A Fresh Start: New Year’s Eve Sermon

Luke 2:22-40

Those carefully placed mountains of colorful cookies have been reduced to plates of crumbs, and those glorious, glistening turkeys are now sliced sandwich meat stowed away in Tupperware containers in our fridges.
Those beautiful, shiny packages that once surrounded the tree are now brand new jackets or sweaters keeping us warm, jewelry adorning our necks and wrists, or in my case VERY LOUD toys occupying the bandwidth of our already cacophonous house. The excitement of Christmas has given way to a return to our routines. Friends and family have traveled home and many of us are back at work.
But this morning I want to bring you back to the joy of Jesus’ birth and return to the story of our Savior.
In the gospel text this morning, Luke tells us of the Holy Family’s journey to the temple for the ritual purification, which according to the Law was required of Jewish women before returning to everyday life after childbirth. In addition, all firstborn sons are required to be presented at the temple and dedicated to God.
We also meet two prophets, Simeon and Anna, described as old in age, who meet Jesus and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit experience the fulfillment of their hopes and prayers and offer blessings and praises. They’ve been waiting and waiting for this fulfillment, the one who would usher in this new future. He would be the light to the Gentiles and the glory for the people of Israel. He would bring forth a new future of peace. And as a result of this, Simeon exclaims “you now dismiss your servant in peace for my eyes have seen your salvation”
It’s almost like a passing of the torch.
God in Christ has relieved these two faithful saints of their faithful vigil and offered them the promise of restoration they had hoped for.
One story ends as one begins.
With the arrival of Jesus in the world, a fresh start is underway.
This seems to be the perfect text as we bring 2017 to a close and look toward a brand new year. For some it was a tough year, with the loss of loved ones or the experience of life transitions. For some it was a year of great joy, with the arrival of new babies, or the start of new jobs or careers. And maybe for some it was a mix both- the joy of retirement from a long career followed by maybe the nervousness of what’s next.
The end of one thing followed by the beginning of another.
I for one love fresh starts. The start of the week or the 1st day of the month and especially the start of a new year gives me such joy. To have that clean slate is exciting to me and is pregnant with such possibility. You can put away whatever mistakes you made or regrets you had and start fresh. You can imagine a new reality and step into it, molding and shaping your decisions and choices to fit whatever goal you have. The past no longer holds you captive. A new journey has begun.
It reminds me of our baptism, when what is old is put to death to give birth to what is new in Christ. God comes to us offering us these fresh starts. Grace has set us free from the past and offers us a new future. We are washed clean and are offered a clean slate. Talking about good news.
My family went to see a movie on Christmas. It’s become sort of a tradition. This year we watched the new musical, “The Greatest Showman” a fictionalized treatment of the life of P.T. Barnum starring Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michele Williams, and Disney star Zendaya.
It was an incredible movie. Beautiful and visually stunning. Incredible music and dance sequences featuring fascinating characters and interesting storylines. Very much like a classic, big-screen Hollywood movie. I’m not sure which parts were historically true, and which parts weren’t, but I know truth most certainly rang true in the film in terms of equality, love, loyalty, and beauty. And that was enough for me. Sounds a little like the bible, doesn’t it?
But at the core of the film is Barnum’s rags to riches story. He’s the poor son of a suit maker but imagines a bigger life, one that would allow him to realize his dreams of adventure, beauty, opportunity, and riches. It would also allow him to win the heart of his childhood sweetheart, the wealthy daughter of one of his father’s clients, who disapproves of his social position.
Barnum is relentless in his pursuit; a true optimist who will stop at nothing to fulfill his destiny. He experiences setback after setback along his quest to fulfill his dreams. He takes big risks and they flop. He tries new things and they don’t get traction with audiences. And with these failures comes financial hardships and public humiliation. He worries about how he will provide for his wife, who was used to a life of privilege and his two young daughters.
But each day, like many of us, he starts fresh and tries again. He starts the day with hope, puts on his clothes, straps on his boots and goes out into the world to try again. Until that day arrives where things finally fall into place, his opportunity arrives, things click and he is thrust into fame and fortune with the start of a show highlighting a host of who many at the time referred to as “freaks” including the bearded lady, the tallest man on earth, and dog boy among many. This show would evolve into the Barnum & Bailey Circus, which would eventually become known as “The Greatest Show on Earth”.
Each day offers us a new start. And we can capture that hope. And never is there a better time than New Year’s Eve. So ignore those haters who try to shame you for making resolutions. Go for it. Whatever you imagine your future to be, take hold of it and start now.
And folks this hope is rooted in our baptism. Our baptism liberates from all those forces holding us back.
Baptism silences the voices that tells us we aren’t good enough, that our hopes and dreams are impossible.
Baptism urges us forward to try those new things, to nurture those gifts, to take those risks.
Baptism washes away those memories of failure that haunt us.
Baptism puts to death that person that was never who you wanted to be.
Christ has arrived in our lives and we have been reborn. We are created new in Christ. So fear, doubt, insecurity- they hold no power over us.
So grab hold of that new reality.
Start that new chapter. God has placed faithful people like Simeon and Anna, who will see you for who you really are and will support you and encourage you. They will see the Holy Spirit at work in your lives and will help you. The torch has been passed and the Holy Spirit is alive and well in you and is waiting for you to act.
So what’s it going to be? What is God calling you to do in 2018?
My guess is many of you already know. Many of you have had that deep desire marinating in your hearts for some time now. But you’ve never acted on them. Maybe you’ve allowed those negative forces to hold you back. If so, hear this message today: Go for it. Do it. Be who you were born to be. And make it a wonderful, incredible, exciting, and joyous 2018.
Amen.

