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

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sermon: The 10 Commandments

The 10 Commandments

         I think I’ve told you all before the apocryphal story about how Luther wrote his Small Catechism.
         It is said that he did so as a response to his young son Hans, who continued asked the question “What is this?” From Luther’s wrestling with passing on the Faith to his son, he created a resource,
simple, compact, and packed-full of the faith of the Lutheran Reformation.
Any idiot can write thousands of pages of systematic theology using technical words borrowed from Aristotelian Philosophy or Platonic thought, but to teach the faith in 6 pages or so in such a way even a child can begin to grasp what you mean—that’s a real theologian.
         Yes, this little document is filled full of the faith, and can serve us our whole life long.
         In fact, Luther was so sure of his Catechism, that he encouraged extended families to read through it devotionally, daily.
In addition, he insisted that four times a year churches ought to review it together for the entire day.
         Well, upon reviewing our last 60 years, there doesn’t appear to be a history of us doing such a thing.
         In fact, the sad truth is most Lutherans have not examined the Small Catechism since either their confirmation or that of their youngest child. It’s a shame, most everything you need to know about the faith is right there.
Yes, things quickly get more complex, our initial answers turn into bigger questions—but it’s all there!
         So, for the next 6 weeks in my preaching, in our Bible Studies, and in our private devotional practices, we’ll be focused on Luther’s Small Catechism, starting today with Luther’s Explanation of the 10 Commandments.


         Luther interprets the 10 commandments in light of Jesus’ framing of the greatest commandment
Love God, Love Neighbor.
Each command begins with an exploration of how the command stops us from committing idolatry—the worship of a false god.
Then, it goes on and expands on how the command helps us to love our neighbor, by expanding the Thou Shall Not, and adding to it with a Thou Shall!

You shall have no other gods before me.
         It all stands or falls here. All the shall and shall nots,
all our actions,
are measured by the simple question “How are they a response to God’s freely given gift of life to us?” How ought the creature respond to the creator?

         “No other gods” may seem like a relic of an ancient time
—unless you take the time to reflect upon those things which you have made into idols.
Unless you ask the questions:
“What do I fear?
What do I respect above all things?
When the stuff hits the fan, when I’m pressed between a rock and a hard place, where do I turn?”
Your answers to these questions, if the answer is not God… the answer is your idols!
         So, always cling to the faith that has been given to you
God has freed you to live life unafraid, trusting in Him, who loves you deeply.

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain
         There is a grave danger in simply speaking the name of God
—whenever a finite creature speaks of the infinite
—there is the danger of Idolatry,
of naming something created as creator.
         We might cloak a lie in God’s name. Hide our own sin under a cloud of piety.
         Yes, a dangerous thing to speak God’s name, for it might be done wrongly, and used in a way that dishonor’s God, attributing to God things that are not of God.
         To honor God’s name, we ought to call upon God in all times of need, and pray to God, and praise God with our lips and in our lives.

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy
         Sabbath is about rest, liberation, and holiness.
         Sabbath ought to be a time good… for nothing. A time free from the rest of the week, a time marked off for rest.
         Sabbath is also about liberation—part of living into God’s holy time is spending time in acts of kindness and justice.
         Sabbath, finally, is holy in and of itself. Sabbath drags us into the reality of God through worship together, where we can cherish the promises of God.
         Sabbath forces us to come face to face with those things that keep us from rest, service of neighbor, and worship—these things we abandon Sabbath for are all idols, exposed by God’s holy time.

Honor your father and your mother
         It’s a very practical command—especially coming from Luther the Father. It is also one that once again attacks those idols that we put our fear, love, and trust in.
         It is from our parents and all those who raise us, that we learn what is dangerous and what is safe. It is from them that we establish, or don’t establish, a sense of love and trust.
         We’re little sponges as kids, and those things we sop up are our lifeblood for the rest of our lives—our basic fears, loves, and ability to trust, are established in childhood.
         Even as we pray that everyone honor authority figures, especially parents, we pray all the more than authority figures honor their awesome duties to all who are entrusted to them.

You shall not kill
         What would you kill for? That quite clearly is an idol, something for which you would be willing to main the image of God.
         Instead of killing, we should spend our days giving life to our neighbor—this, per Luther, is a full time job—doing the opposite of killing, being life giving—is a lifelong task.

