Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Parables of the Lost

         As we consider Jesus’ parables of the Lost, let’s do so with three different lenses: 
1. Modernization (Sheep and Coins in the world of concrete and credit cards) 
2. Practicality (what does repentance look like in concrete terms?) 
3. Who is this story for? (liberating for some and challenging for others)

1.   Modernization
         Now, all the loan sharks and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Preachers and Church-folk were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
         So Jesus told them this parable: “Which of you, having 100 pre-school students at the zoo doesn’t leave the ninety nine at the predator exhibit and go after the one student that is lost until she finds the child? When she has found the child, she lays him on her shoulders and rejoices. And when she comes home, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘rejoice with me, for I have found my student that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
         Or, what person, when turning on their computer to do a task that will take one hour, realizing that their internet doesn’t work, would not spend 10 hours trying to restore internet to their home? And when they restore the internet, they call together their friends and neighbors saying, “rejoice with me, for I internet again!” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

2.   Practicality
         “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
As Luther wrote at the beginning of his 95 thesis: 
“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
         Yes, repentance is the struggle of the Christian life, yet, we Christians sometimes spiritualize repentance to such an extent that it becomes a theoretical concept, a kind of head game, when in fact it is a matter of the heart and a set of concrete acts that have ongoing and freeing effects…
         You may remember back in Lent we took some time with Desmond Tutu’s Four-Fold Path of Forgiveness— Tell the story, name the hurt, grant forgiveness, and renew or release the relationship.
         There is, as you might imagine, a corollary to these four steps, four steps to repentance:
1.   Admit the wrong—note that this is the first, not the last and only, step.
2.   Witness the anguish and apologize—you may think you know the harm you’ve caused, but you need to really knowwhat you are confessing before you can rightly move on
3.   Ask for forgiveness—you give the power back to your victim, you are committing yourself to the possibility of change, asking to begin again, offering to make amends.
4.   Renew or release the relationship—The victim may choose to renew their relationship with you, or they may not, yet you may both move forward into the future.
         As with the Fourfold Path of Forgiveness there are no time limits to these steps, they ebb and flow as the relationship and circumstances of both parties dictate the pace, the victim may put an end to things at any point.

3.   Who is this story for?
         Just look at how sensationalthese parables are… isn’t there something clearly over the topabout these parables of the Lost in Luke’s Gospel—they almost feel like a tabloid headline or clickbait on the internet:
 “Local Shepherd abandons flock!!!”
“Woman loses coin, you won’t believe what she does next.”
         There is something offensive to it, welcoming, rejoicing, eating with tax collectors and sinners… If you are the 99 who are offended by Jesus hefting sinners upon his shoulders, the 9 put aside while Jesus sweeps the house so thoroughly—then the whole thing seems ridiculous… 
but if you are the lost
-if your soul exists only because Jesus persistently plugs in the router until the wi-fi works, 
-if you’re that child who stopped at the bathroom in the zoo and looked up and lost the group and can only get home if your teacher Jesus finds you,
-if you’re the coin cast away in a cold corner of a room,
-if you’re the sheep in need of your shepherd…

         Then thank God that God acts so offensively!        A+A

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Sermon: The Freedom and Risk of Discipleship

Sermon: The Freedom and Risk of Discipleship

            I think I need to begin this sermon with an apology to my parents… this is the second time this summer that you’ve showed up in worship and I’ve read words from Jesus about denying, in this case hating, father and mother… this keeps up it might give you guys a complex…
            Jesus is making a point today about following him, and what it does, or does not, mean… what being faithful to the God we find in Jesus, and the God to whom we journey toward by following after Jesus, means…
            Jesus is saying clearly to his contemporaries and to us—being a follower of Jesus means taking the 1stcommandment seriously
—faith is about God and what God is up to…
            So if you think faith is about your family, you are related to so and so and therefore you’re faithful… you’re wrong.
            If you think your faith is tied to the towers and temples of Herod, if particular religious or cultural buildings or dynasties are what tie you to God… you’re wrong.
            If you think pushing out the Romans and siding with the zealots and reclaiming your country will prove your faithfulness… you’re wrong.
            The Kingdom of God is not about land, and it is not about possessions…
            And thank God for all of that
—within a generation the Jews were kicked out of Jerusalem,
the zealots were defeated,
the temple, Herod’s grand building projects, and Herod’s line itself, destroyed…
Thank God that God’s being faithful to us, and our being Jesus’ disciples, isn’t about all these centralized things of religion…

