Posts Tagged ‘Sermon’

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.


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May 8, 2011 sermon by Matt Staniz.  Scripture: Luke 24:13-35.  (May 8, 2011 was the first Sunday after the death of Osama bin Laden was announced)

In these 50 days that make up the season of Easter, we continue to gather around the stories of Jesus–after the resurrection–appearing to the disciples. They are strange and wonderful stories, to say the least. Jesus shows up and, time after time, the people in the story don’t recognize that it is Jesus. At the empty tomb, Mary thinks it’s the gardener. Jesus appears to the disciples in Jerusalem and the disciples think that he’s a ghost.

Today we get the wonderful story of two disciples walking along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus and talking about all the things that had happened. It had been quite a weekend in Jerusalem and they were walking the seven miles to Emmaus and back into their lives now that Jesus had been killed.
During their 3 hour walk they had plenty to talk about as they tried to make sense of what had happened. And then, we’re told that Jesus himself approaches them. Only they do not know that it is Jesus. It doesn’t occur to them that Jesus is there with them on the road.

Jesus asks them what they are talking about, and it stops them in their tracks. “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place?”

When I hear that moment in the story, it reminds me of a very specific moment in my life. It reminds of a moment on September 11, 2001. I’m sure we all have pretty defined memories of how that day unfolded for us. I imagine that—to some degree—they’ve crossed our minds this past week.

The moment I remember as I hear of this encounter along the road to Emmaus happened late in the morning on September 11. I had been watching the story unfold on TV and passing word along to others on the campus of our seminary in Philadelphia. It was at least 11am–very late in the story of that morning–when I came outside and a classmate came up to me and asked “What’s going on?”
I began to give her the latest update. By that point it amounted to the news that planes that were unaccounted for had been located.

And then she reached out, grasped my arm, and said, “No. Matt, wait. I don’t know what happened. What’s going on?”

And like those disciples on the road to Emmaus, it stopped me in my tracks as the thought flashed through my mind that I actually had to be the one to tell this terrible story.

This past week has brought with it a whirlwind of thoughts and feelings on the news that Osama bin Laden was found and killed. Anger and grief from 9/11 has resurfaced; sadness has resurfaced. Feelings of relief, satisfaction, even excitement, are tempered by uncertainty and the unsettling knowledge that there is nothing nice about this story.

As I’m absorbing the news, I’m reminded that our mission and purpose is the same as it has always been: God calls us to be instruments of love, grace and peace. God wants us to resist every form of evil and to protect each other. Yet, as we seek to be followers of the God revealed in Jesus, we are constantly reminded that our ideas of peace and justice–and our understanding of what God is like–must never be pulled into the same dark places that can lead people of any faith to do the things Osama bin Laden did.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus had a difficult story to tell. But tell it they did—without even knowing that the person in the story was right there with them. Jesus was with them on the road and they didn’t even know it.

I think this story of the road to Emmaus is wonderfully important to us today, because the same thing happens to us as we walk the roads that make up our lives. Like those disciples, We don’t quite expect the resurrected Jesus to show up. We don’t quite expect resurrection to actually be true. We don’t quite expect light to shine from darkness. We don’t quite expect our sins to be forgiven. We don’t quite expect to be given new life; to be reborn. We don’t quite expect that love will actually win. We don’t quite expect the resurrected Jesus to show up.

Like the disciples, it’s easy for us to walk along the roads that make up our lives, and be consumed by the stories and circumstances that make up our lives, and not even notice that Jesus is right there walking the road with us.

When have you not noticed God walking beside you?

When the disciples finally recognize that it was indeed Jesus, they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?”

“Were not our hearts burning within us?”

I’m pretty certain that they weren’t talking about acid reflux.

They finally realized that they knew, deep in their hearts, that something was happening along that road. I pray that we can pay attention to the moments when our hearts are burning–those moments when we sense that something more is happening than just another walk up the road or another story that is hard to deal with. I pray that we notice the resurrected Jesus walking with us. Jesus might be a neighbor, a friend, co-worker, or family member. Jesus might even be a stranger along the road. I pray we can sense the nudges that something more is happening, and that it might be Jesus.

Even in this moment, as we gather in community and worship, I pray that our hearts will burn within us while the risen Jesus opens the scriptures to us and is revealed to us in the breaking of the bread.

