Three’s Company – A Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday

https://soundcloud.com/user-688328025/holy-trinity-sermon

         How easy it is for adults to ignore, gloss over, or to block out some of the pressing questions of faith of youth?  Even to say “I don’t know” is so much better than some flippant or derisive answer.  Today is one of the weird Sunday’s in the church calendar known as ‘Holy Trinity” Sunday. It’s a Sunday in which we come face-to-face with a mystery; the mystery of Almighty God.  Like the children who are trying to wrap their young minds around the concept of God, we too have questions about the Trinity.  Who is God?  Where is God? What is God doing?

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Frederick Buechner, who always has something witty to say about the Christian faith, describes the Trinity in his classic book, “Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC” describes the trinity in this fashion: 

If the idea of God as both Three and One seems far-fetched and confusing, look in the mirror someday. There is (a) the interior life known only to yourself and those you choose to communicate it to (the Father). There is (b) the visible face which in some measure reflects that inner life (the Son). And there is (c) the invisible power you have in order to communicate that interior life in such a way that others do not merely know about it, but know it in the sense of its becoming part of who they are (the Holy Spirit). Yet what you are looking at in the mirror is clearly and invisibly the one and only you.”

          This is one the days in the church year to ask these questions.  Our appointed readings give us a sense of what God is like.  You might say a glimpse of the Trinity; for we see Jesus, the Son of god, speaking of his father and of the unseen power of the Holy Spirit.  For those who are interested in searching for God, John’s Gospel gives us an unusual perspective.

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         Meet Nicodemus.  You know this story well.  Nicodemus is a man whose questions may have been squashed at one time or another, but he is curious about God.  He has searched for God, and went to one person whom he thought could give him a couple of answers, (or most likely more questions!)  Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a leader of the Jews go to talk about God to Jesus by night.  No one of his social significance would take the chance of being seen with a rebel teacher. But Nicodemus was curious, so he meets with Jesus in the dark of night.

         You’ll note in verse 2 of the reading Nicodemus says to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.”  Nicodemus pointed to the signs that Jesus did as evidence of his identity.  Without even asking a question, Nicodemus heard an unexpected answer about entering the kingdom of God.  “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above,” Jesus tells Nicodemus. 

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         New birth is the entrance into the kingdom of God.  And if it’s the entrance into the Kingdom, it must be pretty significant. To Christians, especially Lutherans, baptism is essential.  God may have other ways of bringing people into the kingdom, but if God does, the Bible doesn’t say.  Someone has said, “God has bound us to baptism, but he has not bound himself to it.”

         What is this kingdom into which we are baptized?  We know it’s not a place.  You won’t find it on a roadmap.  There are no billboards or road signs.  This kingdom is instead a matter of your heart’s allegiance.  God’s kingdom is found in the soul of every believer.  Outwardly to the secular world, the reign of God doesn’t exist.  The domain is invisible.  But the people of the reign are everywhere.  We are gathered here this morning into what we call the church or the body of Christ.  Baptism is God’s new birth, and it changes us and makes us ready to respond to God’s will. It gives us a fresh start, a new beginning. 

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         You and I make all kinds of new beginnings.  New school, new jobs, new marriage, or merely a fresh start to an old way. None of these brings us into God’s kingdom.  Only that which God provides can do it.  The Bible calls it Baptism, by water and the Spirit of God, it is God’s means to enter the kingdom.

         And baptism lasts forever because it is the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the name of God in which we baptize. It is God’s grace that saves us- and that never wears thin.  No matter how old we are when it happens, in baptism, we come before the Trinity and receive grace upon grace.  God’s goodness comes to us, washes us clean, and saves us from death and the devil. Sometimes it’s helpful to think of the church has a large swimming pool with all kinds of kids floating around in the baptismal waters. 

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         Because every ministry we do in the name of Christ, we do from the waters of our baptism.  And our baptism isn’t a spectacle.  It is a sacrament featuring God – the Holy Trinity.  That means the spotlight is on God’s love and grace for us, each and every time.  And each of us can be part of the lighting crew that shines forth God’s love. Thanks be to God.

        

Photos from 2018 Garden of Eatin’ Blessing

As an act of worship on Sunday, May 6th, we blessed our “Garden of Eatin’ and prayed for all who are hungry and go without substance. This ministry has turned out to be a rather remarkable outreach opportunity for the congregation with many neighbors who pass by offering a sincere sense of gratitude and appreciation for our efforts.

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“It actually looks like someone cares,” quoting a neighbor who walked by.

The entire harvest is taken to the local food pantry for distribution. The pantry manager informs us that nothing is ever left from our vegetable donation at the end of the day. Most people take the variety of vegetables that contribute.

Crops selected are based on the market at the food pantry. We have three types of lettuce, beans, several varieties of peppers,  many varieties of tomatoes, kale, carrots, onions, radishes.

THE WEARY WAY: Reflections on the Road to Emmaus Story – LUKE 24:13-35

The Road to Emmaus from Luke 24:13-35

Have you ever met anyone famous? Or maybe somewhat famous? Or perhaps just have been in the same airport or restaurant as someone well known?

In early April, I attended the opening day celebration for baseball by attending the home opener for the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

 

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Waiting in line to enter Busch Stadium on Opening Day 2017.

 

This year’s home-opener featured a team *from Chicago* that won the World Series in 2016, and, is a team that most in St. Louis would consider the Cardinals greatest rival.

The energy on opening day was incredible. People filled with spirit and cheer because of the return of America’s “favorite past-time” following a long offseason.

Folks are everywhere around Busch Stadium for opening day. Many are across the street to gather in the BallPark Village waiting for the gates to open and the crowds to begin to file in on Opening Day, find their seats and wait for the greatest living Cardinals and the current team to be introduced. It’s quite the spectacle with all the Clydesdale Horses prancing along the warning track making their way to home plate.

 

 

Despite my lack of intimate knowledge of the appearance of former Cardinal greats, I convinced myself while standing in the BallPark Village that on the second-floor balcony, I spotted Bruce Sutter, a pitcher from the 1970-80’s who arguably developed and perfected the split-finger fastball pitch.  Bruce was standing near the VIP club waving down to the crowds with a scepter in his hand.

