Thursday, August 23, 2012

Jesus Calls the Disciples

The sermon this week is based on the story of the calling of the disciples in Luke as paraphrased by the Spark Bible.
The Dominion of God
The Dominion of God. What does that look like? Visions of lambs and lions getting along… Seeing old relatives, friends… being perfectly happy…
Maybe that’s what we think of when we think of heaven. How about now? Who makes up that dominion? People? Christians? Us? Those called by God? Those called by Jesus? What does all that look like?
Well, today we get a glimpse. Jesus calls Simon/Peter, Andrew, James, and John. These are the rock stars of the gospel. These are the guys who were at the last supper—good grief, Peter and John MADE the Last Supper! James and John and Peter witnessed the transfiguration—we’ll see that in January, when Moses and Elijah show up as well. They voice the questions we ourselves might often ask. They ask Jesus these things and we get to hear the recorded answers.
Can you imagine being able to talk with them for just five minutes?!
What’s Jesus like? What food did he eat? They know the untold story—the little things you only get from actually being there. Did he stop when he got a pebble in his sandal? How did you all handle days that were too warm to travel? Were there any favorite stories on those walks from town to town.
You know, I’d even be interested in talking to people who worked with them. How did Simon, Andrew, James and John run off like that? What was it about them that was different? Was there anything? Were they just normal fishermen, like you?
That’s it, too. They were normal, everyday fishermen. They hadn’t even been good fishermen that day—they hadn’t caught a thing until Jesus showed up. Fishermen—not as a hobby, but as a career. These are not lawyers, doctors, teachers who fish in their spare time. These are fishers who live on their boats all day—pulling in nets, fixing them, following the harvest wherever it goes. Covered in scales, surrounded by seawater and sun, with that fish smell ground into their skin—deeper than any soap can reach.
These are the people Jesus calls. These are the people that I—and I imagine some of you—would me most interested in talking with. That we would hope would give us just a few minutes of their time. 
Then there’s Matthew—a person who, just by the nature of his job, would be stereotyped as a crook. Tax collectors were reputed to skim a bit of the taxes off the top for their own pockets. Now, we don’t know if Matthew was one of those people—like any stereotype, it doesn’t apply to everyone. Jesus sees past the job and even the stereotype here. He calls Matthew, and this tax collector becomes one of his closest pupils. Again, the last supper, the miracles, the first-hand witness to Jesus’ teachings and answers to questions. What would we give for five minutes with someone like him?
Then there are the women! Where will this end? Women were worse than tax collectors in terms of social status. They were second-class citizens. That’s not too difficult for me to imagine. I’ve certainly encountered enough gender assumptions to last me a lifetime--
And that's in the 21st Century in the United States of America. 
This story takes place in 1st Century Israel.
Again, Jesus works with these individuals—these people—sees them for who they are. Not women and tax collectors and fishers, but as Simon/Peter, as Andrew, as James, as John, as Matthew, as Mary Magdalene, as Joanna, as Susanna, as Philip, as Bartholomew, as Thomas, as James, as Thaddeus, as Simon, as Judas.
We acknowledge that we’re called, too. We’re called from wherever we are—by name, as the disciples were. Baptized by that name. Joined to God’s family, and sent—sent to serve God’s world. Sent to learn from and work with one another, as the disciples were.
And what or who are we sent to work with? How about fishers? How about tax collectors? How about people like Joanna and James and Matthew—who are more than the stereotypes would let us believe. AND these are not people we would reach out to, to help or pity, but people we would seek out, hoping they’ll talk to us, hoping they’ll teach us, hoping they will give us just a few minutes of insight. This is what God’s family looks like—this is what the group of Jesus’ followers looks like--from the beginning.
We’re sent out into the world—and there’s no way we can do this alone. Did you notice? Even Peter and Andrew had to ask James and John for help with the nets of fish. There is quite literally a boatload of work to do. Too much for us to get caught up in labeling people by the group they belong to. We have to get beyond that.
We are called by name—each of us. Each of us called to follow Jesus. Each of us privileged to be able to respond and to walk the path of discipleship, with Jesus, with each other, with God’s people everywhere. Amen.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sermon #2--Daniel and the Lions' Den

Here's the second sermon preached on Daniel 6:1-28. The space this was preached in has a projector and screen, so I've inserted a few images here as well. (All images displayed are public domain or original photos).

Daniel. A den of lions. Lions. That’s something pretty scary. Or at least, we think so…but how on earth does a den of lions compute in our minds here in Wautoma, Wisconsin? I tell you, it’s not the easiest thing. My first thought was that most of us have probably seen lions like this...
Kids programs, movies, characters in a story…I mean, who hasn’t seen or heard of the Lion King?

But we’re trying to get more real…okay. Wild. How about this? 

Aww. For cute! I kind of want to go pick this little kitty up and play with it. I could handle that.

