Tag Archive | baptism

26th Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

26th Sunday after Pentecost, year c, preached 11/13/16

first reading:  Malachi 4:1-2a

Psalm 98

second reading:  2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

gospel reading:  Luke 21:5-19

*I was guest preaching this morning at a congregation where I am not the pastor.


I don’t know ONE pastor who was looking forward to preaching today – and I know a LOT of pastors.  At first I felt overwhelmed at the thought of being here with you today, knowing a few of you a little, but none of you well.  Our country has had an almost indescribable week – thrilling for some, and devastating for others.

But the more I prayed about it, the more I realized that NOT knowing any of you too well allows me to say some things that perhaps someone close to you can’t say.

I see three things in our gospel text for today, and I thank Professor Gilberto Ruiz from WorkingPreacher.org for helping me sort through them.  And these three things speak to all of us – whether we voted for Mr. Trump, Sec. Clinton or another candidate.

First of all, Jesus makes it clear that we are NOT to put our trust in temporary human structures or institutions – whether that’s the town hall, the governor’s mansion, the White House, the Temple in Jerusalem, or this building right here – not in the town or church council, state or national houses or even our beloved presidency.  NONE OF IT.

“When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upone another; all will be thrown down.'”

All this stuff we surround ourselves with is TEMPORARY.  Our comfy houses and nice cars, even our country.  This may sound like American heresy, but we almost lost our democracy once in the civil war – and no one can say with certainty that in our lifetime or a hundred years from now, that our democracy will still be here.

DON’T PUT YOUR FAITH IN IT – or any other human institution – for eventually the stones will all be “thrown down.”

Two – don’t put your faith in people either.  Persecutions happen.  We’re incredibly lucky right now.  It’s been a LONG time since we’ve had to worry about what church we go to.  In our early years this did happen, with colonies having their official religions – and people in THIS country WERE persecuted if they stepped out of those bounds.

It’s a bit much to say any Christians here are suffering persecution now, but you never know – and certainly there are Christians in other parts of the world that fear for their lives EVERY DAY.  Persecution happens.

And don’t put your faith in people, because people can betray you.  “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends…  You will be hated.”  Sometimes our faith requires us to stand against all we see around us.  People might think we’re crazy.  Relationships will break.

Thursday was Martin Luther’s 533rd birthday.  Friday was the day his father carried him to the local church to receive baptism.  But the father who carried him to church was bitterly angry, and their relationship strained to the breaking point, when Martin became a monk.

Even outside arguments and stands of faith, we suffer broken relationships.  I know a family as I speak where the siblings are suing each other over their father’s will.

Jesus says these things WILL happen.  Human institutions and human relationships are fleeting – our lives just a dot on the canvas of history.  And this is the third thing…

The key, not IF, but WHEN, we suffer these things, is to cling to GOD.

When these things happen – when the world seems to be crumbling around us – we need to remember not to be distracted by that stuff.  Even when life is good and things are going great, don’t be distracted by it.  Do NOT be distracted by the earthquakes and “dreadful portents” – don’t be distracted by betrayals or persecutions.

Jesus tells us that the point of these things is this, found in verse 13 – the key to the entire passage:

“This will give you an opportunity to testify.”

When chaos is reigning in the world, it becomes our job as baptized children of God to remind people over and over and  over who Jesus is.  And in doing that we remind ourselves too.

Right now there are a lot of people who feel like this country is going down the drain.  I know this.  But if Clinton had won there would also be a whole lot of people who would feel like the country was going down the drain.  I know this too.

Cling to Jesus.  Preach Jesus.  LIVE Jesus.  THAT is our call win or lose, republican or democrat, man or woman, Hispanic or black or white.

How we go about that is different, however, depending on who we are.  If you are feeling thrilled, it is YOUR job to comfort those who are feeling frightened.  Like it or not.

Jesus calls us to tend to the weak and brokenhearted.  Jesus commands us to love one another as he loved us. Gloating isn’t helpful or productive, neither is saying “get over it.”  It’s not going to help the grieving to move on.  It will only make things worse.  And it is certainly not what Jesus would do.

If you’re feeling frightened, don’t let anyone convince you you have to just “get over it.”  If you’re not feeling safe, seek out people you know who love you.  Protest if it helps you feel strong again.  But do not resort to violence. Because when you do, you become like the very people you protest against.  And it is certainly not what Jesus would do.