 

For many seasoned Cardinal fans, this would not be so remarkable a feat as Sutter is well known in the St. Louis Area.  And yet,  I had a sense of pride in my ability to recognize this well-known figure based on his appearance from a distance.

So, if I, a casual, yet passionate, fan could recognize a Cardinal great somewhat out of context, I’d like to think that I could have spotted the risen Jesus Christ if he had chosen to accompany me just a few days after his resurrection.

Moreover, you might say to me that I’m relying more on my own ability to recognize someone, and while that’s true, the Holy Spirit also assists us in “seeing” the personhood of others.

The Holy Spirit opened the eyes of two early disciples of Jesus shortly after his resurrection on a rural road as they walked.

As Luke, tells the story, we, the reader get to be in on the joke. Luke says of these two travelers, returning home, perhaps, after Jesus’ death and resurrection. As listeners of this story, we are stunned to find out that anyone could fail to recognize the risen Christ, especially two of his closest followers.

But that is just what happens. Cleopas and his companion, just happen to be joined by Jesus on their walk to Emmaus. And instead of instantly recognizing who he is, they take him for a stranger. And they fail to figure out who he is until the end of today’s lesson when Jesus breaks bread with them. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

 

 

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“The Road to Emmaus”  artwork by He Qi. 1997. 

As easy as it is to kind of laugh at poor Cleopas and his companion, thinking of them as fools who don’t know their leader, I must say I just may be able to recognize myself—and maybe a few others in their plight.

Cleopas and this fellow traveler without a name, I sometimes imagine her as his wife, were among the faithful. They were friends with the 12 disciples, we learn later, which suggest they were among the inner circle.

Their statement of faith, which they somewhat humorously share with the stranger-Jesus, uses all the right language, hits all the highlights. Surely, they would have passed any confirmation test on their first try.

Cleopas and companion were dedicated and faithful followers. They had certainly been to church Easter Sunday. Well, not just to church—they probably helped cook the churches’ Easter brunch. Surely, they had attended all the Lenten services, probably helped with the Wednesday meals, most likely had washed more than their fair share of dishes.

They were the type of couple that we can imagine as dedicated and faithful. The sort of people to volunteer, to show up, to serve on the committee after committee, the kind to come to church not just on Easter but 2 Sundays into it. And I imagine that they had become weary.

In all their efforts to be faithful, their vision had become blurred. They missed seeing the most famous person. Perhaps their dedication had gotten in the way. Maybe the stress of leadership, their stubbornness, their investment in an outcome had slowly squeezed Jesus out of the picture. So that when he showed up, they had no idea who he was.

What sort of objects blur your vision? What is grabbing so much of your attention that you are unable to realize that Jesus is right next to you? What is keeping your life out of focus?

Perhaps Cleopas and his companion were caught off-guard by the trauma of Jesus’ death. Perhaps this experience was too much to handle, more than they had bargained for, their grief eating them alive.

I wonder what kind of stress losing not only a dear friend but a leader can cause. Isolation? Need for distance? An overwhelming desire just to forget everything and leave town?

This is the part of the lesson that begins to look familiar, at least to me. Cleopas and his companion remain the center of activity. Disheartened at what has happened. Stuck in the middle of the story, unable to see through to the end.

They look for an escape, a way out, one that doesn’t require believing in something so extraordinary. They look, to perhaps, shed themselves of idealist principles. They can’t take any more disappointment or disillusionment. Wanting to get away from a life of faith which brings on struggle, despair, and cynicism.
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And how familiar is this road—the one that makes us believe change is unlikely, one that drains our energy, one that makes us feel any real work done will not make a difference.

One thing the faithful know is that the life of the faithful can get weary. It can feel pointless. This weariness can erode our hope; it can blind our sense of purpose, can diminish our drive to keep at it.

And it is just then that Jesus shows up, re-enters our lives.

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I like this Jesus… this Jesus that Luke writes about. It’s not a neon-tee-shirt Jesus or an extra-large billboard on I-80 Jesus. This is a reserved Jesus.  

Jesus is a little cunning and a lot clever.

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A Jesus who bides his time, very willing to let Cleopas and company do the talking, a Jesus who is not just offering answers but is willing, encouraging really, of Cleopas and companion to come to their conclusions.

What kind of presence draws you within? What type of conversations keeps you up past your bedtime? What kind of stranger is so compelling that you can’t get enough? That, however, long or short your conversation is, you are left wanting more?

We don’t get to know Jesus’ motivation for not blurting out that he indeed is the risen one. But we do know that because of his actions, his ability to remain mysterious, Cleopas and his companion are left wanting more.

They practically beg Jesus to stay with them. Jesus has listened to them. He has taught them. They are compelled to stay with him, to be close to him. They invite Jesus to stay.

And that’s when it happens. As Jesus breaks bread, their hearts turn, re-turn to him, their eyes are re-opened and they re-congnize. They re-know Jesus once again.

If you are one of those people who can recognize Jesus in everything, in every moment, in every person, then you have a lot to offer the rest of us. But if you are like Cleopas and his companion, like me, like so many others, and you can’t always make out Jesus, even when you have your glasses on and he is right in front of you, this story brings good news.

Our vision may not be perfect, but Jesus’ is.

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He comes over and sits right beside us. He IS patient with us. He listens to us. Wants to hear what we say. He recognizes us from a distance.

Even more shocking, he recognizes us close-up. Despite, maybe because of our blemishes, our imperfections, our choices that look ugly, no matter the lighting. Jesus knows who we are, comes to us, recognizes us, and walks along on our journey with us.
He is companion, listener, teacher, and provider. He promises to show himself so that we may recognize him and be witness to what he has done and is doing in our lives.

Today we get to experience this promise. Today we welcome Cameron Hill into the fold. We promise on his behalf to tell him what we know, to show him what we have seen.

About Jesus in this world; about Jesus in our lives. About a hope so high we cannot avoid it. About a love that is always gathering us in, despite, and especially when we try to run away from it.

And then we do what we do every Sunday.

We come to the table for nourishment. Because when everything else has gone astray, when hope seems lost, when God feels distant, when disillusionment begins to steal our souls, Jesus opens our eyes and shows his love to us.

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Crumb by crumb, drop by drop, God gives us something to chew on, liquid love to restore our souls.

And with a restored vision, we may continue our journey, sharing this meal, hearts burning with love, to all that may receive it.