            Now, this truth is a strange mirror image to Moses’ reality; we see its flip side.
For a generation Moses’ people had been gathered together traveled through the desert, God’s tent right there in the center of them…
the danger and risk that Moses warned about, was the danger of dispersion
—that it was easy to be a faithful person when everyone was tightly compact around God
—but flowing out into the promised land was dangerous,
it was a time that required re-commitment, it required the life of faith to be spelled out and a formal agreement verbally accepted, complete with blessings and curses
—a terms of use contract.
            Both Gathered together and Sent out, Discipleship is Risky.
Let us pray

            Both Gathered together and Sent out, Discipleship is Risky.           I say this, conscious that this is Rally Sunday, the start of our programming year.
            Conscious of the tension of two different impulses, gathering everyone together and sending everyone out, both necessary for a life of discipleship, but both heavy with import and each like threading a needle.

            I am aware, for example, that in 12of the next 14days, we will gather together… and I really want you all to come every day, because I know each event has the potential to be a step on your journey of discipleship—becoming more fully your baptized self… I know each event can remind you of the promises made at your baptism.
-I know you will get to gatherwith fellow believers at our pot-luck, and where two or three are gathered, there is Jesus.-I know that between worship services and bible studies God’s Word and Sacramentsare continually available to you.
-I know that Christians of many denominations here in South Plainfield praying together for our town and our state this coming Saturday, is a powerful witnessto Jesus.
-I know when we feed people at our Pop-up Food Pantry we’re servingpeople as Jesus served.
-I know sitting down with fellow Lutherans down in East Brunswick and working out how to best use the gifts God has given each one of us points to the Kingdom of God.
            But I also know sitting in a garage doesn’t make me a car.
            That there is always a danger of confusing doingchurch things with beingthe Church… you could spend 12 of your next 14 days in church and end up feeling kinda self-righteous and nothing more…
we could all fall into the same trap that Jesus’ generation did, grasping Family, Temple, King, & Country, and miss out on what God is doing completely.That is the danger of being gathered.

            But there is a risk to being sent out, as well… the risk of freedom.
-I know that all of you have non-church roles and responsibilities, that need your faithfulattention!
-I know there are folk who can’t make it to worship, who need you, their fellow Christians, to visit them.
-I know you have relatives for whom you are the only Gospel they will ever see.
-I know your kindness and attention are the only thing keeping a kid on the right track.
-I know you have jobs that, when done justly, truly provide daily bread to those who hunger.
            I know that how you live your faith outside these church doorsmatters so very much—it too is your baptismal calling
            … but I also know we all spend plentyof time ignoring, and even rejecting, our baptismal identity.
            I think of Luther’s experience with institutionalized prayer
—he released all monks who left the Roman Catholic Church from the requirement to pray The Hours (a group of prayers prayed 8 times a day) and found that many of them stopped praying completely!
The risk of freedom, right!
            As your Pastor this is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night, finding the balance between being a called people and being a sent people, knowing the risksfound in both
—have I burdened you with so many Churchthings you cease being Christian and become a building instead,
or have I been so liberal in my leading of you all that you take that freedomas license and forget that you are disciples of Jesus altogether?

