At a worship service on August 22, 2021, after the Gospel reading, and message, the congregation sang a song titled O Jesus I have Promised. I am not a particularly good singer. So often, when I am unfamiliar with a song, I will simply read the words as others sing. I was so impressed by this song that I decided to share the words here. I think they would make a really great prayer. Especially, for those who are seriously embracing the In His Steps question, what would Jesus have me do?
My wife is a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church here in Grand Ledge. It has a very long history in this community. Reverend Chuck Foerster serves as the current pastor. Since I accompany my wife to services, I get to hear a lot of his homilies. In this year of Covid-19, those have been mostly sitting in our parked car facing the church entrance, plus serendipitously the altar beyond the walls, along with 30 to 50 other vehicles, and their passengers. It feels more like an extension of the pews doing it in this manner, rather than abiding by the lines of the parking lot. They began this "drive-in" worship early in the pandemic, and as of this writing, at the start of November, it is still the way many members "come together" to safely worship. In the midst of dealing with all that has been going on this year, I have been amazed at how his words blend well with the what would Jesus have me do program concepts. I have decided to share some of them with you, along with an email, either entirely, or just the excerpt that particularly caught my attention. I mostly left the text unaltered keeping his capitalizing, and bold highlight, emphasis. Rather than inserting any Scripture readings that are being referenced, but are not already in the text, I am going to presume most of you who would be interested in reading this will be familiar with the passages.
Homily for 2nd Sunday in Advent, Year B, December 5th, 2021
I love Advent . . . might even be my favorite church season . . . a season of hopeful anticipation, a time of preparation, of looking forward; like last week’s text said, stand up, lift up your heads, your redemption is drawing near. It is a time of waiting and excitement . . . the king is coming . . . and then smack dab in the midst of this excitement, in the midst of our anticipation, we have this text about John the Baptist, preaching a baptism of repentance . . . at first glance, discussing these two things may seem totally out of place . . . totally disconnected from the season we are in. Baptism and repentance? During Advent? Seems more of a Lent theme, doesn’t it? Why are we talking about Baptism and repentance now? What do these things have to do with Advent?
Our text says that John appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance. There are two parts to what John is doing. The first part is that John is calling the people to repent. You might already know that the word “repent” literally means to turn around, it has to do with a change of heart. It means a renewal, a metamorphosis, in this case, a reorientation towards God. To repent is to be open to go in a different direction, a radical change from the popular culture and status quo. It is a giving up of the worlds power for a divine power.
And then there is the other part of what John was doing, baptizing. And remember, whenever we are told location in the Bible, it is usually significant. John was baptizing, but not simply baptizing, but was baptizing in the river Jordan. The person to be baptized would enter the water on one side where John was, and after being baptized, exit the water on the other side. The river Jordan symbolized something important for the Jewish people, the people that were coming to John. The Jordan was the river that the Israelites had to cross before they could enter into the Promised Land. It symbolized a dividing line between the wilderness, the place of chaos and danger and the exile, and the promised land flowing with milk and honey. So, crossing the Jordan was, for them, an image of entering into an entirely new life. A new beginning. A re-birth of sorts.
For us, “Baptism" means both a total immersion in something and a passing through. It means immersion into the life of the church, the creeds, the confessions and the prayers. It also means a passing through, from the old life, the sinful self, the old Adam, to a new life, new birth in Christ. Baptism is where our journey into faith begins. It is our re-orientation to God. Baptism is the beginning of our future in Christ. It is the covenant between us and God that leads to that radical transformation called repentance.
So what again, what is the connection to Advent? The coming of the Messiah?
I think it is appropriate that the scripture about the coming of Jesus comes not to all those powerful people listed at the beginning of the reading, but to John, wild eyed, wilderness dweller wearing not robes of purple, but rough clothing. The wilderness represents a specific theme in scripture; danger. And because of the danger, our human need. No Kroger or Speedway in the wilderness. The wilderness is a place that exposes our need for God. In the wilderness, we learn to trust and rely on God. It is a place where we are ultimately vulnerable and our “power” is laid aside. We wait and watch as if our lives depended on God showing up because they do. And if we are honest, how often are we stuck in that wilderness?
But you know the problem with this whole season and the readings? It is far too easy to fall into the trap of limiting what God has done to the pages of the Bible as some part of history. Its easy to lose focus and resign ourselves to hearing the Christmas story merely as a wonderful tale from 2000 years ago. Most of us have heard it so many times. I suppose this is one way to view Christmas and the Advent season leading up to it; as remembering Jesus birth, probably how most of our culture, even our Christian culture views it. However, seen in this way, seen as merely a remembrance, Advent and Christmas easily become a chore, a bother, no different than any other secular holiday, oh sure there is more work planning worship, the decorating of the sanctuary . . . but we can grow ho-hum about it, perhaps we get caught up in the consumerist mentality of how many more shopping days are left or we reject it outright because of what it has become for so many.
