Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sermon for February 27, 2011

Text: 1 Corinthians 4:1-13
Theme: Triumph
Date: February 27, 2011- Epiphany 8
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The world is on fire. I mean that both literally and figuratively. Beginning with the unrest in Egypt, demonstrations against ruling governments have caught fire all throughout the Middle East, including the countries of Bahrain, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen and Iran, just a mention a few. The unrest has even reached the state of Wisconsin, although some in that protest didn’t seem to know what they were protesting. Those in power are attempting to crack down on protestors in whatever way possible. The demonstrations or the protests have gotten very bloody, as many have lost their lives fighting for what they believed in. The jury is still out as to what will happen in the future.
Many are convinced that this will lead to gas prices going through the roof, global economic collapse and war throughout the world. Many Millennialist preachers are having a field day proclaiming that this is most certainly the beginning of Armageddon. One could certainly make a case that we are entering the “little season” spoken of in the book of Revelation. But, before I begin to hyperventilate, Jesus words in our Gospel reading this morning ring out loud and clear, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Thank you Jesus, I needed to hear that.
Not only is there great tribulation in many countries, but persecution against the church continues to be on the rise. Because of that, our text will continue to be of great importance in the years ahead. The true church has been, is and always will be hated the world. When we become friends with the world, when we begin to compromise with the world, when we begin to think that this world is all that matters, then that is when we get ourselves into trouble and the Gospel begins to be ordinary and robed of its power and glory.
St. Paul has some encouraging words for us in our epistle reading, although initially it might be a little tough to understand how these words are of comfort. Our text this morning focuses on 1 Corinthians 4, beginning at the 9th verse, ”For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake.“
We are all familiar with a parade. Sitting on the side of the road in our lawn chairs, we all have enjoyed watching the bands, floats and fire trucks slowly go by. Maybe you even been in a parade walking with a civic group or sports team. The ancient Romans also enjoyed a good parade, only their version was not just for fun. It was called a Roman Triumph. Their version was to teach a very important lesson: don’t make us angry. If you’re thinking about protesting our leadership, or you are thinking about a little demonstration, well you might want to think twice. After they would conquer an enemy’s city, they would set up their triumphal parade. The Roman leader would ride in on his chariot surrounded by his other military personnel. They would wear their military attire and carry their weaponry. There would be trumpeters, carts with the spoils of war, and bulls for sacrifice. Toward the end of the parade would also be those who were captured or those who opposed them, often in chains, bloodied and bruised beyond recognition. The Christians also often found themselves at the end of these lines quite often. After the parade was over, the prisoners were often executed. I’m not sure I would be too excited about attending this parade or certainly would not want to be in it. What encouragement then was Paul giving the Corinthians and us? Why was Paul saying that we should be a spectacle to the world at the end of a parade?
For us, by nature, Jesus’s words seem to make little sense. We have no desire to be a spectacle to the world. Who wants to be the fool? We want to be at the front of the parade. We want to have the power. We want the control. This is what we deserve. We play second fiddle to no one. We are also surrounded by so much affluence, wealth and riches that it so often clouds our thinking. Our problems and struggles seem bigger than they really are.
Don’t get me wrong. We do suffer and we do have anxiety. We do have issues with our family and neighbors. We do struggle mightily with financial and health issues. We do have problems at work. We do have personal worth issues. We do have sleepless night worried sick over what is going on in our lives. I don’t downplay those issues. I have them as well. They are painful. Again, Jesus says to us, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Sir Winston Churchill once said, "When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his death bed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened."
However, think about this: we have the highest standard of living in the history of the world. We have indoor plumbing. We have toilet paper. We have our own beds. We have refrigerators that keep our food cold. We have televisions in most rooms in our house. We have several cars. We throw away more food that many families in the third world live on in a month. We have the type of technology that generations before us couldn’t have ever dreamt of. And, I have no way of proving this, but I bet it is a safe assumption our anxiety, our stress and our nervousness in the 21st century is probably seem to be greater than any other generation before us. Why is that? What causes our stress and anxiety?
What Paul makes clear is exactly what Jesus makes clear: it is not possible to serve two masters. It is not possible to serve money and our possessions and serve Christ. It is not possible to be loyal to the world and loyal to our Savior. As Jesus says in our Gospel, “Either you will hate the one and love the other or you will devoted to the one and despise the other.” Our money, our possession, and our attitude have clouded our thinking. When Jesus tells us to, “take our crosses and follow him”, we have a tough idea what that really means.
