Sunday, December 24, 2017

In those days …

Luke 2:1-20

In that time, in that place, and with those people, God intervened human history. I was struck this year by how specifically Luke tells the story of Jesus’ birth. Here what Luke says:

In that time: In those days … while they were there … the time came … this day …

In that place: Nazareth … Bethlehem …. In that region …in the fields … in this city … in the manger … not in the inn / upper room

With or through these people: Emperor / Caesar… Quirinius … Mary and Joseph … descendant of David … angels … shepherds …

Luke sites the story of Jesus in a very particular time and place, with very specific people. The birth occurs in a place important to Jewish history, the city King David came from. Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, is a descendant of that same King David. Tradition holds that the next messiah will come from David’s family.

We are used to the translation from the Greek word kataluma into English as inn. We read, there was no room in the inn. But the same word is translated elsewhere in Luke as upper room. This room is on the second floor of many houses, and used for storage and as a guest room. It’s the same type of room, the same Greek word, for the location of Jesus last supper.

Because of the census, there were extra people in town, so the guest room in the family home was already occupied by another family. Many homes of that time and later had two sections, one for their animals, the other for the family. There was a divider between the sections with troughs or mangers for feed along the top of the divider, making the animal side of the house a stable. To protect their animals, families often brought them inside at night to protect them from wolves and theft. In the winter, the animals kept the house warm.

The animal area was kept clean, and it was a more private place for the birth than the middle of the living area. The manger made a perfect place to keep a baby safe and warm when he is not being held. By the way, Luke doesn’t mention it, but there was probably a midwife present, either someone in the family or a professional in the town.

Once the baby is born, angels appear to some shepherds in a nearby field. Shepherds were smelly people, because sheep are smelly. They are social outcasts, because they are suspected of being thieves. The angels tell the shepherds about the birth of the messiah, sing praise songs and disappear. The shepherds decide on their own to visit the baby, then leave the home and tell everyone what they have seen on their way back to the field.

This story is so specific because Luke wants people to know it really happened. It seems so far away in time and distance and possibility that it can sound to us more like a fairy tale. How do you respond to it? Do you believe it happened?

If this event were happening today, would you believe it? What if Mary lives in the woods near here, because her family lost their home during the recession. What if Mary lives in the Barrios of Los Angeles. What if Mary lives in modern Bethlehem, Israel. Now, would you believe it?

If you were an IRS agent, or a fisherman, or construction worker, and angels appeared out of nowhere would you believe you were seeing angels? Would you believe their message that the Savior had just been born? And would you go into the woods, or into the Barrios, or to Bethlehem to see the baby? Would you tell your friends and neighbors? Would you tell your family members?

Tonight we hear good news, the same good news that has been told for the last 2,000 years. The Messiah, the Savior, has been born, to a young girl, in Bethlehem, under the reign of Caesar Augustus and Quirinius and Herod.

Tonight we remember that God loves each of us just as we are, just as everyone loves to hold and cuddle a newborn baby. In God’s eyes, we are that baby that God loves to hold and cuddle. God wanted so much for us to know how much we are loved that God became human, just for us.  

Imagine tonight that you have gone to Bethlehem, to a small house, to visit a tiny baby. Tell Mary that you have been told he is the Messiah, the Savior, the Lord. Ask Mary if you can hold him, just for a minute. Reach out your hands to receive him. Tell him that you love him and will serve him for the rest of your life.

Give the baby back to his mother, and leave. As you head home, tell someone that you have just held the Savior of the world and want to share the experience with them.

Please pray with me. Jesus, you came into the world to teach us what true love is. Help us to love you, and to love others you put into our lives. Amen


Luke 1:26-38, 46b-55

It’s finally here, the kind of scripture reading we have been waiting for all Advent. This event, this meeting between Gabriel and Mary, happened 9 months ago, give or take a few days. Many Christians observe the feast of the Annunciation on March 25, assuming Jesus cooperated by being born exactly 9 months after conception.

As with the birth of all babies, we have looked forward to this day with joy and anticipation. As an expectant mother, with July due dates and no air conditioning, I could hardly wait for my sons to be born so I could put them down. I could hardly wait to hold them and feed them and have my arm fall asleep while they napped in my lap.

I can hardly imagine the anticipation Mary has felt for the last nine months. And now the day is here. Tonight we can talk about the birth, but this morning, we are still waiting. We can imagine that Mary’s birth pains will soon begin, today, but not yet.