The danger of seeing Advent only as a time to prepare for the “remembrance” of Christmas is that we totally miss the message of John the Baptist in today’s Gospel: Turn your lives around and look! Re-focus. Be Ready. God not only came, 2000 years ago, but God comes today! Ready or not, God comes. In the midst of the holiday rush. God comes. In the midst of our grumbling. In the midst of our grieving, in the midst of the wilderness, in the midst of our celebrating, God comes. In the midst of our not being ready . . . God comes. So, Advent is not really about remembering a historical event, but rather Advent is the beginning of the future. As we look back to the past, God sending Christ into the world, we receive a glimpse of our new life, a new focus of what God has in mind for us, a future that is very different from the one that our culture has in mind. It is a future that offers real hope in hopeless situations. A future that promises peace where only war has been known. It is a future that has Jesus Christ at its very center, where before worldly things were . . . and it begins NOW. As Christians, we are preparing for Christmas during Advent, and what we are saying is that we are turning our hearts and lives around, we are repenting of our old life and re-focusing our hearts towards God. We are once again reorienting our lives to Christ.
This future is here. Not in its fullness, not as it one day will be . . . but make no mistake . . . it has arrived . . . in the form of a tiny baby. Advent calls us to SEE our place as people of Christ by pointing and preparing for the future that will be . . . by living in that future NOW. Today.
As we journey forward in this Advent season, may we be reminded of the gift of our Baptism into this new future, may we turn and reorient our lives towards God and may we realize that even when we are not ready, God comes to us. Amen
Homily for Advent 4, Year B, December 20th, 2020
I don’t know about you, but whenever I heard the Song of Mary, The Magnificat, that we read for our first reading, it always seemed to be such a lovely poem or hymn, sung by a maiden in lovely colored flowing clothes, or perhaps that was just how the artists painted her or how history captured her. I never really preached a sermon on the Magnificat, at least not one that focused on how absolutely radical Mary’s song was. For example, did you know that Mary’s song is longest set of words spoken by a woman, (a 13 year old girl no less) in the New Testament. And it is spoken in the presence of her kinfolk Elizabeth while her husband Zechariah, a temple high priest, endures his Holy Spirit imposed silence. Look at the Magnificat; Mary responds with joy at the news, even though her pregnancy during this point in history would be enough to get her stoned to death. The song is soaked in Jewish history, echoing the words and stories of Old Testament Matriarchs. The implications of the Magnificat are so subversive for powerful authorities that it has been banned by those authorities from being used in public, several times in history.
Far from being just some flowery, demure song of a virgin, Mary’s words spell out a radical upheaval for those that unjustly rule and a dramatic reversal, lifting up those that are under the oppression of the powerful. Her prophetic words ring out across all time, what God was doing in the person of Jesus and what God is still bringing to fruition through the Holy Spirit.
Mary’s proclamation regarding what God has accomplished, will accomplish, including the humble birth of a Messiah, is a radical change from the status quo. It points to God’s kingdom intentions and is so counter-cultural that it might even just topple our “silent night, holy night” perception of the birth of the Christ child, the one wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. I say this because it speaks of a drastic upheaval for our century, changes that we seldom think about or hear about during this season of all is calm, all is bright.
Certainly, the underlying message of Christmas is all about Hope, and Peace and Joy and Love. But those things won’t happen without something changing, some things giving way for the radical way of the KINGDOM OF GOD. Remember those mountains and valleys that needed to be leveled? Those verses speak of radical change to open the way for GOD’S way! Yes, God is love. Yes, Christ has come to demonstrate God’s LOVE for the entire world. By being born a human . . . so that he might die on the cross for all humans. This is what our faith tells us.
We are a funny lot, aren’t we? We desire growth without change and change without conflict, but with the birth of Jesus, God gives us neither. Mary’s song makes that dangerously clear. Cast the mighty down from their thrones? Scattering the proud, lifting up the lowly? Fill the hungry, sent the rich away empty? Change and conflict abound! No wonder this song has been called subversive; Mary speaks of an incredible hope being ushered in through her womb of God’s own son who has come to set the world as we know it ablaze!
Looking at the bigger picture, the Magnificat and the implications of the inbreaking of God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ, should cause us to examine what it means to follow the Messiah. Like Mary’s song, our faith can no longer be considered passive. If we truly desire to live the proclamation of the Magnificat and the birth of Jesus out to its full extent, it will mean our faith is less of a Hallmark Christmas movie and more a declaration that God has come to overthrow and upend our comfortable Christianity so that what is proclaimed in Mary’s song will come to fruition.
And in this year, in our present day, that proclamation can come through OUR ACTIONS, through OUR speech, Through OUR charity, Through our walk with Christ.
Seen in this light, Faith is not some sweet invitation to self-realization; it is not some be all you can be proposition, but it is literally the practice of dying and rising of self so that GOD’S KINGDOM COMES, So THAT GOD’S WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN! This is the faith that Mary exhibits and it is the same faith that we have been called to, that the Holy Spirit has poured out on us!