Thomas Cress spent close to thirty years in a Michigan jail for killing Pat Rosansky. Recently he was released. It was determined that he was actually innocent. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to sit in jail knowing that you didn’t commit the crime for which you sentenced. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time. All the evidence was circumstantial, but it pointed to you. But, you were innocent. You had done nothing wrong. The frustration would be overwhelming.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus was sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit. He was accused of being a blasphemer, of saying that he was God when he wasn’t. He was also accused of promoting not paying taxes to Caesar. The charges were trumped up. He was indeed God’s Son. He had, in fact, said that we should pay taxes to Caesar. But, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ not only innocent of the charges leveled against him, He was innocent of any charges. He was totally innocent of any sin whatsoever. There were no skeletons in His closet. An inquiry into his life would find nothing to use against Him.
But, instead of complaining, instead of running the other way, instead of wishing for a comfortable life, instead of thinking of himself, instead of putting his own needs above our own, He had us in mind. Every man, woman and child was on his mind, as He endured the punishment that He didn’t deserve. He didn’t sit in a jail for 30 years. His sentence was carried out quickly; tried, convicted, whipped, beaten, spat upon, and crucified. As the innocent Son of God was sentenced to death, he was a spectacle to the world. Very few people seemed to care, but that spectacle was also God’s triumph. For, as Jesus gave up His life for us, He proclaimed, “It is finished. Your sins are forgiven. You will spend eternity with me.” Three days, later his suffering was all worth it, as He triumphantly come forth from the grave.
Each and every week, this beautiful message of Jesus Christ crucified and risen changes the focus of our lives. St. Paul proclaims again, “For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake.” Now, for St. Paul He knew what it meant to be a fool for Jesus, to truly suffer. He knew what it meant to be put on display or to be a spectacle. For the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he had been beaten, shipwrecked, and put in prison. He may have even seen other Christians be forced to walk in the Roman Triumphal parade to their death.
We can’t help but think to ourselves: if called upon would I be willing to be a spectacle to the world following along in a Roman Triumph? Would I be willing to confess Christ rather than promise allegiance to the emperor? Right now, it is legal to worship, but who knows for whole long. If things changed overnight, would I be found to be faithful or would I shrink away from the pain?
Later on in our text, Paul goes on to say, “We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.”
Wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, and great persecution continue against God’s people. It will continue until Jesus comes back. I love this country. I wouldn’t trade living in this country for anything. However, I am saddened to say that material possessions have blinded us to how easy we truly have it. Let us be thankful for what we do have! Let us use what we have to help others while we still can! Let us never grow tired of what Jesus Christ did for us at the cross and empty tomb; being last so that we can be first. Let us join those at the end of the line, suffering for the sake of Christ, bloody and beaten but triumphant. We are last now so that we can be first for eternity! For we are also part of another parade; this parade is an invisible parade. It can’t be seen with our eyes, but it is a parade that leads straight to heaven. It includes all saints living and departed. We are cheered on by Jesus and by those who have gone before. They tell us, “Be strong, serve God only and know that when you do beautiful heaven awaits.” And, let us also pray for opportunities to confess Christ to the world and trust that God will use whatever is going on in our lives to his glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sermon For February 20, 2011

Text: Matthew 5:38-48
Theme: The Search for Perfection
Date: February 20, 2011- Epiphany 7
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and
from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning, we focus on our Lord’s words in verse 48, “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Sally was beyond frustrated; at the end of her rope, really. Nothing that she ever did was good enough. Growing up, her parents never seemed to be pleased with anything that she did. She got straight A’s in High School and College. She was the star on the softball team and was the valedictorian. After college, she married a doctor. She had 2 kids, a boy and a girl. She worked out at the gym incessantly taking care of her body. She was involved in her children’s school and other community groups. But, deep down inside, something was missing. She was never content. Just when she felt that she was getting close, perfection seemed to be just beyond reach. She didn’t know how much longer she could go on.
As a child growing up, I wanted to achieve perfection on the basketball court. Someone should have told me that I would never get any taller than six feet tall. Nevertheless, I would practice for hours in my driveway, taking hundreds of shots from a variety of locations. I would practice three point shots. I would practice free throws. I would practice lay-ups. It didn’t matter what the temperature was outside, whether it was raining or the sun was shining. I think my parents worried about me a little bit. “Stop playing so much basketball,” they would say.
Many of us understand the search or quest for perfection and how it can consume a person. Is there any area of your life that you seek perfection? Some of us seek perfection in our appearance. How we look in the mirror is of utmost importance. We might spend countless hours in the gym or on the exercise bike or applying makeup. Others seek perfection in how we keep our homes or our yards. Everything must be in its place or we get nervous. We must have grass that is green and we must have a clear driveway no matter how much snow is out there. Others seek perfection at our work. We spend countless hours trying to climb the corporate ladder. Still others seek perfection when it comes to knowledge and education. There is always one more book that must be read. The search for perfection can be a good thing in that it drives us to use our gifts and abilities and do the best that we can.
