Saturday, August 27, 2016

i took your counsel

& came to ruin

Perhaps you’re wondering why, exactly, our first lesson is the one we just heard. After all, it sounds… well… just a little… familiar, doesn’t it?

Don’t be fooled, though, the lessons is not a repeat of last week’s…
Well… Not exactly, anyway.

Last week we heard the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai; right after the Israelites had been freed. Today, though, we hear the reiteration of these Ten Commands; 40 years later. Right before the Israelites leave the wilderness for the Promised Land. 

Here, Moses is giving his final sermon. All he can come up with though, is that old refrain again. “Second verse, same as the first; a little bit louder, a little bit worse!”

Moses’ uncertainty about how well those commands took the first time, is betrayed. Apparently Moses isn’t exactly confident in the mettle of those who are about to inhabit the property promised to Abraham long ago…
Apparently before God’s people come into the Promised Land, Moses feels the need to restate a few things…

Here, right before God’s promises to Abraham of progeny and property are fulfilled, Moses stops Abraham’s descendants and gives this loooong sermon.
All of Deuteronomy long…
Apparently God’s people need to be prepared to receive what was promised long ago. It is as if getting what they’ve been waiting for, is as much of a threat to their faith, as waiting for it was…
Like that song on the radio warns, “getting what you want can break your heart.”

So before God’s people settle the land God promised, Moses gives an extended sermon. A sermon about what it means to be God’s people in the land they’ve been waiting to inhabit. A sermon about how to retain their identity as God’s people now that they’ve ended their sojourn… 

…Now the tragedy, of course, is our story shows over and over again that the very thing Moses feared, happened. Beguiled by the blessings, we’ve forgotten the giver of every good gift. Mistaken the gift for the giver…

But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. 
To truly understand this tragedy, we have to know it’s content. Especially since it is hard to hear. Since it is something we vigilantly avoid hearing…

…So… Did you notice the difference between this week’s first lesson and last week’s?
…The truth is, although the change is somewhat subtle, it’s also fairly obvious… 
While most of the lesson is the same. Where it isn’t, it really isn’t… 
The change is, *DING,* you guessed it!
In the Third Commandment. The Sabbath command…

There’s a few significant changes:
First, the command’s range has been expanded. Now the command includes others. No longer is the command to rest only for God’s people. Now everyone who works with, or for God’s people are to enjoy this rest too. 
This is, at it were, the first fair labor-law. 

Second, the command has been inverted. At Sinai, the command began will a call to remember. In other words, remembering God’s deliverance was the motivation to keep the command, to rest.
Now, though, the command is flipped, isn’t it? 
Now it begins with a call to observe the sabbath day.
Now the command makes a promise. Observing the sabbath will remind us of God’s action… 
That’s something, isn’t it? 
We think rituals have to buttress what we already understand. Here, though, it says otherwise. Observing this day will serve to make us understand something we couldn’t have otherwise.

Finally, the command itself has been expanded. Now the command includes why this day is to be kept. What observing this day will remind us of. “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm…”
Now the command says what this day is about, not just rest. Not the rhythms of creation, but God’s deliverance

In the final moments when God’s people stop wandering and begin settling, Moses gives them this last sermon. 
It begins with the Ten Commandments. Verbatim, more or less. Except when it comes to the Third Command, the Sabbath Command…

Now, apparently, the Sabbath command is going to be important in a different way. Now it is going to be easy to forget God’s deliverance. Now it is going to be easy to withhold God’s blessings. 
Now that God’s promise is about to be fulfilled, it will be easy for God’s people to believe they’ve earned what’s been bestowed. Now it will be easy for God’s people to hoard God’s gifts…

Okay. I’m not the only one this sounds familiar to, right?
The reason why Moses retells this sermon, is the very reason why we need to hear this retelling. 
In the often overlooked book of the Bible. In this often ignored retelling of the commands, we see what Paul meant when he said we, Gentiles, have been grafted on to the tree of Israel. 
Their story, is our story. The tragedy that God’s people failed to heed Moses’ sermon, is our tragedy too, isn’t it?

The Ten Commandments given at Sinai aren’t so much for us. We stopped journeying long ago. We put down our stakes. We’ve settled. 
Now the Ten Commands given at the edge of the Promised Land, though, those are for a people like us. A people who have come into a land and settled it. 