Not a Have to, but rather that God’s love compels us to sing out from the mountaintop that God is doing something incredible . . . now it may not be all that comfortable for those who are already comfortable, but God’s ways are not our ways. With Mary we are hopeful, because God has come and is coming to change the world. Being so moved by God’s love, we are moved to proclaim with Mary, my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in him.
Indeed, God has looked upon us and blessed us for all of time. May our Advent continue to be a reminder that God has come to bring about what is needed in our lives so that we might be ready to receive the Messiah and bear witness to God’s promises fulfilled in a tiny baby born in a barn. Amen.
Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. — Colossians 3:23
I know, Mondays (and other days) can be difficult to get moving. The struggle is real.
Have you ever had those days where it feels like you are not making much of a difference in what you do. Perhaps because of the pandemic you have been working from home and it has begun to feel "normal" but not quite right. Perhaps things are so different at work it seems a struggle to accomplish what you did before. Maybe your motivation is lacking or your heart is not fully into it. But then you see the trash collector or the janitor and you see that they are still content to be working and they even seem joyful.
Perhaps following the advice of the writer of Colossians is a good place to start. If we struggle with motivation, it could be because our motivation is off kilter. Martin Luther once said that the Shoe Maker does not honor God by placing little crosses on his shoes, but rather by doing the best possible job he can and selling his shoes at a fair price, treating others with respect. I wonder if we were to perform our jobs as if we were working for Jesus might it have an impact on our work and how we feel about it? Certainly it makes one think about how we can honor God is every aspect of our lives, not just on Sunday.
I invite you to take a moment, right now; calm your mind, quiet your heart, breathe deeply of God's spirit . . . and imagine that God has given you your present task, no matter how challenging, and he has given you the talent, the strength and the ability to complete it. May you embrace this task as deeply as you embrace the one who has called you to it.
Homily for 2nd Sunday in Advent, Year B, Dec 6th, 2020
I love Advent . . . my favorite time of the year . . . a season of hopeful anticipation, of time of preparation for the most incredible event in all of history . . . a time of waiting and excitement . . . the king is coming . . . So today’s text might cause us to scratch our heads a bit; here comes this text about John the Baptist . . . at first glance, this text may seem totally out of place . . . totally disconnected from what we believe this season is all about. Baptism and repentance? During Advent? Shouldn’t we be talking about Jesus birth and shepherds and mangers?
The Gospel says that John appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance. So you see, there are two parts to what John is doing. The first part is that John is calling the people to repent. You might already know that the word “repent” means to turn around, it has to do with a change of heart. It means a renewal, a metamorphosis, in this case, a reorientation towards God. To repent is to be willing to go in a different direction, a radical change from the popular culture and status quo.
And then there is the other part of what John was doing, baptizing. John was not simply baptizing, but was baptizing in the river Jordan. The person to be baptized would enter the water on one side where John was, and after being baptized, exit the water on the other side. The river Jordan symbolized something for the Jewish people, the people that were coming to John. The Jordan was the river that the Israelites had to cross before they could enter into the Promised Land. It symbolized a dividing line between the wilderness that their ancestors had wandered and the land flowing with milk and honey. So crossing the Jordan was, for them, an image of entering into an entirely new life. A new beginning. A re-birth of sorts.
For us, “Baptism" means both; a total immersion into something and a passing through. It means immersion into the life of Christ, the life of the church, the creeds, the confessions and the prayers. It also means a passing through, from the old life, the sinful self, the old Adam, to a new life, new birth in Christ. Baptism is where our journey into faith begins. It is our re-orientation to God. Baptism is the beginning of our future in Christ.
So I guess Advent and baptism really do go hand in hand.
Well you see, God has created us in such a way that we are Advent people . . . we are not only waiting for the coming of the Christ child, but we are preparing for what we are becoming . . . for God’s shaping us into what God will have us be. In other words, whether we know it or not, we are undergoing a spiritual transformation, a metamorphosis, a renewal.
However, in this day and age, it may be easy to miss; this season may seem ordinary and the rush to arrive at Christmas, typical. Even in this year of pandemic and political chaos, our celebration of this life changing event, may not be all that unusual. As we struggle to give ourselves and our families some sense of normalcy, it would be natural for us to simply treat this season like all the years past, to hear the Christmas story as a wonderful tale from 2000 years ago. Most of us have heard it so many times. Certainly our culture often treats it as business as usual or a way to distract us from our tribulations and grief. But if we see Advent as merely “getting ready” and Christmas merely a remembrance of an historical event, they can easily become just another Advent, just another Christmas.
The danger of seeing Advent only as a time to prepare for the “remembrance” of Christmas is that we totally miss the message of John the Baptist in today’s Gospel:
Turn your lives around and look! Re-focus. Be Ready. God not only came 2000 years ago, but God comes today! Ready or not, God comes. In the midst of the holiday rush. God comes. In the midst of our grumbling. In the midst of our grieving, in the midst of our celebrating, God comes. IN the midst of a pandemic and a country divided; God comes. In the midst of our not being ready . . . God comes. Maybe, it is not supposed to be normal! Maybe Advent and Christmas are God’s way of telling us nothing will ever be normal again. Because of what God has done in Christ, there is no more normal.
