Tag Archive | fear

5th Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

5th Sunday after Pentecost, year C, (preached 6/19/16)

first reading:  Isaiah 65:1-9

Psalm 22:19-28

second reading:  Galatians 3:23-29

gospel reading:  Luke 8:26-39


This has been one hell of a week.  And when I say that, I mean it literally.

I know I’ve been preaching on Galatians the past few weeks, but where I feel led today is the gospel.  It’s not a nice, warm-fuzzy gospel which is surprising because it’s a healing story, and we should all rejoice in that.

gerasene demoniac, 2I mean, this man, tormented by demons, shackled and banished by his own people, is healed!  But there is very little rejoicing in this story.  Sure, the healed man is thrilled, BUT NO ONE ELSE IS.

Jesus demonstrated unequaled power here.  But Jesus shows us the Savior he is by using his divine power to heal. Jesus brings this man back to his true self.  Within a short period of time the man is clothed, in his right mind and sitting at Jesus’ feet.

There should be rejoicing right?  Partying like the prodigal son who was gone and has now returned – right?  NO. Not at all.  What is the reaction of the people to this amazing healing?  FEAR.  “They were AFRAID.”

They saw the man they had known for years, the man they had been able to “control” by putting him in shackles and banishing him outside of the city – HEALED – CHANGED.

And they couldn’t cope.  Jesus had upset their “controlling the situation” apple cart.  They couldn’t deal with Jesus’ power, even IF it appeared that Jesus used his power for good.  The people couldn’t handle that power among them. They didn’t know what to do with themselves – or Jesus.

We read, “Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.”  So he left.  Jesus will not force himself where he is not wanted.  Through their actions the people showed they preferred the darkness to the light of Christ.

We have a phrase, “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.”  Well, in this case, the people literally chose the devil over GOD.  They preferred the man wild with demons, and in shackles, over Jesus’ healing.  AMAZING.

And because they banished Jesus, because they chose the comfortable darkness they knew over the new light they didn’t know – they robbed themselves of any other healing Jesus could’ve brought them.  They robbed themselves of hearing the gospel.  They robbed themselves of learning how much Jesus LOVED them.  They robbed themselves of the power of the gospel to heal, love and save.

This has been one hell of a week.  All around us are examples of people accepting the comfortable darkness over the power of the light.  All around us are examples of evil forces, forces we usually “think” we can control, except we really can’t.

One week ago today 49 children of God were massacred in Orlando in an act of hatred because of WHO and WHAT they were.  A few days after that at Disney a family trip turned into a nightmare as a child was killed by an alligator.

This week, a young man at my daughter’s school was arrested for possessing pre-pubescent child pornography and for sexual contact with a 13 year old.  My daughter KNOWS this young man.  And he is now out on bail.

Friday was the first anniversary of the massacre in Charleston, when another young man opened fire and killed 9 people in a CHURCH who were having a Bible study, for being who they were.

One hell of a week.  Evil seems all around, and the WORLD seems very dark.

We’re understandably afraid.  WE are like the Gerasene people, going about our business, keeping the evil at bay. Except we can’t.  We can’t possibly shackle it the way they were able to with that poor man. We can’t shackle evil.

We have a choice, you and I.  What will we do with our fear?  Because in our lives there is a power which IS greater than evil, a power greater than our fear.  Will we choose the light, or will we choose to go on living in the darkness?

It seems like a ridiculous question, but it’s not really.  Because living in the darkness, though it’s painful, is easier. It’s easier because we know the script – back to the phrase, “the devil you know…”  Changing patterns, behaviors and thinking – going from darkness to light – choosing the light, is HARD work.

It’s hard to choose love and kindness instead of giving in to the instinct for revenge, or “tit for tat.” There are times when our fear of being hurt prevents us from loving one another.  Times when our instinct to protect ourselves keeps us from doing the thing that will bring ultimate healing instead of momentary relief.

The gospel is not easy.  In times like this, we ARE tempted to tell Jesus to let us handle it and LEAVE. Because calling us to love in the midst of hate is just wrong God!*  We want an eye for an eye!**  Jesus telling us to turn the other cheek is just stupid.**

But in the end it’s only love that will heal us.  Only love that will let us sleep.  Only love that keeps us from becoming the very thing we fear.  Only love that saves us.

