GLC in Lent

GLC in Lent

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 do...so 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 heart....to 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.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

2016_05_22 Holy Trinity Sunday Comfort & Consolation

Sermon Holy Trinity Sunday , NL2, 22 May 2016

The First reading for today is from St Paul's second letter to the Corinthian church, the first chapter.

NRS  2 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is in Corinth, including all the saints throughout Achaia:
 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation,
 4 who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.
 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ.
 6 If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering.
 7 Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.
 8 We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters,1 of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself.
 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
 10 He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again,
 11 as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our1 behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.
 (2 Corinthians 1:1-11 NRS)

The Gospel lesson for Holy trinity Sunday is from the Gospel of Matthew the 5th Chapter.  Glory to you O Lord.

NRS  Matthew 5:1 When Jesus1 saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.
 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
 3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
 5 "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
 6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
 7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
 8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
 9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
 10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 11 "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely1 on my account.
 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
 13 "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
 14 "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.
 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.
 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.  (Matthew 5:1-16 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.

Have you ever read any old letters?  When we were closing up Susan's parents house we found the letters my mother-in-law had saved from my father-in-law while he was deployed in a Navy ship some 40 years before.  We didn't understand some of the references in the letters because they were understood only by the two of them.  Some things were discussed in previous letters that we didn't have so we had to guess about what they were referring to.  Some of their language was peculiar to the people who lived in the 1940's and 50's and not so familiar to me raised decades later.
It is like reading St Paul's letter to the Corinthians thought Paul's letter is even more difficult, because of the huge cultural difference between then and now, the fact that we are reading a translation which means also an interpretation of what he wrote.  But difficulties remain.  Some words or expressions have different meanings for Paul than they do now.  There are references to previous letters to the Corinthians that we don't have.  There are references to topics that both Paul and the Corinthians knew but that we don't.  So it is sometimes hard to determine exactly what Paul is referring to in his letter.  We may even have to go to other letters to help us understand his point.
What we know about Paul and the Corinthian congregation is that there has been much dispute and disunity in the congregation and that Paul worked very hard to settle the differences and get the congregation unified with the proper understanding of Christ and faith in Christ.  So Paul started what we call the second letter to the Corinthian church by talking about affliction and consolation.  But how different he begins his letter compared to how we might begin a similar letter.  My guess is that if we were to write a letter about how we had been afflicted and how it was resolved or how we received comfort and consolation we would have started with how we were afflicted, how bad we had it so that our reader would sympathize with us.  Then we would move toward how God consoles us.  We might first wonder why we had to face such pain and suffering and wonder why God seemed so far away while we suffered before we considered what God was doing. 
But not Paul.  He begins with God and what God does before he tells how close to death he was and how much in despair we was about being able to remain alive.  Paul never even asks the question we too often hear.  Why me?  Paul is so intensely focused on what God is doing that he gets to the answer of the question before he even asks it.  So he never asks, "Why me?"  He already knows.
