God Grieves Holy Innocence + Innocents

Psalm 130

This was a week when Friday morning I had three pages of notes, an outline, and I could have preached without a lot of further prep. I had the day scheduled as a day off but planned to make a couple of hospital visits and finish my sermon at Starbucks. I turned on the television as I got ready and learned of the unfolding events at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I was transfixed, sat down and before I knew it hours had passed. Kay called in the afternoon and I was eventually able to eat, get out of the house, stop at the office for a bit and get to the hospital.

But those sermon notes were useless in the face of the events that unfolded and all I could think about was the slaughter of the Holy Innocents in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, and those of that morning. That is why I read the Gospel from Matthew 2 this morning, because I couldn’t shake the images of violence against the innocent and the unlikely gift of myrrh given to Jesus by the very one who would tell his would be killer about him.

Gold Frankincense and Myrrh were what the Three Kings brought as gifts to Jesus. Shortly after these gifts were unwrapped, an angel of God appears to Joseph and the stage is set for the Holy Family to escape to Egypt, but also for a madman to kill innocent children. This text and the news are sad reminders that violent crime has been a part of the human experience throughout human history. From Cain killing Abel in Genesis, the blood of countless victims has cried out to God. Our hearts, those of our Connecticut neighbors and the nation too, cry out to our God who gives us life. We grieve this day for the victims and innocence lost for families, friends and communities like our own who feel hurt beyond words and sit in darkness.

Violence terrorizes and eats away at a civil society. Our bonds of trust, the foundation of safety and security that allow us to live routine, peaceable lives tear and fray, leaving our lives tattered—and instead of loving, we question our foundations and fear our neighbor. Sitting in tatters, saddened by violence, and angered by the injustice, we want justice. We want those who violate the sanctity of life, the perceptions of peace, and the safety of society to be held accountable. But in our sadness and anger, you and I are vulnerable to soul ripping feelings of revenge. In the midst of our utter frustration with the complexity that contributes to violence may make us long for simple solutions.

Of course there are no simple solutions to our grief, our cries for justice, or our longing for peace in our broken and fallen world. So we gather to pray, to hear God’s Word, to be fed and sustained by bread and wine. Today, this gathering at this time, in this place is an Emmanuel moment. God is with us. God is with us in what we do when we gather as Children of God to be reminded of God’s unfailing presence with us. This is the sure and certain promise of God’s unfailing love and willingness to accompany us in the midst of all goodness and evil.

God is with us. God is with the dying. God is with the grieving.

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Love and Marriage

Love and Marriage

The texts today speak about love and marriage, reminding me of the theme song from the first Fox TV hit “Married with Children.” Many of you would know it better as a Frank Sinatra song originally used by Frank Sinatra in 1955 for the television production of Our Town, a play by Thornton Wilder.

Love and marriage, love and marriage, Go together like a horse and carriage. This I tell ya, brother, you can’t have one without the other.

Love and marriage, love and marriage, It’s an institute you can’t disparage. Ask the local gentry and they will say it’s elementary.

Try, try, try to separate them, it’s an illusion. Try, try, try and you only come to this conclusion:

Love and marriage, love and marriage, Go together like a horse and carriage.

Dad was told by mother you can’t have one You can’t have none. You can’t have one without the other.

Quaint 1950’s sentiment, hardly reflected in a world when according the U.S. Census only 48% of American households are married. The institution of marriage is an illusion for many, As quaint and antiquated as a horse and carriage. Today 20% of households are “traditional” families, that is married couples with children. We live in a world where broken relationships, abused partners, divorce, and abused children are as much the reality today as they were in Jesus’ day.

The texts today are less about the institution of marriage and divorce laws, as they are about justice and love. Jesus calls us out on our selfishness, and our oppression of those who are powerless. In the beginnings of Genesis and the time of Jesus, women and children were considered property of the man. And marriage was between a man and a woman because marriage was a baby-making institution, it had nothing to do with love, it included multiple wives, and slaves because the survival of the small and fragile tribes and kingdoms of the time depended on it.