Jesus did an amazing work of healing for that whole community and they rejected him.  EXCEPT for the healed man himself.

He begged to go with Jesus.  I’m sure he didn’t want to go back to the same community who rejected both him and the Savior.  But Jesus said no.  Jesus sent him back to the very community that banished and shackled him TO BE A WITNESS.  And he did.

I hope and pray WE choose to be that man.  “Proclaiming through the city how much Jesus [has] done for [us].” Going in peace and serving the Lord by showing THE light and BEING light amid the darkness of our world.

AMEN.


*Matthew 5:44, **Exodus 21:24, Matthew 5:38, ***Matthew 5:39

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a scare and the word I needed to hear

So a funny thing happened as I was getting my mammogram.  Well actually it wasn’t very funny.  At all.

I had gotten the standard x-rays and been sent to my cubicle to get dressed.  The technician would come get me after the doctor gave me the all-clear and I’d be able to go on my way.  Except that’s not how it happened.  The technician returned to me and said that the doctor wanted two more pictures.  At first I was annoyed because I thought the technician had somehow screwed up the initial series, but when I stepped into her room I noticed the machine was set up for an angle she hadn’t used before.  She took THAT picture then changed the plastic piece to a very small square one,  concentrating on one area of my right breast.  I got concerned.  When she was done, she told me she wanted me to stay in the x-ray room, keep the gown on, and wait for her to come back after she had shown these additional pictures to the doctor.  Now I was nervous.  “Keep the gown on.”  “Wait here.”  Neither of those things sounded good to me.

She returned to the room, and said as sweetly as she could that the doctor had seen something, probably nothing, and that he wanted me to go down the hall to have an ultrasound of the breast.  Annoyed to nervous to terrified.  As I waited for the ultrasound I had time to text my husband – one of the weirdest texts I’ve ever sent.  I hated to tell him like that, but with little time and no access to a phone it was the best I could do.

IMG_0290

The ultrasound technician came and introduced herself with a sweet smile – trying to be reassuring.  I wondered how many times in a day they go through this routine with some unsuspecting woman.  I didn’t feel reassured.  I was wishing someone else was with me – my husband, a friend – someone to hold my hand and steady me.  As the technician escorted me down the hall to the ultrasound room I grew more and more anxious, beside myself even.  I felt myself shaking.  I didn’t want to cry in front of these strangers, but I could feel the tears welling.  Suddenly time started moving very slowly.  Our walk down the hall seemed to take forever.

I lay on the exam table as she maneuvered the wand over my right breast, pushing, pausing, moving etc…  I thought I might have a panic attack right there.  I knew I needed to calm myself, so I started some self-talk.

  • “If there is or isn’t something there, it’s already there, this panic isn’t going to change anything so calm down.”
  • “You just got a gyn exam three weeks ago.  Dr. W. examined your breasts and didn’t feel anything.  If something IS there it must be very small – and small is good.”

And then, I was reminded of my very own words in my sermon this past Sunday – “God comes to us in the midst of our FEAR and speaks PEACE.  ‘PEACE be with you.'”  In the midst of our fear Jesus speaks peace.  I was certainly afraid.  Very afraid.  Could I say those words to myself?  In the midst of this real fear could I accept Jesus’ words of peace for me?  Or was it just an empty platitude?  Very seldom had I ever had to put my own words (AND Jesus’ words) to the test in such a very serious way.

I said just two days ago that peace would not change the circumstances around us, but that peace could change us.  “Peace be with you,” Jesus was speaking to me.  I repeated it like a mantra – “peace be with you” – over and over and over as I lay on that table, eyes closed, while that wand pushed, paused and moved.  Then the self-talk changed, ever so slightly, but really quite substantially.

  • “God is with me, no matter what’s in my breast.”
  • “God is with me no matter what happens today.”
  • “I have peace through Jesus whether I walk out of here healthy or not.”
  • “Peace be with you.  Peace be with you.  Peace be with you.  Peace be with ME.”

And my breathing slowed.  And the tears dried.  And I was still scared, but it wasn’t like panic.  Even when the technician paused the ultrasound and went to get the doctor, and the doctor came in person to do his own pushing, pausing and moving.  I didn’t know a lot, but I knew I had Jesus and his peace.