In reality, most of us—if we’ve seen a lion at all in real life—have seen it this way

Real lions, no doubt, and maybe dangerous, but removed by barbed wire or maybe electric fencing and a pit or some other expanse that keeps us—and them—at a safe distance.

That’s not too helpful either. In each of these situations, the threat just doesn’t compute. We’re not in danger, the lions are cute or caged or cartoons. We’re safe. We’re too removed. These aren’t in-your-face threats that can tear you apart before you blink.

Now we’re getting somewhere. I actually don’t really want to turn around and look at that one. Jaws ready to snap those razor sharp teeth; muscles tense, preparing to pounce; eyes staring you down in a look that says ‘You. Are. My. Next. Meal.’

Now we’re getting somewhere. Now we kind of get it. What Daniel was facing by being faithful to God. Danger. Consequences. Giving up our personal interests to follow God. Going way outside of our comfort zone.

What does that look like in real life? Stepping beyond our comfort zone? Putting aside our personal interests? Giving up part of our life for God?

Last week, the youth group from here traveled to Cass Lake, Minnesota. [5-Early Morning] They got up early—early enough to be here by 6am. They met some people they didn’t know—two leaders that brought them to a place they’d never been to meet more people they didn’t know. They took care of strangers’ kids, painted for days, and kept going. Even when they were tired and worn out, they pushed their own fatigue aside to bring the last bit of their energy out and give the community around them one more smile.

Outside of the comfort zone. Imagine yourselves doing that. Painting for days, meeting and playing with other people’s children—maybe people you wouldn’t approve of—and treating them like precious children of God. Giving them the last of your energy to keep a smile on their faces for one more hour. It’s not easy.

Of course, this was a mission trip, so that was the point. The point was to challenge and push yourself to do something for someone else. Here’s the flip side, though. In doing this, the youth also made connections, they met new friends that they got to know throughout the week, they laughed with the members of the community in Cass Lake, they made memories, they lived out lives as followers of Christ.  There was so much that happened beyond the simple pictures and stories even. These eight youth grew into the community they served, they dove in and followed as disciples of Christ. 

People asked me if I survived this trip when I returned. People—not just one person. Because it would be outside of my comfort zone. Because I would be the only adult from the congregation going. Because I hadn’t met any of the youth. Because this would take a lot of energy—maybe more than I had. It was a concern for those who asked me, I’m sure, and I appreciate the consideration. My response, though?

Survive—it was amazing! It was amazing to be able to invest in these young people, amazing to see them connecting with the community, with their faith. Amazing. Just from watching these things, you could easily tell that God was with us all that week. God was with us, and amazing things happened.

And now we’re back. That’s an awesome story, just as Daniel and the Lions is an awesome story. But now we face the same problem we did when we started. How does that look in our minds in Wautoma, Wisconsin? What does that mean for us? These youth stepped out to serve for a week on a Reservation in Minnesota, but how do we translate that to here?
I think…no I imagine…no I hope. Yes, I hope that it means we are encouraged to live faithfully in all we do. That we can know that God is with us always. I hope it means that we hear these stories and start to look for those places we’ve set barriers in our lives. Places where we know something is the right thing to do—we maybe see a ton of potential in some project or service—but we hold back. I hope we see those places and recognize that there is nothing to fear there. Because God is with us.

This church has already stepped out in several ways, from calling new staff to sending youth on mission trips to confirmation camp to Relay4Life this weekend to many other things supported here. Those are things to be excited about. Those are things to be remembered and rejoiced in. Those are things to tell the world. God is with all of us, and we get to step out and act like it.

I am excited to see what the next adventures bring. I am excited to see how Hope Lutheran inspires the community around it outside of these walls through the lives of the people who gather here each week. I am excited to see how God works through each and every one of you to serve God’s world and God’s people. God is with you. Go do something amazing.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sermon August 2

Hello again. So, for my first weekend preaching at my first call as a pastor, I decided to try and write two sermons--one for Thursday night and the other for Sunday morning. The first is posted below, and is based on the Spark Story Bible version of Daniel in the Lions' Den.

Darius was tricked. Daniel was trapped.

That’s what our story says. Daniel was the King Darius’ advisor. He was doing well at his job—too well, actually. His fellow advisors—his co-workers—decide that something needs to be done. They have to get him fired. The problem is, he isn’t doing anything wrong…so they devise a plan. They go to the king as a single group. United as one unit, they suggest that the king pass a law…people must rely on him and him alone for everything.

Darius was tricked. Daniel was trapped.

The punishment for asking God for anything is being tossed into a den of lions. Daniel doesn’t change what he does, though, and the other advisors go back to the king. They ask about the law. “Remind me about this law from last week. Is it absolute? Was the punishment being tossed into the den of lions?