I know this coincidence of the Fourth Sunday in Advent coinciding with Christmas Eve, has happened before, but it is not common. This morning, we focus on the angel’s announcement and Mary’s response. In earlier verses, the same angel, Gabriel, appeared to Zechariah and told him that he and his wife Elizabeth were finally going to have a baby, and that the baby would be special.

Old Zechariah must have used a tone of skepticism as he said, “How can that be?!” because Gabriel told him he would be mute for the next nine months, until John was born. Despite his skepticism, Elizabeth does become pregnant.

Does Mary know about this pregnancy? Probably not, because Gabriel tells her about it. When Gabriel tells Mary she will become pregnant with the Messiah, her tone of voice must have been, not skepticism but wonder, amazement, as she, too, says, “How can this be?!”

What does she do? Most likely, she tells her mother and father. And then she goes off to see Elizabeth, so the two women can share something incredible. When women are together and pregnant or have young children, they talk about their pregnancies, their morning sickness, their cravings, and their challenges. These two mothers have an additional topic, the divine involvement in their pregnancies. They can share in the anticipation of these special children.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for a few months, until John was born, and Elizabeth was recovered from the delivery. While she is there, Mary sings the song we call the Magnificat, the song we sang as the Psalm today [My Soul Proclaims Your Greatness]. Magnificat is a Latin word that means to glorify. Mary sings, my soul gives glory to the Lord.

From this song, we know that Mary understands the reason God is sending Jesus to us.
Mary feels blessed to have been chosen by God over the thousands of girls in Israel at that moment. Mary rejoices in this blessing. She also anticipates the day when God’s blessings will be revealed to the whole world.

There will be radical changes coming, with the coming of this baby. The rich will lose their fortunes and the power that comes with it. The poor, in contrast, will finally have enough to eat, a decent place to live, and so forth. Divine mercy will be known and promises fulfilled. Over the centuries, poor and oppressed people have anticipated divine justice for their lives, even if they don’t get human justice. This song confirms it.

Two thousand years later, it often doesn’t look like things have changed. The powerful still have most of the money and most of the power. There are still wars and rumors of war. Global climate change is creating chaos with the weather around the world. Because of the Internet we know everything happening around the world in an instant, even if it is not true. Because of worldwide travel, illnesses travel around the world too.

We need a Savior as much today as the people of Israel did 2,000 years ago. But, just as the first believers discovered, the coming of the Savior does not mean a military leader. The coming of the Savior does not mean the powers-that-be will suddenly lose power. The coming of the Savior does not mean all will suddenly be well.

The coming of the Savior does mean we know that God loves us. The coming of the Savior does mean we know God loves us no matter what. The coming of the Savior does mean we are forgiven and made right with God with just our acceptance of God’s love.

Love and forgiveness and justice are the anticipated gifts of Jesus’ coming to earth. Today, as we anticipate celebrating once more the birth of our Savior, let’s spend some time considering the meaning of his coming into our lives.

Let’s look around for the places where God’s justice and mercy is being expressed – through the ministries of outreach of St John Lutheran Church. We give food and clothing and blankets and school supplies and teddy bears to people in need.

Let’s look around and see God’s justice and mercy expressed through our connection with Love INC, the Florida Bahamas Synod, the ELCA, and our companion synods, especially Haiti.

And, let’s look around this congregation and in our families. See where God’s love is noticeable, and how important mercy and forgiveness is to us as we live in community.

Please pray with me. Lord, we are filled with anticipation at the celebration of your birth again tonight. Fill us with your love, lead us to share in your mercy, and send us out to share you with all we know. Amen 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Testifying to the light

John 1:6-8, 19-28

How important is light to you? … Very, of course. We need light to do just about everything. … How important is dark to you? … Not as much, unless we’re trying to sleep or develop film. Then, dark is very important.

It seems that usually good things happen in the light, and bad things often happen in the dark. The dark itself is not bad, but darkness lets bad things happen more easily. Theft, murder, kidnapping, driving the wrong way on the highway, all happen more in the dark than in the light.

Bad behavior, sin, evil, all happen in the metaphorical dark. Sexual misconduct; spouse, child and elder abuse; embezzlement; racism; cheating on tests; cheating on taxes; the use of substandard building materials; paying less than the minimum wage; oppression of those who are different: these activities all persist because they occur in the metaphorical dark.