Here I Am

Luke 1:26-38

The angel came to Mary in what must have been a frightening scene for the young girl. “Greetings!” announces Gabriel. And I can’t imagine it being subtle. Can you? To be fair, I don’t know what angels sound like, but I can’t imagine this one being a whisper. In my imagination at least, it’s a loud, thunderous sound that echoes and reverberates.
And please, sound system, don’t take this as a cue!
But I think it would be just a little bit scary. And sure, Gabriel says to her, “Don’t be afraid!” But come on, can you imagine poor Mary?
I’m sure she was scared to death. The text says she was “perplexed” but that hardly seems realistic for the circumstances. After all, she was a 13 year old girl who was just told by a celestial being that she would be pregnant with God’s son. And although engaged, she wasn’t married yet which could cost her her life. That’s enough to scare most people I know.
But regardless of her feelings, her response is really the ideal response to God. A combination of humble trust and obedient service. From a position of faith, she ultimately answers, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be according to your word.”
Don’t you wish we were all like this?
God breaks into your life, calls you to a new direction; maybe even a new life, no details, really and lots to fear, and your response is an unequivocal “here am I” or in other words, “send me.”
I think many of us push back on these urgings from God and instead convince ourselves that our paths are the correct paths. We allow fear to dictate our decisions and push forward with our own agenda rather than discerning and honoring God’s will. It’s human nature.
This is what makes Mary’s response so awe-inspiring.
Because in doing so Mary becomes the model for the ages for Christian discipleship—the person who all Christians should emulate. She embodies faith and faithfulness.
There are lots of examples of this type of faithful response in Scripture, which makes you wonder if maybe it’s a theme that God wants us to pay attention to.
Consider the responses of others in the Bible:
Mary? She answers, “Here I am”
Abraham? “Here I am”
Moses? “Here I am”
God calls and people answer. And these are folks just like you and me.
All of these examples- and there are others- are regular, ordinary people being called by God and their responses- ultimately, not always at first, are along the lines of “Send me”. The Bible gives us models of faithful responses in all sorts of situations for which to emulate.
The Hebrew word for this is Heneni. It’s a courageous response and means you are ready, willing, and able for whatever God has in store for you. Fittingly, it was the focus of the sermon given at my graduation from seminary.
In addition to “Here I Am”, another translation of heneni,” is “Here I Stand” which is interesting considering our Lutheran heritage. For those new to the Lutheran tradition, “Here I Stand” were the famous words believed to have been uttered by Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms as he is asked by officials of the Roman Catholic Church to renounce his claims and calls for reforms of the church; reforms he felt were mandated by Scripture. His steadfast resolve, guided by the Holy Spirit, moved him to stand his ground, despite the risk to not just his career, but his life. His famous words are, “Here I stand. I can do no other, so help me God.”
When faith is our lens, we can trust that whatever we feel God calling us to will be the right path. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, but our fears will have no license over us because we can trust in God’s loving protection and provision.
Mary is told not to be afraid. That God is with her and will not abandon her. God will walk with her and be with her the entire way.
The message is the same for us today.
With our faith in God’s loving presence and provision as our lens, we can respond to our circumstances with confidence and resolve.
With faith as our lens, we can respond to whatever God calls us to with trust.
Mary doesn’t have all the answers- she doesn’t know what all of these things will mean for her. She doesn’t know how it will all work out. But she trusts in God and God’s capacity. And she is able to step out in faith.
The same is true for us. We rarely have all the answers, but we are still called to respond.
Perhaps the most important words in this passage, ones that should calm our fears, are “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Mary knows this and responds accordingly.
Nothing will be impossible for God.
Friends, these words are true. And I want you to hear that today. Nothing is impossible for God. So there is no need to be afraid.
God’s got this!
So when you feel God calling you to whatever task or challenge it might be, you can rest assure that even if it seems impossible, even if it seems outrageous, with God all things are possible. My buddy used to have a saying, “If it’s God’s will, He’ll foot the bill!”
My friend Carol was enjoying a successful career in Corporate America when God began luring her in a new direction. She was pulled toward helping those in her community living in poverty, in particular those who were in the midst of crisis. For a multitude of reasons, they had lost their homes, or had their electricity or water shut off. Or they had no money to feed themselves or their families. After 18 years at Duke Energy, she followed God’s call and took the leap, abandoning the comforts of a big, corporate job and went to work for Crisis Assistance Ministry, a local non-profit helping those in poverty. 17 years later, she is now its Chief Executive Officer, only the 2nd in its history, and has made a tremendous impact on our community.
When God called, Carol said, “Here I am”
My buddy Clint and his wife Angela were living a comfortable life in Chapel Hill- already a busy one with their 4 young, beautiful children going in a million different directions with sports and activities when God called them to add to their family through adoption. What in the world were they thinking?, all of us asked. And they were most certainly afraid of what it all might look like- and they weren’t necessarily sure how they would manage. But God was pulling that thread, as Pastor Ginn mentioned last week, leading them to Ethiopia where they met 2 year-old brothers, who are now part of their family.
God called, Clint and Angela both said,”Here I am.”
There are countless stories of people in comfortable circumstances being called by God into new terrain. Sometimes it’s a new career.
Sometimes it’s a new relationship.
Sometimes it’s a move to a different part of the country or even world.
But God never leads us astray. We don’t always have the full picture, that’s to be sure, but we can trust that if God is calling us somewhere, we can be confident it is for our good.
Although we tend to think of the dramatic examples of God calling and brave souls fearlessly responding in the affirmative, these are not the only examples.
God is breaking into our lives and calling us each and every day.
Sure, sometimes it’s in big, dramatic ways but also it’s in more subtle, gentle ways.
But the message is the same. Do not be afraid. God is with you. And with this knowledge you can respond, “here I am”
So where is God calling you?
Where do you feel that gentle tug toward an area that might seem a little scary?
Maybe it’s taking on a new responsibility at work or even starting a new business.
Maybe it’s picking up that instrument you abandoned years ago.
Maybe it’s trying a new committee here at church in a completely unfamiliar area.
Whatever it might be, trust in God’s guidance. Trust that our God will not lead you on a path you aren’t intended for.
Mary was called by God to an unimaginable task. And we all know it was far from easy. But in faith and courage,she heeded the angel Gabriel’s advice and was not afraid, choosing trust over fear.
May you, too, have the same faith and courage to respond to God’s call however it might surface in your own life. And maybe you be richly blessed as a result.
Amen.

Vulnerability & Talent: My Sermon from Today

Sermon
The Parable of the Talents
Matthew 25:14-30
11/19/17

Despite what you might be thinking, this parable is NOT about managing your portfolio..
Sorry, Suzy Orman, Jesus is talking about something a little deeper than just making sure you invest wisely.
So what does this parable mean?
Well we find it situated in the section of Matthew where Jesus is using 3 different parables to instruct his disciples how to live in anticipation of the Lord’s return.
Last week Pastor Ginn discussed the parable of the ten maidens, where Jesus seemed to be inviting listeners to share freely; not to be constrained by feelings of scarcity—to remind them that in God’s kingdom there is abundance.
This week, with the Parable of the Talents, we hear a similar message.
In this story, a master has entrusted three slaves with part of his estate while he is away.
He’s divided it in the form of “talents” which is a monetary amount- where 1 talent is equal to about 20 years wages for the average worker.
So he’s entrusting them with a ton of money.
Think about it, the first got the equivalent of 100 years wages, the second 40, and the third 20.
So when he returns, after what the text says is “a long time”, he is interested to know what the slaves have done with the generous resources for which he has entrusted them.