Then the doctor told me I was fine.  I WAS FINE.

What he had seen on the x-rays and ultrasound was simply very dense tissue.  To say I was (and am) relieved is an understatement.  I felt physically lighter.  I felt like dancing.  I could’ve hugged the man, but he left the room before I sat up.  Before he left, he said to me, what I say to all of you women – and those who have women in your lives – “Remember, it’s important to get checked EVERY year.”  Amen.

Never in my 20+ years of preaching have I had the words loom so large over me.  There was FEAR, and there was PEACE.  After I calmed down a bit I was amazed really, and can only chalk it up to the work of the Holy Spirit.  Days after preaching about fear, even fear for our own health, I was confronted with exactly that, and was able to find Jesus’ words, Jesus’ peace, to calm me – to center me.  And I was/am SO thankful.

So – a few hours removed I’m still a little shaky, still reliving most of the morning, trying to allow the experience to find whatever more permanent place it will have in my life.  A scare like this can be a good thing – keep us on our toes, remind us to be grateful, remind us what is really important (and what is NOT), remind us that life is precious and that we are never (despite how we may feel) alone.


Women – if you’re over a certain age – get your mammograms.  Those of you who LOVE women over a certain age – make sure they get them.

2nd Sunday of Easter, 2016

2nd Sunday of Easter, year C, 2016

first reading:  Acts 5:27-32

Psalm: 118:14-29

second reading:  Revelation 1:4-8

gospel reading:  John 20:19-31


I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but just in case you’ve forgotten – every year on the second Sunday of Easter we read the story of Thomas.  I opened my sermon file and groaned, “Thomas AGAIN.”  It’s a natural reaction to stories we think we know so well.

That’s a danger we all face when we look at well-known Bible stories – the tendency to read them quickly and assume we know all there is to know.  Thanks be to God that when we actually take some TIME with Scripture, many times God grants us new insight, and that’s what happened for me.

What I saw this week, with the help of my gospels professor who wrote a commentary on John’s gospel – is God coming to us in the midst of our frail human condition.

Thomas isn’t the focus when we look at it this way – Thomas is merely a reflection of us – just as the other disciples in the first half of the reading are a reflection of us.

We have two basic human emotions in this reading – FEAR and DOUBT.

In the first half we read, “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews…”

This was no irrational fear – this was real terror that had them locked in that house at night.  They had reason to fear. The same religious authorities that put Jesus to death might be coming for them next.

When you think about it, fear is a big controlling force in our lives.  I’m sure if I would ask you to think about all the things that make you afraid, you could name several.  Whether they’re things related to physical or mental health, finances, the well-being of loved ones, the political climate, crime both locally and globally – there’s plenty of things to fear.

My professor, Robert Kysar, summed it up like this:  “The point is less that [Jesus] can pass through locked doors than that he comes to believers in the midst of their human condition.”

And when Jesus comes to the disciples in the midst of their fear, what does he do?  Does he chastise them for not being faithful enough?  NO.  He gives them the gift of PEACE.  He says, “Peace be with you.”

Jesus comes in the midst of the turmoil and fear and speaks peace.  To OUR fear he speaks peace.

peace

In the second half of our reading Thomas is still reeling from grief.  What would we think if a group of friends told us that they had seen a deceased loved one ALIVE?  What do we think sometimes when we hear the Easter story of gruesome death and and empty tomb, Jesus walking and greeting Mary in the garden, and appearing to the disciples out of nowhere in a locked up house?

What do we think when we experience suffering in ourselves, our loved ones and in the world?  How can there be a God?  And if God DOES exist then why doesn’t God do something?  Thomas’ reaction is our reaction.  We’re incredulous.  We DOUBT.  Doubt can be painful.  It can be crippling.  It can leave us stuck and floundering.

When Jesus came to Thomas in the midst of his doubt, what does he do?  Does he rebuke Thomas for his lack of trust in the witness of the other disciples?  NO.  Jesus speaks to Thomas what he spoke to the other disciples the week before – PEACE.  Once again, he says, “Peace be with you.”

