsjold's words instruct me to what Jesus is meaning to say.  Hammarsjold's words remind me that once that time came (whenever it was) from that point forward I have never even wanted to look back.  I may have glanced at behaviors or uncaring phrases.  My ethics may not have been ideal or my morality what I would prefer.  But the meaning found in my life and for my life has never weakened.  The gift of knowing that I am part of that which is beyond me and over me and under me is the gift that has come by way of saying Yes to Jesus.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Devotion - Thursday, October 20

There is this crowd that seems to be around Jesus for most of his ministry.  There are references to his seeking a bit of time away from the crowd, so that he can pray and commune with The Father.  But the crowd isn't gone for long.  They return - or he returns to them.

When he feeds the 5,000 it is after they have been with him.  They were together, and this need arose.  Jesus responds to their needs because he is there there with them and sees what has happened or is happening to them.

This is a model which the Church needs to keep in mind and in our hearts.  We are not an emergency room where folks go when there is a need for urgent care.  We are a community, already together.  We should not be a relief agency, there to dole out assistance upon request.  We are a network of persons strewn together on a divine spider web which allows us to feel the vibrations of another's distress.

There is this crowd - and we are part of it.  Connected and thus responsive to the hurts and the needs and the hopes of the rest of others in this crowd.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Devotion - Wednesday, October 19

Luke 9 also contains the story of Peter's confession.  When asked, "Who do you say that I am?" it is Peter who finally says, "You are the Messiah."

There is very little else that Peter says, in the Gospels.  He does a lot of talking in the Book of Acts, but not in the Gospels.  Here, Peter speaks few words.  But the words he speaks are enough.

Too often we are lured into thinking we need to speak a lot of words.  Too often we are reluctant to speak unless we are convinced we will know all the answers.  Too seldom do we realize that being a follower of Jesus involves no more than a few words of acknowledgement.

The life of a disciple involves following.  There are things we learn along the way, but we already know all we need to know.  We know that God has called us; we know that God loves us; we know that in Jesus we find that which we need to make life the wonderful journey it is intended to be.

A few words, put some very powerful words.  These set us on our journey.

Devotion - Tuesday, October 18

Today is another travel day.  I will be with five of my colleagues these next 30 hours to discuss emerging trends among young adults and how best to speak the Word of God to their lives.  It is exciting work; it is a study project (but the only exam is how faithfully we minister to LCM.)

I have learned to pack light for such trips.  I carry my book bag/computer.  Then a small knapsack with a change of clothes.  I was feeling pretty good about this (don't we all hate it when someone gets on the plane with two large rolling suitcases?) until I looked at the appointed lesson for today.  In Luke 8 Jesus sends out the apostles.  And he tells them to take no bags or provisions.  No extra sandals. 

My biblical studies have revealed to me that such passages are designed to remind us to be dependent upon Jesus and not to think our own resources will carry us through.  There is something frightening, yet liberating to leave it to God to provide for us.

We do carry a lot with us.  We are inclined to make sure we have extra provisions.  I instruct my children to have a full tank of gas and a backup battery for their cell phones when they are driving long distances.  

I am not going to change this practice; nor am I going to head off to a meeting with clean socks.  But it is important to ask myself questions about turning to God and allowing God to be my source of security, rather than the things that I have accumulated.  Good questions for all of us.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Devotion - Monday, October 17

What is the correct course of action, after a direct encounter with Jesus?

The first of the biblical stories which come to mind might suggest leaving everything behind and beginning to journey with this itinerant preacher.  But in Luke 8 we read of a different response.  This set of instructions, from Jesus, should also come to mind when we consider what to do after encountering Christ.

This story in Luke 8 is the one about the pigs.  Jesus casts a demon out of a man and the demons ask to be sent into the pigs.  Jesus does this and the pigs rush down a steep bank, into the water, and drown.  The man who was possessed by the demons, upon realizing he has been set free, attempts to follow Jesus.  But Jesus send him away, saying, "Return to your home."

Jesus also tells him to "declare how much God has done for you."  This last part is also important.

Too often we want to set of in the big wide world.  Too often we want to tell the story to those who have never heard or to those with whom we have never spoke.  Jesus tells this man to "Go home."  Talk there about what has happened to you.

Are you more inclined to talk about the role God has in your life in a bible study group than with your sisters or brothers?  Is it at a Wednesday night gathering where you ask your questions of faith, rather than over the dinner table with your parents?  I am not faulting you for this.  It is probably a pattern you learned - at home.

