Sermon- Luke 4:1-13

Luke 4:1-13

When I was young, I was frightened by people who were homeless.  I can remember when I was in Sixth grade and on a trip to Washington, D.C. with my family.  We were coming up the escalator of the subway, when I saw homeless man begging on the street.  The way we all were situated, I was going to be the one closest to him when we passed.  And so my immediate reaction was to quick move myself to the other side of my mom and dad, so that they were between me and that man.

As I grew older, I think the fear mutated into more of a moral argument – well should I give this person money for food or will they just go spend it on drugs and booze?  And so I usually would still try to avoid those situations.  But then, a couple of years back, I read an article. It was a story in the Star Tribune on the topic of the homeless who panhandle on the streets of Minneapolis.  And that article changed my life.  The article interviewed a handful of Minneapolis’ notorious homeless, the ones everyone knew.  The interviewer asked the typical questions – why are you homeless, do you want food or do you want money?  That sort of thing.  What was great about the story is that it seemed that the people were honest.  Some said they simply wanted money so that they could buy some alcohol.  Some said they needed the money so that they could buy their much needed insulin.  But the common thread that each of them mentioned was that when they are out on the streets asking for money, the only thing they are really looking for is for someone to look them in the eyes.  For someone to look him or her in the eyes as if to say, “I see you.  You exist.  You are not invisible to me.”  They said that you don’t have to give them money, but what they desperately want is to be noticed.

Later that year, while on a camping trip as a youth director, I made a commitment -signified by this leather rope around my wrist – a commitment to not be afraid anymore of the homeless people I encounter on the street.  To look at them and to see them, and maybe even to introduce myself to them.

But you know what? Even though I made that commitment, I still carry that fear around with me.  Every time I drive up to a traffic light and see a person standing there, holding a sign that reads, “Really hungry.  Need food.  Please help” – every time I see that, I have this internal battle.  What should I do? Should I look at her? Do I have any money to give?  Maybe I should roll down the window and say hi?  Oh wait, it looks like the light is turning green, maybe I won’t have time to do anything.  Can’t hold up traffic. It’s this tugging and pulling on my heart.  Do this….no, don’t do that.  Say something…no don’t say anything.  It is like the Holy Spirit and the Devil are having it out with me…the only problem is that their voices sound the same.  They sound just like mine.

Maybe that’s how it was for Jesus in this story…maybe the voice of the Holy Spirit and the voice of the devil were too much like his own voice and the two were having it out with him.  The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness where he wanders for 40 days without food, during which the devil tempts him.  The devil says to Jesus, “Well if you are the Son of God, turn this stone into bread and you won’t be hungry,” but then the Spirit whispers in Jesus’ ear, “But one does not live by bread alone.”  Then the devil says, “Look at this glorious kingdom of mine, if you worship me, I will give it all to you,” and, again, the Spirit whispers, “Worship and serve only the Lord your God.”  Finally, the devils says, “Throw yourself off the top of this temple.  Don’t worry God said his angels will protect you,” but the Spirit says, “Do not put God to the test.”  Back and forth, back and forth, Jesus has this internal battle between the Holy Spirit and the devil for forty days.

I think it is a battle between a life focused on one’s self versus a life giving one’s self up in love.  That’s what Jesus’ ministry was all about, self-giving love.  But even Jesus knew the temptation of focusing on his own needs instead of the needs of others.  I imagine Jesus thinking to himself, “You know, I could probably do better than a carpenter from Nazareth spending time with the poor.  I could have some power in this place.”  But then from a place deep within comes a voice that says, “Power and control will not feed your soul.”  Or maybe Jesus thinks to himself, I could rule over this land.  People would worship me like they worship Caesar.”  But then that voice creeps into his heart and reminds him, “Only God is to be worshiped and served.”  Or finally, perhaps Jesus thought to himself, “I am invincible.  Scripture says God will protect me at all costs.”  Once again, a place from deep within whispers, “Do not test God.  God works differently than that.”  Back and forth, back and forth.  Do this….no don’t do that.  Say this…no don’t say that.