Amen.

Water and the Word: Lutherans and Baptism

From the looks of it, baptism may not appear to be a miracle, but it is the most important step in the faith of person.  It can looks so ordinary – a couple of ministers in robes, a couple of parents, gathered around a bowl to say a few words and splash some water on a baby who many times is a sleep.  Who’d ever guess that this might just be the most important event in someone’s life?

But, isn’t just like God, you know….the God who was born in a manger, to hide what might be the most miraculous event in a simple ceremony.

Baptism is a miracle in it we hear the Word of God and the washing of water in which God declares each of us to be God’s own beloved. Where we are taken into the communion of other saints, and are given a future that God promises to us that not even death or the devil will be able to destroy.

To understand the importance of this sacrament, we need to back-fill the biblical story all the way back to the first chapter of the first book in the bible, Genesis.  Where Adam and Eve experience the fall from paradise.

Christian understanding is that it was because of turning their back on God that God cast them out of the garden and because of this, everyone is born into what St. Augustine calls “Original Sin”.

The bible speaks of the wages of sin as death.  In that we all will die as a result of the fall.

St. Paul talks about the “old self” before baptism, as being the Old Adam, as in the Adam before the fall.

And I think we can carry this a step further in Lutheran’s understanding of baptism.  The Old Adam in each of us loves to attach baptism and ignore the promise that God has made to us in the water and the word.  “Water”… humph…   “Water!  Whoever heard of water and God coming to us?  We flush our toilets with water and now you’re telling me that God is coming to me through means of water? Ha!

Hear how silly of a claim that is for a non-believer?

But baptism isn’t just water for Lutherans, it is water along with the Word of God.  The water and the Word cannot be separated.  Apart from the Word of God, the water is just water.  Apart from the water, the Word is still God’s Word, but the sacrament isn’t there without both.

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Make disciples of all nations” Jesus says in Matthew’s gospel.  How does this happen?   We make disciples through baptism, “baptizing them in the name of the father, son and holy spirit.”

Let’s face it.   That’s the easy part.  The sacrament is the easy part.  But that’s not where Jesus ends it.

And teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you, remembering I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:20

Go therefore” The syntax of the text is a command.  We receive Jesus’ command to go.

So why is it, if our baptism into Christ is so full of grace and gifts, isn’t it hard to understand why the world isn’t clamoring for it, shouldn’t our calendar be so full of scheduled baptisms that we find it hard to fit them all in?

Actually though, the truth of the matter is quite the opposite.

There isn’t a gift, next to Jesus himself, that the ‘Old Adam’, the world, and the devil have a deeper hatred.  Baptism, as we say in our liturgy is about a death.  It is the funeral for the Old Adam, but it’s also about a birth.  It’s the birth of your new identity.  So, it’s no wonder that the Old Adam in us wants to attach God’s promise to us in baptism. 

See, the Old Adam in us likes things the way they are because they please us.   The ‘Old Adam’ in us wants to attack God’s promise to make it seem as though we are doing something for God —  not something that God has done and does for us.  As a result, people wind up fearing, loving, and trusting in what they do and what they can do, and it demishishes what God has done for us.

I’ve heard it said on many occasions from pagans, atheists, and unbelievers, that baptism is a magical, good luck charm and a life after death insurance policy so that we won’t be afraid to die.  I can see their point, based upon their observation of laissez-fare cultural Christianity in which one is baptized but that’s the extent of their faith life.

And then, on the other side, the super-pious ignore Baptism as if God can’t do what God has promised, and needs our help in god’s assistance.  This can lead us to believe that we can concentration on our own convictions and decisions for Christ, and to trust in our own “experiences” as being the truth.

At the end of the day, the fact is, Christ has commanded Baptism.  Baptism shouldn’t be scary nor is it malicious…. It is a loving order that God has directed to the Church.

And so, I leave you with this question.  “What’s the point?”  Here again, in the Small Catechism, Luther says that baptism is about the forgiveness of sin, redeems from death and the devil, and the offer of eternal life.  

Our baptism was a mini-judgement.  As the Word of God was spoken to you and the water washed across your face, God has judged you already.  You’ve been told the verdict and what it will be on the last day.  “Not guilty,” and the same words at God’s Son Jesus were uttered, “This is my son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.”  After God’s judgement, then we receive the gifts of the last judgement: forgiveness, deliverance, and everlasting life.

The old Adam in us hears this and says, “Wait a minute, there has to be a catch somewhere.  Nothing in life is free.  How can god do that?” So, the Old Adam hunts around for a good response.  “This stuff is too good to be true.”  Where’s the catch? What’s the hidden agenda?”

Aha” old Adam finally reads Luther’s response.  “We have to believe it… that’s the price tag.”  There’s a method to this logic.  If we just have enough believe in God.  If we convince ourselves that our believe in God is sufficient, surly God will be pleased with us, right?

God doesn’t work that way, though.  There is no catch, not trap, nor hidden agendas or even a price tag on baptism.  It is only a free gift.

God wants you to believe, but God isn’t waiting for you to come up with enough belief or trust on your own. God gives what God commands– making a believer out of you, and putting to death the old Adam.

Baptism is just the entry point into the Christian faith.  From our baptism onward, God sends the Holy Spirit to work in us each day to make believers out of us.  Then there’s the old Adam that says, “It can’t be a gift. Somehow there’s got to be a catch to everything.  And what about the people who are baptized and never do anything about it? There must be something we have to do ourselves to get what we want from God.”

No” says god.  “There isn’t a catch. All I have to give is yours, and I’ve already given everything you need in your baptism, as a gift.  All I want is to make a better believer out of you.  And I’m doing that myself.  There’s nothing more that can be done.

“I started on you on the day you were baptized, and I’m going to keep at until the day I take you to myself.”

Sisters and brothers, when we are able finally see and recognize the gift God has offered, is what will finally destroy the old Adam.

Finally we can jump off the merry-go-round of trying to self-justify and just be the man or woman, girl or boy who God has created you to be and nothing more.  It is God setting you free from yourself.  Knowing the promise, we are freed from trying to impress God.