This is important for us to note.  God is first; God the Father and God the Son.  And so Paul writes a typically Hebrew blessing, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."  What God is doing is more important than anything else, even our own pain and affliction.  And what God does is provide comfort and mercy.  The grace that comes from God is that comfort and mercy are given to us, even we in our afflictions, in those things that wound and hurt us. 
Our sufferings are tied to Christ's sufferings.  We should not be surprised that we suffer since Christ our Lord suffered, so we can expect to suffer.  But God has a reason for allowing us to suffer even as Christ suffered.  It is so that through our afflictions we may console and comfort others who suffer as we do.  We are not to have mere sympathy and feeling sorry, but we are to comfort and console in the sense of being with and building up, strengthening and supporting those who suffer.
The comfort comes from God to us, who suffer, and then since we received comfort we are to comfort others who also suffer.  This is the main point of the beginning of Paul's letter.  Only when he has this full understanding of what God does and what our response is does Paul tell them of how much he suffered and felt like he was sentenced to death and saw no way out.  This experience left him with the realization that in the midst of the burden of his despair, when there was nothing else he could do, that he couldn't even trust in himself to relive the pain, he learned there was a reason for this - so that he could only trust in God.  The Lord was his only hope and this hope was not in vain because God could do what no one else could do.  He could raise the dead to life.  Here was Paul as good as dead and he learned to hope and trust in God alone, who raises the dead.  There is no greater power than this, to raise the dead.  This is who we should rely upon and place all of our trust, the one who raises the dead.
As we stop and consider what Paul has written to us we begin to realize that we have all been burdened excessively, beyond our strength, and perhaps even felt like we were sentenced to death and despaired of life with no one to rely on.  What might these afflictions be?  One is death.  Recently two families with connections to Grace have suffered the death of a beloved family member.  But so many of us have suffered the death of a loved one.  This is an affliction that weighs on us, often for a long time.  We suffer distress and separation in our families, affliction between husband and wife, between parent and child, between brothers and sisters.  We suffer the affliction of addictions to -drugs, alcohol, gambling, eating, video games, many other things that seem to have undue control over us, that we battle.  We suffer from sickness and disease, both physical and mental.  We know despair.  We relate to what Paul has written about himself.
But God is greater than all of these.  Through his consolation and comfort He gives us a purpose, that we might also comfort and console others.  We see how this works.  The best counselors are those who have experienced what we are experiencing.  This is well known by the 12 Step addiction recovery programs that exist.  It is known by combat veterans that understand the terrors they have faced are best shared with someone who understands.  One who has suffered can better console one who is now suffering in a like manner.
This is the face of what Paul wrote to the Roman congregation, "...we know that for those who love God all things work together for good." even and especially during times of affliction.  Paul even got radical when he said in the same letter, "We rejoice in suffering!" because of what it produces.  He listed endurance, character, and hope but God's intent is also to produce comfort and consolation for our neighbor who is in distress.  My affliction becomes your consolation.  God comforts me and through me you.  I comfort others because of the comfort I received.  Jesus us even tells us that we are blessed when we are afflicted because than we will be comforted.
Perhaps even the more difficult thing to consider is whether the Lord causes the affliction we experience.  He may or he may not, we do not know the mind of God, nor will we.  But what he has revealed is what we are to do with our afflictions.  Be blessed by them so that we may be a blessing to others.  The Lord God is above all things even suffering and affliction.  God's will for us extends beyond what has happened to us or is happening to us, just as it was for his Son.  The affliction and suffering of the cross was meant for something far greater that mere pain and death.  Jesus never asked why.  He knew why.  What he went through was for the benefit of all people.  His suffering became our consolation and comfort.  Since we are united with Christ, our suffering and affliction is meant for the consolation and comfort of others. 
Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all mercy and the God of all comfort.  Amen.
The grace of comfort and consolation of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

