Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christ the King

This reflection is based on the Gospel reading for this week from the Revised Common Lectionary, found here.

“Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”
Jesus cuts right through all the sugar-coating and defensive or back-and-forth rhetoric and gets right down to it.
Jesus is standing face-to-face with Pilate, and he just says it: After watching me, after meeting me, is this a conclusion you’ve come to, or did someone else feed you this line to repeat at me here.
Jesus gets brought to Pilate on the accusation that he’s claiming to be King of the Jews. King. That’s serious stuff. Why? This country already has a king, and it’s Caesar. That guy on all the money. Pilate—the guy whose job is to keep order in the land—reads him the charge. Jesus is claiming the authority of Ceasar.
This is the crown the people put on Jesus. They give him this title—Messiah—and they throw all sorts of assumptions on top of what that category actually looks like. Commander of armies. Restorer of the land. Ruler. King. Rich. Rider of the clouds.
Problem: these images don’t mesh with what Jesus said about himself.
Shepherd. Bread. Light. Gate. God’s Son. Son of Man. Resurrection. Life. Teacher. Way. Truth. Vine.
That's just from the book of John, but you get the idea. Jesus didn’t say great general. Or Caesar. Or anything like that. He doesn’t mention earthly wealth or owning land. In fact, Jesus flat out denies a kingdom of this world.
So what could have led to these assumptions? Well, Jesus does affirm that he is the Messiah, and that is a really loaded term in their world. Legend had it that the Messiah was this coming ruler—set to take back the land God had promised the Israelites on earth. Falling into the category of a messiah—an anointed one—ultimately put these generalizations on a person. It was a category. A classification.
The classification people put on Jesus.
So today, Jesus says look me in the eye, meet me, listen to me, and then tell me I want an earthly kingdom.
Pilate, actually looking at Jesus, admits that he’s repeating the rumors fed to him by others. When faced with the person rather than the categorical generalizations, he sees the differences and realizes what has been brought to him looks differently in person than the image the gossip presented.
It’s not the golden crown of jewels, but something else. We can probably see this at first glance, but we have the advantage of a few centuries of hearing this story. We know what’s coming. In this world, it is not a throne, but a cross that Jesus arrives at. His true kingdom is not in this world, but in a world that we have yet to fully see.
It’s New Year’s Eve. Did you know that? I know, all this talk about Thanksgiving, and it's already New Year's Eve. It's true, though. Christ the King Sunday marks the last Sunday of the church year. Next week, we will be talking about Advent. The chancel up here will have turned blue, the greens will have been set up, and our season of waiting and watching for the coming of Christ will kick off our new year.
That makes this New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Eve—it’s a time of celebration. It’s a time to think about what will be happening in the coming year, to consider what we hope to accomplish in our lives, to reflect on where we’ve been and what we’ve done so far. It’s a time of excitement and possibility.
At this particular time of the church season, we proclaim Christ as King. As we’ve seen, this king’s kingdom is one that is especially appropriate for a New Year’s Eve. It’s a kingdom that is to come. We can consider today the hope within Jesus’ words here—the kingdom he rules is not of this world. It’s a hope and a promise.
So, what’s in store for this coming year?
Where do we want to go?
What do we want to be?
As part of the church’s presence in this world—part of Jesus’ legacy—who do we hope to be? Who do we hope the rest of the world will see us as?
This is still a world that operates on assumptions. That sees people as categories—gender, ethnicity, age, status, and yes, even religion. Christians are stereotyped in this world—and not all of the opinions are positive.
How do we cut through that red tape of assumption to the heart of the matter? How do we get to what’s inside? How do we follow Jesus and call the world to see past categories and gossip and assumptions to see the real story? How do we show our care for this world that God has made—for all the people in it?
This is the New Year’s Eve of the church year. We get a chance today to remember who we are, who we belong to, where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we’d like to go. We get a chance to see Jesus as Christ the King, but we also get a chance to hear his words and realize what they mean for us. Amen.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving

We live in a world that constantly tells us to worry.
While the things we worry about might be changing every day, the concept has been around for thousands of years. Our gospel lesson for this evening makes that very clear:
  • Matthew 6:25-34 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you-- you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?' 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34"So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today.
Worry. While this definitely applies to us today, it was around in Jesus’ time, too. How do we know? Jesus talked about it. They're like warning labels—they wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a reason.
In today's world, we are told that we have to not only worry about having food, but having the right kind of food. Not only having clothing, but the right kind of clothing. Not only having shelter, but the stuff to make it comfortable and attractive. Beyond even these things, we also have to worry about having the right phone, transportation, bike or car, job, internet presence, lifestyle. Worry. Worry. Worry. Worry.
In two days, we have one of the most massive shopping days in the country. A new worry: will there be enough of the latest fashion/toy/deal left? Scarcity. The ads tell us what we need, and then that they won’t have enough for everyone. Worry.
This is probably closer to what those in Jesus’ time would have worried about—not necessarily brands and internet sites and such, but having enough. Scarcity. It’s what almost every advertisement is built on—do you have enough? What if you run out?
Worry brings about fear. In this case, we have the fear that someone will get to what I want or need before me and that because of that, there will not be enough left for me. Fear. What’s the solution to this fear?
Society would say—beat that other person to what you want before they beat you. Win. If the store only stocks 100 of that item, then be sure that you beat out person number 99 and buy the last three.
What about Jesus? Now, I’m not asking what Jesus would do or say, but what he did say. Look, right there in the Scripture: Do not worry about your life…can any of you by worrying add a single hour to it? Are you not of more value than birds of the air?
Jesus says “stop worrying.” A life is more than food or clothing—more than stuff—and worrying about getting enough stuff does not benefit anyone.
I said that in two days, one of the biggest shopping days in the country will take place. Companies have invented things we’ve lived without for thousands of years, and advertisements have convinced us that we need it, that we can’t survive this year without it, and we better get there before someone else beats us to it.
Am I saying don’t go shopping on Friday? No—go ahead, go shopping, who knows? It might be fun. What I am saying is that we need to watch how much meaning we attach to stuff—to wants and luxuries.
If our eyes are only on that, only on Friday sales and stuff and shopping, we miss something. Something else takes place before that. Thursday. Thanksgiving Day. A day that we celebrate abundance. This is the opposite of scarcity. Thanksgiving is a day that we remember all that we have already.
In celebration and evidence of this abundance, mountains of food are prepared. In evidence and celebration of the parts of life that are more than material, families or friends gather together, caring for their relationships. These blessings are more than just stuff. Tomorrow is the day we remember all we have, not all we want, and we realize all we have is a lot.
When we get to that point—the realization of our own abundance—we move a bit more toward the second part of the gospel lesson. We strive for the kingdom of God. Yep, kingdom of God. It’s right there in verse 33: strive for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.
The Kingdom of God. That place that is like a mustard seed, where people love their neighbor as they love themselves, where everyone loves God first and foremost, where the sick and suffering are cured. The Kingdom of God that belongs to the poor, the children, the last and least in this earthly realm.
This is the reality that will come fully at the end of time, but that we get little glimpses of through Jesus’ descriptions and the work of the Holy Spirit in the world we live in now. This is the reality we get glimpses of when we see the good happening in the world, when we see that all of God’s creation—people and creatures—have what they need.
God knows what we need--really need--and God knows that it’s more than stuff.
We have what we need in abundance. Abundance. Abundance of time—a holiday. Abundance of care in relationship—family, friendships, community. Abundance of food—grandma’s cooking or St. Joe’s meal. Abundance of love—God’s love for us and our love for one another.
We are blessed beyond belief. We have a God who cares for us so much that this God actually came to us in his Son, to live with us, laugh with us, cry with us, rejoice with us, suffer with us, and die with us. This God, who took on humanity so we might understand, so we might have life now. This God who rose that we might rise as well. This God, who made the world, full of blessing, overflowing in abundance.
So, on Thanksgiving, don’t worry about tomorrow. Be there in the day of thanksgiving, and celebrate abundance. That is what we do, after all. We celebrate abundance—we give it away, and we make sure that everyone has more than enough. We make sure—as a community—that this life, this day, is about more than just me, myself, and I.
We gather together with family, friends, with community. Whether you’re at grandma’s house, your own home, at the local community center, or wherever, take a moment to look around at everything and everyone around you, and remember that you are blessed with abundance. Amen.