When we come through the church doors, our political labels, and all other labels, come off and the only mark we wear is the sign of the cross we were given at baptism.  THAT is where our care for each other and all people must begin and end, no questions asked.

THAT is what our behavior OUT of these doors must reflect – that we follow Jesus – a savior of love, forgiveness and grace for ALL people, not just those who look, talk, act or think like us.

There may be chaos, there may be calm, but whatever is doing on around us, we cling to Jesus, and use it as “an opportunity to testify.”

AMEN.

12th Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

12th Sunday after Pentecost, year C, (preached 8/7/16)

first reading:  Genesis 15:1-6

Psalm 33:12-22

second reading:  Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

gospel reading:  Luke 12:32-40

Note:  today in worship we celebrated the sacrament of Holy Baptism, so my sermon focused on that.  I have used only the first initial of the child’s name to respect the family’s privacy.


IMG_2361Today I get to do one of my all-time favorite things as a pastor – preside over the sacrament of Holy Baptism.

It is a beautiful and wondrous, amazing and mysterious thing we do today as “S” becomes a member of the body of Christ, and our brother.

Baptism is one of the most important gifts that God has given us.  It marks the beginning of our journey of faith, our life as a disciple, but it is also so much more.  As “S” receives this sacrament today, it’s a perfect time to reflect upon our own baptisms, and what it means in our life day to day.  And if we’re not baptized, we perhaps have the chance to learn about it for the first time.

First of all, Baptism is a covenant – a promise of faith – that God makes with us through Jesus.  In Holy Baptism we are claimed by God as God’s own child, we are marked with the cross, and named by God.

From now on “S” will have a new name.  A name that comes before anything anyone on earth will ever call him – and that name is “Christian.”  This baptism, along with the name “Christian” is not something that has worldly value.  It’s not something the world sees – it’s not something you can buy or sell – but it is worth more than ANY thing.

As Jesus says in our gospel reading today, “Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”

There are no guarantees in this life.  Everything is transitory.  Wealth comes and goes.  Success comes and goes.  Happiness comes and goes.  Relationships come and go.  Health changes.  We face sickness. We confront death.  Life is fragile and our bodies and spirits can be broken.

Baptism is an eternal gift that never goes bad, never expires, never leaves.

You know why?  Because Baptism is God’s gift and promise to us – and God doesn’t take back gifts or break promises. We may walk away from our baptism, we may forget about it, but that doesn’t mean God takes it back – it’s ALWAYS ours for the claiming and re-claiming.

In fact that’s what we do every time we seek God’s forgiveness for our sins.  That’s what we do every time we confess – remember our baptism.  Because forgiveness is the main gift and promise that God gives us in Holy Baptism.

IMG_2362In this sacrament that “S” will receive in just a few minutes, we all receive three gifts:  forgiveness of sins, redemption from death and the devil, and eternal salvation.  So easy to say – one simple sentence with three ideas – but a lifetime’s worth of working out.

Because we need forgiveness every day.  At least I do – often repeatedly throughout the day!  None of us are perfect – as we say in our opening confession – we sin in thought, word and deed – in things we’ve done and in things we’ve left undone.

But through Jesus, we don’t have to worry about being perfect.  We don’t have to worry about being “good enough” for God to love us.  God loves us just as we are, imperfect as we are, and forgives us just as we are.  And this forgiveness we receive from Jesus is our redemption not just in little things, but from the biggest things we face – death and evil.

Each one of us here knows the power of death.  We have all been touched by it.  We have all grieved; no person is exempt from that.  But through Jesus’ death AND RESURRECTION, the power of death is defeated for us.  Jesus’ life is stronger than death.  Death does not have the last word for us.

And we know the power of evil too.  We have seen too much of it, even recently.  But Jesus overcomes that too – the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.*

It doesn’t mean those things don’t exist.  What our baptism means, again, is that death and evil doe NOT have the last word – JESUS does.  And Jesus is LOVE and LIGHT.

And Jesus is also eternal.  The LAST word for all of us is eternal life WITH Jesus in the place he has prepared for us.

Jesus loves me.  Jesus loves each and every one of YOU here.  He is not some angry vengeful God come with a checklist – he is a loving God who stretched out his arms in love and gave his life so that we can live.  Every time we ask God to forgive us, we are simply remembering the power of Holy Baptism in our daily and eternal life.

