Saturday, December 3, 2016

you can show & prove

imma stand & deliver it

What a hodgepodge passage of scripture!
The timeline isn’t clear. Prophecies of judgement are crammed next to prophecies of hope… And I’d be tempted to complain about it; but I know you all have bigger grievances during these busy, busy days. It’s a chaotic time of the year, isn’t it?

So, I’ve got to ask, it is my pastor-y duty. It is now, after all, the second week of Advent. The Long, Dark Night  gets ever closer
How about it? Are you any more ready, any more prepared than you were a week ago?
Are you ready for Jesus’ arrival???

…Okay. Perhaps we should set our sights a little lower.
Are you prepared for all the
stress that’s part and parcel to this time of year? Are you ready for yet another meal with the in-laws? Is the house prepared? What about the gifts, have they all been purchased and wrapped?

Or how about the sorrows of this season? Are you ready for your first, or fiftieth, Christmas without your beloved? Can you handle the lingering memories of Christmases past?

What about the letdown? Have you prepared for disappointment that always seems to come with taking another dried up tree, to the dump? What about the way the kiddos break most of their gifts in less than an hour? What about the children who are a little older this year and now only seem to want money?

Or how about the hangover? Are you ready to to deal with another week of your child’s excitement? What about when it boils over into meltdown in the checkout aisle? What about all the credit card bills?
So, are you any more ready than you were last week? It’s already the second week of Advent. Soon the hour will be upon you. Are you ready?
*…I know; you’re about ready to kill me, aren’t you?

Well look, I know how hard this time of the year is. In fact, when I submitted my November report to the council, I complained the month had totally gotten away from me. One day Shana/Karen came into my office to ask for the Advent liturgy, the plans for Holden Evening Prayer, the agenda for the Thursday night book study, the plan for Christmas Eve services, and not to forget to write my newsletter, either - and on, and on, and on!
Advent had snuck up on me unawares. The season had caught even yours’ truly, unprepared.
We all know what it’s like. Including me. So no, I don’t have a seven-point how-to sermon on efficiently preparing for Advent. Sorry. All I have today is this hodgepodge of scripture, and benign observation; that it’s the way it always goes: All this chaos in the midst of our lives.

We look up at the calendar and wonder how it got to be December already. We notice the clock, only to realize we’re already late. Suddenly the hour arrived; and we aren’t ready. We had been going about our business as usual; but nothing was usual anymore.

And the trouble is, that’s how it always goes. Not just this time of year, but more often than not…
All those moments of our lives. That death you had been expecting, only when it actually happened, you found yourself completely unprepared for the sadness that settles in. The birth you spent nine months preparing for, only to take the child home and realize you have no clue. 
The calls that go unanswered. The diagnosis. The pink slip. The wedding band taken off and put away, because looking at it would be too hard. All those moments in our lives we thought we were ready for. Only when they came, we found ourselves utterly unprepared. 

That how it always seems to go, doesn’t it? In a moment, everything changes. And in just another, we find we weren’t ready for it to happen…

What makes this season, Advent, so hard is the way it all gets crammed into a few short weeks. The crucible of this season where our hopes collide with our fears. Our excitement is shelved next to our worry. Our expectations jockey with our disappointment. Our joy rubs elbows with our sorrow…

So much to balance, in such a short amount of time. All this chaos. 
Then, to top of it all off, we’re also expected to prepare during these days we can’t even get through the to-do list.

In Advent we’re tasked to try and get ready for Jesus; and in the meantime the calendar bears down on us. Everything collides. In the midst of that whirlwind, we try and hold it all together. To put off the dreaded moment, when everything comes apart

All this chaos in the midst of our lives, especially during this time of the year…

Well, would it be any comfort if I told you, we aren’t the only ones? Because, that’s how it was for the prophet Joel, too. 
That’s what’s so jarring about his book of prophecies, the way messages of hope and destruction sit right next to each other. The way he calls for repentance and in the very next breath, calls for rejoicing. 
The way time collapses. Beginning his prophecies with a call to sound the trumpet, hit the alarm. A little later, where our passage began, holding open a glimmer of hope, with the words “yet even now.” Then, after just ten measly verses, suddenly looking ahead, declaring, “then afterward.”

