GLC in Lent

GLC in Lent

Sunday, January 15, 2017

2017_01_15 Epiphany 2 Who is he? Who are we?

Sermon 2nd Sunday of Epiphany, NL3, 15 January 2017

The Gospel lesson for the 2nd Sunday in Epiphany is from the Gospel of Luke the 4th chapter.  Glory to you O Lord.

NRS  Luke 4:14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.

 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,

 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

 18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,

 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.

 21 Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?"

 23 He said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'"

 24 And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown.

 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land;

 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.

 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."

 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.

 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.

 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

The Gospel of our Lord.  Praise to you O Christ.

Pray:  Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Who is that masked man?

That was the last line of nearly every episode of one of my favorite TV shows growing up.  The show usually involved a masked western lawman and his sidekick riding into a dusty town that was overrun by bad guys.  By the end of the show the masked man and sidekick had run the bad guys out of town, restored peace and order and rode off into the sunset leaving the townspeople wondering just who was that masked man.

Luke's gospel is answering the same question for his readers.  Who is this that John is born to prepare the way for?  Who is this that the angel prepares Mary for and gives the name Jesus?  Who is this that multitudes of angels shout "Glory to God in the Highest" for and send the shepherds in search for?  Who is this that the elder prophets Simeon and Anna proclaim praise to God for in the midst of the temple?  Who is this boy who holds his own in deep theological conversation with temple priests?  Finally a voice from heaven proclaims him his beloved Son "with whom he is well pleased."  Ah now we know.  But even the devil knows who this Jesus is.

But when Jesus returns to his hometown the people are confused.  "We thought this was Joseph's son.  How can a mere son of a carpenter preach like this.  How can he do these things in the other towns that we've heard about.  He never did anything like that here.  Who is this Jesus really?"

In Jesus' first sermon he declares that he is the expected Messiah, the Anointed One, who is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, who has come in fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah.  Well this is good news for the poor and the oppressed, the blind and the captive - probably most of the town.  But they are also in wonder at his speaking ability and what they really to see the things that he did in the other Galilean towns as he made his way back to Nazareth.  The implication from the text is that he had healed and perhaps cast out demons.  They wanted to see the good stuff.  They wanted to be wowed just like the people in the other Galilean towns.

Jesus was not inclined to acquiesce.  He reminded them of the famous prophets Elijah and Elisha who had passed over the starving and the lepers in the home country but had helped a couple of foreigners from Sidon and Syria.  By challenging their expectations of him, Jesus was fulfilling John the Baptist's prophesy about the Messiah.  That he would have a winnowing fork in his hand to separate the wheat from the chaff.   Would the people of Nazareth disregard his call and be worthless chaff to be blown away and burned or would they hear his word and be valuable grain that would be collected and made useful?  How would the people respond?  Would they recognize the mission of God to the forgotten and abandoned of society, repent and become people who also proclaimed freedom and good news and sight?  Or would they become offended.

The text tells us the outcome.  They tried to throw him off a cliff.  The time for Jesus' death would come three years in the future and for the same reason.  People were offended by the message of Jesus and who he said he was.  The people of Nazareth were like chaff so Jesus slipped away and went to other towns in Galilee.  There is no indication in Luke's gospel that he ever went back to his home town.

In Jesus' short sermon he indicated his mission while on earth.  It was a mission to the poor, oppressed, captive, and the blind and I think this includes both the physically poor, oppressed, captive and blind and those who are this way in spirit.  It is the same mission that God gave the Israelites throughout the Old Testament.  It is the mission he gives us today.

And so we must consider the question: would Jesus come to this church and preach to us testing us for our reaction.  Would he be looking for us to respond and like good grain fall and be gathered up as useful?  Or might we be blown away by the wind like chaff and be considered useless to him?  Would we answer his call to the poor oppressed, blind and captive here in Ridgecrest and around the world?  As good disciples would we follow his lead?

The difficult thing is to change.  Once we are satisfied with the way we are it is very difficult to change.  Inertia works spiritually as well as physically.  We might be enthralled with the message and the aim of Jesus' mission but when it comes to making the necessary personal changes...well...will we change?  If we get thrown up into the air by Jesus' spiritual winnowing fork...where will we land? here with the grain or there with the chaff?

Think of the things that are common for disciples to do. 

Disciples know what they believe and they share that belief.  They witness and humbly share their genuine personal faith.

Disciples have a working knowledge of the Word of God, the Bible and seek to learn more. 