            Yes, discipleship is risky…But what a worthwhile and exciting risk!
            Discipleship is a category beyond the secular and the sacred… finding our whole identity in God!
We aren’t filling our calendar, but are on a journey.
We’re not content with human-doings, but seek the center of human-being.
            Discipleship is where we find the way that gives us life,
and realize that The Kingdom of God has come near!
Both Gathered together, & Sent out, Discipleship is Risky.A+A

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Sermon: Etiquette


         Priya Parker, author of “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters” suggests that 90% of throwing a good party is preparation
—that a host has to nail down some basics in order to get people to gather well—establish a purpose of the gathering,
invite the ideal number of people for what they want to do,
make clear rules for the event,
create an alternative world that the guests are stepping into,
and have a clear ending.
         The major point Parker makes is that etiquette isn’t dead, in fact, it is necessary to keep chaos at bay, but the particular rules have to fit with the purposeof the gathering.
         And today, we can looking at how Jesus gathers us, the kind of etiquette Christ calls us Christians to, the purpose of our being together.
         Today we look at the Rules of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, the Etiquette of the Kingdom of God
Kingdom Etiquette.
Let us pray

         These rules of etiquette that Jesus calls us to would make no sense to the Romans who occupied his country. Roman Rules, Roman Etiquette, were rules of reciprocity & boastfulness.
         This was true from the Emperor on down… talk of humility would be laughable
—projecting as much power and prestige as you could was the order of the day, being seated at the head table, an end in itself. 
         The purpose of an invitation, the purpose of throwing a party, was to curry favor. Friendship itself was seen as an insurance policy of sorts
—I scratched your back… now you owe me! 
The only time you’d invite someone who couldn’t invite you back was to ask them to do your dirty work. 

         Similarly, this Kingdom Etiquette would challenge the imagination of many of Jesus’ fellow Jews. When his contemporaries wrote about the kinds of communitiesthey were forming, and also about the kind of worldGod was making through them
—what the feast at the end of this world they read about in Isaiah would look like
—the General Resurrection
—when they thought about table fellowship and etiquette…
they explicitly wrote about who would be excluded—“the fool, the blind, the lame, the crippled, the deaf, and children,”
for their presence would offend the holy angels.
         The purpose of such a party was maintenance of holiness and the exclusion of disruptive forces.

         And such etiquette,
rules of excessive holiness and exclusion
rules boastfulness and reciprocity
—they are not for us…
ours is aKingdom Etiquette.
         As guests, we are called to humility. When we get together with people it is natural to want to know the pecking order, to know where you stand vis a visother people. It can boost your ego and buttress your self-worth… but if Jesus’ Kingdom is real, that’s not where our ego or our self-worth comes from…
it comes from being made in God’s image and claimed as a member of God’s family in Baptism. 
         Then you can look around at that same group of people and really seethem!
If you’re not trying to see who is above you, you can look your fellow guests in the eyes and get to know them as actual interesting individuals…
and guess what, they may even start to respond in kind! Etiquette can be infectious.
         As hosts, we are called to invite those who can not repay us
—called to break with assumptions of reciprocity in the name of generosity.
This is not an easy calling
—what if they take advantage of your generosity? What if people look and see who you invite and start to associate them with you?
         As Christians, we are to ask a different question, what happens to them if we do not?
If they are excluded from the banquet, what will happen to them? 

         Perhaps I’m getting a little ahead of myself
—I’ve jumped straight to the clear rules of the event—the etiquette—without the why of it…
We act this way, because in a myriad of ways Jesus, has met us in our lives…the Bridegroom has been generous, the Bridegroom has invited us up.
         We came crashing into the limits of our honor and Jesus invited us up anyhow.
         We were confronted by the uncomfortable truth of our own inadequacies crying, “Lord, I can not repay,” and were confronted still more stunningly with the truth that Christ is kind-hearted!
         We are gathered together at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, all of us and so many more still, invited to honor him with our humility and our welcome, called to be what we are his Body in the World.
         That is Kingdom Etiquette. A+A

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Sermon: Sabbath is for Rest, Liberation, and Holiness.