Jesus tells this man (and us as well) to live among those who are our family, to be "at home."  He also tells this man (and us as well) that at home is the place where we declare and share and learn what our encounters with him really mean.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Devotion - Thursday, October 13

I read this morning the story of the "woman of the city" who washes Jesus' feet with her tears and anoints them with oil.  This encounter is in a couple places; the one I read is in Luke 7:36-50.

It was the final words of Jesus, to this woman, which brought me great comfort this morning.  He says to her: "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

There are a number of absolutely wonderful things happening in my life - all this week!  For each, I am overjoyed.  But, it would be more peaceful if they were not happening at the same time!  We are completing the 23rd annual Homecoming Habitat build.  My daughter is getting married on Saturday.  My son has come home from Omaha for the occasion.

Jesus says, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

It is the gift of this peace that I celebrate this morning.  What a gift!  And in reading Luke 7 I am reminded that salvation is so many things - including peace amid stressful times.  The peace of which Jesus speaks reminds us not to become overwhelmed but to trust and rely on God.

Thanks to this habit I have developed of getting up each morning and opening my bible; thanks to the decision to follow a proscribed set of readings; my bookmarked bible opened this morning to a lesson I need to hear.  I will start my day with the confidence that my faith has saved me;  I will go forth in peace.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Devotion - Wednesday, October 12

One of the things you worry about as a pastor is repeating yourself.  After a few years (or decades) you notice that there are some themes to which you keep returning.  What a joy to discover there is a subject on which folks haven't already heard it all.

This occurred last night at our Bible Study.  We are reading and discussing the Minor Prophets.  When one of the participants spoke of the prophet's "predictions," we shifted to the subject of what is a prophet.

When we speak of biblical prophets, we should avoid thinking of them as persons who can see and predict the future.  What they say may come to pass, but is not because they are have a vision of the future.  What they have is the ability to see the present with God's eyes.

A biblical prophet is one who carries God's pain - one who knows how it grieves God when those whom God has created and loves do not see the wisdom of God's word.

A biblical prophet speaks for God - perceiving the consequences of our current course of action.  The laws given by God are not abstract and arbitrary - they are laws which make it possible for God's people to live long in the land that the Lord our God has given us.

Much of what the biblical prophets said did come to pass.  But this was not because they could see the future - it was because they could see with clarity the present.  Keep this in mind, when you speak of one of God's prophets.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Devotion - Tuesday, October 11

Among the things that you know or can recall about St. Paul, did you know he has a nephew?  In Acts 23 there is a plot to assassinate Paul.  More than forty bound themselves by oath to neither eat or drink until they have done so.  They go to the elders in order to involve them in this plot.

The one who learns of these plans and sounds the alarm is "the son of Paul's sister."

I was in contact earlier this week with one of the sons of my sister.  I speak of Jeff often, for various reasons, but not often enough with him.  When he and Scott were just wee little boys they along with mom and dad lived in the same house as me and my parents.  It was a great experience and bonded us in ways beyond words.

No less than I, Paul had a sister and he was an uncle.  This particular nephew comes to the aid of his mother's brother and saves his life.

When we recall Paul and all that he did and all that he continues to teach the church, let's do our best to also remember that he had a family.  That he was part of an intimate group of folks who looked after one another and cared for one another.  His status as a saint may link his identity to God, but his real life relationships remind us that his identity isn't all that different from yours and mine.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Devotion - Monday, October 10

It is in Luke 6 that we read Jesus' critique of ability to acknowledge our own shortcomings or sinfulness.  He asks, "Why do you see the speck in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?"

It does seem to be easy for us to point out how our sister or brother is missing the mark and living their lives contrary to the directives of God.  We are way too quick to point out the transgressions of which they are guilty.

In my own life, I know that there are some transgressions which are more bothersome to me.  It is easy for me to note the ways in which these transgressions create a whole host of problems.  I also know that I avoid these, in my behavior. 

But there are other transgressions which don't bother me as much.  I just don't see these as being as damaging or hurtful.  I go easier on those who commit transgressions in this latter category.  I also need to admit that I am not as vigilant in making sure these transgressions do not occur in my life.

Which leads to the question of which came first - my choosing which commands to adhere to - or - an observance and then justification for my behaviors.  Do I devalue the significance of those transgressions which I commit?  Ignoring how offensive these flagrant transgressions are to another?

Specks and logs are difficult things.  And each of us is inclined to categorize them according to our own preferences and our practices.  Before we start to remove the speck from another's eye, we do need to spend some time examining the log in our own.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Sermon - Pentecost 21 - Year C

Luke 17:11-19          

The Gift or the Giver

“Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean?  But the other nine, where are they?  Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’” 

Well, no, it is very obvious they didn’t return. 