In this parable, the resource is money, but like with most parables, its meaning is intentionally open, capable of making a variety of deeper claims.
So let’s take this word- talent- and think about it more along the lines of how we define it today- to mean a skill, aptitude, or ability.
And let’s look at the parable in this way.
Because the parable hinges not on the specifics of the resource, but the master’s response to how they’ve used what they were given.

To those who “invested” their talents, they were rewarded and invited to “enter into the joy of your master”
To the one who didn’t, who buried his talent- he’s “thrown out into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”.
Yikes.
Seems harsh, doesn’t it?
So what to make of this?

Our talents, whatever they might be, are generous gifts from God and they are unique to us. And we are to offer that talent as a gift to the world.
1 Peter calls us to “serve one another with whatever gifts each has received.”
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” Or as some say, you are “blessed to be a blessing”

So burying that talent—Denying that gift—is not a faithful response to God.
It’s certainly not actively participating in the body of Christ.
Because our talents are how we participate in the body.
They become our contribution to the world.
And as a result, they’re deeply linked to who we are.

But so often we don’t recognize our talents. We aren’t sure if what we have to offer is significant.
Society has a way of keeping folks at bay.
With impossible standards.
Unrealistic expectations
The messages we are pounded with are relentless, really
Telling us we aren’t good enough.
That only perfection is worthy
No wonder people hide talents or are reluctant to share them.
Because the repercussions can be brutal.
The risks, too great.
To me, this is the enemy at work.
Keeping our gifts tucked away.
Under lock and key.
A light that’s hidden.

When we don’t allow our gifts to be seen
When we keep our light hidden.
We not only bury our talents.
We bury ourselves.

It’s vulnerability and that’s not comfortable.
Offering ourselves openly and honestly can be scary.

C.S. Lewis writes, “to love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal…Lock it up safe in a casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless- it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

So maybe the third slave isn’t so much condemned as he condemns himself to a place- that knows not joy, that knows only darkness and wailing and grinding of teeth.”

Vulnerability is not easy.
To many- I would say most-
It’s scary, it’s uncomfortable.
It most definitely requires courage.

Before the King of Rock n Roll hit it big he was told by the Grand Ole Opry manager that he would be better of going back to being a truck driver than pursuing a career in music.

For the record, it is estimated the Elvis Presley has sold over 1 BILLION records to date worldwide.

Albert Einstein struggled early on- not speaking until age 4 or reading until age 7. Those challenges did not prevent him from winning the Nobel Prize in Physics and developing the theory of relativity.

In 1919 Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas,” according to his editor.

And those are just a few examples!
There are countless others.
Thank goodness these folks didn’t succumb to the insecurity and fear of the unknown that could have hidden their talents.
They didn’t avoid the vulnerability required to harness their gifts.

Most of us avoid vulnerability at all costs.
We run from it with all our might.
We think if he can avoid failure, eliminate risk, or micromanage our environments, we can minimize or even diminish the discomfort that comes with vulnerability.
But this is to our own peril.

In her bestselling book, “Daring Greatly”, sociologist Brene Brown notes that when we avoid vulnerability , “we limit the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.”
And those experiences are what shape us
Those experiences are what help us identify our gifts and share them with the world!
Those experiences are what help us step into the fullness of ourselves.

Brown writes, “Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think. When we’re fueled by that fear or listen to the voice that’s constantly whispering “You’re not good enough”, it’s tough to show up. We end up hustling for our worthiness rather than standing in it.”

Friends in Christ, remember that our worthiness is already in place.
We are worthy because Christ made us worthy.
We don’t need to jockey for our worthiness.
That bill has been paid.
So we can lean into the confidence that we are loved and valued by the creator of the universe.
The Psalmist writes, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

So maybe this parable is about being your authentic self and celebrating those God- given gifts- the talents- you have been entrusted with.
God invites us to embrace and harness these gifts—
Not bury them in the ground.
Folks, I don’t think this parable is about doubling your money to please a harsh boss.
It’s about standing into your worthiness.
Offering to the world the gifts God has given you.

We have a responsibility to use and maximize those resources for which we have been entrusted.
Because at the end of the day, they really aren’t ours, they’re God’s.

If you think your talents are simply for you to make a lot of money, retire, and die, you’ve missed the point of your life. God gave you talents to benefit others, not yourself. And in return, God gave other people talents that benefit you.
We’re all a part of the body of Christ, and each part matters. There are no insignificant people in the family of God. You are shaped to serve God, and God wants to see how you are going to use the talents he gave you.

So maybe that’s what the master means in the parable when he says those who have utilized their talents will “enter into the joy of your master”.

So what is your talent?
What is it God has entrusted you with to bless the world?
Don’t worry if you think you’re “good” at it- what brings you joy?
Do you have a knack for fixing things?
(side note this is NOT me)
Do you enjoy numbers?
Are you a talented singer, painter, writer?
How about cooking?
Are you good with kids?
What is it?
Because God has equipped you specifically with that gift- that unique ability – so that you can bless the world.
Are you making the most of it?
Are you using your talents?

Don’t let fear keep you from experiencing the joy God has in store for you.

Enter into the joy of the Master.

Amen.

All Saints Sermon 11/5/17

All Saints Sermon

I can remember when I was younger watching the movie Superman. Remember the scene where the kids are on the school bus that’s crashed and is now teetering over the edge of a bridge? That always struck me with a deep fear. “That could be me!” I would think. “That could be my bus!” I would gasp, immediately suspending the reality that in Elkin, North Carolina the only body of water my bus ever crossed was the Big Elkin Creek which was about 6 feet deep.
But nevertheless I was instantly drawn into this scene where a hero saves the day.