Advent is the beginning of the future. It is the beginning of an incredible, hope filled, promise-kept future. As we look at what God has done by sending Christ into the world, we receive a glimpse of our new life, a new focus of what God has in mind for us, a future that is very different from the one that our culture has in mind. It is a future that offers real hope in hopeless situations. Where there was only death before, now there is life. It is a future that promises peace where only war has been known. It is a future that has Jesus Christ at its very center, where before worldly things were . . . and it begins NOW. As Christians, this season has us preparing for the arrival of a savior during Advent, and what we are saying by doing this is that we are turning our hearts and lives around, we are repenting of our old life and re-focusing our hearts towards God. We are once again reorienting our lives to Christ.
This future is here. Not in its fullness, not as it one day will be . . . but make no mistake . . . it has arrived . . . in the form of a tiny baby. We are in the midst of that future. Advent calls us to SEE our place as people of Christ by pointing and preparing for the future that will be . . . by living in that future NOW. Today.
As we journey forward in this Advent season, may we be reminded of the gift of our Baptism into this new future, may we turn and reorient our lives towards God and may we realize that even when we are not ready, God comes to us. Amen
Homily for Christ the King, November 22nd, 2020
. . . . Today in our church calendar, we celebrate what is called “Christ the King” Sunday. We might expect the readings to give us something that sounds a little more regal and royal, a little pomp and circumstance. Something that sounds a bit more kingly. Our vision of what a king is supposed to look like and what a king is supposed to be. Maybe a reading that has Jesus decked out in long flowing robes and a jeweled crown. Or even something from the old testament that compares Jesus with the great kings of old, something from Revelation that has Jesus with all his enemies as a footstool, or the heavens opening up and the almighty’s voice thundering from the clouds. But instead, Matthew gives us a KING of an entirely different variety. Instead of the KING in the purple robe with gold thread, Matthew gives us the homeless Jesus, the sick Jesus, the imprisoned and hungry Jesus, the Jesus sleeping on the park bench. We might think to ourselves, . . . This is our KING????
When we heard the text or read it, there may have been a strong inclination to see it as simply judgement; as punishment/reward for either something we did, or something we failed to do in regards to the least of these. Notice how the text never mentions faith or belief or doctrine or our confession or repentance; it gives no laundry list of how to earn salvation. It only points to how we treated the least of these as the final judgement. All the things that we have grown up with that we thought were needed to be faithful followers, are missing.
However, these things are not mentioned, perhaps the text is pointing us to something else. Maybe Jesus is trying to tell us something we might not have realized up to this point; In our haste to make Jesus into this warm fuzzy, shepherding, comfortable, loving savior, we have missed the point of what he came to do. Perhaps the whole point of this Sunday and this particular scripture is that we have created an image of Christ that FITS OUR agenda; maybe it is the one with earthly power, supreme leader, whacking down those that we think need to be whacked. Aggressive and seeking his own WILL. Which Jesus have we placed on the thrones of our hearts?
We say that we long to SEE Jesus . . . but what if we have been looking in the wrong places? Because Matthew tells us that Jesus of the Gospel is found right in the middle of the least of these. He is to be found in the darkness of prison, in the pains of hunger, in the cold of nakedness, in the fear and loss of illness. If we struggle to look in those directions or look the other way because it is uncomfortable, we have missed an opportunity to see where Jesus dwells.
Maybe the point of the text today is that when we fail to see the least of these, we condemn ourselves to a private hell, . . . where Jesus is merely an image, a plastic figure stuck to the dashboard, a bumper sticker or a nice idea in the Bible, rather than a living breathing person who we can interact with every time we become vulnerable to another human being. When we fail to see Christ in one another, we live differently, not as deeply, more likely to choose sides based on our personal opinions, more likely to claim our RIGHTS rather than our responsibility. But what if . . . what if we could look into the face of that person and see the face of Christ. Would that change us? Would our hearts be transformed?
Next Sunday, we enter into Advent, a season of waiting, longing, and listening. The darkness of winter is expected and as faithful followers, we will wait for the light and the first cries of a tiny baby. A child that changes how we speak of “KINGS”. A child that redefines power and authority. A child king that has come to GIVE himself away. A KING on a donkey, a KING who washes his disciple’s feet, a KING who lays down his life for others.
So today, here and now, we are asked to see Jesus in places we would rather not look. We are asked to remember that every encounter we have with “the least of these” is an actual encounter with Jesus. It is not a metaphor. The person huddled beneath the blanket is our king. The person at the off ramp stop sign is our king. The person dressed up against the cold, ringing the bell outside of Meijer is our King. The person smelling of liquor or in need of a shower, is our King. May we become so aware of the presence of Jesus in our world that our eyes are wide open and we might be able to see our king. Amen.