2016_05_15 Pentecost From the Spirit - Jesus is Lord!

Sermon Pentecost Sunday, NL2, 15 May 2016

The First reading for today is from St Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth the 12th chapter.

NRS  1 Corinthians 12:1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.
 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak.
 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Let Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit.
 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;
 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;
 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.
 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,
 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,
 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-- and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
 14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. (1Co 12:1-14 NRS)

The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

The Second Reading for today is from the book of Acts the 2nd chapter.

NRS  Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.
 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Act 2:1-4 NRS)

The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

The Gospel lesson for Pentecost Sunday is from the Gospel of Mark the 1st Chapter.  Glory to you O Lord.

4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
 7 He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.
 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
 (Mark 1:4-8 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 our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Have you heard the story about the man who wanted to be baptized so he went to the pastor and asked to be baptized.  The pastor took him to a river and proceeded to baptize him in the river.  He dunked him in once and bringing him up asked, "Do you believe?"  Upon receiving nothing other than sputtering water he dunked him in again.  Again he brought him up and asked him more intensely this time, "Do you believe?"  The man again had no reply.  So the pastor dunked him again, holding him in a little longer to help the baptism really take hold.  He finally brought him up and asked, "Do you believe?"  The terrified man replied, "I do believe you are trying to drown me!"
Our readings today are all about baptism - not the drowning kind but the spiritual kind.  Not the water kind but the wind and fire kind.
Our readings for today were presented in reverse chronological order.  Had they been presented in chronological order we would have heard John the Baptist prophesy that there is a future baptism in the Holy Spirit brought by one who is to come (speaking of Jesus).  Not a baptism with water for the repentance of sins but a baptism in the Holy Spirit.  Then we would have hear about how that baptism occurred, with the roaring wind and fire and how that immediately changed and emboldened the disciples to speak and preach in languages that others understood.  Then in Paul's letter to the Corinthian church we hear described some of the other of those gifts of that baptism in the Holy Spirit and what that should mean for the early church and perhaps for us today. 
One of the most spiritually challenging days of my life occurred when I was asked if I was a Christian.  I replied that I was and then was asked "On what day and how was it for you, being born again, baptized in the Holy Spirit?"  I was confused.  The implication was that unless I had this emotional experience then I was not born again and therefore not a Christian.  I had never been  presented with this question before.  It wasn't until I was able to return home and ask my pastor about it and learned that it was okay to grow up immersed in faith.  He told me that my salvation occurred when Jesus died on the Cross.  I was baptized into that belief and had confessed that Jesus was Lord, that made me a Christian. 
In the reading from 1st Corinthians, we find Paul also teaching the congregation at Corinth about what it means to be a Christian.  It appears that there was a litmus test here that was used to determine who was really a follower of Jesus and who was not or at least there were some who should be considered superior to others because of their obvious spiritual gift of speaking in tongues.  From Paul's writing we infer that the ability to speak in tongues was the Corinthian test for being a real follower of Jesus.  Paul went to great lengths to refute this assumption and present how we as a community of believers should consider these spiritual gifts including speaking in tongues.
As we read what Paul wrote we begin to understand how he understood a Christian body of believers to be.  It begins with a simple confession of faith "Jesus is Lord."  But this confession cannot be made without the external work of the Holy Spirit upon us.  Only through the Holy Spirit can anyone make this confession.  This is the indication of the presence of the Holy Spirit.  What the Holy Spirit does is to create faith in Jesus Christ, who lived and died and rose again.  Jesus, Messiah, God breaking into the world to be with us where we are, to do for us what we cannot possible do for ourselves.  This Spirit-given faith results in the  heart-felt confession, "Jesus is Lord."
And if people make that confession then the Holy Spirit is also doing other work among them.  Can I say that about us?  The Holy Spirit is doing his work among us, each one of us.  He is creating faith in Jesus.  He is giving his gifts and Paul makes a list of them.  In our reading it is not a complete list because he makes other lists in other letters.  It is a representative list of what the Spirit gives.  There are people here who speak with the gift of knowledge and others with the gift of wisdom, others with healing, faith, discernment, miracles, prophesy, and speaking and interpreting in tongues.
What is clear is that Paul is less concerned with the specific gifts but of what is done with them.  They are not to be exalted over because we have them.  They are not to be wept over because we do not have them.  We are not to feel bad because we have some and not others.  They are gifts and the Spirit gives them to whom and in what measure that he decides.  The point that Paul makes is that the purpose of the gifts is for the common good.  The gifts are given individually to each one of us to be used for the common good of all of us.
I think the challenge for each of us is to spend less time trying to figure out what our gifts are and instead focus on serving the common good.  This is extremely freeing isn't it?  We don't need to worry about what gifts we have, we need to concentrate on doing what we can.  We can't do what we can't do, so we do what you can.  This seems rather obvious doesn't it?  But how much time do we spend moping around thinking "Well I can't do that!" when we should be thinking, "Well I can that!" and then going ahead and doing it and perhaps gathering others to help you get it done.
What this means as we become more missionally oriented and focused on the needs of our community, we begin to look for things we can do in our community and we begin to do them.  We already have the spiritual gifts among us to do these things.  We should not minimize what we can do but should ask "How can we use them here for the common good?"  How can I speak with knowledge and wisdom and how can I learn knowledge and wisdom?  How can I take part in healing?  How can I discern spirits?  How can I use my gift of faith?  How can I take part in miracles - yes miracles - someone here has the gift of miracles!  How can I prophesy for the common good?  How can I speak in tongues that will edify others?  And this is just the beginning of all that the Spirit can do and indeed does among us.
This is the effect of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  People are forever changed by the Spirit.  We are forever changed by the Spirit.  There was a time before the Spirit and there is a new time, a time after the wind and the fire.  Through the Spirit we are baptized into the body of Christ, we become contributing members to the body with no member of the body greater or lesser than any other part.  All are important members.  All are gifted as the Spirit desires.  And as Paul wrote we also drink of the Spirit indicating that we have a continual need to be refreshed and filled by the Spirit.  We need to drink of the one Spirit.  When we think about it, that is what we do here in worship.  We gather spiritual refreshment and sustenance as we worship together, hear God's Word, receive the body and the blood, and respond in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.  The Spirit is at work in us in all of these things.