After Superman safely lifts the bus back onto the bridge saving the kids and driver,
-sorry if that’s a spoiler!—
everyone involved breathes a collective sigh of relief and offers passionate thanks and admiration to this extraordinary individual.
In our movies and in our lives, we long for a hero.
To come and save the day.
It captures our imagination.
It offers us hope.
So we actively seek out these stories.
Take the Marvel Universe, as it’s known. Its the comic book company who is now bringing these comics to the big screen. Their characters include Thor, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Black Widow and Captain America and have all been made into big movies and sequels.
To say they’re popular is an understatement. In fact, as of today, the movies collectively have grossed just shy of $5 BILLION dollars. Yes folks, that’s a b.
The concept of heroes fascinates us and taps into a deep longing that exists in almost all of us.

Obviously, this is nothing new. Heroes, gods, mythological creatures with special powers all date back to the beginning of time.
In a way, these figures served as narrative devices that helped listeners and readers make sense of a confusing and chaotic world. Mythological entities were created to explain how plants grew or how the seasons changed. Dramatic stories of fantastical beings were imagined to explain storms, earthquakes, and other natural phenomenon.
But their influence didn’t stop with the natural world. These stories also served as a way to help us in our human experience. These gods and heroes modeled exceptional traits which most could only dream of exhibiting.
But they became the ideals for which our leaders were compared.
They became the standard for heroes.
The ancient Israelites longed for such a hero to come down and rescue and deliver them from their troubles and despair. But God threw in a twist.
God told them that their deliverer would not be a supernatural being, but a human one. This hero, known as the Messiah, would embody all the traditional markings of a legendary hero: a strong political presence and a legal expert; a charismatic and powerful military leader.

But then comes the ultimate twist.
Along comes Jesus- the fulfillment of this prophesy.
the arrival of the Messiah,
and he is nothing like he was supposed to look.
He wasn’t an epic warrior, he was a peace-maker
He wasn’t an esteemed leader from nobility, he was the peasant son of a carpenter from a little known country.
This was definitely NOT what anyone expected.
Imagine the bewilderment as God seems to be throwing yet another curve ball!
This unpredictable hero is turning over everything.
In the Beatitudes we read today, we hear first-hand as Jesus subverts many of the norms of the day:
Blessed are the hopeless
Blessed are those who grieve
Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness.
Blessed are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous.
Those are simply unconventional – maybe even confusing messages!
Because it defies our preconceived understandings.

This is why may people at the time weren’t convinced Jesus was the Messiah
he simply didn’t meet the criteria.
He didn’t fit the bill.
He didn’t say what he was supposed to say.
He was countercultural.
But that’s what is so awesome about our God.

God is always subverting our limited understandings to open up a new and incredible life available to us all.
God turns on its head all those preconceived notions we have about what it takes to be a hero.
Because in God’s eyes we are all heroes. By doing God’s transformative work in the world, we are heroes.
Epic feats aren’t required for God.
Super strength and perfection isn’t necessary.
For God, love is the only prerequisite for heroism.
Blessed are the meek.

Israel was indeed delivered as was promised.
In fact all of humanity was rescued.
But not in a way anyone thought.
God was saying something new.
God redeemed humanity by becoming human -entering into flesh and taking on a body and walking among us.
Feeling what we feel
Doing what we do
Trying things we try.
And by doing so God points to the fact that deliverance comes not by supernatural megaheroes but through ordinary folks just like you and me.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ lives in each and every one of us, giving us power- we mere mortals – to be heroes.
to do amazing things.
To be courageous leaders
and brave change-agents.

Who are your heroes?
What are they like?

On Wednesday night I was talking with the Confirmation students about the Exodus story. And it was interesting to discuss how the hero of that story- Moses- was an ordinary, flawed guy, just like me and you.
Just like us, Moses had baggage. I mean, he had even killed a guy!
Just like us, he was unsure of himself and doubted whether he had what it took.
He even had a speech impediment!
So he also failed to meet the extraordinary job description of a heroic leader for the ancient world.
But God used this ordinary man to be the hero of the Israelites!
And it’s not just Moses but all the heroes of the Bible seem to be ordinary, flawed folks just like you and me.
See the pattern here?
So I implored the students to remember this when they started to doubt themselves or second-guess that they have what it takes to do some cool things.

Because there is a long line of folks with modest backgrounds who God has used
for God’s glory.

Today is All Saints Sunday.

The word “saint” can confuse people.
Different faith traditions define saints differently.
The Roman Catholic Church has a very structured process and specific criteria for qualifying someone as a saint. For example, one requirement involves the performance of a miracle. So as a result these heroes are often held in the highest esteem and honor- St. Francis, St. Theresa, St. Paul, and St. Peter, among others.
It would be easy to struggle to relate to some of these individuals as actual human beings,
because many people think a saint was someone who was perfect in life.
That wouldn’t seem to jive with what we’ve come to learn about how God works, does it?
But outside of the miracle, if you read about the lives of these saints, you quickly learn they had mostly been everyday folks who God used to do incredible things.
Just like in the Bible.
And just like today.
And this is the approach we as Lutherans take.
We keep it real simple.
To us a saint is defined as simply a loved one who has died in the faith.
And to us, these saints are as much a saint as the biggest names in the Bible.  

This year we have several loved ones- saints- who have died in the faith.
But each of them God used in ordinary ways to do extraordinary things:
Never underestimate the power of small things done in love.

Gary Maillet protected men, women, and children in New York for years before moving South to be a loving and compassionate grandfather.

Gabe Spil left a legacy with his family that challenged them to think bigger. His son wrote, that if he ever said he hated someone, Gabs would correct him and say it wasn’t hate, it was a lack of understanding. Or if he ever said he couldn’t do something, Gabs would simply say, “Cant never could.”

Duane Barrett blessed the world with a beautiful signing voice and by all accounts practiced extraordinary hospitality to everyone in her midst.

Peggy Hall welcomed family young and old into her house to stay as long as they needed.

Worth Vanderburg served his country in the military and then later brought joy to his nephews by getting on the floor and playing with them, leaving lasting memories for all.

Steve Fetner served as a father figure to many, collecting a slew of “adopted” children of all ages.

These are holy legacies.
These are saints.
These are people who through ordinary acts of love made an extraordinary impact on the world around them.
These are heroes.

Gabe might not have been Iron Man, and Peggy might not have been Wonder Woman with a magic lasso.
But they are every much as heroic and remarkable and and saintly as anyone.

And these saints join with us each Sunday in the Divine Service where heaven and earth meet.
So today we remember those that have passed from our midst and rest safely in Christ awaiting the Resurrection of the Body.  
And for their witness we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude.
Thanks be to God.