Homily for Pentecost 12, Year A, August 23rd, 2020
When we speak of our identity, there are many factors that might play in to that conversation. We might talk about who we are in relationship to our education, career, race, gender, age, family, even the obstacles that we have overcome. But there is a big identifier that all Christians share; our faith calls us to follow THE MESSIAH, the Son of the Living God.
In our Gospel text today, Jesus asks his followers a question about his identity. Now this is not some random question, but rather probably brought on by their location, Caesarea Philippi. CP would have been the place of numerous shrines to a wide variety of false gods. And as far as Rome was concerned at the time, almost any belief or practice was ok as long as one was able to participate in certain aspects of Roman religious life. The people had NUMEROUS options from which god to choose from. So, Jesus question in this place, seems more intentional.
Now, Jesus being the great teacher he is, throws out an easy question to warm up the disciples; Who do others say I am? What is the word on the street, what is the gossip these days? What have you heard? What do the latest polls say? I can imagine all the disciples are scrambling to raise their hand on this one: OOOh, this is an easy one! I know this one! Some people say John the Baptist, come back from dead, or Elijah; Yeah, chimes in another one, some are saying you are Jeremiah or one of the other prophets! The disciples are probably answering based on their opinions too or what group they are a part of. Notice Jesus doesn’t correct them, he just lets them speak; after all, repeating what we have heard is a great place for faith to start. We inherit the creeds, the sermons, the studies of our youth and eventually they become ours. These are safe answers. They don’t involve us sticking our necks out. They hearken back to history and tradition and do not require a great deal of commitment on our part.
But then Jesus asks the really tough question; WHO DO YOU SAY I AM? Meaning forget the public polls. You have walked with me all this time and you have seen what I have done and heard what I have proclaimed freely. Who do you believe me to be? I imagine the disciples are much like the congregation when I ask a direct question during my sermon; just look away, don’t let him make eye contact, stare at the ground, he won’t call on you that way. One by one, Jesus waits for his friends to answer and he gets crickets. Then Peter steps up to the plate and knocks one out of the park! You ARE the Messiah, the Son of the Living God! Cheers erupt! High Fives exchanged! Peter nailed it. Peter has stumbled on the answer that requires investment and conviction. Proclaiming Jesus, the ONE, especially in this place, is an example of the kind of commitment to following Jesus that he has asked of them since day one. Peter’s proclamation, the truth he speaks, is costly. It is on this truth that Peter has expressed, that Jesus will build the church, that is, the kingdom of God, on earth and in heaven.
IN other words, all who are to come after these disciples, will have their faith based and founded in the truth that Jesus IS the Messiah, the one came to Save the World, the SON of the living God. Jesus is the divine truth, the way and the wisdom of God. This is the foundation of OUR faith that Jesus IS LORD of all and to live our lives in that truth is our call to discipleship. To do so IS COSTLY. But it is our identity, the only one that truly matters, the one that we have not earned, but rather the one that we have been given!
So, how would you answer the question that Jesus poses? Especially now you know how costly it is? Especially now you know how difficult it will be to live by that truth. Who do you say that Jesus is? Who has he been to you in the past? Who is he now? Who do you hope he will be in the future?
I think there are no easy answers to this question. I believe we must daily discern what it might mean if we echo Peter’s proclamation. Following Jesus is the foundation of our faith for which we journey a lifetime, but he is not some simple Biblical fact rather he is the LIVING GOD. Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow!
What stories of Jesus have you inherited? Are there truths about Jesus that you need to say goodbye to? Things that others have said or religious assumptions you are clinging to simply because they're familiar, or safe, or easy? What have we learned that we must now unlearn if we are to follow Jesus as disciples rather than merely members of an organization. None of us has ARRIVED as if Jesus is the destination; HE IS THE WAY. We are faithful when we follow Jesus even when it is dangerous, even when it means sacrifice or suffering. Even when it means we struggle to understand our faith and what God is doing. This is what it means to be a DISCIPLE. This is WHO WE ARE, people constantly seeking to discover who Jesus is and following faithfully all of our lives.
To find our identity in following Jesus took a great deal of courage back in Jesus day. It takes a great deal of courage nowadays too! May God grant us the strength to proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God, and may we be given the courage to live out that proclamation all along our faith journey.
Homily for Pentecost 8, July 12th, 2020
Last week my Uncle Kenny, at the age of 83, went to his heavenly home. Now Kenny was a farmer; he also had a job that paid the bills, but like his father before him, and his father before him, and his father before him, Kenny was a farmer. He knew what it meant to prepare the soil, to help create the proper environment for a successful harvest. He knew that once he planted the seeds, the rest was up to God. Oh sure, weeds could be pulled and what not, but Kenny knew that HE did not cause the stalk to come up or the beans to pop out. He knew that once he did his part, the result would be up to the creator, the same one who created the cosmos, would be the one to cause these plants to bring forth fruit. So, Kenny learned to prepare the soil, plant the seeds and trust that God would bring forth a harvest.
