Sermons

                   

Nov 10, 2019
The Best is Yet To Be
Series: (All)
November 10, 2019. What if death is a second birth? Pastor Stephanie's sermon today is about the Sadducees trying to box Jesus in with a ridiculous question, to which they think they know the answer. But Jesus doesn't take the bait, and instead teaches about the different kind of relational life we will enter in the next life.
 
*** Transcript ***
 
Now, I'm no lawyer. But I've heard enough about the role of trial lawyers to know that they largely live by this rule: never ever ask a question to which you do not know the answer. That should probably be a rule that people who give children's messages should also live by. Can you imagine asking an open-ended question, and then having the enthusiastic children give a multitude of answers that may or may not be related to the question? I know I've done it. You hear me do it. And children, I am only saying this in a joking kind of way. I actually really enjoy hearing what's on your minds. So please, whenever I ask the question, I do like to hear your answers. Just for the sake of time though, we can't always hear all the things that you have to say. So sorry about that. Maybe we can try and catch up downstairs after the service. The truth is, as we give children's messages it is too true that we are often fishing for some specific answers that we want to elicit. So we do think we know the answers that we want to hear, before we ask the question.
 
I could really step into dangerous territory, by mentioning how this business of asking questions to which we already at least think we know the answer goes awry between married couples. For example, one couple might inquire of the other, "Who told our daughter that she could stay out until 1:00am tonight, hmm?" Or, "Who said we'd go on vacation with your family for a whole week? I don't think it was me." Well, that line of questioning isn't very effective, is it? Or very wise. In most cases in life I like questions where people are genuinely curious to know more, to learn something, to find out about another person, what he or she thinks or feels and why that is so. I imagine you appreciate those kinds of questions better, too.
 
It seems to me that Luke, in our gospel reading today, goes to great lengths to express the various ways in which questions were posed to Jesus throughout his ministry. People came to him in chapter 10 and said, "Who is my neighbor?" seemingly wanting to understand that commandment better. So, Jesus happily obliged them with a story about a Good Samaritan that made a point, one that stretched them for sure, but it was a great and helpful answer. In chapter 11 the disciples say, "Would you teach us to pray?" and there we have the Lord's Prayer. Helpful question, helpful answer. But now, deep into Luke's gospel, we enter a realm something more like a courtroom scene, where the questioners are less interested in learning something than they are in entrapment.
 
These questioners pose their queries in ways that are designed to box Jesus in. They are crafty like that. No matter how he answers, one group will cheer him and the other group, they figure, will despise him. So in chapter 20 alone, on two occasions they pose questions that will force Jesus, they think, to say something that will rile the crowds. First they ask him by what authority does he teach, and then they ask him whether it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Both intended to divide. In each case, Jesus gives a straightforward answer that does not play into their hands, but is clear enough to those who are willing to ponder the meaning of his answers.
 
Now we come to today's gospel reading, and the religious group called the Sadducees are pulling out all the stops. They pose a question to Jesus in which they think they know the answer. It's about the resurrection, and they are known for not believing in the resurrection. They're also known as the scribes meaning that they are considered quite the experts on all things in the Torah, the books of the law. So they draw upon a concept known as levirate marriage in the Torah, in which to preserve a man's lineage a woman must bear a son to carry on. If the man dies before a son is produced, the wife is given in marriage to the man's brother and any resultant son is known as the dead brother's son. It's patriarchy with a capital "P" and these scribes see nothing wrong with the fact that women in these scenarios are viewed as property. They accept this as their gospel truth and draw the story to present to Jesus all the way to the point of ridiculousness:
 
Suppose a man dies. His wife is passed down to his brother. That one dies. She's passed on again to the next brother, and on and on this goes, they say, through seven husbands. This is not only a tragic story. From a woman's point of view it's downright creepy. But not to the Sadducees. They continue, "Okay, Jesus. Whose wife will she be then in the resurrection?" Jesus will not be trapped. He sees what they're doing. So he pivots to a vision for all those who are actually interested in what he knows about life after this life, to cheer and to comfort them and us, rather than to engage in this silliness. As pointed out by serious scholars, as far as the Sadducees were concerned Jesus had two options. Option one: he could pick one husband out of the seven and proclaim that particular pairing was linked forever. But that answer would be indefensible. After all, you cannot choose one when all the marriages were considered legitimate. Therefore Jesus, they assumed, would be forced to pick option two. That option would have Jesus acknowledging that he had been living a lie proclaiming an untruth. If the woman could not belong to just one husband in the age of resurrection, and yet she certainly could not belong to all the husbands in the age of resurrection, the logical conclusion would be that there is no age of resurrection. Once they forced Jesus to admit that, Jesus would be unmasked as a religious charlatan and the people would take matters into their own hands, they reasoned.
 
But Jesus did not take that bait. He could have said to the Sadducees, "You're comparing apples to oranges. You clearly do not know of what you speak." But without saying, "You don't know what you're talking about," he instead starts from his platform that resurrection is real. He says that in this life we marry, but in the next life there is no marriage. We enter into a different kind of relational life. Lest we be concerned about that, because it is so unknown to us, he assures us that in the resurrection age we cannot die anymore, because we are like angels, and are children of God being children of the resurrection. Just to make sure that the Sadducees know that he too knows what's in the Torah, he reminds them of the story of the burning bush where a person they consider their hero, Moses, speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob -- present tense. He doesn't say he was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob while they were alive. No, he says he is continuing to be their God now. And then, if we must be in a courtroom-like setting, Jesus says in summation, now he is God not of the dead but of the living. For to him all are alive. Mic drop.
 