Disciples know and use their gifts for ministry.  They are joyful and generous with their time, talents and treasure knowing that they are only thankful stewards of these God-given gifts.

Disciples are connected with the body of Christ where they worship, pray and love one another.

Disciples actively serve others.  Faith without works is dead.  They have surrendered their lives to Jesus.

Disciples make other disciples.  They produce rather than consume.  Self takes a back seat to the love of God and of others.

Jesus calls us to be disciples with something to do.  Each one of us is called to do these disciple things, and if we are not doing them than we are to grow in them.  Jesus calls us to make an all-in commitment.  The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it this way, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die?"  Jesus demands our lives and we are to be expended in, with, and for the poor, oppressed, blind, and captive.  If we are not, than we are useless chaff, good only to be thrown into the fire and burned up.

What Christ gives is grace and what he has done has called us to be disciples.  Being a disciple is a gift of grace but it is costly.  Bonhoeffer put it this way,

"Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs us our lives, and it is grace because it gives us the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "you were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.”

Like the people of Nazareth we should get uncomfortable when Jesus calls, but rather than try to run Jesus off a cliff we should humbly confess our unworthiness as disciples and begin to make changes. 

If we don't know what we believe - then it's time to learn so that we can share it.

If our knowledge of the Bible is weak - begin to learn.  There are many Bible studies available here that have seats available for many more disciples.

If we are not generous - reconsider how to become joyfully generous.  Do I live a thankful life and out of thanksgiving for what God has done, do I return to him a portion of the gifts of time, talent and money for the furtherance of his kingdom?

Do I worship regularly?  prayer routinely? spend time in fellowship with Christian friends?

How do I serve others?  Do I look for ways to be of service?  Do I gather others to help me be of better service to those that Jesus cares deeply for?

How am I in the process of making disciples?  It requires knowing people, feeling comfortable sharing faith and prayer, of teaching.  People are drawn to faith they are not coerced into it.

If we think we are chaff now, I don't think it is a terminal one-time sentence to the firepit.  Jesus continually calls us to repent and change our ways.  He wants us to become fruit and to bear fruit.  We can change.

The heroes in one of my favorite movies are these two lovable bad guy train robbers whose time finally runs out and they are relentlessly chased by a posse who has extraordinary talent and persistence.  After many close calls and escapes the heroes find they can't get away.  They keep looking behind them in amazement and wonder "Who are those guys?" 

What if our community looked at each one of us in wonder as we rode off into the sunset after doing good, "Who is that?"  And when they drove by this street corner they also wondered, "Who are those guys?"  By God's grace and our own effort we can become the answer to these questions, "They are simply disciples of Jesus."  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

2017_01_08 Epiphany Sunday, Prepared and then What?

The Gospel lesson for the Sunday of the baptism of our Lord, his Epiphany, is from the Gospel of Luke the 3rd chapter.  Glory to you O Lord.

Pray:  Let thy Word be effective among us O Lord.  Let us become useful grain and good fruit that you gather to thyself.  Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Today we are beginning to make a turn in the focus of our readings from the Old Testament to the New.  Starting last September we began reading in Genesis, then Exodus, 1&2 Samuel, 1 Kings, and the prophets Jonah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, &Joel.  Now we are beginning a concentration on the Gospel of Luke that will take us beyond Easter.  Let me encourage you to read Luke’s Gospel and focus on its flow and the intent of his message.  Is it merely a narrative or a narrative with a message.  Having just celebrated Christmas we have read most of the first two chapters of Luke and now we begin with Chapter 3 which is the revelation or epiphany of our Lord Jesus.

NRS  Luke 3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene,

 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,

In the first sentences of chapter 3 Luke sets the scene for what will follow by using the common method for marking an era of time.  He referenced those who hold political power in the world both in Rome, in Judea, Galilee, and in the Jewish Temple.  Time was marked by the year of the reigning Emperor.  Using a contemporary example we might say "In the last days of the Obama presidency, when Brown was Gov of CA, and Gleeson was a Kern County Supervisor, Breeden was Mayor of Ridgecrest, and Francis was Pope."  It's certainly easier to say in the year of Our Lord 2017 but obviously that reference could not be used back then.  Luke's point is that the events in Jesus' life occurred on earth, in a specific region, during a specific and recognized moment in time.  This really happened.  It was during this time that:

verse 2 - the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

Luke reminds people of how the 'Word of God" came to the prophets of old.  The Word of God came to Jeremiah, to Isaiah, to Jonah.  The Word of GOD coming to John identifies John as a prophet.  But it is also a subversive word that came not to the halls of power in Rome or Jerusalem or Washington DC, but to a dusty prophet in the wilderness of far-off Judea.  The Word coming to a prophet in the wilderness challenges the palaces of human power.  It identifies a conflict.  Where is the real power in the world?  The word from an emperor in Rome or the Word of the LORD from a prophet in the wilderness?