However, here’s the deal: the search or quest for perfection is allusive. It always seems to be just out of reach. In basketball, I could make dozens of free-throws in a row, but eventually I would miss. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t quite get to where I wanted to be. Our houses always need to be vacuumed. The driveways always need to be cleared off. Our bodies are in constant need of exercise. There is always some project that needs to be done at work. We just don’t seem to have the time that we need to read the books that we want to read. As a result, we can become very frustrated.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus tells us that we must be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. How do you feel when you hear that? Does it frighten you at all? Perfect: really? When we hear these words, there is usually one of two responses. The first one is to water-down what Jesus is saying. “Well, yeah, Jesus tells us to be perfect, but he knows that we can’t really achieve it. So, all he asks is for us to try our best. If we just give an effort that is good enough. If He looks down and sees that we are trying hard that is sufficient.”
But, that is not what Jesus says here is it? He says that we must be perfect. Giving it our best try is just not good enough. We can’t ever mess up. The word perfect is pretty clear. We have to do everything perfect all the time, no errors, no mistakes, not once. Jesus really puts on the pressure this morning. If someone slaps us on the face, let them do it again on the other, he says. If someone takes our coat, Jesus says give them our shirt. If someone asks us to go a mile to help them, offer to go two miles. If someone asks for something, we are to offer them more than they ask.
Is anyone else having a guttural reaction to Jesus’ words? “Jesus, if someone strikes me on the cheek, my reaction is not likely to give them the other, but rather to come out swinging. If someone tries to steal my coat, I’m going after my coat and I’m going to get something of theirs as payback. If someone asks me to go with them a mile, I might do it, but there are going to owe me a favor the next time. And, if someone begs something from me, again, I might give it to them, but I will want it back with interest. If we are honest with ourselves, Jesus’ ethical demands this morning are not our favorite words that He ever spoke.
And then, Jesus has the audacity to say, “Love your enemies.” I remember two specific enemies in my past. One was a classmate by the name of Nathan Crary, the only kid I remember who challenged me to a school hard fight. Also, I played for Lutheran High School in Portland, Oregon, and this other enemy played for Corbett. I don’t really remember what started the feud, but I couldn’t stand this guy. He made me angry and when we played, there was going to be bad blood. Over the years since then, there have been other people that I might place in the enemy category.
Do you remember any enemies in your past, someone that made you furious or got under your skin or when you saw them your blood began to boil and your face got read and you wanted revenge? We all have had enemies in our past or currently have people that we might categorize as our enemy. We don’t mind being told to love our neighbor, but when our neighbor is also our enemy, well that’s when it truly gets hard, when Jesus’ ethical demands go a little too far, when we have a tendency to water down these demands or tell ourselves that they don’t apply to us or we just ignore them. But, what Jesus is saying is that our lives must be totally and completely committed to loving God and loving our neighbor all the time, even showing love to our enemies.
“You must be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.”
When we hear these words, we might have a second response: despair, utter despair and hopelessness. When Jesus tells us to be perfect, we throw our hands up and say, “You’ve got to be kidding. I just can’t do it, Jesus. It isn’t worth it. No matter how hard I try, it is never good enough. So, what’s the point? I should just give up and try anymore.” Satan the accuser is right there whispering in our ear, “You are worthless. Everyone else is a better Christian than you. You don’t really love him. You aren’t that committed. Perfect, yah right! You are far from perfect my friend.”
I think we all have had a time where we have failed miserably, where we gave it our best effort, we wanted to do well, but the sun got in our eyes, or we dropped the ball or we lose sight of the goal, or we didn’t get enough sleep or whatever excuse we might want to use, but we failed. We didn’t achieve what we wanted to and we crashed back down to reality. Please pardon this reference, but a scene from the first Toy Story movie comes to mind, “There I was one minute exploring the whole galaxy and then the next, I am sucking down Darjeeling with Mary Antoine and her sister.” We’ve all had moments of utter failure where all hope is lost, where we failed ourselves, where we disappointed others, where we wonder how we will find the strength to carry on.
But, Jesus says again to us this morning, “Be perfect, as our Heavenly Father is perfect.” When confronted by the Law, either, we water down his words and try to convince ourselves that we’ve come as close to perfection as we could. But, we also wonder if we done enough. Or, secondarily, we despair and throw in the towel, admit defeat and stop trying. This morning, dear friends in Christ, there is a third way. There is a way that we can be perfect. In fact, we are already perfect. The quest or search for perfection has come to an end.