What is also equally obvious is the reason they are not there.  There are not there because they are doing – continuing to do – precisely what Jesus told them to do.  All ten were told to go and show themselves to the priests.  The nine are the ones who obey Jesus’ instructions. 

            But there is this one who does return.  The story tells us that he was a Samaritan, a non-Jew.  And we cannot overlook Jesus’ final words in this exchange.  It serves as a bookend to the stories we read last Sunday.  Last Sunday the exchange with the disciples told them not to worry, that even a faith as small as a mustard seed is enough.  It is this little bit of faith, active in the life of this Samaritan, which overcomes his leprosy.  This faith, this seemingly small thing tucked away inside us, makes it possible for us to respond appropriately to gifts of our gracious and merciful God.

            The story begins by noting that Jesus is passing between the regions of Samaria and Galilee.  At the gate of a particular village he is greeted by 10 lepers.  Leprosy was a dreaded and greatly misunderstood disease.  Most forms of leprosy are neurological, thus non-communicable.  But in Jesus' age they didn't understand this.  All they knew were the hideous and painful effects.  No one wanted to do anything that might put them at risk of catching the disease.  A leper could not visit public places; they could not enter the temple.  They were removed from their families, living in colonies on the outskirts of town.  If they did encounter others on the road, they were to yell out "Unclean" so others could avoid them.

            10 individuals, afflicted with this disease, greet Jesus as he is about to enter the village.  But they do not lift up their voices shouting “Unclean.”  Instead they begin to shout, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us."  They seem to know who Jesus is.  They must have heard stories of other healings he had performed.  They call him "Master".  They realize his ability to heal.  This is so evident that they even find it unnecessary to ask for healing.  All they say to him is "Have mercy upon us.”  Surely, if he is a prophet of God, he would have mercy upon those so cruelly afflicted.

            The ten lepers know who Jesus is; they know his ability to heal.  There is an element of faith, be it as small as a mustard seed, which causes them to turn to him for help.  Further evidence of their trust in Jesus is the fact that they do as Jesus asks.  Let me repeat that -  further evidence of their trust in Jesus is the fact that they do as Jesus asks.  What Jesus asks them to do – what Jesus instructs them to do – is show themselves to the Priest.  Jesus doesn't snap his fingers and say, “Be cleansed!”  He tells them to "Go and show yourselves to the priests."   If, immediately upon hearing Jesus' voice, the 10 had looked at their sores, they may have still been there.  It is only after they have begun to do as Jesus asks that the healing occurs. They rush on their way, trusting that whatever Jesus asks of them they must do. 

            The gospel writer presents what happens next as if there really were only one choice:  Of course you would return to the one who had made this healing possible.  But think about it for a moment.  They are not going to the priests because they thought it would be a good idea.  They are going because Jesus told them to go.  Perhaps all of them thought of returning to give Jesus thanks.  The nine simply decided to do as Jesus instructed. 

            The lepers had come to Jesus asking for mercy.  He responded by making them clean.  We have already explored the fact that they believed in Jesus, otherwise they would not have come to him and followed his instruction.  Why then, are the nine criticized?  What have they done wrong?  They are doing exactly as Jesus instructed.

            What if they had turned back?  Might it be possible, that he, who told them to go to the priests, could have been angered by their disobedience?  Their refusal to do as he asked may have been sufficient provocation for him to have reversed their healing.  To return might have jeopardized the gift of mercy just bestowed upon them. 

            With this in mind, why would anyone return?  What possible reason would anyone have for reversing their path and going to look for the one who had provided this wonderful gift?

            The only possible reason for returning would be if we found the gift less important than the giver of the gift.  Only someone who is willing to risk the gift for the pleasure of offering praise to the giver would have returned.

            Faith has many twists and turns, but none is more confusing than this one.  How could it be that the Samaritan would risk what he had just received in order to return to Jesus?  How could the other nine not return, considering how close they had come to God's own Messiah?

            The Greek word used in the last phrase and translated for us as “made you well” has a double meaning.  In normal usage, the word would ordinarily be rendered "save".  The Samaritan realizes that he has indeed been made well.  That is good, but he also realizes has encountered the one who can truly "save" him.  The other nine had faith that Jesus could heal them.  They exploited him for this gift.  Perhaps they had no desire for anything more.  They do not return to him because they had already gotten from him all that they wanted.

            So many people come to the Church because they need to be healed.  They need to be cleansed of their fear of death, of their feelings of isolation.  That's great.  That is why the church is here - to provide the gifts which God so freely bestows upon those who have faith.  Glad to be of service.  But the heart of the story we tell has little to do with what we get out of all of this.  At the core of our confessions is an invitation to devote our lives to the praise of the One who stands ready to give us these gifts.  The aim of a Christian is not to get to heaven; the aim of a Christian is to praise Christ.

