Friday, June 29, 2018

Embodied Faith: Living Together

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 1 John 1:1-4 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from God, the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

I have been very angry this week. I have to admit this to you this morning. I have been very angry.

It actually started late last week, when the news of what was happening at the border began to break. I was in Texas at an intensive at Lutheran Seminary of the Southwest to learn a little more Spanish for use in worship and to better understand elements of Latino culture and patterns of ministry as we begin our ministry next month on the horse farms with the Backside and Shiloh Methodist. I was with a group of Lutherans from across the country--both white and Hispanic--who were considering or already doing ministry among people of Latin descent in the church. As time passed, we began to get to know each other and hear and share experiences. We began to grow together, to go more deeply into relationship with each other. And to become friends. And, then, the news hit. And, suddenly, in the midst of my new Latino friends, all I could feel was a sense of shame and embarrassment at how these families were being treated at the border. I got angry. 

Then, on Monday, I got home late after a long day of travel. I got this text from my son: “Why is our family filled with stupid people? How many do I have to block?” When I replied to ask him what was going on, he directed me to Facebook. So, I went online and found an ugly discussion that was happening, the result of responses by family members of my own generation to a post made by my niece in Chicago about the migrant situation. Responses that attacked her as stupid and ignorant, that insulted her intelligence, and, then, of all things, defended their right to insult her because she was family and, no matter what, family was family. A family, I might add, that came to this country with no restrictions or quotas. A family whose wealth came in large part as a result of gifts of land from the government through the Homestead Act. And a family that had to change either the spelling or pronunciation of its name to sound more “American” in the midst of the anti-immigrant/anti-German fervor of World War 2. 

I got angrier.

It continued to grow throughout the week. The tipping point was yesterday. At the pantry, we have a family that I may have mentioned before. Great-grandparents who have had to take in their three great-grandchildren. We first met them a year or so ago. Overwhelmed and exhausted, one day at the pantry they finally opened up and shared everything they were going through. Their love for their great-grandchildren, their own medical issues that challenged their ability to care for them as well as they wanted, their grief at the loss of their life as they had envisioned it, their fear over their financial situation and fear over what might happen if one of them should get sick. Over time, we’ve helped them with food, with money, and with a housing situation that has been deplorable at best. 

Yesterday, one of our pantry volunteers and I went to their house to help them pack because they are moving. I was a little delayed getting there. When I finally did, this volunteer came out to meet me and to update me on the progress. And, then, she shared with me the shame the great-grandmother was feeling with our presence there. Her shame at how dirty the house was. And how cluttered it had become. But, mostly, she was embarrassed that we were seeing it. Seeing them, really. Seeing how poor and and how overwhelmed they really were. And all I could think about is how we have shamed poor people in our country to the point that they have begun to shame themselves.

I got angrier.

And, then, it was time for me to write my sermon. Somehow, the particular text in our lectionary that I am called to preach on each week is never an accident. This week is no different. This week, we are beginning a 4-part series on 1st John. We spent almost all of this past spring in the Gospel of John. The epistle of John is like a sequel to that gospel. But, it is written in a somewhat changed context. At the time the gospel was written, everyone pretty much agreed that Jesus was a human being. The question was over the claim of Jesus’ divinity. Remember the questions we heard asked of Jesus throughout our gospel lessons earlier this year? “Who are you?” and “Where do you come from?” 

By the time the epistle (or letter) of 1st John was written, things had changed. The early church had all reached the understanding that Jesus was God. But a dispute had grown in the community around his humanity. Some had begun to lose touch with the tangible reality of the incarnation. With Jesus in the flesh. The seeing, touching, and hearing of Jesus, the human being. So, the letter to the community was intended to address this dispute. To affirm Jesus’ divinity, but, particularly, to stress the tangibility, the humanity, and the community of Jesus. 

Why is this important? Why is the fact that Jesus was human so important? Not only for the early Christian community, but also for us today?

Here’s why. When we view Jesus as only divine. When we view Jesus only as God and not human, as well, it leads us to a faith that is private and individualized. If my spiritual experience is with a God who is only divine and not human, with a God who has not come to earth, who has not incarnated or who was embodied with humanity, then, my own spirituality--my faith--doesn’t require that I become incarnated. That I become embodied in community. In humanity. That my spirituality be communal, instead of individual. 

The incarnation of Jesus--of Jesus coming to us in human form and being embodied among us--requires a discipleship of us that is also incarnated. It requires an embodied faith, where we live in community. The primary message of 1st John is what it looks like to be in intentional community as disciples of Christ. 1st John recognizes that God “speaks” an embodied word--the Word of Life--that will be repeatedly identified as love. Authentic love is not some abstraction. Authentic love comes through speech, through action, and through presence. That is the manner of God’s communication to us through Jesus--the embodied Word of Life. It was what will also characterize what authentic faith and authentic community looks like for Jesus’ followers. 

So, for us, authentic faith and authentic community means that in our speech, in our actions, and in our presence, we embody God’s love, just as God embodied God’s love in Jesus Christ. It means that characterizing an entire group of people as thieves and murderers is just wrong. It means that characterizing all poor people as “lazy” and “good-for-nothing” is just wrong. And, just in case you’re feeling a little self-righteous at the moment, it also means that characterizing and entire group of people as lacking empathy, or inhumane, or racist, is also wrong.

But, mostly, it means and it requires that we must go deeper with each other into relationship. To be embodied with each other as Jesus was embodied with the first disciples and is still embodied among us today in Word and Sacrament. It means we must hear each other’s stories, mourn with each other, laugh with each other, cry together, celebrate together, choose our words in love rather than in anger, and then repent together when we fail to do this. Because we will fail. But, we will also trust that, even in our failure, our God continues to forgive us, and to form us, and to shape us into God’s people. Into the beloved community. It is this--love of God and love of neighbor that makes our joy complete.

I have one more story for you from this week. At the pantry on Wednesday, I was approached by one of our pantry clients. For the past 3 or 4 years, this client has cared for her ex-husband as his health declined because there was no one else to take him in. He died earlier this year. For the past few months she has shared her grief with me and we have mourned together. She came to talk to me this Wednesday because she was afraid and worried. She had received a call from her doctor’s office. There was something questionable about her liver results and she was being referred immediately to a specialist, who she was scheduled to see this past Friday. As she talked, I listened. I listened to how afraid she was to go to that appointment. How afraid she was that they might find cancer. And then we prayed. 

On my way home from helping our other pantry client pack, I received a call. She had gone to the doctor and found out that she would be okay. She was ecstatic. And so was I! Because comes through relationship.