Anyone who has ever played a musical instrument knows the challenge of trying to play a piece of music perfectly. Children are encouraged, of course, to practice and practice. At one time or another, a parent, or teacher likely gives them the adage, “practice makes perfect.” And, so they practice and practice. Occasionally a piece might be learned so well that sometimes it is played perfectly. But, as soon as that song is mastered, then it’s on to another, more difficult piece. For those few performers who make it in the big leagues, the pressure for perfection can, at times, overwhelm even the best. No matter how much effort is expended, there always seems to be someone else who’s better, someone who’s gone just a little further in that quest for perfection. While that person may enjoy considerable satisfaction in the music-making endeavor, it may not also be the case that he or she enjoys any lasting peace and contentment. We will never find peace in our own efforts to be perfect before God- however hard we try and practice. But, Jesus was perfect for us- in His life and in his death- and as we are in Him through Baptism, God declares us to be the same.
The search for perfection begins and ends with Jesus Christ. He was, is and always will be our righteousness, innocence and perfection. For, in the waters of Holy Baptism, we have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus and because of that, when God looks at us, He doesn’t see our failures. He doesn’t see our sins. He doesn’t see where we have gone off track. No, because those sins have been washed away. All the Father sees when He looks at us now is what Jesus has done for us. And, therefore the pressure to be perfect is over. When our consciences accuse us or when Satan whispers in our ears and tells us how worthless we are, we tell them, “No, I am perfect. Christ has declared it so. His Word is my hope and redemption. Perfection has been achieved and that perfection is now my perfection. It has been transferred or declared to be mine.” The devil doesn’t want to hear that!
For those who have ever been overwhelmed by the Law or by our own failures, the pressure to be perfect is passed over to Jesus. He has achieved it and it is ours by virtue of our Baptism and faith in Jesus. Now, because the pressure is off, we are motivated rather by the Gospel to grow in love toward God and love toward neighbor. With our Lord’s words this morning, is there something He is trying to get across to us? Is there any area of our life that we can grow in? Is Jesus telling us that we need to spend less time on ourselves and more time on serving those around us? Do we need to pray for the patience and the courage to love our enemies, to give to others in self-sacrificial love, to extend ourselves to reach out to those around us? All of us can benefit from continuing to ponder our Lord’s words this morning. Dedication and devotion, commitment and compassion, perseverance and persistence are all qualities that we can grow in as we mature in our faith.
“You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Our sinful human nature is terrified of these words. Anything less than perfection just won’t do. Either Satan convinces us that all that matters is that we try to achieve perfection, to do our best and that hopefully will be enough. Or, Satan convinces us that we haven’t done enough, that we will never do enough, that we are worthless and won’t ever amount to anything. Again, there is a third way, Perfection with a capital P is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Throughout his life and at the cross and at the empty tomb, He achieved perfection. And, by virtue of our Baptism, that perfection is ours. We have been declared perfect so that when the Father looks at us, He says, “that person is perfect.” Perfection has been achieved. Let us revel in that perfection. Let us soak in that perfection. Let us live out that perfection as we go out into the world and love even our enemies for the sake of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cavs Win

This has absolutely nothing to do with theology other than maybe a connection to suffering and the theology of the cross. Since the King left, (good riddance) we haven't had much to cheer about in regards to the Cavs. Last time these two teams played, the Cavs lost by 55 points. But, I had to take a moment and take in the Cavs victory last night. It was nothing short of amazing, especially after the Lakers radio station called the game nothing more than a practice game for the Lakers before the All-Star game. There are 27 games left and if we are able to win half of those games, it would be a jump start for next year. Sorry Lakers, it may be the end of an era.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

American Grace

I have just started listening to American Grace written by Robert Putnam and David Campbell. It has been described in this way; "a new religious fault line" exists in America, a deep political polarization that has transcended denominationalism as the greatest chasm in religious life; and second, that the culture (especially its younger generation) is becoming so much more accepting of diversity that thesis #1 will not tear America apart. The bulk of the book explores in detail cultural developments--the boom of evangelicals in the 1970s and 1980s, largely concluded in the early 1990s; the rise of feminism in the pews; the liberalization of attitudes about premarital sex and homosexuality, especially among the youngest generations; and what may prove to be the most seismic shift of all: the dramatic increase of "nones," or people claiming no institutional religious affiliation. Putnam and Campbell (with their researcher, Garrett) have done the public a great service in not only producing their own mammoth survey of American religion but also drawing from many prior statistical studies, enabling readers to track mostly gradual change over time."

My future posts will discuss whether I agree with the authors or not. Good to be back blogging.