              What is a Sabbath for? It is for Rest, Liberation, and Holiness.
              A Sabbath is for Rest. Take a moment—imagine you are in the middle of a dance floor, everything is whirling around you, strobe lights, base bumping in your chest, bodies radiating energy everywhere, everyone a little dehydrated but going on anyway… and then, you step back and ascend a staircase and see the whole thing from the balcony, maybe drink a glass of water while doing so… and you can see the whole of it, and how you are a part of it, getting perspective before you return to the dance floor.
              Sabbath rest does that, allowing us to cease and assess, and see God’s work in our life—this rest reveals and reminds us of God’s grace—the givenness of creation—all that is, seen and unseen, we ourselves in our individual and collective totality, are a gift; life itself, a gift—and if that is true, and it is, then taking care of our bodily needs will not end the world, it won’t stop spinning just because we take some time—in fact, taking care of this gift of life that God has given us respects the Giver! Humans were created for rest as well as labor—to ignore that is inhumane. We are very important, the maintenance of our life is a Godly task, and we’re not that important, our rest will not endanger all of creation.

              A Sabbath is for Liberation. Look around, these gifts of God, all of them, are all gifts of God… Just as you are worthy of rest and respect, so are we all. Look around you, see these other humans before you, they too are worthy of dignity and rest. And look out the window at the creatures and trees and grass and land and sky—they too desire and deserve rest… did you know the Amazon—which produces 20% of earth’s oxygen, is burning because we would not rest—we desired farm land more than fallow forest and set it ablaze—an Amazon at rest no more.
              While Sabbath calls us to rest, it also calls us to act, to act for the liberation of everyone! There is no sabbath without service! If everyone can not have Sabbath, there is no Sabbath—and so we must work for a world where all are freed. God destroyed the Egyptians because their slaves were forced to build bricks with not rest. God cast the Israelites out of the Promised Land because they did not give the Land rest every seventh year. If those in bondage do not find freedom of the Sabbath, it is not the Sabbath.

              The Sabbath is sacred. Through it we may look up. Siblings of the faith, lift up your eyes. Look up to see the one who saves us. Listen to the stories of God’s activities and together sort out what God is doing in our lives right now! In these moments we re-prioritize the very order of our existence, remembering that our time is God’s time.
              Taking Sabbath re-orders time and breaks the all-consuming nature of work work work, or even work play work. Holy time enter into the cycles of our life, it points to the ways we use time and are used by time, the ways we offer up our time, to those things in our life that are not God, the Idols that, at the end of the day, offer and are, no more than idle time. The seasons of our lives are different when infused with the sacred.

              What is Sabbath for? Rest, liberation, and Holiness. All three weaved together into a bold and unique way of living life.

              You can not have Sabbath without Rest, because you’ll get burnt out—acting for the liberation of others becomes drudgery and holiness becomes hellish…
              Yet, Rest is not enough, for Holiness and Liberation together gives space for God to act when our actions are not enough—the miraculous is found in the interaction of those two!

              You can not have Sabbath without Liberation, that is the point of today’s readings from both Luke and Isaiah. Holy days become excuses for inaction and rest becomes laziness—freedom is put off and selfishness is bolstered.
              And yet, liberation is not the totality of Sabbath—after all when Rest and Holiness are held together there can be, at least for a day, equality—all affirmed as God’s Children, all able to rest, as Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “When a Walmart cashier and a bank president are both lying on a picnic blanket at the park, you can’t tell them apart.” The very thing liberation seeks is fostered by Rest and Holiness.