You are freed to call on God as Abba. You are free from trying to impress people with your old Adam’s religion.  You are free to speak the word to your neighbors, telling them of all that God does and gives.  You’re free from your own doubts and judgements.  You are free to believe what God has already told you and will tell you each new day:  He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” That’s you.  In our baptism we can be sure of that.

Amen.

Lutherans and Creeds: The Apostles’ Creed in the Small Catechism

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Referencing the Evangelical Lutheran Book of Worship (ELW) page 1162.  Apostles’ Creed in Luther’s Small Catechism.

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  1. First thing first: What’s the point of a Creed? Christianity is a “creedal” religion in that it has always been theological.  Theology for my purpose is defined as:  “Faith seeking understanding. “(Anselum of Canterbury).
      1. A Christianity without a creed first arose in the sixteenth century when “individual seers” came to the forefront of Christian thought known as Christian mystics.
    1. As one might imagine– discussed and debated by critics of “Creedal” Christianity, and rightly noted that the Apostles’ creed (read: any creed) isn’t biblical. They are correct in that point…. But…. The need for a creed arises out of our human need to share our intellect about who/what in an attempt to describe the triune God.
    2. Creeds attempt to give an articulate, intelligent expression to our faith in the triune God, and they serve to provide good order for the faith life of the Church.
      1. Bear in mind that every creed was fashioned at a specific time in history and the ‘great’ creeds of the church where often fashioned around a time of turmoil to help give definition to faith in the Triune God. Creeds typically weren’t written during quiet times in the Church history!  
      2. Moreover, the creeds are not only marked with a specific time in history, but also by their catholicity. They (creeds) are universal in nature and can be applied to any context and culture.  This is to say that a Christian Creed can never be sectarian in nature.  It has to, and must be, universal and to stand the test of time.  In other words, the creeds are timeless in that each generation confesses the same believe in the triune God.
    3. For our life of faith, creeds are most often used in worship. It is both uniquely a personal statement of faith about what I personally believe, and a confession our faith as the gathered body of Christ.  IN that when we say “I believe…”  we mean to say both “I believe” individually and “I” as the One gathered body of Christ.
    4. From their earliest forms in Christian history, the creeds have been associated with the entry point in to the Christian Church – baptism and/or the affirmation of baptism.
  2. The Three “Great” Christian Creeds (in Western Christianity)The Apostles’ Creed– not sure exactly on the historicity of the creed… Legend holds that the Apostles’ Creed was composed by the Apostles on the 10th day after the Ascension by/through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t recorded in scripture.  We do know, however, that a version of the Apostles’ Creed was floating around 100A.D. and was most likely developed by the church in Rome.
      1. This included the language that Lutherans (and other Christians) still use in baptism liturgy known as the “Interrogatory Creed of Hippolytus”(c. 215A.D.) … “Do you believe in God the Father? I believe in God…”
    1. The Nicene Creed was adopted by the Church in 325A.D. to hold together a common faith and hold the church together.

And lastly, (although seldom used any longer in liturgical worship) is the Athanasian Creed which originated in the 5th century as an attempted to the Holy Trinity

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Luther on the Apostles’ Creed in the Small Catechism

  • Luther believed the Apostles’ Creed, like scripture, “speaks of Creation, Redemption and final sanctification” which, for Luther, were the “great deeds” of God.
  1. First Article of the Apostle Creed “on Creation”(turn to  ELW p. 1162)
    1. For Lutherans, when we confess the first article of the creed (according to Luther) we express three things:
      1. It is God who has made me and all the created world. Therefore, we are, according to Luther, “indebted” to God for everything we have. We could not live one hour, nor would the world exist, if God didn’t care for it.
      2. God’s good and mercy are the only reason why God created me and all the world and why God preserves me and all creation.
      3. It is my duty to thank, praise, serve, and obey God because God is good and merciful.
  2. Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed – “Redemption Article” Christ redeems us from sin, death and the devil. This is the confession of faith that we will use tonight that Luther wrote as an explanation to the second article.
    1. The “Who, How and Why” of the Creed:
      1. WhoJesus Christ and no one else in Heaven or on earth is the Lord of the Church. He is the Son of God and born of the woman, Mary.
      2. HowBy his life on Earth, His deeds, and the power that is His, Jesus Christ abundantly deserves the name “Lord of the Church” through his sufferings and death in which he has redeemed me from sin, death and the devil.
      3. WhyJesus Suffered and died and became my Lord in order that I might be his own, live under him, and serve him here on earth and in heaven.
  3. The Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed- The Holy Spirit and His “Workshop” Here Luther speaks of the Works of the Holy Spirit in terms of the Past, Present and Future. By the “Work Shop” Holy Spirit, Luther speaks of the church has the Holy Spirit’s workshop. “There we have God’s Word and Sacraments, which Christ provides…it is in the church that the Holy Spirit continues to work on me and make me ever more pleasing to God.
      1. The past – in past times, the Holy Spirit has sanctified me by bringing me into the Christian Church and keeping me there.
        1. H.S. invites me into the gospel, shows me my sin, created faith in my heart, and separates me from the Devil.
      2. The Present – I believe the Holy Spirit sanctifies me in the Present by granting me daily forgiveness of my sins.
        1. Daily the Holy Spirit forgives my sin. “The Holy Spirit forgives my sins daily and abundantly and so provides for my soul as God the Creator provides for my body.”
        2. The future – I believe the Holy Spirit will in the Future wholly and forever sanctify me by raising me from the dead and granting me everlasting life.

The Holy Spirit will raise me from the dead

The Holy Spirit will sanctify me forever.

Creeds and believers

In our scripture text from Matthew tonight we hear Jesus ask his disciples “who do people say the son of man is?  Some say John the Baptist, but other Elijah, and other Jeremiah, or a prophet.”  And then Jesus ask them personally, and it’s Peter’s confession of who Jesus is “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God”.  That was Peter’s confession of faith in its earliest form.  And our faith, in large measure stems from what we confession individually and corporately each week in our creeds.

Knowing that our faith always has to do with invisible things, things which our eyes cannot see nor our hands grasp.

A New Identity – Jesus and the Woman at the Well

Jacob’s well stood at the crossroads outside of town in Sychar in Samaria as the scripture reading tells us.  Though it still head good, clean drinking water in reservoir, by the time Jesus was around it was more of shrine than a well.  According to the Old Testament tradition, Jacob in the ancient Israelite past bought this land, dug the well and left it to Joseph, his favorite son.  Joseph, when he died, was carried back from Egypt and buried there. 