A divorce could be decreed by a man for any reason, he was bored, one of his wives burned dinner, bore daughters instead of sons, or wasn’t able to bear children at all, the absurd list goes on and on. And children were to work and support the household, they were property, they were not the center of parents lives. Children were to be seen and not heard and in the Mark story today, the disciples try to keep the children away from Jesus, because that was the custom of the day.

But Jesus calls out… men, the institution marriage, the practice of divorce, the disciples and all who push aside fellow human beings to the margins, from women, to little children. Jesus values all people, and while Jesus lifts up love and marriage, he lifts up love and the value of relationships most of all. Jesus calls us out to live in love, to live with a personal and communal responsibility that does not throw away relationships, regardless of who they are between, and above all, does not throw away people.

We are to welcome all. We are to value all relationships. We are called to lives of love and to lives of justice that work to defend all the defenseless. The relationships of our lives are all build on love. We do not control, as much as we think, or would like…

  • Who we are drawn to in relationship;
  • Who we are friends with; and
  • Who we fall in love with.

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Disciples and Dust

If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them. Mark 6:11

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The image of shaking the dust off one’s feet and moving on appears in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke as well as in one passage of Acts. During biblical times Jewish people considered the very ground of Israel so holy, that when they returned home from any other place, they would before stepping onto their home turf, stop and remove the dust from their feet. The idea was that the holy land wouldn’t get contaminated by the less than holy dirt between their toes.

Of course the dirt itself wouldn’t corrupt Israel, but the less than holy experiences on that ground might. But for many, this image of shaking off the dust is more than a “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” moment. It was an action that some see as an in your face door slamming for those who ignore or reject the good news of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. That somehow is we do not reenact this dusting, shaking, door slamming, shunning of non-believers, we are somehow no longer holy, but corrupted or infected by the atheists, agnostics, heathens, non-believers, idolaters, or the very dust of the place we encountered them.

Dust… for me it is the word that leapt off the page this week. And as I worked with the text from Mark during the week I came to realize that it was more than the stuff I was cleaning up at home as we readied the house for dinner guests on Friday. Dust does seem to get everywhere, it does corrupt and infect in a sense, but the Mark text is not about using pledge or swiffers to reclaim holiness… it is about the very stuff of who we are as believers, disciples and followers of Jesus.

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Do know that a duster is more than a tool for cleaning? The informal use of the term duster today refers to a person who is absolutely garbage at a sport, game or anything really. This person is considered a “duster.” The term derives from this “duster” getting completely obliterated in anything he/she does and collects dust. Example: A person who gets left in the dust.

Someone can be considered a “dust” if they failed an exam or if your just a “dust” at anything; can be sports, school, video games, etc..

  • Getting “dusted” in Halo or Hockey
  • “Wipe that dust off your shoulders or shake it off your feet!”
  • “Wow, what a dust!” or “Your such a duster.”

Synonymous with looser, did you know that the first disciples, those Jesus sought out to heal, teach and hang out with would be considered “dusters” today?

The good news for you and me is that we don’t have to have it all together, to be Christ followers. You and I are claimed, forgiven, loved and made whole by a God of abundance who made us from dust. In a week when after decades of careful experiment, physicists say they have found the “strongest indication to date” to prove the existence of the Higgs boson–a subatomic particle so important to the understanding of space, time and matter that has been dubbed the “god particle,” dust, the stuff we are made of, the building block of all, does not contaminate, but defines us. Continue reading

The Ultimate Power Play

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In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Boston Bruins were able to survive a historically bad power play in the 2011 National Hockey League playoffs en route to a Stanley Cup championship last year. But unfortunately, those power-play woes carried over into this season, and Boston didn’t survive due to their ineffectiveness when they had the advantage throughout the season and in the first round of the playoffs, and the ousted Bruins blamed their anemic power play.

It seems like the same old sad story all over again as the B’s had their chances on the power play in their playoff run, but they couldn’t leverage it and gather strength from it. The Bruins finished 0-for-3 on the power play in Wednesday’s 2-1 overtime loss in Game 7 to the Washington Capitals.  They finished the best-of-seven series in a 2 for 23 power play funk that once again exposed their weakness and many wasted opportunities in a historic series in which all seven games were decided by a single-goal margin of victory.

