Archive for the ‘Sermons’ Category

Jesus Ruined My Life

Posted: June 22, 2014 in Sermons, Uncategorized

Sermon preached on June 22, 2014 at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Devon, PA.

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Matthew 10:24-39
24A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
26So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
32Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
34Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
It seems to me that Jesus Probably didn’t do very well in his marketing classes in business school! His messaging is just all wrong. Take up the cross and follow me?!
He’s calling people to follow him, and he’s selling the idea by telling them that they will be met with opposition—even persecution. Apart from the people that can harm or kill them, Jesus even promises to mess up their family lives: Set sons against fathers, mothers against daughters, making enemies in your own home. How on earth did this movement ever get off the ground?
If Jesus was making his pitch today, I’m sure there would be a focus group telling him that he needs to concentrate more on attracting people and convincing them of the benefits they will reap. If he’s going to insist on using “take up the cross and follow me,” he might want to consider a more savvy approach:
Well, that seems a lot better than what we just read in the Gospel of Matthew? “Follow me and you’ll have a flatter stomach and sexier legs” sounds a lot more appealing than what Jesus is saying in Matthew chapter 10, which is essentially, “Hey: if people hate me, reject me, crucify mejust think what they’ll do to you!” This is one of those challenging messages we encounter in the Bible that makes it very clear, in no uncertain terms, That following Jesus can really mess us all of your plans. You can put all of your time, all of your energy, all of your money, all of your heart, soul, mind and strength into finding the life that you want—creating just the right situation for success and happiness—and then Jesus comes along and says “Those who find their life will lose it,and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Following Jesus will really mess up your plans. Jesus might just ruin your life.
Last week I stopped at the Starbucks in the Gateway Shopping Center For some caffeine and to answer some emails. I was sitting in a chair and there were two women talking in the next section. The wall between us was like a chain link fence, so I could hear them (and, of course, I listened!). They were talking about a young man from their church Who had just graduated high school. When one of them asked what his plans were, his answer was about following Jesus and serving others, and not about what university and what major he would be pursuing. It sounded Jesus ruined his life. And apparently Jesus had no regard for how his parents felt about this, let alone the poor guidance counselor at his high school who has to worry about the stats for graduates going on to college!
The truth of the matter is that we all need to watch out, because Jesus didn’t just come to earth to find customers. Jesus didn’t come to find admirers or a fan club. I’d even say that Jesus didn’t come to find worshipers .Jesus came to find followers. Are we ready to follow Jesus, even if Jesus ruins our lives? Are we ready to be ruined by Jesus? A couple weekends ago, the members of our council here at St. Luke had a retreat together here at the church. (Let me say what a wonderful, talented, faithful council we are blessed with) Pastor Mary said something that Friday night that caught everyone’s attention. She was telling us how glad she was to be a part of St. Luke and then she said that in the time she has been here she has felt a constantly-growing sense that God is about to do something. Something absolutely amazing. I’ve been thinking about that, as has everyone who was there, and this morning I’m ready to say “Bring it on, God! Here we are!”
Jesus is calling us—each one of you by name—to come and follow, but it just might ruin your life! I’ve been trying to think lately about what exactly my job is here at St. Luke is. I can give you quite a list of everything it entails, but it occurred to me this week that, since Jesus ruined my life, the reason I’m here is to help Jesus ruin your life, too! Consider that your fair warning!
By this time next week, 21 of us will be headed to Appalachia And I can’t wait for Jesus to ruin their lives! I actually don’t have to worry, because some of them went last year, and Jesus ruined their lives so much that they’re going back again. They couldn’t find anything better to do with a week of their summer!
I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of us have already been ruined by Jesus. How many of you Sunday School teachers have been ruined by Jesus because you got face to face with a group of children and realized you could think of nothing better to do on a Sunday morning? How many of you can say, Jesus ruined my life because I went to Feast Incarnate to serve a meal to people with HIV/AIDS and now I can’t find anything better to do when those Tuesday meals roll around?
Jesus is all-out devoted to ruining your life. Maybe you’re not ready to have it all ruined in one fell swoop, but Jesus might want to ruin your week, or your afternoon, or ruin a moment. Jesus just might want you to lose your life in order to find it, because God’s new reality happens when people are ruined by Jesus. The world changes when people can think of nothing better to do.
Two weeks ago, some of us took a moment an wrote ONE Campaign letters asking our Senators to get a bill introduced to expand electricity to Africa. This past Thursday, the Energize Africa Act was introduced in committee! It’s a good thing you didn’t have something better to do that morning! That same morning, I met with Lutherans addressing poverty in Philadelphia. We were at Lutheran Settlement House and in the back of the room there was an order of food that was ready to be shared with a family that needed it. Right in the middle of that food I saw a bag of macaroni and cheese. A bag that looked immediately familiar. A bag that was measured, weighed, sealed, and packaged by a group of people who let Jesus ruin their afternoon in order to pack 20,000 meals. It’s agood thing they didn’t have something better to do! Week in and week out, every Sunday morning here at St. Luke somebody’s life is changed because another person gathered here takes a moment to say “hello” or “how was your week?”, or just sits next to them as they struggle or cry. All because somebody has nothing better to do than to be there.
The question is not if Jesus wants to ruin your life. The question is “how is Jesus ruining your life?” Maybe Jesus wants to ruin your week later this summer by having you come be a part of Vacation Bible School (unless you already have something better to do). Maybe Jesus wants to ruin you morning some day by having you visit or call someone who needs to hear from you. Maybe Jesus wants to ruin your drive home today By inviting you to think about or talk about the people who changed your life because, thankfully, they had nothing better to do.
Jesus is calling you, each one of you by name, to come and follow. If you can think of anything better to do—anythingby all means, do it! But if not, it must be time to realize That Jesus has ruined your life. AMEN.