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But this history meant nothing to the woman who was at the well in our gospel text.  She was there in the noon day heat to get a drink of water.  The well was only a drinking fountain to her.  Being outside of town, the well was remote, not many people went around the well, especially in the noon day heat.  She had it all to herself, at least she thought.  No women in her right mind would come to draw water in the noon day heat.  That’s the way the woman wanted it, far away from all the town’s gossip and watchful eye.

She had managed to make a mess of her life.  As far back as she could remember, there had always been a restless urge in her, an unsatisfied longing, and a thirst that could not be quenched.  She went through life as one possessed, looking for love in all the wrong places.  She had married the wrong men, eating and drinking and being merry.  She made promises and quickly had to break them.  She was used and because of her abuse she lost her self-esteem.  She lost herself.

So when she arrived at the well that hot mid-day afternoon, it never occurred to her that the man she saw there would reach out in her direction.  He was a man, a Jew, maybe even a rabbi.  She was a woman, a Samaritan, living in sin.  The wall of separation between them was high.  Women and men didn’t speak in public; especially a Samaritan woman and a man of the Jewish faith.

images“Give me a drink,” this man said to her.  And in the discussion that followed, this woman at the well in Samaria found both her true self and God. Jesus speaks to the woman at the well longer than he does to anyone else in John’s gospel.  Longer than he talks to any of the disciples, longer than he talks to his accusers, longer than he talks to his own family.  In fact, this Samaritan woman is the first person Jesus revels his true identity to in the Gospel of John.  She is the first outsider to guess who Jesus is and to tell others about him.  She is the first evangelist, John’s Gospel tell us, and her testimony about Jesus brings others to faith in Christ.

line-in-sandIn Jesus’ presence she found herself and the reality of her own sin. 

Jesus must have had a way with cutting through the small talk and getting to the heart of the issue.  He looked into her eye, and she could not put off the guilt.  And so in a moment of complete disclosure, this woman, who was considered untouchable by the divine and the Son of God stand face to face with no pretense about their identity.  Both stand fully lit at high noon for a bright moment in time, everything that separates this woman and Jesus fall forgotten to the ground.

When Jesus came, the woman of Sychar found in him peace for her troubled spirit, answers to her questions, and the living water of God’s forgiveness and grace for her soul.  Jesus spoke words of hope to her:  “Those who drink of the water I will give them will never be thirsty.  The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”  But even more than these words was his presence—the calm strength of Jesus, the sound of authority in his voice, the assurance of his love.  She must have been assured that Jesus was God.  And somehow, she stood face-to-face with him.

I’m sure that the gospel writer, John intended this story to follow the story of Jesus and Nicodemus.  We heard that story last week.  After encountering Jesus in the middle of the night, Nicodemus (a leader of the Jews), falls silent when he learns who Jesus truly is, and then in the very next chapter of John’s gospel, we see an irreligious fallen woman at the water well when she takes an unexpected step:  she is the one who acknowledges Jesus as the messiah, not Nicodemus.  She is the one who remains in the light of the day and spreads the good news of Jesus.  She runs out after meeting him and tells others about the man she just met, bringing them to the good news of Christ, and as a result of her testimony, the Bible says that many came to believe in Jesus.

It’s as if John intended to place these two stories back to back for the reader to see the difference between the two.  You might recall that Nicodemus meets with Jesus in the dark for fear that others would discover he met with this itinerate preacher.  But, here is this fallen woman meeting with Jesus in the light of the day at noon.

And notice what Jesus does.  He deals with this woman’s thirst, and not her sin.  He reached out to her, not to cast shame and send her further away from God’s presence, but Jesus empowered her, he literally transformed her life.

Few of the people around Jesus have as much to tell about him and his effect upon them as the woman at the well in Samaria. 

The truth is, we are all like the woman at the well, and we all thirst for the Living Water that God provides.  We thirst for a savior who will meet us where we are on our level, not in some far away distant space, but a God who is like us.  The beauty of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well is that God reaches out to all and welcomes everyone to taste the living water.  No matter who you are, what you’ve done or haven’t done, you are all invited.  So come, accept your invitation and come.  Receive a drink way down in the well of Living Water of God’s grace. For in Christ, we are forgiven, redeemed, and refreshed by this living water.

In Jesus name.  Amen. 

 

“Cleansing the Lens” – A sermon based on Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians

Have you ever reached a point in your life, when, everything that you thought was true and ‘right’ about the world, was indeed exactly the opposite of what you knew to be true? It’s a humbling feeling to have a life-long held value shattered by another’s wisdom.

The Bible is full of such wisdom, and by the word ‘wisdom’, I don’t necessary mean the wisdom books of the Old Testament like Proverbs and Psalms.

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The Holy Scriptures require a humble reader who shows reverence and fear toward the Word of God, and constantly says,‘Teach me, teach me, teach me…. The Spirit resists the proud.’– Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol.54, 379; Table Talk, 5017

By wisdom, I mean instruction for daily living.  It can be difficult to define wisdom, but people generally recognize it when they encounter it. Psychologists might tell us that wisdom involves an integration of knowledge, experience, and understanding that incorporates open-mindedness for the uncertainties of life. There’s an awareness of how things will play out over time, and it confers a sense of balance.

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But I wonder if that is how people of faith understand ‘wisdom’ especially as we encounter the Word of God from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

If you read the Bible and you’re not gaining in wisdom and understanding of God, I would begin to wonder about your approach to scripture.   When we read the Word of God, we expect the Holy Spirit to show-up and illustrate something fresh that we hadn’t already known about God; which is to say, to learn something about our own self in relation to God.

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Paul says that God’s acting through the cross of Christ isn’t found in worldly wisdom.  God bypassed the sages and scribes, the philosophers and debaters with all their learned debates and learnings. What we are talking about here is a mystery.  God is both revealed in the cross of Jesus, but God is also hidden.  It’s a paradox where both things are true.  So, Paul goes on to say   the Jews see only a sign of weakness in the cross… They want power like what they saw in the exodus from Egypt, or the crossing of the Red Sea. Might signs of Yahweh that liberated the people. But that’s not the power of the cross, where the power is in the weakness (yet another paradox, both weakness and God’s power are true).