When light is shed on such activity, the perpetrators fall from power. And light is shined into the hearts of those who have been living in darkness.

… John the Baptist is in the Judean wilderness baptizing people who have been living in metaphorical darkness. He calls them into a better relationship with God through baptism and forgiveness. John refuses to claim any fame or power for himself, but constantly points to Jesus as the one who brings the light. Jesus is so much more important, he is light shining in all the dark places of the world.

The Gospel of John recounts the changed lives of those who met Jesus. In these stories, Jesus shines light into the lives of those who believe in him.

·         Nicodemus shows up in the dark of night, and ends by helping to bury Jesus, fully in the light.

·         The woman at the well finds living water in Jesus as he shines light on her past – whatever pain it holds – and accepts her for who she is. She can’t wait to tell others about the light Jesus brings.

·         The man who was born blind has his eyes healed so he can see the light, while those who knew him deny the light. The man doesn’t care. He is thrilled – now he can see!

·         Thousands who are hungry are fed, and the light shines in their lives at the sight of such abundance.

·         The woman caught in adultery has light shined into her heart, and at the same time, Jesus shines light onto the darkness in the hearts of her accusers.

… John the Baptist and John the Gospel writer both testify to Jesus as the Light coming into the world, into the lives of all who live in the dark. But, they should not be the only ones. Those whom Jesus en-lightened told others about the light. And  others and others and others have told the stories, shedding light through the generations. And now, it’s our turn.

It’s our turn to testify to the Light. Yes, I know, Lutherans don’t testify. It makes us uncomfortable. Especially if we are from Scandinavian heritage, testifying seems like we are talking about ourselves, and we don’t talk about ourselves. Testifying seems like we are bragging, and we don’t brag.

That is exactly the point John the Baptist is making. He isn’t bragging about himself as the witness. He is bragging about Jesus. He firmly points to Jesus as the Light.

When we witness – testify -  to the impact Jesus has had in our lives, we are not bragging. We are not shining a spotlight onto ourselves. We are shining a light on the Light that Jesus has brought into the darkness in our lives.

Here’s a testimony, one of my stories ... My brother Rob died when he was 19. He had been paranoid schizophrenic for several years after taking the drug PCP. He took it once, and it fried his brain, just like that egg in the old commercial about drugs.  He was miserable in his mental illness. The meds made him groggy, so he didn’t take them. And the demons took over, and he chose to end his life to put an end to the demons.

On Sunday, as the folks in my congregation learned of his death, many of them spoke with me. I don’t remember what they said, with one exception. Jill hugged me and said, “That’s really crappy.” She told the truth, and shed light onto the deep pain in my heart about my brother’s illness and death. Her words have stayed with me because she was testifying to my pain and to Jesus’ presence at the same time. Through Jill, I knew that Jesus knew my pain!

… There is darkness in all of our lives. Where has the darkness been in your lives? How did Jesus shine light into your darkness? I have discovered it’s usually through another person. Whom did Jesus send? I encourage you to identify those times of darkness and see how Jesus’ light shone and chased away most of the darkness.

There is also darkness in the lives of those you know, those you meet in the store or the hair salon or the golf course. Listen to them, and be prepared to shine some light into their darkness. Testify to them, by telling your own story. It doesn’t have to be a big story, or a long story. Don’t say, “I know how you feel.” Because you don’t.

Instead say, “Here is how it happened in my life.” And tell them how a friend said something that made a difference. Tell them how a baby’s laugh brightened your day just when you needed it. Tell them how a Bible story seemed like just your story.

You all have such stories. Take some time this week to look back and find them.  Try to tell them in a few sentences, and focus on how Jesus’ light made the difference for you. Then, be on the lookout for someone who needs to hear your story. Pay attention to the Spirit’s prompting, and speak. As you speak, God’s light will shine in your heart and in the heart of the one to whom you are speaking. Be brave, and be prepared to testify. The woman at the well did it. The blind man who can now see did it. You can do this, too!

Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, we know that you are the Light. Lead us to look for you today, and for those times when you have been with us in the past. Help us be ready with our stories, to testify to your presence, when someone we know is living in the darkness. Help us shine your Light into their lives. In your holy name, Amen

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Preparing straight pathways to God

Mark 1:1-8  This week, I have been remembering my trip to the Holy Lands in 2010. While our focus was on places where Jesus lived, walked, taught, died, and was resurrected, we also visited some of the places where John the Baptist was.
 We spent some time at a place along the Jordan River where tradition says John baptized Jesus. It is a popular tourist site, where the river is wide, and today, church groups from around the world often do baptisms there.
 There was another location we saw, in a narrow part of the river where there is a footprint sized depression in the rocks. Tradition holds that John baptized so many people that it wore that hole into the rock. Today’s Gospel text says people from the whole Judean countryside were coming to be baptized by John. Perhaps there were enough people to wear a dent into the rock!
 John came bringing change, and hundreds or maybe thousands of people agreed with him. Change was needed, and they were ready to enjoy the benefits of change as well as making changes in their own lives as well. The changes John proposed will help people connect with God. John proclaimed that the pathways to God need to be much straighter, much simpler.
 John is the designated messenger, chosen by God to prepare the way for Jesus, the messiah. Mark, the gospel-writer, quotes Isaiah: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.” In Israel, few roads are straight, because of the mountains and valleys that force roads to take twisted paths.
 Of course, Isaiah is not thinking about road construction here. He is speaking metaphorically, about making straight paths in our hearts for the Lord. In the five centuries between the Babylonian exile and the time of Jesus, religious practices became standardized. The belief was that ritual perfection would ensure that all of Israel was perfect – righteous – in God’s eyes. Such perfection would ensure that they were never again conquered and taken away in exile.
 For the wealthy, the rituals were not a burden, but for the poor folks, it was hard to be perfect. For example, there was that time that Jesus and the disciples were hungry on the sabbath, and they ate some heads of wheat. The leaders saw them and accused them of working on the sabbath because harvesting grain is work breaking the sabbath. They were simply hungry, and that was the only food around. The accusation was unjust, focusing on the letter of the law, instead of the spirit of the law, and the real needs of the people.
 John the Baptist is trying to make the path to righteousness straighter, easier, less burdensome. And the people come to him by the hundreds. They want a relationship with God, but the religious rules get in the way of the relationship. When perfection is the goal, guilt is a constant companion, because perfection is impossible.
 Guilt gets in the way of a healthy relationship with anyone, and especially with God. That’s why John invites the folks to be baptized and forgiven. When we feel free from guilt, our relationship with God is much easier.
 … I assume you are here because you, too, want a healthy relationship with God. But could the path between you and God be straighter? What do you need to do to straighten the path? Perhaps one of these scenarios is true for you: While we have good intentions about taking time to be with God, we simply get too busy or distracted to take time for prayer. With good intentions, we get up, planning to spend a few minutes in prayer. But the phone rings, or the TV news or newspaper draws us in, or the cat is hungry. And suddenly, all thought about praying is lost until the evening or even the next day.
 Or, we do take time for prayer, but it is the same prayer every time, and it becomes meaningless, a rote repetition of words that don’t register in our minds or in our hearts. We can check off the daily list item, morning prayer, but our hearts and minds aren’t involved.
 Or, we pray, but all we do is talk, giving God our laundry list of concerns and worries. We don’t take time to listen to what God has to say to us. We are so busy telling God what to do, God can’t get a word in edgewise.
 I have struggled with each of these patterns, at one time or another. Here is what is working for me right now. … I make a serious effort to be present with God, whether it is for a minute or two, or a half hour or longer. When I begin to pray, I imagine Jesus sitting with me. Sometimes, we even hold hands or touch knees as we face each other in our chairs.
 When I imagine Jesus’ being physically present with me, it is easier for me to be present with him for more than a few seconds before I get distracted again. I intentionally pay attention to God being with me, and seek to connect with God, doing more listening than talking.
 The exact way I pray varies, from pondering a short reading, to reciting Morning or Evening Prayer from the ELW, to using a computer prayer program, to simply sitting in silence for a while. What is important is being present with God on a regular basis.
 I hope you have an active prayer life, spending time in God’s presence, however you do that. If you are struggling with that aspect of your life, it’s the season of Advent, and a good time for making changes or for trying something new, something that will bring you and Jesus closer together. Listen to John the Baptist calling you into relationship with God, through Jesus, the one whom God sent. You could even consider having a conversation with me.
 Please pray with me. Jesus, you call to us all the time. Help us to be present with you. Help us to hear you. Lead us into a deeper connection with you. Amen    

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Here he comes. Where are the clouds and glory?