 3 He (John) went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,

 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;

 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

The Messiah is coming says the voice in the wilderness.  Everyone get ready, get prepared.  Get washed, get cleaned up, get baptized, remove obstructions and barriers that would prevent you from hearing the Word, the salvation of God is coming.  And people came into the wilderness to hear the Word of the God spoken by John.

 7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

This is the hard preaching of a prophet.  "You offsping of poisonous snakes!  You children of black Mambas and Mojave Greens!  What do you think you are doing?  Who warned you to run away from the fury of God's wrath that is certainly coming?  Turn around people!  Quit going the way you are going.  Quit doing what you are doing!  You can't depend upon your ancestry to be declared good enough to escape the wrath.  God can make Christians out of these stones that will follow him better than you do!  If you don't start bearing fruit of a repentant spirit than you are going to be cut down and thrown into the fire that will never go out!  Do you people get it?"  That kind of preaching gets your attention doesn't it!  Not very complimentary is it?  It's scary.  We take offense.  "Brood of vipers" and cut down and "thrown into the fire."  Why would people go to the wilderness to hear such preaching?  But they went.  They asked about repentance.  "How do I do that?  How do I repent?"

 10 And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?"

 11 In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise."

(softly)  John says, "You know the laws of old.  'Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God.'  You who have enough and more, have an obligation to those who have none.  Caring for the poor is an act of righteousness and justice.  It is the performance of a duty, an obligation to God for those in need.  Just do that."

 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?"

 13 He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you."

 14 Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."

Even the most despised members of the community, the Jewish tax collectors and soldiers, who served the hated Roman occupiers, came and heard John preach and were convicted and sought to repent from their ways.  What shall we do they asked?  Surprisingly they were not chastised by John.  They were not told to stop being tax collectors or soldiers.  They were only commended to "Do your required duty.  Take nothing more.  Don't lie, don't cheat, don't badger or extort.  Just do your job."  This must have been pretty radical preaching and it made people stop and wonder who this John really was.

 15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,

 16 John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

The Messiah is coming...soon, with a winnowing fork in his hand.  He will toss the mixture of good grain and useless chaff that has been harvested into the wind.  The good grain will drop to the floor and be gathered up into the barns.  The useless chaff will be separated by the wind but it will also be gathered up and then it will be burned up.  It is a warning to the people.  You can be good grain or useless chaff, you can be gathered up to be useful to others or gathered up as useless waste and burned.  What's it going to be?

 18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Good news?  How can this be good news?  Be good or be burned up? Brood of vipers?  An ax ready to cut down and burn up?  Are we sure it will be a good thing when the Messiah arrives?

 19 But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother's wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done,

 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

Then there are some who object to John's preaching.  Especially ones in power and who think they have every right to do whatever they want, even stealing their brother's wife.  They will not stand for public criticism especially from a lowly Judean prophet in the wilderness.  They will not repent and do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with God or with anyone else.  They will exert their unlimited power and remove the irritating voice of the LORD and put it in jail where no one can hear it.  More details will come later in Luke's gospel.  But if the Word of the LORD rebukes me what should I do?  If I repent and do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with my God then the good news has come to those who need to hear it and know it - the ones who have no coat, who have no food, who are no longer ripped off by the powerful.  The good news is doing justice and loving kindness and walking humbly with our God.

 21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened,

 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

Finally we are prepared, finally we get to meet Jesus.  Everything before now has been preparation, just as John was called to do.  John called people to seriously repent and get prepared.  But who is the Messiah?  John didn't know.  He knew it wasn't himself.  He knew his job was to prepare the way, to get people prepared by repenting, to start doing things differently.  Jesus came quietly in the crowd, unobtrusively, unidentified and was baptized along with the brood of vipers.  Then he began to pray.  And while he was praying the heavens were opened and he was joined by the Spirit and the Father.  It's as if his baptism was a necessary step for Jesus' own preparation for his ministry as the expected Messiah.  And the Father was pleased.  The Spirit joined in and we have Jesus' Epiphany, his revelation. 