And the ‘Greeks’ (the rest of humanity from a Jewish point of view) are seeking a message and a teaching that makes sense; a message that is logical and rational. For the ‘Greeks’ to take a man who was crucified as a foundation for one’s life seemed to them to be simply irrational.  It cut against the grain of ‘knowledge’.

Yet, Paul’s argument is that Christ crucified is the power of God and God’s ‘wisdom.’  Could it be, per Paul, the real problem with those who don’t understand his message of the cross and the foolishness of worldly wisdom is that we need a new way of seeing things.   Such that, it becomes totally necessary to cleanse our lens of seeing the world.  And reexamine how we understand the way of the world through the cross of Christ.

Lutheran Christians make that claim that as one reads the Word of God, one should do so through the lens of the Cross of Christ.  And that through the Gospel, we see the world has God intend the world to be.  Through the Holy Spirit, our lens of seeing is cleansed and we are given ‘ideal’ eyes by which to see the real nature of reality.

The more I write about this, the more Paul’s message of the cross makes sense.  When we lead our life with judgement and blame, we can’t see the world correctly.  When we lead with fear, we can’t see correctly. When we lead with shame, we can’t see correctly.  When we leave with domination and might, we can’t see correctly.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that later there isn’t a point of caution or even judgment, but to see clearly means that we can’t lead our life with them.  If we lead with a concocted or calculating mind, we will never get the chance to love and experience true love.  We’ll simply cut down and close too quickly; our heart is unable to remain open and we simply will not have a clean lens in which to see God. It has John of the Cross has said, “God refuses to be known except by love.”

It’s such a sad reality that the state of our culture and the deconstruction of our society is such a cynical response to the reality of what’s happening all around us.  As a people, we’ve become cynical about ourselves, our world, and our future.  For so many people life is lived devoid of meaning, purpose, or even direction.  And increasingly the case becomes that we are only aware of what is not and can we rarely enjoy what already is.   Do you hear the two ways of seeing in that statement?  What isn’t and what is… It’s a lens of seeing.

I think what Paul is getting at in this text is that the message of the cross leads a disciple of Christ to be enthusiastic about what is, and not to be angry about what isn’t.

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So, our first job as disciple of Christ must always be about seeing correctly who we are, and then to act on it. Don’t live in a false reality of who you’ve been created to be, BE YOU!  Live a true life, not a false-self. Don’t believe for a second that living into your true-self is an easy thing to do.  Some people wrestle with their true-self every day and are never fully aware of who the Creator has created them to be. It takes immense courage and humility to see ourselves correctly, and perhaps the most courageous thing we can do with our life is to accept with humbleness the mystery of our own reality.

Do you see the message of the cross in that?   Living in a way in which God wants me to live vs. how I want to live or what I want to get out of life.   They can very likely be two very different ways of living.

And this way of seeing is exactly what Jesus taught in the beatitudes.  Wisdom of the world is simply flipped upside down.  God’s way of seeing isn’t our way of seeing through the teaching of Jesus in which the ‘poor in spirit’ receive the kingdom of heaven, and those who ‘mourn’ are comforted.  Jesus’ message is not one of despair and gloom, but rather, ‘rejoice and be glad’.  Be glad when you are persecuted for righteousness sake and hurl all kinds of profanities because of our faith in Christ.  It’s not what we want to hear from Jesus, but that’s God’s wisdom.

Could it be that the message of the cross is that in seeing through a clear lens while gazing at the Cross of Christ, God is to be found in all things, even and especially through those moments that are most tragic, sinful, and especially painful.  Moments when we feel the absence of love are the moments when God is most close.  Like the moment of the crucifixion in which Jesus is at the same moment the most sorrowful and worst thing that could happen, yet it is also the best thing in human history.

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The ‘beautiful’ cross:  A paradox of faith.

And in the end, the paradox of faith always must be some form of crucifixion.  We can’t hold two equally true things together that are complete opposite of one enough.  Our minds are too limited.  Heck, consider Jesus crucifixion as the gospels tell the story – Jesus was crucified between two criminals one was a good thief and the other was bad.  Here Jesus hung somewhere between heaven and earth, between God’s shalom and the destruction of earth. And through the cross, Paul tells us in Ephesians that Jesus “reconciled all things to himself.”  (Eph 2:10).

Through the ‘foolishness’ of the cross, a mystery in which true life is found in a journey of death and where rebirth happens when we discover who God is we can let go of our need to be in control of what comes next.

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What I mean to say is that there is great meaning in the mystical words of our communion liturgy “Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  And Christ will come again.”  At the end of our life, that is all we need to know.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Good Things of Life”-Luke 16:19-31

I’ve been a reading blitz this year….and it’s not been work related!  It’s rare that I get a quiet moment to myself. Reading for the sake of reading, only.   It’s hard for me to find a novel that I want to read, and when I do, I’m hooked. As in, “I can’t put the book down.”  The lasted book I’m hooked on is a wonderful story entitled, “Homegoing”.  It’s a story that traces the lives of two African half-sisters who were caught up in the slave trade of the mid-18th century.

One sister was married off to the commander of the British Slave company who worked with the local people to sell the slaves and the other sister was sold into slavery.  It’s a wonderful, intense story as it develops the details of the two sisters and their families in a way that, although fiction, it certainly and quite plausibly is indeed historically accurate.

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Homegoing” The book I’m currently reading by Yaa Gyasi. 

The sister who was married off into the British officer lived a life of luxury in the court, while her sister sold into slavery lived in the dungeon beneath her as she was shipped off to the Americas.

 

The premise of the story is the story Jesus tells about the Rich ruler and the poor man, Lazarus in our text.   Like the book I’m reading, the parable of the rich man is heavy.

 

But not without reason.

 

How do we hear the truth of the parable?   What will it take to convince us that there is wisdom in this parable.  It’s something that we wrestle as those who are like the first sister in the novel “Homegoing” we all here have been blessed with, as Jesus describes, “The good things in life.”

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So, this parable for us should awaken us to the peril facing us, when by the world’s standards, we have arrived with the finer things in life.