We too have been tempted, and maybe have, forgotten the one who delivered us. We too have been beguiled, mistaking the gifts for the Giver of every good thing. We too have tried to hoard our blessings. We too have fallen for the illusion we’ve earned all our blessings.
*Just spend a little time with subsistence farmers in a place like Honduras if you need help getting over that illusion.*

What Moses feared, happened. It’s the story of God’s people, over and over again. It wasn’t only a people called “Israel” who refused to listen to Moses. A people called “Christian” have too, haven’t we? 

Here, I’ll lay my cards on the table. The first week I did the “what” of the sabbath. The second week, the “how.” Today is the “why.” 

Why Moses retold the Ten Commands at the threshold of the Promised Land. Why we hear this retelling today.
Why we do something as odd as give over 14 percent of our days, to something as unproductive of worship. 
It’s because there’s something we need to remember. Something we’ve forgotten, or maybe even never heard. Something we’re dying to be told. Something we can’t believe unless we stop, and someone else tells us.
You’ve stopped. For better or worse, I’m the someone else. 
So, listen up; you’re not here out of habit. You’re not even here because you’re a good, god-fearing Christian; which has always been open to debate, anyway… 

No, the only reason you’re here, is because God has done something; delivered you. You’re here because God brought you out, to hear this: God rescued you with a mighty arm and an outstretched hand. That’s who you are now. That’s your story. That’s our story. God has taken the tragedy of our failure to heed Moses’s words, and transformed it into the story of our redemption.
Never forget that, okay? 
Your sins, they do not define you. Death will not destroy you. You’ve been delivered. 

Keep this day, God will hold true. Simply keeping this day, in and of itself, will remind you of your deliverance. 

In case you’ve already forgotten, and this promise is so easy to lose, isn’t it? 
I’ll say it again: The only reason you’re here is because God has done something; delivered you. You’re here because God brought you out, to hear this: God rescued you with a mighty arm and an outstretched hand. That’s who you are, now. That’s your story, now.
Never forget that.

Keep this day, and God will not let you forget either.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

there's no starting over, no new beginnings, time races on

& you've just gotta keep on keeping on

As is the case with most adages, the old saying is true; ‘there’s no rest for the wicked.’

There’s the law you’ve always got to stay a step ahead of. Then, there’s the constant looking over your shoulder to make sure your past doesn’t find you. 
Nope, once the wicked go on the lamb, their guard can never come down. You’ve always got to be looking ahead and watching behind. It’s exhausting sure, but there’s no alternative. 
You can’t just stop and catch your breath, lest the sins of your past catch up to you. 

It’s true. There is no rest for the wicked…

Which is probably why this Third Commandment is so notorious. Think about it, it’s one of only two commandments that aren’t prohibitions. Yet, this positive command seems impossible for the wicked like us to actually obey.
To stop and rest. Not once in a while. Not when we think we have the time. But every seventh day! 
You know, for Jewish folks, once that sun hits the horizon, everything stops. It’s sabbath. If the food wasn’t ready or the table unmade, too bad. The sabbath had arrived. Everything else stops.

And of course, that’s the rub isn’t it?
That this call to rest is no mere suggestion. It isn’t a nice idea, either. No, that this is a command. And, a command from God, no less. 

Ready or not, when the sabbath rolls around, everything must halt. Which is all the root of that word, “sabbath,” means, simply “to cease” or “to stop.”

Every seventh days, it all comes to a standstill. Like it or not, ready or not, come the sabbath, we stop and face this one who would place such an unreasonable commandment upon us.

Sure, you may be able to outrun your past, but you can’t outrun the one who makes this command. Every seven days, this God says stop trying to run. Every sabbath, this God interrupts our regularly scheduled programing…

No wonder this commands doesn’t come naturally…
Think about it, it’s strange we’d need this commandment at all! We’re used to commands. Most of them have to do with labor, too. We’re always being commanded to work; work harder and work more.
We’re so worn out by those commands. Yet, when we hear this command, to actually rest, it sounds like a threat. As something we can’t afford. 
That’s how strong our proclivity is to run. Our fear that our sins would catch us if we actually just stopped to catch our breath.