Our text today, the parable of the sower is most likely a familiar one. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus even offers up at least a partial explanation of what the parable means. But one thing Jesus does not explain is why, in heavens name, why was the SOWER so foolish! Why does he cast the seed on ground that has little or no chance of bearing any fruit? Any good farmer would know, you can’t just throw the seeds willy-nilly, recklessly scattering them on the ground, if the ground is not prepared ahead of time. It is likely you will not get any return, or very little. It seems a careless waste of valuable resources to sow in this fashion. I am sure most farmers would be scratching their heads about now wondering what was the sower thinking, being so wasteful, so extravagant? Just does not seem to make any sense.
Parables are Jesus’ way of telling a story that will have you pondering, scratching your head, in order that you might discover the deeper meaning behind the parable. And like so many of Jesus parables, our tendency is to put ourselves in the story, to associate with one or more of the elements, the characters in the parable. Even with the explanation that Jesus gives, we might still be wondering, “are we the soil, are we the good soil, are we the seed, are we the sower?” in this parable? To which we can only answer yes.
I imagine that if we look at our lives, there are times in our faith journey where we are the soil? Perhaps early on in our faith life, we were receptive to the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit. Maybe it was in baptism, maybe later in life. But at some point, one of those seeds took root and allowed us to blossom, growing into a deepening relationship with Christ today. There might be times that we would be considered good soil, and maybe some times that we are rocky soil. There may have been times in our lives where the Word was choked out by the cares and wealth of this world, like weeds that overtake our gardens, we got caught up in worldly pursuits. I’m guessing at one time or another, we have been all those types of soil.
There are times when we are the seed. It has been said that we might be the only Bible someone reads. In other words, our lives are a living testament to what God has done. We are seeds for the kingdom and the message of salvation with our words and our actions. We do not have to display a cross or tell anyone that we are Christians, for they will know it by the fruit we bear, they will know it by our love and our loving actions towards others, especially the stranger, the widow, the voiceless and the oppressed. These are the seeds we plant in the lives of others.
Certainly, if we are sometimes the soil, sometimes the seed, then we are sometimes the sower. But now, we circle back to the parable and the recklessness with which to sower in the parable cast seed on ground that was unprepared, that has little or no chance of bringing forth a harvest. Well, that sower is our example, that sower is God, who so abundantly, so recklessly, so prodigally casts his mercy and grace and forgiveness on all kinds of people, ones I would imagine we would not have an inclination to . . . with all our common sense and all, we might recognize that those folks are not hardly worth our time. Yet when you look at the scriptures, those are exactly the people that Jesus invested himself in; tax collectors and sinners, fisherman and harlots, zealots and troublemakers . . . and then of course, there is us!
So if we are to follow the example that Jesus has given us, we are going to have to sow those same seeds, mercy, grace and forgiveness, with the same reckless abandon that Jesus has done. Not caring where it falls, not examining others for their worthiness, but rather what has come to us in such abundant fashion, should now be cast in a similar way; prodigally, foolishly, all over everyone.
For as the sower, our task is not to determine the outcome of the harvest, but to sow the seeds that have grown in us and can now be bread for the world. We live, in order to help others to do the same without regard for where those seeds land, but trusting that the Lord of all will bring about what the Lord has set forth. If God has planned it, it will happen, if God has promised it, it will happen. Like a famous movie philosopher has said, “Do or do not, there is no try.” For God, there either is a harvest or there is not. And God has promised that his Word will not come back empty, that it will accomplish what God has set forth to accomplish. On your way home or as you are driving around this week; notice the wheat fields. Almost ready for harvest; the farmer sowed the seeds and then trusted that God would grow the plants. In the midst of Covid and the craziness of this world, in the midst of divisive rhetoric and taking sides; God is at work bringing an abundant crop, in spite of humans.
So whether we are at the stage in life of being soil, trying to figure it out, or are seeds for God’s kingdom, or whether we have grown into sowing those seeds, know this: God will bear fruit in all. Because that is what God does; God brings forth the harvest. May the Lord of the harvest be moving and growing in our lives. Amen.
Homily for Easter 3a, April 26th, 2020
The road to Emmaus story is by far one of my favorite Bible stories. Partly, because it contains surprise and mystery. I love a good mystery. But also, because it contains a story of tremendous transformation. Notice, if you will, the mood, when Jesus first encounters the disciples: their gaze most likely downwards, heads bowed low in grief, walking along slowly. When Jesus asks them to explain what they were talking about as they walked, they answer with the four saddest words ever to be uttered by a human being. “BUT WE HAD HOPED”. Past tense, a hope that is dashed to smithereens, a hope that had so much promise, so much potential, but now is NO longer. We had hoped. In those words, are found such a deep and profound sense of loss, it would seem that nothing could heal that wound.
But then notice, after their encounter with Jesus, how the mood has shifted. In the breaking of bread and conversation with Jesus, their eyes were OPENED. They recalled that their hearts were burning within them while he spoke, and then, they are so elated, so excited to share the news, that they leave the comfort of where they are staying and RUN back to Jerusalem in the dark! From the lowest mood, to being elated because Jesus is alive and HOPE has been restored! The disciples have been transformed by this awakening to new life, a new beginning for them and the world.