              And if Sabbath isn’t sacred, it isn’t sabbath. Without Holiness, the “Child of God-ness” the “giveness of creation” the “made in God’s image-ness” the “out of one blood he made all people-ness” without Holiness, there is no why behind Liberation and behind Rest—they themselves can become ends, idols too.
              And while Sabbath without the sacred isn’t sabbath, it does not follow that the Sabbath is only sacred—Freedoms call and a recognition that humans need rest are intertwined with one another and also uphold one another—choirs are often taught staggered breathing—people take breaths at different times so the song may still continue. And so too, rest and liberation—we can trust each other to keep working for freedom and trust that the work will continue when you need to take care of yourself!
              What is a Sabbath for? It is for Rest, Liberation, and Holiness. For looking down from the balcony, for looking around and truly beginning to see your siblings of all sorts, for looking up and being pulled into sacred story. Each of these have the ability to transform our lives for the better, taken together they re-enforce each other and can transform the world!
              Sabbath is for Rest, Liberation, and Holiness. A+A!

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Sermon: The Prayer from Abraham’s Torn Heart

The Prayer from Abraham’s Torn Heart
              How should we pray?
-First we ought to address God as a kind parent or a good friend, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” This helps us, as Luther writes in his Small Catechism, to come to God boldly and with complete confidence, as a loving child comes to their loving parent.
-Second, we pray persistently… with shameless persistence, as most Greek geeks translate it… shamelessly persistent, desperate for hospitality.
“help! my friend has arrived at midnight!”
“help! the children need food!”
This is something we see often in Luke’s Gospel:
-the Samaritan shamelessly showing hospitality toward the desperate man on the road to Jerusalem,
-Mary & Martha’s shameless hospitality toward Jesus,
-Jesus shamelessly sharing space with every outsider he can find,
-the vision of the banquet at the end of time, where all those who can not repay, are graciously, generously, shamelessly, shown hospitality.
-Third, we pray all these things, not to turn God’s heart, but to turn our own heart toward what God is already up to
—God’s name is Holy without our prayer, God’s kingdom is coming without our prayer, God’s forgiveness and leading come without our prayer
—but we pray that we might enter into God’s Holiness & Kingdom, Forgiveness & Leading.
              How ought we pray?
Pray with utter confidence to God who loves us, pray desperately for hospitality, and know that you are asking to be turned toward what God is already doing.

              And that’s all true, but if I were to leave you there, with three points and a poem—I’d be sending you all out like sheep among wolves.
              For there is another side to prayer as well, what Luther calls Anfechtung—contending, struggle, temptation, trial
—that too, is part of prayer.
              We see this in no better way than in Abraham’s desperate prayers to God today
Prayers From Abraham’s Torn Heart.
Let us pray

              Prayers From Abraham’s Torn Heart.
              It all starts off well enough—Abraham relates to God as a beloved child, as God’s friend
—in fact, the story of Abraham is one long story of God’s ongoing faithfulness to Abraham and his kin. Abraham continually does things to threaten the promises made by God,
 and God continually makes a way out of no way!
God surely acts as Abraham’s Friend and Trustworthy Father.
              For that matter, when God and the Angels arrive, Abraham pulls out all the stops, he is exceedingly hospitable to the Three Men, he runs to them, bows, declares them lords, washes their feet, gives them shade from the hot sun, feeds them fresh bread, and then offers up a feast.
              And then the angels ask God, “Abraham is the Chosen one… shall we hide from him that we are going to destroy Sodom?”
              “No,” God replies, “He and his kin-folk are chosen for a purpose—to be righteous and just! So, he must know what we are to do.”

              And to this Abraham prays desperately for hospitality, shamelessly and persistently—50, 45, 40, 30, 20, 10!”
I bet he thinks:
"well, Lot is there, surely he’s created a community of care in Sodom, at least those who are neighbors of Lot have been converted, have become righteous and just people for knowing him!”
I’m sure he’s doing the calculations:
“well there are four of them, then two sons-in-law, so really we just need 4 righteous! There has to be four righteous, right?”