            In the story, all 10 are cleansed.  All those who cry out to Jesus are made well.  But only one realizes that the gift, as great as it may be, is nothing in comparison to the giver of the gift.  He does not revel in the gift; he does not lift it up high so others can see what he has acquired; forgetting the gift, he turns to the giver, and gives thanks.           


Thursday, October 6, 2016

Devotion - Thursday, October 5

Our Tuesday Bible Study group is looking at the twelve books often called "The Minor Prophets."  My cycle of daily readings also has me in this same section of the Bible.  Today I read from Hosea.

Chapter 4, verse 2 stuck with me this morning.  Of Israel, God says, "There is no faithfulness or kindness, and no knowledge of God in the land."

Earlier this week I listened to a presentation in which "Generosity" was lifted up as a defining trait of a life of faith.  The question being asked was whether it was possible to claim knowledge of God and not be generous.

Too often we align faithfulness and knowledge of God with cognitive actions.  We ask, "Do you believe in God," when our question ought to be "Have you taken on the traits of God."  Are we "kind"?  Do we live generous lives?

Generosity is expressed in many ways - money is only one of them.  How generous are you with your time?  With your emotions?  

Like so many of the other Minor Prophets, Hosea explores the gap between what is said and what is done.  Often, in these twelve books, it is the living out of God's Word which is lacking among the people.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Devotion - Wednesday, October 5

This is the day that we begin the Habitat for Humanity Build on Bowman Field.  Over the next 10 days, more than 500 students will be introduced to this housing ministry.  For some it will be their only experience at construction.  For some, it will be the only opportunity to get to know a neighbor of a differing socio-economic class.  For all, it will be an experience of sharing what we have been given so others might live a better life.

Pray for this project.  If you have not done so, sign up to come help with the project.  Drop by Bowman and watch the work and be amazed at how quickly the house comes together.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Devotion - Tuesday, October 4

A fellow campus pastor related a story to me.  He was with a diverse group of students, from a variety of spiritual identities.  

He noted that the Muslim students identified themselves as Muslim.  The Jewish students as Jewish. The Hindu as Hindu.

When the person who had come from a Protestant background was speaking, they often would say something like, "Well, I was raised....., but now I am not sure what I believe....."

The heartbreak in such a self-introduction is that it hints at a loss of identity.  The fear is that the person perceives themselves lost an alone as they explore.

My friend wanted them to understand that they are no more active in exploring theological particulars than the Buddhist or Muslim student sitting next to them.  He wanted them to realize that part of the identity as Protestant Christians is questioning and exploring.  He wanted them to realize that their identity was not stripped from them because they were striving to understand the intricacies of Christian thought.

Our identity as followers of Jesus sets us lose in the world to explore the world and the people who live in it.  Our identity is firm and will not be removed when we find ourselves disagreeing with another member of the family.  Our identity is a given as we seek to understand.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Devotion - Monday, October 3

The Gospel lesson yesterday included a request from the Apostles to Jesus.  They ask Jesus to "Increase our faith!"  I did have the chance to preach on the text.  That sermon is at my blog:

But there is another sermon left in me, another sermon which I would like to preach.

This other sermon was preached, yesterday afternoon, as we walked through the streets of Clemson, raising awareness and money for world hunger.  

There are varieties of ways to express one's faith, and I want to acknowledge this and admit it.  But Jesus tells us time and time again that he has come among us as a servant.  That his ministry is a ministry of caring for others and sacrificing for others.  

Rather than asking for an increase of faith, I hope that we will pray and ask God to increase our acting on our faith.  We don't need some emotional boost or psychological confirmation.  What we need are expressions of faith set loose in the world.

Sermon - Pentecost 20, Year C

Luke 17:5-10                                                                         

                                                               Having All That is Needed

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’”  I don’t think there were punctuations in ancient Greek, but did you notice there is an exclamation mark in the English translation?  There is an urgency to their words.

I can understand the urgency.  Can’t you?  What they are saying to Jesus has got to be one of the most urgent comments ever made.  “Increase our faith!”

I do sort of wonder about the tone of their comment.  Tone affects things; tone greatly alters how a comment is heard and received. 

Are the apostles begging for something?  As in “Please, please, please God.  Please increase our faith.”

Maybe their tone is mingled with confession.  Perhaps they are saying, “We admit we don’t have what it takes and so we are asking you to help us address our shortcomings.”