Through the urgings and inspiration of Holy Spirit let us respond to the baptismal dunking not with a fear of drowning but with a joy of living.  As the waters of baptism washed over us and the winds and fire blow around us, changing and recreating us daily, let our faith be renewed and the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Amen.

2016_05_08 Easter 7 Death: No Victory, No Sting

Sermon 7th Sunday of Easter, NL2, 8 May 2016

The First Reading for the 7th Sunday of Easter is from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians the 15th Chapter. 

ESV  1 Corinthians 15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,
 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you-- unless you believed in vain.
 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
 12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.
 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.
 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.
 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.
 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
 (1Co 15:1-26 ESV)
51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."
 55 "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"
 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
 (1Co 15:51-57 ESV)

The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

The Gospel lesson for the 7th Sunday of Easter is from the Gospel of Mark the 12th Chapter.  Glory to you O Lord.

18 And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying,
 19 "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.
 20 There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring.
 21 And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise.
 22 And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died.
 23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife."
 24 Jesus said to them, "Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?
 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'?
 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. (Mark 12:18-27 ESV)

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.

Think about those things that just feel good.  The shower in the morning baptizing you clean is the water flows over you.  Diving into the lake and gliding underwater then just floating quietly on your back.  Rolling around in the surf at least until you stand up and your suit is filled with sand.
Some things just feel good and right when you pick them up.  A book with real pages.  A baseball glove, a baseball or softball, just the right bat - the you feel like you could hit it out of the park - regardless of whether you can or not it just feels like it. 
Don't we discover our world at first by feel.  Take little kids outside on a walk and what do they do? pick stuff up to feel it then put it in their mouth - sticks, leaves, stones, bugs!  Eating is not much different is it?  It's all about texture, feeling those Cheerios, munching on fingers, smearing food across your face and in your hair, putting the spoon in your ear.  Don't worry, enough somehow leaks through to the stomach to get full. 
What do we do with babies, we caress their soft heads, smell their breath, bubble their tummies - change their diapers.  It's all good.  We let them fall asleep on our tummies and rub their backs, and listen to them breathe.
We love to look at the beauty of the world around us, mountains, trees, flowers, sunsets and sunrises, animals.  Petting zoos are always a hit, we can't keep ourselves from wanting to touch baby lambs, goats, or pigs, and hold a chick, cuddle puppies and kittens, they are so soft and cute.  We love sitting close to the one we love and hold hands, whisper in their ear, and all of that mushy stuff.
Isn't it a pleasure to pick something up and it just feels right to hold it.  Watch a guy shopping for a hammer or some other tool.  It has to feel right.  A golf club, a kitchen knife.  Going camping?  a camp hatchet, a walking stick.  When you hold the right one you just know it.  It feels right.
It is a sensual world and it makes you wonder why the preacher is talking about all of this on the 7th Sunday after the Easter as we continue to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.  What's the connection to the reading from the 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians that talks so much about death?  Well I'm glad you asked.