Jesus comes in the midst of the turmoil and doubt and speaks peace.  To OUR doubt he speaks peace.

peace

Jesus comes in the midst of our human condition, whatever it might be, and brings us peace.

Because life is messy.  Nowhere in the scriptures do we find perfect people in perfect circumstances. Perhaps Eden – but by the third chapter of Genesis that’s already messed up.

Scripture speaks to our lives in all its messiness.  Jesus speaks to us in our messiness.

We see this in all three of our readings today.  In Acts we see the conflicts that arose AFTER the disciples had unlocked the doors and let go of their fear.  John’s letter to the seven churches in the book of Revelation is written precisely because those communities were having great hardships.

Easter doesn’t mean we’ll have the perfect life.  Easter doesn’t mean life won’t be messy.  Our gospel today gives us the examples of FEAR and DOUBT as things we confront.

What Easter DOES give us is a way to live WITH our fear and doubts and all the other messiness.  And that way is PEACE.  

To quote my professor again:  “The wholeness and fulfillment of Christian life is summarized in THIS word, and it is presented as a gift from the risen Christ.”

And this peace isn’t a cure-all.  A week after being given this peace, the disciples had only progressed a little – from locking themselves in to simply having the doors SHUT.  It would be a while yet before they would become the bold evangelists we find in the book of Acts.

  • PEACE from a Christian perspective isn’t simply the absence of conflict.
  • PEACE is the presence and strength of God within us.
  • PEACE is knowing that despite the messiness we are loved by a gracious God.
  • PEACE is being reassured that through the Holy Spirit the same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us.
  • PEACE is God’s promise that we are NEVER alone.  In all our fears and doubts, Jesus is with us.

Peace may not change the circumstances around us, but I believe peace DOES change US.

So, as Jesus spoke to his disciples, I speak to you now, and after the prayer of the Church we will speak to each other, “Peace be with you.”

Peace.

peace

AMEN.


quotations from John:  Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament.  Robert Kysar, Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, 1986.

the disturbing reality of our mortality

My denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, posted this picture on their facebook page for Ash Wednesday:

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (facebook page)

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (facebook page)

It’s a beautiful image – yet disturbing at the same time.  In our culture, talking about death is avoided, confronting death in the face – really avoided, confronting the death of our children – avoided at all costs.  Some people might consider the above photo to be in poor taste because it features a child.

Death is ultimate equalizer – no one escapes it.  We might be wealthy enough to afford the best medical care, but in the end, no matter how much medical expertise we can buy, we eventually succumb.  With medical advances (and again money) we may be able to hold it back, but in the end it’s only delaying the inevitable.  We all die.  And with the exception of suicide, we have little control over how and when that happens.   And death is frightening.  It’s frightening because of our lack of control over it, and our lack of concrete physical knowledge of what happens next.  If we could be guaranteed heaven, our earthly death would be no big deal.  Problem is we don’t have that.   I have FAITH there is heaven.  I BELIEVE that Jesus has prepared a place for me and all the baptized.  But faith and belief are NOT the same as knowledge.  Can I prove there is an afterlife?  If we could prove heaven’s existence, no one would fear death and everyone would (not believe) but know there is God and live and die accordingly.  Alas, we cannot.  Resurrection is a matter of faith.

But here is where I find comfort in the above photo, rather than poor taste.  Here is where I find joy in the photo, rather than an affront.

The first time I imposed ashes on the forehead of one of my children I paused.  Looking them in the face, confronting their mortality, SHOOK me.  In that moment I was thinking only of the “here and now,” which, as a parent was completely natural.  I quickly had to remind myself of what I believe and rest in that.  It’s easier said than done, especially when thinking of our children.  I can’t imagine what it is like to lose a child.  I pray I never know.  I have, however, tasted just a morsel of that pain, when we suspected my middle child might have a degenerative disease that would cut her life very short (thankfully it was ruled out, but the wait for diagnosis was torture).

I can’t say I never doubt.  That would be dishonest.  But I DO have faith.  I have faith that the same cross that was traced on our forehead at baptism, the same cross that is traced on our forehead in ash, is the cross that was there for us 2,000 years ago, the cross of death that leads to life.  I have faith that death does NOT have the last word for those who cling to that cross.  The pain of death is real.  Even those who have faith grieve, and grieve profoundly.  But with our grief we dare to have hope that there is more.  And when hope is fleeting, having a community of faith surrounding us, reminding us of the promises and love of God, can carry us through another day.