Our baptism also joins us to one another.  As we become God’s child in Baptism, we also become siblings to one another – part of something larger than ourselves that calls us to look beyond ourselves.  “S” will become my brother. He will be YOUR brother.  And if he is our brother, it is our job to watch out for him, to care for him – as Jesus says, to LOVE him, as he commands us all to love one another.**

It’s an outrageous mystery, Holy Baptism.  That water, together with God’s Word, can do so much FOR us and IN us. I can’t explain HOW it happens – only that God promises us that is DOES.

Thank you (mom) and (dad), for bringing “S” to us – and for giving us this chance to reflect on the meaning of Holy Baptism – this “unfailing treasure” given to us by Jesus – and for giving us a new brother to love!

AMEN.


*John 1:5

**John 13:34

The Transfiguration of our Lord, 2016

The Transfiguration of our Lord, year C, 2016 (preached 2/7/16)

first reading:  Exodus 34:29-35

Psalm 99

second reading:  2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

gospel reading:  Luke 9:28-43a


I don’t know about you, but for me the last few months of 2015 and the first month of 2016 were, to put it nicely, NOT so nice.  I won’t go into personal details, but even events in the world were chaotic and sometimes awful.

It’s left me in a bad mood all the way around.  I’ve been negative.  I’ve been short with my husband and kids.  I’ve wanted to retreat into my own little shell, to use the words of Greta Garbo, “I want to be left alone!”

But we can’t do that can’t we?  Very few people in this world are called to be hermits, or monks, or cloistered nuns, leaving “the world” behind.  Most of us are called not only to be a part of the world, but ACTIVE in it.

Hopefully most times we respond to this call and say, “Thank you God, for allowing me to serve you and make a difference in the world and with the people around me.”  Other times we just say, “Thanks a LOT God.” (sarcastically)

When faced with these moments we might think that we simply need an “attitude adjustment.”  Really, what we need, and what God offers to us is a “transfiguration” – a transformation.  I looked up the secular definition of transfiguration and it reads, “a change in form or appearance – metamorphosis.”

This is what happened to Jesus in today’s reading, the story of “The Transfiguation” – when he went up the mountain with the disciples to pray.  We read, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.”

Romanian Orthodox Church, Jericho

Romanian Orthodox Church, Jericho

In that moment the disciples were able to see a different Jesus – not just their beloved rabbi, but the Jesus that stood in the company of arguably the two greatest figures of the Jewish faith – Moses and Elijah.  It was an event so stupendous that Peter wanted to make monuments to commemorate the occasion.

They were able to recognize the importance of it on one level, but they really had no way to comprehend the WEIGHT of it, because they still didn’t understand what was to come for themselves, or for Jesus.  For what was to come had nothing to do with earthly glory or building monuments – what was to come was shame and fear and death.

The Transfiguration is the changing of Jesus, not in the literal biology of who he was, but in how the disciples saw him.  Jesus was changed.

  • He was dazzling.  But he soon would be beaten.
  • His clothes became white, but soon the guards would strip him and gamble for his clothes.
  • He was talking to Moses and Elijah, but soon the crowds would taunt him and wonder if Elijah would save him from the cross.

If that was the only change, the only transfiguration, we’d be in big trouble – but it wasn’t.

  • Because Jesus also went from dead to living.  From laid in the tomb, to risen again on the third day.

We call our gospel reading today “The Transfiguration,” but truth be told there are many types of transfiguration that happen in Jesus’ story.  And just as Jesus was transfigured, he transfigures you and me.

Our first transfiguration happens at Holy Baptism, when we become children of God, joined to Jesus and saved through Jesus for all eternity.

Our baptism changes us.  It is there that we are adopted into God’s family and get a new name and the forever mark of the cross.  But baptism is only the beginning.  God’s forgiveness renews us every day.

Every day we are being changed, transfigured, going through metamorphosis, from sinner to saint, saint to sinner, sinner to saint…

Not all Christian denominations celebrate the Transfiguration today – many celebrate this event during the month of August – but I think this is a perfect time.  Celebrating the Transfiguration right before Lent is a good way for us to reflect on the person and ministry of Jesus, but it’s also a good way for us to approach Lent.