Sermon preached December 16, 2012 at St. Luke Lutheran Church, Devon, PA.

“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)

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 In the days after the shootings that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, I did not use the assigned gospel text on Sunday, December 16, 2012.  Instead, we heard an excerpt of the Christmas story that we don’t hear very often, but perhaps needed to hear on that morning:

Now after [the wise men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”  Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.  Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

(Matthew 2:13-18)

Please join me in prayer:  O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray; cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today. Amen.

 “Rejoice in the LORD always; again I will say rejoice.”

Today, this third Sunday of Advent, Is often regarded by church tradition as “rejoice Sunday”—a day of joy and hope.

But joy has been interrupted.  The word “rejoice” seems a little harder to say.  It seems a little harder to believe in today.

The words that I thought would be just right for today have lost their purpose, like twenty lunchboxes packed with care and carried into Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday morning.  Like Christmas presents chosen with love by parents and grandparents that now stare back at them with piercing pain because the moment of joy they were prepared for has been torn from their hands.

Joy has been interrupted, like a cruel reminder of the words of the prophet Jeremiah:  “A voice is heard…in Connecticut;  wailing and loud lamentation. Rachel weeping for her children; refusing to be consoled, because they are no more.”  Today we weep with Rachel for her children.

Today we refuse to be consoled, because they are no more. Today we stand in the shadow cast by outrageous violence:  the disgraceful, offensive, unthinkable, shameful reality of sin.  The season of Advent seems to have been disrupted by stark reality.  Our traditions of joy and expectation are faced with the question of whether or not we can gather at this moment and speak of the one who is called Emmanuel, “God is with us,” without sounding oblivious, or even obscene?

But that’s the challenge isn’t it?

Because if the gospel we cling to has nothing meaningful to say at this unthinkable moment, then it doesn’t really have anything meaningful to say at all, does it?

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  As we gather today, those words are our calling.  Those words are our invitation and challenge.  Those words, ultimately, are where our hope is found.  The scripture is opened before us and it is daring us to take it seriously.  It is challenging us to defiantly resist the temptation that we can turn it into a platitude meant to bring easy answers and immediate comfort.

There is no immediate comfort today.  There is no immediate comfort for the families crushed.  There is no immediate comfort for a community in disbelief. There is no immediate comfort even for us, as we stand shaken by how vulnerable we really are on any given day of the week.  There is no immediate comfort today.  The day of comfort remains something we must wait for as we look east for the sun to approach the horizon; as we look for the day when this world becomes what God promises it will become.