Monday, November 19, 2012


This sermon is based on the lesson of the widow's mite, found here.

Look at the scribes who wear the long robes in the marketplace—they pray magnificent long prayers and record the many tenets of our faith. Their prayers are meaningful. These are the words that must cross the chasm of the cosmos to the very ear of God. And Look! Look at the wealthy of our community, giving so much money to the treasury of our faith. They truly bless us with their gifts. Amen. Amen!
This is how the scene in our gospel might look if we were actually there--immersed in the culture of the time. This is the socially-approved perspective. Those who have power and status have the attention, and people pay homage to them. The people who have the focus of the people keep the focus on themselves, and so the people keep focusing on them. The camera doesn’t move.
Did you catch what was missing in the retelling? Jesus caught that, too. Jesus moves the camera to an area that doesn’t get a lot of attention, and says to pay attention there.
In today’s gospel, people are greeting, walking, devouring, praying, and giving. Scribes are praying long prayers and rich people are giving large amounts to the treasury. People greet these scribes in the streets—these scribes who pray long prayers and wear the long robes. People probably also admire these rich ones for giving so much to keep their church going.
What is faithful? In our socially-approved retelling of the gospel, faithfulness is a showy long-winded and fairly empty public display and shallow greetings with popular figureheads. Faithfulness is making sure you keep enough to live in luxury and then ornately depositing the excessive surplus in good causes for all to see.
Jesus shifts the focus, though. Jesus zooms in, underneath all the superficial wealth and words and focuses in on a different sort of attitude. He looks at a couple of practically worthless coins in this pile, and finds for us someone who is never seen, who gives from the take home, not the leftovers, and says this is where it’s at. This is faithfulness.
Jesus shows us the widow.
Read the gospel again as it’s actually recorded: 
"As [Jesus] taught, he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation." 41He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."
It would seem to me that it’s about attitude. It’s not that the scribes walk in long robes and are greeted with respect and get seats of honor, it’s that they like doing these things—often at the expense of people like the widow—a person who can barely support herself.
It’s not that the rich people give large sums, it’s that they give out of their abundance, their leftovers, after their luxurious feasts and fancy clothes and whatever else they buy has been bought. How does that balance out?
Now, I have to admit, I felt really guilty as I was going through these texts. I am guilty of missing the point, of investing my time and money in myself from time to time. I am guilty.
I am also guilty, then, of turning this whole thing around and making it about me. Jesus is standing here, highlighting the widow, turning the camera on her, pointing out the good that is going on, and what do I do? I move the camera back on me.
How many times do I—or we—do that? Look at a situation where something amazing is happening and evaluate how it affects us. There’s a ton of good going on and we totally miss it because we’re focused on the big center stage show rather than the sidelines. We throw the weight where it shouldn’t be.
When our focus is self-centered, that is sin. Jesus came to tell us this—to remind us where we need to adjust our perspective, move the camera, widen our gaze. And then, Jesus came to forgive and let us try again. We make mistakes. We are forgiven again, and freed to try again.
Jesus moves the focus to where no one would think to look and points out an amazing person. The widow. If we turn her into an archetype, an example, or a source of our guilt, we start seeing only what the widow represents to us and we stop seeing her.
We can do what Jesus did—move the focus to those places people don’t often notice and highlight the great things happening there. Getting the focus off of ourselves, and lifting up, complimenting, supporting those who are doing well. We are freed to be—in the words of Martin Luther—a servant to all. We can serve all by highlighting all, not just those already in the spotlight.
In today’s gospel, hands are open—in greeting, in prayer, and in offering. One set of those hands is highlighted. The widow’s. Jesus points her out as an amazing person. We can celebrate her open faithfulness and act of charity. If we forget, we remember that we are freed to try again. Jesus renews us every minute to start fresh, change our perspective, our attitude. We can go out with open hands, too—hands open in service.
One of the things I loved about November 6—every voting day, in fact—was that the scales, which are so often unbalanced, are evened out, because no matter what I have—status, time, class, stuff, money, talent—I have one vote. One. No more, no less. Everyone gets that—and only that. You can’t buy more votes, there are no deeds so you can accumulate more like cars or shoes, you can’t take someone else’s from them. Everyone gets the same amount of the spotlight.
Maybe we start in our own lives—celebrating the things that often go unnoticed. Maybe we recognize that all we have—all of us, are God’s, and then treating everything and everyone that way. Amen.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Power Struggles