The lectionary cuts off the next two verses, but I think they need to be shared. Some of the teachers in the law responded, "Well done, teacher." This needs to be noted so that we don't fall into believing what the made-for-TV movies of Jesus' life can cause us to think -- that all of the Jewish religious leaders were out to get Jesus. That was simply not the case. Many of them did give Jesus an honest hearing and honor his teaching. Many, many, many of the Jews were Jesus' first followers and the initial members of the church. So there is that "well done, teacher" comment, and then the chapter ends on this note: "And no one," I think referring to those who would entrap Jesus, "dared to ask him any more questions."
 
All well and good for us. Jesus tells us that God is the god not of the dead, but of the living. For to him, all of them and us are alive. If Abraham and Isaac and Jacob are still living, then somehow those we have loved are alive. And so we will be when we pass from this life to the next. Jesus is saying that there is a continuity to the life we live in God. Yes, we do pass from this life. Since this is the only life we know it is hard to imagine life beyond this one. All we can know for sure is that it is a life beyond our imaginations: no marriage, but then no marriage breakups, either. No boundaries of who is related to whom. No hierarchies. No patriarchy, or matriarchy for that matter. No injustice. No violence. No illnesses. Every tear shall be wiped away -- that gets me every time -- and we will gather around the throne of God with joy and celebration. There are so many images in scripture that sustain and give us hope regarding this. Jesus says in his Father's house there are many dwelling places where a place is prepared for us to dwell in, to go on living. The promises for life beyond this life, while difficult to fully grasp how they will be experienced, depict relationship with God and others that is beyond our wildest imaginations of ongoing abundant life, peace, beauty, and joy. We accept and affirm that death is not the end. But do we really grasp the continuity of life in Christ that we experience now, and will continue to experience throughout eternity in a new fashion?
 
Father John O'Donohue uses a metaphor to help us think about the continuity of life we have with God, who is as Jesus says, not the god of the dead but the god of the living and in whom all are alive. What if we got it all wrong about death, O'Donohue says? What if we got it backwards by thinking of death is an ending? What if death is a second birth? Imagine if we could talk to a baby just before it was about to be born and describe to the baby what's going to happen? We might say to the little one, "You're about to be expelled from the shelter of the womb where you have been formed. You'll be pushed along a passage where you will feel at every moment that you are being smothered. You'll be squeezed to the point where you'll feel like you're suffocating. You'll be on a journey without a map. You won't know where you're going, and anything can happen to you. Finally after a long time, you'll be pushed out into the vast vacancy with cold, bright, merciless light, and then the cord that connects you to your mother whose life has sustained yours? Well, that will be severed." If you could tell a baby this, you could imagine them saying, "Oh, no. I don't want to go. It's been so great in here. But now it sounds like I'm going to die. I'm going to lose everything that's been wonderful and comfortable." We might think of death like a baby might think of birth, if a baby could think about it. We tend to see the destructive side of death, to see what we are losing and that's natural. It is much harder to think about a bigger world actually opening up to us. In the resurrected life we enter into a new kind of relationship with God in which the loneliness of space and time will no longer have a hold over us. No one can tell us exactly what that will be like. There is not a map, and things that are unknown to us can frighten us.
 
That's why Jesus' words in the gospel are so compelling. He does not engage in a theological discussion. He moves into the relational side of things. He explains how we humans are related to God and how God is related to us. Just like all those who've gone before: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, perhaps your grandparents and mine, and all whom we remembered an All Saints' Day, are very much alive. God is still their god, Jesus said, because they are alive to God. God is still actively in a relationship with them. This is the message Jesus gave the Sadducees about resurrection: our relationship simply can never be broken with God. With that assurance, we can live in freedom and joy. The life we have in Christ is already rich and meaningful, and we need to cherish each day that we have breath and look for the ways that God's grace, power, and love are present to us and to the world around us.
 
But the best is yet to be. We are on a continuum that extends farther than any I can see or anyone's imagination can fully grasp. With Job we can say, "I know that my redeemer lives." Because he lives, we too will live forever with him. He is not the god of the dead but of the living, because to him all are alive.
 
Thanks be to God for this inexpressible gift.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Job 19:23-27a, Psalm 17:1-9, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, Luke 20:27-38
WatchNotesDownloadDateTitle
  • Nov 10, 2019The Best is Yet To Be
    Nov 10, 2019
    The Best is Yet To Be
    Series: (All)
    November 10, 2019. What if death is a second birth? Pastor Stephanie's sermon today is about the Sadducees trying to box Jesus in with a ridiculous question, to which they think they know the answer. But Jesus doesn't take the bait, and instead teaches about the different kind of relational life we will enter in the next life.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Now, I'm no lawyer. But I've heard enough about the role of trial lawyers to know that they largely live by this rule: never ever ask a question to which you do not know the answer. That should probably be a rule that people who give children's messages should also live by. Can you imagine asking an open-ended question, and then having the enthusiastic children give a multitude of answers that may or may not be related to the question? I know I've done it. You hear me do it. And children, I am only saying this in a joking kind of way. I actually really enjoy hearing what's on your minds. So please, whenever I ask the question, I do like to hear your answers. Just for the sake of time though, we can't always hear all the things that you have to say. So sorry about that. Maybe we can try and catch up downstairs after the service. The truth is, as we give children's messages it is too true that we are often fishing for some specific answers that we want to elicit. So we do think we know the answers that we want to hear, before we ask the question.
     