This is the beloved Son of God.  By everything he has done and everything he will do the Father is pleased.  The way Luke wrote it, the voice spoke only to Jesus.  We cannot determine whether anyone else heard the voice or knew of whom the voice spoke.  But Luke identifies for us and reveals to us that Jesus is the Son of God.  The emperor in Rome is not, the governor is not, the rulers of the region are not, the high priests in Jerusalem are not.  The Son of God came not to palaces and privilege but to the poor and the pitiful.  He came to you and to me.  He calls us to repent, to live a new way of life, to bear fruit and be good grain for the benefit of our neighbors and to glory of the Father.  Jesus came and that is good news for all.  Amen.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

2016_06_19 Pentecost 5 God's Reconciliation

Sermon 5th Sunday after Pentecost, NL2, 19 June 2016

The First reading for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost is from St Paul's second letter to the Corinthian church, the 5th Chapter beginning at the 9th verse.

9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.
 10 For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.
 11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences.
 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart.
 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.
 14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.
 15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
 16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view;1 even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view,2 we know him no longer in that way.
 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation;
 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,1 not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2Co 5:9-21 NRS)

The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

The Gospel lesson for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost is from the Gospel of John the 3rd Chapter.  Glory to you O Lord.

NRS  John 3:1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.
 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God."
 3 Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above."
 4 Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?"
 5 Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.
 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.
 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.'
 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
 9 Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?"
 10 Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
 11 "Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.
 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
 16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
 17 "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.
 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.
 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God." (John 3:1-21 NRS)

The Gospel of our Lord.  Praise to you O Christ.