May our hearts burn with knowledge that Christ is with us. May our hearts burn with joy because Jesus walks with us. May our hearts burn with hope for the road that lies ahead. May our hearts burn with the good news of the gospel. Amen.

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Sermon preached May 1, 2011 at Temple Lutheran Church.  Based on John 20:19-31.

Been thinking about scars this week. We all have scars. Every one of us. Every scar brings with it a story, and those stories become a part of who we are. Every single one of us is scarred from the moment we are born. Each one of us carries at least one scar so universal that we consider it a body part: a belly button. A reminder that, even in the moment of birth, we had to adjust to a whole new reality. A whole new life during which we will pick up more scars along the way.

Each scar comes with a story. We could probably spend the rest of the day telling, and listening to, the stories that have left us with scars.

Some of the stories make us laugh as we look back. They make us laugh at our own foolishness. If I lose my hair, I will surely have to explain to people the 2.5-inch scar that barely remains hidden today on the top of my forehead. They will hear a story about a group of 19-year old males (so many scar stories probably begin with such a group!), and all the wonderful ideas we came up with to entertain ourselves. In fact, when we put our minds together, we always managed to come up with even dumber ideas.

One of those ideas was a game we called “Izzy Dizzy”. You’ve probably seen or played this game at some point. It involves standing a baseball bat up and bending over, placing your forehead on the top of the bat and spinning around the bat as many times as you can. When you stop spinning, you then try to walk a straight line.

We came up with the great idea that this was a game we should play in our dormitory hallway. Our dormitory was like a big brick shoebox with a hallway straight up the middle with doorways on both sides every few feet. We decided to place a pile of matresses in the hallway with one matress standing on end like a wall in front of them. We wanted to see who could spin around the bat and then proceed down the hall and jump over the wall and land in the luxourious pile of soft matresses.

Of course, I got to go first.

I bent down, spun around the bat as many times as I could. I started up the hallway, leaning on the wall until my shoulder bumped into a doorway. I stopped and focused on the matresses, which were right in front of me. So I positioned myself and leapt with all my might.

As soon as my feet left the floor, the whole world spun. The matresses flew away in one direction, and into my path came the concrete and steel doorway that I had just bumped into. I bumped into again, much harder and head first.

We laughed all the way to the emergency room as the others described to me what they witnessed, which was that I bumped into the doorway, stared at it, and then jumped as hard as I could straight into it.

Some of the stories make us laugh. Some of the stories are routine and mundane. I spent my college years working in food service collecting scars almost weekly—from burns, knives, and industrial fans to go with the hockey stick scars I collected on my brow.

Some of the stories that come with the scars we carry remind us every day why we call them “scars”.  Some of the stories go back to the darkest moments we’ve experienced. Some of the stories we would never laugh at or forget. Some of the stories we don’t want to remember or re-open. They’re stories we wish had never happened. Even though scars are proof that we have survived–that our bodies have been mended–they still leave us forever marked, reminding us that there are things that irreversibly change us.
And the scars that mark our skin are really just the first layer of scars. They barely scratch the surface, don’t they? Because it’s not just physical scars that we carry through life. Often, the scars that hurt us the most are the ones we can’t point to on our elbow or forehead.

As we gather together this morning, we gather around a story about scars. We hear the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples. A story that particularly draws attention to Thomas and his desire, or perhaps need, to see the scars.

I imagine it’s pretty natural for each of us to relate to Thomas and the doubts he had.  I suspect that the reason Thomas is included in the story is because his story reflects a piece of our own story. The Bible never refers to Thomas as a doubter. Thomas is always called “the twin”, although we never hear about the other twin (the brother or sister). Some of the other siblings among the disciples get mentioned, but not this time. It’s been suggested that Thomas is called “the twin” because he is our twin; that Thomas resembles our own struggle to believe. I find that possibility very encouraging and interesting.

As I thought about the story of Thomas this week and prayed, it occurred to me that Thomas would not have struggled with the idea that Jesus had risen from the dead. Thomas was there just a few pages earlier in the story when Jesus told the disciples that his friend Lazarus had died. It was Thomas that told the other disciples to go with Jesus to Lazarus’ tomb. Thomas wouldn’t have struggled with resurrection because he saw Lazarus come out of the tomb. Thomas did not need to see that Jesus was risen. What Thomas needed to see was the scars. Thomas needed to see where the nails marked Jesus’ hands. Thomas needed to see where the spear pierced Jesus’ side.