Okay Pastor Bill’s a hockey fan, but what does this have to do with Jesus? Glad you asked. You see the power play is important in hockey, but power play is a sports term used in various games including: lacrosse, water polo, indoor soccer, indoor football, netball, and cricket. It also is a term used in corporate America and politics.

In the sports world…

  • Power plays take advantage of a team weakened by the loss of a player.
  • Holding the power advantage, most are able to skate circles around their opponents, and
  • Drive-up the score in their favor while adoring fans cheer and celebrate the power brokers.

In corporate America…

  • Power plays take advantage of employees and consumers weakened by the loss of jobs and product quality.
  • Holding the power advantage, most are able to skate circles around their opponents, and
  • Drive-up wealth in favor of shareholders, while lining the pockets of power brokers.

In the political arena…

  • Power plays take advantage of rivals, voters and those oppressed without a voice.
  • Holding the power advantage, most are able to skate circles around their opponents, and
  • Drive-up perks in favor of their constituents and contributors, while the minorities on the margins are ignored or oppressed by the power brokers.

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In a post-resurrection world, power plays still happen, but Jesus continues to turn tables and redefines the term power in the midst of a huge political and religious power play. The political and religious authorities have dragged Peter in to find out the details of the healing of a man crippled from birth. Those gathered were the power brokers of the day: civil rulers, religious leaders, religion scholars, Annas the Chief Priest, Caiaphas, John, Alexander—everybody who was anybody was there. They stood Peter and John in the middle of the room and grilled them: “Who are you and who put you in charge here? What business do you have doing this? Just who do you think you are?”

There is no concern over the miracle healing or the restoring of the crippled man. The rulers and leader are only concerned about their power, authority and being surprised by, and beaten by this holy power play. And there is another power play as Peter, for the first time in Acts is described as being filled with the Holy Spirit. Peter, powered by the Spirit lets loose: “Rulers and leaders of the people, if we have been brought to trial today for helping a sick man, if we are under investigation for this healing, I’ll be honest with you—we have nothing to hide. It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the One you killed on a cross, the One God raised from the dead, by means of his name this man stands before you healthy and whole.”

And because like the rulers, leaders and people gathered, Peter and John are devout Jews, as well as disciples commissioned by Jesus who was a loyal worshipper of YHWH, we hear an echo of Psalm 118 from Peter. “Jesus is ‘the stone you masons threw out, which is now the cornerstone.’ Salvation comes no other way; no other name has been or will be given to us by which we can be saved, only this one, Jesus.” Old Pete the rock and blockhead of the disciples, proclaims Jesus as healer of the crippled man. Jesus who cares for, leads, and keeps us safe is the model image of the Hebrew Scripture Shepherd and here is named as the cornerstone of all healing and life restoring power.

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The authorities were interested in more than the details and authority of the healing act. Because the healing restored the man to wholeness, it saved him from his powerless life on the margins, ignored and oppressed by the people and powerful alike. The healing turns the tables of power and authority, changing both the man and the community. It brought new life through a power play of merciful love and it scored salvation, the goal of us all.

The power brokers, the people, and the man experienced both the healing and saving power of Jesus’ name. And you and I if we admit it seek salvation all the time. We sit on the margins of a world run by powers that be that doesn’t call on or see the healing and saving power of Jesus’ name. We get caught-up and buy-in to powerful ways of the world, lured by all that glitters and seems to satisfy…

Sports and Entertainment, where we seek comfort and escape through cheering on and consuming activities that fill our hunger, fantasies, and mask our loneliness and longing for love and community.

  • Corporate America, where we seek comfort and escape through shopping and consuming activities that fill our hunger, fantasies, and mask our selfishness and longing for acceptance and fulfillment.
  • Politics, where we seek comfort and escape through debating and following activities that fill our hunger, fantasies, and mask our hopelessness and longing for a messianic leader to make us safe and secure.