Pray:  Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Going through life there were four conversations I just never wanted to have.  Growing up it was: "Wait 'til your Dad gets home...", or "Go see the principle..."  In the Navy it was "The XO wants to see you."  And the other is what St Paul wrote in the first reading, "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ."  All of these contain some form of terror because of the potential consequences because of what we've done, some could be life changing, some career changing, and that one about the judgment seat of Christ...that one has eternal consequences. 
Paul told the people of Corinth that God knew him clearly, transparently, nothing was hidden.  He also hoped they would know him in the same way.  Paul wanted the Corinthians to see him as an open book, nothing hidden, what you see is what you get.  Not many of us would want to have our souls bared in such a way.  But in this way Paul could better persuade them of the truth of his testimony.
And the testimony is this: Christ died for all people, even non-Jews, even people who lived in Corinth, even people who would live in Ridgecrest, 2000 years later.  The effect of Christ's death and resurrection is that all things have changed.  There is a new reference for life, a new way of living and being.  What was important before is no longer important now.  The basis is no longer earthly treasures and appearances.  It doesn't matter about your new hairdo, the new toga, the addition to your home, the new four horse chariot with the mag wheels and copper rims.  What matters is what's in the heart.  A heart controlled by Jesus.  A heart given the new ministry of reconciliation.
What is that message of reconciliation that Paul talks about?  If I am an ambassador of Christ with a ministry of reconciliation, what does that mean?.  Paul explained what God was doing through Christ's life, death and resurrection.  He was reconciling the world to himself.  They way he did that was by not counting people's trespasses, their sins against them.  It's not that they were forgotten, they were indeed remembered, but they were not counted.
When you reconcile your checkbook, you take into account all of the credits and debits and it all adds up...right?  Of course.  That's the way it's done.  You account for everything you spend and everything you receive.  At the end of the reconciliation you know where your finances stand.  If you spent too much you were in the red, you owe more than you have.  If you spent less than what you brought in, you were in the black and you have a little cushion for the future.
God balances books differently.  Indeed we will come before the judgment seat of Christ and he will open the books of our life to perform the reconciliation.  As he reviews the ledger he sees a lot more red entries than black ones.  There is no way this is going to balance in our favor, there's too much red.  We are going to owe a LOT!  Then as we watch the Holy Accountant get to the bottom of our ledger, you see him read a note penned there in blood and he begins to smile.  The note says, "Saved by the blood of the Lamb.  No penalties due."  All of the negative entries in red are ignored.  Only the entry about the Lamb counts.  The book is closed.  You are saved.  You owe nothing.  The books are reconciled.  You are reconciled to God because of his Son Jesus.
We don't have to wait 'til our final day to know this.  We can know it now.  Our ledger is wiped clean and we know the final outcome.  Does that make a difference in the way we live and what we think is important?  Can we possibly keep on living the old way that was before we knew the outcome of the reconciliation?  Doesn't God's way of adding up the books inspire us to be different?
Paul suggests that it should.  Once reconciled, others should also know about this reconciliation.  How do we do that?  How do we carry out a ministry of reconciliation that Paul mentioned?  Should we not be reconciled to others the same way we have been reconciled?  In Paul's relationship with the people of Corinth, there has been strife, hurt feelings, misunderstandings, pain and tears.  And yet Paul calls for forgiveness and reconciliation.  He calls for a restoration of the relationships that have been hurt.  The hurts will be remembered but they will be ignored and pushed aside and not added into the new relationship that exists because of the cross.
So how do we carry out the ministry of reconciliation here, into Wal Mart and Albertson's and Marshall's and Rite Aid?  How do we do that in schools and work places?  How do we reconcile with people who have addiction problems, mental illness, who can't get or hold a job, who need food, clothing, shelter, and a doctor?  How do we do that on China Lake Blvd and Downs and Norma and Las Flores and Mahan and Inyokern and Jack's Ranch Road?
How do we do that in Orlando and Charleston and Riverside? In Syria, Iraq, Israel, and Saudi Arabia?  What about London, Paris, Brussels, Riyadh, Teheran, or Kabul?  Is it possible for God's reconciliation to extend that far?  To really bad people?  Did Christ die for sinners of all kinds?  of all nations?  Or just the nice ones?  Is there a limit to the sin and the evil that a human can do that is beyond the blood of the Lamb?  Sort of here and no further?  Who gets to draw that line for Jesus?  You, Me? Or is there no line at all?
Is God crazy in love enough with his creation and everyone and all that's in it to try and gain reconciliation for all of it?  If he is, how should we respond?  Do you think all of this sh-tuff in the world breaks his heart because it is so far away from what he intended for this world when he made it and said it was very good?
Paul wrote about the righteousness of God.  He wrote about it in 2 Corinthians but also in his letter to the Romans, to the Ephesians and to the Philippians.  James wrote about it, Peter wrote about it.  Martin Luther struggled mightily to understand it, and was finally able to grasp how God is righteous.  He had been taught that the righteousness of God was the righteousness of punishing the sinners, the guilty, and the unrighteous.  That's what God rightly should he was taught.  But as Brother Martin read more he began to understand that the righteousness of God is different.  God's righteousness is really the declaring to be righteous of those who are unrighteous.  Righteousness is received passively by those of faith given by a merciful God.  And the righteous live by faith.  Righteousness is a note at the bottom of teh ledger written in blood.
By God's gift of faith, righteousness, and reconciliation he calls us into a ministry of reconciliation also.  We are to reach out and proclaim God's righteousness.  As Paul wrote "The love of Christ urges us on."  We are convinced of God's intent for the world because of Christ's death and resurrection and we are entrusted with proclaiming this in word and deed wherever we are.  We are his ambassadors sent into the world to make God's reconciliation known in all of these places, where it is easy - maybe like Ridgecrest and where it is hard - maybe like Damascus or other places that do not know the incredible love of God that blots out sin. 
God bless us and strengthen us to do your will and be your ambassadors with the ministry of reconciliation.  Give us your words of reconciliation and forgiveness.  Help us to restore relationships.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Amen.

2016_05_29 Pentecost 2 Immersed in Joy

Sermon 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, NL2, 29 May 2016
The First Reading is from St Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth the 2nd Chapter.

NRS 2 Corinthians 2:1 So I made up my mind not to make you another painful visit.
2 For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained?
3 And I wrote as I did, so that when I came, I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice; for I am confident about all of you, that my joy would be the joy of all of you.
4 For I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.
5 But if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent-- not to exaggerate it-- to all of you.
6 This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person;
7 so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.
8 So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.
9 I wrote for this reason: to test you and to know whether you are obedient in everything.
10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ.
11 And we do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (2Cor 2:1-11 NRS)

The Gospel lesson for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost is from the Gospel of Luke the 6th Chapter.  Glory to you O Lord.

37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven;
38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."
39 He also told them a parable: "Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?
40 A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.
41 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?
42 Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye.
43 "No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit;
44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.
45 The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. (Luke 6:37-45 NRS)

The Gospel of our Lord.  Praise to you O Christ.