This sermon was based on the gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary, Mark 10:35-45. This was also Domestic Violence Awareness Sunday with an element of healing during Holy Communion.

Equality. It’s a really nice concept. Really. Everyone on the same level, with the same opportunities. It's a great idea.
The trouble is, we aren’t wired for that. We continually try to outdo our neighbors. We want the better cars, salary, jobs, stories, history, fishing tales, etc.
Our society isn’t structured for equality either. Maybe society influences us, or maybe we influence society—you could argue that one either way. But either way, it’s true. Promotions don’t go to everyone…just the best or the most well-connected. Salaries for the same jobs/work vary depending on any number of things. Gender roles are still unconsciously observed and instilled in our children. People still go to bed hungry, while others refuse to take home leftovers from dinner at the restaurant.
This is nothing new…in our gospel lesson, James and John fall into this very temptation. They want seats of honor for their time with Jesus. These two have identified themselves as the most important people in Jesus’ life, and they want Jesus to say so.
Jesus doesn’t.
Jesus doesn’t buy into the power struggle. He says this right/left hand status is not something he grants. He won’t play the disciples off each other in a worldly game like that.
James and John are humbled go back to the group. That’s right! They’re not the only two disciples, either. The other ten hear about what James and John did, and they are hurt and angry, too. I can only imagine them whispering to each other about James and John’s request. Planning to kick them out, ignore them, make them pay for their arrogance.
Problem—that makes the other ten arrogant. Jesus won’t let that happen, either. Jesus understands the nature of humanity—there is nothing one can do to be kicked out of God’s group. Everyone is in.
Jesus checks the egos of the disciples. He reminds them what it truly means to follow him into greatness—be a servant of all. Having authority means using it to promote equality. The lowly are lifted, and the oppressors—those who would use their power for themselves at the expense of others—are overturned.
Jesus never tolerates abuse of power.
He overturns tables of profiteers at the temple, stands up for a woman about to be stoned to death, heals blind beggars, defeats the aspirations of a rich man, and today he reverses the egotistical tendencies in his own disciples.
Jesus never tolerates abuse of power.
So why do we?
Today we remember that October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. We will have an element of healing for anyone who wishes to come forward. We lift up the services available here in Waushara County and remember those here and around the world who have been touched by this type of violence.
Here’s the thing: today we remember that October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. …and we wouldn’t need to if domestic violence weren’t an issue.
We as a society look the other way all the time in this system—by allowing those who use power to get themselves ahead to advance, by ignoring the incidents in our neighborhoods, our culture, and our world that reinforce power dynamics in favor of the powerful rather than the oppressed and marginalized. These behaviors set up a pattern that allows domestic violence to even exist, and so we would need to remember and be aware of it.
Jesus never tolerates abuse of power. He also loves us. We are reminded that we live as broken people in a broken world. However, there is nothing too big or too awful that would ever ever make Jesus turn away from us or stop loving us. The love that Jesus shows is absolute and eternal. He works that all of us—all of us—would have life.
Whatever has happened to us, whatever has been done, Jesus still loves us.
We are not abandoned by God. Ever.
The disciples ask the un-askable—to have seats with Jesus in glory. Jesus doesn’t kick them out, doesn’t turn away. The ten other disciples become angry with James and John. Jesus doesn’t kick them out, doesn’t turn away.
Jesus never tolerates abuse of power, and he reminds us we are always loved. Jesus himself is the example of that level of selflessness. He who would be the master of all—God incarnate—becomes the servant of all.
If we are to follow Jesus, we must do that as well. We must realize where we are in the global scheme and how we are using what we have. If we have power, we must use authority we have to lift those who cannot lift themselves. To give up our power to effect equality. To stop the abuse of power by others.
And if we are oppressed or abused, then we ought to be lifted and liberated. We can realize that we are loved by God and should be treated as such.
Equality. It’s not easy, and it won’t always be happy, but it is good. It is the notion that life can be lived with love and without fear. That we are all deserving of that. Sometimes, that will mean realizing where we deserve better, and having the strength to claim that. Sometimes, it will mean realizing that we have more/better than we need, and working to bring others up, realizing we can afford it—even if it means we go down a bit.
As we said, we live in a broken world. It will never be perfect, but it can get better. Jesus came to bring up the low—to heal the sick, suffering, and sorrowful from all that burdened them. Today, we also ask for that healing. In a moment, we will have the opportunity to receive a prayer of healing along with the anointing of oil.
Whatever our cares, burdens, or obstacles to the world, we are invited to bring them with us, think on them, and pray on them. We ask God in Jesus’ name to help us give up those burdens and go over those obstacles. We hold on to the hope that tomorrow will be better than today—that we can heal. We will continue healing from everything from prejudice to physical ailments to mental and emotional hurts to systemic injustices.
Our hope is in Jesus, who sets our example, who holds on to us when we hurt, when we fail, when we try again. Jesus, who loves us and stays with us no matter what, came that we might have life. That life is our hope. AMEN.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Another Angle--Church and Society