For six days our business is our own. But on that seventh day, God insists on interrupting. On confronting us. 
Word to the wise here, that’s exactly what’s happening now
Don’t think you get to sit back and merely hear about what God does. I’m telling you what God is doing. Right now! God is cornering you. Commanding you to stop

I know, you’ve got a lot to do. In fact, you’re not sure what I just said while you were going over your grocery list. You can’t get away from the one who utters this Word to rest, though; God…

It’s true, these is no rest for the wicked. We can never get far enough from our sins.
But, no one can outrun this God either, though. So stop trying. Just stop.
Our excuses, our anxieties, will hold no truck with this God. 
Whether we like it or not, whether we’re ready or not, every seventh day,  right now, all our pursuits come to a screeching halt

And that’s still the rub, isn’t it?
That’s why we try to get a little R&R, only to return worse for the wear!
This is no mere call to take a much needed break, a holiday. This is a command. A command from God, no less. Stop.

In the preamble to these Ten Commandments. You know, the part we usually skip, God makes a bold claim. God lays out exactly why this God gets to be the one making commands: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…”

It’s God who freed the Israelites from serving the taskmaster named Pharaoh. Now this Lord is their God instead of Pharaoh. So this God has some commands. 

Once every seven days, the Israelites must stop. Must remember they’re delivered. They have different lord than Pharaoh. A Lord who doesn’t demand more and more, but instead grants freedom. 
That’s all the Ten Commandments are, sisters and brothers. How to live as if the Lord is your God… 

Now in the Gospel today, Jesus makes some pretty bold claims too. Not that the sabbath was made for humankind and not the other way ‘round. Although that’s bold. The real shocker comes next
When Jesus looks around and says some as audacious as, he —the son of man— is lord even of the sabbath!

That he, Jesus, is what God is up to in the sabbath. That he, Jesus, is the full revelation of what God’s sabbath means
When God calls us to rest, we’re not dealing with just any God. We are dealing with the God Jesus calls “Father.” The God who raises Jesus from the dead.
And us along with him! That’s what baptism means, to be buried and raised with Jesus. That’s why there’s commands in that baptismal liturgy.

Every seventh day, we contend with the God who would command a people like us to rest. Today, Jesus shows up and shows us what this rest is. What God is up to with this commandment we would never come up with on our own. 

There is no rest for the wicked. And that’s not what the sabbath is. God isn’t interested in a mere break from your running. God has determined to do more than give you one day off. 
God has decided to deliver you. All the way. Deliver you from the sin of your past. Deliver you from the future they’re driving you to. 

That’s what the sabbath is; being delivered. Delivered by the God who freed the Israelites. The God who raises Jesus, and all those who are baptized in his name, from the dead.
This is no mere break from the taskmaster’s demands, be they Pharaoh’s or Sin and Death’s. Rather this is deliverance from the taskmasters themselves! An end to their reign of terror. 
The one no one can outrun has shown up; God. And not just any god, but the God who insists on deliverance. The God of the Exodus and the Empty Tomb.

There is no rest for the wicked. Believe me, I know. 
The one who makes these commands, the one who is lord even of the sabbath, though; is the one who says ‘stop.’ The one who can say something like that. The one who has freed us from all those other false gods and their demands.

This is the kind of lord you have, folks. That’s what this command is all about. Not that you can rest, or even get to. But that you have a lord who has delivered you. Delivered you from ceaseless toil to freedom. 

And that’s why this rest is no mere suggestion or nice idea, but a  commandment. A commandment from God, no less. That’s why week after week, we stop and remember that this one who is the lord of the sabbath has done. 

Let’s end with Martin Luther’s words. In the Large Catechism he says, “…(W)hen you are asked what ‘you are to hallow the day of rest’ means, answer: ‘hallowing the day of rest means to keep it holy.’ What is meant by keeping it holy’? Nothing else than devoting it to holy words, holy works, and holy living. The day itself does not need to be made holy, for it was created holy. But God wants it to be holy for you.”

That’s sabbath, isn’t it?
Not that God has made a day holy. Not that God, once upon a time, delivered a people. Not that God raised one man from the dead. But rather that God wants to raise you with the Son of Man. That God wants deliver you. That God wants this holy day, to be holy for you.

So let this day be holy, here, have sabbath: 
In the name of the lord of the sabbath, you are free. Stop. Jesus has delivered you from the power of Sin, which is Death. The one Jesus called “father,” not only raised him from the dead, but right now sends the Holy Spirit to deliver his’ resurrection to you.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit your sins, every single one of them, is forgiven. You are delivered.