In Joel’s prophecy everything collides, hope with sorrow. All in a moment, when time ran out. 
It’s a hard prophecy.

If nothing else, thought, it is a prophecy we have ears to hear, isn’t it? 
It’s a word for us on this second week of Advent. As The Long, Dark Night gets ever closer. As time itself seems to collapse. As our hopes and fears, our expectations and disappointments all collide. As we try to hold everything together, knowing full well it won’t be long before the hour is past.

All this chaos in the midst of our lives…
Yet, it is exactly from that tumult, that Joel declares something unexpected. Something we could never get ready for: the shocking announcement of God’s presence - right in the middle of all this chaos!

“You shall know,” declares the Lord,that I am in the midst of it all, and that I, the Lord, am your God -and there is no other.” 

When everything comes crashing together, when the moment we could never be ready for, happens; God shows up. In the midst of it all, God shows up.

That’s what Joel’s prophecies, this season of Advent is about. 
Not doing the impossible, getting ready for something you could never be; a birth, a death, a divorce, a marriage; God’s arrival. But rather the miracle that God shows up in the middle of it all, to you; to be your God. That God isn’t afraid of our stuff. And there’s another word that begins with the letter “S” I could use too, isn’t there?

The promise of Joel, of Advent, is that in the midst of all this, God shows up.

We imagine God showing up once we’ve got everything together, when everything is in order
What Joel declares, though, is God meets us in the midst of, not a quite hour of prayer, but all this chaos of our lives, of this time of the year… 

You know, when I first began preparing for this sermon, I tried to pull apart the various strands. To put it in order. Separate the prophecies of hope from the prophecies of doom. 
Only to realize, that’s the point. That’s how it’s supposed to work. And not just this prophecy, but our lives too. When it all comes crashing together, God doesn’t abandon us, but instead shows up right in the midst of it. 

Savior this moment. The truth is, from here, it will only get more hectic, more chaotic. The emotions more intense

So get ready. The one who meets your hopes and your fears comes to you. And not a moment too late.
In the midst of everything, the prophecy of Joel is true as ever. 
“You shall know,” declares the Lord,that I am in the midst of it, and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.”
This is your God. What the church has you prepare for, ready or not.

Because God’s arrival, right in the middle of it all, that is what will get you through, not just this season, but all of your life. The promise of God’s presence, in the middle of it all - to be God for you.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

crushing one another with colossal expectations

dependent, undisciplined, sleeping late

Today we begin Advent.
And know this: we won’t be finished with this season until its last day, like it or not. Sorry, but you’re stuck. Christmas won’t be coming early this year…
In fact, when the hymn committee met; I straightened my tie, put on my most serious face, and laid it out: Absolutely NO Christmas hymns until after this season.
You can’t ’get out of it. This Advent, you’re stuck. You won’t be freed of this season’s expectations until the Eve of Christmas. At the earliest

Well, okay. It wasn’t exactly like that. 
In fact, one of the things I most love about you all, is you don’t clamor for the Christmas songs until due time. You seem to be a people who feel at home in this season. A people who find comfort in this season.

Which is just as well, today. Today it’ll help you relate to Daniel. To hear this scripture as more than a cute Sunday School story…
Because Daniel, too knows what it’s like to be bound by strange religious rituals. Poor Daniel; three times a day, every day, he has to go out and pray. 
He, too, is stuck
Which is exactly what his conspirators had counted on…

You see, and our passage didn’t include this, but Daniel’s conspirators were jealous of him. For one thing, Daniel’s different. He has odd habits. For another, the king, despite Daniel’s strange practices, has taken a liking to him. Finally, and worst of all, the king likes Daniel for a reason: Daniel does good work. 

Before Daniel’s conspirators went after his religious practices, they tried to find fault with his work. But there wasn’t any. That’s why they exploited the practices that made Daniel weird. 
They have no qualms with the muzak that blares from the superstore’s loudspeakers. Not bound like Daniel, they hatch a place to work that to their advantage.

Toadying up to the king, they gush, “O King, live forever. We’ve been thinking… You should write one of those amendments. You know, the kind that can’t be changed. *AHEM.* How about something reasonable, like a prohibition on prayer. Prayers can only be made to you, O King.”

