Sunday, June 10, 2012 – Sermon on Mark 3:20-35

Mark 3:20-35

When Lauren and I were out on a walk though a neighborhood a couple of days ago, I noticed a small and subtle yellow circle staked up in many of the yards.  I snuck over to get a closer look at one and they were exactly what I thought they were – security system signs.  They promoted – or should I say, warned of- the security system hidden within the house.  It is a sign that says, “Hey, if you are thinking of breaking into this place…think again.”

Now, I don’t know if you have ever had the scary and violating experience of having an intruder enter your home, but ever since I was a little boy, the thought has always terrified me.  Maybe it is because when I was 6 years old, my mother accidently set off the silent alarm, which led to armed police officers surrounding our house.  Or maybe it is because almost every morning during middle school, my older brother managed to set off the audible alarm system when he left for school.  Each morning, it would pierce my ear drum and send my body lurching up, like it was raising the dead. Whatever it was, I have always feared an intruder entering my home.

Well, there is an intruder in our gospel text for today. A home invader.  But it is not the person you think it would be.  It is not the type of person with the unkept goatee and snarly looking face you see hanging up at the post office and it is not the sketchy individual whose mug shot is displayed on the six o’clock news.  No, the intruder in our Gospel story is Jesus.  He is the home invader.  Someone who sneaks into a house, ties up the owner, and steals all their stuff.  But in this story, it isn’t your house that Jesus is breaking into.  It’s Satan’s.  It’s the devil’s house.

Earlier in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus had been going around casting out demons and healing the sick.  He’d been forgiving sins and eating with tax collectors.  And he had been breaking the law of God by feeding and healing people on the Sabbath.   Naturally, like many renegades, this made him very, very popular.  A crowd had begun to gather around him. But while all of this made Jesus popular, it also made him notorious –  a problem.  He was a rule breaker.  He wasn’t behaving the way society said he should.  And as a result, his family thought that he had gone….well…insane.  They thought he’d gone out of his mind.  That he’d lost his marbles. So, in our story, they’ve come to take him home.  To prevent him from making a fool out of himself and from embarrassing them.

But before they could do that, another group had come to deal with Jesus  – the government, the ones with authority. The Man, if you will.  You see it’s people like Jesus that always attract the attention of the government.  Anyone who threatens the status quo, anyone who threatens the power of the government is always a danger.  So the scribes from Jerusalem have come down to investigate Jesus.  And their fear isn’t that Jesus has simply gone crazy.  It is that he has become possessed.  Possessed by the devil. And so he must be stopped.

Now, it’s in the midst of this chaos that Jesus does something a little strange.  He tells them a parable.

“How can Satan cast out Satan?” he asks. “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.“

It’s a curious little tale, isn’t it? Essentially, Jesus is saying to these government officials, “How can I be Satan, when I cast out Satan.” Makes sense. Jesus isn’t possessed by Satan, he says.  He is Satan’s enemy.  In fact, he is an intruder in Satan’s house.  One who ties up Satan and steals back all the things Satan has taken from society.

Jesus says he is plundering, destroying Satan’s house by breaking these rules.  By forgiving people’s sins even though they maybe don’t deserve it.  By healing the sick on the Sabbath day, even though it is against the law. By having a meal with people, even though every one else hated them. You see, at that time, following God meant following the rules and obeying.  Because Jesus didn’t do this. So naturally, the people thought he was crazy.  No, they thought he is possessed by the devil.

Now, I’m curious.  Are we any different than the people who confronted Jesus?  Aren’t there certain rules we think we are supposed to follow and if we don’t, people will think we are crazy?

I recently heard the story of a couple, Mark and Betsy, who woke up one morning to the smell of smoke.[1]  The barn just outside their house was on fire.  The barn that held their sailboat, the old cars they’d be restoring, and other family treasures. All was lost.  Nothing could be done.  Everything burned.  The worst part – it wasn’t an accident.  Partying teenagers started the fire in an act of teenage rebellion.

Mark and Betsy were no strangers to troubled youth.  They had worked with them before.  They loved them, cared for them, and wouldn’t give up on them.  So, why stop now, they thought.  They decided not to press charges.  In fact, they invited the teenagers over to their house to help them build a new barn.

It is people like Mark and Betsy who break the rules our society has set up.  We have laws in place for situations like this.  But Mark and Betsy didn’t follow them. Instead of making the teenagers pay for what they did, Mark and Betsy asked for their help.

In 2006, tragedy struck an Amish community in Pennsylvania.[2]  You may recall the story.  One day, a man entered a one-room schoolhouse and started shooting.  Five students, along with the gunman, died that day.  You can imagine the horror and outrage.  But what no one expected was the way this Amish community would respond.  They should have been angry! They should have called for justice!  But within hours of the shooting, the community had offered forgiveness to this man and his distraught family.  They held his sobbing father in their arms and comforted his wife.  One of the grandfathers of a student killed said, “We must not think evil of this man.” A couple days later,, thirty members of the Amish community attended the gunman’s funeral.

It is people like this Amish community who break the rules our society has set up.  We have laws in place for situations like this.  But this community didn’t follow them. Instead of proclaiming that this man was evil, unforgivable and destined for hell, they forgave him and cared for his family.

When I hear stories like this, it reminds me…no, it confronts me with all the times in my life when I could have responded like that but didn’t.  Like the times I sought to get even with someone, rather than be compassionate toward them.  Or the times when I thought only a certain type of person was worthwhile or worthy of my time and attention.

When these memories come, suddenly it feels like Jesus is sneaking his way to my life.  Crawling in through a window I didn’t know was left open.  Suddenly, Jesus is stealing from me things that I hold onto – my desire to get even with someone, my tendency to favor those who think and act like me over those who don’t.  And I like those things.  I don’t want to give them up.  So before he can take them from me, Jesus first ties me up with love, reminding me that that not the person I want to be.

Our parish has come up with a new mission statement: Feeding Body, Mind, and Spirit with the Love of Jesus. One of the initiatives we came up with for this mission statement is to look at how we welcome people in our parish.  What do we feed people with when they walk in the door of Aurora and Trinity?  Is it the love of Jesus, or is it the rules we’ve set up here?

Maybe a place to begin is to ask: Are there unspoken rules here in our churches that we aren’t supposed to break?  Maybe you aren’t supposed to sit in someone else’s seat.  Maybe until you’ve been here 15 years, you’re still considered new, and thus, suspicious, and not to be trusted?

Or let me ask you this, are there people in this room you’ve worship with for years but have never heard a word about their life story? Why is that?

A member told me that they’ve seen visitors come to church without anyone ever welcoming them or greeting them.  Why is that?  Is there an unspoken rule there?

If these unspoken rules do exist, I wonder if Jesus might be inviting us to break them?  Maybe Jesus is intruding his way into our parish, into our hearts and asking us to live life differently.  So what might that look like? What might Jesus be inviting us to do differently here at church that our families and friends might think was a little crazy, a little out of the ordinary, a little different, a little possessed?  Maybe it isn’t rushing for the same pew each Sunday, but it’s looking around to see if there is anyone new who is sitting by himself or herself.  Maybe it’s inviting your neighbor who you know has a drinking problem and wouldn’t fit in very well, but could use a community that cares.  Or maybe it’s sticking around a little longer after church to talk with a kid you don’t know very well about their soccer game.  Just think of the small, easy ways Jesus asks us to break rules.  I’d love to hear what we can come up with.

Such things might not be the most comfortable for us at first. But maybe doing them isn’t crazy at all.  Maybe it is one of the many ways Jesus is calling us to feed one another, and those who visit us, with the love of Jesus.

So, can we let Jesus intrude his way into our parish and invite us to break some of the rules? AMEN


[1] The Most High Reverend Laura Aase


Sunday, June 3 – Holy Trinity Sunday – Sermon on Isaiah 6:1-8

Isaiah 6:1-8

A couple of years ago, I was an intern pastor in Minneapolis. During the week, when school let out, I would hang out at the local park and rec center, playing basketball or just sitting outside with the youth from the neighborhood.  One day, I was with a group of kids who were Muslim.  They were talking about the classes they had to attend for three hours each Saturday morning at their Mosque, which sounded a lot like what we know as Confirmation.  In the middle of the conversation, one youth turned to me and say, “You’re pastor, right? From that church over there?”  “Yes,” I said.  Then he asked, “How can you say that you believe in one God, when really you believe in three?”

It’s a good question, isn’t it?  How is that we say God is one but confess our faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? I would like to tell you that I simply paused for a moment, look up at the sky thoughtfully, and then poetically answered in such a way that left us all speechless.  But that’s not what happened.  I was not prepared for this question.  In fact, I was so unprepared that I had nothing to say.  After two years of seminary training, all I could really do was sit there and just shrug my shoulders.

Today is the day in the church year when we are supposed to talk about the Holy Trinity.  As your pastor, I am supposed to find some good analogy to try and explain how God can be both three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) while also remaining just one God.

Over the years, some have referred to the Trinity as being like an egg – together the whites, the yoke and the shell make up an egg.  Three things in one.  Others have described the Trinity like water. If you go back to your elementary school science class, you’ll recall that water can be in three states – liquid, solid, or gas.

Truth be told, these examples might not be the best examples for talking about the Trinity. With the egg analogy, it talks about three parts.  An egg is made up of three basic parts, like how the human body is made up of basic parts – the skeletal system, the muscular system, and the nervous system.  With the water analogy, it talks about three states of being.  Like how as a human being, you can be in a state of anger, a state of joy, or a state of grief.

But the Holy Trinity is not about three parts of God, or three states of God…it is about God as three persons and, yet, one being.

But how do we make sense of that? How can God be three and yet one. It just doesn’t make any sense.  But maybe if we can say anything at all, the best we can say is that if God is three persons and yet one being, then God is community.  And what is a community but a group of people mingling together, interacting with one another, giving and receiving from one another, loving one another. Within God’s own self, God’s own being, God is communal.  And if we look at Scripture, I think we can see that God is so communal that God is continually calling us, inviting us, ushering, and nudging us into this community with God.

You can hear this in our reading from Isaiah, in which the prophet describes his incredible encounter with God.  Standing in the temple, Isaiah comes face to face with God.  These were troubled times that Isaiah was living in.  Israel was a divided group, split into two kingdoms.  And not only that, but they were at war with one another.  Now, God needs someone to go and speak to the king of one of the kingdoms to help bring an end to the war.  The voice of the Lord speaks, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

Notice that God does not say, “Who will go for me?”  But, “Who will go for us?”  This phrase echoes all the way back to the beginning of creation, when God says, “Let us make humankind in our image.”  Let us make humankind in our image.

From the beginning of creation and here in the story of Isaiah, God is not some big ruler in the sky watching over us, making sure we behave. And God is not some distant creator who formed the earth and then simply says, “Good luck” and leave it to it’s own devices.  No, from the beginning of creation and here in the story of Isaiah, God is inviting others into participation in the divine work. God says to Isaiah, “I need someone.  We need someone to send.  Who will go speak to the king for us?”  And Isaiah has the courage to respond, “Here I am. Send me.”

This best part of this Trinitarian God – this God as three person but one being thing- because if God is communal within God’s own self, if God’s very nature is to be communal, then God makes room for us within it. God as a community, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit invites us, the people of God, into that same community.  And by offering us a place and purpose within God’s own self, God brings us into God’s activity in the world.

God invites us into God’s very own work..  God needs us out there talking, sharing and serving the world.  What if what God is doing in the world is directly related to what you are doing in the world?

What an incredible word for us this day, graduation Sunday.  Like Julia, Kelsey, and Same, many students in our community and across the country are graduating from high school and are being sent out into the work of the world, which is also the work of God. You are going out to find the passion and work that suits you and calls out your name.  But, whenever it comes to graduations, David Brooks, a writer from the New York Times, say graduates ought to be cautious.[1]

The common phrases that graduates hear this time of year are all about them. “Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself.”  But, Brooks says, it’s not all about you. Because that’s not how callings happen.  He says, your calling in life does not come from looking within yourself, but from looking outside yourself.

A friend of mine, Patty Allen, was diagnosed with breast cancer about 8 years ago.  It was through her experience that she discovered a great need of support for those in the community who were also struggling through breast cancer.  It began as a basket of scarves and hats for those newly diagnosed.  Now it is a non-profit organization called Join the Journey that promotes breast cancer awareness and hosts a 10-mile Cancer walk each year.  Patty was called into the activity of God of supporting people with breast cancer not through looking inside herself, but through looking outside herself.  The community outside her called out, like God called out to Isaiah, and Patti had the courage to say, “Here am I.  Send me.”

I am not saying that you should deny your own passions, but maybe it is not only your work, or your passion. Maybe it is God’s passion and God is the one calling you into such work.

All of us are called to something, I believe.  Sometimes, it is many things and it is not just our jobs.  We all are called to something everyday.  So to our graduates, and to all of us, whatever you feel called to in this world, chances are it’s because it has come from outside you.  From a voice in your community – from your family, friends, people you’ve met at work, or a news article you once read.  Somewhere you’ve discovered and heard the call from outside yourself –  the need to care for others in the world, the need to be concerned about people’s health and well being, or the need to look after this good earth.  And it is that very call, the call to be the hands and feet of God in this world, that invites you into the communal nature of God, or what we might call the Trinity.

How do I believe a God that is three persons?  Because God is by nature a community.  And it is into community that God calls us to be.  It is where we find our calling in life.  It is where we courageously say, “Here I am. Send me.”  AMEN

Baccalaureate Sermon – Exodus 3:1-12, Acts 1:15-17,21-26

Exodus 3:1-12

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

Moses…was a murderer.  You might not remember that part of his story, but it’s true.  In fact, it is one of the first things we learn about him in the book of Exodus.  Back in chapter 2, one day, Moses is out wandering around when he stumbles upon an Egyptian beating up a Hebrew slave.  Though he didn’t know it, Moses too was a Hebrew and in seeing this person being mistreated, something snapped.  He peaked over both shoulders, and when the coast was clear, he killed the Egyptian.

It is not part of the story that most of us a familiar with. But I think it is crucial.  Most of us are more familiar with the story we just heard from Pastor Matt– where God speaks to Moses through a burning bush.  It is a great story in which Moses is given a purpose and a calling in his life.

One day, just like every other day, Moses is out tending to the sheep, when all of sudden, out of nowhere, woooosh, this bush just bursts into flames and starts talking to him, “Moses….Moses, come here.  I’ve got something for you to do.  My people, and your people, are living in misery in Egypt. They’ve been crying out to me and I can hear in their voice the suffering they are going through.  So, guess what? I am sending you in to rescue them.”  And you know what?  Moses couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe that God would chose him to rescue the Israelites from Egypt, let alone the fact that God would be speaking to him right there through a burning bush.  But God reassured him, “Don’t worry, don’t worry.  I’ll be with you the whole time.”

Now that is an incredible story.  As many of you know, Moses goes on to confront the Pharaoh and lead his people out of the land by parting the sea. A classic story that is worth telling over and over again by itself.  But if you know Moses checkered past, it’s an even better story.  Because it is one thing for God to call upon Moses to save God’s people.  It is whole other thing for God to call upon Moses the murderer to save God’s people.  I mean, who does that?  Businesses these days require a background check before hiring someone and you can be certain that being a top tier criminal does not help you.  But apparently God works with a different set of rules.  Apparently, God works with just about anyone in order to do incredible things.

But the truth of the matter is that most of us probably aren’t going to be doing incredible things like the Moses’ of the world.  Most of us won’t be famous for thousands of years.  We won’t be a main character in one of the most popular books in the world. And we probably won’t be responsible for freeing a whole people from an oppressive country.  It’s just not likely to happen.

My wife Lauren often tells a story about when she graduated from college. She felt like she was on top of the world.  She felt empowered and determined.  The reason?  Because when leaving college, she was told, “You will change the world.”  You can be anything you want to be and you will change the world, they said.  But then about 6 months later, it just didn’t feel like it.  She was working a part-time job at Pier One and a part-time receptionist job.  She knew it mattered that she showed up and did her best work, but she just didn’t feel like she was…changing the world.  It felt more like getting-by than creating change, you know?

When people tell us that we are going to change the world, we think we will be the ones who do these great big and amazing things.  We will be like Moses!  But then we just…aren’t. Really, we tend to be more like Matthias.

Chances are, even if you were listening to Pastor Charlie read the story from Acts, you don’t have a clue who Matthias is.  Because really, there isn’t much to know.  The story of Matthias can be summed up like this:  Jesus went to heaven.  Judas died. And now there was an opening in the Disciples Department.  There’s a guy named Joseph and a guy named Matthias.  The disciple’s roll some dice and Matthias wins gig.

That’s it.  That’s all the Bible has to say about Matthias.  As one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, he gets one mention in the Bible and this was it.  He’s like one of the first people Jesus would friend on Facebook but nobody knows who he is.  Nobody knows what he did, or where he went.  Matthias is the disciples that no one knows.

And yet, he was a disciple. He was with Jesus from the beginning and in the long run, some of us probably wouldn’t be sitting here in a church if it weren’t for Matthias the nobody.

To those of you graduating this weekend, I’ll be honest, I don’t know most of you.  I have no clue where you are going and what’s next for you.  Some of you might have the next four years of your life already planned out, and some of you might not know what you are doing next week, let alone in the fall.  But what I do know is that from the looks of these two stories, God will use just about anyone in order to care for this world.  A murderer like Moses and a nobody like Matthias. What many graduates like you are never told is that God will use you to change the world, but that God will do it in all sorts of ways.  And most of them aren’t that flashy or famous.  Right now, someone we don’t know, and will likely never know, has his arm around his dad while sitting at grandpa’s funeral.  Right now, someone we don’t know is working an extra shift at Wal-Mart just so she can buy her son a birthday gift.  Right now, someone we don’t know is reading to their child before bed.  These things change the world. You just don’t hear about most of them.  It doesn’t matter who someone is or what they’ve done, God can use them for the sake of the world.  God’s only requirement is a beating heart.  Go ahead, put your hand over your chest.  Can you feel something thumping around in there?  Then God will use you to love and care for this world.

Throughout your life, like it was for Moses, God will call out your name (Julia, David, Tyler, McKayla, Kelsey) or whatever your name is and say, “Come here, I’ve got something for you to do.”   God will use you in ways that are extraordinary and worthy of the front-page news.  And God will use you in ways that are mundane, and ordinary, and unknown to the rest of the world. Because, believe it or not, Jesus says that you are light of the world.  You are the salt of the earth.  Which means the world needs you.  We need you.  It is quite a responsibility, but do not fear.  Because remember God says one more thing to Moses and one more thing to you…”I will be with you the whole time.”

Blessings to all of you on your road ahead. Amen.