Monday, August 15, 2016

i reach out to you and hold you in my arms

i love you, i love you, i love you

As we begin our sermon series on the sabbath we might as well just admit it: we’re not sure what to do with the sabbath…
The account of the first week puts the issue front and center. The seventh day, the sabbath, is an odd day. 
First, every other day of creation, has its counterpart.
The first day, light is made; and the fourth, its inhabitants: the sun, moon and stars are made. The second day, the sky is formed above the depths; and on the fifth, their inhabitants: fish and birds are created. The third day, dry land is formed; and on the sixth, its inhabitants: mammals are made.
The sabbath day, though, has no parallel! It stands apart from every other day.
We’re not sure what to do with this day that doesn’t fit…

That isn’t even the only quandary of this day, either. Scripture is clear; it is on this seventh day, not the sixth, that God finishes creation. It is also on this day, though, that God doesn’t do a thing!
“And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done and he rested on the seventh day from all the work!” The sabbath day is blatant a contradiction!
We’re not sure what to do with this day that opposes logic…

And you know, our confusion about the sabbath day runs even deeper than those two quirks.
The real problem we have with the sabbath is it’s place. We had always imagined we, humankind, was the culmination of God’s creation. In our hearts, we pictured humanity as God’s greatest creation. 
Yet scripture asserts creation is crowned by this odd day, the seventh day, the sabbath. This day when God doesn’t do anything, and finishes everything is God’s last creation.
We’re not sure what to do with this day that takes us down a peg…

Observing the sabbath is a strange business, indeed. 
This final act of creation defies categorization. Why it even defies us!
And that’s our problem with the sabbath, isn’t it?
It refuses to play by our rules. We can’t figure out what to do with this day…

Our struggle with the sabbath, then, is not a new problem. It is not a crises only recently caused by 24/7 business chains. It is our problem. A problem God’s people have struggled with since the first day. Since Moses brought down the two stones. Since the tomb was found to be empty.
This day without parallel, this day where God doesn’t do anything and finishes everything, has always confounded us! We’ve never been sure what to do with this day…

The bad news is this day of rest will not be explained away. There can be no resolution to the questions this day raises. There is nothing we can do to make the sabbath more palatable. 
The sabbath simply is, what the sabbath is; a strange day. A day we’re not sure what to do with…

Ultimately, it is not the sabbath that must be made to make sense to us. Rather, it is us who must be made to make sense to the God of sabbath. As the Bible puts it, we are commanded to observe the sabbath. Keep it holy. 

There is no way around this day. The only way forward, is through it. 

First of all, you are here.
Gathering around God’s holy Word, the holy meal, in the company of the faithful is how the sabbath is kept, how we go through the sabbath. In the small catechism Martin Luther describes honoring the sabbath, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and his Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”
So, well done. You have already taken the first step in observing this strange day. Of keeping it holy. Of going through the sabbath.
Now then, let us venture forward…

The sabbath is a day without parallel. As we said earlier, every other day has it’s complimentary one. Not the sabbath, though. This day of rest is set apart. It is different. It is peculiar

Which, as it turns out, it what it means to be holy. Something that is holy, is something set apart for God’s particular usage. 
And, when you deal with the holy, you are dealing with the unsettling. It was the prophet Isaiah who, upon be taken to God’s holy sanctuary, cried out in terror; that he was a man of unclean lips, living among an unclean people. The holiness of God was unsettling for this prophet, too. He didn’t know what to do with the holy either!
Notice; it is a faithful response to come into God’s holiness, and not know what to do; at first. Your uncertainty with this day means you are on the right path. your uncertainty is fitting
So far, so good. Things are as the ought to be…

Now, though, we come to the great contradiction of this day. On the sabbath, God finishes creation and on this day God rests from all work!

No amount of wrangling can resolve this contradiction. Sorry. All we can do is observe this day, with its contraction. We must keep it, as the command puts it. 
We cannot try to minimize this day or it’s contraction. We must learn to live with it. Which, is what it means to be faithful
Not to try and make God fit to our images, but to come before God in reverence, and be fitted to God’s image. 

We do well to sit before that contradiction. In the end it lies at the heart of God. The apparent conflict, is actually the very nature of this God. This finishing everything by doing nothing, is what God has been up to since the very beginning to this every moment. It is God’s will in other words.  
The God scripture reveals, is the God who most fully works with rest! The God who is not a workaholic. This is the exodus. The resurrection!