Which is exactly what this season of Advent invites us into.

Advent is not disrupted by stark reality.  Advent is a season of stark reality waiting to be disrupted by God. Advent is a time of exile; a time when the world is not right.  A time when faith clings to promises that have yet to unfold.  In the midst of our disbelief, God comes to us. God comes into this broken world.

In Jesus, God dwells among us. God wears our skin.  God puts on this same broken cloak that we must wear. God enters into the same pain and suffering that marks our lives.  God becomes a parent whose child is struck down by human evil.

Crying out for Emmanuel—for God to be with us—is exactly what we can do at a time like this, because at times like this the promise of Emmanuel reminds us of just how radical the good news of the Gospel truly is.  We are reminded of just how much God takes on In order to be with us—to meet you where you are so that, even in our disbelief, we are not swallowed up by unbelief.

There is no immediate comfort.  Instead, there is the radical promise of Advent; of Emmanuel.  The radical promise that God is with us in this world. The radical promise that ultimately will break the darkness we live in:  the darkness displayed so terribly in Connecticut on Friday morning, but also the darkness that interrupts joy in your own life.

Joy is interrupted, but it will not be silenced.  God will speak the final word.  It will be a word of loving-kindness, of grace and forgiveness, a word of hope.

As we wait for that final word—as we wait for comfort—we are called.  We are invited and challenged to defy the darkness around us, to build the new reality that God promises, doing God’s work with our hands, even as we shake our heads in disbelief, wipe our tears of sadness and wrestle with anger, fear and doubt.

We are called—we are invited and challenged—to live differently.  We are called to defeat darkness with light.  We are called to defeat evil with good, violence with peace-filled justice.  We are called to bring comfort:  not with platitudes or easy answers, but by entering into suffering with one another while clinging to the hope made possible in Jesus.  Jesus who entered into suffering in order to make God’s promises a reality.  Jesus who is Emmanuel:  God with us, no matter what.

We are called to rejoice.  Joy may be interrupted, but it must not be silenced.  So let us rejoice today, even with our tear-filled eyes wide open to the reality of evil and suffering.  We are called—invited and challenged—to a radical, defiant joy.  The scripture is opened before us and it is daring us to take it seriously:

“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)


Sermon preached on October 14, 2012
at St. Luke Lutheran Church – Devon, PA
Scripture [Lect28b]:  Mark 10:17-31

click above for audio (includes gospel reading and audio from video clip below)

The sermon begins with portions of this recent viral video clip:


First world problems!  Now that’s something I can relate to!

If you are someone who uses Twitter, you see the pound sign and recognize it as a “hashtag.”  Hashtags are lists that form on Twitter around a common topic.  Each person who contributes includes the common hashtag in order for their tweet, their contribution to be included.  I was taking a look at #FirstWorldProblems this week, and it gave me an opportunity to simultaneously laugh at myself (and some of the things I convince myself are problems) while at the same time being challenged to rethink my priorities a bit.  Here’s some of my favorites from the tweets I came across:

  • Too many TV shows tonight.  I had to use both DVRs. #FirstWorldProblems
  • The tag on my new shirt makes my neck itchy.  #FirstWorldProblems
  • My laptop is dying, but the charger is downstairs.  #FirstWorldProblems
  • Starbucks is out of pumpkin muffins.  #FirstWorldProblems

Maybe you can relate to some of these? I know I can relate to some of them!  If we’re really honest about it, we are all prone to get hung up on “first world problems.”

Staring into the toilet…

Taylor Hammrich

I recently came face to face with the struggle of following Jesus right into the world and having to take a closer look at “first world problems.”  I met a young man named Taylor Hammrich.  Taylor is from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  He also recently returned from spending a year in South Africa,thanks to a program for young adults made possible by our church, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Returning home from the town of Masealama, South Africa, the thing that Taylor noticed the most was water.  He shared about coming home, and just staring at the water in the toilet.  This was the result of living for a year without running water.  What he had was a large water drum that holds 50 or 60 gallons of water.  To fill the drum, Taylor would borrow a wheelbarrow and plastic containers and take them to collect water from a water tower, which may or may not have water available that day.  A hot shower required heating just enough water yo fill a small bucket to pour over himself–water that would be collected and reused for cleaning and, eventually, for flushing the toilet.