You shall not commit adultery
         There are many relationships we have in life—our relationship with our spouse hopefully will be one of the deepest.
         Marriage is a place where trust is formed, or broken. If we cannot trust our spouse, who can we trust?
         Such a break can deform so many of our relationships, even our relationship with God.
         This is why we ought to honor those who struggle to love one another and trust one another with their whole lives.
Why we ought to support trust and trustworthiness in relationships.
Why we ought to build-up our neighbor’s marriages.

You shall not steal
         Luther was a little scary on this point—he states that if every thief were hung no human would be left on earth.
         Theft is not just knocking over a bank, it’s gaining other people’s things by nefarious means.
Tipping the scale when weighing a product,
selling inferior products or price gouging.
Not giving 100% at work,
not paying people enough to live on.
Buying things that cause the suffering of others.
         Before you know it, we are all truly at the gallows and faced with the fact that theft is ultimately
trusting, fearing, or loving things,
instead of loving people and loving God.
         We ought to protect the integrity of all our neighbor has, and work to better their livelihood.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor
         Any claim we make against another person we should be willing to defend in the court of law, with the danger of libel and perjury pointed against us.
         Talking bad about a person is like pushing toothpaste out of a tube, easy enough to do, almost impossible to undo.
         I pray we may train our tongue to talk well of our neighbor, and defend them from all defamation, that we might interpret all they do in the best possible light.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house or household
         We might be able to squint at the first eight commandments and pretend that we’ve never broken a single one, but these last two push the breaking of commandments into our very hearts and imaginations.
-Have you coveted any of those things you did not steal?
-Have you wished someone dead who you did not kill?
-Have you lusted after someone’s spouse, but never acted on that impulse?
-Have you thought of dishonoring your parents, but kept quiet about it?
-Has a breach of the law crossed your mind or filled your heart with perverse hope?
         If so, there you go you covetous person you!

         You will be sent home today with a copy of Luther’s Small Catechism, as well as devotional related to Luther’s explanation of the 10 commandments written by a Lutheran pastor in Georgia.
I pray that they will help you to discern,
in the particularities and peculiarities of your own life,
those things, which separate you from God and neighbor,
and help you to discover ways of repairing those breaches.

God has freed you to live life unafraid, trusting in him who loves you, Jesus Christ our Lord.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sermon: Conversion and Abundance

There were three sons going back home for the 60th anniversary of their church in New Jersey.
        The first, was driving from Pennsylvania, and got as far as Minnesota before he stopped, and made a U-Turn.
        The second, was driving in from Chicago, was heading through Ohio, but took a wrong turn here and there, jagging north then south, each time he veered off course his GPS would say “Re-calculating.”
        The third, was driving from Virginia, and once he got off the Garden State Parkway, he had to pull over and look at his map to make sure he knew the particular place in New Jersey he was going.
        One made a U-turn, one had a GPS that consistently Re-calculated to keep him on track, and the third pulled over to ensure he got to his particular goal.
        One flipped directions, one got there in fits and starts, and the third just needed to focus on his goal.
        I tell this story, not to make sure you all show up a week from today to celebrate our anniversary and hear the Bishop, but in order to talk about the Flips, fits and starts, and focusing of conversion.

        Flips, Fits and Starts, and Focusing. All, valid experiences of Conversion.

        Look at Paul, Mr. Conversion Extraordinaire, look at how he flips
—does a 180 degree turn.
        He was a very strict Jew
—a Fundamentalist we might call him today
—He knew his scripture,
he knew Deuteronomy 21:23,
he knew that those who die upon a tree are accursed,
yet these “Followers of the Way
--These Earliest Christians
were claiming a man who died on a cross
—on a tree
—was the Messiah,
was God’s Blessed One!
        He knew his Bible and he knew that was blasphemy,
was an abomination,
was a threat to the good order of faith!
        And he approved of the murder of St. Stephen,
and was using any authority he could find, and some ill gotten authority too more likely than not
 to fight against these liars,
these Christians,
these people on the Wrong Way.
        Seething mad he goes along the Way to Damascus
—and there,
he’s turned around,
within a couple of weeks he goes from persecution to preaching,
from declaring the Way to be blasphemy,
to following along the Way himself,
following after Jesus
—being his disciple!

        And this is good to remember—especially when you face those most recalcitrant of people,
folk who, to your eyes, are beyond redemption
—sometimes, now I’m not saying always
—but sometimes, they’re folk who are going to flip,
who God will turn around,
who will make a U-turn in life and find themselves as good as they once were bad,
wolves into lambs,
sinners into saints.
        For that matter, sometimes you too will find yourself on the wolf end of the stick,
and its good to know that the Good Shepherd can flip you around, even then!