Because we are not in control of the power play, we seek healing power and salvation in the “ism’s” of our lives…

  • Athleticism, perfecting our bodies while winning with power
  • Careerism, perfecting our identities while succeeding with power
  • Consumerism, perfecting our inadequacies while preening with power
  • Militarism, perfecting our insecurities while beating with power
  • Racism, perfecting our mediocrities while oppressing with power

Anywhere, anytime, anyplace we can place ourselves and our power over others we do. It may give us meaning, but it doesn’t heal or save us.

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Jesus our Good Shepherd who laid his life down for us, calls us to do the same for our neighbor in need. It is not about winning power plays, it is about trust centered on Jesus as we are sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit, and called to heal and share the name above all names, Jesus.

This day theologian Catherine of Siena is remembered on the liturgical calendar. She and Francis of Assisi, are the two patron saints of Italy. Catherine’s life was sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit and shaped by sacrificial and generous acts for her powerless neighbors done in the name of Jesus. She left a great legacy of prayer, one of which is included in our Evangelical Lutheran Worship book that is powerfully simple and beautiful.

Let us be in a place of prayer….

Power of the eternal Father, help me.

Wisdom of the Son, enlighten the eye of my understanding.

Tender mercy of the Holy Spirit, unite my heart to yourself.

Eternal God, restore health to the sick and life to the dead.

Give us a voice, your own voice, to cry out to you for mercy for the world.

You, light, give us light.

You, wisdom, give us wisdom.

You, supreme strength, strengthen us.

Amen.

Thomas, Saint of Post-Modernity

The Church today is in the midst of great changes. At the heart of the changes are believers who live out their faith with a spirituality that is more passive and intellectual in a time when society is increasingly active and hands-on. Look around. Weekly we sit in passive rows, attending and consuming worship. Our faith may be lived out in other activities or ways, but we look for the church to offer programs to meet our Christian consumer needs.

But the world we live in is full of Thomas like disciples. You know Tom, the slightly hyper follower who doesn’t sit around passively and living a passive spiritual life contemplating what it all means. Tom wants to see and do, experiencing the divine, making faith and following Jesus a tangible part of daily life. Tom would feel comfortable today in post-modernity, where people don’t want to be told about faith to believe in God, they want a spirituality that experiences God by observing others, and seeing how they follow Jesus by putting faith into action. They are uncomfortable with the Christian experience of the modern era, the one most of us are most comfortable with.

We live in a time when people fill their lives with experiences and tangible things that bring them identity and meaning. You and I are no different. We spend much more time planning weekend activities, vacations, and shopping than we do following Jesus and loving our neighbors in need. Now I know I’m preaching to the proverbial choir here, notice the number of people here today, verses last week. Notice how many were in worship for just Palm and Easter Sundays, too busy or otherwise distracted, to walk together as community to the cross, participating in the most active worship experiences during the most holy of weeks.

Many are like those gathered behind locked doors where it was safe to see Jesus, and some are like Thomas who need to see and experience to believe and then follow. Follow Jesus. Even for the faithful among us, following is difficult. We come to church, we worship, we study God’s Word, go on retreat and religious events, or read countless books, employing our intellect to follow Jesus. Some see the connection and make the leap to live out and follow Jesus by seeing and experiencing, but most struggle to connect the faith of their heads to their hearts and hands.  Continue reading

Go to Galilee

This is not the sermon you expect on Easter.

This is not about warm fuzzy feelings or Easter Eggs.

This is not about triumphant alleluias shouted from an empty tomb.

This is about a different ending to the story we expect and know so well.

This is about uncertainty and ultimately fear and terror filled hearts.

You see Mark’s gospel ends abruptly. It ends with fear and absolute amazement rather than joy and profound proclamation. For while the resurrection of Jesus is announced, the response is unexpected. I think Mark speaks to our reality more than the other gospels. You see Mark who is writing to a community of believers gets that we, like the women who go to the tomb, know what to do when Jesus is dead. But don’t know what to do or say when the unexpected happens, when Jesus is not in the tomb.