And the proposal sounds reasonable enough, so the king signs it into law. 
And with that, Daniel is trapped
Which his conspirators knew perfectly well. They don’t have too wait long, either. Like clockwork, Daniel goes out to pray. His conspirators collect the evidence, and rush back to the king. They can’t waste any time!

“O King, live forever,” they say pant. “Remember that amendment you made? Well, wouldn’t you know it, but Daniel… You know Daniel. He’s that odd fellow. The one who goes to church on days other than Christmas Eve or Easter. Well, we saw him praying. And wouldn’t you know it, but he wasn’t praying to you, O King.”
Daniel’s tune is all wrong. It’s out of season…

It doesn’t take the king long to realize the consequences of his action. Quick as he realizes it, though, it’s not fast enough. By now, there’s nothing the king can do. In fact, the king tries all day to rescue Daniel, but he’s helpless before his hastily made amendment.

Right at the end of the day too, the conspirators come slinking up. “Gosh, O king, we wish there was something you could do. You know how these laws work, though. If we don’t enforce this case, no one will take you seriously. Sorry, but you’re bound, O King; you’ve got to enforce this.”

And the king thinks it to be true. Reluctantly he makes the command. Daniel is seized, and thrown to the lions. The king goes and seals Daniel’s fate with his own signet. That way, no one; not even the king; can deliver Daniel. 

Daniel is trapped. And all he had tried to do was be faithful; for all the good it did him…

That night, no one slept.
Not the king. Scripture tells us sleep fled from the man. 
Not the conspirators, either. They were probably, out. Celebrating their victory. 
And, it’s hard to picture Daniel sleeping that night. Although, who knows. Scripture doesn’t have a lot to say about how Daniel acts as he’s seized and givens over to the lions…

Right at daybreak, about the time Daniel’s conspirators were stumbling home, the king rushes out to Daniel’s inevitable grave.
Anxiously the king cries out. “Daniel! Was that God you insist on praying to, able to do a rotten thing?”
Then, the king doesn’t hear the growling of the lions like he expected. Instead, he hear the voice of a deadman; Daniel!

From the other side of his fate, Daniel shouts to the king. Someone was able to deliver Daniel; God. The lions mouths have been shut! The God Daniel waited on, delivered him! From the lions. From the king’s law. From his conspirator’s jealousy. From the fate everyone thought he was assigned to!

The all thought Daniel was trapped. Not just by the law or in the den, but by his strange religious habits. As Daniel is lifted from his tomb unscathed, though, it turns out it’s not Daniel who’s stuck. But everyone else.

The king, by his hastily made law. 
The conspirators, who now suffer the very fate they tried to inflict on Daniel, by their jealousy.

Not that this great reversal comes as any shock to you
Not just because you already know the end, though. But because you know what it’s like, don’t you? To stand in Daniel’s adversaries' shoes, or in the king’s predicament

We, too, know what it’s like to be trapped by our own jealousy. Or b something we said, something we can’t bring ourselves to take back. 

And that’s what this book of Daniel is about.
This isn’t some little morality play. Telling you to make sure you say your prayers every day. No, this book is about God. And what God does
As the king puts it in his proclamation, “(God) delivers and rescues!”

God comes to deliver. And that begins by freeing us from the tyranny of the self; all those desires run rampant. 

The conspirators, trapped by their own jealousy, think Daniel is stuck with his odd religious practices. And the king, trapped by his own power, thinks Daniel is left to that grisly fate. 
But, as it turns out, Daniel is the freest of them all. 
And all along, too! Daniel had been delivered earlier. You can see it in the prayers he made daily. You can see it that day he goes and prays, regardless of the king’s decree. 

Us, though, we’re still waiting for that, aren’t we? We stand between Daniel and the king. Between Daniel and the conspirators, don’t we?

And that is why this season of Advent is welcome. Why it isn’t hard for us to wait to sing the hymns of God’s deliverance until The long, dark night. The night God must deliver us. 

Because we are still waiting, aren’t we?
We’re waiting to have the freedom to worship God as selflessly as Daniel. To be freed from our jealousy, or pride. Or whatever else, because the list just goes on, doesn’t it?