December 3, 2017
Mark 13:24-37

Here we are at the beginning of the Church year. It would make sense, wouldn’t it, if we began with readings about Jesus’ birth, or just before his birth. But the tradition of Advent, of preparing for Jesus’ coming, is to understand the context into which he was born. There are several elements of the context to consider.

First, the Gospel reading comes from Mark 13, just 3 chapters before the end of the book. The text is from a longer speech Jesus gives to the disciples, possibly just Peter, James, John, and Andrew, the inner group of four. It occurs right before the Passover, Jesus’ arrest, etc. These are some of Jesus’ last words to the disciples before his death.

Second, this style of writing is apocalyptic, related to the end times. Apocalyptic writings are popular when living is hard. It is a way to deal with the stress of constant anxiety and trauma. Apocalyptic writings in our scriptures include Revelation and Daniel. Both take the challenges of living at the time and envision a future in which God wins.

 In our times, some science fiction might fit into the apocalyptic genre, as well: consider the Rebel Alliance fighters who seek to destroy the Death Star in Star Wars.  The Left Behind books might also fit.

Third, Mark’s gospel was written between 65 and 75, some 30 to 40 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. In the year 66, the Jews began a revolt against Rome, a move that was doomed to fail. The Roman soldiers were even more cruel and violent than they had been before the revolt. In the year 70, the temple was destroyed, and the sacrificial style of worship they had known for centuries ended forever.  Their world had come crashing down. It must have felt like it like the end of the world is at hand, like the apocalypse was coming at that moment.

Fourth, we must think about the reason Mark wrote this story of Jesus. To know Mark’s intent, we look to the first verse: Mark 1:1. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This verse is expressed throughout the gospel.

In today’s writing, the Son of Man (which also means the Son of God) will come in clouds with power and glory. This image connects Jesus with the one who will come on the Day of the Lord prophesied in Amos and Joel and Isaiah. According to the prophets, the Day of the Lord will be either God’s conquest of all God’s enemies, or God’s punishment of all those who sin against God.

On that day, Jesus says, the Son of God will come; but, even he does not know when that will happen. Because only God knows when it will happen, we are to keep awake, keep alert for his return.

… By the year 100, or even sooner, believers began to realize Jesus was not coming immediately. So, they looked more to John’s gospel, which says that Jesus has already returned through the sending of the Holy Spirit. Today, most of us give little attention to the prediction that Jesus will come with clouds and power, any day now.

Advent is a good time to renew our watchfulness for Jesus’ coming to be among us. It’s almost impossible to miss the signs that Christmas is coming. But most of the signs today point to Santa, not Jesus. Stores, public spaces like parks and street lights, all bear witness to the coming of someone.

A friend recently criticized the Hallmark holiday movies Mike and I love to watch. It’s hard to find Jesus in any of them, my friend says. And he’s right. Even in our favorite old stories like It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol, it can be hard to find Jesus. But, when we intentionally look for Jesus in the story, we can always find him. There is always someone who teaches kindness and love and forgiveness. There is always one person – or more – who helps the others find joy.

In our daily lives, it is also hard to find Jesus. We are consumed by working, and shopping, and doctor visits, and paying the bills, and caring for those who are young, or those who are less able than they used to be. We often don’t even look for Jesus.

How can we find Jesus in the messiness of our lives? Only by intentionally looking for him. He is here, and there, and in many places. He is in the giggle of a granddaughter, the quick hug of a grandson. He is in the smile of a grandma, with a pat on the hand that says, “I’m glad you are here.”

Jesus is in the thought you put into the right gift for someone who is hard to buy for. He is in the extra food you buy to give to the poor, and the coat you take from your closet to give to the homeless.

Jesus is in the laughter among friends gathered around a table for coffee and cookies, and in the thoughtful questions and comments during a Bible study. He is in the hug you give a friend when someone dear has died.

Yes, Jesus comes to us as a baby, as a teacher, a healer, and a forgiver. He comes to us as a crucified Savior. And he comes to us, not with clouds and glory, but in many ways every single day, if we look for him.

… Our world is not very different from the world of Jesus and the disciples, and the world of the first believers. There are always wars and rumors of wars. There are always days of darkness and deep suffering. We will always wish and hope for better days and more joyful ways of living.