So I love the photo.  I love that it jolts me out of my comfort zone.  Out of the comfort zone that tells me I’m the master of my destiny.  Out of the comfort zone that tries to have me deny the reality of my mortality.  I’m thankful to be jolted out, because out of that comfort zone I find the love of God I don’t deserve, the love of God that holds my children and all those I love more than I EVER could, the love that holds every one of us as we travel through the trials of this life, and into the eternal joy of the life to come.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).

My favorite Advent/Christmas song

If you ask people what their favorite Advent or Christmas song/hymn is, chances are you’ll get one of the old standards – Silent Night, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, Away In a Manger etc…  I love all these, in fact, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem is right near the top of my list.  But it’s not my favorite.  “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” probably IS my favorite hymn for congregational or choir singing, but there is another song that has a much deeper personal meaning for me.

My favorite Advent/Christmas song is a contemporary song by Amy Grant.  It’s called “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song),” written by Amy Grant and Chris Eaton, and you can listen to it here if you want.  Or you can just read the lyrics:

I have traveled many moonless nights

Cold and weary with a babe inside

And I wonder what I’ve done

Holy Father you have come

And chosen me now

To carry your Son

I am waiting in a silent prayer

I am frightened by the load I bear

In a world as cold as stone

Must I walk this path alone

Be with me now

Be with me now

Breath of heaven

Hold me together

Be forever near me

Breath of heaven

Breath of heaven

Lighten my darkness

Pour over me your holiness

For you are holy

Breath of heaven

Do you wonder as you watch my face

If a wiser one should have had my place

But I offer all I am

For the mercy of your plan

Help me be strong

Help me be

Help me

Breath of heaven

Hold me together

Be forever near me

Breath of heaven

Breath of heaven

Lighten my darkness

Pour over me your holiness

For you are holy

Breath of heaven

Breath of heaven…

It’s not an obvious favorite.  It’s a more “psychological” song – not focusing on the events, or on the person/mission/ministry/divinity of Jesus.  It imagines the thoughts and prayers of Mary as she approached giving birth, which is why it’s subtitled “Mary’s Song.”  The music is sad and almost haunting, the lyrics filled with uncertainty and fear.  But I think that’s what the approaching birth of Jesus must’ve really been like.  Poor Mary.  And poor Joseph too.  Mary is afraid, yet trusting that somehow God will take care of her.  That is faith.

My third pregnancy was unplanned.  I was SO looking forward to getting my life back with my youngest soon going off to full-day preschool (she was in special education, so preschool would be full-time).  Yet, late in September I discovered I was pregnant – there would be NO getting my life back.  My husband and I were frightened.  We had decided we did not want more children, especially after it became clear that our second child had so many problems.  Yet there we were.

As Advent came upon us I was nearing the end of my first trimester, the sunlight was waning, and the fear seemed to grow in me along with that new life.  I was 40, which put me in a higher risk pregnancy category.  It put my baby at a higher risk for “problems.”  How would we manage three children, especially with one already having special needs?  What if this child had problems too?  We hadn’t yet told anyone about the pregnancy except our closest friends and family because it was almost too hard to say out loud.  Then one Sunday in church a woman sang “Breath of Heaven” as a musical offering, and although I’d heard it before, I hadn’t paid real attention to it in a long while (the song had been out 13 years by then).  Right there in worship I was overcome.  It was all I could do to keep from sobbing.  It was MY song.  All the cold and weariness, all the fear and longing were mineI was Mary – hoping against hope that God would take care of me, that this child God had given to us would be okay, that somehow we’d be able to manage.  That song became my prayer.  I went home, dug out the CD and played that song over and over and over again, and cried and cried and cried – and prayed and prayed and prayed.

Eight and a half years later we have a healthy son, and though it’s not always easy or pretty, so far we’ve been able to navigate three children and autism too.  Our son has been a wonderful gift and we cannot imagine our lives without him.  Even so, I remember the fear and uncertainty as we waited for his birth – and so that song is still mine – it will forever be mine, because I remember.  No matter how many times I hear it, I still get chills…

***Not all the stories around our favorite songs have to be quite so heavy!  What’s YOUR favorite song of the Advent/Christmas seasons?