What is the tone?  What is the mood behind their comment?

There is a third option.  (You knew there would be, right?)  This third, possible option might also allow us to link the opening exchange with the short parable which completes this morning’s appointed reading.  This third option might be heard this way: “Lord, we know that you grant your children all that is needed.  We know that faith is not something we can obtain, rather it is something that we receive, as a gift, from you.  As we face the passing of this hour, increase the faith found among us so that we might forgive - as you have forgiven.  And so that we might offer healing and wholeness in your name.”

“Lord, we know that you grant your children all that is needed.  We know that faith is not something we can obtain, rather it is something that we receive, as a gift, from you.  As we face the passing of this hour, increase the faith found among us so that we might forgive - as you have forgiven.  And so that we might offer healing and wholeness in your name.”

Slaves turn to their master - knowing that their master will provide the tools necessary to accomplish their assignments.  The apostles are asking for an increase in faith.  Jesus tells them to go about their assigned tasks and be assured they will be given all that they need.

Anytime slavery is mentioned, in our day and time, much of what else is said is lost.  Our country and our communities continue to suffer from the vestiges of the slavery practiced in the early years of our country.  This morning I want to ask you to try, at least for a moment, to set this aside our experience and hear a few things about slaves in the time of Jesus.

But even before I talk about slaves, I need to say address the process of translating the bible into English from Greek.  The word translated “slave” can also be translated “servant.”  In today’s verses, “Servant” might be more helpful when a reference is made to reading into this parable a gratitude on the part of the “servant”.  The trouble in translating it as “servant,” leaves open the possibility that the relationship might be seen as one which could be voluntarily terminated.  Servants can be dismissed; they can be thanked and sent on their way.  The relationship to which Jesus points is more permanent.  It is a relationship which figures heavily into defining one’s identity.

The slave in Jesus’ day was not treated as livestock or property.  However, the slave in Jesus’ day could depend upon the master.  They master bore responsibility for the slave, to provide home and hearth and all that was needed.  In serving, the slave was assured they would be cared for.

The apostles come to Jesus, asking that he “Increase our faith!”  They come to him as servants, confident that the master will do what is needed and necessary.  Their request is for the master to do for them what they cannot do for themselves.

Another exercise in “tone.”  What is the tone of Jesus’ reply?  In too many congregations Jesus’ words will be heard as scolding or blaming.  Unfortunately, some while hear him saying, “If ONLY you had a tiny bit of faith.”  Thus allowing erroneous notion to continue that we lack even this smidgen of faith, and thus we stand condemned.  “Unfortunately.”  “Erroneous.”  Did you hear those words?  I want to communicate how WRONG such a hearing is.

Well, wrong at least when you stand in the tradition of the one who wrote the book of Luke, and in the tradition of a reformer by the name of Martin Luther.

Jesus looks at the apostles and tells them not to worry.  “You are fine.  You will be fine.  And your master has already given you all that you need.”  He tells them, “While I would be happy to do so, you don’t need me to ‘increase” your faith.  Even the tiniest amount is enough to make that tree over there jump in to the sea.”

The tradition of interpretation which we can trace through Martin Luther and back to Luke is one in which God is seen as the one who provides – even before we ask or when we don’t know to ask.  God provides, as a master provides for his slaves.  God gives - gives us what we need and all that we need.  Without him, we would be worthless.  But with him we have a name and a place.

I hope that I have so much about what I am going to say next that some of you will begin to repeat it with me.  Yes – I am once again going to talk about prevenient grace.  Prevenient grace is the grace which acts on us before we act on our own.  Luther learned of this way of understanding grace in his years as an Augustinian Monk.  But much of Protestantism gave up on it, preferring instead to seek a personal conversion and public proclamation of beliefs. 

Prevenient grace is grace spoken of in the Hymn “Amazing Grace,” when the hymn writer says “T’was grace that taught my heart to fear; t’was grace my fears relieved.”  God’s grace acts first, provides all that we need.  God’s care of us allows us to do all that we “ought to have done.”

The disciples know that they won’t be able to face all that they will need to face without a healthy dose of confidence and trust in Jesus.  In the immediately preceding verses, they have struggled to cast out demons and to offer forgiveness.  They have just been told that they must forgive and forgive – as many as seventy times.  To do what their master hopes, they will need more from their master and Jesus assures them they will have it.  Every master provides for his slaves the tools needed to do the task that has been asked of them. 

“Don’t worry,” Jesus tells them.  “You have sufficient faith.  Don’t worry about what you have or don’t have – get to the task at hand.  Put on your apron.  Serve as you have seen me serve.”