This contradiction turns out not to be a contradiction for this God; the God who calls you to observe the sabbath, to keep it holy. This tension, is who God is. What God does!
We, Christians, used to call such holy-contradictions “a paradox.” Two things only God can hold together. Two things that can only come together in God. Two things that in contrasting, reveal the kind of God we have! 

…It was Augustine who insisted God didn’t have to make all this. 
God Just spoke each part of creation, and enjoyed what came forth. There’s no essential reason God had to make creation. God just did. 

And after God just did, God evaluated it all. God deemed it “very good.” So on the seventh day, the crown achievement, God finishes everything by doing nothing
Simply letting all creation rest in the goodness of God. Of joining that rest, even. Hallowing it. Sanctifying this day of rest with the very presence of God… 

That’s what the sabbath is. What today is. What God is up to!
The great day of God’s final act; gathering up everything and letting it rest with God. The paradox of finishing everything by resting for everything!

And as is so often the case, this paradox, this promise is what’s really hard for us. Why we don’t know what to do with this day. The promise of this day has no parallel. The promise of this day refuses to fit into our logical schemes. 

That God would simply grant us a day where everything is done. A day where there is nothing to do but rest. It’s too much for us. This day unseats our highest ambitions. 

It is a strange business for us to observe the sabbath. To keep it holy.
We don’t know what to do with this day. 
And, as long as that’s our problem; what to do with this day; the sabbath will always confound us!

That’s because there is nothing to be done with this day! 
On the sabbath, God says there is nothing more to be done. It’s all done in this paradox of God. God who takes creation, and in the rest of God, finishes creation, hallows it. 

That’s who God is. That’s the kind of God you have!

Soon we’ll hear about another sabbath. The final seventh day of creation. The Sunday morning the tomb was found empty. 
What the seventh day of creation reveals is, Jesus wasn’t God’s “Plan B.” What God had to resort to after humans made a muck of everything. Jesus is God’s very nature fully revealed. Jesus is what God is up to since that first week. What God is up to each and every sabbath since! 
To grant rest. To complete creation by crowning it with the God’s very presence. Each seventh day. Every resurrection morning. Right now!

Sisters and brothers, there is nothing to do with this day. Just rest. Rest in God. 
This is no mere day-off, but true rest. Coming into the presence of God and finding everything has been done. You don’t have to make your way to this God, this God comes to you. This God gives you rest.

God sends your savior to you, for you —this day. 
Come to this sabbath, meet the one who grants you rest. That’s the kind of you have. You don’t have to endlessly toil to please this God. Instead, this God does everything, and come to you. You.
You, you can rest. You can. Come to this God. 
Keep this sabbath. 
Find rest for your soul.

Keep this sabbath. It is holy.

Friday, August 5, 2016

in the veil of great surprises

Rejoice; always! Pray; without ceasing. Give thanks; in all circumstances…
This is what you’ve been called too, beloved. This is God’s will in Christ Jesus, for you. For you

Well, it takes a lot to run a church, doesn’t it? Honestly, it’s more than any of us know. Myself included. 
We have no idea of all the little sacrifices that happen daily to run this church. One of us drops in to take care of some thing or another and it goes unnoticed 90 percent of the time. None of us have any idea how many consistently and faithfully say a pray for us each evening…
All of that, never noted… 

And, all it takes, is for one of those small things to go undone, and everything to comes to a screeching halt, doesn’t it?

Precariously, and yet powerfully, are we held together. It’s a wonder, isn’t it? 
We have so much to be thankful for today, don’t we?

And there’s the rub: The temptation for us today, is to take credit for that which we give thanks. We are tempted to give thanks merely for volunteers. To accept thanks as merely people of goodwill…
Which is, truly, to have contempt for one another. For God even…

…Every now and then, you will try and thank a person. Only to have them ward off your gratitude. And heaven help you, should you try and give thanks in a public setting

Now, no doubt there is ambiguity in this. Nothing persuades me this is pure humility. At its best, though, this aversion to gratitude, stems from honesty
Truthfully, often what we are giving thanks for, was never intended for us!
The sisters and brother we thank, were never trying to do us a favor in the first place!
You see, they were serving
God. God.
And there’s a lesson there: The best way we can serve one another, is to serve God.

But, let’s be honest. Often there’s another reason folks will squirm under the light of our gratitude. 
Because that favor they did, it wasn’t them at all…

Their service, it was the Spirit at work in them.
And not just any spirit, either. But The Spirit. The Spirit of Our Lord Jesus Christ; who came not to be served, but to serve. 