23rd Sunday after Pentecost, 2014

23rd Sunday after Pentecost, year A, 2014 (preached Nov. 16, 2014)

first reading:  Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18

Psalm 90:1-8

second reading:  1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

gospel reading:  Matthew 25:14-30


The parable told in our gospel reading today is one that Jesus uses to illustrate the kingdom of heaven.  It’s part of a series of three parables in which Jesus tells the disciples about the end times.

A master left to go on a long trip.  While he was gone, he entrusted his slaves with huge amounts of his money.  Two of them made more money than they had been given by the master.  They had been put in charge of a lot, and took the risk of investing it.

When they made more than they were originally given, the master gave them even more responsibility, and the great honor of entering into their master’s joy.

But the third didn’t do anything.  He was scared.  Afraid of what the master would do to him if he tried to invest even just one talent, and then lost it.

I certainly understand that fear.  I might have even been tempted to do the same thing myself.  Fear motivated that slave to dig a hole and bury the money.  Kind of like stuffing your mattress with thousands of dollars.  Now the money would be secure.  And so was he, or so he thought.

We may be surprised to discover that the master is NOT pleased by the action (or inaction) of this slave, and shocked at the fate of this one who had so protected the master’s treasure.

I have never liked this parable, simply because I mostly identify with the slave who did nothing, who risked nothing, but lost nothing.  Isn’t it better to have done nothing than to have lost it all?

The master’s response makes little sense if we look at the story superficially.  But, we know that parables cannot be read superficially.  With a parable, what you see is NOT what you get – – because what we get is much deeper and multi-layered.  So we cannot assume that Jesus is simply talking about money, or shrewd financial planning.

In fact, he’s not talking about money at all – he’s talking about something much more important – discipleship.

He’s talking about being children of the light and of the day, as St. Paul wrote in our second reading.  Jesus is talking about what it means to be a child of God, entrusted through our baptism with the responsibility of being a disciple, and making disciples.

We ARE disciples, and we MAKE disciples.  That is our calling.

And to BE and MAKE disciples requires taking risks – putting ourselves out there – taking chances, letting our lights shine.

But I think a lot of people approach discipleship like the third slave.  Either out of fear, or embarrassment, or even laziness we DO nothing, risk nothing, for Jesus.

Our response to the One who suffered and was buried in the tomb for us, is to bury our heads in the dirt, fade into the background, refusing to leave our comfort zones.

Honestly, how can that be our response to the One who has given us everything?  When we think about it this way, perhaps the master’s response to the third slave makes more sense.

In baptism, Jesus gives us the gift of life, then it is our response, our call, to spend the rest of our lives giving it back to him.  As we say in our offertory prayer, “we offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us – our selves, our time, and our possessions…”

But, we’re still left wondering how much we have to do.  What is the baseline for not ending up being thrown into the outer darkness?  What’s the difference between getting a passing grade at discipleship and flunking out?  How much is enough?  How much do we have to do for Jesus?

How many people do we have to bring to the faith?  What are the percentages?  What will be enough for us to enter into the master’s joy?  To quote the old Whitney Houston song, “How will I know if he really loves me?”

On the surface this reading is NOT good news – because it’s all works.  It’s about earning the master’s favor.  It’s about producing or being thrown out.

That’s not a gospel I can preach.  Thank God, I don’t have to.

Once again, we have to look below the surface.

Because it’s not so much that salvation comes to the slaves through the amount of money they earn – for they’re each given different amounts and they earn different amounts – but their reward is the same.  The punishment comes to the one who does nothing, not one thing, takes no risks whatsoever to grow the talent – indeed acts as if the talent, the treasure, doesn’t even exist.

With God, success isn’t measured by the greatness of the profit, success comes in BEING who we ARE – again, as St. Paul writes “children of the light and children of the day.”

Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:15 that we don’t light a candle and hide it under a basket, and in the next verse which we say in our baptismal liturgy, “Let your light so shine before others…”

We are disciples, and we make disciples – we are children of the light so that light can shine before others.