Jesus, the Son of God promised so long ago, comes to us in the midst of the messiness of our daily lives, in the fearfulness of world affairs, in the terror of those who seek to do violence. This is the good news Mark wants us to know. Let’s spend this Advent looking for Jesus in as many places as we can think of.

Please pray with me: Lord, remind us to seek you in all that we do. Help us notice your presence, and give you the glory you deserve. Fill us with joy as we wait for the celebration of your birth, once again, in Bethlehem and in our hearts. Amen 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Measuring shalom

Matthew 25:31-46

Needed: a ruler, a compass (for drawing circles), a compass (for finding north), and a protractor; a ladder or step ladder and a volunteer, and the video

A word of warning … today’s sermon is interactive. I have some objects to examine, a need for a volunteer, and a video to watch and discuss.

Matthew’s story of Jesus often focuses on the end times – in the belief that Jesus will be coming again soon, any day now. He also has a focus on judgment. If we hear only this focus, this judgment, we would be right to be worried about where we will end up. Will we be assigned to eternal life … or eternal punishment? It’s as if we need to measure up.

I have a few things with me this morning: a ruler, a compass (for drawing circles), a compass (for finding north), and a protractor. How are these items used? …
If we were doing math or a diagram, these items would help us measure up and stay straight. They would help us plot a course through the woods, or from here to the best Christmas shopping. But these things don’t help us measure up in life.

Paul and other writers help us understand how to live out being followers of Jesus. Another way we think of measurement is that some of us think we are a little higher or lower than others on the righteousness scale.
 (The volunteer will step up and down on the ladder as directed.) It’s as if we see ourselves on a ladder. Some people are on higher steps than others.
 Some people are on lower steps than others.
 We usually put ourselves on the middle step.
 The truth is that we are all on the floor. No one is higher or lower than anyone else. In God’s eyes, we are not really sheep or goats. We are all sinners, made righteous through Jesus.

It’s wrong, then, to assume we need to measure up by doing things. These ways of caring for the needy are not works we need to do in order for Jesus to love us, to admit us into eternal life. (Do you hear Luther speaking loud and clearly here?) I believe the parable Jesus tells is not command or description but rather encouragement and challenge to follow where he leads.

We don’t need to worry about whether we are assigned to eternal punishment or eternal life. We already know we are assigned to eternal life because of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. We are assigned to eternal life because we are here seeking a relationship with Jesus. We are assigned to eternal life and we express our gratitude by helping others and telling others about Jesus’ love and forgiveness.

… The Hebrew word Shalom means peace. It is the kind of peace Jesus brings – not just a lack of war, but a sense of rest and abundance and security for everyone, for the entire creation. In John, Jesus says, “My peace I give you. The peace I give you is not the peace the world gives, but something much more.” (Pastor Lynn paraphrase of John 14:27)

Shalom is an all-encompassing peace. I have heard it said that if there is not shalom everywhere, there is no shalom anywhere. The kingdom of God intends for there to be shalom. The way to bring shalom into the world is to do just what Jesus says in Matthew 25: 31-46. We are sent by him to feed, clothe, visit, and otherwise care for those in need as if they were Jesus himself.

The other day, I discovered Osheta Moore. Her website says this about her: “Osheta Moore is a Los Angeles writer and podcaster, as well as wife to an urban pastor, mother of three, and economic justice advocate for women in developing countries. Moore has consistently been a voice for peacemaking, justice, and racial reconciliation.”

She has recently published a book called Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Broken World. In the book Moore invites readers to spread shalom. From dropping “love bombs” on a family vacation, to talking to the coach who called her son the n-word, to spreading shalom with a Swiffer, Moore offers bold steps for crossing lines between black and white, suburban and urban, rich and poor.”

I could tell her story, but hearing her tell it is much more effective. Listen to how she lives out, and encourages others to live out, the passage that is today’s Gospel reading. How does she look for Jesus in others? How do others find Jesus in her? Where is the Kingdom of God for Osheta?

Watch the video: …

How does she look for Jesus in others? How do others find Jesus in her? In the giving and in the receiving of these gifts: Doing laundry, listening, spending time, accepting all, generosity, kindness, peacemaking, speaking up … .

Where is the Kingdom of God for Osheta?
The kingdom of God is everywhere, as we tell a story of shalom in the world.

I believe shalom is a great definition for the kingdom of God. I believe Jesus is the Great Shalom-bringer, the Prince of Peace, who reigns over this world. He is the King of Love, the Sovereign of Forgiveness.

This week, I hope you will look for opportunities to bring shalom to someone else.

Please pray with me: Gracious God, Prince of Peace, Ruler of our lives, lead us to be your peacemakers, your comfort-givers, your merciful servants. Amen  

Sunday, November 19, 2017


Matthew 25:14-30

We read this story every three years, but we remember it frequently because of the use of the word talent. This year I wanted to learn more about talents in the Bible. A talent is a weight measurement, like a pound or a ton. Talents of silver and gold were often shaped in disks or loafs, like weightlifting plates or housebuilding bricks.

There were different weight amounts for different materials. A talent of silver weighed about 50 pounds. A talent of gold weighed 130 pounds. At today’s rate, a pound of gold is worth $15,400. Multiplied out, a talent would be worth about $2 million. It is such a large amount of money that it is mostly an accounting amount, used within the banks, and transferred between accounts and account owners.

A gold bullion brick weighs about 27 pounds. What would you do if someone gave you a stack of 30 or 12 or even 6 gold bullion bars? That is what the three slaves were dealing with. This amount of money is H-U-G-E!

In the parable Jesus tells, the man gives his slaves these huge amounts of money to manage: $10 million, $4 million, and $2 million. The first two slaves invest the money and double it, giving the man $20 and $8 million in return on investment. The third slave believes the man to be cruel, and he is afraid to lose the money. So, he does what he thinks is the safest thing; he buries it.

… After thinking about the physical appearance of this much gold, I started thinking about the man who would trust his slaves with this much money.

Would I like to work for a man who trusted me with that much money? I confess that I might be more like the third slave. I might be tempted to play it safe. I also know myself and that I would do enough research to find ways to invest the money and increase it.

We can assume the man knew these slaves, he knew they had lots of experience in wealth management, and he believed they could increase his wealth significantly. The man trusted these slaves with his money.

How, then do we understand the fear experienced by the third man? “I know you to be a harsh man, and I was afraid, so I took the safest route I could think of.” Is the man really a scoundrel? Is he Vito Corleone, the Godfather? If so, then the third slave is right to be afraid, and we should be wondering how the first two slaves managed to double their money. Were they unscrupulous as well?

Or, is the third slave simply paranoid, afraid he will fail, so he refuses to take any risks? The man criticizes the slave for the characterization of him as harsh and judgmental. Is the man really hard or is he simply responding negatively to the accusation of being harsh?

… I noticed something else this time I read the story. The man doesn’t give any instructions to the slaves. He just entrusts all that wealth to them. Hmmm, now we have some things to think about.

Maybe the image of God is what it important in this parable. The first two slaves did not fear the man. They happily worked to invest his money and increase the investment. The man praises them highly for their work.

If this is an image of God, then God is generous with us, and blesses us when we invest in divine purposes. God blesses us even if we don’t have millions of dollars to play with, even if we are doing simple things like feeding hungry people.

Our image of God is often based on our life experiences. If bad stuff happens to us and we blame God for it, then God is severe and punishing. This kind of God delights in judging our sins and loves to condemn us for them.

If bad stuff happens to us and we rely on God to help get us through the bad stuff, then God is loving and forgiving. This kind of God delights in seeing us grow in faith and in having a strong relationship with us.

… Mike and I love to watch the various versions of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. We enjoy the full range, Alastair Sim, George C Scott, Patrick Stewart, Kelsey Grammer, and the Muppets, all very different and engaging tellings of the story.

I think we can use the characters of Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit to see these different views of God. Scrooge has a really negative view of life because he had a difficult childhood. Despite being wealthy, he saves every penny he can, makes his employees work for pennies as well. He says “Bah, humbug” about Christmas. He says, “Let the poor die to reduce the surplus population.”

In contrast, Bob Cratchit and his family are poor, barely getting by. Tiny Tim has a crippling disease. The older daughter works as a housemaid to support herself. They go to church. Their Christmas dinner is a humble meal, with a small goose that provides each person a few bites of meat. As poor as they are, they pray before they eat, asking God’s blessing on everyone, including Ebenezer Scrooge.

Scrooge’s view of God is that God let bad things happen when he was young, and God won’t help him now. The Cratchit family believes in God’s presence with them and that God provides what they need every day.

I assume you know the rest of the story, that the three spirits of Christmas lead Scrooge to reevaluate his life experiences and he becomes a believer in Christmas. He doesn’t specifically pray or praise God, but his worldview has been altered. He has repented. He suddenly becomes generous and caring.

This week, I hope you think about the ways in which your view of life and the world reflect what you believe about God. And think about the ways in which your view of God reflects your view of life.

I hope you believe that God is generous and trusting in your abilities, your talents. I hope you recognize the gifts God has given you to use for God’s purposes. I hope you count your blessings every day and give thanks for them.

Please pray with me: Generous God, you give us more than we can ever use. Lead us to be thankful. Show us ways to use those gifts to help others. Above all, we thank you for your love given to us by the talent-load. Amen

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Come, Lord Jesus

November 12, 2017
Matthew 25: 1-13

What if this had happened during Hurricane Irma? There was a wedding planned at St John, but the groom was delayed because of a fallen tree. They weren’t sure how long it would take for the road to be cleared.

The bride and her bridesmaids were already at the church. They had flashlights so if the power went out, they would still be able to see. As it happened, the power did go out, and the groom had still not appeared.

The bridesmaids turned on their flashlights when it got dark outside. Eventually, the batteries in the flashlights died, and the bridesmaids looked for replacement batteries. Some of the bridesmaids had brought extra batteries, but some hadn’t. Those who didn’t have extra batteries got in their cars to drive to the gas station. They bought some more batteries and went back to the church.

By this time the groom and his groomsmen had made it to the church. When the bridesmaids arrived back at the church, the groom turned them away. “You weren’t prepared for a long delay. You can’t come in.”

How do you respond to this story? … Not very welcoming / should have been better prepared / enough light to see once your eyes get used to it / not fair

I hope you can see that my story is an updated version of the parable in the Gospel. The usual interpretation of the parable in today’s gospel lesson is that we should always be ready for Jesus’ return. “Pay attention, because you don’t know when.”

For 2,000 years, people have tried to predict when Jesus will return. Every time there are a lot of earthquakes, or violent storms, or a new war, or a devastating disease, people point to it and say, “It must be the end times. Look at all these signs!” But, this has happened every few years for the last two millennia. Jesus said we truly will not know when he is returning.

Paul and the first Christians certainly thought Jesus would return soon in a blaze of glory. They became worried that some believers were dying before Jesus’ return. “What would happen to them?” they wondered. “Don’t get married,” Paul taught. “Jesus is coming soon.”

But, it’s 2,000 years later, and we are still waiting for that glorious return. We have for the most part stopped expecting Jesus’ return. We rarely even think about it in church except in November when the assigned texts force us to deal with it. Or when the signs of the time seem to point to it.

Some people deal with this by focusing on Jesus’ return, so they can end the suffering of this world. They look forward to the day when they will have no more physical or mental pain. “I’ll fly away” they sing. A friend put it this way: Some people are so heavenly-minded, they’re no earthly good.

Other people, including most Lutherans, focus on relieving suffering on earth while we wait. We feed, clothe, visit, house those in need. We welcome all, even those who show up late without batteries for their flashlights. We sing, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

I prefer to believe that Jesus has already returned by sending the Holy Spirit to be with us in his place. Spirit helps us see the need and respond. Spirit helps us see Jesus. When we see our neighbor in need, we give him a little Jesus by feeding or clothing or sheltering him. When our neighbor notices that we are hurting, she brings us a hug, a pan of lasagna, and a cup of tea. We see Jesus in her. When we pay attention, we can see Jesus often.

And, when we pay attention, we can use the signs Spirit sends us directly as reminders to pay attention to God. Blood clots in my leg and in my pulmonary artery forced me to remember I am mortal, whether I want to consider that or not. For me, the end time almost came. But I had good medical care, and good medications to prevent a repeat, and here I am.

Chances are you have had such an experience as well, either you or someone you love. I hope the all-too-frequent mass shootings have you in prayer, asking for God’s mercy. As our Congresspersons and Senators put together a tax plan and try to resolve the medical coverage mess, I hope you both pray and contact our representatives.

This week, I hope you will pay attention to what is happening. Look for signs that Jesus is present through the Holy Spirit. Watch for those who bring Jesus to you. And watch for opportunities to be Jesus to others.

Please pray with me. Lord, in some way or another, we ask you to come to us, and make yourself known. Come to us through your Spirit, or through our friends, or through whatever is happening. We ask that you come, Lord Jesus. Amen