It would be reasonable to think this was simply because Thomas wanted proof that this was really Jesus. Maybe so. But I suspect that there was something more that Thomas was seeking. He needed to see the scars, touch them even. Because the good news of Easter was not simply that Jesus was alive, but that the scars were real. The scars tell the story of Jesus. They are permanent reminders of what had happened. Thomas needs to see the scars because we need to see the scars and know that they are real.

Because of Thomas, we are reminded that God has scars. God has scars just like us. Scars that, even after the resurrection, take us right back to that darkest moment and the reality that Jesus suffered the unthinkable.

The gospel of John tells us that the word of God is not a book. The gospel of John begins by telling us that the word of God became flesh and lived among us. The word of God entered into our skin, even the parts with scars.

God has scars, just like you. God knows every one of your scars, and every detail of every story behind them: the funny ones, the boring ones, and the ones that hurt more every day. In Jesus, God has come into our skin. God bears every one of our scars with us. It’s why we are invited, again and again, to this table to receive the presence of Jesus broken for us, poured out for us. God dwelt in our too-easily-scarred skin, so that we could be nourished as we continue to heal.

Our scars do serve as a sign of healing. They are proof that our bodies can mend themselves. But they are also complicated lingering reminders that we have been irreversibly changed. And God doesn’t take away those scars. Instead, we hear the words of Jesus. We hear the words of God in our skin. We hear the words of God with scars: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Jesus sends us, scars and all, to be the hands and feet of God in the world today. We are the wounded hands and feet of Jesus.

And our scars may be just what the world needs to see. The world doesn’t need people who have it all figured out to tell them how to live and what to believe. The world needs to see scars that look just like theirs and feel just like theirs. The world needs to meet wounded broken people who have encountered a wounded broken God who has made possible a love that is unbreakable and goes beyond every scar’s damage.

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Jesus sends us, scars and all.  And there is no length that Jesus not already gone to meet you in the midst of your scars. Jesus is already there. Jesus already bears the same scars, and invites you to come and see, come and touch, come and believe.

It is in the scars of the living Christ that we meet the depth of God’s love for us.

It is in the scars of the living Christ that we meet the word of God in our skin.

It is in the scars of the living Christ that God meets us right where we are. Even the parts of ourselves that we try so hard to keep hidden.

It is in the scars of the living Christ that we meet the good news of the Gospel. Amen.

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From Easter worship on April 24, 2011.  Includes reading the Easter Gospel with children, a song, and the sermon below.

We are among millions of people around the world who got up this morning, at the beginning of this new week, and have gathered together to celebrate that Jesus has risen. Millions are gathering around the world–many at this very moment–to shout “Alleluia” and “Christ is risen, indeed!” as we listen to the story of two women named Mary arriving at the tomb of Jesus.

It’s hard, though, to really experience it in the same way as the women did that morning. We all came out this morning knowing that Easter was here, which is not how that morning of the first day of the week began for those two women named Mary. They weren’t headed out to a festive occasion. They weren’t headed out to shout “alleluia”; they were going to a grave. They were going to a place they wish they weren’t going to. They were going to mourn, to keep vigil. To try to make sense of what had happened.

They arrive at the tomb–and then–all heaven breaks loose! The earth shakes. An angel of the Lord descends with an appearance like lightning. The stone is rolled away and they’re told “Don’t be afraid, you’re looking for Jesus; He’s not here!” Bet they didn’t see that coming, now did they?

I believe that God wants your Easter experience to be no less remarkable. God wants us to experience the living Christ today. That is the only reason we are here together right now. God wants to meet each of us in our lowest moments, just like those women going to the grave of someone they loved. That’s what Easter is all about.

When we have no strength, when we have nothing left and we can’t go on, God comes down–right where we are–and does something completely unexpected. The story that we think is going to unfold is completely changed.  Because God has the final word. And that final word is “resurrection.” God’s final word for us is that Love Wins.

When you find yourself assuming that it’s over. When all is lost. When all is gone. When life is broken and it can never be put back together again.  When you swear that it could never be rebuilt–hold on a minute. Because in that moment Easter has, in fact, just begun. Just as you’re arriving at the place you wish you weren’t going to–when there’s nothing left that you can do–God brings resurrection. God still has the final word that love wins. Resurrection announces that God has not given up. God has not given up on you. God has not given up on your life. God has not given up on this world.