I’m not angry anymore. Because this past week has, once again, taught me of the blessings of going deeper into relationship with others, especially others I normally wouldn’t. This is what an embodied faith looks like. It is the knowledge that I am a beloved child of God. And so are you. And so is everyone. And when we seek to be in relationship with one another in all our differences and all our messiness and in all our sameness and in all our beauty--just as God made us to be. Then, and only then, will our joy be complete. 

May you find such joy this week! Amen.

Preached June 24, 2018, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Pentecost 5
Readings: John 1:14-16, 1 John 1:1-4

Dejar Que el Agricultor Salga Libre (El Español)

Jesús continuó: «El reino de Dios se parece a quien esparce semilla en la tierra. Sin que este sepa cómo, y ya sea que duerma o esté despierto, día y noche brota y crece la semilla. La tierra da fruto por sí sola; primero el tallo, luego la espiga, y después el grano lleno en la espiga. Tan pronto como el grano está maduro, se le mete la hoz, pues ha llegado el tiempo de la cosecha».

También dijo: «¿Con qué vamos a comparar el reino de Dios? ¿Qué parábola podemos usar para describirlo? Es como un grano de mostaza: cuando se siembra en la tierra, es la semilla más pequeña que hay, pero una vez sembrada crece hasta convertirse en la más grande de las hortalizas, y echa ramas tan grandes que las aves pueden anidar bajo su sombra».

Y con muchas parábolas semejantes les enseñaba Jesús la palabra hasta donde podían entender. 34 No les decía nada sin emplear parábolas. Pero, cuando estaba a solas con sus discípulos, les explicaba todo. Marcos 4:26-34

Gracia y paz a ustedes de Dios, nuestro creador, y nuestro Salvador, Jesucristo. Amén.

En nombre de mi congregación en Kentucky--Grace & Glory--les traigo los saludos más cálidos. Como hemos empezado a conocernos unos a otros durante estos últimos días y hemos aprendido de los diferentes lugares de los que venimos para estar aquí, les agradezco especialmente a todos ustedes y a saber que muchas de nuestras congregaciones en esta iglesia están explorando las posibilidades de los nuevas Ministerios en nuestros contextos cambiantes o que han cambiado. Y también que muchos de ustedes son nuevos pastores como yo o se preparan a serlo.

He estado ahora en mi primera llamada en Kentucky por alrededor de un año y medio. En cierto modo, vivir allí ha sido una mezcla de la vida urbana que he vivido como adulto, pero, sobre todo, de la vida rural que viví hasta los diecinueve años.

Mi padre era un ranchero en el norte de Sur Dakota, un área que es conocida por un clima bastante árido, y con una geografía que estaba bien adaptada a la cría de ovejas y ganado.
 Además de la ganadería, también cultivó cultivos alimenticios--cultivos que se cosecharían al final de cada verano y que se asegurarían de que hubiera suficiente para alimentar a nuestros animales en inviernos brutales.

Por lo tanto, no parece casualidad que nuestras lecciones de hoy deban ser dos parábolas sobre los agricultores y la agricultura y las semillas. El Evangelio de Marcos contiene pocas parábolas, pero hay toda una serie de ellos que empiezan en el tercer capítulo y concluyen con estos dos. Cuando uno mira a todos juntos podemos ver que ellos crean un contexto para entender el Ministerio de Jesús como el Ministerio inaugural del Reino, pero un poco esquivo, venidero de Dios. Un reino que se siente como si nunca llegará debido a algún error de un discípulo o dos. O que permanecerá oculto debido a un mandamiento de Jesús de, simplemente, mantenerlo en secreto.

Un aspecto de las parábolas de Jesús proponida por Matt Skinner sobre Lutero es que tienen una manera de reordenar nuestras suposiciones y valores convencionales. No explican cómo podemos reconocer necesariamente el Reino de Dios. Pero, es claro que necesitaremos adoptar nuevas maneras de percibir el Reino de Dios.

La primera parábola es sobre un agricultor. Algo con lo que definitivamente puedo relacionarme. No hay nada estupendo en esta parábola. El granjero planta las semillas. Y entonces el granjero espera. Y espera. Y espera. Y espera.

Como alguien que ha vivido con un agricultor, puedo atestiguar la espera. Y esperando. A veces un poco preocupante. Entonces más espera. Y cuando uno espera, sin hacer realmente otra cosa que la plantación inicial, las cosas empiezan a suceder. Las semillas, enterradas en el suelo, empiezan a brotar. Y luego atravesar. Y luego crecer. Y crecer. Y crecer. Hasta que finalmente es el momento de la cosecha. Hay muy poco que el agricultor debe hacer, excepto para plantar la semilla y luego confiar en que la naturaleza va a tomar su curso, como inevitablemente siempre lo hace.

La segunda parábola es la de la semilla de mostaza. Es una parábola que probablemente hemos escuchado muchas veces en el transcurso de nuestras vidas. De una semilla que no es como cualquier semilla ordinaria, pero que comienza como algo muy pequeño y aparentemente insignificante, pero que se convierte en algo muy visible y grande. Un arbusto que es más que simplemente hermoso. La pequeña semilla crece en un arbusto cuyas ramas ofrecen refugio y seguridad.

Estoy aquí esta semana porque la congregación a la que sirvo esta en el comienzo de un nuevo Ministerio para nuestros vecinos hispanos. Muchos de ustedes están aquí también, porque están explorando algo similar o ya están avanzando. Hemos escuchado las estadísticas que se relacionan con el crecimiento de la población latina en nuestro país. También hemos escuchado las estadísticas sobre el declive de las congregaciones en el ELCA. En medio de estas estadísticas y en medio de estas dos parábolas, hay un par de lecciones para nosotros.

Una de las primeras, y quizás más importantes cosas que debemos recordar es que, al igual que el agricultor en la primera parábola tiene poco que ver con el crecimiento de las semillas, así que, también, tenemos poco que ver con el crecimiento del Reino de Dios. 

Así como la naturaleza finalmente asegura la brotación y el crecimiento de las semillas, así que, también, la naturaleza del Reino de Dios es crecer y ser visto y atestiguado. Somos como el agricultor, esperando que las semillas del Reino de Dios crezcan y se echen a la raíz, sabiendo que sucederá. ¡ y pasará! La cuestión es Dónde estaremos cuando suceda.