Then there is Peter
—what a guy,
never a more back and forth, fits and starts, man than he,
“Don’t wash my feet Jesus!
…wash all of me.”
“You are the Messiah, the Son of God…
…Hold up now guy, who do you think you are saying the Messiah has got to be crucified… I don’t think you know what you’re doing Lord!”
And more to the point, today, “I’ll never deny you…
… woops, I denied you three times.”
Three times there by a charcoal fire, three times denied his discipleship.

        Seriously, this guy!
Every step a side step,
every time he takes a drive the GPS goes crazy recalculating.
        And today, there by the charcoal fire, this breakfast of fish
three times,
three times he affirms he’s Jesus’ disciple,
three times he says “I love you!” To Jesus.
        If Peter didn’t exist, we’d have had to make him up, because he’s all of us.
His kind of conversion, so often our own,
a daily return to Baptism,
a daily struggle to be faithful,
a daily reminder that we are children of God, even when we don’t feel like it.
Yes, us Sinner/Saints,
us Peter people.
Maybe not the fireworks of Paul, but a struggle still!

        Then there is brave Ananias, his conversion, an act of focusing. Like Mary, he doesn’t ask a Why question, but a How question
—how can I follow you
—how can I minister to this Paul character,
How when he wants to kill us?
Yet, he follows and goes where God calls him to go.
        God points him to a concrete needy nasty, warts and all person, and he goes.

        This too should be our question:
How can I be a faithful disciple in this particular time and this particular place
not generalities, but the particular personal ground upon which I stand?
What tasks will you callous my hands with O’ Lord?
This is so important—we can easily get lost in the clouds, or point too often to acts in the past, but now,
how is God calling us?
How is God calling you?!?
Yes, sometimes conversion is about seeing more clearly and acting more particularly.

        Flips, Fits and Starts, and Focusing. All valid experiences of Conversion.
        Each of them is a way God acts in our life.
Each is part of the life of faith, all our lives.
We can’t denigrate those who’ve come so far to get where they are,
or dismiss those who struggle with the pull and tug of their heart and seem to stay in one place,
or allow the down in the dirt challenges of particulars to disappear from our midst!
        All of them, real experiences of God acting in our life!
        And ALSO, all of them are signs of God’s abundance!
        God’s abundance fueling the journey along the way,
and God’s abundance the goal of the journey!

        Those cars, making U-turns, Jagging back and forth Re-calculating, and idling while the map comes out of the glove box
—they’re all fueled by the desire to get to that anniversary.
        Those cars, their flipping, fits and starts, and focusing,
--For all of them, their goal? Arriving at that anniversary.

        Think about it
—Peter, fed an abundance of fish
—more than you should be able to catch in one go—
just as wine flowed at the Wedding of Cana at the start of John’s Gospel,
here at the end food of the sea falls like manna from heaven for him, for us!
        Think about it—
Paul and Ananias, by the end of their spiritual cat and mouse game, are fed with the fullness of their unlikely brotherhood,
—Healing, Baptism, Food, Community, Proclamation
—these things can feed you forever!
        And they’re all heading to the abundance that is the very presence of God!
All heading toward the Throne of God, where we’ll sing praises together as sister and brother, where we will dwell with our Risen Lord!
        The ends and the means of our conversion,
be we like Ananias, Peter, or Paul,
Faithful Focusing, Fits and Starts, or Flipping
Pulled over, Re-calculating, or making a U-turn
The ends and means are both God’s providence for us,
God’s very real presence with us through Christ our Lord!


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Sermon: He is Raised!

I thank God every day for Jesus.
          Jesus uniquely chosen by God our Father, revealed in his baptism.
          Jesus who began his ministry by demonstrating the richness of God’s love by turning an abundance of ritual water into celebratory wine.
          Jesus who healed the sick time and time again, saving people from sickness and returning them to community with their family and friends.
          Jesus whose preaching and presence was good news
for the poor whom he lifted up,
the hungry whom he fed,
the mourning whom he comforted,
and the hated whom he loved.
          Yes, I thank God for Jesus.

          And, because of this life of his, his death was all that more horrific.
Death on a cross, the implement of Roman Criminal Execution.
Death on a tree, a biblical sign of God’s curse.
          How could this be, a criminal cursed by God, this Jesus!
          What a fall from grace, what a disappointment and sadness, how awful!

          Yet, in the face of such a sad story, we see something else.
          We, with those women, see what we could not see until we come face to face with the empty tomb,
until we look in, look for the living among the dead,
and can says, though our voices quaver, that “he’s not here, but has risen!”