Your Gifts, Maximized” (audio)

“Your Gifts, Maximized”

A Place At the Table

Text: Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus and his disciples are in the region of Tyre and Sidon, which were known as Pagan cities along the Mediterranean.
Gentile cities.
So for them, they’re basically in the red light district of regions.
And along the way a Canaanite woman cries out for him as they walk by.
Now if you’ll remember, Canaanites were known to be the lowest of low and were scorned by the Israelites.
And despite this history of antagonism by the Israelites
she cries out
Even though she is a Gentile
she cries out
Even though she is a Canaanite.
she cries out
Even though she is a woman
she cries out
She doesn’t let this stop her.
She cries out

Her child, as she explains, is being tormented by a demon and she will stop at nothing to get an audience with this man,
This man who, even though she is a Gentile, she claims as Lord, Son of David.
Somehow she knows this man is different.
Somehow she knows he is able to understand things other Jewish men would not
Somehow she knows there is a chance he could heal her child.
Or relieve the torment.
Sounds like faith, doesn’t it?

And you don’t need me to tell you how a parent of a sick child will stop at nothing to get relief for that child.
Nothing.
We’re talking
walking through fire
coming to blows
risking everything and anything to get the child the help he or she needs.
It’s instinct

So with faith combined with passionate desire
There is no stopping this woman
She is willing to take a risk
to step out
and in total desperation
drop to her knees and beg for her daughter

She knows it doesn’t make sense
She knows that
because of her position
because of her class
she’s relegated to the margins
she isn’t entitled to an audience with this man
or any man for that matter
She isn’t worthy of acknowledgment
but she’s desperate
She has nothing to lose

So she goes for it.

And yet, and here is where it’s really hard for us
Jesus ignores her.
he dismisses her

Have you ever felt like your prayers weren’t being answered?
Have you ever felt like you weren’t receiving the blessings that you desperate need?

So she persists
She won’t be silenced
She won’t be cast aside

History is filled with stories of men and women just like this Canaanite woman
Who despite their position
fought for their place at the table.

In the 1890s a escaped slave from Maryland moved to New York and dazzled the world with his oratory skills and intellect, overturning existing notions of his race. Frederick Douglass fought tirelessly for the equal rights of all citizens- black, female, Native American, immigrant and eventually became the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States.

A young Quaker woman in the early 20th century knew in her heart that, despite being a woman, her voice should be heard. Along with many other women fighting for equal rights, Susan B. Anthony became known for her contribution to women’s right to vote. A right which was finally honored in 1920 with the passing of the 19th Amendment.

In December 1, 1955 a seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus because she knew in her heart that she needed to be there.

There are many examples of men and women like these
too many to count
but because of their courage and persistence
because they fought for their place at the table, we all benefited
Our children
our neighbors
Our friends
Our communities
We all benefited.

But it sure as heck wasn’t easy

But it was their innate knowledge and deep understanding that we are all created in the image of God
that prompted them to shout out from the sidelines
To claim their voice
Just like the Canaanite woman in this story.

So just like them
we shout out as well
We claim our voices
Just like the psalmists who cry out for God to hear us
to see us
we too cry out
For God to answer our prayers.

Perhaps the Gospel writers were just as moved by the tenacity and passion of the Canaanite woman, and were inspired to use this encounter as a teaching moment for hearers.
to show us that in spite of our perception of our worthiness
God will hear our prayers.

Maybe he co-opts their language of dismissal
and enters into this tit for tat with her
and in doing so lifts up or highlights
the courage of the woman to fight for her faith.
And when she does
he responds,
O woman, great is your faith.
and he answers her prayer.
he heals her daughter.

Maybe Jesus wanted us to see that when it comes to asking for what’s desperately needed, being merely nice sometimes won’t cut it.
Sometimes we need to dig in our heels and do some hollering.
Sometimes we need to boldly ask God for what we need.

Poet Jan Richardson wrote of this story in her poem, Stubborn Blessing.
I think it captures the essence of the passage. She writes,

Don’t tell me no.
I have seen you
feed the thousands,
seen miracles spill
from your hands
like water, like wine,
seen you with circles
and circles of crowds
pressed around you
and not one soul
turned away.
Don’t start with me.
I am saying
you can close the door
but I will keep knocking.
You can go silent
but I will keep shouting.
You can tighten the circle
but I will trace a bigger one
around you,
around the life of my child
who will tell you
no one surpasses a mother
for stubbornness.
I am saying
I know what you
can do with crumbs
and I am claiming mine,
every morsel and scrap
you have up your sleeve.
Unclench your hand,
your heart.
Let the scraps fall
like manna,
like mercy
for the life
of my child,
the life of
the world.
Don’t you tell me no.

Perhaps this is the lesson Jesus wants us to learn here.
That we should become the Canaanite woman
And plea for our place at the table

So just like her, we are to cry out
cry out for others who are experiencing demons in their lives. 
cry out for justice, for peace, for healing. 

After all, this is our Christian vocation
Not just to lift up our own prayers, but
to side with those on the margins
and become their voice as well.

And this is what we do every Sunday when we gather her for worship.
We intercede for those who long for healing and hope
we pray for those who feel hopeless and helpless in a world that seems so disrupted
We pray for those who might feel like they’re on the outside
and we, like the Canaanite woman, persist for their sake
We pray for not just our children
but for all children

Because God hears our prayers.
In 1 Thessalonians, St. Paul implores us to “pray without ceasing” (5:17) and we should!
why bother if we don’t believe God will answer our prayers?
Why petition God if it’s futile?
Maybe in this story, Jesus is showing us it is not futile.
that we might be perceived as lowly by others
that the world might have cast us aside
and we might believe that our voices have been silenced
But God hears us
and we
will
be
blessed.

It might seem impossible.
It might seem a reach
but be bold.

Believe that Jesus is still in the business of working miracles, changing lives, and ushering in the reconciliation of this world.

So come to the table.
all of you
Hold out your hands for these crumbs
these sacred crumbs
the same crumbs the Canaanite woman begged for
and experience the life-changing power they offer

This is the body of Christ, given for you
For YOU.
A morsel and sip are enough, yes more than enough, at Jesus’ table.

Because when we come to Jesus’ table
we are healed
we are liberated from whatever ails us
It is Christ who makes us worthy
Christ alone

And with this worthiness
we are sent out

renewed and recharged
to speak out
To proclaim the kingdom where outcasts are now able to be examples of faith and tenacity and compassion and bravery
Where all are welcome at the table.