In Advent, we can gather and just admit it; we’re waiting. 
Yes, we’ve caught glimpses of, gotten a taste of the fulfillment. For now, though. In the meantime, we’re still waiting. 

We, like Daniel, need to be delivered. From the lions that assault us. Be they our own desires run amok. The fate we worry we’re bound to. Or, the machinations others have made for us. 
But we’re still waiting

And here, we can gather to wait together. To know we’re not alone. To hear we don’t wait in vain. That we wait like Daniel, on the same God as Daniel. 

And that’s the thing.
You wait. But you’re not stuck. 
You wait for the God who can rescue and deliver. Your waiting, it is a waiting in hope. A waiting like Daniel’s that night in the den. 

Which is no easy thing. But know two things.
First, look around. Go ahead and actually do it. All of us here, we will wait with you. Support you. Sing the songs of waiting right along with you.

Second, you’re no different from Daniel. 
Surrounded by all that would threaten your faith, God delivers you. God stops the mouth of your doubt, as decisively as God stopped the lions’. Because, despite all that would threaten your faith, here you are. Your faith persisting
And that’s no small feat.

That’s why we love this season of Advent. This season of the clear-eyed confession, that we still wait on these promises. This season punch-drunk on God’s promises, that God can deliver us. 

That’s what it means to be an Advent people.

So hear a promise for tide you over for another week: 

May you abundant prosper! For the king makes a decree, that in all this royal dominion, people should tremble and fear before the God of Daniel; for this God is the living God, enduring forever. This God’s kingdom shall never be destroyed, and it’s dominion have no end. This God delivers and rescues, working signs and wonders in heaven and on earth; for this God saved Daniel from the power of the lions. And this God, this God has also saved you.”

Saturday, November 19, 2016

and a sound in the sky, coming down from above

it surrounds you and sighs and is whispering of 

In the fourth month of our exchange student’s arrival, she asked, as I typed up a sermon, if I ever felt “out of ideas.” If I ever felt out of ideas?!?

“Oh, If you only knew!” I said, exasperated. “You should see what I have to contend with! The tyrants I have to try and keep amused, to keep from openly revolting!”
Of course I feel out of ideas

Especially when all I get from scripture, is a story like this; the “riveting” tale of how this story came about. The “high-drama” of this collection of Jeremiah’s prophecies. This story, about a story. This book, about a book!

…I mean, c’mon! What am I supposed to do with that?
How is that ever going to compete with the smartphones nearly all of you have in pockets. All the cat-videos you have at your fingertips, just begging for your attention?!?

If it has to come from a book at all, please let there be a little action! Maybe a movie that’s been made out of it. That way I could show a clip, and try to keep your attention with that!
Not this business of a book, about the making of that very book!

Why, if I tired to preach on that, it wouldn’t be long before I’d hear snores, the restless shifting in the pews and the lifting of sleeves to check watches!
What am I supposed to do with this book, about a book? This story, about a story? I’m a sitting duck with material like that

Of course I don’t have any ideas when it comes to something like this, this story about a story…

Not that such indifference to God’s Word is anything new
In this scripture about the making of this scripture, the king himself listens as this scripture. And the king is no more interested than the rest of us. He just sits there, unfazed. In fact, as the scripture is read, he idly cuts it up. Tossing the pieces in the fire, for as much as he cares!

If there is anything interesting in this story, it’s that extraneous detail. 
That this scripture we’re hearing from, tells of it’s own destruction. That odd fact that the destroyed scripture must have been preserved, seeing as we heard from it. Whoever it is that happened out of the purview of our passage to keep it. Whatever it is, that the scripture the king tired to silence, has kept the scripture being read over all the years.

So how about that?
Apparently the words the powerful king, didn’t fare as well as the words he tried to destroy. In the end, it is the words of the prophet who wasn’t even allowed in the temple, that are still heard. And not the words of the king history has all but silenced. 

Well, it’s an unexpected twist to be sure. That it isn’t the story of the powerful king that’s retold, but this story, the story of the story the king tried to destroy…

Honestly, though, that’s not a lot to go with. In the end, it’s still just a story about a story… 

If it were the story of the king, there’d be intrigue, power struggles and battles. I could show a clip from Game of Thrones as an illustration!