I began this sermon by confessing my bad attitude.  As we approach Lent this year, I’m thinking of way that I can work on letting God transfigure that.  It just might be a part of my Lenten discipline this year – God transfiguring my heart and head.  A metamorphosis from negativity to joy, from doom to hope, from fear to confidence.

I’ve shared a bit of my thinking about how God can transfigure me this Lent.  I invite YOU to reflect over these next few days before Wednesday, about what God can transfigure in YOU.

When you look in the mirror, beyond all the surface appearances – in the words of St. Paul from our second reading – what do you see reflected back at you?  What do you wish God could transform?  Lent is the perfect time for that self-examination, and for allowing God to transfigure us.

Because Lent is more than giving up chocolate, Lent is about how we can recognize and appreciate all God has done and is continuing to do in our lives.  Lent is about acknowledging the darkness so that we can see the Light.

It’s also appropriate too that our annual meeting is today – a good time to reflect on how we have lived as a congregation in faith, and where God can work to transfigure us as a community together.  We are not static things.  We are living, breathing, moving, growing creatures – changing all the time.

The Transfiguration invites us to see Jesus’ transfiguration – but also how Jesus transfigures US.  How through faith God is constantly making, remaking and remaking us again – beginning at baptism, and continuing throughout our lives – to the life to come.

AMEN.

 

All Saints’ Sunday, 2014

All Saints’ Sunday, year A, 2014 (preached on November 2, 2014)

first reading:  Revelation 7:9-17

Psalm 34:1-10, 22

second reading:  1 John 3:1-3

gospel reading:  Matthew 5:1-12


water and the Word

water and the Word

In our adult forum this morning, we continued our discussion about the sacrament of Holy Baptism.  We reviewed what is taught in our catechism regarding this most precious gift of Christ – that through it we receive 1)forgiveness of sins, 2)deliverance from death and the devil, and 3)eternal salvation, as the Word and promise of God declare.

We are taught that it signifies that the “Old Adam in us… should be drowned by daily sorrow and repentance and be put to death, and that the new man should come forth daily and rise up, cleansed and righteous, to live forever in God’s presence.”

Baptism is that THING, the promise, that we return to again and again throughout our lives – that though it happens only once, is drawn upon continuously.  Every time we are bold enough to ask God to forgive us, we are doing nothing less than returning to and remembering the promise God made to us in Holy Baptism.

One of my favorite passages from Luther is found in his Large Catechism in the section on Baptism:  “To appreciate and use Baptism aright, we must draw strength and comfort from it when our sins or conscience oppress us, and we must retort, ‘But I am baptized!  And if I am baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life….  No greater jewel, therefore, can adorn our body and soul than Baptism…”

You may be asking yourself, “Why all this quoting Luther, when Reformation Sunday was LAST week?”  “Why all this talk about Baptism on All Saints’ Sunday?”  “Why talk about the happy occasion of Baptism on what many consider to be the very somber day of All Saints’?”

Well, we need to start by remembering the true meaning of these things.  I stated a few moments ago that the gifts of Holy Baptism are forgiveness, deliverance from death, and eternal salvation.  Baptism into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is our only key to the gate of heaven.  The feast of All Saints, while somber in remembering those we have lost for now, is really a celebration of their passing through that gate of heaven.

We may approach this feast with grief, but it is grief mingled with hope and comfort.  The hope and comfort written in Revelation, when there is no more hunger or thirst, and when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.  The hope of the psalm that the Lord delivers us, and that we will lack for nothing that is good, and not be punished.  The hope written in the first letter of John, that we ARE God’s children, and we will be like him.  The hope we receive from Jesus himself in the beatitudes – receiving comfort, mercy, blessings and the kingdom of heaven.

The feast of All Saints is also a day NOT just to remember the blessed dead, but the saints of here and now – celebrating the life you and I and all the baptized live in faith.  And we live that life beginning with our baptism.

We remember all those we loved who have gone before us, and it is good and proper to do.  But to completely observe the feast we also need to hold up a mirror and see ourselves – for we too are saints.  Saints who still sin, but saints nonetheless.  We are made saints through the water and the Word – in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

For this reason, All Saints’ Sunday is one of the principle baptismal feast days of the church’s liturgical calendar – along with the Vigil of Easter, Pentecost and the baptism of our Lord – it is a time the Church says is especially good to bring people into the kingdom through the sacrament.