Pray:  Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

There's a lot of joy going around isn't there?  Graduations and promotions, school's out for the summer, vacations coming, kids moving out, kids moving up, it's the time of weddings.  It's a long weekend and the start of the summer party season.  It's all joy to the world, right?
From our first reading, Paul wanted to have a joyful reunion with the people of the church he started in Corinth, but because of a conflict and a lot of disunity he felt he could not return to them, it would be too painful.
Paul had a sense of what joy is and he wanted to share it with his friends in Corinth.  Joy is the fruit of the Spirit.  Joy happens not when you are self-absorbed, but when you are immersed in those things happening outside of yourself, specifically in a creative sense, making or taking part in something useful and beautiful.  One commentator on this verse wrote that joy "is a by-product of self-forgetful activity.  The deepest source of joy is found through tasks in which we are one with the creative will of God, and are in tune with his Spirit."  It's the joy of a musician that practices her music to perfection, but the joy is not in the practice but in the sharing of the music with others.  Artists can lose track of time when they work, they are lost in the joy of creation.
Joy carries with it the deep sense of connectedness with God, one with his will, one in tune with his creative Spirit.  There is a harmony with God that also leads to harmony with others.  It was the desire for this kind of harmony that Paul was seeking to enjoy with his friends in Christ in Corinth but he could not.
But in Corinth there was the opposite of joy, not sorrow, but sin.  Sin broke the harmony of the community and the harmony with God.  Think of all of the Ten Commandments.  They are all about breaking relationships.  From the most important relationship with God from whom we will have no other gods, to the mere thought of coveting what belongs to our neighbor.  Using God's name in vain breaks relationship with God.  Forgetting the Sabbath breaks relationship as does dishonoring parents.  Murder breaks relationships (rather terminally), but so does committing adultery, stealing, and lying about our neighbor.  These things that we do break relationships, not only with our human neighbors, but with our God.  Disharmony follows. 
Paul would not go to Corinth because he feared his presence would add to the disharmony there rather than dissipate it.  The only resolution to sin was forgiveness.  Paul encouraged the congregation in Corinth to focus on forgiveness rather than continual punishment.  There was punishment by the community, but punishment does not restore relationships.  Forgiveness was needed to restore the joy of the community.
He was not talking about forgiveness that merely cancels a debt of some kind.  He was not talking about a forgiveness that only shows kindness to one who has wronged you.  Jesus transformed the sense of the word forgiveness.  He joined comfort with the word forgive  For the Christian, forgiveness has the intent to restore broken relationships, to replace the sinful brokenness between people with a joyful comfort and unity of fellowship.  It is the most difficult thing.  The robber of joy is released from the prison and restored to the community.  He experiences the peace that passes understanding through receiving forgiveness.  The balm of forgiveness is kneaded into his soul, the shower of restoration washes him clean.  He is a new creation and re-enters the joy of being in the will of God and in tune with the Spirit, in the community of his people.
It is the church, the congregation, the body of Christ, the followers of Jesus who hold the key to forgiveness.  Through love and humility we give out the forgiveness of God that restores one who has broken the fellowship.  There is confession, repentance followed by forgiveness.  Should we forgive 7 times? as many as 77 times? Forgiveness follows repentance...always.
The forgiveness by the church is how one knows they are forgiven by God.  The church is the embodiment of Christ and as Christ forgives and restores, the church motivated by its head, also forgives and restores.  To the forgiven, Christ is made known through the forgiveness of the followers of Jesus.  If we fail to forgive and restore relationships then the church dishonors Christ and Christ is made known falsely. 
In forgiveness, joy is restored.  It is why we pass the peace after the confession and forgiveness part of worship.  Being forgiven we joyfully greet our fellow worshippers and share the peace of restoration with God that we now share.
This kind of joy reminds me of that children's song many of us learned in Sunday School, "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart."  The second verse is "I've got the love of Jesus, love of Jesus, love of Jesus down in my heart." and the next verse is "I've got the peace that passes understanding, down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my stay."  I think the song gets it right.  Joy comes through receiving the loving forgiveness of Jesus and knowing it deep in our hearts, and in that joy there is an abiding peace.
This song has a humorous last verse that parallels the thought of Paul's writing to the Corinthians.  If the devil doesn't like he can sit on a tack, sit on a tack, sit on a tack.  Paul wrote that we are not ignorant of Satan's designs on us to separate us and turn us away from God.  By forgiving and restoring each other to the joy of community we are keeping Satan away - he can just go sit on a tack for all we care.  We will trust in the saving grace and forgiveness of our Lord that thoroughly frustrates Satan.  Not forgiving opens us to being outwitted by Satan.  Forgiving keeps in front of Christ and the joy and peace of his presence.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Amen.