In a way we have trouble explaining but know deep down, much of our life is the word of the Spirit.
It’s at least obvious enough to us anyway, that we can feel disingenuous accepting the thanks we’ve been offered. We have a sense we can’t take credit for it! We squirm because we know we’re stealing thanks that truly belongs to God

In the end, all our efforts, all our time, all our giving; it was never ours to begin with…
And deep down, we know this. Don’t we? 
  • Look back over your own life. Can you take credit for our own existence? For that gifts you have to share?

This is also true for our Life Together too, you know.
That these congregations have continued. Through trial and tribulation. Through our humble efforts, and our shameful arrogance. It’s been God sustaining us. Holding us together. 
Yes, precariously, and yet powerfully are we held together. 

In fact, this, what’s happening right now, it ought to be more than enough evidence to show that it’s been God at work, not us, all along! 
After all, we couldn’t have come up with this on our own, could we? 

That’s what this day is about. That’s why we’re gathering today and giving thanks for one another. 
Honestly, that’s what your whole life is about, too. 
That’s not all. That’s what this congregation, Faith/Trinity, is about. 
In fact, that’s even what all of history is about: The kind of God we have. The kind of God who shows up in people and places like us. In a savior, like Jesus. 

The exhortations Paul gives us today, as he draws his letter to First Lutheran in Thesalonika to a close, they’re pretty daunting: Rejoice; always. Pray; without ceasing. Give thanks; in all circumstances. That’s a lot

If we’re going to embark on this kind of life, we’d better have the kind of God who will show up. The kind of God who will forgive
Or, as Paul puts it, we’d better have the kind of God who is faithful, who will do this.

This life we have, this life we have together. What we give thanks for today, (and ought to everyday) is a life we can live, because Jesus is raised from the dead. Because his Spirit insists on showing up in bodies, your body. My body. Our body, together: Trinity Lutheran / Faith Lutheran. Our collaboration. 

These exhortations Paul tenders, did you notices that these are none other than the gifts of the Spirit he lists in other letters.
Do you get it?
Paul isn’t giving lofty commands. Paul is telling us to let God do, what God has determined to do - through you
In fact, what we’re doing today, giving thanks, this too is a fruit of the Spirit! Martin Luther called giving thanks, the art of the Holy Spirit.
Take a moment to let that sink in… 

Do you have eyes to see it??? Open your ears, that you may hear. Right now, Paul’s command is fulfilled. Right now as we give thanks for one another, the Holy Spirit is at work making us to bear the fruit of Jesus himself!

Paul was right all along! Our Lord is faithful. He will, he has, done this!
The God who has called you, is the kind of God who is faithful. 
So today, we take a moment, to pause and look back. To give thanks. That God has been faithful. That God is faithful! 
God has been, God is, at work here. In humble ways. In small and surprising ways. In people like us. In a pledge that’s kept. A prayer that’s offered. In a combined choir. In the basement with ductwork. In removing the toilettes so new flooring can go in. In the hallway with bulletins. For all this, and so much more, we give thanks because Jesus has done all this… 

That’s what we do today: give thanks. And not just any thanks, either. Thanks empowered by, not our good intentions, but The Holy Spirit!
We give thanks for the kind of God we have. 
The kind of God who insists on claiming us. On showing up. Showing up here. Showing up in us, in you and in me. We give thanks that, as Paul put it; the one who calls us is faithful, and he will do this. God has been faithful, hasn’t God? 

We give thanks that God has made us into the kind of people marked by the Spirit. The kind of people who can give thanks. 
Thank God, that God has called us. That God is making us to be the people Paul describes. A people who rejoice, always. A people who pray, without ceasing. A people who give thanks, in all circumstances. 

Precariously, and yet powerfully are we held together.

So, with the God you have, give thanks. 
Thanks that God has been, is at work. Right here. Right now. Amongst you and me as we do something we couldn’t without God; this. Giving thanks.

So you, you give thanks. 
Give thanks for our many, many laborers in the Lord. Give thanks that God has empowered these sinner/saints. Give thanks that God empowers you. That God is doing that right now.
What else is there to say? 
Nothing, except “thanks be to God.”

