Following Christ has a Cost

Matthew 10:24 ff

Garrison Keeler was describing Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church and proudly talking about how diverse their membership is, he said, “We have both Norwegians and Swedes.”

We laugh, but the age old prejudice of those neighboring Scandinavian cultures caused sometimes insurmountable obstacles. Far too many communities continue to be divided by ethnic heritage, race, and other categories into which we pigeon-hole people. Those are just a few of the ways we hinder the work of Christ in the world.

In Chapter 9 of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is working miracles of healing. He heals a man who was paralyzed, gives life to a girl who was dead, heals a woman, two blind men, and casts out a demon from a man who was mute and gave him back the power of speech. The people were amazed, “But the Pharisees said, ‘By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.’”

This is the context for our Gospel lesson for today in which we hear Jesus make some troubling statements; specifically, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” He goes on to talk about families that will be divided one against another because of him; and it disturbs us to think that Jesus would do that.

But Jesus is not describing his intent or purpose, he is warning his disciples and us of the consequences of following him. Because when we give our hearts to Christ, the Holy Spirit transforms us into new people, we are called to a new way of life, and those who have not had that transformational experience fear the change that living a Christ-like life brings. And they fight against it. This was certainly true for those of Jesus day who understood Jesus to be the Messiah. Many of them gave up everything to follow Jesus, because the Pharisees and other religious leaders rejected Jesus and demanded that the people do the same.

The more Jesus preached and taught, the more they resisted. And when Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, and cast out demons they came up with outlandish ways to explain why those were bad things. They were afraid of what they could not control, and the number of people following Jesus was growing daily.

Sadly things have not changed. Though no-one is being put to death in our country for believing in Christ, it still happens in other parts of the world. Yet the divisions are still real, and have major consequences for families and relationships.

But the saddest thing of all is when the church perpetuates division among Christians.

One of the most memorable experiences I have had as a pastor happened the day I visited a gentleman in the hospital who was facing open-heart surgery. I arrived and greeted him and his wife. He introduced me to his two older brothers and their wives who were also present. As we talked, he shared his fears and misgivings about the upcoming surgery, but also his firm faith that God was with him and would watch over him during the surgery. All six of them joined in affirming that truth.

I asked if there was anything specific I could do for him, and he asked if I would bring him Holy Communion in preparation for his surgery. I replied that all I needed was to retrieve the elements for the sacrament and I would gladly do so. When I returned the room was quiet and the brothers were looking back and forth between themselves. As I prepared the things I had brought one of his brothers asked, “Could I have communion too?” I explained what Martin Luther wrote in the Small Catechism that we are rightly prepared and worthy to receive the sacrament when we believe the words, “Given and shed for you.” He said, that’s what I was taught in confirmation class all those years ago. “But,” he said, “when my wife and I married over 50 years ago I joined the Missouri Synod.” I replied, “That’s not a problem for me if it’s not a problem for you.” He laughed and indicated that he would like to receive the sacrament.

Then the other brother asked if he could also have communion. I said, “You heard our conversation, if you believe the body and blood of Christ was given and shed for you, you are welcome to receive the sacrament.” He shared that when he had married his wife 50 years earlier he had joined the Catholic Church. Again I said, “That’s not a problem for me if it’s not a problem for you.” we laughed and he said he would like to receive the sacrament.

As I read scripture and prayed with them the tears began flowing from their eyes, because for the first time in over 50 years the three brothers were able to share in Holy Communion together. And their gratitude showed on their faces and in the money they pressed into my palm as they shook my hand (over $100 which I donated to the chaplaincy department of the hospital.)

Christ calls us to break down the walls and unlock the doors of division, prejudice and pride that get in the way of our experiencing the true joy of life in Christ.

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Heeeeeeere’s the Holy Spirit

Sermon for June 8, 2014

Texts – Acts 2:1-21, John 20:19-23, 1 Corinthians12:3b-13

I find that Lutherans talk mostly about Jesus. As Mark Allen Powell puts it, “We’re very Jesusy people.” We claim to be Trinitarian in our theology, and defend that label proudly. But when it comes to the topics we like to preach about and study I think the breakdown looks something like this:

God the Father              7.65%

God the Son (Jesus)     92.3%

God the Holy Spirit      0.05% (and then only in a whisper)

Maybe it harkens back to the days when we referred to the third person of the Trinity as the Holy Ghost, and we’re afraid of ghosts. But I think it is more because of the unpredictable nature of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is very hard to put in a box which we can tape up and label with a Magic Marker.

The work of the Holy Spirit is also hard to boxify. Calling, enlightening, and sanctifying. Comforting, teaching, and guiding. Gathering, enlivening, and sending. And the only picture we have of the Holy Spirit is of a dove on Jesus shoulder. Even the Hebrew word ruach (pronounce the “ch” as though you are clearing your throat) has three basic meanings: wind, breath, and spirit. The Holy Spirit is really hard to pin down, just like wind or breath. And we don’t like things w can control.

Yet, without the Spirit we are lost. In his explanation to the third article of the Apostle’s Creed, Martin Luther writes:

I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.

I wish the new translation had kept the word “sanctifies,” what a windy breathy word that is. And it is a nebulous word that more accurately befits the work of the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is breathed into us by Christ in the upper room with the disciples. With the Spirit is also given the power to forgive, a power normally reserved for God. But since God the Spirit is with us and within us so is the power of the Spirit at work in us and through us.

And there are other gifts that come with the Holy Spirit, it’s like the haul some people get on their birthday. Gift upon gift, upon gift.

There’s speaking in tongues, preaching, teaching, discernment of spirits, compassion, love, joy, generosity, hospitality, baking lemon marangue pies for the pastor (and many others too numerous to mention here.)

In 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 Paul writes,4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” All these many and varying gifts are from the one Holy Spirit who calls all people to use their gifts to serve the one Lord, God. And it is the same God whom we are called to serve that makes those gifts active in our lives.

For many of us, the fear comes from the fact that God chooses which gifts we will have and we are given no say n the matter.  The gifts come from God, we are given the power to use them by God, in the service of God. In no way are the gifts meant to be ours to use for our own purpose. As a matter of fact, Paul goes on in vs. 7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

God gives me specific gifts by the Holy Spirit to be used for the sake of the community. And God gives you specific gifts by the Holy Spirit to be used for the sake of the community. When we use our gifts in concert with one another then we truly become the Body of Christ  as God envisioned us to be. It is then that we become like the disciples witnessing in the streets of Jerusalem to the amazing and wonderful acts of God, to the praise and glory of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Glorifying God

Sermon for June 1, 2014; Seventh Sunday of Easter

Texts: John 17:1-11, Acts 1:6-14

During the 1988 winter Olympics in Calgary Michael Edwards competed for Great Britain in the 70m and 90m ski jump. Better known as “Eddie the Eagle” he qualified to represent his for country in ski jumping because he was the only one who entered from Great Britain. Eddie came in last in both events. His performances were heart-stopping, not because of the grace or perfection of his jumps, but simply because he didn’t break his neck. People around the world were glued to the TV wondering if “The Eagle” would land or not. He had his moment of fame and glory as Great Britain’s record holder in ski jumping.

Every child has dreams of what they will be when they grow up. Many athletes devote hours each day to training single-mindedly hoping to achieve a level of performance that will bring them glory, win them the gold. The benchmark is the “10,000 Hour” rule. It is believed that in order to truly master a sport or any other activity of life you must spend 10,000 hours of focused intentional practice. That can be achieved by spending 4 hours a day, every day, for 7 years.

That’s what it takes to achieve at the level where true glory dwells, at least in this world. You stand on the top step, wrap yourself in the flag and have the gold medal placed around your neck, and all eyes are on you.

Jesus is gathered with his disciples in the upper room following the last supper, and he prays about glory. (John 17:1b-4) “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.” And following this prayer Jesus went to the Mount of Olives to be betrayed, arrested, and crucified.

That doesn’t sound very glorious. As a matter of fact, rather than glory many people throughout history have viewed the cross as Jesus’ failure to accomplish the glorious work of God here on earth. But on this last Sunday in Easter, we are in the midst of the most glorious events recorded in scripture. And none of them could have happened without the cross.

I’m talking about the resurrection and Ascension which are behind us, and Pentecost which is before us.

In Acts 1 we read the account of Jesus meeting his disciples (and there were more than 12 of them there) on mount Olivet and giving his final words (Acts 1:8) “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Following this they watch as he ascends into heaven and they are left to carry on the work Jesus began. We are told they dedicated themselves to prayer and fellowship as they await the next step in the adventure to which Jesus called them.

Christ has called us to be part of that same adventure, that same journey. We are commissioned to also be Jesus witnesses to the ends of the earth. And we are called to start right here in Clear Lake. In my June newsletter article I wrote about encountering a man at a local convenience store, he commented to the clerk that he wasn’t going to church because he is not welcome there. I interrupted and told him that he would be welcome at Galilean Lutheran. He queried, “Are you sure?” I replied, “I’m the pastor and I know you are welcome there.”

The cross of Christ stands as God’s invitation to all people, no matter how sinful, to be gathered into the Body of Christ. And it is in this body, the church, that we live out the grace and love of Christ on communion with God and one another. This is what we mean when we proclaim our mission: We are Galilean Lutheran Church: Growing in, Living out, and Celebrating the Grace and Love of Christ Jesus our Lord.

As part of living out this mission God has given us, we will be having conversation on June 22nd following worship about approving a welcome statement for us to include on our website and in other outreach communications. It reads:

We, the members of Galilean Lutheran Church, affirm that Christ has made us one body with many members, all sharing in God’s wondrous grace and unconditional love. We celebrate both the human variation and inclusive unity of God’s family. Following Jesus’ example, we embrace all of God’s people, regardless of ethnicity, physical and mental abilities, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or economic circumstance. With welcoming hearts, we invite you to join us in worship, fellowship, and ministry.

Thanks be to God for calling us to this amazing adventure and journey in Jesus Christ.

Scot