          I will not deny, in the face of Jesus’ death, our words can sound like an idle tale… we can sound like a people to be pitied,
holding onto hope, when everyone knows hoping just gets you hurt
—trusting in anything is just a recipe for heartbreak.
          And yet, our hearts swell, and our voices grow clearer, “He is raised!”       
          He is raised, and his fate is reversed!
          While Rome has power, it has no authority to declare Jesus a criminal
—he is innocent.
          Religion declares Jesus cursed and is pushed back by God
—he is not cursed, no, Jesus is the Blessed One!
          This event is the great reversal, he who was criminalized, cursed, and killed, is innocent, blessed, and raised.
He is raised!

          He is raised, the first fruit—the offering to God that guarantees the whole field.
The older brother,
 who shows his siblings the way.
The Resurrected One,
who promises to us our own resurrection!
          Yes, we can step forward from day to day, fully aware that we too face death,
we too will die,
we too are fragile and can be ended by force or by decay.
          Yes, fully aware of our mortality,
but also aware that we belong to Christ,
that in our Baptism we put him on like clothing,
and in this community we practice living together as his body.
We are his, and so we, like him, will be raised.
We can trust this promise to us that God has made in the very body of Jesus our Lord.
          He is raised.
          He is raised, and that means something,
and not just about how we assess the good life of Jesus…
and not just about how we can live as hope filled human beings, faced with death, but also resurrection!
          He is raised, and that means even more!
          It means, he is Prince of Peace and Lord of All. All pretenders, with their violence and cruelty, are overruled by the one who rules by becoming a slave.
          It means, the cosmos itself, all that is, is being grabbed by the nostrils and pulled away from our futile alliance with death and sin.
          We’re being brought under the gentle rule of Jesus.
          Though it doesn’t look like it so often,
Trust that the world is being redeemed,
and the Kingdom of God—that reality Jesus spoke of so often in parables, comes.
          We can see only so far down the road, but we can see the map and we know its goal, its end.
          The life of Jesus writ large, transforming our world—all of it.

          He is raised,
reversing the fate and judgment of the world.
          He is raised,
that we too might be raised.
          He is raised,
that the world might be transformed.

Alleluia. Christ is risen!


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Easter Vigil: While it was still Dark

Look out the window for a second
          At 7:16pm today, the sun set…
          It has set the mood…

          With this darkness, we are placed where we find Mary,
where Jesus finds Mary.
          More than that,
where God most often finds God’s people,
where God most often acts on our behalf—either literally or metaphorically…
From the beginning this is where God acts…
          God acts, “While it was still dark.”
          While it was still dark.


          While it was still dark
—Formless and void
—chaos shaded in gray, waiting impatiently.
          In the darkness of the first morning, between nothing and chaos—God acts!
          God moves nothing into something and neutrality into goodness.
          While it was still dark.
          God transforms the formless and trains up chaos!
          Light, Sky, Sea, Fecundity, Time, Life, Species, People, Rest…
          Look out that windowWhile it was still dark, God acted.

          While it was still dark, there on the bank of the sea.
          People afraid, crying out as the Egyptians pressed forward,
people prepared to die.
          On the banks there, a strange darkness
—God a fearful sight, horrific the Angel of the Lord
—a pillar of cloud and lightening
—a thunderous thing standing between God’s people and those who would endanger them.
          While it was still dark, a darkness lit from the inside,
God’s powerful presence
—fire and cloud, bringing his people across the sea on the dry ground.
God saving them from the Egyptians…
          Look out that windowWhile it was still dark, God acted.

          While it was still dark
          In the poverty of Babylon,
 doing work that would not be paid for,
being strangers in a strange land,
hungering and thirsting for freedom, and for home.
          While it was still dark, those who felt forsaken and captured, were found by God.
          Were offered free bread,
free wine,
free milk,
free water,
          Offered words of
          Look out that windowWhile it was still dark, God acted.

          While it was still dark
—the darkest of times emblazed by the violent light of Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace, three men, faithful, and for their faithfulness punishment.
All the over the top power of Nebuchadnezzar
—his royal court over-stuffed with Satraps, prefects, governors, counselors, treasurers, justices, magistrates, and provincial officials,
overshadowing the faithfulness of these men,
the band… horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum and everything else,
dampening the promises of God
the wideness of his empire, peoples, nations, and languages,
strangling the hopes of God’s people
          While it was still dark, God enters into the flame, protecting Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the face of brightest, hottest, deadliest flame, four men unbound, unhurt, walk in the middle of the fire…
Look out that windowWhile it was still dark, God acted.

