Sunday, August 25th, 2013 – Sermon on Luke 13:10-17

Luke 13:10-17

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

So, every once and a while, when I read scripture, I burst out laughing. It doesn’t happen very often because we’ve been socialized to not laugh when scripture is read. We’ve been taught that it is the Holy Word of God and we need to read it in a flat and monotone voice so as to respect it or something. Even still, I burst out laughing this week.

Listen again to the beginning of our gospel: Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over.

So let me get this straight, Jesus, you know…the Lord, sees a woman who has been bent over for 18 years. A woman who knows people by their feet and not their faces. She slowly shuffles her creaking body into the synagogue, she has just found her seat, and she has just bent her knees past that point of no return, and he calls out, “Hey, hey you… come here.” So she cranks herself back up and continues up the aisle toward Jesus.

I mean, how rude is that? You’re the Son of God, you go to her for God’s sake. It’s a healing story. You’d think Jesus could have met her half way or something.

At first, I didn’t think commenting on this little piece of comedy found in our gospel would have anything to do with the actual sermon I was going to preach. In fact, I figured it would be 5 minutes of sermon filler, a waste of time, since I could think of what to preach. And while that might still be true, I realized something. The reason I burst out laughing, the reason I thought it was so ridiculous is because in my mind, Jesus was breaking a sort of unspoken rule in our society. A rule that says you care for your weak and sick by helping them. You open the door for someone on crutches, you bring a plate of all the potluck food to the person in the wheelchair. It’s just what you do. It’s called being nice.

But in the text, it says that Jesus saw her. And I can’t help but wonder, maybe what he saw was something we couldn’t see. Maybe he saw that what this woman didn’t need was his pity, but instead needed to be empowered. That she needed to be given something to do rather than have something done for her.

You see, so often when tragedy strikes or when someone gets sick, our temptation is to swoop in and take care of them. To do everything for them that they would normally need to do for themselves. Like meals and laundry and dishes. And while these are often great ways of reaching out, sometimes it can do more harm. Sometimes it can take more power away from someone who has already had enough taken away from them. So rather than be helped, they need to be empowered. To do what they can do.

In a sermon a couple months ago, Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber offered a good example of this. She said that there were a few months of her life she came down with a “touch” of hypochondria. She was a stay at home mom with a baby and a toddler. She was exhausted all the time and got sick a lot one Winter. After awhile she started to think that something was seriously wrong with her.  And secretly, without being totally conscious of it, she really hoped something was wrong with her. Nothing fatal, she says. Maybe like, a totally treatable form of cancer or something like that. You know, so that she could kind of get a hall pass.  A break from everything.  She said that ahospital stay started to look awesome.  Someone else to bring her food and she could lay around all day watching tv and taking narcotics. What’s not to love? But then after ending up in her doctor’s office for the 3rd time in 6 weeks demanding that he run tests on her since she was sure she was sick…her doctor looked her in the eyes and said,  “Nadia, nothing’s wrong with you.  You just have to deal with your life.”[1]

Sometimes, rather than being helped, people need to be empowered. And so maybe that is what Jesus saw. That rather than needing help, this bend-over woman needed empowerment. She needed to be shown the things that she could do in her life rather than the things that she couldn’t. And when she sees that, it’s like her pride and her self-worth and her sense of being a valuable human being instead of a burden on society comes rushing in with such force that her whole body just straightens out and she stands taller than she ever has before in her life.

Jesus didn’t follow the rules I expected when it comes to helping this woman. And that’s what we learn about Jesus today. That Jesus is always willing to break our rules for the sake of life. He didn’t go to that crippled and bent over woman, highlighting what she couldn’t do. Instead, he asked her to come to him, highlighting what she could do. Because he knew that would give her more life.

And now get this… that isn’t the only rule Jesus broke that day. Jesus actually broke a bigger rule. A rule we carve into stone. A rule we memorize in confirmation. Jesus broke the third commandment too. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Or at least according to the leader of the synagogue, he did. After Jesus heals this woman, the leader of the synagogue gets angry because Jesus healing was considered “work” on a day of rest.  “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day,” he cries out to the crowd gathered there. And the leader of the synagogue is right. And he even has the Bible on his side. He reads right from the bible that the Sabbath is a day of rest and no work ought to be done on it.

So according to a couple of lines in Scripture, this guy is right. But what the leader of the synagogue has forgotten is that laws, even the laws of God, were made for humanity. Humanity was not made for laws. Stops signs and speed limits are a good thing. We need them. We rely on them. And if we don’t follow the law then we deserve a ticket. But if there is an emergency and we are rushing to the hospital to get someone medical attention, does anyone care if you are following those laws or not? No! We would think it ridiculous if a man rushing his pregnant wife to the hospital were pulled over for rolling through a stop sign.

But this man, this leader of the synagogue wanted Jesus to follow the rules to the T. To follow the 10 Commandments. To not heal this woman. To make her wait another day before she could look people in the face again. Another day before she can breath deeply again into her crowded chest. He wanted to make her because that was law. But you know what…sometimes you can follow the law and the rules so well and still be wrong.

My friend and preacher Alan Storey tells a story of a track and field team. A couple of years back, two colleges in California came together for a track meet. And one of the teams had never won a track meet in their history. Never. But for the first time, it was looking like they might win. It came down to the last event, the pole vault. And all this team needed was for their vaulter to get over the bar. That’s all they need and they would win a track meet for the first time in their history. And guess what? She does it. She gets over the bar no problem and the crowd goes wild. They had just won for the very first time! But then the coach of the other team makes an objection. You see, the pole vaulter was wearing a friendship bracelet. And according to the rules, those competing cannot wear jewelry. The pole vaulter was ruled disqualified and her team lost the track meet.[2] Sometimes you can follow the rules so well, to the T, and still be wrong.

Jesus didn’t care about the rule. He cared about this woman and the fact that for 18 years she’s been bent over. And he didn’t want her to wake up one more day like that. So for Jesus, the grace and love of God always bends towards that which is life-giving, rather than that which is lawful. That which gives life always trumps the law. Just as a farmer is allowed to untie their ox or donkey and give it water on the Sabbath, because it gives life, literally, to the animal, so also is healing okay on the Sabbath.

For God, the absolute law is that of love and grace. Any other law must always bend to the grace and love of God.

So I can’t help but wonder, what are the laws and rules we have set up here as a church that too often seem more important that God’s love and grace and forgiveness. Who do we not want to receive the grace and love of God because they haven’t followed the rules and laws well enough? What laws and rules have we set up in our society that help us police who is a benefit and who is a burden to us, who is good and who is bad, rather than letting Jesus’ proclamation of God’s unconditional love for ALL people be our guide? In a couple of minutes we are going to proclaim Noah as God’s beloved child. That God has loved him longer than any of us have and that God will love him longer than any of us can. That there is an unconditional promise hidden within that water that will never dry off. And you know, today, that is an easy promise to proclaim. Because Noah is so cute. And little. And innocent. But the question is, will we proclaim that same promise to him years from now when he isn’t so cute and little and innocent. Will we proclaim it when he is rambunctious and misbehaving? Will we proclaim it when he breaks the law? Will we proclaim it when his faults and failures disappoint us? Will we let the unconditional love and grace of God that is for him, and for us, be lifted up over any other rule or law we might build around him? Because Jesus will. Jesus will always let the unconditional love and grace of God that is for Noah, and for you, be lifted up over any other rule or law we might build around him…or us.  And we, my friends, are followers of Jesus called and sent to go and do likewise. So may we do just that this week…go and do likewise. AMEN

[2] Alan Storey, “Re-Shaped by Jesus”, preached August 22nd, 2013. Found at


Sunday, August 11th, 2013 – Sermon on Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16

Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
8By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old — and Sarah herself was barren — because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
13All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.”

Grace, peace, and mercy are yours from the incarnate God revealed in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Let me say that again. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Whenever I hear someone talk about why they don’t believe in God, it usually comes around to that person saying something like, “You can’t prove that God exists! Why would I believe in something I cannot see?”

And here is the thing. The Bible totally agrees with that. I mean, our reading from Hebrews for today just comes right out and says it. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. You can’t prove that God exists, he says. You can’t see God. All you can do is hope for it. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for. And to hope for something is not to be certain about it. But it is to trust it. To trust that it will be true. To…have faith in it.

So, according to Hebrews, faith is less about believing in really complicated things like the Nicene creed or the doctrine of the trinity. Faith isn’t about knowing enough information in your brain to be able to intellectually prove the truthiness of Christianity. Instead, faith is about having hope. Hope in things and promises that we cannot prove. Things we cannot see.

So that person who doesn’t believe in God…whoever they are…whether they are a teenager who is too smart for their own good, or a bitter 55-year old, or a someone who has simply been hurt too many times in life…whoever they are…they are right. We can’t prove that God exists. And we cannot see God.

All we can do is hope. And that is faith, Hebrews tells us. Faith is trusting in what you hope for.

So what do we hope for? A lot of things I suspect. Sometimes we hope for someone else to make diner because we are so sick of doing it ourselves night after night. Sometimes we hope the weekend will come quicker than Monday will. Sometimes we hope for answers from our doctors because it seems like no one knows what’s wrong with us. Some we hope for loyal friends. Sometimes, I hope Elliot will take a really long nap and the, simultaneously, I hope he doesn’t realize I need a break from him.

But what do we hope for when it comes to God? According to the Psalmist, we hope that the love of God would be in and around us. Let your loving kindness, O Lord, be upon us, even as we place our hope in you, the Psalmist says.

We put our hope in a God whose love will swaddle the world. A love that will wrap itself around all of creation, like big hug, despite the fact that so much of creation doesn’t deserve such a love. Because we mess up and fall short. We hurt each other in countlessly obvious and not-obvious ways. We let our anger get the best of us. Or we let other people’s anger get the best of us. We sit around not doing anything for people who are rejected and kicked to the curb because it is easier than standing up for them. We hate and judge others because it makes us feel better about ourselves and distracts us from the ways we disappoint ourselves over and over again. We spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need. But despite all of that, we put our hope in the promise that we are never considered worthless. That God is never finished with us. That God is never ashamed of being called our God. And that God is actually redeeming this world, and not abandoning it.

We put our hope in that. We trust in that. Even though we can’t prove it. Even though, we can’t see it. Even though some days, it can look a whole heck of a lot like none of that stuff about God loving the whole world is true.

But he is the thing – awhile back, I heard a story that completely changed the way I think about the promises of God that we can’t prove and we can’t see.

In a sermon years ago, preacher Tom Long tells the story about a man he met at a church he was newly attending. The man told him that every Monday night, he and a few others climb into the church van and go to a youth prison. Sometimes, he said, we would have a bible study but most of the time we would just play ping pong get to know the guys who were there and try to bring them some comfort and hope. I started doing that, he said, because I thought it was the kind of thing I thought Christians ought to do. But I wouldn’t miss a Monday night now because God is there and it nourishes my soul, just as God promised. And then he said this, “You know, you cannot prove the promises of God in advance. But if you live them, they are true every one.”

You can’t prove the promises of God in advance. But if you live them, they are true every one. Here is the thing. Even though we cannot prove it. Even though, we can’t even see it… we can live it. We can live as if the promises are true. We can live as if we can see it. Not so that we can be happy, happy Christians who act like we never hurt or worry or doubt or fear. Not so that it gives us betters odds on getting into heaven on the off chance that this whole Christianity-Jesus-God thing is true. We live into these hoped for promises because when we do, they actually come true. You can’t prove the promise of God’s forgiving and redeeming love for all people. But if you live it and climb into the church van every week to hang out with people in a youth prison, the promise comes true. Suddenly that invisible promise becomes visible.And you can see it.

But maybe we need a couple more examples that are closer to home. There is a promise in the Old Testament that God rejoices over us. This past week, I got to sit with a group of people from our congregation and I got to watch as they all rejoiced at the news that a member of the group had gotten a much need job. It was pure rejoicing together. If we live into the promise that God rejoices over us and we rejoice with others, then the promises of God come true.

Throughout the story of Jesus, God is revealed as always wanting to welcome the outsider. Each week a small group from our parish meets on Tuesday afternoons at Olivia’s simply for conversation and fellowship (which any of you are welcome to attend by the way). This past week a stranger over heard our conversations, and afterwards, she stopped Judy Thimsen and talked with her for 15 minutes about our churches and how she and her family were looking for a church. If we live into the promise that God welcomes the outsider and then we welcome the outsider, the promises of God come true.

Throughout Scripture, there are countless stories about God feeding those who are hungry. This past Spring, some of us volunteered for the first time at Meals of Hope, a free meal offered for anyone who is hungry at Trinity in Owatonna on Sunday nights. Ever since then, Kim Wilder and Jesse Kubista and Rueben Kubista and others have continued to volunteer there. Feeding people in Owatonna who were hungry. If we live into the promises that God wants to feed hungry people and then we feed hungry people, the promises of God come true.

At the beginning of our gospel story, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” God wants to give us the kingdom of God. Every week, we pray in the Lord’s Prayer – your kingdom come. Your kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.

All of these stories, these moments of God’s promises coming true are glimpses of the kingdom of God breaking into this world. So when Jesus says at the end of the gospel text that we should be ready for the Son of Man to come at any time, he is right. The kingdom of God is coming. It is always breaking into this world. And when we are lucky, we will catch a glimpse of it. Because it comes at unexpected moments. Like it always does. And who knows…maybe the kingdom of God will come even today. Maybe even through someone such as you. May it be so. Amen.

Sunday, August 4th, 2013 – Sermon on Luke 12:13-21

Luke 12:13-21

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Grace, peace, and mercy are yours from our incarnate God revealed in Jesus Christ. Amen.

I’ll be honest, I couldn’t think of a good way to start this sermon. So let me begin with three short statements that hopefully connect.

Number 1. About 8 years ago, when I was buying Lauren’s engagement ring, as I was talking with the clerk at the counter and looking at different diamonds and considering what I wanted to spend, she said to me, “Well, this can always be just a starter ring. In 5 or 10 years, you can upgrade and get a bigger one!”

Number 2. This past week on NPR, they interviewed a real estate agent who was wildly successful just before the housing market crashed. Basically, she said she always encouraged her clients to use their equity to upgrade their home. Upgrade, upgrade, upgrade, she said. That was the goal people had for their homes.

Finally, number 3. According to the internet, which never lies, at best, it is going to cost $210,000. At worst, somewhere around $500,000. That is the price tag that will be dangling off the college application forms for my son Elliot in 17 years. And that…is so depressing. That’s basically my entire paycheck for the next 17 years. Oh yeah, and then there is that thing called retirement.

I mention all of this because in our gospel story, Jesus tells a parable about a farmer who needs a bigger barn for all of his stuff and sometimes I think our culture is all about bigger barns. If you don’t have a barn, then you need one. If you have a barn, then you need a bigger one. If you really love your fiancé, you’ll buy her a big ol’ diamond ring, or at least you’ll buy her a bigger one down the road, since this one is so pathetic. And make sure you are always looking to upgrade your house because bigger is better. And you better have a big barn to store away all of that money you’ll need for college and retirement too.

We like stuff in our culture. Stuff equals status. If you don’t believe me, just go home and watch tv for 5 minutes and the commercials will tell you. They will tell you what kind of stuff you need in order to fix the problem you have. You need minty fresh mouthwash for that disgusting breath of yours. You need a workout machine for your flabby body. You need the right kind of shoes to make sure you’re cool for school.  Our cultures loves to tell us when our barns are too small, too old, too out of style, and to tell us when to tear them down and build up a bigger barn for all our stuff. What can I say, we like big barns and we cannot lie.

While all of this often looks like selfishness and greed, the truth is that it isn’t all that. It is that we are just trying to make meaning out of our life. It is in us to want to make meaning in this life. To be able to look around at this world and understand it and to feel like we have purpose in it. And sometimes the only way to see that is to have something tangible that we can touch with our hands. All of our stuff, that is. But let’s be honest, our tendency is to go overboard. And when we do this, we begin to think that our value as a person rests in all of the stuff we have or don’t have.

All of this is to say that I understand the guy in the parable. I think we all do. We know the need to store up and save, the need to upgrade. It is not hard to start to believe that the point of life is the one with the most toys at the end wins, right? I mean this guy has achieved what everyone is striving for, a place in life where we can sit back, relax, eat, drink and be merry.

And did you notice who helped him achieve all that he has? No one. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ This guy is a self-made man. He has done it all on his own. He has pulled himself up by his own bootstraps and did whatever he set his mind to.

But then God calls this guy a fool. And to be honest, we’re not all that surprised. Most of us have learned or will learn that material things are only things. In the end, they don’t really matter. I mean, when life has beaten us up and we lay awake at night because of any number of fears, its not as if our stuff is what comforts us. When a friend has died, none of us go into our living room and hug our flat screen tv to soothe us. When our house is in foreclosure it’s not like a new haircut is really going to make us feel better. And as we all know, it is not like we can bring our possessions with us when we die, right?

So what is it then? If storing up treasures in this life is not what matters, then what does matter? According to Jesus, being rich toward God is what matters. But what does that mean? I mean, seriously, when I hear “being rich towards God” all that does is just send me down a whole other spiral of building bigger barns, only this time it is spiritual barns. It becomes the spiritual rat race of who prays more. Who has more faith. Who goes to church more, who has a stronger faith. It makes me think that I had better do, do, do, all of these Jesus-y things in my life in order to please God – you know to accumulate and store up all of these spiritual possessions, like a good Sunday School attendance record and a strong faith that never doubts and a good prayer life and to read the Bible all the time and know the perfect thing to say when someone is lying in a hospital bed suffering. And then all I can remember is that I totally botched the Lord’s Prayer last week at Monday’s worship. I complete forgot a line and then it threw everyone else off for a moment, and then you start thinking, “What kind of pastor are you? Who forgets the Lord’s prayer? You must not be a very good Christian.” And suddenly, I stop and I look around and I realize I must not have enough spiritual possessions and achievements. I don’t have a big enough spiritual barn.

Is that what it means to be rich towards God? Having enough spiritual possessions? Then I am afraid I will never have a big spiritual barn because I can hardly fill the one I got. Which makes me think, maybe that’s not what Jesus meant when he talked about being rich toward God.

I mean, if we can’t take our possessions with us, then who is to say we can take our spiritual possessions either? I mean, maybe when we come before God, we come with absolutely nothing. Maybe none of the stuff, good or bad, material or spiritual, that we store up here gets to come with us.

And maybe that’s the best news of this text. Not so much to be told that I am a fool for trying to find my value in all of my stuff. I already know that. But to be told that in the eyes of God, I come with nothing. Absolutely nothing. I don’t get to bring my big barns before God. I don’t get to bring all of my achievements. I don’t get to bring my gpa or my diplomas or my bank accounts or my big mansion or my nice car or my charming wit or my lusciously full beard. I don’t get to bring my trophies or awards or anything that says I am better than someone else. There is no showing off in heaven before God. But guess what. If I don’t get to bring that stuff, then maybe I don’t get to bring my faults or my failures either. Did you hear that list of things that the Apostle Paul called ‘earthly’  the reading from Collosians- fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed. All those things are earthly, Paul says. Let’s just add a few on there – arrogance, pride, self-centeredness, hatred, insecurity. Anyone else been plagued by those things before? Yeah, me too. Well, guess what, if all of that is earthly, then when we stand before God, all of that dies and falls away. Our achievements and our failures. Everything is stripped away, Paul says, and we stand before God with absolutely nothing. And that is the greatest news because that means God looks at me and you with absolutely nothing in our hands and God says, “Yup. That’ll do.” To be rich before God, to have enough. In fact, to have more than enough…before God… is to come with absolutely nothing in your hands.

So friends, maybe, the way to life…real life…here and now, when you leave here this morning is to leave knowing and trusting that in the eyes of God you have nothing.  And neither does the person in front of you or behind you or the people who aren’t even here. And yet God looks at each one of us with our naked and empty hands and God says, “You are enough.” You came into this world with nothing and you will leave this world with absolutely nothing and that is what it means to be rich towards God. Your nothing is enough for God to consider you the most valuable creature ever made. Thanks be to God. AMEN.