We are living in a time of numerous hopes being dashed. We too could echo the disciples on that road with our very own, “But we had hoped”. Hoped for weddings and gatherings, graduations and celebrations, concerts, performances, plays and musicals. Talent shows and milestones of life that will not be fully celebrated. Of memorials and funerals that will have to be put off or video recorded. Make no mistake, this has been one of the most difficult times for our world with a great loss of hope, and health and happiness. It has also clearly shown that we are broken. Our systems are flawed, our divisions cause the lack to be amplified because we have strived to be RIGHT, rather than forgiving and understanding and merciful. We have seen first-hand, the problems that continue to plague societies. The universe has proven how fragile our life really is and we are the students of that lesson.
And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened and rested, and exercised, and made art and played games and learned new ways of being and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced, some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. And the people healed. And in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless and heartless ways, the earth began to heal. And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed. Kitty O Meara.
During a season when we must deal with this virus and endure the fall out, death and loss and despair, even hopelessness, there is a growing recognition, an awareness, an eye-opening revelation, that we have all been given an incredible opportunity to become more alive than ever. We have been given a second chance, a do over if you will; no doubt a transformation has occurred in our world: Now we can decide how we will be transformed, how will our world be transformed in light of all this. Can this transformation be a lasting one?
Like butterflies emerging from cocoons, we have an ultra-rare chance to change our world for the better. Did you know, that in our seclusion, our earth has been healing, the wild animals are reclaiming the forests, the air and water are cleaner, the earth is less agitated. Many families have grown closer, we have begun to learn what is truly important and how before we were too busy to notice. It is like we were on a fast-moving treadmill. That we just have learned how to appreciate one another, a smile, a wave, a gesture of compassion. We have been witness to the fact that we actually care about one another! We have seen what loving one another can do, the joy that can come from helping, the happiness that comes from letting other humans know you care!
In the coming months as we emerge from this cocoon of isolation, we will be bombarded with messages that our country needs to get back to normal; which to many will mean buying things, supporting the national GDP. There will be a tremendous push to purchase things that you put off during quarantine and advertisers will use all the tricks of the trade to convince you now is the time.
But what if we defined what it means to be happy, not based on what we purchase, but based on how we treat one another, based on how we show love and compassion to one another. What if we define our human nature by the things we do when we are considering what we have gone through, what we have learned about what is important in our world? What if our transformation causes us to pay more attention to our planet, to get more involved in how this country is governed, to spend time listening to all sides of any situation, to resolving to end the great divide? What if we, as a world, decide that because of the potential we have seen for good, that we will not let things go back to the brokenness of before? The possibilities are only limited by our imagination and commitment to NOT letting our world return to “ normal” but rather following a NEW PATH. We can see this time as a time to slow down, pause our frantic pace, a gift to better our world and to help those most afflicted, or we can treat it as a blip on our screen, a glitch in the matrix of empty, mindless living. The choice is ours! Do your hearts not burn within you to live a fuller life, where we recognize that the world and all that God made is connected and vital? That we have been called to be stewards of all creation, all living things?
Let us not fall back into despair, but because of the hope that has come in the risen Lord, let us rise up from our heavy-laden spirits and walk the path that God has cleared for us. May we be transformed because of God’s love and may we seek to lift up all people, and mold our societies to live as we have been given life in Christ. TO NEW LIFE. Amen!
Homily for Easter A, April 12th, 2020
Be still and know that I am God;
Our scripture tells us a fair bit about the week leading up to today. We hear of the Passover supper that Jesus celebrated with his disciples, praying in Gethsemane, the betrayal and arrest of our Lord. We come away with the institution of the Eucharist and we recall that day and events with our own Maundy Thursday worship, footwashing, meals and the like. Then there is Good Friday; that dark, sunless day, that we read of Jesus brutal treatment, his crucifixion, death and burial in the borrowed tomb. We recall it with our serious worship, our bare altars, songs in minor keys and our solemn reproaches . . . But what about yesterday? Holy Saturday? The day of waiting. Although scripture does not say much about Holy Saturday, we can imagine that it was a day that the disciples, including Mary, would have been taking Sabbath, waiting to see what was next, perhaps locked away in isolation, in a quarantine of fear, not knowing what was coming. Their expectations regarding their future have been ripped apart. Jesus, their master and teacher is dead and their world is turned upside down. The door to the tomb is closed and their sense of purpose for their lives is in a shambles. How could this happen? What will they do now?
In these last few weeks, we have found our lives turned upside down by a virus and the effects of trying to contain it. This global event was not what any of us expected and for some it has found us without direction and asking some deep questions. How could this happen? What will we do now? Isolation can be a very frightening place to be; routines have been interrupted, sense of self questioned. It has caused our world to be afraid, to experience tremendous loss, personal, financial and emotional; and to worry about the future, for us, for our children. We too, have been waiting, a perpetual Holy Saturday, quarantined, longing for life to return to normal.