Taylor came face-to-face with real “first world problems” such as thinking that water from the tap tasted funny, or complaining about a shower that wasn’t hot enough, or having to hold the handle down until the flush was finished.  “What I should have been thinking,” Taylor said, “is how thankful I am for having clean water to drink, water to shower with, and a toilet that flushes.”

How shall we live with what we have?

I’m not saying anything that all of us doesn’t already know when I say that we are fortunate people.  We have more than we need.  We have more than the overwhelming majority of people that are alive today–and even throughout all of history.  Every one of us, in one way or another, is faced with the question “how we will live with what we have?”

And as we wrestle with that question, God speaks to us through a story:

a man ran up and knelt before [Jesus], and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”   [Mark 10:17-23]

Now, if I stand up here in this pulpit this morning and give you any reason to walk out of here not fully impacted by the challenge of these words from Jesus, you should send me packing by tomorrow morning.  That would be either incompetent or cowardly of me as your pastor.  Jesus wants us to live differently than what is considered “normal” by this broken world in which “First World Problems” are given more attention, energy, and resources than they truly warrant.

Let me be clear, though: there is no condemnation in this story.  Jesus does not condemn the man. The story tells us that Jesus, looking at him, loved him.  Jesus words’ about selling what he owns and giving the money to the poor were not words of condemnation.  Jesus didn’t accuse him of being “the one percent”–Jesus loved him.  Jesus didn’t condemn him for his wealth.  Jesus loved him.

Instead of condemnation, Jesus offers an invitation.  Jesus invites the man to do something that will bring great blessing.  Jesus invites him to do something that will change his life, but it involves incredible risk. Jesus invites him to invest his entire portfolio in “the kingdom of God”.

Jesus and “the kingdom of God”

Jesus uses the phrase “kingdom of God” quite a bit.  I’d even say it’s the heart of what Jesus taught about.  Jesus came to introduce a new reality–a new way of living–in this world.  If we think of “the kingdom of God” as something that only exists after this life, we miss the experience that Jesus came to make possible.

The very first words of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark are  “the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near.” Another translation of the Bible in English says “the kingdom of God is at hand.”  Jesus came to introduce a new reality–a new way of living–in this world.  Eternal life begins right here and right now.  This truth is reflected in the words Jesus taught us to pray:  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,  on earth as it is in heaven.”

Jesus invites the man to risk everything to be a part of the kingdom of God, but he goes away shocked and grieving because he couldn’t risk the portfolio that he trusted in for the sake of the kingdom of God and the promised returns it brings.  The promised return that another world is possible:  a world where the poor are cared for, a world where the last will be first.  A new reality in which we relate to, and treat, our neighbor differently.

As Taylor Hammrich made trips to the water tower in Masealama, South Africa, he acquired more than a wheelbarrow full of water.  He also acquired more than a new perspective on his “first world problems.”  He acquired neighbors.  He gained relationships that changed his life.  He gained relationships as he lived side-by-side with the people there.  They accompanied each other and experienced the kingdom of God together.  I am so glad to be part of a church (The ELCA) that made that possible!

I am so glad to be a part of a congregation here at St. Luke that makes that possible, as we will next summer by sending a group of youth to Appalachia for a week of service and hard work–a week building the kingdom of God!

We, too, are called to invest in the kingdom of God: right here and right now.  What will you risk?  If you walk out of here without being fully impacted by the challenge of these words from Jesus, I need to find another vocation.  Jesus wants you to live differently.  What will you risk to build the kingdom of God?

There is no condemnation in these words; only an invitation.  An invitation into a new way of life that changes the world.  An invitation into holy relationships with neighbors near and far.  An invitation into freedom from “first world problems.”  An invitation into the good news of the gospel. Amen.