    I could really step into dangerous territory, by mentioning how this business of asking questions to which we already at least think we know the answer goes awry between married couples. For example, one couple might inquire of the other, "Who told our daughter that she could stay out until 1:00am tonight, hmm?" Or, "Who said we'd go on vacation with your family for a whole week? I don't think it was me." Well, that line of questioning isn't very effective, is it? Or very wise. In most cases in life I like questions where people are genuinely curious to know more, to learn something, to find out about another person, what he or she thinks or feels and why that is so. I imagine you appreciate those kinds of questions better, too.
     
    It seems to me that Luke, in our gospel reading today, goes to great lengths to express the various ways in which questions were posed to Jesus throughout his ministry. People came to him in chapter 10 and said, "Who is my neighbor?" seemingly wanting to understand that commandment better. So, Jesus happily obliged them with a story about a Good Samaritan that made a point, one that stretched them for sure, but it was a great and helpful answer. In chapter 11 the disciples say, "Would you teach us to pray?" and there we have the Lord's Prayer. Helpful question, helpful answer. But now, deep into Luke's gospel, we enter a realm something more like a courtroom scene, where the questioners are less interested in learning something than they are in entrapment.
     
    These questioners pose their queries in ways that are designed to box Jesus in. They are crafty like that. No matter how he answers, one group will cheer him and the other group, they figure, will despise him. So in chapter 20 alone, on two occasions they pose questions that will force Jesus, they think, to say something that will rile the crowds. First they ask him by what authority does he teach, and then they ask him whether it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Both intended to divide. In each case, Jesus gives a straightforward answer that does not play into their hands, but is clear enough to those who are willing to ponder the meaning of his answers.
     
    Now we come to today's gospel reading, and the religious group called the Sadducees are pulling out all the stops. They pose a question to Jesus in which they think they know the answer. It's about the resurrection, and they are known for not believing in the resurrection. They're also known as the scribes meaning that they are considered quite the experts on all things in the Torah, the books of the law. So they draw upon a concept known as levirate marriage in the Torah, in which to preserve a man's lineage a woman must bear a son to carry on. If the man dies before a son is produced, the wife is given in marriage to the man's brother and any resultant son is known as the dead brother's son. It's patriarchy with a capital "P" and these scribes see nothing wrong with the fact that women in these scenarios are viewed as property. They accept this as their gospel truth and draw the story to present to Jesus all the way to the point of ridiculousness:
     
    Suppose a man dies. His wife is passed down to his brother. That one dies. She's passed on again to the next brother, and on and on this goes, they say, through seven husbands. This is not only a tragic story. From a woman's point of view it's downright creepy. But not to the Sadducees. They continue, "Okay, Jesus. Whose wife will she be then in the resurrection?" Jesus will not be trapped. He sees what they're doing. So he pivots to a vision for all those who are actually interested in what he knows about life after this life, to cheer and to comfort them and us, rather than to engage in this silliness. As pointed out by serious scholars, as far as the Sadducees were concerned Jesus had two options. Option one: he could pick one husband out of the seven and proclaim that particular pairing was linked forever. But that answer would be indefensible. After all, you cannot choose one when all the marriages were considered legitimate. Therefore Jesus, they assumed, would be forced to pick option two. That option would have Jesus acknowledging that he had been living a lie proclaiming an untruth. If the woman could not belong to just one husband in the age of resurrection, and yet she certainly could not belong to all the husbands in the age of resurrection, the logical conclusion would be that there is no age of resurrection. Once they forced Jesus to admit that, Jesus would be unmasked as a religious charlatan and the people would take matters into their own hands, they reasoned.
     
    But Jesus did not take that bait. He could have said to the Sadducees, "You're comparing apples to oranges. You clearly do not know of what you speak." But without saying, "You don't know what you're talking about," he instead starts from his platform that resurrection is real. He says that in this life we marry, but in the next life there is no marriage. We enter into a different kind of relational life. Lest we be concerned about that, because it is so unknown to us, he assures us that in the resurrection age we cannot die anymore, because we are like angels, and are children of God being children of the resurrection. Just to make sure that the Sadducees know that he too knows what's in the Torah, he reminds them of the story of the burning bush where a person they consider their hero, Moses, speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob -- present tense. He doesn't say he was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob while they were alive. No, he says he is continuing to be their God now. And then, if we must be in a courtroom-like setting, Jesus says in summation, now he is God not of the dead but of the living. For to him all are alive. Mic drop.
     
    The lectionary cuts off the next two verses, but I think they need to be shared. Some of the teachers in the law responded, "Well done, teacher." This needs to be noted so that we don't fall into believing what the made-for-TV movies of Jesus' life can cause us to think -- that all of the Jewish religious leaders were out to get Jesus. That was simply not the case. Many of them did give Jesus an honest hearing and honor his teaching. Many, many, many of the Jews were Jesus' first followers and the initial members of the church. So there is that "well done, teacher" comment, and then the chapter ends on this note: "And no one," I think referring to those who would entrap Jesus, "dared to ask him any more questions."
     