We like Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome expect Jesus to be in the box we put him in. And we too:

  • Peer into the tomb and our daily lives expecting what we know, going through our routines.
  • Come into church this day expecting everything to be as we remember, seeking the familiar in this place.
  • Sit passively in our Easter best expecting everything from the flowers, to the music and the message to be familiar and make us feel good.

But Mark’s Gospel will have none of that. Jesus is out of the box.

  • Jesus, the one we welcomed with palms waving,
  • Jesus, the one who washed our feet in love and humble service,
  • Jesus, the one who fed us with the Passover feast,
  • Jesus, the one who we betrayed, denied and nailed to the tree,
  • Jesus, the one who died for you and for me is not where we put him, or where we expect him to be.

And the very thought of it, confounds and terrifies us. We want our Jesus in ways and places we expect. 

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Holy Flock: From Angry Birds to the Holy People

Good people of Concordia, and all the priesthood of believers God has gathered in this place, we have just heard from 1st Peter that we are called to care for God’s flock with diligence. Not because we have to, not because it will earn points with God or build up resumes or reputations, but because the Holy Spirit blows in and through God’s people, moving believers to want to love, serve, and please God.

  •  The text reminds that tending God’s flock, is not about bossily telling others what to do, but is rather all about, tenderly showing them the way of Jesus.
  • It goes on to say, that we all are to follow our leaders and that leaders and followers alike are to be down to earth with one another. God has had it with the pious and the proud, and thankfully God takes delight in ordinary people like you and me.
  • We are reminded to be content with who and more importantly, whose we are, not putting on airs and living in hope, because God’s strong hand is with you and this flock.

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The Gospel also refers to caring for flocks, from the youngest to the most seasoned, from those hungry for good news to those with a lifetime of experience and wisdom. It is a message of love for those called to leadership roles, especially those called to the office of pastor. Love, love the cute little lambs, love the stubborn stinking sheep, and love the flock of squawking, sometimes angry Lutherans. Love the flock you’re with. Love because as that great theologian Stevie Wonder sings: Love’s in need of love today.

Concordia Lutheran Church is a flock of Lutheran lambs, sheep, and angry birds… Wait, did he just said angry birds, as in the most amazing and downloaded computer, video game and smart phone game of all time.

  • A game that’s been played on the down low during synod assembly sessions, worship services, and in seminary and confirmation classes.
  • A game one ELCA regional coordinator plays at meetings, and
  • A game that is rumored as beloved by a bishop or two.

Yes, I did reference Angry Birds and just for the record, I have no knowledge that your Bishop Jerge, or my Bishop Payne have encountered angry birds outside of synodical or congregational council meetings.

If you’re not familiar with this addictive animated distraction, let me bring you up to speed… Angry Birds was developed by Finnish game design firm Rovio Mobile, where allegedly, lots of talented Lutherans work. It was released in late 2009 and since then has sold more than 12 million copies.

The goal of the Angry Birds is to save eggs from evil green pigs by way of a flying attack on them and the places they hide in. These birds might be angry because their wingless and have no feet, forcing one to draw on all their geometry, physics and pool room experience by launching them old school ‘David and Goliath style’ with a slingshot the gamer controls.

Before you feel sorry for these birds, watch and get to know them. They look focused, called one could say as they eagerly get into your slingshot, determined disciples ready for their mission. Angry Birds is more than a fun game, it is an image for you, me and the flock God has gathered as the church. I know that the Gospel of John references a flock of lambs and sheep, but I see the church referred to as a flock in our texts this day as one also full of angry birds.

Birds of all shapes and colors…

  • Conservative birds and liberal birds.
  • Traditional birds and contemporary birds.
  • Orthodox birds and emergent birds.
  • Old birds and young chicks…

that’s not a sexist reference, just making sure you’re still with me.

The point is that God gathers you and I, saints and sinners, tender lambs, stubborn old sheep and angry birds together as the body of Christ.