This sermon is also based on the lectionary readings found here. As with Daniel and the Lions' Den a couple months ago, the different worship settings brought about very different sermons this week.

As we heard in the Children’s Sermon, there has been a bit of a shift in the last however-many years. Bible Studies are done online and phone calls happen with instant video chat. Birds are angry creatures that fly into bricks. Something that blows up on Facebook means it’s popular.

This video was shown at the recent ECSW workshop Faith Formation in the 21st Century in Plover, Wisconsin. It looks at some of the statistics that reflect the shift our culture has undergone in the past few years.
Ok, who understood everything in that video? Anyone feel overwhelmed? Anyone need to see it six more times just to catch it all? There are probably a few things in there that were unexpected or shocking, but they’re all true. They’re all reality. Getting confronted with reality is sometimes shocking and unexpected, but it’s there, and we need to acknowledge that if we are to understand our world and be able to function in it.

In the Psalm for today, the writer knows what it means to see the world and feel…overwhelmed. The universe is so big, the person so small. “What are human beings that you, O God, would notice them? Mere mortals that you would think on them?” The vastness of the world is almost unbelievable. The thing is, that is still true. The world is still vast and unbelievable at times.

What do we do with that—with something like this? We can’t reject it outright—it’s just facts. Data. If we run away and pretend it doesn’t exist, we’re really just fooling ourselves because really, there is no earth where technology doesn’t exist anymore. We can’t uninvent the internet.

Who would want to? We literally have the world at our fingertips now. We can be in dialog with people across the country and world in a matter of seconds.

In our gospel lesson, Jesus points to the people who would be discarded by society on a whim—the women and the children in his time—and says “You can’t do that anymore—you’re ignoring the importance of other human beings and what they bring. You're missing out here.”
That’s also true for us. We can’t ignore the life experiences and the skill sets of people who have grown up with this technology or the people who know how to use it—they’re the little ones who carry the future of the church—here and elsewhere. We can't miss out on that. Again—why would we want to?