And thanks be to God for that.

Amen.

God Shows Up

Text: Genesis 28:10-19a

I recently had the opportunity to go see one of my favorite pastors, Rob Bell, speak live—
He’s a former mega-church pastor who is now a world-famous writer and speaker.
Some of you might be familiar with him
If not, I have every single book he has ever written— in hardback, lovingly stored and cared for in my office.
Not that I’m a superfan or anything…
But his most recent book is called, “What Is the Bible?”
It’s a terrific book, really.
If you want to borrow it, let me know

And it’s premise or rather, it’s perspective—is looking at the Bible through the human lens, asking the questions:

What did these stories mean to the original audience?
What does this tell us about how these people or this person in this particular place and time view or experience God?
Why are these details important?
and
Why did whoever wrote this down feel the need to do so?

When you read Scripture through this lens, it really does seem to open it up, so to speak, and bring these ancients texts to life
Making them interesting from a historical sense
And all the more incredible in the present tense
in them we are offered illustrations of incredible ways in which God was at work then and perhaps how God is at work now.

So as I was thinking about the texts for this week, preparing for today’s sermon,
I began asking some of these questions,
and in doing so, the story of Jacob’s Dream in Genesis, really stood out in a unique way.

So let’s visit that story

We have Jacob here who I never knew until I started really reading the Bible wasn’t always the most stand-up guy
but more on that later
so he’s running from his brother Esau because he’s stolen his blessing
-remember that story- where he dresses up like his brother to trick his nearly-blind father into getting his blessing?
Now this might seem quirky
Because in our contemporary minds and in our contemporary world-
we could easily make the legal case that this blessing was secured under false pretenses and thus should be rendered null and void!
But that’s not how things worked in the ancient world
In the ancient world, a blessing was something that was real and almost tangible.
it afforded you all the legal benefits of inheritance
And once offered could not be rescinded.

So Jacob steals Esau’s inheritance and Esau- Jacob’s brother – is willing to kill him for it
In fact, he has stated that he intends to do so
So Jacob’s mother
He was quite the mama’s boy (not that I know anything about that!)
sent him off to her brother Laban’s house in Haran to hopefully wait out Esau’s rage

And that’s where we find Jacob
He’s on the run
He’s probably scared and stressed
Experiencing great shame
He seems to have made a mess of his life
And his only option was to flee for safety

So it’s gotten dark and he’s decided to stop for the night to camp and get some sleep

And here is where the story really gets interesting—
He uses a rock for a pillow
a rock!
and somehow falls asleep and dreams

And in this dream he has a vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven
And then God appears to Jacob
and reminds him of who He is
“I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac!”
and he proceeds to inform him that where he is standing is holy ground and reminds him of his future
that he will be a blessing to all the families of the earth
that his offspring will be numerous
and that God will never leave him

And at once Jacob awakes from his dream and proclaims
“Surely the Lord is in this place— and I did not know it!”

The Lord comes to us
sometimes in the most surprisingly of instances
But God is always present—
in this place
working for our benefit
Behind the scenes.
Earlier we celebrated a holy baptism
In this experience, as Lutherans, we know and confess that God promises to show up in the water
But it doesn’t mean God wasn’t already there
But in there waters
and in the meal of holy communion
we are assured of God’s presence
in that place
Here.

Now let’s revisit this story through the lens i mentioned earlier

Jacob lays down to sleep and uses a rock for a pillow

Now why would the writers feel the need to mention that?
Why would he be described as using a rock for a pillow?

We can never know for sure
But how many of you have laid down to sleep
with the world so heavy
your burden so great
that your pillow was like a rock

That your circumstances seemed so great that nothing could offer you comfort
nothing could offer you rest
not even your pillow
that your pillow might as well have been a rock

But in spite of this
In spite of whatever you have done
wherever you are
whatever demons you are fleeing
or whatever past you are escaping
Whatever guilt you are trying to free yourself of

God
Shows
up

So the vision Jacob has in the dream is one of angels at work and not only that, God actually shows up
in this place

So in the midst of the suffering Jacob is enduring
in the midst of the weight for which he lays his head
Jacob is offered a glimpse into the working of God

God not only has shown up
but is at work

Jacob is offered a vision of he kingdom of God
actively at work in the place of his struggle
It’s almost as if God has lifted this veil and to show the holy work going on behind the curtain

even in the midst of this confusing time of fear, doubt, and shame
God shows up
God
is at work

So
Jacob awakes
acknowledges this reality
and what does he do?

He takes that stone that has been his pillow
that weight
and he what?
he makes an altar with it.

He offers up to God that struggle for which God has transformed
-acknowledging that God has redeemed it
-honoring that God is at work

that even in the struggle
you are not alone.

Has this ever happened to you?
Have you ever had something in your life that at the time seemed so removed from anything holy
so painful
So discouraging
So scary

But later
only later
did you look back and see God at work
redeeming this pain?
transforming it to something for God’s glory?

So today, friends
I invite you to reflect on this
look back on your life
and see where
even during the worst of times
the most difficult of times
when your pillow even felt like a rock

God
Showed
Up

and in doing so, God actualized the promise St. Paul speaks of in Romans 8:28 when he says,
“we know that all things work together for good”
That God can and does redeem all things

We might not know why
and we might still be awaiting for this to happen

Like Jacob we might be in the midst of it
where we are fleeing something
we are running from the pain that maybe we caused
Jacob made his bed for sure
perhaps that’s why his pillow feels like a rock
But we must never forget that
God
shows
up
But after this meaningful revelation
after Jacob proclaims “Surely God is in this place—and I did not know it!”
What’s the next line?

And he was afraid.
Afraid.