  • A body that Jesus returned to three times in the 21st chapter of John.
  • A body that Jesus loves so much, he feeds from breakfast at the lakeshore, to the bread of heaven and cup of salvation at his table.
  • A body that Jesus knows intimately, as it is his,
  • A body that he asks, knowing the answer, if the one whom he asks to tend his flock, loves him.

A flock that sometimes acts like angry birds because evil always tries to divert us from God’s call…

  • So we end up squawking loudly, tearing things and people down,
  • We shoot our frustration and anger onto others, often missing the root cause,
  • And we blame others, blowing up structures and flocks indiscriminately.

The flock that is the church is not a private roost for saints, it is a hospital for sinners and angry birds called to direct all the gifts we have been given…

  • So we squawk loudly, advocating and praying for those without a voice,
  • We shoot our frustration and anger at broken and selfish systems, focusing on the root causes of injustice and oppression,
  • And we move beyond blaming others, to blowing up only the sinful structures that keep us from loving, caring and sharing.

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Of course a central symbol of the Holy Spirit is a bird, the dove of peace and not the angry bird of a computer game. May we all keep focused on, and praying for the heavenly dove. The heavenly dove that coos and calls us to love one another, the heavenly dove who gathers this flock, brings this day a new shepherd, a new pastor, a fellow angry bird to share the ministry of loving Jesus together.

Steve you have been called by God to help the people of Concordia

  • To know their place in the Creator’s story,
  • To experience their place at, and the grace of the Cross of Jesus, and
  • To guide their paths as the Holy Spirit, heavenly dove breathes faith and direction into your lives together.

As the Holy Spirit gathers you for breakfast in this place each Sunday,

  • may you be filled with the Word,
  • splash in the Waters of Baptism,
  • feast at the Lord’s Table,
  • and together fan the flames of mission, doing God’s work with your hands.

Holy hands that reach beyond these walls, beyond the Kendall town line, beyond Orleans County, and Upstate New York…

Holy hands fanning flames of faith, sharing the Good News of God’s Story, feeding and healing a hungry and broken world…

In the name of Jesus.

Selling Ourselves Short, Out and Otherwise

The Tanzanian Hymn Listen God is Calling connects God’s story heard in today’s readings with our story as baptized children of God.

  • It meets us in the chaos and crazed pace of our lives.
  • It reminds us to listen because God is calling.
  • It invites us to live more connected to God.

 Listen, listen, God is calling, through the Word inviting, offering forgiveness, comfort and joy.

While those words and the song of God’s presence in our lives brings comfort and joy, we somehow still think we are in control, that everything we have and are is of our making, and that we have the freedom to do and live as we wish. And you know what, you are right. We do have that freedom, but that freedom is a gift from God who calls to us, who reminds us who and what we are.

We are God’s. Claimed in our baptism, our Creator delighting in us and claiming us as God’s own.

We are God’s. Called to move from woe to glory, fearing, loving and serving the Lord.

We are God’s. Fed at the table with the bread of heaven  and the cup of salvation, receiving what we are, becoming what we receive.

We are the Body of Christ, gathered by the Holy Spirit as the church to do God’s work with our hands.

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Our sandwich reading today, the one between the Hebrew Scripture and New Testament Good News, between law and gospel, the second reading, the epistle, the reading to guide our life together as the church was written by Paul to the church in Corinth. The city was a vibrant seaport, a center for commerce and culture. It was also a city centered on consumerism, individualism, philosophical pondering, and selfish sexual sin. It was the Amsterdam, Bangkok, Rio and Vegas of its day.

Paul’s words reach across time to you and me individually and to you and me…

  • gathered as the Body of Christ,
  • God’s voice and hands in the world,
  • with a timeless message for believers and the church.

Paul points out that our bodies are not our own… they are temples of the Holy Spirit.

Paul points out that because we were bought with a price… we are not our own.

Paul points out that while we are freed from sin… we are to glorify the one who freed us.

