Talk WITH People, Not AT Them!

Talk WITH People, Not AT Them!

Sermon for Pentecost – John 15:26-27, 16:4b-19

FYI – You’ll hear me reading the gospel lesson in Greek!

So did you get all that? Now in case you didn’t know, the OT is written in Hebrew and the NT is written in Greek. But it’s not the same as modern Greek. If you visit Greece and speak this way. You’re going to get looks. Go around and quote Shakespeare and see what happens. Which makes me wonder why people still want to read the King James version of the Bible, but anyway… This Greek is older, it’s Koine, which means common. What does that mean? It’s the everyday Greek that regular folks like you and me spoke at the time. Not the old, proper, attic Greek of philosophers and historians. This is the Greek you used for conversation, and simpler for all the non-Greek speakers to understand. That’s why the NT is in Koine. So everyone could understand.

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When It’s Time to Let Go

When It’s Time to Let Go

Sermon for Jesus’ Prayer for the Disciples – John 17:6-19

Happy Mother’s Day! Ever notice how Mother’s Day has become a sacred holiday? It’s almost on the scale of Christmas and Easter. In a lot of congregations today there are going to be special services where all the mothers get a rose. Choirs will sing sentimental songs. We love to have the kids take first communion on mother’s day. There’ll be a special lunch afterward. And if we DON’T make a big deal we’re going to hear about it. Now, I don’t begrudge any of this. I appreciate the reminder to call my mom and let her know I’m thinking about her. “You never call!” She’s not perfect but she has given a lot for me, and I need the reminder. But life is also complicated, and we know that every holiday has baggage. We lose our mothers. We become estranged from our mothers. We want to be mothers but can’t, for a whole host of reasons. We feel like bad mothers. When some of us hear “mother’s day”, it digs up these feelings of loss or regret that we manage to avoid thinking about most of the time. So, maybe we should make it a question. Happy mother’s day?

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What If Doubt Was the Most Courageous Thing?

What If Doubt Was the Most Courageous Thing?

Sermon for Doubting Thomas – John 20:19-31

This story of doubting Thomas has to be one of the best known stories of scripture. It ought to be – we read it every year on the week after Easter. Even non-Christians know it. It seems straightforward enough. Faith and skepticism. Jesus is resurrected, he visits the disciples, they tell Thomas, but he’s skeptical. He needs proof. Evidently Thomas isn’t a very faithful disciple. OR, maybe the rest of the disciples are just really bad evangelists. What do you think? There’s plenty of blame for everyone. But, we think the lesson is obvious here. Don’t be like Thomas. Have you heard that sermon? I have. But what if that’s not what this story is about?

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When Jesus Acted Like a Monster, and How We Whitewash It

When Jesus Acted Like a Monster, and How We Whitewash It

Sermon for the Cleansing of the Temple – John 2:13-22

We all know what frustration and anger feel like. We’ve all got people who just keep pushing our buttons, who work our nerves until they’re raw. Kids, coworkers, friends, congregations. Who’s your favorite target? It’s not just about when they deliberately try to set us off. They don’t even have to go that far. They just have to break our unwritten rules, and we all have certain rules. Maybe as innocuous as toilet seats and toothpaste caps when you live with someone. But then there’s every time we get talked over or ignored. Every time we don’t get invited. Every time we feel disrespected. How about every time we call tech support or get behind the wheel? So many stories. We get fed up and say something, and maybe it works for a while, but does anything really change? We get wise. We can’t change them but we can change ourselves. Learn to own our feelings? Recite a serenity prayer? It’s easy to distract ourselves and think we’re letting things go, but they still stick somewhere deep down. Our hearts have memories like steel traps. All these little things add up like interest, and there’s always a tipping point. And then, everyone’s shocked by us, like we’ve lost our minds. Like we’re monsters. Can we ever truthfully say they’re wrong?

Still, let’s be honest – Jesus is doing exactly what we’ve all fantasized doing at some point. Most of us probably haven’t gone as far as he does, but I bet some of us have, and we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, Jesus is the epitome of self-control. If he can lose it, we can lose it, and he totally loses it.

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Ancient Lenten Secrets….

Ancient Lenten Secrets….

Sermon for Ash Wednesday – Matthew 6:1-6

Has anyone asked you yet? What are you giving up for Lent? I confess I don’t really give up anything for Lent. Evidently I’m not very pious. But I used to be. I grew up Catholic, sort of. We rarely ever went to mass. But something changed when I got to college. All of a sudden I REALLY wanted to be super Catholic, and I went to mass all the time, and told everyone all about it of course. I thought I was having some kind of incredible spiritual awakening. But I’m little older and wiser now. It occurs to me that’s a fantastic way to get attention at a Lutheran university. So we’re on spring choir tour during Lent, singing at Lutheran churches of course. And they’re good Lutherans. You know they’re going to feed you. So it’s Friday, and what’s for dinner? Lasagna! Like you do. There was one other token Catholic in our Lutheran choir, and we were so proud of ourselves that we only ate salad! No secret piety for us!