We have been waiting; for all this to be over, to go back to work, or school or our daily visits. Some have been waiting for weddings, or graduation, baptisms, sporting events or perhaps to attend to loved ones who have died. We have been waiting, and like Mary and the other disciples, perhaps one of our greatest longings, one of the things we miss the most is having a sense of direction and purpose.
The Gospels of Mark and Luke tell us that Mary was headed to the tomb to fulfill her duty, her purpose, to finish the Jewish tradition of anointing Jesus body with spices after his death. Preparations had been done on Friday and Saturday was the Sabbath, so she waited in obedience to the commandment. First thing Sunday morning, Mary set out to complete what she understood was her divine responsibility, her purpose as a disciple. But did you notice something? Mary did not achieve that which she went to the tomb to accomplish.
Rather, in the events of that morning, Mary’s life was RE-Purposed! Not the one that she had believed she had come for, but rather the one that the NOW RISEN LORD CALLED HER TO! Mary! The Lord called her name and in that moment of recognition she was given a new purpose and a new identity. Everything had changed for her. No longer would she be someone who would attend to the dead, but rather someone who would PROCLAIM that Christ was alive. Jesus called her to GO AND TELL. To tell the disciples this incredible news; to deliver the Easter message of hope for all the world! I have SEEN THE LORD!! Instead of a spirit of sorrow and a somber purpose, her life had been re-purposed into a spirit of JOY with a message of life. NEW LIFE!
As we emerge from quarantine, as our waiting draws to an end, chances are, things will never be the same. The world has changed. And in many cases, our lives have been re-purposed. From worker to full time caregiver for the family, from retail sales to home school teachers, Sewing masks for health care workers and folks who are vulnerable, checking in on elderly neighbors and friends, reaching out with technology to share smiles and laughter. The purposes that we had before, have been transformed into something that we perhaps did not expect, but which now serve others in different ways.
We have waited. And our wait has not been in vain. I believe that this Day, that we celebrate the Risen Christ, that our LIVES have be re-purposed by something even bigger than COVID19. Christ has called our names and we have been given the responsibility to proclaim him RISEN. To proclaim the incredible news of great joy that because he lives, so too shall we have new life. Not just at the end of our earthly lives, but RIGHT NOW. In the middle of this crisis, we have been re-purposed to share this message of hope for all the world. Called to speak the truth that no virus, no war, no political division, no power on earth or in heaven, no death, can keep our Lord in the tomb. It is empty and he has Risen. NOTHING, will ever be the same.
Praise the ONE Who breaks the darkness! The one who is worthy to be called the Lamb of God, the ONE WHO HAS COME FOR THE SALVATION OF THE WORLD. The one whose blood was shed for us . . . . Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. He is RISEN!!
(all of the above were shared with Pastor Chuck's permission)
At a worship service on September 26, 2021, again after the Gospel reading, and message, the congregation sang a song I was so impressed with that I decided to share the words here. Titled Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart, it is yet another song I think would make a really great prayer. Especially, for those who are seriously embracing the In His Steps question, what would Jesus have me do?
Blessed be the holy Trinity, one God, who alone does wonders, who lifts up the lowly, who fills the hungry with good things. Amen.
Let us confess our sin, trusting in the tender mercy of our God . . . God for whom we wait, in the presence of one another, we confess our sin before you. We fail in believing that your good news is for us. We falter in our call to tend your creation. We find our sense of self in material wealth. We fear those different from ourselves. We forget that we are your children, and turn away from your love. Forgive us, Blessed One, and assure us again of your saving grace. Amen.
Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, whose forgiveness is sure, and whose steadfast love endures forever. Amen. Let us honestly and humbly confess that we have not lived as God desires.
Loving and forgiving God . . . we confess that we are held captive by sin. In spite of our best efforts, we have gone astray. We have not welcomed the stranger; we have not loved our neighbor; we have not been as Christ to one another. Restore us, O God. Wake us up and turn us from our sin. Renew us each day in the light of Christ. Amen.
Blessed be the holy Trinity, one God, the God of manna, the God of miracles, the God of mercy. Amen. Drawn to Christ and seeking God’s abundance, let us confess our sin.
God, our provider, help us. It is hard to believe there is enough to share. We question your ways when they differ from the ways of the world in which we live. We turn to our own understanding rather than trusting in you. We take offense at your teachings and your ways. Turn us again to you. Where else can we turn? Share with us the words of eternal life and feed us for life in the world. Amen.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Let us confess our sin in the presence of God and of one another. Have mercy on us, O God.
We confess that we have sinned against you and against our neighbor. We have built walls instead of tables and have turned away the stranger. We have sought glory for ourselves and have treasured that which does not satisfy. Help us to love as you love, to welcome those you send, and to treasure mercy and justice. Turn us from our ways to your ways, and free us to serve those in need. Amen.