Sermon preached on October 7, 2012
at St. Luke Lutheran Church
Scripture (Lect 27b):  Gen 2:18-24; Heb 1:1-4, 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16

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The “Reality Check” Rule

I have a rule that I try to live by.  Sometimes it’s a real pain, but it’s important to me as a preacher & Christian.  At some point it became a non-negotiable for me that the good news of Jesus that I trust in and preach about would be nothing more than blowing smoke or blind naïveté if it didn’t honestly connect with reality.  I don’t have time for a version of Jesus that doesn’t come right down into the world as we know it–a world that is broken;perhaps even beyond broken.  Sometimes it’s a hard rule to live by.

 I was reminded of this rule as it tripped me up once again this week as I read the words of Jesus saying “Let the little children come to me.”  These words often conjure up heartwarming images of Jesus himself giving the world’s first children’s sermon. This week, however, I found myself reading the words “Let the little children come to me” while my heart was gripped by an image printed on the pages of my newspaper and displayed on my Facebook feed. An image of a father sobbing as he held the lifeless body of his son in the aftermath of bombings in the Syrian city of Aleppo.  A moment of anguish that I can’t even imagine.  As a father, I can’t bear to.

 It’s the kind of moment that can leave you questioning everything. It can leave you trying to make sense of the senseless, wondering why God would allow such a thing to happen.  Leaving us either to give up on the idea of God altogether or clinging mindlessly to the notion that “God had a reason” for this to happen.

 We don’t have time for a version of Jesus that doesn’t come right down into the world as we know it.  A world that is broken; perhaps even beyond broken.

Relationship vs. Control

Sometimes as we try to discern God’s role in our broken world, we find ourselves wanting God to be in control.  But scripture tells us differently.  Listen to the words of our second lesson from the book of Hebrews:

“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them?  You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor, subjecting all things under their feet. Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control.”

 Scripture tells us of a defining moment in the relationship between God and humanity: God’s decision to leave nothing outside of human control. God’s choice to be in relationship with us instead of being in control of us.   From the beginning of the world this was the case.  We marvel at the words of Genesis, as God creates every living thing for one reason: “It is not good that the man should be alone.” We are meant to live in relationship: relationship with others, relationship with God.

After describing God’s desire to subject all things to human beings–to leave nothing out of their control, Hebrews continues with these words: “As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them.”  As it is, we as human beings have not gained control of everything.  In fact, we have found plenty that we cannot control, leaving us clinging to the possibility that God’s plan is bigger than what we see.  As it is, our world is beyond broken.  God put the world into the hands of human beings, and we broke it.

The Brokenness of Divorce

The brokenness of our world shows itself often and clearly in our relationships with one another. It didn’t take long after God created the first human relationship for brokenness to enter the picture.   The gospel reading we just heard from Mark chapter 10 makes it clear that all the way back to the time of Moses the reality of broken relationships was prevalent enough to require the legal distinction of divorce.

Not one of us is untouched by broken relationships.  I would be surprised to find that there is even one of us reading this that has not has not been affected by the specific brokenness of divorce.  A divorced relationship in our own life or the divorce of our parents, or our child, a sister, a brother or friends.

 The reasons that divorce happens are many and varied, but there seems to beat least two things that are true of divorce in every situation.  The first one being that no one ever plans a wedding with the hope of someday divorcing.  We never enter a relationship with hopes of one day breaking it.  The second thing that seems to be universally true is that divorce is painfulIn every situation, divorce brings a pain that is like no other pain.  In the book Eat Pray Love, author Elizabeth Gilbert mentions a friend who likens the experience of divorce to “having a really bad car accident every single day for about two years.”

 As it is, our world is beyond broken.  God put the world into the hands of human beings, and we broke it.  As it is, human beings have not gained control of everything.  In fact, we have found plenty that we cannot control; plenty that leaves us clinging desperately to the possibility that God does have a plan, and that it is bigger than what we see–that God does have a plan, and that it is bigger than what we are capable of.

 The good news is that God’s plan is bigger than what we see.  God’s plan is bigger than our broken reality.  But, just as it was from the very beginning of the world, God’s plan is not about God being in control.  It is about God being in a relationship with us.  Hebrews follows the words “As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them”  with but we do see Jesus”:

“We do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.  It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.  For the one who sanctifies & those who are sanctified all have one father.  For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.”

 Jesus is God’s plan beyond our brokenness.  Because of Jesus, we can be children of God.  Because of Jesus we can be in relationship with God.  “The one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one father.”