The gift of baptism we receive through Christ unites us with St. Peter, St. Lucia, St. Hildegard of Bingen, St. Martin Luther, St. Henry Muhlenberg, St. Anna Obernier (my great-grandmother), St. Aaron (my father-in-law), and St. Harold – our brother in Christ who entered the Church Triumphant in February.

Our baptism unites us to all these saints of the past, and unites us as believers in the here and now, as we gather together to worship, learn, and serve God and one another.

All Saints’ Sunday reminds us that we are part of this great communion of saints that we confess in the creeds.  It also reminds us that our faith is more than a one-on-one relationship with Jesus, but that our baptism also connects each of us to the other.

Our baptism intimately unites the past with the present AND the present with the future.

What tremendous gifts Jesus has given us, to forgive and free us, and to promise us a place with him forever – to reunite us with those who have gone before, so that as St. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians, even though we may grieve, we do so with HOPE.

Today, we remember those who have died in the Lord, not with despair, but with a sadness mixed with joy.  Today, we look at our own lives and are strengthened by knowing that even though we still sin and fall short, we are part of a forgiven people, each one of us saints in the here and now.

And we are made saints through the sacrament of Holy Baptism.  For in this great gift God binds God’s self to us, and we are bound to one another as brothers and sisters – now and forever.

As we sing in today’s great hymn:  “Oh blest communion, fellowship divine, we feebly struggle, they in glory shine.  Yet all are one within your great design.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!”

AMEN.

18th Sunday after Pentecost

18th Sunday after Pentecost, year A, 2014 (preached October 12, 2014)

first reading:  Isaiah 25:1-9

Psalm 23

second reading:  Philippians 4:1-9

gospel reading:  Matthew 22:1-14


My husband and I are NOT big entertainers – we hardly ever have people over.  It’s not that we don’t like the company, but with three kids, two of whom still play with toys, we feel like our house is never in “entertaining” shape.

The exception to this happens right after Christmas.  Almost every year we host an Epiphany open house to celebrate the end of the Christmas season.  A LOT of planning goes into this event – getting a caterer, planning the menu, buying the paper goods – and most of all, cleaning the house!  It’s a major undertaking to thoroughly clean any house.  It takes days, and sometimes it seems like the kids are purposefully following behind me, trying to undo all my hard work.

Then there is the dreaded clean-up AFTER the party is over.  Where to put the leftover food, the garbage to collect, vacuuming the crumbs out of the carpet, wiping the spills off the floor and counters.  The list goes on…  I SHOULD say that I really enjoy do the company, but not all the work that goes into it.

Those of you who have planned any big parties in your home or even at an outside venue, know that there is nothing more frustrating than having a lot of people cancel at the last minute.  You plan food and seating for so many people, and although some leftovers are nice, too many is a burden.  Those of you who have planned parties also know how hurtful it is when people spurn your invitation for what they perceive as a better offer.

The king in our parable this morning was doing much more than hosting a yearly open house or a birthday party, or a barbeque.  His son was getting married.  An extra special occasion.  A grand affair to be sure.

We can assume GREAT planning went into this wedding party.  Those of you who have had the pleasure or pain of planning a wedding know how complicated it can get.

When no one showed up for the wedding of his son, the king experienced both frustration and hurt, combined with intense righteous anger.  Some gave no excuse for their no-show, others mocked the invitation, and others claimed they had better things to do.

But does the king give up?  Does he call off the party due to a lack of guests?  Certainly not.  This king is a most determined partier.  Plus, he loves his son and wants to celebrate this tremendous event in his life.  He WILL have his wedding banquet.

Here’s where you and I come in.  I bet you thought we were in the story already.  Most traditional interpretations of this parable ask if we’re the “old” guests or the “new” guests, or the troops, or the poor guy without the proper wedding robe.

Most folks pretty much agree that God is the king and Jesus is the son, and that the wedding banquet is the feast to be shared one day in heaven.  Most folks also pretty much agree that the point of the story is that if those who were originally invited won’t come, then the hall (or heaven) will be open to anyone the king wants to bring in, good or bad.

But I don’t see US in any of these players in the story.

Just like in many of the other parables we’ve looked at in the past few months from the gospel of Matthew, you and I are the SERVANTS – the SLAVES.

Think about it.  Who are the instruments by which the king extends the invitation to the banquet?  Who gets sent into the streets to gather the people?  The servants.