Because sometimes God shows up
sometimes God redeems the pain in our life
giving it new meaning
new purpose
and it’s scary
Sometimes we aren’t sure what to do with this new life

Maybe we are newly sober and we aren’t sure how we are going to ever be fun again
or make new friends
or keep the old friends
without drinking again

Maybe God has shown up but we have to answer for some big mistakes we’ve made—
in a relationship
or work
or at home
we have to handle the consequences to get through it
to get to the other side
And it’s scary

or maybe God has shown up
freeing you from a painful situation
and setting your path on a better one
but the next steps are terrifying and you’re not quite sure you have what it takes

Remember, friends
that God is with you
God has shown up
and God always keeps God’s promises
always

I think the writers of this passage wanted its original readers or listeners to know this
and I think God wants us to hear this today
that even in the midst of a frightening situation
even a situation that is of your own doing
God is with you
the entire way
God is at work in the situation
and will keep God’s promises

Even in your darkest hour
You’re not alone

God
shows
up

—-Amen

It’s Worth It

Text: Matthew 10:24-39

I think it’s safe to say that for the disciples, being associated with Jesus is a dangerous thing.
Are you with me?
Week after week, As we’ve journeyed with the disciples through the readings we constantly hear Jesus warn them that following him will not be easy to say the least.
It will involve risk.
And not just little risks, but risks to their freedom, their personal safety, even the safety of their families and friends.
With every step, their very lives are on the line.
To us modern Christians, it might seem strange that the teachings of Jesus could be so dangerous.
It seems strange that lives marked by love, equality, forgiveness, and justice would be such threatening forces.
But it’s important for us to remember the context of Matthew’s gospel.
Remember the power of the day was the Roman Empire. And Rome crucified those who threatened its control over society. It’s how they maintained their control.
And any movement, regardless of how seemingly peacefully, would be perceived as a threat and dealt with severely.
This is the reality of empire.
Empire makes no room for co-existence.
Empire does not compromise.
Empire sets the rules and stomps down any resistance- any questions of or challenges to
its authority.
And yet, in spite of all this, Jesus urged the brave disciples on.
Warning them of the risks but encouraging them of the rightness of the cause.
That serving the God of Creation is far more important than serving Empire.
But for many, it will challenge the usual way living.
Because God’s way doesn’t conform to the realities of the world.
In fact, it’s often the opposite of customary norms.
And with that comes great risk.
The way of Christ was a call to resist the norms of empire—
the oppression of the weak,
the hoarding of resources so few had much, and many had little.
a life lived under the shadow of fear
Jesus and his disciples resisted these norms, challenging them— speaking up for the oppressed and encouraging lives marked by sharing and equality.
Jesus and the disciples describes a life where fear didn’t have the final word
that trust and hope were the guiding forces.
But this didn’t make it easy for the lives of the disciples
It complicated not just their interactions with the authorities
but their personal relationships as well.
Those living under empire weren’t keen on the disruptions folks challenging empire invited.
Because it usually invited trouble
and that trouble had a tendency to trickle down to everyone
making everyone’s lives more difficult
Most were content with living under the radar
Maybe not thrilled with the reality but not interested in inviting trouble either
Just go about your business
Don’t cause any trouble
and we will all live to see another day.
Jesus warned the disciples that their actions would cause conflict with those wishing to stay under the radar.
He says in verse 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword”
Surprising to hear that, coming from Jesus, isn’t it?
But what Jesus is saying here is not that His message is one of violence—
quite the opposite
he is advising them that their countercultural actions
their resistance- even peaceful-
will likely bring division and conflict even among those who love them the most
man and father
daughter and mother
daughter-in-law and mother-in-law
that even in their own households, the change they are seeking will be met with division.
But still he urges them on
and seeks to reassure them
Reminding them of the divine source of their plight
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell”
Jesus reminds them that their mission is aligned with the God of Creation.
And that they are protected by God
maybe not in the way they might expect
Jesus doesn’t promise they won’t suffer
but that what’s important- the soul— will be protected and kept intact.
Because they matter
they are seen
They are loved and valued by God.
every hair on their head is counted
Jesus seeks to align their mission with its eternal significance.
Reminding them of their importance and the importance of this mission
Its not just their mission, but God’s mission
To usher in a new reality.
Yes, Jesus warns the disciples of the dangers
but reminds them of the divine protection they are afforded for it.
And the theme behind of all of this
The ultimate message Jesus gives them for all of their sacrifice
all of their risk
He’s telling them- It’s worth it.
And they won’t be alone.
Jesus was with those disciples who suffered for their faith.
Supporting them.
Advising them.
Encouraging them
Loving them.
And in the same way, Jesus is with those disciples today who suffer for their faith.
Because in some ways the situation is the same for many
There are still those
Who jeopardize their lives, risking it all for their faith.
There are those who live in parts of this country and around the world where they continue to suffer for their faith in ways we will likely never experience and can scarce imagine.
And yet Jesus is with them in the same way.
Reminding them that every hair on their head is counted
and that God has their backs.
That this is a divine mission.
And that in spite of it all, it’s worth it.

The same is true for us.
Because we might not experience the same risks for standing up for our faith.
It’s unlikely that we face death, arrest, or imprisonment as the disciples in Matthew’s community or even those in places around the world might
But we still face challenges.
There is still the risk of division for holding fast to the way of Christ.
In many ways, following Jesus is still countercultural
It still threatens many of societal’s norms.
Doesn’t it?
Many of our traditional values, rooted and based in our understanding of the Christian norms established by our faith
are mocked in society for being “old-fashioned” and “dated”
In our pluralistic world which is becoming more and more secular, standing up for our faith oftentimes opens us up to ridicule, judgement, mocking

How many of us have been in that freshman religion class where the professor seemed to almost delight in mocking our Christian values.
Or how many of us have been teased by our more “enlightened” friends- maybe even those who deem themselves “spiritual but not religious” who mock us for some of the elements of our faith traditions.
Or how many of us have been called names or politically labeled for taking stances for justice and equality, again rooted and based in our understanding of the Christian norms established by our faith.
It seems no matter which way we turn, living out our faith—following the way of Jesus- offers us up for ridicule and judgment.
Perhaps the division Jesus speaks of in this passage
applies to us as well today.
Perhaps the meaning is the same
that he did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

Jesus knows that a life of faith brings challenges.
It resists the norms of the world and oftentimes empire
and with that often comes division and discord
But he tells us, over and again
it’s worth it.

Jesus tells the disciples— and us today- “whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it”
This is our goal
to find the life that is truly life
to live a life worth of our calling as disciples of Jesus.

Folks, this is what we are here for.
And its worth it.
Jesus tells us
All the risk
All the threats
all the division and discord
It’s worth it.