How do we know if what we do is enough?  How do we know if we’ve entered into the master’s joy?  How will I know if he really loves me?

You and I only have to look at the cross and remember who we are.

In the end, it’s really impossible to “do nothing” because our baptism does everything.

Our very existence as baptized children of light and of the day shines the light of God in the darkest places of the earth.  And THAT is good news – not just for us, but for the whole world.

AMEN.

My 2 Cents

I have something I need to “get off my chest.”  As I peruse linked articles on Facebook and Twitter and other places online I see a lot of posts about faith.  Many times the articles and posts have to do with warning people about going to hell if they don’t behave a certain way or do certain things or live a certain kind of life.  And this disturbs me.  It’s not that I don’t believe in hell.  But,

I’m not sure if preaching hell is the way to bring folks to heaven.

What I AM sure of is that it’s not the way we live that will keep us from hell.  And I am also sure that it’s not MY job to decide who’s going where – that’s way above my pay grade, thank you very much.  Some time ago in worship we read the parable of the wheat and weeds (or the wheat and the tares).  In this parable Jesus tells us the job of sorting the one from the other belongs to the angels – in other words, NOT you and me (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).  You can read my sermon on that text here.

You see, I believe in the power of JESUS.  It’s not the way I live that keeps me from hell or earns me heaven.  It’s Jesus that accomplishes that.  Jesus didn’t die to make us holier than we are now.  We don’t have one holy cell in our bodies apart from JESUS.  There is no one who can boast in their works and their ability to live as God wants,

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and

“for by grace you have been saved  through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Apart from the Bible I’m also influenced by the documents of my faith tradition.  In the Augsburg Confession we read,

“…our works cannot reconcile us with God or obtain grace for us….Whoever imagines that he can accomplish this by works, or that he can merit grace, despises Christ and seeks his own way to God, contrary to the gospel”(article XX).

There is NOTHING I can do, absolutely NOTHING, that puts me in any favor with God or brings me close to the gates of heaven.

This is not to say that our actions aren’t important.  The way others see us reflects God to them.  In the Lutheran baptismal liturgy we present a candle to the baptized with the verse, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)  So, do we want others to see God through us by experiencing GRACE or JUDGMENT?  Because when the unchurched or non-believers or the “spiritual but not religious” read and hear talk about “you have to be a certain way or you’re going to hell” what they hear is judgment.  But this is not the message of Jesus.  He didn’t die in order to heap judgment upon us.  He sacrificed himself in order that we might receive “grace upon grace.” (John 1:16)

So this is the way I choose to live my life and the way I approach evangelism.  When a non-believer walks away from me I don’t want them thinking, “wow, another judgmental Christian telling me I’m going to hell – been there, done that, I’m not interested.”  I want them to think, “Why is she being so nice to me?  Doesn’t she know how imperfect I am?  What’s up with her?”  When a person has had an encounter with me, I want them to receive a message of God’s love and grace for them, not hate, not fear, not judgment.  (Of course I’m not perfect, and there are plenty of times when I’m sure people have received a message of “less than grace” from me, but that’s why I need grace too!)

In my experience I’ve also found that fear of hell doesn’t really matter to people if they have no hope of heaven.  Most people have judged themselves already, they don’t need me for that.  What they need is to be FREED from that judgment – and better living won’t do that, only Jesus’ love can do that.  And for those who think too highly of themselves?  Well, judgment from me won’t cure that disease, it just confirms their belief that Christians are hypocrites and they’re above all that.   And in the end those with an inflated ego feel an emptiness too – they’re just trying to fill it with “stuff.”  Eventually that stuff will fail them.  When it does, I want them to think of a loving God who’s willing to receive them with joy, not a judgmental God who will say “I told you so.”  Think Prodigal Son.

I’d rather preach heaven than hell.   I’d rather attract people with the joy of Jesus than the fear of the Devil.  I’d rather say, “Jesus loves you” than “do you know where YOU’RE going when you die?”  After all, Jesus gave us the command to LOVE our neighbors, not condemn them.   Many people like to quote John 3:16, “For God so loved the world he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.”  That’s wonderful, but folks should remember the next verse too:  “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17)

Just my 2 cents…