La segunda lección es que el Reino de Dios no puede ser comparado con árboles asombrosos en nuestro mundo, como los cedros del Líbano. O las Secoyas de California. O los robles de Kentucky. O de cualquier otro árbol alto, majestuoso. No, el Reino de Dios es comparado con el de un arbusto. Un arbusto de mostaza. Una planta ordinaria que aparece y toma un lugar sobre pulgada por pulgada. Y que eventualmente termina cambiando todo el paisaje. Algunos podrían considerarlo una molestia. Otros podrían pensar que es demasiado de algo bueno. Y sin embargo, otros, como los pájaros en nuestra parábola, podrían encontrar un lugar donde puedan estar a salvo. Un lugar donde estarán contentos.

La pregunta para nosotros al salir de aquí es ¿qué sigue? Sabiendo lo que está sucediendo demográficamente en nuestro país. 

Sabiendo lo que está sucediendo demográficamente en nuestras congregaciones. Sabiendo que el Reino de Dios avanzará sin importar lo que suceda, ¿elegiremos ser parte de ella? ¿para profundizar más en nuestros vecindarios? Para profundizar más en la relación con los que podrían parecer un poco diferentes de nosotros, pero que tienen, como todos nosotros, el mismo deseo de refugio y seguridad? ¿por hospitalidad? ¿para el Santuario y el sustento? ¿Elegiremos ser parte del Reino de Dios que trabaja y ser transformados por lo ordinario de maneras que difícilmente podemos imaginar?Así como nosotros ya hemos sido transformados por los inimaginables actos de nuestro Salvador, Jesucristo a través del poder del Espíritu Santo?

Eso espero, queridos amigos. Eso espero. Porque en este mismo momento, Dios es obra en nuestro mundo y nos llama a encontrar al agricultor que está en lo más profundo de nosotros para venir junto a él y asociarnos en ese trabajo. ¡ que escuchemos la llamada!


Predicado el 14 de junio de 2018, en el Seminario Luterano del Suroeste.
Lectura: Marcos 4:26-34

Letting the Farmer Go Free (English)

He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples. Mark 4:26-34 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from God, our Creator, and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

On behalf of my congregation in Kentucky--Grace & Glory--I bring you warmest greetings. As we’ve begun to know each other over these past few days and have learned of the different places we’ve come from to be here, I’m particularly grateful for all of you and to know that many of our congregations in this church are exploring the possibilities of new ministries in our changing (or changed) contexts. And even that some of you are in or nearing first call.

I’ve been now in my first call in Kentucky for about a year-and-a-half. In some ways, living there has been this interesting mix between the urban life I’ve lived as an adult and also of the rural life that I lived until the age of 19.

My father was a rancher in north central South Dakota, an area that at that time was known for a fairly arid climate, but with a geography that was well suited to growing sheep and cattle. In addition to ranching, he also grew feed crops--crops that would be harvested at the end of each summer and put up to ensure that there would be enough to feed our animals over rather brutal winters.

So, it seems no coincidence that our lessons today should be two parables about farmers and farming and seeds. The Gospel of Mark contains few parables, but there are an entire string of them that begin in the third chapter and conclude with these two. When one looks at all of them together we can see that they create a context for understanding the ministry of Jesus as the inaugural ministry of the coming, yet somewhat elusive, reign of God. A reign that feels as though it will never come because of some blunder by a disciple or two. Or that will remain hidden because of a command by Jesus to, simply, keep it a secret.

One aspect of Jesus’ parables suggested by Matt Skinner at Luther is that they have a way of reordering our conventional assumptions and values. They don’t explain how we can necessarily recognize the reign of God. But, they do make it clear that we will need to adopt new ways of perceiving God’s kingdom.

The first parable is about a farmer. Something with which I can definitely relate. There’s nothing earth-shattering about the chain of events in this parable. The farmer plants the seeds. And then the farmer waits. And waits. And waits. And waits.

As one who has lived with a farmer, I can attest to the waiting. And waiting. Sometimes a little worrying. Then more waiting. And as one waits, without really doing anything other than the initial planting, things begin to happen. The seeds, buried in the ground, begin to sprout. And then to break through. And then to grow. And grow. And grow. Until finally it is time for the harvest. There is really little that the farmer must do except to plant the seed and then to trust that nature will take its course, as it inevitably always does.

The second parable, then, is that of the mustard seed. It’s a parable that we have likely heard many times over the course of our lives. Of a seed that isn’t like any ordinary seed, but that begins as something very small and seemingly insignificant, but that turns into something very visible and great. A tiny seed that grows and morphs into the greatest of all shrubs. A shrub that is more than just beautiful, but a shrub whose branches offer shelter and security. 

I am here this week because the congregation I serve is at very start of a new ministry to our Latino neighbors. Many of you are here, too, because you are either exploring something similar or already moving forward. We’ve listened to the statistics that relate to the growth of the Latino population in our country. We’ve also heard the statistics about the decline of congregations in the ELCA. In the midst of these statistics and in the midst of these two parables, there are a couple of lessons for us.

One of the first, and perhaps most important things for us to remember is that, just as the farmer in the first parable has little to do with the growth of the seeds, so, too, we have little to do with the growth of God’s kingdom. Just as nature eventually ensures the sprouting and growth of the seeds, so, too, the nature of God’s kingdom is to grow and to be seen and witnessed. We are like the farmer, waiting for the seeds of God’s kingdom to grow and take root, yet knowing though that it will happen. Because this is what God’s kingdom does. It happens.

Then, the second lesson is that God’s kingdom cannot be likened to amazing trees, such as the cedars of Lebanon. Or the redwoods of California. Or the oaks of Kentucky. Or of any other tall, majestic tree. No, God’s kingdom is likened to that of a shrub. A mustard shrub. An ordinary plant that shows up and takes a place over inch by inch. And that eventually ends up changing the entire landscape. Some might consider it a nuisance. Others might think it is too much of a good thing. And yet others, like the birds in our parable, might find a place where they can be safe. A place where they will be happy. 

The question for us as we leave here is what is next? Knowing what is happening demographically in our country. Knowing what is happening demographically in our congregations. Knowing that God’s kingdom will move forward no matter what happens, wiil we chose to be a part of it? To go more deeply into our neighborhoods? To go more deeply into relationship with those who might look a little different from us, but who have, as we do, the same desire for shelter and security? For hospitality? For sanctuary and sustenance? Will we chose to be a part of God’s kingdom at work and, as a result, to be transformed by the ordinary in ways unimaginable? Just as each of us has been transformed by the unimaginable acts of our Savior, Jesus Christ?

I hope so, dear friends. I hope it is time to let the farmer in each of us go free! Amen.