This is what Jesus is talking about when he says – “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” We do things for a lot of different reasons, especially when it comes to religion. But we don’t always think about it. Sometimes it’s about what we were taught growing up, and some of those things stick with you. The way we were taught to pray, or what our favorite hymns are. Sometimes it’s about trying to be better Christians. We take a look at ourselves and decide to make some improvements. We try to be more generous, or be more humble. Sometimes it’s about trying to get closer to God. We all have times when God seems distant, so maybe if we pray more or volunteer more, maybe God will notice and give us a little more attention.

Or maybe there’s a little bit of self-righteousness going on. We see how others live out their faith, and we think we can do better. We compensate for them. We compensate for ourselves when we feel undisciplined, and we want to prove to ourselves and everyone else that we’re really faithful. Now of course this is a pretty negative picture of piety, but if we’re honest we all have something to confess. So Jesus seems to be asking us what our motives are. Are we trying to be seen, or earn praise, or get attention? If it wasn’t true, Jesus wouldn’t have to say something. Jesus is also warning us that the things we do affect others around us. Is our fasting a stumbling block to how others show hospitality with lasagna? Do our prayers actually seek the wellbeing of others? Does our piety stand in the way of fellowship?

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Even Jesus Had an Identity Crisis….

Even Jesus Had an Identity Crisis….

Sermon for the Transfiguration – Mark 9:2-9

Do any of you know who Daniel Day-Lewis is? British actor. He’s in this new movie Phantom Thread, where he plays a fashion designer who’s some sort of tragic figure. He’s been acting for a few decades, and he’s got a laundry list of big awards. He’s a serious actor. I haven’t seen the movie, but I just happened to catch an NPR interview with a film critic who was talking about him, and apparently there’s a kerfuffle about him saying this is his last film, period. Supposedly, after learning all about fashion design for this role (that’s what serious actors do), he decided that’s it. He’s packing up and jumping ship for fashion design. The critic was pretty let down about this. He’s one of the best actors of all time. What possessed him? I mean, fashion designer? Can you say “irrelevant”? Oh, I’m really going to miss him. Like he died or something.

Of course, we don’t know the whole story. We’re not in his head. But you know what it sounds like? It sounds like an identity crisis. Think about it – you discover your skill. Cooking, building, remembering, you can fill in the blank. You fall in love with it. You work passionately at it. It’s a part of who you are. Then people notice and they start to expect it from you, but you don’t mind that at all. For a while. But something starts happening. Maybe you feel a little resentful, like people only care about you because you give them what they want. Maybe you feel used. Maybe you feel fake, like you don’t know what you’re doing anymore and you’re just going to let everyone down. Maybe you start wondering what’s the point? Am I actually helping anyone? Maybe you feel like no one knows the REAL you, like no one actually SEES you. Have you ever felt like this? Have you ever had an identity crisis? I bet we all could tell some hilarious stories about things we’ve done about it.

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What’s the Difference between Grace and Denial?

What’s the Difference between Grace and Denial?

Sermon for the Potter and the Clay – Isaiah 64:1-9

The prophet Isaiah prays, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” I remember elementary school, when we had art class a few days a week. Oh, the things we used to do with paper and fingerpaint and yarn, and whatever else the teacher could think of, bless her heart. God only knows how much paste we ate in that room. I always loved art, except for those days when we got the ball of clay. This palm-sized magenta ball of cold, hard clay, and it’s like you had to warm that stuff up forever with your hands before you could do anything with it, and maybe by the time the bell rang I had a snake and that was about it. Or at least that’s all I can remember.

We are the clay and you are our potter. It’s such an earthy image, God working at the potter’s wheel, slowly turning and shaping some unremarkable lump into creation. God’s skilled fingers furrowing crevices and curves, folding into the middle to push and pull and create space where there wasn’t any before. But that’s just the romantic part. You have to start at the very beginning, with a cold, hard lump that needs so much preparation to soften up. Moisture. Temperature. Time. Patience. Some kind of faith to know that this worthless hard lump of earth could be transformed into anything of value.

That’s really what Advent is about. Time. Patience. Faith to know that God really is doing something of earth-shaking proportions, even if nothing seems to be changing. And right now we’re desperate for change, because things are getting worse. Every day we hear more allegations of violation and harassment. More victims saying “me too”. But we don’t always believe them. We think they lie. Or we say “but you can’t be a victim, you’re so successful!” Or sometimes we believe them but we wonder if maybe they had a hand in it. Wrong place, wrong clothes, wrong words. We’re hell-bent on figuring out a reason. And even if we’ve been victimized ourselves, we still cling to some kind of fantasy that people aren’t capable of that kind of violence and damage. Our hearts can be hard as clay in our convictions. But we also think about the grace of Jesus. We constantly teach each other to interpret our neighbor’s actions in the best possible light. We remember how Jesus warns us over and over again about judging. Except, holding our tongues doesn’t seem to save anyone from danger. So, what’s the difference between God’s grace and our denial?

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