For you, beloved. I give thanks.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Sabbath Reflection

We are most deeply asleep at the switch
when we fancy we control 
any switches at all. We sleep
to time’s hurdy-gurdy;
we wake, if we ever wake,
to the silence of God.
—Annie Dillard

In our society you’re rich if you have a lot of money, but no time. And you’re poor if you have a lot of time, but no money.
Apparently those are the alternatives. 
And honestly, while we may have some reservations about being rich, there’s no question that we’re terrified of becoming poor. So we trade in our time for money. The result is that we have more than enough money, and not nearly enough time…
No wonder, then, that the commandment to honor the Sabbath doesn’t come naturally. 
It isn’t easy for us to just stop. To do nothing. (There’s a paradox! Do Nothing.)
We’ve got to be working. We’ve got to put our time to use
One person I spoke to said the reason it’s so hard to rest, is because she constantly felt like she needed to justify her existence. 
What a thing to say!
And that’s probably the heart of the matter, more often than not. Don’t you think?
We think we have to be the ones to prove our worth.

Deep down that’s what the Sabbath is about, too.
The command to honor and keep the Sabbath says, on the one hand, that we’re not the ones in control. God is. We stop to remind ourselves that. That there is no way we could ever prove our worth, when it comes to God
On the other hand, the command to honor and keep the Sabbath also says, that we don’t have to! We exist because God has called us into existence. We can rest in that fact. We don’t have to prove our worth, to God or anyone else. The very fact that God is, at this moment, calling you into existence, is all the evidence you need to know that God takes delight in you. Right now.
And that’s the real punch of the Sabbath. 
It points to that, what God is up to in Jesus Christ, is what God’s been up to ever since the very beginning to this very moment!
The God you have, is a God of love. A God who doesn’t wait for creation to ascend into heaven. A God who doesn’t wait for us to prove ourselves.
Instead, in great love, this God descends to us! Jesus is the ultimate revelation of this love.
And that is why we honor the Sabbath. 
Because we don’t have to prove our worth. Because the God we have, is a God of love.
So on the Sabbath, we stop. We rest in God. We trust God’s promises to hold true. 

For a people as run ragged as we are, the Sabbath turns out to be Good News. Not just that we can rest, but that the God we have calls us to it. Because the God we have, loves us.

Monday, July 25, 2016

she said words alone could never save us

& then last night she cried and told us about Jesus

Unfortunately every church seems to have at least one…

You know, those places where the carpet has seen better days. 
Those marks where the carpet began pulling apart. The spot where the carpet is nearly threadbare.
Good taste suggests replacement, or at least repair. Lutherans, though, we tend to be negligent in that area. So those marks, stay. Thinning even more after yet another year…
And no, I’m not talking about the path to the coffee pot.  

What I am talking about is that place we used to call “the crossing.” These days, we’ve lost our distinct vocabulary. So we have no name for that place in the sanctuary.
You know, that place where the healthy walk up to receive communion without a second though. That place where the rambunctious youngsters, distract the congregation as the pastor tries to give a youth sermon. That place where those crowned with graying hair, shuffle up to receive a shot glass of cheap wine and a hunk of bread. 

That place in the sanctuary where week after week, we come to receive the very grace of God. That place where really ought to replace the carpet. 
Truthfully, though, no one seems to notice, or perhaps even mind. Somehow, it seems almost fitting to us. That place where all the traffic over the years has crushed the threads down to little more than off-colored, pilling threads, barely holding together. 

Importunant people that we are…
People such as us, we don’t have the greatest history of listening to Jesus. 

And yet. For some reason, we’ve been unusually obedient when it’s come that place. 
Or, when it’s come to this prayer. For some reason, this prayer has stuck…

After a long council meeting, when everyone’s patience has been tested. Instead of stomping off to lick our wounds, everyone takes someone’s hand, and prays this prayer

Or in a hospital room. After the couple has been through the ringer. If the pastor doesn’t say anything else, they will ask him to pray this prayer

The nursing home, with the man who was on the council well before the rest of us can remember. Constantly mumbling to himself. When the pastor, at loss for what else to say, starts in on this prayer, though. Then, all of a sudden, the man becomes coherent, he joins-in like he’s back in confirmation all over again.

Those youngsters, always squirming and giggling. The Sunday School teacher tries not to lose her patience while she says this prayer. It’s the first time one boy who will hear this prayer. From that day on, he will wind up repeating this prayer too many times to number. 

