2017 11 12: Does Love Conquer All?

It seems like we’re headed here for the same Russian tragedy that is covered in that Turkish television show. It seems like Joshua was right, “this is never going to work out.” It seems like all the fashionable television critics and movie reviewers are right — brokenness and tragedy and hopelessness is just reality. It’s just what life is like. It’s all we’ve got to look forward to, so we might as well get used to it. We might as well grab our bits of happiness as we can, whether it’s in booze or in free love or in luxury goods. Whether it’s in forgetting our families for a few hours or burying our addictions in oblivion, whether it’s in being devoted to our own causes or in defeating our political enemies. Let’s do what we can while we can, for tomorrow we break down and die.

Praise God, my brothers and sisters, that this not the Gospel. This is not the truth of the world as God sees and proclaims it. This is not reality. This is not real life. Brokenness is not the final word. Hopelessness and scrambling for happiness are not our fate.

2017 11 05: Beattitudes

If you look carefully at the Beatitudes, you’ll notice that they aren’t commands.  They’re something more like statements of fact, or even congratulations.  Happy are you poor, mourning, and meek people!  Congratulations, you’ve hit the jackpot, your reward is great!  Jesus is saying, this is the kind of life in this world where real happiness is to be found.  Congratulations!  You’ve discovered it.  And if you’re listening in and haven’t discovered real happiness yet, it’s right here waiting for you.

2017 10 29: The Long View

So in the end, the death of Moses is less about the injustice of him never stepping foot in the Promised Land, it is less about him being robbed of the honor he deserved, it is less about the loss of this great galvanizing leader of the Israelites, and it is more about Moses’ whole life being oriented toward God’s mission to bring his people to the land flowing with milk and honey, more about God being honored and revealed in the shape of a human life, about God providing the strength for leading and the wisdom for fulfilling a call. It is all about God, who we have come to know in Jesus Christ, being the leader and lawgiver, the focus and fulfillment, the beginning and the end, of our lives.

We learn from Moses and from Jesus this morning that it is not up to us. We are never the savior or the redeemer or the deliver, even great old prophet Moses never was. Even our Mommas who seemed to hold our families together, even our grandfathers who taught us responsibility and hard work and the value of a dollar -- it has never been up to them, it has never been up to us. We can’t make it on our own, we are not our only hope, we are not the authors of our own fate or the makers of our dreams.

2017 10 22: The Stewardship of Our Hearts

The Israelites give voice to our fear in the face of Moses’s courage. While he’s ready to be challenged by the dawn of God’s glory and light, God’s people tremble for the way they might appear if the light touches them, the darkness that might be exposed, and the pain of unadjusted eyes, unprotected skin, ill-prepared souls and spirits. God leaves us with a question here in Exodus this morning; are our hearts ready to be warmed by his rays, to be melted by his presence, to be refined by his fire?

2017 10 15: The Biggest Party

Who are these people who are turning down the king’s invitation to the wedding feast? And what’s wrong with them? Who in their right minds would do such a thing? And yet, that’s what these people do. Some just said no, without bothering to give an excuse. Some actually make fun of the invitation. Some were too busy. In Luke’s version of this story, people come up with obviously lame excuses, excuses so lame that they’re insulting, basically the ancient world’s equivalent of saying: “Oh, thank you for your sweet invitation, but my Netflix queue is really long right now, and I just don’t think I can get away.”

2017 10 08: Get Me Off This Ride

The world is overflowing with violence. Death begets more death. Fear and disdain and oppression give rise to yet greater division, suspicion, and anger. There’s Sandy Hook, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Charleston, Gabby Giffords, Paris -- the cycle we have seen more times than we can easily recall is played again in our Gospel lesson this morning, and as the columnist states, we know, deep down, will continue to repeat itself -- round and round and round. How do we get off of this ride?

There is much good work to be done in the courts of justice, the halls of legislature, police stations, community groups, and on your very own neighborhood block, but these good works are not the ultimate answer. To think that we can right the ship ourselves if we just put our backs into it is to fall square into the problem of pride which pesters the tenants in our parable this morning. Whatever your profession or income bracket, your employment status or political commitments, whatever the color of your skin or even the content of your character, there is only one who brings relief and salvation, only one who can turn this world around, only one whose answer to violence and death, division and destruction, fear and anger, is different from all the others, and that difference is the truth.

2017 09 24: Stuck

I wonder how we ourselves might long for the past, or dwell on the way things have always been, or cling to the things that we know, rather than letting our God lead us into the wilderness, rather than trusting that the devil we know is indeed worse than the God that we don’t. Of course, we do know this God. He is I AM WHO I AM, he is YAHWEH, he is Jesus.

And so, the most important thing that I want to say about where we find the Israelites this morning, and indeed, where we ourselves are this morning, too, is that the most important thing has already been done. This is not a sermon, nor is Christianity a religion, that’s about achievement. We’re not striving to accomplish some particular work, or to earn some kind of favor, or to develop this or that virtue. The work is done, my friends. God in Jesus Christ accomplished it all on the cross. God in Jesus Christ freed us from oppression, took us up out of slavery, and opened his arms to all humanity as he died on the cross and was then raised in victory over death.

2017 09 17: The God Who Delivers and Forgives

There are, I think, many things about the Christian faith that we would never have come up with on our own.  There are plenty of things that we would probably change about our Lord’s teachings if we put them up to a vote.  They just don’t seem reasonable.  After all, Jesus said some pretty out-there stuff, things like: turn the other cheek, love our enemies, and forgive not just one or two or even seven times, but seventy times seven.

Today’s Gospel passage is right up there near the top of the list of things about Jesus that we’d probably change if we could.  Everyone knows of course that forgiveness is central to what Jesus taught and how he lived.  That’s probably why nearly every church website and street sign I’ve ever seen says something about God’s extravagant grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love.  That’s as it should be.  But the thing is that making forgiveness into a slogan can be a way to avoid having to think too much about the implications of what we’re saying.  I’ll bet you’ve never seen a church sign that said, “Jesus loves his enemies—especially you!”