The Corinthians had Paul with them for 18 months and had heard the Gospel story that Paul repeated for them as he had received it.  This was the basic teaching of Christianity perhaps within 20 years of Jesus ascension.  Jesus lived, he died, he was buried  - all in accordance with and fulfillment of the Hebrew scriptures.  But he was also resurrected in accordance with those same scriptures and in case you doubted he was seen by many people, some famous - Peter and James, and by as many as 500 others, most of whom were still living and Paul includes himself in this list without retelling his encounter with the living Jesus.  This is it.  This is the good news for us.  A specific, historical man named Jesus lived and died and lived again.  This is the basis of the Gospel - Jesus' life and resurrection.
Without the resurrection, Jesus was just another good man caught up in the power of the Roman empire.  The disciples would go back to fishing or collecting taxes or whatever else they were doing when he called them, it's all been a big lie and they've been fools to follow Jesus and even bigger fools to travel around the known world to talk to people about this really nice friend they had.
But with the resurrection the whole world is changed.  It no longer needs to be a dog-eat-dog striving-to-get-to-the-top world.  There is a reason to care for your bodies and not to mar them and give them over to fornication and other destructive habits.  There is a reason that we have a food pantry and we collect clothes and jackets and shoes and socks for those who have none.  There is good reason to build good habitats for people and find ways for them to not only live but to thrive.  The bodies that God has given us all are precious and should be cared for.  We should also care for one another's bodies because Jesus was resurrected in the body. 
The body is important, it's the way we were created, so at the end of this sin-filled world that is all about destruction, God has a new body in mind, waiting for us.  We can't imagine it.  But it will be given to us in a flash, in a moment, at the sound of the trumpet, When Jesus comes for us.  God created us in the body and gave us the physical senses to enjoy his creation but this perishable, mortal body is not the final form for us.  There is another body that's even better waiting for us.  We know this because of Jesus' resurrection. 
Death is an evil, destructive enemy that tries to give us a sense of hopelessness.  It should not be minimized by sweet and pious talk that reduces its reality and tragedy.  At the same time the resurrection means we can spit in death's face so to speak, we can mock death "Hey Death, where is your sting?  Where is your victory now, huh?" because we trust in the risen Lord who leads the way for us to put on a transformed, imperishable, immortal body.  Death puts us exactly where we need to be - in the position of utter trust in God.  In death we have no control, we cannot manipulate, there is nothing we can do but trust.  We are completely in God's hands.  It's when God does his best and most grace-filled work.  He works life from death.  He creates new out of nothing.  We have this trust and faith because we know about the resurrection of Jesus, who claims us as his own and leads the way for us.
This text is often the basis of funeral sermons and it speaks to us of the hope of our own resurrection, that death is not the final victor.  We live under the law and the gospel learned through the scriptures.  We know the law all too well.  We are good at the law and keeping track and comparing ourselves to others.  We like to make it look like we are so much better than others.  But through the law we know that we are sinful and deserve only death, for the wages of sin is death.  We know sin because we know law.
But we also live in the Gospel, the good news of the resurrection.  Through faith in the resurrection we know we are saved.  Jesus was not just another good man, he was the Son of God.  Jesus saved us because he was resurrected, not resuscitated, not revived, but dead, buried, and made alive again in the body that people saw, heard, and touched; a body that breathed and ate and had all of the senses and carried his identifying wounds.  The Gospel, the good news of the resurrection is the work of God that swallows up our sin and destroys it.  It is no more, and we are saved.
Jesus' resurrection is the core event of our faith.  It shows that he is God and has power over sin, death, and the devil.  This is what we confess, believe, and proclaim.  So every time you enjoy a beautiful sunset, hear the sweetest music, touch sweet baby fingers, smell bacon in the frying pan, munch on Cheerios or just chocolate, float on your back, even if it's in the bathtub, know that this perishable body will put on the imperishable, this mortal body will put on immortality and it will be more wonderful than we could ever imagine, because Jesus is alive.  The victory is his.  He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia.

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