 

Let’s talk about money.  We talked a little about giving last Sunday and I mentioned you can only do three things with your money:  you can spend it, save it, or give it away. Money is not dangerous or evil.  Money is only a tool.  But here’s where the danger comes in, it’s what we do with our resources, or perhaps more appropriately, what our resources do to us.   The Bible isn’t clear about what the rich man sin was about.  Only that it is implied the rich man never saw the poor man, Lazarus lying at his gate.

 

Jesus is trying to shock his listens with a different twist to what was expected to be heard.  They believed that riches were a sign of God’s approval and reward.  They also believed that sickness and poverty are a result of God’s punishment.   Not really much different that some of the theology that we hear in our culture is it?

 

Yet, we come hear from the prophet Amos, “Woe to you who are at ease in Zion.” And then Jesus pricks us with words that we really don’t want to hear.  His words reverse our expectations and shifts us from complacency to action.

 

Fact is if you know about Luke’s gospel and Jesus as the one who is Good News to the poor, you aren’t really surprised by this tough passage.  Jesus mission statement as record all the way back in Luke 4 was that “the spirit of the Lord anointed him to bring good news to the poor and proclaim release to the captives.” (lk4:18).

 

The danger for us is that we can become so smug with the good things in life, that we overlook the poor right outside our door.

 

So, the question that lies before us is will we heed the danger signals?  Will we look with our spiritual eyes upon the world as Jesus sees?  And will we respond in faithfulness to the needs of the world.

 

The question still haunts us, is it a sin to be wealth?   What was the sin of the rich man in the story?  Was it because he was wealth? His sin was that he had an “I” trouble.  Not eye trouble that is treaded with glasses or contacts.  His eye trouble was that he wasn’t able to look beyond his own nose.  He could not see the world beyond himself, beyond his own desires, beyond his needs, wants, or even “deserves”.

 

So his sin was what he did with his resources.  The sin here is not how much was in the bank balance, but that there were blinders that kept him for seeing the needs of those around.  The danger with any of us our wealth seduces us into thinking of our personal wants and into thinking that things can satisfy our spiritual desires. Or, that our believing in our possessions can provide our identity.

 

So, what will it take to convince us?

 

We have the scripture to point us to what God desires for us.  Rest assured, we have the needy at our gate:  people who are poor, hungry, oppressed, and those who have yet to hear and understand the gospel message.

 

What will it take to convince us?  Convince us of who we are in the parable? Convince us of our own blessings? Of our need to share?

 

It is the generosity and unconditional love and grace of God that gives us life and identity.  It is the generosity and unconditional love and grace of God that satisfies our souls.  It is the generosity and unconditional love of God that seeks justice for us as God’s grace calls and empowers us to live out our true identity while seeking the needs of the world. 

 

It is the generosity and unconditional love of God and grace of God that gives contemptment with what we have, meaning and hope for our lives, rich or poor.

 

Are you convinced?

 

 

“Praise, Plea, and a Promise: Three Lessons from the Book of Philemon

Earlier in the summer, we worked our way through Paul’s letter to Galatians, each week taking a chapter at a time and really diving deep into Paul’s letter.

This week, not only do we have the opportunity to take a look at one chapter of another of Paul’s letter, we have the opportunity to consider an entire book (read: entire letter).   Paul’s letter to Philemon is unique in the fact that it is Paul’s only private letter which we possess. Certainly, Paul wrote other personal letters; no doubt they were destroyed or lost over millennia.  So, let’s dive into this unique letter (book) and consider the insight from this ancient letter.

Paul writes this letter to Philemon about a slave, whom he calls his “child”.  His name is “Onesimus” and Paul says he has become his “father” during his imprisonment.

Onesimus, once a slave for Philemon, had become “useless” to Philemon and thus, Paul is “sending him back”.  But, no longer a slave—rather—as a brother, a “beloved brother”.   You need to remember here, that a slave was not a person.  A slave was a tool.  Albeit a living tool, but a tool nonetheless. Thus, a master had absolute power over his slaves.  So whatever reason Philemon had in discarding Onesimus; Onesimus certain had no or little value to Philemon.

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Yet, Paul is making a case that Onesimus, indeed, has value.  Now Philemon must take him back, not has a slave, but as a Christian brother. Onesimus is Paul’s son and Philemon must receive him as Paul himself.

Consider the awkwardness the two men must have felt. 

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Philemon, the owner, welcoming back his discarded property, a slave.  Conversely, a slave who must be welcomed no longer as property, but now in a relationship where both men are equals in Christ.  Sure, Onesimus was a slave to Philemon, but now, no longer a slave but a free man.

If you live long enough, you will understand the difficulty of offering forgiveness when you have been wronged. It does not come easy, yet as believers, we have to recognize that our ability and willingness to offer forgiveness is the result of Christ’s saving work on the cross.

Because of that fact, forgiveness serves as a determining factor in who we say we are and how we hope to live our lives. When we do not forgive, bitterness takes root in our hearts and chokes the vitality out of us.

This is a significant learning for this letter:  faith in Christ is not meant for us to escape our past- our short-comings, failures, and sin; but rather, our faith is to meant to help us face our past and rise above it.

Think of this letter with three “P’s” – Praise, Pleas, and a Promise.   Think of it, not much has changed in terms of human relationship for thousands of years.  At least in terms of asking others to consider our propositions.

Paul begins his appeal to Philemon by praising him because of his faithfulness towards God.  He appeals to Philemon by telling him in verse 4 that he “thanks God always because of [Philemon’s] love for all the saints and faith towards Jesus.” Paul is praising Philemon because of his faithfulness.   Here’s a little tid-bit that doesn’t come across in the English translation – the name Onesimus in Greek literally means “Profitable”.  Whether this is a nickname or an original name, we can’t be sure, but Paul seems to be playing up the pun.

Paul starts his appeal by looking backward to offer complements to Philemon for which Philemon is to commended.   Here’s wisdom for the world.  We need to understand that Paul motivation to Philemon was love.  So often, the world uses motives that are not pure, but Paul is offering, as a motive, love.  His appeal is based on love and a hope that reconciliation can occur between a slave and an owner.  Paul knows there was conflict in the relationship between the two parties.  He acknowledges there is a wedge between them and wants to bring the past up, but in a way that they can move forward.