Preached June 14, 2018, at Lutheran Seminary of the Southwest, Austin, TX.
Reading: Mark 4:26-34

Tuning In: Tuning Into Each Other

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.  Exodus 20:12-16 (NRSV)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free. Amen.

What. Does. Freedom. Look. Like? 

Over these past few weeks, we’ve been working our way through the Ten Commandments. Or, as I like better, God’s Ten Words. Given to Israel on Mount Sinai. Given to Israel after they had been freed by God from slavery in Egypt. 

It’s probably not too difficult for us to imagine what this freedom might have looked like them. Their enslavement had happened gradually. Over hundreds of years. When everything they made with their hands eventually was no longer theirs, but taken by the Egyptians. Where, over time, they lost hope. And they began to feel as though there was no longer a future for them. That everything they owned or that they made had been taken away. Even, after time, their dignity and self-respect.

And, then, unexpectedly, they were freed. We can only imagine what that must have felt like. When Miriam danced with joy and excitement on the shore of the Red Sea, we can begin to get a glance at what freedom looked like for Israel.

What does freedom look like for us today?  We, who claim to live in the freest country in the world. What does freedom look like for us? Any ideas? Call them out. 

Now, here’s another question for you. What is freedom for? That may be a more difficult question. Any ideas?

What would you say to me if I suggested that the commandments are what freedom looks like? Would you think I was a little confused perhaps? After all, how can freedom look like commandments? How can freedom look like rules and boundaries? And, in particular, for us Lutherans who believe that it is only through God’s grace that we are freed--by the Gospel and not by the Law. How is it that the Ten Commandments are what freedom looks like?

Perhaps the best answer to this question is in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It is there that we read over and over and over again that we are freed not by the works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. Over and over again. We are freed by faith, Paul writes. For freedom Christ has set us free! 

Paul writes that we can’t rely on the law for our freedom, but solely on Christ. It is through Christ’s action that we receive freedom. Just as Israel received freedom through God’s actions.

So, then, how does freedom look like the commandments? Like the Law?

Paul continues on. Since you have been freed by Christ, now use that freedom. Use it to submit to your neighbor in love. Because freedom isn’t true freedom without boundaries. Freedom isn’t when our children fear gun violence in school, but when we take steps to ensure that they are safe. Freedom isn’t when newly-arrived asylum-seekers have their children torn away from them, but when we seek to ensure that families are preserved and children protected. Freedom isn’t when one feels so alone and hopeless that suicide is the only option, but when they are sought out and loved. Freedom is not the endless satisfaction of every sexual impulse, but the commitment of two people to each other. Freedom isn’t when the powerful take whatever they want, but when we respect the property of others and do our best to help them maintain and keep it. Freedom isn’t when the strong dominate the weak, but when the bodies and lives of all people are respected. 

The purpose of the law is not your best life now, but your neighbor’s best life now. And, since we’re stuck here waiting the fullness of all of God’s kingdom to be re-knit into a new creation, God says to us, “As long as you’re here in this condition, love your neighbor.” And, then God says, “Let me be explicit. Make sure everyone gets a day off each week. Take care of your parents and of the elderly. Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Don’t have sex with someone else’s spouse. Don’t hurt your neighbor or damage their reputation with your words. Don’t desire your neighbor’s stuff. That’s how you love your neighbor.” 

The point of the law is not to make our sinful souls into self-help projects, but to turn one neighbor towards the other. It’s not about self-improvement, but about neighbor-improvement. Note that in our first reading, which we have heard every Sunday for the past three Sundays. Note that in it Jesus says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” which is the second greatest commandment after loving God. The law is like a fence around everything our neighbor values (and we value): property, relationship, reputation, and life.

What are the things that you value? What are the values that you think are basic to living together in community? Perhaps it’s valuing diversity. Perhaps it’s respecting the voices of everyone, regardless of wealth or power. As we move through the rest of our worship, I invite you to find that Post-It note in your bulletin and to write down those things that are important for us to live in community--not just here in this place, but also in our world. Then, as you leave today, there is a map of Oldham County on the wall in the fellowship hall. I invite you to post them there. On the place where we are in community together. 

Because, dear friends, the law isn’t about us. It’s about our neighbor. That is the good news of the second table of the commandments. That God loves our neighbor so much that God gives us the law. And, that God gives our neighbor the exact same law. 

We have been set free in Christ to love God and to love and serve our neighbor. May we do so today, tomorrow, and for the rest of our lives. Amen.

Tuning In: Tuning Into God

You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. Exodus 20:3-11 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from our jealous God, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Last week was the first of four Sundays that we are spending in studying the Ten Commandments or, better, God’s Ten Words given to Israel as they entered into a covenant. An agreement. A mutual agreement. 

These Ten Words are God’s vision of what an ideal society looks like. A society that is well ordered. Where it’s people are tuned into God and into each other.

Today, we are moving more specifically into the commandments. Jewish tradition has it that the Ten Words were given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Now let’s remember the context. Israel had been enslaved in Egypt. Through Moses, God delivered the people from slavery, across the Red Sea, through the wilderness, and to Mount Sinai. 

This journey to Sinai has not been easy. In fact, there are times when it has been downright hard. After Israel successfully came through the Red Sea, escaped the Egyptian army, and then celebrated on the other shore, it was not long before they began to regret leaving Egypt. It was not long before, in their fear and bewilderment, they began to have second thoughts about all of this. And they began to quarrel with Moses. “Why did you bring us out of Egypt?” they challenged him. “Why?” they cry out in their fear and bewilderment.

These past few days, Bill and Chris and I were in Fort Wayne attending synod assembly. We listened to several speakers, attended workshops, worshiped, listened to wonderful music and had a pretty good time. One of the first speakers was a woman named Peggy Hahn. She is an assistant to the bishop in the East Texas-Louisiana synod of the ELCA. She is also the executive director of LEAD, an organization that works to grow the Christian leaders who grow faith communities.

In her address to the assembly, she talked about the three R’s of Christian leadership: Resistance, Relationships, and Remarkable. I actually think that they also describe the Christian life.

Resistance. This is what Israel was in the midst of when they began to quarrel with Moses. “Why did you bring us out of Egypt? It would have been better if we had stayed in slavery!” This is what happens with change. Whether it is change in our personal lives or change here in this community, we resist it. Why? Why do we resist change so much? Because it is scary. It is unknown. And when we move into the unknown all of that fear and bewilderment begins to grow and we begin to resist. To push back. To argue just like Israel. Why? Why do we have to change? Let’s just go back or stay the way we are.