          While it was still dark, Mary goes to the tomb of Jesus her Teacher and friend. The disciples come, they are befuddled by it all—an empty tomb.
          And then there she is, alone again, outside the tomb.
Alone and wondering what it all means.
          Alone, and then,
then the strange stuff of dawn appear, angels dressed in white, and a gardener, all telling her to stop crying.
          Stop crying?
Don’t they know, what she’s lost?
who she’s lost!
          While it was still dark, he answers her righteous, wounded, question.
          Answers her by name, and there he is.
          Her teacher,
her friend,
her Lord!
There, while it was still dark, God acts!
Look out that windowWhile it was still dark, God acted.

          While it was still dark—important words to hold onto.
          It can be dark, metaphorically and literally.
          Dusks and dawns, empty times… chaotic times.
          If you think you live a life without them, you probably are in a shadow so deep you don’t realize you’re in it.
          Yet, the resurrection itself, happened then, happens there!
          Creation, crossing the Red Sea, Babylon stymied, saved from exile!

          Our story, our witness, our reality…
Look out that window,
While it was still dark, God acted
Again! Look out that window,
While it is still dark, God acts!


Friday, March 25, 2016

Sermon: Remember!

Memory is a strange thing once you start to look into it. A memory isn’t so much stored, as shaped and imagined.
In fact, every time we remember something, we’ve created it again, we’ve made something new. There is no solid real memory of an event, only our creative re-interpretation and reflection upon that event.
          Scientist have used this insight, memories get re-made every time we remember them, to short circuit the process in lab rats, thus destroyed particular rat memories forever
—in fact a similar process is currently being used to heal some soldiers with PTSD.
So, in a sense, the only memories we have are reflections upon our previous memory of the thing
—we can only remember what we last remembered,
each time we remember we’ve created a whole new memory.
          And this makes a certain amount of sense when you think about it, when you get caught, fixating on one memory, doesn’t it grow, becoming bigger than the original event? You end up saying something stupid, no one else remembers it, but it dogs you for days, because you keep re-creating it.

          I bring this up, not because I want to talk to you about neuroscience, I have a feeling the children’s movie “Inside Out” could do a better job than I,
but instead I bring up the issue of memory, because Maundy Thursday is all about remembering.
          We’re remembering,
putting together again,
a new collective memory every time we do this! Adding to the memory of what it means
to be People of God,
to be forgiving people,
to be foot washing people,
to be holy meal together people.

Tonight, we remember!

          Tonight, we remember.
          This whole night, is memory.
          Tonight as I say the words of institution, for this Danny and Gianna’s first communion, we’ll be remembering Paul’s words… they themselves a memory
          Paul remembering Jesus’ last meal, Jesus’ last meal remembering the Passover meal.
          Passover, a meal of remembrance, remembering the Israelite’s flight out of Egypt to freedom.
          Each of these memories, putting it all together again,
each of these meals, shifting and holding onto what it means to be God’s faithful people
—re-making our collective memory every time we do it!
Remembering who we are again, and yet for the first time,
because it’s a whole new memory each time!

          Remembering the escape from Egypt
—we are slaves and we are wanderers,
so we will neither enslave, nor mistreat the migrant in our midst.

          Remembering Jesus’ last meal
—He models for us Love.
The love Jesus saw Mary model for him when she wiped his feet in preparation for his burial.
He models for us Love, giving us an example, a physical one
—one we can remember
—who will soon forget someone messing with your feet!
He models what it means to love one another, being friends with one another in such a way that our hands are wet with each other’s muck!
He models the love of a leader
—intimate service leads the way!

          Remembering Paul’s words
—his memory of what Christ does—what this meal is!
He reminds us, like the Corinthian community—that we so often forget to check our social difference at the door…
that we expect what goes on in here in our life together to cling too closely to our culture.
He reminds us, that dividing the table, in any way, by class and cash, like the Corinthians,
or by race, or gender, sexual orientation or political proclivities, is beyond the pale!
All kneel before the altar,
all receive body and blood
—all proclaim Christ given over for our sake.

remembering here together…
remembering this night who we are,
re-creating our collective memory as People of God!

          Remembering our first communion
—forming one of our earliest memories of our Life Together
—a memory, Gianna and Danny,
that I hope you will return to time and time again,
that you will cultivate,
that we… take a moment to look at the people around you here tonight
—that we all together create, and in so doing become the Body of Christ for this night,
this year,
this generation.
          Tonight, we remember.