    All well and good for us. Jesus tells us that God is the god not of the dead, but of the living. For to him, all of them and us are alive. If Abraham and Isaac and Jacob are still living, then somehow those we have loved are alive. And so we will be when we pass from this life to the next. Jesus is saying that there is a continuity to the life we live in God. Yes, we do pass from this life. Since this is the only life we know it is hard to imagine life beyond this one. All we can know for sure is that it is a life beyond our imaginations: no marriage, but then no marriage breakups, either. No boundaries of who is related to whom. No hierarchies. No patriarchy, or matriarchy for that matter. No injustice. No violence. No illnesses. Every tear shall be wiped away -- that gets me every time -- and we will gather around the throne of God with joy and celebration. There are so many images in scripture that sustain and give us hope regarding this. Jesus says in his Father's house there are many dwelling places where a place is prepared for us to dwell in, to go on living. The promises for life beyond this life, while difficult to fully grasp how they will be experienced, depict relationship with God and others that is beyond our wildest imaginations of ongoing abundant life, peace, beauty, and joy. We accept and affirm that death is not the end. But do we really grasp the continuity of life in Christ that we experience now, and will continue to experience throughout eternity in a new fashion?
     
    Father John O'Donohue uses a metaphor to help us think about the continuity of life we have with God, who is as Jesus says, not the god of the dead but the god of the living and in whom all are alive. What if we got it all wrong about death, O'Donohue says? What if we got it backwards by thinking of death is an ending? What if death is a second birth? Imagine if we could talk to a baby just before it was about to be born and describe to the baby what's going to happen? We might say to the little one, "You're about to be expelled from the shelter of the womb where you have been formed. You'll be pushed along a passage where you will feel at every moment that you are being smothered. You'll be squeezed to the point where you'll feel like you're suffocating. You'll be on a journey without a map. You won't know where you're going, and anything can happen to you. Finally after a long time, you'll be pushed out into the vast vacancy with cold, bright, merciless light, and then the cord that connects you to your mother whose life has sustained yours? Well, that will be severed." If you could tell a baby this, you could imagine them saying, "Oh, no. I don't want to go. It's been so great in here. But now it sounds like I'm going to die. I'm going to lose everything that's been wonderful and comfortable." We might think of death like a baby might think of birth, if a baby could think about it. We tend to see the destructive side of death, to see what we are losing and that's natural. It is much harder to think about a bigger world actually opening up to us. In the resurrected life we enter into a new kind of relationship with God in which the loneliness of space and time will no longer have a hold over us. No one can tell us exactly what that will be like. There is not a map, and things that are unknown to us can frighten us.
     
    That's why Jesus' words in the gospel are so compelling. He does not engage in a theological discussion. He moves into the relational side of things. He explains how we humans are related to God and how God is related to us. Just like all those who've gone before: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, perhaps your grandparents and mine, and all whom we remembered an All Saints' Day, are very much alive. God is still their god, Jesus said, because they are alive to God. God is still actively in a relationship with them. This is the message Jesus gave the Sadducees about resurrection: our relationship simply can never be broken with God. With that assurance, we can live in freedom and joy. The life we have in Christ is already rich and meaningful, and we need to cherish each day that we have breath and look for the ways that God's grace, power, and love are present to us and to the world around us.
     
    But the best is yet to be. We are on a continuum that extends farther than any I can see or anyone's imagination can fully grasp. With Job we can say, "I know that my redeemer lives." Because he lives, we too will live forever with him. He is not the god of the dead but of the living, because to him all are alive.
     
    Thanks be to God for this inexpressible gift.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Job 19:23-27a, Psalm 17:1-9, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, Luke 20:27-38
  • Nov 3, 2019Inheritance That Lasts Forever
    Nov 3, 2019
    Inheritance That Lasts Forever
    Series: (All)
    November 3, 2019. On this All Saints' Day, Pastor Stephanie's message is about the gifts of inestimable value we have all inherited.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
     
    The year was 1981. In September of that year, my maternal grandmother died peacefully at age 91. She had lived a very full life. I grew up not only near to my grandmother geographically, but also felt that we were of kindred spirit, so near and dear to me was she in so very many ways. As grandchildren do, I went off to another state to further my education, and later settled into a new home and life with my husband about four hours away from where Grandma lived. So, many visits with her from that point on were infrequent, though still very precious. Long before she made her end-of-life decisions, she became very definite about possessions of hers that she wanted me to have, as she said as a "remembrance of me." I remember her saying that often, but I didn't want to dwell on that theme with her. So I barely gave that part of our conversations much thought. Then the time came when we received the phone call that Grandma had gone to be with the Lord. (Such was the language that was used in my family, because saying that someone had died was just too hard, and inserting a statement of faith seemed the right thing to do. It was, after all, what we believed, so it's right and proper to announce her passing in that way.)
     
    The funeral was a beautiful testimony to her long life of trusting in God -- as a young immigrant from the Netherlands, starting her married life in Iowa in a farming community, and raising five children through the Great Depression. Her courage and faith were put to the test even more during that time, when she lost her husband (my grandfather) when her youngest child (my mother) was only four years old. Through many adversities she held on and displayed deep gratitude to her God for helping her through. Actively involved in ladies service circles, she had made her imprint in her local church and community and would be missed, her pastor said. We gave God thanks for the fulfillment of her baptism and the hope of the resurrection that was hers.
     
    During the luncheon that followed the funeral, I was busily introducing my husband to extended family members who had not yet met him, and talking with longtime family friends. At some point, Phil asked me where some of the family members had gone because they were obviously no longer present. We said goodbye to those still remaining, got into our car, and drove over to Grandma's house. In my naiveté I expected to see people relaxing in the living room, continuing to reminisce about good times with Grandma. But through the large living room window, I could see from the street instead that there was some scurrying about going on as people were picking up objects they wanted to claim. I looked at Phil in dismay and said just keep on driving. So back to our home we went.
     