This passage, though, just tells a story about a story. 
The story of God’s Word, sure. God’s Word that, admittedly, isn’t silenced as easily as the now silenced king would have thought. But it’s still just a story about a story…

The story that the king tried to destroy, and so God just hid the prophet and his scribe. So God put the two to work again, on another draft. A draft that, seeing as we just heard from it, must have been preserved.

A draft that, God is still preserving, actually…
And not just that the prophet’s writing were saved, and then canonized, and then over all these years the Bible has persevered. Although, when you consider it; only God could have pulled of that kind of capper…

And that’s what God is up to, right now.
This week, when the poor pastor opened the Bible to see what scripture has been assigned. And today, as you hear that this story about a story is God’s Holy Word for us…

Over all these years, God is still keeping this scroll. 

The wonder of it. That this scripture is just as vulnerable today, as it was that day it was read in the king’s hearing. And still, against all odds, the scroll keeps being read from in the hearing of the people.

God did that through the prophet Jeremiah. Preserving the prophet and his scroll. And God does it with you folks and this poor pastor…

A pastor with no other scripture to preach on. 
And you, who really, deep down, want to hear this story. This story about a story. You, who know this story has something to say to you…

Truth is, you don’t want to be entertained… 
Okay, you do. 
But, when it comes to this story, you know something more is at stake than your attention span.  You can tell that this story about a story, is like no other story. This story is about a story, is the story. The story of God’s Word.

Truthfully, that’s the most compelling thing we have to talk about this morning. Not cute anecdotes or cliches. Just this, the story of God’s Word. God’s Word which will not be silenced. God’s Word which continues to speak.
So receive what this story is about, the Word of God:
This scripture, it isn’t a clandestine report of how the book of Jeremiah was smuggled to your ears this morning. It’s about the what the saying of Jeremiah are, God’s Word for the people of God. 

God’s Word that was put on Isaiah’s lips. And then on Jeremiah’s pen. And now, your heart. That’s right, in your hearing, the Word of God is written in your heart. 

That’s why, people of this book, this story about a story, still has the power to steal your attention. Not because it’s interesting, although frankly, it is. But because God is doing something with it. 

God takes this story, and gives it to you
Gives you what this story promises, the new heart. A heart that’s had its iniquity forgiven, its sins forgotten.

Here, receive what this story gives,; as I declare it to you:
  • In the name of the one who is the Word of God made flesh, your iniquity is forgiven. That day the Word made flesh was crucified, your sin was left there, forgotten forever. 
That’s what this story about as story is about

That kind of story, it has the power to steal your heart. Doesn’t it? It can even give you a new heart. A heart that’s been covered by the Word of God. 

This scripture about scripture. This story about a story. This sermon about a sermon trying to conjure the courage to say something like; here of all places, and you of all people, are the fulfillment of this story, this scripture.

Now, as you hear that God has given you the heart promised long ago, the scripture about scripture is fulfilled. Now, as the living Word comes to you, this story comes to its end

How’s that for interesting?
That God has made this assembly the fulfillment of this scripture.

Just as the action of this story of God’s Word, happened outside of the story. God’s preservation of this scroll. 
So the real action of this sermon happens outside of what’s written; God giving you what was not even given to the king; the new heart, the new covenant, the Word made flesh.

In the end, the sermon isn’t what I do or say with it, but what God does and says with it. That God fulfills this story about a story, as you just sit there like the king! As the Word not even the king could silence, speaks again.

I have nothing left to say. All there is to say it’s what’s already been said. So listen to that. “The days are surely coming, says the Lord…”

And the days are surely coming, aren’t they?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

we sing the nightmare of the lies that you speak

of the lies that you speak

Once a month, around noon, on a Wednesday; a few of us do a very brave thing. We. Choose. A. New. Hymn(!)…
Of which, worry not, I inevitable hear about…

Now it used to drive me bonkers! ‘Lighten up, you old sticks in the mud,’ I’d think. I’ve come to learn, though, that your apprehension to new hymns is actually faithful.
Now look, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I’m not about to use the sermon to commend the likes of you.