 

So, often, we have other motives when we make a request of people.  If I walk to a car lot, I expect a sales person to make an appeal to me as his/her motive is to try to get me to buy a car. So much of the world’s appeal is economic.  But Paul’s appeal is appealing here to something that cannot be bought.  It’s a heart matter – the matter of reconciliation.

 

Here’s where the plea comes.

Beginning in verse 8 Paul pleas with Philemon to receive a brother in Christ, no longer a slave.   This is something that must be freely given and freely accepted.  There can be no strings to this reconciliation.

If we’ve done the hard work of confession our short comings with others, this second step should be a bit simpler. If we are sincere and our motives comes “from the heart” and the other person recognizing this feeling, the plea part SHOULD fall in place.   Paul makes the claim again,  “Onesimus was indeed useless to you, but he is useful now.

The key to this plea is Christ.  In Christ, the useless have value.  The “other” is redeemed and beloved. Faith in Christ is not designed to produce useless, vague, and nebulous relationships with other sisters and brothers, but an inter-connectedness where all have value- all gifts are welcomed and needed.  In Christ, we find our value is in service to the “other” especially to the poor and marginalized.  

Finally, there comes The promise.

Certainly life is tricky and relationship are risky.  We will hurt one another — intentionally or unintentionally.  Paul’s letter to Philemon is calling us to look beyond the conflict and embrace each other as beloved sisters and brothers.   Finding forgiveness in Christ, we are able to accept each united in love and mutual service.

In Christ, we are one body as there is no distinction between the members. The only thing that matters is that the body remains health to the call of Christ.  We’ve all got work to do.  Doesn’t matter what function you are in the body.  Christ needs your gifts.  Don’t hold them back, we will all be diminished without you.  Christ’s promise is that he will take what we offer and use it for God’s purposes.  Don’t hold back and don’t worry.  Christ is the One who can reconcile the broken.  Relationships, homes, families, communities and nations.

May we be received by each others as fellow sisters and brothers, we’re all on the road together.  Might as well make the most of a long journey.   Amen.

 

 

 

 

Raising Up a Daughter of Abraham – Sermon on Luke 13:10-17

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“Woman, you are loosed!” -Luke 13:12

 

Like so many of you, my family is glued to the TV to watch the Olympics.

My wife, Karen, watches sports once-every-240-weeks. Yep, it’s time for the Olympics when the 240th week rolls around.

Of course being a swimmer in her young adult years, she is naturally drawn to swimming.  Heck, this year, who isn’t?

Michael Phelps winning his 23 metal (at last count). Not to overshadow the other members of the swim team, but it seems that Michael Phelps enters our collective American conscience once every 240 weeks, yet, Phelps swears he’s retiring.   Time will tell.

And he is, with little argument the best swimmer of all time. 

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Phelps upon winning his 23rd Olympic metal

Except this year, Michael didn’t win a gold medal in every race.

For the first time in the history of the Olympics, he tied for a three-way second in the 100 fly.  Which, of course, is news in and of itself.

But it also happened that Katie Ledecky set the world record in the women’s 800 freestyle.

Which of course, is a bigger accomplishment than Phelps winning his zillionth gold metal, and a silver.

A headline in the Sunday edition of a Texas newspaper featured the news with the following headline: “ Phelps Ties for Silver in 100 fly” and the sub-title of the article was “Ledecky sets world record in women’s 800 freestyle

The substance of the article was about Phelps losing his race while barely mentioning the World Record set by Ledecky.

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World Record holder and gold medalist in the 800 freestyle, Katie Ledecky

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This stands out in my mind as we hear the story of Jesus healing the crippled women.  A women who, like so many other women in the Bible, goes unnamed.  Only that, this women had been crippled and bend down for 18 long years. She couldn’t even stand-up straight.  Like one who’s accomplishments shadow the powerful and mighty, she barely goes noticed.

Except that Jesus saw her. 

He lays hands on her and then she raises up.  Hands held high in the air.  Nothing else matters at this point.  She’s been freed, liberated!  She won!

Who cares what the leaders in the synagogue think and say.  She won’t be making the front page of the newspaper anyway!

Except that, because of Jesus, she did.

And not only that, the shame that should have been cast upon her for the spirit that had occupied her for 18 years that barred her from participating with any form of communication or human action, all that shame was redirected to those who were in the leadership of the synagogue.

She found a new purpose. Purpose was inside her all those 18 years, Jesus made her see what was already there.   Life was living within her broken body.

We’re not exactly told what her infirmity was in the text, only that she had one.  Her infirmity might have been that she was disabled.  Then again, it could have been that she was a woman.   Woman were second-class citizens and Jesus seems to be lifting her up both physically and socially.  He emphasizes that she is a woman.

We don’t have to look too far to see how woman have been devalued based on gender.   Women around the world have often been undervalued and largely going unrecognized for their contributions.

Think of it:  even in our world today, some women still cannot vote, drive cars, inherit property, or even hold certain jobs because of their gender.   Women in our country didn’t even get the right to vote until 1920 which is about 60 years after the Civil War.

And not only that,

Women make less money than men, only 20% of our elected national leaders or women and a handful of governors.  And if you think things are better in the church, they’re not.   Out of our 65 bishops, only 12 are female and around 12% of the multi-staff calls in the larger congregations are headed up by women.   On Monday, Pope Francis expressed his hope that women who are enslaved by the powerful will be allowed to have a life of “peace, justice and love.”

The point being, that when people are devalued, they, like the bend-over woman in Luke’s gospel tend be bent over and don’t have the ability to straighten themselves and praise God.

See, Jesus isn’t interested in body shaming, body politics, judging and rejection.  He was interested in wholeness, completeness, overcoming judgement.   Jesus was not casting judgement on this women, because of any spirit or disability, but finding the best for this person and for all our bent positions.

Jesus isn’t standing over us in judgement, but in our wholeness.  The source of God’s great compassion and the love of God in flesh.  Hands outstretched on the cross because of , not in spite of, the rules and regulations of God’s law.

 The only thing that is to be shamed, according to our text today is sin, death, Satan, and even the Law for the execution of God’s son.  Not even death could hold us back

Be set free.  In the name of Jesus. Be set from what holds you bent over.  Set free from your own bondage, freed to stand up straight, and praise God.  Amen.

 

Woman-to-woman. Daughter Norah with her Great-grandmother Landahl.