    I never did get the rings or other personal effects Grandma said she wanted me to have. But while I was deeply disappointed in the behaviors of some of my relatives at the time, I have always remembered what my grandmother gave to me that was priceless. I may not have inherited jewelry or nice household items from her, but I inherited something far more valuable from her. Something no one could ever snatch away from me. I witnessed the depth and the steadiness of her trust in God, who she told me had provided for her, had comforted her, and had been her truest companion throughout her life. Her well-worn Bible from which she read to me, and the sincerity of her prayers as she prayed with and for me and for so many others, showed me a faith in Christ that was alive and dynamic -- not merely a set of beliefs, but a living relationship. My inheritance from Grandmother was worth more than anything any amount of money at all could buy.
     
    You have your own stories of people whose faith has nurtured and inspired yours. You can recall instances where you witnessed compassion and kindness and peace beyond human understanding on display, by people whose lives have impacted you. That was the light of Christ shining within them. Your lives and mine have been enriched by the saints whose lives we honor today. We have inherited gifts of inestimable value from them.
     
    This past year we have mourned the loss of three dear members of Christ Lutheran Church: David Hopper, Ruth Lytle, and Larry Neeb. Each one of them has left a legacy of dependence on God, gratitude for God's provision, and faith that was made deep and rich by the forgiveness and restoration received through the cross of Christ and the hope of resurrection that was theirs by the grace of God. We have inherited richly from the witness of their lives.
     
    Yesterday, in informal conversations following the memorial service for Larry Neeb, I heard of even more acts of kindness and charitable donations that Larry enjoyed sharing widely, than I'd ever heard before. His passion for communicating the love of Christ broadly impacted people far and wide. I have to share a bit of the sermon given by Pastor Rick here. He was relating how Larry, Rick's wife Kathleen, and Rick would be dining on board a cruise ship while vacationing together, and the steward would repeatedly say things like, "Of course, you deserve only the best." And later the three of them would repeat that phrase and laugh because of the pretentiousness of it all. It's a good thing that they had the perspective of realizing the folly of that statement. The trap in life is to think that money or possessions or the other things society considers of deep value, are the most important things to have and to pass on and to inherit. And we are further urged by some voices to believe that of course, we deserve only the best that life has to offer. And that we should seek after these best things with all of our might.
     
    But people of faith, like Larry and all the saints, recognize that we don't at all deserve only the best. We see what the best of life is, and it's something far superior to receiving the finest of service at an elegant dinner on a cruise ship. The pinnacle of life is that we are called a child of God.
     
    And we've done nothing to deserve that. We've done nothing to deserve any of the richness of grace that has been lavished on us by Christ. We could not even begin to do enough or be enough to deserve such a rich gift. And yet we have been given an inheritance. All of us, according to the Apostle Paul in Ephesians. He writes, "In Christ we have received an inheritance. We are the children of God who are heirs of a glorious inheritance, all because of Christ." Paul goes on enthusiastically to pray that we would know what is the hope to which he has called you. What are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints?
     
    So perhaps we should wonder whether we do know the value of these riches. Could any one of us put a price on what we have received from Christ? What is the value of forgiveness of our sin? How does one put a price on freedom from guilt? Who can adequately state the value of being a beloved child of God? What could be of more value than inheriting life everlasting?
     
    Friends, we have a glorious inheritance. It's been freely given. We've done nothing to earn it. We are rich, rich beyond measure. Our inheritance is one that lasts forever and ever and ever. It can never be taken from us because it has been sealed for us by the blood of Christ. Praise be to Christ, for all the gifts that he has given us and all of the saints.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Dave Hopper, Daniel 7:1-3, Daniel 7:15-18, Psalm 149, Ephesians 1:11-23,  Luke 6:20-31
  • Oct 27, 2019Life is a Long Lesson in Humility
    Oct 27, 2019
    Life is a Long Lesson in Humility
    Series: (All)
    October 27, 2019. Pastor Stephanie preaches on the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector from Luke 18. We like to categorize people as "good" and "bad." But people are more complex than that. We will all have setbacks and situations that humble us, and it's better to accept the value of humility.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
     
    Some of you, I have learned, are fans of pneumonic devices and short, pithy phrases that capture the essence of a theme. I'm also a fan of such things. I appreciate simplicity, especially for abstract concepts whenever possible. Over the past several months, I have employed the technique of selecting a six word phrase and repeating it throughout the sermon in an attempt to leave an imprint of the main theme of the sermon. On Easter Sunday the well-known credo "Jesus is risen from the dead" was said several times throughout the message. I repeated that technique a couple of other times since then, with the result of several of you talking back to me at the conclusion of the service in your own six word messages. I love the way you engage in worship with me and with one another.
     
    So today I'm going to stretch your memory just a tad by utilizing a seven word phrase. Are you ready? This one comes from 20th Century author James Matthew, better known as J. M. Barrie. He's the guy who captured the imaginations of millions with his stories of the boy who refuse to grow up, Peter Pan. In a lesser known work of his entitled The Little Minister, he tells a tale of which the essence is stated like this: life is a long lesson in humility.
     
    Isn't that the truth? We learn and we grow and we achieve, and think that that should lead us from one success to another. Instead, we find out along the way that what we know and what we accomplished, while important, are not the be all and end all. We will have setbacks, and we will have situations that humble us. Better to accept early and often the value of humility, according to Jesus.
     