That student who, after a month of classes in a new school, with new people and new ideas, suddenly finds her whole world turned upside down. This prayer comes to her one night. In that new room, with a new roommate, this is the only thing that’s familiar.

…We’re a fickle people, this much is true. We tend to pick and choose when and where we’ll listen to Jesus. 
For some reason, though, importunanat though we may be, we’ve been unusually faithful when it comes to this prayer
(That is, when we’re not bickering about which version to use…)

…Probably the most humbling things about being a pastor is the powerlessness of it. Not in council meetings or making decisions, although a pastor can be made to be pretty powerless there. 
But rather, powerless where it actually matters. Making disciples. 

I am amazed by the way The Church can make us into her disciples. Often, even in spite of ourselves!
I can be heavy-handed. Telling you what I, and the cadre of other religious professionals, assume is the next big thing. But the Church will simply gather us up together to say strange things. Like confessing the faith or that in Christ we’re all kin. And by making us stick to those thing, somehow we become the people The Church needs us to be. The people we need to be. The people we need each other to be. The people the world needs us to be…

I’ve left many a council meeting, stunned. Thinking to myself, “Woah. God’s going to make a church out of us yet.” 

I’ve prayed with the broken-hearted. Sitting in my office afterward, wondering to myself, over the miracle. If I’m not careful, God will use you all to make a pastor out of someone like me yet. 
Even better, watching as that brokenhearted woman shows up a couple weeks later. Singing the hymns, confessing the creed. It’s easy to get lost then, to forget it’s time lead the prayers of intercession. Marveled by the way God has been busy making her into a disciple, one way or another… 

…And that’s what Jesus is saying in the Gospel today, you know. 
Jesus isn’t giving you a mere technique to prayer. Some formula to bend God’s will to your’s.
No, Jesus is telling you what it means to pray to the kind of God you have. The kind of God who brought Israel out of slavery. The kind of God who raised Jesus from the dead. 

That when we’re the most faithful, too.
Not when we’re trying to manipulate God, obviously. And certainly not when we’re charging out on some mission. Presuming to tell God where we’re going to go.
Instead, when we’re relying on God. 
When we’re coming to God asking for deliverance. When we’re looking back over a couple months we’d never want to relive, and wondering at the miracle that God did deliver us. As Joseph says, God used it for good. 
In ways we’d never have imagined, and certainly couldn’t see. But nonetheless, busy at work. Making us into the kind of people who have been delivered, who dare to pray as our savior taught us…

Because, and here’s the thing, that’s the kind of God you have. The kind of God who has claimed you. The kind of God Jesus tells you pray to. The kind of God who will take a negligent, fickle and importunant people; and make us into disciples yet
This is the kind of God who can be counted on. This is the kind of God who can be trusted. This is the kind of God who keeps promises. Keeps them in surprising, and even shocking ways, even! 

The kind of God who, even on mornings when our mind wandered during that old prayer, hung on every word. The kind of God who listened to us, even when we weren’t. 
That’s the kind of God you have. The kind of God Jesus tells you to pray to. 

The kind of God who will put Grace to work and grab you, suddenly. Take something like your will, and flip it. Make us to want, not our will to be done. But God’s will. Thy will.
When only moments before you were thinking about your lunch plans. Unexpectedly you wanted what you were praying for; God’s will. You wanted it even more than that the brunch buffet. More than anything else. 

Think over your moments in this sanctuary. That’s happened to you, hasn’t it?

That’s because that’s the kind of God you have. The kind of God Jesus tells you to pray to. 
The kind of God who will take folks who are importunant at best, and make disciples. The kind of God who will take a negligent people, and out of the clear blue, take this prayer they repeated ad nauseam and make them to hang on every word. The kind of God who will take something as fickle as a will, and turn it to match Thy will

Because in the end, that old prayer, that patch of carpet. They will remain. They are our marks of glory. The places we point to, to show God’s fidelity. 

Those marks, that prayer; they are the places in our lives where God has been relentless. Refusing to take our infidelity as the final word. Refusing to renege on the promises made to us in our baptism. 

That’s the kind of God you have. The kind of God who can take a people like us, and make us dare to pray —not for our will— but God’s. The kind of God who, in answering this prayer, can make your will, Thy will. This is God’s will. That you would be God’s people. That you would come to God, confident that this God is your God. 

That’s just the kind of God you have. 

So pray. Pray to that God.