The interesting thing is about resistance to change is that is can actually be resistance to the one thing that can bring hope. Look at Israel. In each response to their fear and bewilderment, God was right there. Working. Bringing water out of a rock. Delivering quail and manna each day for food. Bringing them safely to Sinai, into God’s presence, and into a covenant relationship with God--this jealous God. This passionate God.  The word that is used in Hebrew for this covenant relationship is the same word that is used in the marriage covenant. Where two people express their love and fidelity to each other.

And, that, after all is what the first table of the commandments is all about--these first four commandments. They are an expression of love and fidelity in our relationship with God. God is saying to us, as Luther wrote, “...Let me alone be your God, and never search for another.” And if you lack anything, “look to me for it and seek it from me.” Or whenever you suffer misfortune and distress, crawl to me and cling to me. I, I myself, will give you what you need and help you out of every danger. Only do not let your heart cling to or rest in anyone” or anything else.

It’s about trust. 

Luther, in writing about the first commandment, says that “to have a god is to have something in which the heart trusts completely.” 

What do you trust in? Who or what is your god? Is it money or property? Your bank account? Those are pretty easy to identify as things that distract us from God. 

Or perhaps it’s your family. Or your hobbies. Or church. Or religion. Things that we think of as good but that can still become all-consuming because they, too, can take us away from our relationship with God.

There’s that second R. 

Relationship. It’s about how we order our lives and whether or not they are ordered first around our relationship with God. Because if our relationship with God is not healthy, then our relationship with others will also not be healthy.

This is why God gives us God’s divine name. For us to call out to God. For forgiveness. To sing out in thanksgiving and praise. To cry out for deliverance and healing in the midst of our fear and bewilderment. God’s name. Poured out and marked on us in our baptisms. That we spend a life of faith learning how to use properly.

Relationship. It’s also why God gives us the Sabbath. Not necessarily Sunday. But, any day during the week when are to be unbound by work and from the power that others have over us. When we are unbound by technology, which keeps us working 24 hours a day. To be unbound and to have full and free lives in the presence of God and in community, where we continued to be formed and reformed as God’s people and then sent out to love our neighbor. One day each week. Because God’s gracious intrusion into human existence was not a one-time event, but to be a regular, ritualized reality to experience and deepen our relationship with God and with each other.

But, see, here’s the thing. It is impossible for us to keep these commandments. I know, right? Crap. 

But that’s where the third “R” comes in. 


You see our jealous God, our zealous God, our passionate God, loves us so deeply and desires us so much and is so tuned into us that, when we fail to tune into God through our distraction or our doubt, or our failure or our sin, God, through Jesus, steps back in. Fixes it. And draws us back to God. Back into relationship with God, so that we can then be in relationship with our neighbor.


Today, we are commissioning a new Vision Team to begin a process of imagining where God is calling our congregation to further ministry here in Goshen, Kentucky. It is a process that will very likely result in change. And times of fear and bewilderment, where we may not know what the future will bring.

But, this is where the Three R’s can remind us of the promise of these first Four Commandments, these First Four Words of God. That in the midst of our resistance to change, God will be steadfast in God’s relationship with us, even in our doubt. Because God is simply remarkable.

Thanks be to God! Amen.

Preached June 3, 2018 at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Pentecost 2
Readings: Matt. 22:34-40; Exodus 20:3-11

Tuning In: God Tunes Into Us

On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  Exodus 19:1-6, 20:1-2 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from God, our Creator; Jesus, our Redeemer; and the Holy Spirit, our Sanctifier. Amen.

Welcome to this day! It is the first Sunday of four that we will spend thinking about the Ten Commandments, or the Ten Words, as they are called in Judaism. It’s also Trinity Sunday, which is the one Sunday of the church year in which we attempt to explain and to celebrate the Trinity.

Can you think of something else we’re celebrating this weekend?

That’s right! Memorial Day! What does Memorial Day mean to you?

Yes, it’s a day of remembering. We’ve been doing a lot of remembering. Last week, we celebrated the festival of Pentecost. When we remember the sending of the Holy Spirit--the Advocate that Jesus had promised to send to the disciples after his ascension. You may remember that we heard that it wasn’t an accident that there were large crowds in Jerusalem on that day. It was no coincidence. They had come to the city--to the temple--to celebrate the Jewish festival of Shavu’ot. This was a holiday of remembering for them, too, just like Monday’s holiday is for us.

Do you remember what the Jewish people were remembering? Yes, it was the remembrance of God’s giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Fifty days after the Passover. Fifty days after Israel had been freed by God from slavery in Egypt. They had passed through the wilderness and reached Mount Sinai. It was at Mount Sinai that Israel entered into a covenant with God--the promise we just heard in the reading from Exodus 19: That, if they obeyed God and stayed true to God’s covenant, then they would be God’s most precious possession out of all the peoples. Israel would be a kingdom of priests for God. A holy nation.

So, to help Israel stay true to the covenant, God gifted them with the Torah. Or the Law. We often think that this is just the Ten Commandments. But, it was much, much more. The video we are about to watch will help us better understand what the Torah meant to Israel. It will also help us understand what the Torah meant to Jesus. 

Let’s watch.

Perhaps the biggest challenge we have as Protestants is that we don’t quite understand what to do with the Law. We teach that we are saved by faith and not by our works--not by the things we do. That we are saved simply through our faith. That we can’t earn our own salvation.

Yet, what we heard in the video is that the law is all about relationships. About our relationship with God. And about our relationships with each other, with our neighbors. Even with our enemies.

It seems perfect that we should begin this series on the Ten Commandments today, on Trinity Sunday. This day when we celebrate the Three Persons of the Godhead. Three distinct persons--each with its own nature, each with its own purpose, each unique, and yet one. Unified with each other. In relationship with each other. You see, the very nature of God is relational. And, it’s this same God that has created us to be in relationship. To be in relationship with God. And to be in relationship with each other. To love God and to love our neighbor. 

Luther wrote in his introduction to the Ten Commandments that the person who knows the ten commandments knows all of scripture: love God, and love your neighbor. 

The Law teaches us and leads us how to live into God’s unchanging goal for us. God’s vision about what a just and safe a society looks like. A vision of a world of shalom, of wholeness. A vision of a world that is properly ordered--that is tuned into God and into each other. 

The Formula of Concord, which is one of the principle documents based on God’s Word that we as Lutherans confess and affirm, lays this out clearly for us, as believers. 

“We believe, teach, and confess that, although people who truly believe in Christ and are genuinely converted to God have been liberated and set free from the curse and compulsion of the law through Christ, they indeed are not for that reason without the law. Instead, they have been redeemed by the Son of God so that they may practice the law day and night.”