But we don’t like to listen to Paul, or the one who calls and invites us. We are in charge, we are in control, we can do as we please… and because of the gift of free will, we often fall short of the glory of God. We abuse and ignore the gifts of creation from the world around us to the bodies we are given. Our selfish selling out, selling ourselves short, and selling our bodies to the wills of ourselves and the world leads to:

  • fixation and over-indulgence
  • bad habits and compulsion
  • addictions and disease

When we sell ourselves to sin it enslaves. We prostitute the bodies God has given us and even the body God gathers as the church. You see the things we do become who we are. The things we do, gets in the way of relationships with others and with God.

We are not our own… When we abuse our bodies, we abuse all of the bodies we are connected to by relationship…

  • family and friends,
  • classmates and co-workers,
  • neighbors known and unknown.

When we sin with our bodies, we sin against others and we sin against God.

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From Woe to Wow to Glory

God’s Word is not passive.

  • It is not about things, not about you and me, or the stuff of creation.
  • It is about doing and changing things, you and me, and the very stuff of creation.

God’s Word calls all things into being, brings order out of chaos, breathes new life where there is a dead numbness caused by jobs lost, relationships strained, bodies pained by illness, families broken by stress, and people like you and me who live burdened by selfish sin.

Thankfully God’s Word speaks and everything changes.

We meet that word, that voice, that change today in God’s Story, the Word found in the beginning, sung in the Psalms, and in Good News found in splashing water.

The Word of God Sounds Like—the Crashing Waters of Creation

In Genesis, we meet the voice of God…

  • In the sound of the wind that swept over the face of the waters.
  • In calling light into being
  • In naming light day and darkness night

In the beginning and today, in God’s Word…

  • We hear living water today in this worship space, echoing God’s voice.
  • We hear the truth that God is in the midst and works with chaos.
  • We hear comfort in God bringing order to even the most frightening of places.

The Word of God Sounds Like—the Power to Make Us Say Wow

In the Psalm, we meet the voice of God unleashed in all its power and majesty…

  • Starting with water, God’s voice thunder storming over mighty waters
  • Breaking the largest of cedar trees, stripping oak forests bare
  • Flashing forth lighting, sparking flames and fire storms
  • Skipping mountains and shaking the desert sands

The word of God is loud and powerful, changing creation itself. The Israelites see and hear God’s voice and respond saying Glory! And all we can say is woe or wow.

God is great and powerful beyond our world of wondering. We do have reason to fear and tremble. But we also have reason to trust God who creates, sustains, and saves us. But we fail to see God’s creative hand and hear God’s majestic voice. When we do, we move beyond woe and wow. When we see or hear God in what we understand and in what makes us wonder, we too say Glory!

The Word of God Sounds Like—the Promise of Claiming Us as God’s Own

In baptism, God claims us as God’s own. Through God’s Word in Mark today, we see and hear the voice of God. The Word of God is present in the flesh in the person of Jesus. Jesus who is fully God and fully human steps into the dirty waters of our lives and is washed. Jesus sees and hears as God the Spirit descends like a dove and God the Father speaks of his delight in his son.

And we who are baptized, washed , forgiven and created anew each day, are baptized with the Holy Spirit, claimed, named and proclaimed children of God. Children God takes delight in.

And when the water is shallow and smooth, When the ground and our lives don’t shake, and the winds of chaos are calm…

  • We think we have it together,
  • We think it is our doing,
  • We forget God’s hand and voice.

But we know that the waters, days and winds of life are not calm. And we who are baptized, we who see God’s hand and voice in the Word and World, know that Baptism is not some holy magic life jacket that keep everything calm. Baptism is water and wind and God’s mighty word that you and I are called into each and every day.

God calls us to the water of life. But we barely tip our toes in. We are afraid of what might happen if we fully immerse ourselves in living a baptized life seeing and hearing God’s voice and following God’s call that was given to us in baptism.

Wow we think, water is scary… And it is, water cleanses, drowns and kills.  It has to do those things to move us from wow to glory. It has to in order to give birth to new life. The waters of baptism are mighty, and the life of the baptized are not without storms. But God who delights in you, calls you to step out onto the storms of the world.