    Luke 18 says that Jesus told the parable that we read today to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and regarded others with contempt. Reading that reminded me of the propensity that some have of labeling some people in the "good category" and others in the "bad category" according to our own viewpoints. When I studied educational psychology in college, my professor was very fond of Lawrence Kohlberg's theories of moral development. So we studied those carefully. In Kohlberg's theory, people who label others as clearly being one or the other, good or bad, are actually functioning at about a third grade level of moral thinking. As you might guess, people who have fixed those labels on others are usually doing that based on what? Outward behavior, outward appearance, qualities or actions. The longer we live though, friends, connected to God's wisdom, the more we see that people simply cannot be lumped into these categories as easily as we thought. None of us is wholly good nor wholly bad. We are all far more complex than that. The highest level of moral development thinking is level 6, and Kohlberg attributed that to those who operate by values associated with Jesus' teachings on The Sermon on the Mount, including the Beatitudes: Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the peacemakers.
     
    While the longer we walk with Christ and have our own sharp edges softened, it is also true that none of us can live at level 6 all the time. It becomes more clear to us that we will never be righteous in and of ourselves.
     
    Life is a long lesson in humility.
     
    Two people went to the temple to pray. One, a pious, devout religious person, a Pharisee who prayed, "God I thank you that I'm not like other people: extortioners, murderers, adulterers, or like this tax collector. I fast. I pray. I tithe all that I have." Now, no one here is going to say that not being an extortioner, a murderer, or an adulterer is a bad thing. Those are good things to avoid being. And certainly no one on council is going to say there's anything at all wrong with tithing. Instead they're going to say, "Bring it on!"
     
    So we can probably all agree that the one labeled the Pharisee was actually refraining from doing harmful things and actually doing things that were very good. But his attitude, oh my. There is the problem. He's pretty proud of himself, and we just don't like that in other people, do we? Especially when one's pride is so excessive that it leads to utter contempt for other people. The problem, I think, is that a little bit of that is inherently within us as well. We just don't see it in ourselves as easily. Imagine for a moment instead of thinking about a Pharisee who often gets labeled as holier-than-thou, imagine you are seated at your sweet grandmother's table as she prays before your Thanksgiving meal. "Dear God, we are so grateful that we are not like other families we know. People who don't know enough to offer thanks to you. Families that have fallen apart. And so they never gather around tables anymore. We rejoice that we went to church this morning to do what all good people do: we offered our thanks to you as the giver of all good gifts."
     
    Now, since this is Grandma, who's always been so good to us, we might inwardly roll our eyes a bit, but we wouldn't think of her as stuffy, as we've come to believe that Pharisees were. But that's the problem. The Pharisee in the story is described with some severe hyperbole, but he and Grandma, and you and I, are all prone to think of others as a little bit worse than we are, or ourselves as not as bad as those people.
     
    Periodically, we get the chance to correct our assumptions when we meet someone in a category of which we've been dismissive, and we actually learn of their struggles and of their stories and of their common decency. Then, if we are wise, we will eat humble pie and admit that we were wrong about them.
     
    Life is a long lesson in humility.
     
    Jesus' story continues. The tax collector could hardly even pray. He beat upon his chest crying, "Lord have mercy on me, a sinner." He is the one Jesus describes as humble. Now, the word "humility" is related to our word "humus." The earth. Earthiness. To be humble is to be close to the ground, near the bottom. The tax collector wasn't trying to be humble. He was humble. He knew he was down pretty low. He knew he was a sinner. He wasn't trying to act like he didn't know what to do in church. He really didn't know what to do in church. He wasn't acting like he didn't know how to pray. He honestly did not know how to pray.
     
    And yet he did. Ironically, his cry for mercy has become a prayer that is now used by pilgrims and penitence disciples who know that they do not have the words to use, but know enough to call upon God for mercy. It's called the Jesus prayer. "Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." The good news is that when we are empty of ourselves and our own abilities, and acknowledge our dependence on God, that is precisely when God meets us. Jesus is telling us in this parable that two people could be in the same church on any given Sunday. One person could go home thinking, "That was okay. Nothing special. Nobody seemed to notice or thank me for all the things that I've been doing for the church. I didn't really care much for the music, and the sermon didn't do much for me either. Maybe next week will be better."
     
    Another person arrived, hoping for something to fill the ache inside, and this person stayed seated long after the benediction, aware of something trembling inside of him. What was this wondrous thing? It seemed like a mixture of joy and curiosity. He simply could not explain what had happened to him during the service, but he knew that somehow he'd been touched by God.
     
    Today is Reformation Sunday. Martin Luther recognized that he and others, who had devoted their lives to the church, could easily have prayed the boastful prayer that the Pharisee had prayed. But he came to see himself in reality like everyone else: more like the lowly tax collector, undeserving of God's grace. No religious acts or pious talk would merit the extravagant grace, given through the cross of Christ. Free, undeserved grace is given to all of us because of God's love. As we baptize Maleyah and Levi today, we affirm that they need to do nothing to deserve God's grace. It is freely given to them and to us all.
     
    This parable, and indeed the entire Reformation, was and is an attempt to shift our attention from ourselves -- our piety and our passions, our faith or our failure, our glory or our shame -- shift that attention to where it belongs: to God. To the God who delights in justifying the ungodly, welcoming the outcasts, and healing all those who are in need. It's never been, nor ever will it be, about us and our righteousness. It's always about God, who makes us righteous through Christ. This too teaches us that life is a long lesson in humility.
     
    Pastor Will Willimon might be someone you've heard of. He's an author and speaker in many places. He's a pretty good person. He served for many years as dean of The Chapel at Duke University. His list of credentials is long, and the admiration he gets from many is wide. He relates this story:
     
    "I got talked into being on the board of this fraternity at Duke. They had been on probation ever since I had been on the staff there. They developed such a bad reputation that the dean of students only occasionally let them serve tea. They were banned from any parties on campus.
     