This is why the Law is still important for us. Because it is the ideal--God’s ideal vision--that we are called to live into. We, who have been freed from our own slavery to sin by Jesus’ dying on the cross, are freed, then, to love and to serve our neighbor. 

Because it is always about relationship. With God. And with each other. Always. 


Preached May 27, 2018, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Pentecost 1
Readings: Matthew 22:34-40; Exodus 19:1-6, 20:1-2

Friday, June 15, 2018


When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
        and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
        before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ Acts 2:1-21 (NRSV)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Alright! It’s time to be honest. Who watched the wedding yesterday morning? Who got up early and watched the wedding live of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle? Come on! I know some of you must have. I did. I am a huge fan of British culture and history, thanks in large part to Downton Abbey.

It was a beautiful occasion, wasn’t it. (All weddings are beautiful, aren’t they?) Her dress was beautiful in its simplicity and sophistication. Ms. Markle wore the tiara originally made for Queen Mary in 1919. She wore a veil that was 16 feet long and that was trimmed in hand-embroidered flowers representing each of the 53 countries of the Commonwealth. She was stunning. And, Prince Harry looked dashing in his military uniform, the Blues and Royals of the Household Cavalry, the arm of the British service in which he served for 10 years--a period of service that included a tour of duty in Afghanistan. And the children--the little sons and daughters of the royal family who acted as page boys and bridesmaids. Well, they were just adorable. It was a wonderful, royal wedding--with all of the pomp and circumstance and tradition we have come to expect from the British royal family.

This one, though...this one felt a little different. A little more unique than most. Even some of the commentators picked up on this, remarking that this wedding in particular seemed to move the royal family just a little further into modernity.

What was it that felt so different? Well, to begin with Meghan Markle is an American. Then, it’s hard to miss the fact that she is bi-racial--the daughter of a white man and a black woman. Throughout the wedding, there were things that showed us who she was. Her solo walk up half of the center aisle. The exchange of two rings, one for the bride and one for the groom--unlike the usual royal tradition of a ring only for the bride. Then, in addition to the usual Anglican boys' choir, there was also a Gospel choir, singing “Stand By Me” and “This Little Light of Mine.” Finally, the address was spoken by Bishop Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church here in the United States. And his wasn’t any ordinary, royal wedding address. Quoting Martin Luther, he spoke passionately about the Power of Love, in the style of African-American prophetic preaching, growing more and more excited and, even, going a little longer than he was supposed to go.

One can only wonder what it must have felt like to be sitting there, sensing something new and different happening. One can only wonder how we might have reacted to this new and different wedding, this blend of cultures. This beautiful blend of diverse culture. This royal wedding, unlike all of the rest, because of a new and different and wonderful diversity. One can only wonder. 

Just like one can only wonder what it might have felt like to be at the first Pentecost, so very long ago.

All of the disciples had gathered together that day--all 120 of them. Men and women. They had come together because thousands of Jews from across the region had also gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavu’ot, or the Festival of Weeks--one of three major annual Jewish festivals. In Greek, Shavu’ot was known as Pentecost, because it came 50 days after Passover. 

Legend had it that 50 days after that first Passover--after the Jews were freed from slavery in Egypt--they camped at Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Torah, or the Instruction, from God on Mount Sinai. Passover had freed the Jews physically from bondage in Egypt. But it was Pentecost that gave the Jews spiritual freedom, a freedom from bondage to idolatry and immortality, a freedom given in the Torah and, as part of it, the Ten Commandments. 

So, as the disciples gathered on that festival day, one can only wonder what they must have been thinking. Or talking about. Jesus had risen from the dead some 50 days before. And only 10 days ago, Jesus had ascended into heaven. He had gone away. He had left them physically. No longer present in their lives. Or so it must have felt.

Jesus had promised to send the Holy Spirit. To send an Advocate. A Comforter. “And I will ask the Father,” he had spoken to them. “And he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees her or knows her. You know her, because she abides with you, and she will be in you.” 

Jesus had promised. But, they had no idea when this would happen. Or, even, if it would happen. 

Do you ever doubt God? Do you ever doubt that God will keep God’s promises? We, who live some 2 millennia after Christ, who long for the fullness, for the wholeness, for the shalom of God’s kingdom in the midst of a world that often seems dark and that often seems to be crumbling around us. A world where children aren’t safe in school, where refugees and immigrants are rejected at the border, or separated from their children. A world that seems to be in a state of despair, that seeks to mask its pain in drugs or alcohol or anything else that will keep us from feeling this darkness. A world that seems to be growing further and further away from God. And from the church.

Do you ever doubt that God will keep God’s promises? Do you worry, just like the disciples must have worried as they gathered together that day?

And, then, they heard it!!! The roar that sounded like a rush of violent wind. It filled the house. And, then, the divided tongues that looked like fire. Fire, that ever refining agent, that purifying element that whooshed in as one large mass of flame and then divided into 120 individual tongues resting on each of the disciples. And, then, filled with the Holy Spirit, the languages that came out of their mouths. Diverse languages. Languages from all of the lands to which the Jews had dispersed. Languages that represented the diversity of all those who had gathered that day in Jerusalem. Language that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, reached each and every person where they were. Unexpectedly.

Because, that is what the Holy Spirit does. Unexpectedly shows up exactly where we are. In the midst of our worry. In the midst of our broken world. In the midst of our messy lives, she shows up and begins to do her work. Unexpectedly.

Just as the Spirit comes unexpectedly and continues to surprise us, I have a surprise for you, too. I would invite you to look under your seat to see if anything is taped there. If so, then you get to be the reader of a second lesson for us to consider today. (And, if you don’t want to read it, you can pass it to someone near you who is more comfortable reading it out loud.)

Over these past few weeks, we’ve been reading select portions of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. What we are about to hear are the closing words to Paul’s letter. At the time he wrote this letter, Paul was in prison in Rome. One can only wonder what he must have had to worry about. Whether he might see them again. Whether he might ever be freed? Whether he might be martyred as many of the disciples would be? There would have been much for him to worry about. Yet, let us hear the words that Paul wrote to them. 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7 (NRSV)

Sisters and brothers, what are you worried about? What troubles you today? Take out that square of paper I mentioned at the beginning of worship. Write down on it what has you worried. We will turn those worries over to God in prayer. Then, write what you might find to rejoice in this week. 