Okay, let's look at the other side of this coin…What if we embraced all this new stuff? Used it? Made ourselves accountable as Christians with it?
(There are a lot of ways to stay morally accountable when it comes to technology--think of comment threads) 

I admitted to the children in the children's sermon that there were technologies even I didn’t understand, but they could help me. However, that only works if I listen and am ready to learn—if I open myself up to the change this new information will inevitably create in me.

There were two seminary professors I had who used technology to its fullest. One of them would tell us to go on Wikipedia or Facebook or Google to help us learn. The other said something I’ll never forget. “If I came to visit you in ten years, and you were still reading just 2010 theology books, I would be disappointed.”

That professor knew that there was constantly new scholarship, new ideas, and that to stay relevant, we needed to stay current—there may have been a lot of valuable information and good theology then, but 2010 wasn’t the final word in Christianity—neither was 1990, 1950, or whatever year—pick a decade.

Last question for now—anyone excited by this video? We are in an era that connects us in more ways than we could have imagined five or ten years ago. That’s how it works. Jesus didn’t say anything about the internet, but he did say that the world would be changing. This change, do we dismiss it, hope it goes away, or do we talk about it, use it, work with it to make ourselves better individuals? Better people? Better Christians?

There is something of great potential out there—it depends on how we use it. The world is changing. There is a whole new set of opportunities to learn, make connections, and network with the world. That sounds like good news to me. Our question isn’t if, it’s how we go forward with that. We’re already doing quite a lot—now we get to ask what else is out there.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mark 10 -- To Such as These

This sermon is based on this week's Gospel Reading from the Revised Common Lectionary, Mark 10:2-6.

In Jesus’ time, women and children were disposable items. Men could divorce their wives for just about any reason from infidelity to gray hair to whatever. The reason didn’t really matter, and women were powerless against it. Similarly, children were at best an extra worker…once they were old enough to do something. Childhood mortality was high, so investing emotion or financial means in them was not really all that wise. It's just the way it was.

Jesus turns these cultural norms around in this reading. He says that no longer can a certain part of humanity cast aside another part on a whim. No longer can the dominant oppress the marginalized. Why? Because dominance, power, influence, status, and class are all human constructs. Guess what? This is God’s world. We’re all people worth the same as everybody else.

So what does that mean for us? Well, Jesus literally takes the little ones—these thrown out people—and blesses them. In today’s world, there are many who have no voice, who are marginalized, who would be thrown out or stopped from gaining equal status with the dominant people of the world. Yet we remember that these are the ones Jesus blesses. As we go through the litany of just some of the many scenarios that are out there, we'll end with the response “And Jesus said, It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”


A single dad stands in line at the food bank, wondering whether the electricity will work this evening. While volunteers help him pick out his groceries for the coming months, strangers on the street judge him for not being able to support his own family. And Jesus said,

“It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

Ten-year-olds are sold to pay off the family debt. They work as shepherds, sleeping with the sheep in the barn and eating scraps from their owner’s house. As they turn eleven, their dreams diminish—last year they dreamed of a career someday, this year they dream of school, next year they’ll dream of freedom. And Jesus said,

“It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

A teenaged girl stares at a stick in a bathroom stall. She contemplates whether to watch her life become distorted and abused and judged over the next nine months, or to abort this invasion of her body. Tears streaming down her cheeks, she fears no one is out there to support her—to understand her, to love her. And Jesus said,

“It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

A husband and wife find themselves in a land where everything feels foreign, but they can live. Strangers stare at them in the grocery store for taking comfort in the last familiar thing they have—their native language. And Jesus said,

“It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

A teenaged boy limps home with garbage in his hair. The schoolyard isn’t safe anymore for someone who likes fashion, design, and other boys. And Jesus said,

“It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

An elementary school student comes to school with bruises. The teacher sees but doesn’t say. The child goes home to face more of the same…and to watch a parent suffer, too. And Jesus said,