The Abrupt Shift: from divorce to invitation

Perhaps there’s a reason that the Gospel of Mark goes directly from the pain of divorce to Jesus welcoming little children.  As we look at a reality that is beyond broken, in our world & in our own lives.  Jesus says to us, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”  Perhaps the word we need to hear as we face the reality of brokenness is this invitation to enter the kingdom of God.  The invitation made possible by Jesus.

 In order to enter, we are told, we must receive the kingdom “as a little child.”  A little child is not capable of being defined by their past.  A little child is someone whose entire life is ahead of them.  We are invited to receive the kingdom as people whose entire life is ahead of us, no matter how much is behind us.  We can look ahead with hope in Jesus instead of looking back with regret or anger.  We look ahead to a kingdom where the hurt is healed, where brokenness disappears.

As it is, our world is beyond broken.  God put the world into the hands of human beings, and we broke it.  But we do see Jesus.  We do see God’s plan–God’s kingdom.  And because of Jesus, we can trust that God is present in our broken world.  We can trust that God did show up on the streets of Aleppo, Syria.  God walked through the smoke and rubble to where a father wept and said, “let the child come to me; do not stop him; for it is to such as him that the kingdom of God belongs.”  Come to me, my child.  The kingdom of God belongs to you.  Even now, your whole life is ahead of you.  And he took him up in his arms, laid his hands on him, and blessed him.

Because of Jesus, we can also trust that God is present in the broken places in our lives:  in our broken homes, our broken hearts, our broken plans and broken dreams.  For as long as we wear this human skin, we will struggle to make sense of the senseless.  We will struggle to endure our brokenness.  We don’t have time for a version of Jesus that doesn’t come right down into the world as we know it.

 But the good news of the gospel is that God’s new reality has been opened to us. A new reality that is beyond what we see now.  A new reality that is beyond broken. Because of Jesus, you and I are invited into a faith journey that doesn’t ignore the hard realities of life.  We are invited into a faith journey that doesn’t pretend that we are not broken people in a broken world.

 You are invited into a faith journey that meets you wherever you are today and will carry you forward to a new reality that is beyond broken.  Because of Jesus, we can receive that kingdom–and enter that kingdom–just like little children: with our whole lives ahead of us!


It Only Takes ONE Mom

Posted: August 12, 2011 in Advocacy, Sermons

Sermon for August 14, 2011 (Lect 20a).
Scripture: Matthew 15:21-28, Isaiah 56:1.
Sermon refers to the recent ONE Moms trip to Kenya.

Moms are incredible people.  When a mom is on a mission for the sake of her child, there is not much that will stop her.  The best advice to those who would try is to get out of her way!  Sarah Palin used the term “mama grizzlies” to describe the instinct of a mother grizzly bear to protect her cubs as something that is present in human moms, too.  I suspect that even her political opponents would likely agree on that particular point.  When a mom is driven by love for her child, she will go to incredible lengths and accomplish incredible things, even if she has to do it all by herself.

This is what we hear in Matthew 15 as Jesus is approached by Cannanite woman and the story ends with Jesus proclaiming, “Woman, great is your faith!”  It’s the only time in the entire gospel of Matthew that anyone’s faith is described as “great,” and it comes a few paragraphs after Jesus call Peter “you of little faith” as he tried to walk on water and began to sink.

This Canaanite woman makes a pretty quick entrance and exit in the bigger story of the gospel and the story of Jesus, but in this single encounter Jesus recognizes and celebrates her great faith.

We know she was not living an easy life.  “My daughter is tormented by a demon” she tells us.  She watched day after day as her daughter’s life was being torn apart by something that could only be described as evil: as “a demon.”

Imagine the deep sadness–the constant hurt–of a mother watching her child suffer, feeling powerless to offer any help.  Day after day she watches her daughter suffer as she looks for any possible way to make it all stop.  But when a mom is on a mission for the sake of her child, there is not much that will stop her.

She has a brief but striking encounter with Jesus.  At first it appears that Jesus isn’t going to help.  It even appears that Jesus isn’t willing to help.  But this mom was not about to back down.