The Holy Spirit continues to show up in the most unexpected ways in our lives and in our world. She keeps us with Christ in faith. She offers renewal. She offers re-creation. She seeks to heal each of us and to bring us together to do the work of building God’s kingdom, a kingdom where there are no more worries, no more divisions, no more barriers of class, gender or age. A kingdom that might look more like what we saw in yesterday’s royal wedding--a world of inclusiveness. A world of unity in all its diversity. A world redeemed by the power of the Holy Spirit. A world with something truly to rejoice about!

And, now, may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Preached May 20, 2018, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY
Readings: John 14:16-17

Living in Hope: Living Like Jesus

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Philippians 2:1-13 (NRSV)

Grace to you and peace from God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s good to be back. Although it’s nice to be away, it’s always good to be back and get back into a regular routine, isn’t it? 

I heard that I kind of messed up last week. That I gave Pastor Funk the wrong scripture lesson to preach on. So, my apologies for that. But, in a way, it may be a positive thing. You heard the story of Peter’s vision and of his experience with Cornelius, the first Gentile converted into the early church. It was Peter’s vision and this incident that was the beginning of the sharing of the Good News of Jesus Christ outside the Jewish community. This incident led to Paul’s commissioning to go into the broader world--the broader Gentile world. 

The lesson you should have heard last week was from the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Now, if you recall, we heard about the church at Philippi a few weeks ago. It’s first convert was Lydia, a wealthy woman who sold purple cloth and who also opened up her home to Paul and Silas. We know, from this letter, that Paul had very warm feelings toward this congregation. This wasn’t always so with Paul and his churches. When he wrote the letter to the Galatian church, for example, he was very angry.

But, this wasn’t the case with the Philippians. We know that Paul wrote this letter while he was in prison. In the ancient world, prison wasn’t like it is in our world. If you were imprisoned, you had no food or rations unless people from the outside brought them to you. We know that the church in Philippians sent him food and other gifts in prison. They also sent a member to minister to Paul’s needs and to act as a messenger. A man named Epaphroditus, who we read about in the second half of chapter 2.

So Paul deeply loved this congregation. And part of his reason for writing to them was to express his gratitude, plus to give an update on what was happening to him. But, there was another reason that Paul was writing to them. There was conflict happening in the young church, growing divisions. The fellowship of the Philippi church was becoming fractured, not by doctrinal factors, but by personal differences. Differences that arose out of rivalries, out of selfishness, out of vanity, out of animosity. 

This is the primary reason that Paul is writing them--to help them find the way to overcome their divisions. How does he do it? He points them back to Jesus. To the divine becoming human. To a God who is downwardly mobile. To a God who empties Godself by taking on the form of a slave.

In our 21st century sensibilities, we don’t fully understand the counter-cultural aspect of what this meant to the ancient world. In that culture, a God who was a “self-demoting” God was not a God who was useful for human life. It was one thing for Zeus to become human for a day to play tricks on people, but it was a whole other thing for the God of the universe to come down and take on the form of a slave.

Who needs a God like that? This doesn’t sound like a God who is winner. Like a mighty deity who comes to the aid of powerless humans. Like the “kick-butt-and-take-names” kind of God that we would want on our side. Not some “loser God.” Because in the Roman Empire, dominance and victory and upward mobility were a sign of power and authority. Funny, how that hasn’t changed much, has it?

Yet, Jesus empties himself. Becomes a servant. Fully inhabits humanity. Fully incorporates human life into divine life. Not just for a day, but for a lifetime, during which he submits to all of the indignities and joys of human life, including death. Death on the cross. 

It is in Jesus that we witness the full revealing of who God is. A God who doesn’t withhold love until we come up to God’s level, but a God who stoops to our level. And who scoops us up in all our messiness and who makes us part of God’s life, of the Triune life. A life where we are healed and saved.

This is the God Paul is writing about to the church in conflict in Philippians. It’s the God Paul is writing to us about, too.

We live in a divided world. We have begun to sort ourselves into our own little, like-minded groups. Where the news we listen to or the conversation we engage in reinforces our divisions. Conservative versus liberal. Rich versus poor. Gay versus straight. Male versus female. Black versus white. 

It has worked its way into the church, too. Where things that are said become politicized. Where differences become sources of division. Where we forget who we are as people of God. People of a downwardly-mobile God.

Paul reminds the Philippians and us of his vision for a counter-cultural church. An odd assortment of people. A people who can love each other even though we might not agree. Where we are unified even though we aren’t uniform. Where we agree upon the goal even though we might not always agree on how to best achieve those goals. Because we understand that our unity is in Christ. That even though God has created each one of us to be unique and distinct individuals, we are unified in Christ.

This is the most profound and counter-cultural message for us to proclaim to the world. It is the most profound and counter-cultural way for us to live.  With the “same mind that was in Christ Jesus.” Humble. Servant-like.

This past week, the church council approved an updated statement on behalf of our congregation--a statement that more fully explains what it means to be a “Reconciling in Christ” congregation, something this congregation has been from its very beginning 20 years ago. Something that, in that time, was very counter-cultural. Something that continues to be counter-cultural.

You have a copy of it in your worship folder today. I’d invite you to locate it. And, then, let’s read it together:

As a community of the people of God, 
we are called to minister to all people of our world, 
knowing that the world is often an unloving place 
and can be a place of alienation and brokenness. 
Christ calls us to reconciliation and wholeness 
and challenges us through the Gospel 
to be agents of healing.

We, at Grace & Glory, are a 
Reconciling in Christ congregation. 
This means that we welcome all 
who are seeking God’s love and grace. 
Therefore, we affirm and welcome all, 
regardless of age, race or culture, 
sexual orientation, gender identity, 
gender expression or relationship status. 
We also affirm and welcome all 
without regard to addictions, 
physical or mental health issues, 
imprisonment, socio-economic circumstances, 
or anything else that may divide us. 

Our unity is in Christ.


Preached May 13, 2018, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Easter 7
Readings: Luke 6:43-45, Philippians 2:1-13

Living in Hope: Sharing the Hope of Jesus

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.” (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,

‘For we too are his offspring.’

Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” At that point Paul left them. But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them. Acts 17:16-34 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you, from our Lord and resurrected Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. 

The Apostle Paul never expected to end up in Athens. Yes, it’s that same Athens--the ancient city in Greece that we still know today.  A center of trade and learning. People came from across Greece and throughout the Mediterranean area to this cosmopolitan city, a place that laid the cultural foundations for all of western civilization.

Paul never intended to end up here. He did not travel to Athens in search of converts to "The Way." After he and Silas left Philippi, which was the setting for our story last week, they continued west to Thessalonica. There, in Thessalonica, Paul and Silas were so successful, sharing the Good News in the synagogue, that several were convinced, including a few Jews, a larger number of Greeks, and several prominent women. 