It is about the battle between a life focused on the self versus a life of self-giving love and Jesus knew that battle so well, because this is a battle Jesus fought throughout the rest of the gospel.  Only perhaps the voice of the devil wasn’t always be his own voice. The devil shows up in the very next chapter when the people from Jesus’ hometown try to throw him off the cliff.  The devil shows up in Peter when, after Jesus’ transfiguration, he tries to set up camp and prevent Jesus from going back down the mountain and into his ministry to the people.  The devil shows up in the Pharisees when they try to accuse him of breaking the law when he heals a man on the Sabbath.  Back and forth, back and forth.

So many of us wonder and ask about who the devil is.  Perhaps the devil is our own voice or the voices of those around us who try to keep us from doing what we know leads to the fullness of life, which is giving of ourselves to others in love.  I know that my soul will be fed if I roll down my window and greet the homeless person on the street and I know that 9 times out of 10, the person’s face will light up with a smile as they greet me back.  I know it, because so often I have felt the sting of not doing it.  So many times I have given in to my fear.  Perhaps the devil tries to keep us focused on ourselves by teaching us to fear the world.

I just recently saw this fear on a TV show called Law and Order, of which I have a minor obsession.  The episode was about this mother who, for the protection of her own children, kept them home-schooled, never let them outside the house really so that had no concept of friends or how to make them, and then she convinced them that the world was an evil place and that they must fear it.  All of this she did because she thought she could protect her children and keep them alive, and yet, in the end, it was actually suffocating the life out of them.  Her own fear of the world and need to protect her children from it was the killing agent on her sons’ spirits.  That’s the devil talking.  Telling us we need to fear this world.

Jesus knew that voice so well.  And actually it is a really good thing, because I don’t know if we would have trusted him when he tried to show us the way of self-giving love.  It is hard to trust the advice of someone who hasn’t walked in your shoes, right?  We needed someone who knew intimately the battle between selfishness and selflessness before we would listen to what he had to say.  And what he has to say is this: love your neighbor, forgive your enemies, care for the marginalized, bring peace wherever you go. When you do this, Jesus says, it is like watching Satan fall from heaven – a tyrant falling from the throne.  For in that moment, Satan loses the battle.

One time, I met this guy named Mike, who was begging on the side of the road.  He told me that his birthday was in a couple of days.  Well a couple weeks later, I ran into him again at the same intersection, and I asked him about his birthday.  In that moment you could see his eyes just ignite with a light of joy and, I swear, that off in the distance, I could see a small figure falling heaven.  For in that moment, Satan loses the battle.

Even when you are on the receiving end of such love, it is one of those things where you know it when you see it.  You know it when someone has given himself or herself up in love.  It’s like when at the moment of death a loved one casts the most memorable smile your way.  Suddenly your heart starts to burn, as you realize the holy and sacred has drawn so close that you think you just caught a glimpse of it.  In that moment Satan loses the battle.

So maybe that’s what this text is about. The inner battle that each of us knows so well.  That constant churning inside of us over which path God is calling us towards.  The path of action or inaction.  The path of peace or violence. The path of self-giving love or self-serving. One artist describes the battle as being out amongst the waves.  He writes:

If not for love I would be drowning,

I’ve seen it work both ways, But I am up

Riding high amongst the waves

I can feel like I have a soul that has been saved

-Eddie Vedder

If it weren’t for love, we’d be drowning.  Jesus’ whole ministry was about moving us towards a place of giving of ourselves up in love and the only way he could convince us towards that path is if he knew that strong and seductive pull from the devil.  And the reality is, the devil won’t always lose.  The devil may win at times, but the grace of God is that every moment of our life, we are given another opportunity to stand and face the devil one more time.



Sermon – Luke 5:1-11

I like this story.  I like the way Luke portrays what it looks like when Jesus calls Peter into being one of his disciples.  I think Luke gets the story right because this story speaks truthfully about what life really looks like.  You see, if you look up this story in the Gospel of Matthew or the Gospel of Mark, you hear something completely different.  You’ll hear a story that goes something like this:

One day, Jesus was strolling along past the sea of Galilee when he stumbles upon two guys, named Simon and Andrew, throwing their net into the sea.  He thinks to himself, “Yeah, they’ll do.”  And so he  hollers to them, “Hey!  Hey!  You guys there!  What do you say you come and follow me around for awhile?  What’s that?  Yeah, no, you can leave the nets.  We’re going to fish for people.”  And of course this sounds better than what they’re doing.  So they drop their nets and off they go.

Easy as that, right?  Wrong.  Well at least according to Luke.  No, for Luke, this story is much different from the story in Matthew or Mark.  And I think Luke gets it right because Luke’s story has a little bit of real life sprinkled over it; Luke’s story has stress and disappointment, fear and resistance.  Luke knows something that everyone of you know.  Luke knows that life… is hard.  That’s the first line of a great book by Dr. M. Scott Peck called The Road Less Traveled – “Life is hard.”  You know this and I know this.  From the way Luke tells this story, it appears that Luke knows this.  Luke knows that being Jesus isn’t easy, because from the very beginning Jesus is literally being pushed out to sea with people pressing upon, demanding that he give them what they want.  Isn’t that how life is sometimes?  People pressing in upon, demanding you give them what they want?  Heck, Luke even knows that fishing isn’t easy because Simon Peter, James, and John all failed at it.  They are sitting there on the shore, washing their nets, and, quite frankly, they are ticked off.  All night long they fished and they caught nothing.  And now, they have to head home with their tail between their legs, knowing their kids will go to bed hungry.  Isn’t that how life is sometimes?  You head home with your tail between your legs after an unsuccessful day?  Life. Is. Hard.

I like this story.  It has a little bit of real life baked into it. You can see this again in the exchange between Jesus and Simon Peter.  Jesus has just finished speaking to the crowd and while standing in the boat that he stole, he sees Simon Peter, sitting on the shore, fuming over the lackluster day of fishing.  Jesus paddles on over towards him and he says something really profound.  Jesus reaches out, puts his hand on poor Simon Peter’s shoulder and he says….  ”Get back out there and start catching some fish.”  That’s what he says.  He doesn’t say, “Hey man, tough day.  I know a pub just down shore a bit.  Let me take you out.  No seriously, come on, I hear they have a great fish sandwich.”  No, Jesus says, “Get back out there, only this time, go deeper.  Go farther out.”

Now I don’t know who of you have been out in the ocean or on a big lake.  But if you have, then you probably know that the idea of going “father out” overflows with fear and trembling. What do parents always say to their children at the beach? “Don’t go too far out.”  In movies or television shows, young, strong, good-looking lifeguards are usually scanning the shore looking for people who have gone too far out.  Because that is where you find trouble.

My wife and I, while visiting Hawaii, became very aware of what it means to go “farther out.”  We were on a dolphin and whale watching tour with about 14 other people on this small, motorized boat.   At the beginning of the tour, we were headed straight out away from the island.  Lauren and I were in bliss.  Gazing at the beautiful sunshine reflecting off the water and the way the edge of the island looked against the pale-blue sky background.  But, then, like a speed bump in the middle of the road, we could almost feel when we had crossed the threshold into that “farther out” part of the sea.  No longer where closing our eyes and letting the wind brush across our faces.  No longer were we gazing at Diamond Head volcano that was off in the distance and thinking, “It is so gorgeous; there must be a god!”  Suddenly, we were clenching the rails of the boat, imagining we could steady it amongst the big, big waves.  Suddenly, we both were wondering if we had selected the correct lifejacket size, as we tightened the straps as far as they would go.  Suddenly, we were farther out, and fear set in.

And yet, that is exactly where Jesus tells Peter to go.  Farther out.  “Get back out there, “ Jesus says, “Only this time, go deeper.  Go farther out.”  Just when Peter thought his day couldn’t get any worse, Jesus sends him into the deepest, darkest, and dangerous part of the sea.  And like any call story that’s worth its weight, Peter resists.  Peter says, “All night long I have been fishing and caught nothing.  Now you want me to go back out there, even further into the dark sea?”  Peter resists, because that’s life, isn’t it?  We resist.  We resist everything from our new year’s resolution to get in shape to the invitation to actually love our enemies.  And in the end, I think it is because we are afraid.  Afraid of what? I don’t know.  The world?  But we are afraid,  and I think it was the same for Peter.  Peter resisted because he was afraid.  And who can blame him?  But then…but then he gathered up his fear. He got back out there…and low and behold, amidst the monstrous waves and the bottomless sea, there was a school of fish waiting to be caught.  A sign that God abounds in the most treacherous places.

I like this story.  I like it because it stinks a little bit with real life.  Luke knows that there is nothing safe nor certain about the calling into life.  No guarantee that we will be safe from harm.  No guarantees that our dreams will come true if we just put our mind to it.  Luke knows how hard and painful life can be.  How painfully absent God can seem when standing alone on the shore, cleaning any empty net, or while sitting in the waiting room during a loved one’s surgery, or when closing the blinds on another isolated day in the apartment.  No wonder we are afraid. Like Adam and Eve, so often we try to escape this world.  Our prayers often ask God to lift us up out of this mess and into a place where we no longer have to live this human life.  Jesus is guilty of it.  In the garden, he prays, “Lord, take this cup from me.  I don’t want it anymore.”

But perhaps that is our sin.  As one of my favorite theologian puts it, what if our sin is trying to escape this world.  Trying to be something other than what we are: children of the world.  God made us human so that we might be human.  God placed us in this world so that we might be in this world.  So that we might allow ourselves to reside here, in the deepest part of the sea, where the waves are large and looming, where the water is dark and bottomless, and where we trust that there will be a school of fish – a sign that God abounds in the midst of it all.

I like this story.  It is littered with the garbage of real life.  When you leave here this morning, you will be walking into a world that is both beautiful and terrifying.  The very same snowflakes that cause us to stop and stick our tongue in hopes of catching one are the same snowflakes that lead to blizzards and fatal accidents.  The child that brings a sense of new life and energy into our life is also the one reminds us of how fragile life is and how quickly death can draw near. God does not call us to abandon this world, but to go deeply into it.  Out into the deep end of the ocean, where it is dark and dangerous.  And yet…..and yet, that is exactly where God promises to encounter us -in the middle of real life – encountering us in moments that are delightful.  Moments that are mundane.  Moments that are terrifying.  Even when it feels like you have not caught any fish at all, God calls you back out into the sea of life, and promises to meet you there…Even when it feels like you have not caught any fish at all, God calls you back into the sea of life, and promises to meet you there.   AMEN

Sermon – Philippians 3:4b-14

Over the last week, I have come face to face with something that is utterly terrifying.  I have come to realize my own ability and, I think, the ability of many of those around me to completely compartmentalize and forget about what has happened in Haiti.

My eyes have begun to skip over the new articles posted online about Haiti, being drawn more towards updates on the Tiger Woods scandal or whether the Vikings have a shot in their game this afternoon.  I mean, as of Friday, even had abandoned its special front-page section of news articles on the conditions and reports coming out of Port-au-Prince.

I think the reason this was such a terrifying realization for me is because of how I was initially affected by this tragedy.  The day after the earthquake hit, I learned that a student from Wartburg Seminary, Ben Larson, had been killed in the earthquake.  He was 25 years old, married, and just a semester away from graduating.  A couple months back, I had met his cousin, Jonathan Larson, who was in the same building when the earthquake struck.  Thankfully, Jonathan was able escape.  As emails updates were sent around and as friends posted on their facebook page how they knew Ben, the reality and proximity of this disaster slowly began to sink in for me.  Whoa.  This isn’t just some story on the news.  Buildings collapsed on people.  A building collapsed on a seminarian from Iowa, who was 25 years old and married.  I know it might sound a little cliché, but….I’m 27.  I’m married.  I’m a seminarian.  That could just have easily been me.

Later that night, a friend stopped by our house, and we talked all about Ben Larson and our connection to his story.  And during that discussion, something happened to me.  Standing in my living, emotion began to swell within me, and I realized that all I wanted to do was hug this friend of ours, to kiss her on the cheek, and say, “We love you.”   More so than 9/11, more so than Hurricane Katrina, my personal reaction to this earthquake was one that felt visceral and instinctual – as if something in my body was taking me over.  I wanted to hug and kiss all those whom I loved.  I wanted to feel the warmth of those near to me.

What has your reaction been?  Has anything in particular struck a chord within you?  Hearing about parents frantically looking for their lost children?  Perhaps learning about a 20-year-old college student who was crushed in a hotel collapse reminds you of your 20-year-old child, grandchild, nephew, or cousin, whose safety you fear for.  Or, having lived through a natural disaster yourself, you recall what that was like for you, which puts you unusually in sync with what many in Haiti might be feeling.  Or maybe you have not felt affected by Haiti.  For whatever reason, this particular event has not come close enough to you to stir up an emotional reaction.

For me, I think it has all become so overwhelming, that my mind simply shuts it out. I cannot handle how close this tragedy hits and at the same time, how helpless and distant I feel in relation to it.  So I compartmentalize it and easily forget.

Knowing that I would be preaching on the Philippians passage for today, all week I sat with this text desperately wondering what connection it could possibly have to this current situation.  And then, finally, it dawns on me.  Paul is writing to this congregation in Philippi from prison.  In prison….where Paul’s ability to lead churches and spread the love of Christ is significantly limited.  In prison…where I imagine he might feel helpless and distant.  What he does then is write this letter to advocate for two female, ex-slaves, Euodia and Syntyche, to be given leadership roles in the church at Philippi.  Paul wants to say that these two women are of equal standing with him because they all share identity through Christ, and, therefore, are fit to lead the church.  To make this point, Paul boasts about and immediately discredits his own resume.  He arrogantly announces his astounding credentials as a Pharisaic Jew, member of the tribe of Benjamin, knowledgeable in Hebrew, and a perfect follower of the Law.  And then…he says that all of it is meaningless.  He rejects his righteousness, his status that comes from these things, because his identity comes from Christ.  He says, “All of this is rubbish, garbage, because I have been given a mutual relationship with Christ.  I am found in Christ and Christ is found in me.”

And then just at the point where our reading stops, Paul goes into the crucial part of his letter.  He says, “Let those of you here be of the same mind.  Imitate my thinking.  Because Christ is in you too.  Your identity rests in Christ, not in your resume or achievements.”  So while Paul is writing this letter of recommendation for Euodia and Syntyche, because their identity is in Christ, what he is really saying is that all of us hold that same identity.  He is writing this letter of recommendation for you!  Not just you as Helen, or CJ, or Brian, or Roschelle, but you as the body of Christ.  Because if Christ is found in each and every one of you, then you are bound together in Christ.  Christ is the connection between all of you, and you become a body.  You are the body of Christ, Paul says, in another letter.

And then….if Christ is in all of you and if Christ is in everyone else in the world, then you are bound together through Christ to all the people of the world.  And suddenly, Haiti doesn’t seem so distant anymore.

Earlier in his letter to the Philippians, Paul says, together you work out your salvation, “for it is God who is at work in you.”   Together we make up the body of Christ and together we build up the body of Christ. When one part of the body hurts, the other part knows it.  So if you felt particularly affected by the earthquake in Haiti, it’s probably because deep down, you knew part of your own body was injured that day.  And if you weren’t particularly affected by the earthquake in Haiti, I imagine it is because you were attending to another part of the body’s needs.

Which ever it is for you, all this stuff that we call “living,” we do together as the body of Christ, bound with the world for the sake of the world.  Like Paul, you may feel like you are in prison and there is little that you can do.  But as one tiny, yet crucial, part of the body of Christ, you do what you can.  You say a prayer of lament for the Haitian community, you share stories, both tragic and heroic, that you hear, you donate via text message or a special church offering.  And then… you put your trust in the Euodia’s and the Syntyche’s of the world, who are closer than you, to do everything that they can.  And it is because of this that we don’t have to forget about Haiti nor do we have to bear the full weight of it.  Our identity is in Christ and everything else is rubbish.   We are bound together.  And together we work to build up the body of Christ, for it is God who is at work in us.  AMEN