“It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

A 22-year old receives their college diploma. Six months later, they still live in their parents’ basement. They were told that they could be anything, so they’re waiting for that job to open. They can’t afford to live on a fast food salary. Now society frowns on them for wanting to be what they learned and worked to be. And Jesus said,

“It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

An elderly lady sits in a nursing home. It’s been two years since anyone besides a nurse visited. She waits for death, hoping the insurance holds out long enough to go with dignity. And Jesus said,

“It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. This is a small snapshot of the sorts of situations that exist here—in this community, this country, and this world. These are the people who get discarded, silenced, and ignored by those around them who could speak up, but don’t. Like the little children Jesus blesses, these are the powerless of our world. In our gospel lesson, Jesus tells us that we can’t ignore these people anymore. These are human beings—not concepts or categories.

I know that there is no overnight fix for this system—cultures, biases, and prejudice don’t disappear or radically shift overnight. But we do need to acknowledge that there are people in our midst that are excluded by the system of society. People who need to know they’re not forgotten—who need the love of God that Jesus spoke about so often to shine in their lives.

There may not be an overnight fix, but there is hope. Perhaps at some point, we can be light bearers, shining God’s love into the lives of those around us. As we come forward for communion this evening, I invite each of us as you are comfortable to light a candle for those without voices and place it in the sand there.

There is hope for this world and all the people in it. As our little lights fill up the boxes, we will see that none of us are shining alone. The light accumulates and shines together, and the more who shine their light, the brighter the space will be. Just like these candles that we’ll light in a minute, the more who shine their light, the brighter this little corner of the world becomes.

Imagine that spreading to the next corner of the world, and the next, and the next. This could be one amazing planet, filled with God’s light.

There is hope. There is most definitely hope.

Monday, September 24, 2012

What does "Youth and Family" mean?

And Family?
Over the past eight weeks, many people have told me how nice it is that I’m here. That it’s great that there will be someone for the youth here.
Now, I am very excited to work with the youth. I spent many summers at a Bible Camp before attending seminary, and on internship I discovered that the part of ministry that gave me the most energy was working with the youth there. The youth of Hope Lutheran are an amazing group of students I have had the privilege of getting to know through youth group and confirmation here at church. I am excited to work with them. However, my job description is a little broader than that.
I have been called to Hope Lutheran as the Associate Pastor focused on Youth and Family Ministry. Over the past few years, I’ve found that the term “Youth Pastor” is generally accepted and understood, but a "Youth and Family Minister" is a little more confusing.
Our concept of church is changing. It’s no longer just the time we gather for worship in a specific building, though that’s part of it. Church is the community of Christians living out faithful lives 24/7. Being church is something that permeates all of life—from home to work to worship—and it begins in the home.
From the time children can open their eyes, they are watching the world. They learn to talk, walk, and play from those immediately around them—their families. Parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, guardians, and grandparents are the first and most trusted teachers of young people. It is to these individuals that children, youth, and young adults will look to for guidance on what they should do and believe.
This is not a shirking of responsibility by any congregation or its employees and volunteers—it is simply reality. Faith begins in the home, and congregations are an extension of that. Pastors and volunteers cannot model faith or minister for you, but they can model and minister with you.
Does that mean that if you have no relatives in the area, this doesn’t apply to you? In no way. As it was said earlier, the church is an extension of family, and we are all part of that. Every person in the congregation has a connection to this community—and everyone in the community is connected to you as well.
That’s the “and family” part. It’s acknowledging the reality that everyone in a community is connected as church—that the adults teach, model faith, and learn from the youth just as the youth learn from, teach, and model faith to the adults. It’s acknowledging that youth are watching everyone to see how faith fits into life—not just the pastors. It’s working and ministering with one another to strengthen and deepen our collective faith. It’s realizing what a gift we have been given in our faith and community, and acting accordingly.
As a pastor called to be focused on youth and family ministry, my eye is on those programs and that philosophy. However, I can’t do this for you. It only works if I work with you—our shared efforts producing a greater result than either of us imagined. I am really excited to see what that looks like.