Every hair on our head is counted.
We are seen
We are valued
We are protected by a loving God
the creator of the universe who promises to be us now and forever
guiding us
protecting us
loving us.
So stand strong, people of God, when you take a stand for your faith.
It’s worth it.
Stand up for those values that you hold dear, even when those at your work, in your social circles, or even your family mock them
Because its worth it
Stand up for those on the margins- whoever you perceive them to be-
because it’s worth it
Continue to be the living presence of Christ in a world in desperate need of it.
And just as Jesus was with those early disciples
Jesus is with us as well
amid the discords in our personal lives, families, communities, congregations, nation, and world.
Jesus is with us
Urging us on
and reminding us that whatever lives we might think we are losing
we are actually finding them
lives that are truly lives
Lives of true purpose
And its worth it.

Amen.

Why Do You Stand There? My Ascension Sunday Sermon

Text: Acts 1:6-14

“Why do you stand here looking up toward heaven?”

Imagine this scene-
In a grand conclusion to an incredible, roller coaster of a journey-
a journey filled with awe-inspiring highs and terror-inducing lows
a journey of mind-boggling lessons, inspiring promises, and confusing challenges
a journey filled with extraordinary visions and miracles
Jesus is meeting with his disciples one last time.

They’re all gathered together, much like they have been for the last 40 or so days.
And Jesus gives one more promise
the promise that they will all be receiving the power of the Holy Spirit to continue his work here and throughout the ends of the earth
A power greater than what they could imagine
and then

Jesus airlifts out of there in this grand, theatrical departure and disappears into the clouds.

Being a movie guy, I imagine it like the end of ET- remember that movie- when the kids are all standing there watching ET’s spaceship lift off after his family and friends have come back to retrieve ET and take him home
and the kids are just standing there in awe watching the ship as it takes off— wind roaring through their hair and the lights from the ship illuminating their faces and lighting up the night sky.
And just like that, its gone
and the darkness returns
the wind dies down
and the quiet settles back in
and they’re left standing in wonder at the experience they just shared

And at this point in our story
After Jesus has ascended into heaven
two men dressed in white appear beside them and ask,
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up toward heaven?”
Almost like, “guys, guys- there’s nothing more to see here!
Jesus… has left the building.”

In many ways this is the ultimate conclusion to Jesus’ ministry because it officially establishes Jesus as Lord.
Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father.
And this is not a location, obviously
but more of a change of status
And not the change of status like on Facebook where you change from “Single” to “Married” or “It’s Complicated” but something more along the lines of
“Now imparted all power and authority over heaven and earth”
Jesus is now Lord of all
He now reigns over all of Creation.

And this isn’t the end of the story, really.
But only the beginning
The ascension doesn’t mean the end of Jesus’ ministry
It doesn’t mean that Jesus has finally departed forever,
releasing the world to its people and their own devices
The ascension doesn’t mean an absence of Jesus
quite the opposite
The ascension initiates the next chapter in God’s mission in the world

Before he ascends however he reminds the disciples that they will receive the power of the Holy Spirit
Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is and always will be present among them
And this power will now animate them individually and collectively so that they now will become even larger players in God’s mission
they will have a part in continuing Jesus’ work on earth.
God has impressive things in store
The excitement— the real work—has only just begun.

The men in white basically ask them, “why are you just standing there?”
Why are you just standing there?
There’s nothing else up there to see!
Everything is here and now
Real life.
You know what to do
So go do it!
You are now to be Jesus’ witnesses here in Jerusalem and then spread out to Judea and Samaria and eventually to the ends of the earth.
The work now falls on you.
But not just you alone, of course
You now have the power of the Holy Spirit
which is Christ’s spirit working in and through you
to strengthen you
to motivate you
to animate you
to go be active collaborators with God’s redemptive work

But sometimes, we still find ourselves looking up to the heavens
waiting for divine intervention
waiting for God to act in some miraculous way.
There’s this story about

A fellow who was stuck on his rooftop in a flood.
He was praying to God for help.
Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, “Jump in, I can save you.”
The stranded fellow shouted back, “No, it’s OK, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.”
So the rowboat went on.
Then a motorboat came by. “The fellow in the motorboat shouted, “Jump in, I can save you.”
To this the stranded man said, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”
So the motorboat went on.
Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.”
To this the stranded man again replied, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”
So the helicopter reluctantly flew away.
Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, “I had faith in you but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. I don’t understand why!”
To this God replied, “I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”

Oftentimes we are so busy looking up that we miss the active presence of Jesus in our midst.
We are so busy waiting for God’s action that we miss the cue that God’s action is often OUR action
It is God working through us to fulfill God’s mission

Where is God prompting you?
Where are you being invited to participate in God’s mission here on earth?
To collaborate with God.

We are already equipped.
God has blessed each of us with unique qualities
special gifts
that empower us to fulfill God’s mission

“Oh no, not me” you might say to yourself
I’m just a simple person—
Nothing really special about me—
WRONG
God doesn’t make junk, you might have heard people say
and that’s true
It’s likely the case that God is gently tapping you on the shoulder
inviting you to participate
but you, too, might be stuck there, standing around looking up into the clouds
waiting for God to act

Friends, God is acting
right now
in each of us

“why do you stand there looking up to heaven?”

It makes sense that this passage for today is 1st chapter in the Book of Acts,
this exciting, breath-taking depiction of the early days of the church
It reads almost like an adventure novel
with its depiction of the spreading of the gospel
from Jerusalem to the whole Roman Empire
from its Jewish roots
to the Gentile world
The book is sometimes called “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” because of the writer’s strong emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit.
How the Spirit formed and guided the new church.
From a small group of Jewish believers
to a worldwide movement

Yes, thankfully, the disciples didn’t just stand there, looking up
waiting on Jesus to return
They eventually returned to Jerusalem
Gathered together in prayer
and waited on the arrival of the Holy Spirit
the same Holy Spirit who makes Jesus Christ present to us and in us today

They launched their destinies of being the church and building the church
around the world

Cross and Crown, how are we being the church?
How is the Holy Spirit working through us?
Are there ministries you feel we should be doing?
important initiatives we should be pursuing?
People we should be helping?
Is there a way we could more actively collaborate with God not just around the world but right here in Matthews? In our own communities?
Let’s talk about it
Let’s mobilize
We have the power of the Holy Spirit
God’s spirit
Urging us forward

Let’s not find ourselves, mouths agape, simply standing there
staring into the heavens
waiting for a “sign”
Let’s open our eyes to the world around us
full experiencing the ongoing presence of the Risen Christ work in us and through us
to continue the redemptive work of God in the world.
Amen?
Alleluia
Amen.