    "Well, they called a board meeting one Palm Sunday afternoon, one of our biggest church days of the year. So I was less than pleased to find myself over at their frat house for what turned out to be a two-hour meeting. 'What was going on when the sofa caught fire?' they were asked. 'Oh, it was all a misunderstanding,' they said. Such was the level of conversation. I'm sitting there thinking, what's a person like me doing among people like this on a Sunday? I'm a preacher, not a probation officer.
     
    "Finally, the meeting ended. As I was headed for the door, I passed by this somewhat unkempt looking guy propping up a wall who says to me, 'That was a killer sermon today, pastor.' I stopped in my tracks. I turned and I looked at him and managed to squeak out, 'You were in Chapel today?' 'Sure, I'm there almost every Sunday. Sit in the back row.' He gestures toward this equally raggedy looking guy in an inappropriate t-shirt standing next to him saying, 'George goes with me. George said he liked your sermon a couple of weeks ago better than today, but I needed the one you preached today. God really spoke to me.'"
     
    Willimon concludes, "Two men went to the chapel to pray that day. One a preacher, the other an unshaven sophomore in a T-shirt. Two men walked out the door after worship. The latter was justified, made right by God. But the former, he still has a lot to learn about God."
     
    Life is a long lesson in humility.
     
    Thanks be to God for the grace that none of us deserve, yet we receive it in abundance. Please stand as you are able as we offer to God our hymn of the day.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Jeremiah 14:7-10, Jeremiah 14:19-22, Psalm 84:1-7, 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 2 Timothy 4:16-18, Luke 18:9-14, Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
  • Oct 20, 2019Do Not Lose Heart
    Oct 20, 2019
    Do Not Lose Heart
    Series: (All)
    October 20, 2019. The message today is on Luke 18:1-8, the Parable of the Unjust Judge. Pastor Tom Schoenherr tells us that we should not lose heart or give up on God, but that we should continue to believe the promise.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
     
    Before beginning, I want to say I am not colorblind and I did not wake up this morning just bleary thinking I picked up the wrong stole. This is blue. It is the Advent stole, the Advent color. But the focus of the gospel is on hope. And more and more, we need hope in our world and in our lives. And so the Advent theme being hope, I know it just looks strange to see it in relation to the green of this season, but think not necessarily that we're into the wrong season, but it's hope that's our focus.
     
    Grace to you. Peace.
     
    On Thursday night, my wife and I joined with a group of a hundred and fifty other people to pack food for Feed My Starving Children. During that whole time, Wednesday night through Sunday today, at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, they're going to pack nearly a million meals. On Wednesday night, they finished packing five million meals over a thirteen year period. Every time, at the end of one of those sessions, we pray over all of those meals that are going to be sent. We pray in the face of hunger, and still there is hunger in the world.
     
    My wife and I have good friends who want to have a resolution in court for their daughter. It's been going on for three years. They and we keep praying for a miracle, and yet it hasn't happened. And still the problem is going on, and it seems like lawyers and judges and even God are not listening. And that's the way it is sometimes with prayer for us, isn't it? It just seems as though God isn't there, or isn't listening.
     
    My wife and I have a list at our kitchen table of all of those people who are loved ones, friends, family for whom we are praying. We keep praying for a miracle. And yet also we wonder when will God show up and do for these people like we are praying for them. And it's difficult. It's so hard because we want so much for them to be healed. And yet it doesn't seem like things change sometimes. We pray for this person that they might be delivered from their disease. We pray for this person that they might be delivered and comforted in their time of grief. We pray for family that they might be connected to God's love for them in the midst of the process that they're going through of grieving.
     
    And yet it seems like things go on and problems continue, even though we've prayed. And I wonder if what God is saying to us is that prayer is not a matter of just asking for things, but that prayer has to do with connecting with God's will and God's way of compassion and care. And that we are changed in the process of praying, that we are opened more and more to what God has intended for us and for his world.
     
    This widow comes continually wanting to have a resolution of her problem and she doesn't seem to get any response. She comes without anyone standing by her. As Katie mentioned, she doesn't have a husband. She doesn't have another person who's going to come with her and stand there in the court with her. She is alone and she is unfortunately more easily ignored. So she keeps coming and finally, as she does, this unjust judge grants her what she wants, because she's going to give him a black eye. That's what he's concerned about. He's more concerned about his own reputation than he is about what's going on with her. And so in order to prevent her from giving him a black eye in the public eye, he gives her what she wants.
     
    I think it's one of those places where Jesus is really wanting us to laugh. It's that sense of humor that Jesus is showing us this woman who, as Katie said, doesn't have much to offer, is pummeling this judge because he doesn't do his job. And it sets up a way in which Jesus is also pointing out that the whole justice system seems to be weighted against widows and against orphans and against immigrants and refugees and all of those who seem to be powerless.
     
    In the face of it all it seems as though it's easy for us to lose heart. That's the reason Jesus tells the parable in the first place, that we do not lose heart. But it's easy to lose heart, isn't it? To give up on God? To think that somehow God could be able to do something to resolve all of these issues and everything would be fine with our loved ones and our friends and ourselves. But it isn't.
     
    And turning our back on God's promise, turning our back on God and not trusting God, we're left without a prayer and hopeless. So in the face of all of the injustice in the world, in all of the injustice that we are feeling in ourselves, how do we not lose heart? And how do we not give up on God?
     