There is a lot to think about, pray about, and discuss in this story of Jesus and the Cannanite woman:  Was Jesus really not willing to help her?  Was Jesus testing the woman?  Was Jesus showing the disciples that their own lack of concern was to be overcome as God’s new reality happened right in front of them?  There is a lot in this very rich story for us to be changed by.  Today, I invite you to consider the tenacity of this woman–this mom.  Day by day she watched her child suffer, and instead of being driven to despair, she was driven to action.  She couldn’t solve the problem on her own, but she was determined to be involved in the healing.

When she encountered Jesus, she used the one thing she had the power to use:  she used her voice, determined to see her child healed.  It required that she speak up, even when surrounded by people who did not want to listen.  It required that she be persistent: not in order to make her point or to win an argument, but in order to save her daughter’s life.  And when a mom is on a mission for the sake of her child, there is not much that will stop her.

As I listen to this story of a foreign mother begging for her child’s life with determination and tenacity, I think of the moms even in today’s world that face the same struggle.  I was hoping for chance during my last few weeks at Temple Lutheran Church to draw our eyes once again to the work of the ONE Campaign.  This week, the opportunity has presented itself in a beautiful way!

It came in the form of a news story this past week: a story about a group of moms from across the country that were gathered together by ONE and traveled to Kenya to witness the reality of the famine happening there today.  They went to visit with moms just like the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15.

Let’s take a look:

What an incredible journey!  As the “ONE moms” returned home this week, they have been forever changed by their week in Africa.  One of the moms wrote this week that she is “still processing” what she saw:

“I am still processing that so many people are living with HIV.  I am still processing that programs that are clearly working are in jeopardy of being cut or severely reduced because of funding.  I am still processing that children die senselessly from malaria and tuberculosis and pneumonia.”

Moms around the world are watching their children suffer and die, and many of them, just like the Canaanite woman, are looking to Jesus.  But here’s the thing:  in the 21st century, we are the presence of Jesus in the world.  Jesus places his ministry in our hands and sends us into all the world.  And that begs the question, then:  as followers of Jesus in the world today, are we going to stand by and let this crisis continue on our watch?

We have the ability to end the suffering.  The diseases are preventable and treatable; we have the medicine.  It’s just a matter of having the determination to see it through.  The programs that have been developed in the past 8 years are working.  There are now 5 million people on the continent of Africa receiving the treatment they need to prevent HIV from killing them.  If we see this through, by 2015 we can eliminate the risk of any child being born with HIV.

I am proud that we continue to be a part of God’s response to this crisis.  As Temple Lutheran Church, we have saved lives.  People are alive today because of Temple Lutheran Church.  We’ve sent bed nets to fight malaria.  We’ve sent animals to fight poverty and hunger.  In the past few weeks the ELCA has sent $400,000 in aid and Lutheran World Relief has sent nearly $500,000 to save lives from the famine in East Africa.

As we continue to find ways to use our resources to provide help, we must also use our voice and our determination to see these children healed.  We must speak up, even when surrounded by people who did not want to listen.  We must be persistent: not in order to make a point or to win an argument, but in order to save the lives of millions of God’s children.

We know that the world is facing challenging times.  There is a financial crisis that effects every one of us.  We must not, however, lose the tenacity needed to create the new reality that Jesus came to make possible.  We must remain committed to the new reality that our faith invites us to create in the world.

Like a mom on a mission for the sake of her child, we must stop at nothing.

Guiding our steps on this challenging journey is the command and promise of God spoken by the prophet Isaiah:  “Thus says the LORD:  Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.” (Isaiah 56:1)

We must not be driven to despair; we must be driven to action.

ONE Moms in Kenya

It only takes ONE mom.  It only takes ONE voice to change the world and make healing possible.

And as we add our voices together–moms, dads, women, men, old, young–we become ONE church serving ONE God to bring about ONE new reality for all the world.  A new reality in which where someone lives doesn’t determine whether they live.  A new reality in which blessing and healing are open to everyone.  A new reality shaped by God’s love revealed in Jesus.  A new reality shaped by what God is already doing here at Temple Lutheran Church.

A new reality shaped by the good news of the gospel.  Amen.