Easter is happening right now–today–in 2011. God is once again inviting us into resurrection. God is once again pointing to a new reality–the reality God has made possible. The reality that love wins. Resurrection wants to be real on this Easter Sunday. God wants to speak that final word that love wins today.

People already gathered today, just like we are right now, in Japan. In the face of unthinkable despair, they placed hope in resurrection, because Easter says that the earthquake doesn’t win. Easter says that the Tsunami doesn’t win Easter says that nuclear radiation doesn’t win. Easter says that love wins.

People gathered by the millions across the continent of Africa and placed hope in resurrection because Easter says that AIDS doesn’t win. Easter says that Tuberculosis and Malaria don’t win. Easter says that extreme poverty doesn’t win. Easter says that love wins.

Armenian Christians are gathering today around the world, including right here in Havertown, Pennsylvania, and are remembering that today, April 24, is the anniversary of the mass murder of 1.5 million of their family members in 1915. Not their distant ancestors, but their parents, their aunts and uncles, grandparents and friends. Still, they gather shouting Alleluia–even through their tears. Because Easter says that genocide doesn’t win. Easter promises them that love wins.

To people in Libya, Sudan, Egypt and across the Middle East Easter says that corruption and violence doesn’t win. Easter says that love wins.

Right now–at this very moment–people are proclaiming Alleluia at Easter worship in Haiti. Their Alleluias that are rich with resurrection life. As one of their pastors put it: they will not be defined by rubble–they will not be defined by the earthquake. They are defined by resurrection, because Easter says that disaster doesn’t win, cholera doesn’t win. Easter says that love wins.

People from North Carolina to Oklahoma are proclaiming Alleluia right now because Easter says that tornadoes don’t win. Easter says that love wins.

To those of us trying to keep afloat in a bad economy, Easter says that the recession doesn’t win. Unemployment doesn’t win. Foreclosure doesn’t win. Uncertainty doesn’t win. Love wins.

To those in the halls of our high schools that fear for their safety and are ashamed of who they are, Easter says that it gets better because bullying doesn’t win. Love wins.

To those lying in hospital beds this morning–and to those who sit next to them hour after hour–Easter says that cancer doesn’t win. Alzheimer’s doesn’t win.
Autism doesn’t win. Chronic pain doesn’t win. What wins? Love wins!

Even to those of us who visit the graves of those we love–who would give anything to have them show up again, even for a moment. Easter invites us to proclaim alleluia because God has the final word, and death doesn’t win. What wins? Love wins!

Love wins. Whatever it is for you that seems to be blocking the light. Whatever it is that is like a stone keeping you in a tomb, Easter says that it doesn’t win. Easter says that love wins. Easter announces that God has not given up. God has not given up on you. God has not given up on your life. God has not given up on this world.

Easter tells us that God has not abandoned us. God has not abandoned this world. Something new has begun to put this world back together. Something new has begun to put your life back together. God’s Amazing Grace has entered this world and wants to change everything. God’s Amazing grace wants to set you free from anything–from everything—that gets in the way of love.

Easter wants to set you free today: set you free to live in God’s love for you, and send you to live out God’s love for the world. Because it is God’s love working in your life—It is God working through you, through us, that will bring about love’s victory. Love wins (a lot of ad lib here) when we feed the hungry. Love wins when we clothe the naked. Love wins when we help the poor. Love wins when we look at another person–no matter who they are, what they’ve done or how different they are from us–and see a child of God. Love wins as we do God’s work with our hands!

How you live your life makes a difference. You can be a part of the new reality that God is creating every day, right here in this world–this world that God will never give up on.

Love wins. That is what Easter tells us today.
Love wins. That is the good news of Easter.
Love wins. That is the promise of resurrection.
Love wins. That is why we shout Alleluia!
Love wins….That is the good news of the gospel.

Sunday, April 10 was “Lazarus Sunday”, which I spent a significant amount of energy in promoting nationwide with the ONE Campaign.  Our event at Temple Lutheran Church went very well and several members of the congregation added their names to the ONE Campaign’s effort to effectively treat HIV/AIDS through distribution of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs).

Below is video of my “Lazarus Sunday” sermon on May 10, 2011 at Temple Lutheran Church. Lazarus Sunday was a nationwide effort to raise awareness and advocacy surrounding the life-saving effectiveness of providing antiretroviral treatments (ARVs) to persons living with HIV/AIDS by highlighting the dramatic change that can happen in as little as 40 days when a person receives ARVs, which can be provided for only 40 cents per day.