The Word of God Sounds Like—the Spark of Fire and the Splash of Baptism

In baptism we are changed. Our washing and gift of the Holy Spirit changes everything from wow to glory. In every dark cloud, each wind of change, and in the storms of our sinful creation and those that blow into our lives… in every moment God is there to be seen and heard. God’s presence and voice showing and calling us to glory is there.

  • We have trouble looking and listening.
  • We have trouble seeing and hearing.
  • We have trouble remembering our baptism.
  • Living as the baptized, trusting that in all of those storms, God is with us, leading and speaking to us all through the Holy Spirit.

Baptism is both seen and heard. A tangible proclamation of God’s presence and promise voiced for you and me forever. It is like a dirty old rock dropped into a crystal calm body of water.

We see and hear the rock as it moves toward and then is immersed in the water.

  • The thunk and splash are seen and heard.
  • The sounds vibrating out into space forever.
  • The splash is replaced by ripples on the body of water.
  • Ripples that move out from the splash and flow on and on.

Our baptism splash of new life resulted in ripples of blessing that flow out from God through us, into the world and lives of others. Our baptism sparked the flowing of the Holy Spirit into our lives to fan the flames of faith, lighting a fire that moves us to Glory!

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 May you hear the Word of God and not the winds of your desires.

May you see sparks of God and not the flames of your desires.

May others see, hear and experience God through your life

splashing in and sharing the waters and wonders of grace

and fanning flames of faith as God’s hands and voice

moving others from woe and wow to Glory!

There’s Something [Prophetic] About Mary

This final Sunday in Advent is often the day many worshipping communities replace preaching with a pageant of the coming birth of Jesus. In doing so, we miss the magnificence of God working through Mary. We reduce Mary’s role to that of a cute young girl holding a baby doll. We rush to opening the present of Jesus’ birth, missing out on the announcement and Mary’s song of prophetic proclamation.

  • Today is not about the birth of Jesus, we wait another week for that.
  • Today is about God adding a young teenage girl to God’s and our story.
  • Today is all about mystery and intrigue, an angel and an unexpected pregnancy, and uncertainty and change beyond our comprehension.

The story of the coming of Jesus begins with the out of this world announcement by Gabriel to Mary that she’s pregnant and will be the mother of the Son of God.

  • This announcement is shocking, is a big deal for believers and deal breaker for doubters.
  • This announcement has been pondered for centuries, its details interpreted by theologians, hymn writers, and artists.
  • This announcement story is about God’s magnificence and miraculous entering into our story.

The story is about God loving us so much that God comes to us, in human form, to live among us, to love and forgive us in person. And the story is about God using Mary’s body and voice to proclaim and then deliver the One who will save us from ourselves and the world.

Mary’s role as ‘God-bearer’ is critical not because of her accepting to be Jesus’ mom, but because of how God works through her. God speaks through her actions and words in Luke, birthing the Word made flesh, the one who will dwell among us. Mary tells us about God’s promises for those who wait through heartfelt song. She proclaims as prophets do what God is up to in the world. That God will meet us where we are through God’s self in the form of a son, named Jesus.

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We who wait for the Lord, heard Mary’s song as our psalm today. Mary sings as a prophet telling of what this Jesus, God with us, the fully divine and fully human one that she will give birth to what he will do for our weary world. Mary’s song proclaims for us her joy, not so much in being chosen by God, or in the anticipation of the birth of her first child, but rather what will happen because of this holy child’s coming into the world.

  • A broken and beaten world, bloodied by weapons and economic oppression,
  • A world where the victors took the spoils by forcing, raping and pillaging,
  • A world that longed for a king to turn things around, a messiah to save them.

The world was about to change by the one for whom we wait. In Luke’s Gospel the one is called by many names:

  • Jesus, the name Mary is told to give him,
  • The Savior of the World,
  • The Prince of Peace,
  • The Messiah or Christ.

Mary proclaims that he will be called the Son of God in our reading, but before Gabriel is sent to break the news, or the Holy Spirit comes upon her, or the Most High overshadows her… long before Jesus the Christ was ever conceived, there was another proclaimed “Son of God.”

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