But other members of the synagogue weren’t as convinced. In fact, they were jealous and, eventually, formed a mob and started a riot. Paul and Silas were sent on to Berea to avoid trouble. 

There, too, they began in the Jewish synagogue. This time, the Beroean Jews were more “honorable” than those in Thessalonica. Many of them eagerly came to faith, including--the text notes--a number of reputable Greek women and many Greek men. Yet, it wasn’t long before the Jews from Thessalonica found out that Paul and Silas were in Beroea. They followed them there, once again, upsetting and disturbing the crowd.  This time, the brothers and sisters sent Paul away, while Silas and a new disciple, named Timothy, remained behind. Paul’s escorts took him to Athens and then returned to Beroea with instructions from Paul that Silas and Timothy were to meet him in Athens as quickly as possible.

It’s here where our story picks up today. Paul has just arrived in Athens.

As he waited for Silas and Timothy, Paul began to explore the city, to get to know its culture and its people. Ancient historians describe Athens as a very religious place. And Athenians as very intellectually curious. Luke writes in Acts that the people of Athens “spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.” They were always looking for the next, new thing or the next, new philosophy. After all, this was the home of Demosthenes and Socrates. Of Plato and Aristotle. Of Sophocles and Euripides. Of these masters of thought. The people of Athens were a people obsessed with ideas, especially those that are new and startling. 

So, Paul begins his exploration. And as he is walking around he notices the vast number of statues. One ancient historian writes that Athens had over 30,000 public statues, plus countless private ones. In our world today, statues honor people. But, in Athens, statues honored gods. Many different gods. One writer wrote that it was easier to find a god than a man in Athens.

Paul notices this. And, eventually, it becomes too much for him to handle. He can no longer wait in obscurity, but loses it--deeply distressed by all of these religious shrines and statues scattered throughout the city. Having lost his restraint, he begins to have discussions with Jews and other worshippers in the synagogues, as well as with Gentiles he can corner in the marketplace.

Eventually a group of them get excited. And while some of this group dismiss Paul as a “babbler”--as someone who picks up bits of ideas with no ability to pull them together, others, who are always eager to talk about new things, recognize that he is saying something about some gods from some distant land. About someone called “Jesus.” And, maybe, about another god called “Resurrection.”

So, they rush him to a place called the Areopagus, or Mars Hill. Now, in earlier times, Mars Hill was the place where court cases were heard. By Paul’s time, this was the place where the city’s governing authorities were located. So, when these Athenians rush Paul to Mars Hill, it is because they want their political leadership to hear what he is saying. They want their most powerful and intellectual people to hear what Paul has to say. It as though Paul were taken to face the equivalent today of the faculty of Harvard University.

They politely ask him to explain his “strange” new message. 

This is the thing about the Gospel. No matter how intellectual. Or no matter how noble or inaccessible a population seems to be, the Gospel will always find an audience. And, even more, it will speak in the language of that audience. It will find common ground with some of the basic assumptions of that audience. And, it may even reveal their shortsightedness in the process.

The God of Jesus Christ has as much to do with Athens as with Jerusalem. The Word of God belongs in this place, as it belongs in every place. And, by the end of Acts, the Good News will be proclaimed in Rome--the center of the empire.

So, Paul begins to speak to the Athenians. He catches their attention immediately when he speaks about an altar he has seen on his exploration of the city. An altar dedicated to “an unknown god.” He then declares to them “an unknown God” that he wants to introduce them to. And to help them understand that the religious symbols, or the rituals, or the objects we devise can never capture or fully represent God. Perhaps the people of Athens already know this. Perhaps their altar to an unknown god shows they understand the limits of human comprehension. 

I wonder if we’re not a little like the people of Athens. We, too, try to capture God and to define who God is in our own religious symbols, or in the rituals we practice, or in the words we say. Do we, like them, understand the limits of human understanding? We, who live 2,000 years later after the expansion of western civilization and thought. Post-Enlightenment people, who have watched or even participated in scientific discovery; who have been witness to a new, wondrous digital age, or to space exploration, or to medical breakthroughs. Do we, like the Athenians, understand the limits of human understanding, especially as it relates to our search for God? How do we find God, if it is not in the holy things we construct--our religious symbols, our rituals, our words?

I wonder if we’re not a lot like the people of Athens.

It is here that Paul begins. He points to human existence and to the natural order of creation. It is in these places that God beckons them (and us) to search for God. It is in these places where God may be found. 

You see, we, like the Athenians, are nearer to God than we might realize. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that God is nearer to us, dwelling among us. Reaching out to us. If only we might notice.

In 2016, as I was in the last half of my internship in Southeast Minnesota, one day a man walked into my office. I knew this man, this member, or at least I knew who he was. I’d had one of his children in confirmation. He had a reputation in the congregation as someone who was a pretty hard father, one who never showed any emotion other than anger, one who could be difficult to deal with.

When he walked into my office, it was the first time I had actually met him. He stood in the doorway and talked. Over and over he talked. Well, he ranted really. About how horrible the government was. About how horrible people were. About how everyone was out to get him. About how he had been laid off from his job. And about how he had been unable to find work in over a year. 

For an hour he ranted. It was hard to even get a word in edgewise.

And then he left. Over the course of the next couple of months, he did this two more times. Standing in the door to my office. Ranting and raving. Over and over again. He was so angry. 

One morning, he came into my office and sat down. He put his head down on my desk and he began to cry. All those months of feeling unworthy. All those months of being unable to support his family. All those months of feeling as though God had abandoned him. All those months of anger at God. All of it came pouring out that morning in his tears and his sobs. It was then and there, in the midst of his very human existence, that he experienced the nearness of God.  

You see, my friends, we are often the biggest roadblocks to finding God. In our anger or our disappointment. In our sadness or our grief, we are unable to see how close God is to us. It is only when we repent. When, with the nudge of the Holy Spirit, we turn back to God. We begin to truly see and experience God. We begin to see the life given to us in Jesus’ death and resurrection. We experience the nearness of God--the presence of Jesus--incarnate in Word and sacrament. We experience communion with the Divine.

This was Paul’s message to the Athenians. It is our message--our Easter message--as well. It is about a promise that God makes to us in Jesus. That God is not an unknown God, but a God who comes to us. A God who promises to be near us. Who promises to change us. And, especially, who promises us a future.

This is the God we know and find. Right here. In the midst of our messy human existence and throughout all of creation.


Readings: John 1:16-18, Acts 17:16-31.
Easter 5
Preached April 29, 2018 at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.: