The blog of a lutheran pastor, writer, and political animal.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Transfiguration 2017 Sermon

Follow the Hills

              At this point a lot of you know that your Pastor is… geographically challenged… and some of that is a consequence of owning a GPS
…. But there is another factor—I grew up in Cheyenne Wyoming—if you ever got turned around there all you needed to do was look for the Rocky Mountains. If they were to your left you were heading North, if they were to your right you were heading South.
              The Rockies were a guide, a good way to know where I was.
              And, I think, the mountains in Matthew’s Gospel are a good guide for us as well, especially as we consider the transformation of the Transfiguration. Let’s let the mountains be our guide. The Mountains are our guide.
              The Mountains are our guide.
              The first such mountain in Matthew’s Gospel, is the mount upon which Jesus was tempted. The Devil took him up a high mountain and he is offered an exchange
—all Authority on earth—power over every Kingdom, the ability to rule in a way that would make Caesar Augustus himself blush
—all that would be given for him, if he would worship the Devil.
Jesus rejects this form of authority—he’s not that kind of king, the consent of the world is not a gift to be given
—it isn’t a favor to be bestowed.
Despite what our sign says out front this week, ours is not a God who forces us to do things, forces himself on us, ours is a God who woos us, who is infinitely patient, no short cuts or dirty deals.
Jesus will bring about the Kingdom of Heaven and show us his authority as Son of God, in a way that reflects what the true meaning of Kingdom of Heaven and Son of God
–the ends and the means will be the same.

From there, we find Jesus up a mountain preaching perfection
… preaching blessings upon those who hunger and thirst,
the peacemakers, persecuted, poor, and pure,
the mourning, merciful and meek.
Jesus making his rejection of the Devil a reality for all those seated at the base of the mountain, hearing his words and experiencing their truth.
The beatitudes and sermon on the mount is a consequence of the kind of king Jesus is.

Then on two separate mountains, Jesus feeds 5,000 and 4,000—bread for all, just as Caesar would promise,
but for free!
—in fact, in one account of this feeding the people try to crown Jesus and he flees
—no authoritarian manipulating people with their bellies, this Jesus…
no, simply a man pointing to the abundance that is found in God.

            Then we get to today’s mountain—the mount of Transfiguration—where Jesus is transformed, changed, before his disciples eyes.
            And let me tell you a little something about transformation
—I had the privilege last week of peering out into the assembly and seeing all of you, all of you along with all of the Cross of Life-folk, and I don’t know quite what to say about it, other than that the first thing I thought was, “This is an image of the Kingdom of Heaven, right here!”
We were filled!
And there were people of all shapes, sizes, and shades.
People from Plainfield, South Plainfield, outside New Jersey, outside America
—and we were all gathered together in worship of Jesus Christ!
On Sunday we looked a little like the Kingdom of Heaven! We were together transformed, I got to peek for a moment at something
—maybe it is what St. Stephen will look like in our best possible future
—maybe it was our present as presented to the eyes of God
—I don’t know exactly what I saw here—but I saw it.
Maybe ol’ Peter felt that way too, wanting to bottle and capture the moment, to let these end of the world figures, Moses and Elijah, who joined Jesus have a spot to stay…
I don’t know what he saw, but I do know what he heard! He heard the voice of God defining who Jesus is, insisting that we listen to him
—there, in Jesus’ relationship to the Father
—that’s where Jesus authority comes from
—not from any gold plated gimmick given by the devil, but by his faithful connection to our Creator.
And this amazing revelation is to be held in those three disciple’s hearts as they hike in parallel to these holy hills in Matthew’s Gospel—being guided by the mountains of Matthew.

From the terrifying heights of Transfiguration the disciples are empowered by Jesus. They are told, again, on two different mountains, that by their faith they might move mountains, in fact, they could toss mount Zion itself into the sea with their faith.

Then, from yet another mountain, they are warned, a great cataclysm is coming—fear the end of the age, flee to the mountains, they are told that there shall be trials and temptations
—and then they sing songs together as they head toward the mount of olives where their world, their age, comes to an end with Jesus’ arrest there and crucifixion.

But, there is a mountain on the other end as well
—they meet Jesus again on a mountain in Galilee.
They meet their risen Lord at the end and beyond the end, and he gives them there the great commission
—All authority on heaven and earth has been given to Jesus, and so the disciples are called to make disciples of All people and baptize and teach them, trusting that Jesus is with us until the end of the age.

         Follow the mountains brothers and sisters, they’ll show us what the transfiguration is all about. It is telling us what kind of King rules the Kingdom of Heaven… it is telling us by what authority Jesus does what he does, and in so doing it shows us our own authority as his disciples.
         Jesus’ rule comes from his father in heaven, not any deal, or trick, or blustering show of force or power.
         It comes from right preaching and open generous hands.
         It is powerful, it can move mountains.
         Yes, holding onto this faith revealed in Jesus will come with many trial, but Jesus promises he will be with us until the end of the Age.
-Relationship with God
-truthful words and generosity
-a growing faith even in the face of opposition
-Jesus’ promised presence with us.
These are the mountain peaks we can follow if it feels like we’re getting lost. They are what is revealed on the mount of transfiguration.



Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sermon--Symptom: Murder

          I don’t know if you remember the show Diagnosis: Murder, it starred Dick Van Dyke, ran for 8 seasons… well, I don’t so much want to talk to you about the show, as talk to you about the title.
Diagnosis: Murder.
If Jesus is right, and I think he is, then…
Murder isn’t the diagnosis—only a symptom,
Adultery isn’t a diagnosis—only a symptom,
False oaths aren’t a diagnosis—only a symptom.
          Today we’re going to go beyond symptom to diagnosis.
          Going beyond symptom to diagnosis is an important thing, one is descriptive, the other prescriptive
I think about all the obituaries in this sad little town in Texas I once lived in—the cause of death in every case was “Heart stopped.” While not untrue… maybe unhelpful.
          And so too, Jesus looks at the commandments—you know, the ones that he fulfills—and suggests that the thou shall nots, unmoored from their deeper cause, become about as useful as the diagnosis, “heart stopped.”

          So, let’s think about these a bit.
          Murder, as a rule, doesn’t come out of a vacuum, it is the ratcheted up result of growing resentment, choosing not to reconcile.
Every insult and jape and jest and accusation
—a step along the road to snuffing out the life of a Child of God.
          Yes, anger is a sickness, left untreated we hold hate toward another human being; not reconciling with our neighbors, becomes natural… small murders and steps toward murder, multiply.
          As for us, we are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.

          Affairs rarely start, or end for that matter, in the bedroom, and when we lead with lust we rarely have the best interest of the other person at heart.
-And, to be clear—because some of you out there right now are squirming,
Squirming on account of your own divorce or for those of family members—there are times when divorce is the greater good, sometimes the only option even, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that broken relationship is a tragedy, and has lasting consequences for the soul, body, and community.
          Yes, lust is a sickness, left untreated it makes marriages brittle; it transforms people we are in relationship with, people we love, into things, which we lust after.
          As for us, we are to fear and love God, so that we lead pure and decent lives in word and deed, and each of us loves and honors his or her spouse.

Symptom—False Oaths
          Isn’t it strange that in court we swear on a bible that we’re telling the truth, we often say things like, “I swear to God,” to indicate something is true, even if it is far fetched? We do so because the danger of spreading falsehood is every-present… if we told the truth, and were known as being trustworthy, we’d have no need of oaths.
          Yes, falsehood is a sickness, left untreated it allows for lies and truth to be interchangeable, for the two to be interspersed in such a way that oaths and swearing and threat of perjury are the only way to discern if someone is lying—no one can trust anyone else, and all the words in the world are nothing more than babble.
          As for us, we are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.

          All these diseases dehumanize.
-You aren’t worth the time and humility it takes to reconcile with.
-You are nothing more than a sex object to me.
-You can’t handle the truth.
          In the Kingdom of Heaven, we are called to really take other people seriously.
Would you really do that to him if you saw him as created in the image of God?
Would you really treat her like that if she’s a beloved Child of God?

          Think of the word disease
—dis, ease…
doing kingdom work, is hard and it is uncomfortable.
Reconciling with someone is hard. There are after all plenty of people out there who will gladly help you nurse a grudge…
Working on marriage and seeing your relationship with a person as it is, can take a toll.
Speaking clear truth, even taking the time to know what the contours of the truth are, is exhausting.

Finally, this kingdom work is ongoing. There are no quick fixes
—while Jesus admonishes us to go and reconcile with someone quickly, he does not say reconciliation itself is a quick process.
We need to hold close to our hearts the reality that these diseases are out there, and in here… and that we’re always stumbling, we’re always susceptible to them.
I say this, not to frighten us into paralysis, but to prepare us for temptation, and ready us to serve our neighbor in their times of trial.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Review of The Constitution of the United States of America

The Constitution of the United States, with Index, and the Declaration of IndependenceThe Constitution of the United States, with Index, and the Declaration of Independence by National Center for Constitutional Studi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What can one say about the Constitution?
One thing real quick, this particular edition begins with quotes to ensure we know that the Hand of Providence (aka God), Principles, Virtue and Freedom, and Education are all implicitly enshrined in the Constitution.
This pamphlet also contains the Declaration of Independence.
As for the Constitution itself, I’m struck again by how non-partisan it appears (I know, the wide variety of wrangling that went into creating the document bears this impression to be false). It is the rules of the game, not the game itself. There is also a sense of goodwill and trust implied. It’s like the authors assume that there will be a group of reasonable people gathered together to do the people’s business.
For example, veto power sounds like it is a conversation between the legislative branch and executive, not a battle. State regulation of imports and exports sounds like someone shrugged and said, “Well, the federal government controls that, other than when it is reasonable for the states to do that,” like there is a consensus on what is reasonable.
… huh, it almost seems like I’m writing more about our own time than the actually document…
At any rate everyone should own a copy of this, it is the rules of the road, let’s not crash.

View all my reviews

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Thursday, February 09, 2017

A Halverson Always Pays His Debts

As you well know by now, I’m the gloomy seminary debt guy.
Well, I have some good news. As of today, I am debt free.
In a little over 5 years I managed to pay off everything—$80,000 removed from around my neck.
I didn’t do this alone. My parents helped me a little, the Obama student debt-refinancing program knocked .50% off, and EMU helped tremendously.
So, you won’t hear me complaining about that any more, which means I’ll have more time to post cat pictures.


Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The Travel Ban is a Tragedy

            I hope that people of goodwill can agree that “Executive Order: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” is a tragedy.
            Here me out. Even if you believe it is the only way to limit terrorist attacks on the US, it is still a tragedy. To shrink the number of refugees entering our country, indefinitely banning Syrians, and blocking entry of folk from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yeman, is a tragedy.
            Folk like Munther Alaskry, who aided us in the Iraq War and are now in danger of reprisals. Kids like Fatimah won’t get the medical help they need to live (as a guy who has lived through 4 open-heart surgeries, including two as a baby and small child, I can say I’m particularly horrified by the prospects of keeping people like her out of our country). And Syrian Christians fleeing persecution are being sent back to Islamic countries.

            All that to say, even if this Executive Order is the best option, it still leaves blood on our hands, and we need to be clear eyed about that fact. I don’t know if the courts will permanently overturn things, or what will happen, but at best this travel ban is the best bad option, and we can't pretend otherwise.

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