In scripture today we hear about the prophet, Isaiah going to church. 

Now, when we hear the word “prophet,” we imagine the likes of John the Baptist, unkept, living out in the desert.
Isaiah, though, was probably far more ordinary
He’s from a good family. His great-grandfather’s name was undoubtedly on the church-charter. His mom was the Shabbat-school superintendent. In confirmation his attendance was perfect. His rabbi, more than likely, had the boy pegged for seminary. Even after confirmation his attendance didn’t drop off. Instead he made it a priority to get to church. Memorizing the liturgy, even.

So that Sunday morning we hear about in our passage today, we can assume was just like any other. Imagine Isaiah finding his regular pew. Saying “good morning” to the usuals. Settling in for worship.
Only this day, instead of seeing his rabbi, Isaiah saw something else

On this day, Isaiah sees things, not from his expectations, but from God’s.
And let me tell you, it was anything but familiar or comfortable.

Because on this day, when Isaiah looks around, he doesn’t see the usual faces. Instead he sees the terrifying, and terrified, seraphs. A frightening serpent-angel.
And instead of hitting all the right notes of the sanctus, these angels scream the “holy, holy, holy.” Their voices so loud, the foundations of the temple shake. Smoke is everywhere, all he can make out a hem of a robe that fills the temple…

Isaiah came to worship that day, after hearing the surprisingly herald of new king, expecting to be comforted with the old hymns he knew so well. To have his most deeply held convictions reinforced

This day, though, he is decidedly unsettled.
The words of the hymns are the same, but the tenor is altogether terrifying. The pews may be filled, but the company is frightening. 

The liturgy Isaiah sung too many times to count, ‘And so, with all the choirs of angels / with the church on earth and the host of heaven / we praise your name / and join their unending hymn,’ is actually fulfilled
Only now, as it turns out, Isaiah’s not so sure he wants that anymore… 
In a moment, everything Isaiah thought he knew, flies out the window.

Because, and here’s the thing, true worship isn’t distraction or novocain for our lives. 
Rather, true worship puts us face to face with The Truth. With God and all the glory thereof. With the way everything looks next to God, and that includes us, our soul

It isn’t the fearsome angels that terrifies Isaiah. Neither is it the intensity of their hymn. Or even the smoke. What’s so unsettling to Isaiah is that now he finds himself in the presence of God’s glory, power and might; God’s holiness.
It’s taken me years, but I’ve finally come to realize that’s the reason you all get so uptight when we sing a new hymn!
It isn’t that your fuddy-duddies. Boring. Or unwilling to take risks. 
It’s that your chickens
That’s all…
Now don’t feel bad. Who among us who have heard the call to worship the living God isn't a coward compared to the task? 
You are. I am. And Isaiah certainly was, too. At least we’re in good company…

Our apprehension to new hymns, it comes from this deep-seated knowledge that in worship we’re all too likely to bump up against, not our expectations, but God. So we try and protect ourselves by making worship familiar, predictable and manageable if at all possible.
Because as the writer of Hebrews aptly puts it, ‘it’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’

God, however, refuses to leave us to our own machinations. 
Just like Isaiah, God is always interrupting our polite and organized worship services. 

For Isaiah, it happened in the blink of an eye. 
As the congregation began the “holy, holy, holy,” he closed his eyes and sang the familiar tune. Only what he heard, wasn’t what he expected. When he opened his eyes, the temple was filled with smoke, angels, smoke and trimming of a robe. 

Of course it scared Isaiah witless. 
Seeing everything, not as he expected, but as God would have it, Isaiah saw the truth.
That what he had said to pass confirmation, ‘no one can look upon the glory of God and live,’ was true after all.
Compared to God’s glory, Isaiah couldn’t stand. He confesses the only reasonable thing, “woe is me, I am lost. I am unclean; and what’s more, I come from an unclean people,” Isaiah trembles
Confronted by God’s holiness he sees his life flash before his eyes.

Instead of consuming Isaiah, though, the angel touches something to his lips. Before he can say anything, the seraph says now that he has tasted what was taken from the altar, his guilt has departed and his sin has been blotted out.

Isaiah thought God’s holiness was something to fear; and in a way it is. What he learned that moment, though, was God’s holiness ultimately is, is what cleanses us. 

Cleansed, from his fear, from his sin, Isaiah overhears God considering who to send. Made new, Isaiah can’t keep quiet. He raises his hand in the air like a schoolboy, “Here I am, Lord! Choose me! Send me!”

In the end, finding himself in the presence of God wasn’t his death, but rather his rebirth.

Well, maybe we’ve been doing you all a favor by assigning different hymns. Hymns that shake us up. Hymns that remind us we don’t know God as well as we imagine. Hymns that have half of chance of putting us in the presence of God we fear as mightily as we need…

The truth is, what we need isn’t the right hymns; be they new or old. What we need is what God is always up to, even in this humble worship. Even with the hymns we chose this week.
What makes us acceptable to God. Why we would dare to come to church and sing the old hymns, the songs only the seraphs ought to sing, is very thing we’re terrified by: God’s holiness

None of us are any match for God’s unvarnished, holiness. In the presence of God, we’re no different than Isaiah. And I don’t just mean having to beg for our lives. 
I mean finding that God has sent a messenger with something to put to our lips, something that will cleanse us, something that might have us shouting, ‘here I am, send me!’

Soon you will sing the “holy, holy, holy.” In no time, you be called to the holy table. Then, something will be put to you lips; the full revelation of God’s holiness: the body and blood of Jesus Christ. 

Once that living fire touches your lips your guilt will depart too. Your sin will be blotted out as well.

What you’ve been trying to run from, has caught up with you. No hymns. No amount of familiarity can protect you. It’s too late. You can’t escape. 
Do not fear, though. The glory of God will not consume you. It will cleanse

Now I know why they seraphs cried, “Holy. Holy. Holy.”

Friday, November 4, 2016

is this my life

or am i breathing underwater

A Sermon on the book of Jonah:

A a life-long Cubs fan, it’s great the club no longer lives under “the curse.” Truth be told, though, I never stayed up to watch the games. Not an inning, not even a pitch. 
Perhaps it’s because being called to live in the church has given me something more interesting to do. Honestly, though, it’s because watching the chagrin of the Cardinal’s fans was even better

Deep down, I love a little “schadenfreude.” You know, that sweet joy of witnessing someone else get theirs. 
As someone who constantly has little heathens like you throwing my words back in my face, I relish the chance to watch others wince as something they said comes back to bite them.

Which why I just love this book of the prophet Jonah…
Jonah. All we remember, though, is the whale, the big fish. 
In confirmation every now and then, an inquisitive student will ask if it really happened, if Jonah was actually eaten by a whale. 
And all there is to say is, with everything else that happens in the book, that’s the most believable part!

Jonah, who should, and certainly thinks he knows best. And Jonah, who at every turn, has what he thinks he knows turned upside down and inside out.
Jonah doesn’t know he can’t get away from God. He hasn’t a clue what it could mean that God has noticed the Ninevehites’ wickedness. Finally, he doesn’t even know what the fulfillment of his prophecy looks like!

The book begins by saying the word of the Lord came to this Jonah, sending him with a message to the capital of his country’s worst enemy.
We all know that instead of going, though, he ran away. It’s not just that he ran away, though. The first thing he does it hightail it out of Israel. Then, he goes the opposite direction of of his assignment. Jonah is doing everything he can to desperately try to get away from God.

Not that he knows how to, or even can, do it. 
It’s a funny detail, when he reveals his identity to the mariners. “I’m a Hebrew,” he mumbles. “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 
Jonah knows enough about God to give the right Sunday School answer. But he doesn’t know enough to realize going to sea won’t get him out of God’s presence!
Jonah thought he knew how to get away from God. As the mariners toss him off the boat, though, he goes head over heels right along with what he thought he knew!

Then the whale. Then he’s spit-up on the shore. Then the word of the Lord comes to him a second time. Not telling him after that stunt he’d better run, but instead saying, “let’s try again, Jonah.” 

At least Jonah gets it through his skull that he can’t get away from God. That’s about all he learns, though. Because he goes only goes a third of the way into a city that takes three days walk, and then gives the most half-hearted sermon in the history of the Bible. 
Remember that next time I give a stinker.

“Forty days more,” Jonah says flatly. Adding, “(T)hen Nineveh shall be overthrown!” In the greatest understatement in the Bible, the narrator informs us, “(T)he people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth(!)”

Jonah figured it was all a matter of formality, that he was to go and tell those Ninevehites it’s their turn, that God’s going to get them.
The people of Nineveh, though, take Jonah’s word as a heads-up. They all repent! From the pauper to the prince! They repent. 

As we hear in scripture, that’s exactly the way God wants the word to be taken! Instead of razing the city, God turns from the wrath and let’s the people live! 
Repentance is what God is after…

Jonah thought he knew what God’s message meant. As he runs from Nineveh, his turns tail the same way his expectations were.

It’s at this point that our passage ends, but there’s still one another chapter in this great book. 
Jonah goes to a bluff overlooking Nineveh. Sulking, he shouts at God. This is just the sort of thing I figured you’d do. Forgiving sinners like these! Eww
Trust me, I know how Jonah feels…

The books ends with Jonah still sulking.
Because although there’s a great conversion. (And I’d be happy just to convert a few of you heathens!) The problem for Jonah is his prophecy didn’t come true. It was wrong.
He gave God’s message, telling the people it was only a matter of time before God let them have it.
When God relents from the punishment, Jonah’s prophetic career crumbles. As fas as Jonah sees it, he’s a failed prophet…

Don’t you just love it? What? Sorry, but I take pleasure in seeing some other man of the cloth take a few knocks…

Because me and all the Cardinal fans out there, we aren’t the only ones who know what it’s like to have our expectations upended. Are we?

Today is a day we call “All Saints.” Today the Church has us remember those we’ve laid to rest. Today the Church tells us that those we think we know everything there is to know about, are also granted the extraordinary designation of “Saint.”

“Who,” we protest. “Him? Sure he served on the council once, but he missed half the meetings.” Or “her,” we ask. “Okay, she quilted blankets. But She was an old crank most of the time.”

All of us, along with Jonah, we think we know all there is to know about God. And God’s people, for that matter. 
And we too know what it’s like to have God’s grace upend all our assumptions. When that wag is buried, only to have the pastor rhapsodize about another saint lost. Or getting a pastor that’s no better than the rest of us. The way he mocks us over it, just shrugging. Quipping, that’s the way God likes it; choosing sinners to be saints…

Because that’s what at stake with this day and our passage: God’s grace that turns everything upside down. That Jonah, the prophet, is outdone by the pagan mariners and the wicked Ninevehites.
That we too, the good ones who made it here this morning, have to hear about God making saints out of those who are sleeping in as we speak!

Because that’s the Good News of this day and our passage, too: God’s grace that turns everything upside down
It’s not just that God could make someone like _____________________ into a saint. And it’s not just that God could could convert some heathens or even turn a runaway, crybaby like Jonah into a saint. It’s that God makes you into a saint. 
That something like “saint” is who, what you are…

Does that flip your expectations? Good.

Because we’re not done just yet. 
At the end, when God doesn’t let Nineveh have it; Jonah thinks h his prophecy failed. That the conversion and God’s grace, undermined his prophecy.

Here’s the thing, though; Jonah’s prophecy was fulfilled. Fulfilled in all the wrong ways, sure. But still fulfilled.
Because here’s the kicker, Nineveh was overthrown. Only not by wrath; with mercy

Mercy. Or as we Lutheran’s like to call it, “Grace.”
This is how God overturns, not just Nineveh, but also Jonah. And us, too. Finally God overturn the entire world with mercy!

That is what happens, not just in this passage. Not only to the Saints we remember this day. But to you, right now.
God takes notice of you, and your wickedness. That’s right. 

If I were you, I’d repent. Who knows, maybe instead of letting you have it, God will forgive you.

It’s a long shot, sure. But with the kind of God you have, it’s the best bet in the house. 
That’s the thing about Grace, isn’t it? 
It overturns everything. Nineveh. Jonah. And you
Your assumptions. Your life. Everything

Look out, God’s noticed you.

Everything is about to be overturned; inside out & upside down.