              God has heard the cries of the victims
—as Ezekiel 16:49 makes clear, Sodom’s pride stunk to high heaven. They hoarded food and lived idle lives of leisure—and refused to feed the poor and the needy. (As our country chooses to kick 3 million hungry people off of food stamps, we might want to think on this)
              When the Angels arrive at night in Sodom, they seek to sleep in the public square, and cannot, because if they did, they would be sexually assaulted. (In a country where someone is sexually assaulted every minute and a half, we might want to think on this)
              Sodom is too dangerous for strangers and sojourners… immigrants. (The President of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services recently testified to congress about the difference between Christian Charities taking care of immigrant children like we used to do, and for-profit-prisons warehousing children and making nearly half a billion dollars off of them this last year… we might want to think on this)
              And then there is the kicker—Lot offers his daughters to be victims of Sodom—some excuse this as an example of ancient hospitality (can you believe that!)—but in reality it is simply a moment where Abraham’s kin are revealed to be neither just nor righteous
—Lot has NOT created a community of care, but is corrupted by the city in which he lives. (in a society where its been revealed that people regularly procured girls for Jeffrey Epstein, and his actions were winked and nodded at by powerful and influential people, we might want to think on this)
              God is saying, “Not one more victim!”
              Not one more victim!
              This. Has. To. End!

              You have to understand, talking to God is no idle pastime for Abraham—his nephew and grand-nieces, and extended family, are there in Sodom!
              He prays to God, not as some self-satisfied judge with God on his side, smugly looking down at those sinners and consumed with pride at his own righteousness…
His are not the prayers of a distant man, unmoved…
It tears at his heart—his own kin, those he loves, are unrighteous and unjust—wicked and biased!
              And that’s the stuff of Anfechtungtrials and temptations of the heart, or as William Falkner describes is, “The human heart in conflict with itself.”
—Abraham is desperately interested in the wellbeing of those he loves,
even as he enters into what God is doing to bring justice and righteousness.
God yes! Not one more victim!
Oh My God, it is my own kin!
              He’s praying desperately, “Maybe 45, 30… 10?”
              He’s praying from a torn heart.
              And if we pray to God who loves us, pray desperately for hospitality, and pray that we might be turned toward what God is already doing—we too will pray from a torn heart.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Mueller Report in Meme form

So, if you watched the 7 hour grilling of Mueller you know he's super frustrated that no one read his report (other than me... apparently).

To help everyone out I posted a summary. I also posted highlights.
Here is my final attempt to make sure people know what happened... inspired by this slate article:

The Mueller Report in Meme form


Shared Campaign Info:

Lied to Investigators:

Tampered with Evidence:

Russia Used Social Media to Influence 126,000,000 Americans... it had real world consequences:

The Russians also Hacked Democrats:

Trump's Request to Hack the DNC and Hillary were Taken Seriously:

The Trump Campaign Coordinated with Wikileaks, who Coordinated with Russia:

Trump's Son was Given the Password to an Anti-Trump PAC Website: 

Wikileaks Used Trump Jr. as a Puppet:

A Summary of the Hacking:

Trump's Campaign was Initially a Real Estate Infomercial:

Everyone Pretended to be More Important Than They Were, and that Made them More Important:

The Trump Campaign Freely Shared Information with the Russians, because they were Compromised:

But Her EMAILS!!!

So Incurious:

They Knew the Meeting was About Dirt on Clinton:

Many Trump Folk Lie, for Example:

Trump is NOT not Guilt of Obstruction of Justice:

Trump Lies:

People in Trump's Orbit Refuse to Follow Presidential Orders:

The President's Team Lied about Trump Editing his Son's Press Statements:

The Scope of the President's Actions:

Congress Needs to Hold the President Accountable because No One is Above the Law:

The President Would Not Answer Questions about Obstruction of Justice:

The President Acted in a Two-Faced Manner:

The President Refused to be Interviewed:

Either the President has a Memory Problem, or He's Lying: