Thursday, July 2, 2020

Notice the little things

Matthew 11:20-24 (CEB)

20 Then he began to scold the cities where he had done his greatest miracles because they didn’t change their hearts and lives. 21 “How terrible it will be for you, Chorazin! How terrible it will be for you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles done among you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have changed their hearts and lives and put on funeral clothes and ashes a long time ago. 22 But I say to you that Tyre and Sidon will be better off on Judgment Day than you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be honored by being raised up to heaven? No, you will be thrown down to the place of the dead. After all, if the miracles that were done among you had been done in Sodom, it would still be here today. 24 But I say to you that it will be better for the land of Sodom on the Judgment Day than it will be for you.”


I have to admit that when I first read the texts for this evening, I immediately looked at the list of texts for other days this week, but none were any better!
The Gospel reading sounds so much like warning, punishment and lacking in grace that I found it hard to recognize Jesus in it. Then I thought, well, maybe Jesus could be having a temper tantrum. These beloved and familiar towns weren’t responding to him as quickly and as fully as he had hoped.
And then, I looked for commentaries and found a helpful thought: “I pray that I may not miss the ways in which Jesus is active in my life.” It is so easy to go about our normal lives and not pay attention to the wonderful little things that are happening all the time.
Mike and I travel near and far with cameras handy. I use just my phone, but Mike has some better cameras he uses as well. The other day, he showed me a photo of a mayfly on our mailbox. Of course, we had to do the research to discover what kind of bug it was. That’s how we know it was a mayfly! We had about a half hour conversation as we learned more about this fascinating critter.
I marvel at the God-incidence that allowed me to visit Phyllis Richards in the hospital the day before she died. The hospital had just relaxed its visitation rules so one person at a time could visit.
I know you all have some experiences of God-incidences that remind you that God is active, even when we are not paying attention.
God puts people in our lives, sometimes just for a few minutes, and our encounter with them makes a difference. Doctors figure out how to solve large and small medical problems every day. Engineers discover new ways to build safe roads and bridges. Congregations learn how to do electronic worship – because computer geeks created the technology for virtual meetings.  
These are the kinds of things we should be paying attention to and thanking God for, every day. One way to learn to pay more attention is to spend a few minutes at the end of the day giving thanks for the God-given things you noticed. Let’s commit ourselves to noticing the little things God is doing, so Jesus won’t need to have another tantrum.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020


Genesis 22:1-14; Matthew 10:40-42

It’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to preach. For her seminary program, Lori needed to preach and lead worship on her own a few times. And we also showed you the sermon from ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton.

So, finally, it is my turn again. Over the summer, we will be reading, and sometimes preaching ,the Old Testament stories from Genesis and Exodus. These are the Bible stories Jesus grew up with, and they form the basis of his life and ministry. So, they should be important to us, also. Let’s start almost at the beginning:

We first meet Abraham in Genesis 12, when God says to him, I want you to pack up your family and move west. When you get where I want you to be, I will tell you. I promise you that I will bless you; I will give you land and fame; and through you and your offspring, all people on earth will be blessed. So, Abraham goes home and tells Sarah and they pack up their sizable household and head west. They have adventures on the way, and God keeps promising they will have a child. 

It takes decades before the promise of a child comes true. Finally, Isaac is born. It is stunning, therefore, to read that God tells Abraham to take this same promised child to Mount Moriah and offer him as a sacrifice. What on earth is this story doing in the Bible? What on earth is God up to?

A major challenge for us is to determine how old Isaac is at this point in his life. The previous story in Genesis is the casting out of Hagar and Ishmael from the family home and the following story is the marriage of Isaac to Rebekah. There is no indication of how much time passes between these stories.

Christian tradition usually portrays Isaac as a child or youth. In contrast, Judaism has traditionally made him an adult, about 35 years old, just a few years before his marriage to Rebekah. Think about this: What does it take to sacrifice a 10-year-old child? And, what does it take to sacrifice a 35-year-old man? Personally, I believe Isaac was a child.

No matter how old Isaac is, the biggest question is: can Abraham actually draw the knife? Abraham has been chosen by God to form a covenant for the future. He hears a voice he knows to be God’s telling him to take Isaac with him as he goes to Mount Moriah to worship. The same voice also says that this precious child is to be offered as the sacrifice.

How his mind must have rebelled against this! He waited 25 years to have this child! He has enjoyed him for a few years, and now God wants to take him away!? He wants to tell God that no way, no how, will he give up this child! But he doesn’t. He trusts God to make it work out in God’s way. God has always said that all the people of the world will be blessed through him and through this child. And so, he determines to trust God.

Some scholars speculate that the story is told to assert that unlike the other gods in the neighborhood, this God does NOT want child sacrifice. The fact that an alternative sacrifice was made available symbolized God’s rejection of human sacrifice and God’s affirmation of the value of all human life.

For others, the story is understood to be an honoring of Abraham’s extreme faith. He willingly offered up this precious child to God because God asked him to. This modeling of faith is a super-example of how we are to do likewise: willingly give up everything to put God first in our lives.
In today’s culture, this is beyond reason. We rebel against the idea that any god would ever even consider asking us to give up what is most precious to us in order to prove our faith is strong. Yet, we didn’t live 3500 years ago, in a world of multiple gods, a different god for each community, a world of very different values.

So, how do we make this story relevant to us today? We can start with what we agree on. The First Commandment, the Greatest Commandment, says to put God first in everything. And, it turns out, if we do this, everything else falls into place. Abraham is trying hard to put God first.

We can also agree that God provides a way out. For Abraham and Isaac, a ram suddenly appears in the thicket near them. For us today, we may all be suffering from individual crises, trying to follow God wherever Spirit leads us. We may be battling cancer or broken relationships or addictions. For these concerns, God provides as many solutions as there are questions. 

And collectively, we are all suffering from a Triple Whammy. We have a killer virus on the rampage; we have a stuttering economy; and these two problems combined have torn the bandage off the underlying injustice people of color have been experiencing for hundreds of years.
In response to the virus, God has provided scientists who are working intensely and cooperatively to discover remedies for the symptoms of the virus, as well as develop vaccines against the virus. And, these same scientists have recommended we all take a time out from being near each other to give them time to work and slow the spread of the virus.

The economy will take time, and it will be painful, but it will improve. God will provide patience, if we ask for it. And through those who have, those who need can be taken care of.

As for the cries of injustice, they are real, they are deep wounds, and God has been listening. The problems of injustice today are the same problems Jesus was talking about 2,000 years ago. They are the same problems Micah and Amos prophesied about 2,500 years ago.

It is not right that a few people have so much, while so many people have so little. It is not right that some people believe another group of people are inferior. It is not right that some people have power and deny it to others.

God has provided us with some answers, if we are willing to put God first. It will take all of us listening to the guiding of Spirit to find solutions that work for all of us, not just some of us. It will take all of us listening to what those who are hurting are saying. It will take listening with Jesus’ heart to find the answers to this problem of injustice.

It will not be easy. It will seem illogical. But in God’s view of the world, it is the right thing to do. The way out of this injustice is obedience to the Second Great Commandment: to love others as we love ourselves, to remember that each person on earth is a beloved child of God, created in God’s own image. No matter how different from us they may appear on the outside, it’s how much God loves them that matters.

Do you remember how this message started? We began with God telling Abraham that through him, all people on earth would be blessed. We have received this blessing from our ancestors, and we are called to pass it on to the next generations. Let us work together to see that the whole world is blessed through us. Amen