The king confirms everything to them. Then they reveal that Daniel—the king’s top trusted advisor—is the one who must suffer the punishment.

Darius was tricked. Daniel was trapped.

Close your eyes. Imagine for a second a den of lions. What do you see? Is it cozy? Furry, fluffy overgrown cats? Do you picture Aslan? Mufasa and Simba? Some other illustration? I mean who hasn’t seen at least pictures of The Lion King or Narnia or the Wizard of Oz? I’d want to be around any of those characters. Sign me up for that. They’re funny and friendly, right?

These aren’t cartoons, though. They’re not stage characters. These lions are beasts. Killers by nature who hunt for their food daily. Their claws are sharp knives meant for tearing; their teeth are long, pointed, fanglike spikes that drip with hunger. Their muscles powerful enough to pull a body apart with one strike. These are the lions that wait in the den.

Darius was tricked. Daniel was trapped.

There are many people we could probably relate to in this story. Daniel is the obvious one. We can probably look around us from day to day and see the obstacles that threaten to shake us from doing what is right. The people, the social conventions, the risks that stand in our way of doing something we know needs to be done. It might seem easy for us to think that Daniel could’ve just skipped a few prayer days. I mean, he wouldn’t get thrown to the lions, and who would really notice? But it wouldn’t be right.

We can look to Daniel for inspiration. When it seems like talking to a certain person, supporting a particular cause, inviting another person to church would get us weird looks from the neighbors, we can think of Daniel and his faithfulness. The king certainly admired him. We might think for a minute that we, too, will be respected by the kings—the Dariuses—in our lives. Our bosses, friends, spouses, children, etc. But we also have to be aware that there are more than Dariuses in the world.

And...Darius was tricked. And Daniel was trapped.

Then there’s Darius. The king. The boss. The administrator. We can think of those situations where we’re in charge of people or projects. Maybe for you that’s your role at work, your life as a parent, your position as chair of this or that committee in the community here at church. Now, all the people that work for or with you call you to a meeting where pretty much all of them are there. They go on and on about how great you are, what a wonderful job you do.

Wow, does that feel good. You have worked hard, after all. Then they come up with this idea that will improve communications and make you and all the people you’re in charge of more efficient. Awesome! Everyone is working together, finally, and they see the work you do, too. So you agree without really examining the idea.

Darius was tricked. Daniel was trapped.

We will make mistakes like that. My point here is that we can understand where Darius and Daniel got stuck. Here’s the twist in the story—it works out for both of them. Even with the advisors conspiring against them, good wins out and God’s plan is still served. Despite the obstacles and evil in the world.

God’s plan keeps developing. God’s plan is working through the sorrow, fear, and struggles going on. Darius, who up until now had just tolerated Daniel’s faith—comes to share it, and believes in God. Wow. But we can’t forget the lead up to it.

Darius was tricked. Daniel was trapped.

The advisors. The tricksters. What about them? They see Daniel getting promoted ahead of them, even though he’s the new guy. The stranger in town. He’s doing good—too good. This needs to stop. They should be getting those benefits, that favor. Jealousy takes root and they move to destroy him.

Now, I have to admit, I understand this, too. Having a slightly competitive streak—especially when I was in high school (music competitions were the worst)—I know that need to be the best, and I’ve worked pretty hard since then to rid myself of that. It still flares up from time to time, though. Can you find it in yourself, too? That project that you just want to go well…that you want credit for…that you want to be recognized for?

What do you do when you notice those feelings?

Darius was tricked. Daniel was trapped.

Thinking like that is perhaps human nature. We are both sinners and saints, after all. There are times we will be immeasurably good, and there are times we will fail. Jealousy, however, is ultimately self-destructive for the tricksters in our tale. We see that in the verses after this story. The tricksters are thrown to the lions, and they don’t make it. They allowed their jealousy to consume them, and it ultimately does—it consumes them. It destroys them. If there’s anyone to avoid being like in this story, it’s these other advisors.

The advisors tricked Darius. The advisors trapped Daniel.

Again, there will be tricksters in our lives. We may even be tempted to be that sometimes. The point is to not give in to that destructive side, and to know that if we become like Darius or Daniel—if we do get tricked or trapped—God is with us. God is still working through us. No matter how bad it gets, God never abandons us.

God is watching us. God is with us.
God is holding us in the palm of God’s hand.

That’s the promise we hear here. As for our response, there’s a theme running through this, if you can’t tell.

We have a caution in this story, yes, to not be destructive—it huts us and it hurts others—but we also have assurance. We can live doing what is right. We only need worry about that, our own actions. After all, we can only control that—our own actions, not what others do. So that’s what we worry about, not about the many imagined shadows that might not approve. We do what we do. Praise God. Live faithful lives.

God is watching us. God is with us.
God is holding us in the palm of God’s hand. Amen.