Through the gift of Holy Baptism you and I become workers in the kingdom.  Servants of THE King.  We hold in our hands and in our voices the invitation of our King, to invite ALL people – the good and the bad – into the heavenly feast.

Listen again to the words that Jesus gives the king.  Listen again to the commission that the slaves/servants are given:  “Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find…”

These words sound quite familiar to the words that flowed from Jesus after his resurrection.  Words spoken to his disciples, his servants, of then and now, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”

This is our great commission as Christians – to go out and invite everyone to know Christ – the good and the bad.  To give them THE King’s invitation to the earthy banquet hall in which we are all seated NOW, and the heavenly banquet which will be our home for ETERNITY.

Invite.  We take great pleasure in doing so for other occasions such as birthdays, holidays, and certainly weddings.  But what a greater, most joyous invitation is the one to the very banquet of GOD.

It is true that many will reject the invitation.  That’s made clear in the parable.  Some will be too busy with “important” things.  Some will ridicule or ignore us.  Some may even try to kill us – if not our bodies then our spirits.  It has certainly happened to other servants of the King, both past and present.  And there will be some who accept the invitation, but come to the banquet of God, not in garments of light and joy, but in rags of criticism, blame, hate and darkness.

But we are not to let the rejections or abuses of the invitation deter us, for they have not deterred the King.

The world is aching.  People are unsure of the future.  People are lonely and reaching out for SOMETHING that will fill their lives and give it meaning.  There is no lack of work for us as we seek to do the Will of the ONE who has sent us out – “Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find…”

AMEN.

15th Sunday after Pentecost, 2014

15th Sunday after Pentecost, year A, 2014 (preached Sept. 21, 2014)

first reading:  Jonah 3:10-4:11

Psalm 145:1-8

second reading:  Philippians 1:21-30

gospel reading:  Matthew 20:1-16


I gave birth to three people and have lived with them for almost 15, 11 and 8 years now.  I have lived with my husband for almost 20 years, and I’ve been alive for almost 49.  So I have a LOT of experience with whining, sulking and grumbling.  I have a LOT of experience with classic temper tantrums.

And I have found that most of the sulking, whining, grumbling and tantrums start with the feeling of being wronged.  Something’s not right with the expected order.  Something is not fair.

As a parent, there are times when I’ve watched a tantrum play out and feel real sympathy for my children as they struggle to learn one of life’s painful lessons.  Other times as I watch a tantrum play out I think, “Get over it already.  You can’t always get what you want.”

But when it’s you having the tantrum, when it’s you sulking and grumbling about fairness, it’s hard to tell if those around you should be sympathetic or annoyed.  We’re almost always convinced of the rightness of our cause and don’t want to be told we’re wrong or to “get over it.”

But today we have two examples of God telling us precisely that – “Get over it.”

Why God chose Jonah to be a prophet I’ll never understand.  He didn’t want to preach to the people of Ninevah.  God had to swallow him up and spit him out before he would go.  Then afterwards, when the people repented and God forgave them, Jonah had a classic temper tantrum.  Not the kicking and screaming toddler kind, but the ranting and raving, sulking and pouting, “just let me die” drama queen kind.

When those happen in my house I have very little patience.  When I’m the one having that kind of tantrum, it’s hard to see reason.

Truth be told, sometimes in life, we can’t see reason.  Sometimes decisions and events are just the prerogative of folks higher up.  Sometimes those decisions can affect us in very traumatic ways – but other times those decisions don’t affect us at all, they just offend our sense of fairness.

THIS is the kind of tantrum Jonah has, and God has little patience with it.  This is also the kind of tantrum the laborers in our gospel reading have.  And again, God has little patience with it.

God decides to forgive the people of Ninevah.  The landowner decides to give ALL the workers the same wage.

Neither of these decisions has any negative consequence for anyone.  Nothing bad will happen to Jonah as a result of Ninevah being spared.  Nothing bad will happen to the workers who labored all day in the field – they’ll get paid what they were promised, which is a GOOD thing.

Yet the people bitterly complain and throw their adult-type temper tantrums because it’s not FAIR.

They’re angry because people they don’t like or don’t think deserve anything earthly or heavenly are getting rewarded.  Jonah feels like he’s better than the Ninevites, the all-day workers think they’re better than the late-comers.  God basically says, “Enough!  It’s none of your business!”

Have you ever said or heard the statement, “My house, my rules?”  God says to Jonah, “My city, my rules.  If you can be concerned about a BUSH, why can’t I be concerned about THOUSANDS of people?”  Jesus has the landowner say, “My vineyard, my rules.  It’s my money, I’ve paid you what I promised, why should you be angry because I’m generous?”

We often get angry when we perceive an inconsistency in the rules of fairness.  But God’s fairness, God’s math if you will, isn’t about:  “Good deeds – bad deeds = the possibility of salvation.” God’s math is “Sin + grace = salvation.”

Ninevah was a bad place with bad people and when they repented God wiped that slate clean.  The landowner’s agreement was for the workers to be paid a full wage at the end of the day, no matter when they started.  No matter when we come to faith, whether at 5 or 95 – our reward, our GIFT of heaven is the same.

When we really think about it, thank GOD.  Really, thank God that God doesn’t play by our human rules of fairness.

Thanks be to God for generosity, for grace, for mercy, for loving us when we don’t deserve it, for forgiving us when we don’t deserve it.  Thanks be to God for wiping OUR slate clean through Holy Baptism and giving us a new start each day, and an eternal new start when our time on earth is done.  Thanks be to God for the self-sacrificing, most unfair act of all in the gift of Jesus, who offered himself for our sinful selves.

When I have snapped at my husband, or yelled at my children, when I’ve disappointed someone here at church, when I haven’t stepped up to the plate at my kids’ schools, when I haven’t called my mother in a week – – I am SO thankful God doesn’t play by our rules.  When I cut someone off in traffic, when I’m short with the customer service representative on the phone, when I envy those who appear more successful, wealthy or powerful than me – I am so thankful that God doesn’t play by our rules.

In truth, when we tantrum over unfairness, it’s usually because we perceive OTHERS, those people, them, as having received special treatment – like the Ninevites or the late-coming laborers in the vineyard.

What we often FAIL to see is that WE are the Ninevites, WE are the late-comers.  We are the ones receiving the special treatment.  WE are THEM.

In every moment, you and I are in need of God’s UNFAIRNESS.  Every moment you and I are in need of God’s cleansing grace and mercy.

Thank you God for putting up with our temper tantrums,  and for being so unfair – with the Ninevites, the late-comers, and with us.

AMEN.

Everyone’s Pastor

photo(11)When I was ordained almost 20 years ago, I was ordained to serve a specific congregation.  A pastor, however, is NOT just a pastor to one particular group of people in a particular place – when one is ordained, one is also ordained as a pastor of the Church.  That’s Church with a capital “C” – the universal Church.  I serve a congregation, but I also serve the Church, which is everywhere and everyone.

This week I was contacted out of the blue by a woman who is battling leukemia, but it appears she is losing.  She doesn’t belong to a congregation.  It’s been a while since she’s been to church.  But she is baptized, was raised Lutheran, went to a Lutheran school, and feels Lutheran at her core, so she sought out a Lutheran pastor and found me.

She’s afraid.  She has questions.  She has doubts.  She wants to live, but wants to plan her funeral.  She is weak and immune compromised and cannot leave her house, so she asked if I would come and speak with her.  I don’t know her.  She is not a member of the congregation I serve.  She is not a member of ANY congregation.  What do I do?  I go and visit because as a pastor of the Church with a capital “C” I AM her pastor.

Sometimes pastors can lose sight of the fact that we’re not just called to a congregation, or a synod (or diocese) or even a national denomination – but the people – ALL the people, in our buildings and out of our buildings.  This means we get calls from funeral homes to officiate funerals for folks we don’t know, who for whatever reason want a Christian funeral even though they didn’t belong to a congregation.  It means if we’re in public wearing the “collar” we can get stopped by anyone who wants to talk about anything – complaints about religion, questions about faith, even outright confessions.  I’ve run into all of these experiences in my almost 20 years in the ordained ministry.  It is part of the profound honor of serving Christ in the ministry of Word and Sacrament.

I will be visiting with her again, because now, even though we only met this week, I am her pastor.

 

***Of course, all the baptized (not just pastors) are called to minister to one another.  Each one of us is called through baptism to offer support, comfort and the Word of the gospel to those we meet.  But there are times in a person’s life when they desire someone to provide counsel, spiritual guidance, the comfort of the sacraments, and the confidentiality that the office of pastor brings.