    Jesus points out something to us. He says something: watch this unjust judge. Even though he doesn't respect God and he doesn't respect other people, he does for her give her justice. And then Jesus says that this judge is nowhere like God at all. Then he says, as he has given her justice how much more will God give mercy and compassion and love for the people who cry to him day and night?
     
    And we keep crying to God day and night for our loved ones. And God keeps lifting all that injustice, taking all of that injustice, all of that pain, all of that distrust that we have of God's promise and he lays it on Jesus on the cross. And Jesus takes it to the cross and dies there and rises again for us, that we may have a new life, that we might know love and forgiveness, that we might know God's compassion and care for us, now and forever. And that even though things are not working out the way we hoped they would at our time and in our way, that God is still working, that even though we cannot hear or see, God is still there working out his purposes and his way in the world.
     
    And now God is no longer the one who is our opponent, but God is the gracious god of love. And we are empowered through God's spirit to be like this widow. We are empowered to continue to come and persevere in prayer. We're empowered to stand with the people who are going through terrible times, who are losing heart, who are giving up on God, that we can stand with them and for them and let them know that there is a God who has not given up on them, but continues to care for them, to reach out to them with compassion and love.
     
    And this widow is also a witness to us that prayer is not a passive thing. But a prayer invites us to be passionate about injustice in the world, to be passionate about people who are not experiencing mercy or compassion, to be passionate for all of those people who are struggling in our world and in our lives, people we care about. Not to give up, for God does not give up on us.
     
    And he calls us to continue to love and care for the world that he loves so deeply. And to count and to continue to believe the promise, for he says, "Will I find faith on earth when I come again?" That in faith, we continue to believe the promise that love and hope will have the last word over injustice and hopelessness and fear.
     
    In Jesus' name, amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Tom Schoenherr, Parable of the Unjust Judge, Luke 18:1-8
  • Oct 6, 2019How Long, O Lord?
    Oct 6, 2019
    How Long, O Lord?
    Series: (All)
    October 6, 2019. We see it all around us: injustice, violence, strife, contention. In challenging times, what's a person to do? Is our faith enough? Today Pastor Stephanie preaches on Luke 17:5-7 and the Book of Habakkuk and relates them to all we see and hear around us and in the world.
     
    *** [Keywords: 2019 Christ Lutheran Church sermon Apostle Paul English translation Garden of Gethsemane God's own timetable Grandmother Lois How long, O Lord? Jesus Laura Martin pastor MSP Middle Eastern people Ministry Site Profile Mother Eunice New Testament Greek On Seeking Mustard Seed People Prophet Habakkak Psalm 37 Psalms able to guard airing grievances all of us together all that is not right with the world all we see and hear also be translated angry another piece another word authentically grateful for big God big issues bodies of water challenging times chaos chemotherapy clear the air commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him and He will act contention dealing with pain deepen our despair demands desired results destruction disciples discouraged discrimination disillusionments emotional illnesses entrusted to him even the smallest evidences of God's grace exhorted to do the same faith faith inadequate faith is too small faith of another family of origin feeling judged full flowering tree hang onto faith hateful have to bear headed to cross hiddenness hold the faith for each other holding out hope honest honest expressions hope and encouragement hopes how much more if you all have faith if you all hold faith if you have faith the size of a mustard seed injustice instability it is enough because of god's grace items job promotions labor under these challenges lamented life out of death little bit of faith losing job macro level marital strife me in Jesus mental merciful God micro level mulberry tree mustard seed off balance other places in the world our Savior in whom we trust our own city pastoral interactions patience people of faith pie in the sky planted in the ground plural you poem political mood praise God anyway prayer prison proclamation of faith protege Timothy relate righteous shall live by faith serious illnesses shriveled up dead dried up seed singular you solutions elude something good something significant southerners speak these concerns standalone people strife struggling suffering sufficient that is faith this congregation this country throughout the ages time of pain tiniest amount of faith trials trust uncomfortable unrest unspoken cares uprooted cast into sea violence wait and watch waiting not our favorite thing way they thought we are made righteous weary what God was going to do what's a person to do? y'all you in your faith]
  • Dec 24, 2018Peer Into the Manger
    Dec 24, 2018
    Peer Into the Manger
    Series: (All)
    December 24, 2018. Pastor Stephanie invites us to peer into the manger this Christmas Eve and be amazed by God's love made flesh.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Well, here we are at Christmas Eve at last. Most likely, you've had at least 24 days of preparation for this night. Now, some of you started much earlier than that, when December 1 arrived and you turned that over in your calendar. Some other people here might be squirming even now and hoping some store is still open because you've just got one more person for whom you probably should get a gift. Or some of you are smiling smugly and saying, "I just started my shopping this morning and got everything I needed, so what's the big deal?" At any rate, I imagine each one of us is experiencing a mixture of feelings this night. There's the eagerness for the experience of sharing this time with loved ones and taking in the lights, the music, and the festivities of the season -- as well as more than a little bit of fatigue and the weariness of perhaps too many late nights and early mornings than usual to get everything ready.
     
    Whatever your routine has been of getting ready for celebrating Christmas, we are grateful to be able to welcome you here tonight. We're glad that you have come to celebrate this special night with us. Even as I say that, I'm wondering about the various motivations represented tonight for being here. Do you know why you are here? What has prompted you to come? We're not taking a poll. But I think it's safe to assume that some of you are here because this is your Christmas custom. You cannot imagine not being in a place where the carols are sung, where the familiar story of Jesus' birth is read, and the candles -- or in the case of this particular service, the glow sticks will be activated -- as we sing during a lovely, peaceful moment the beautiful strains of "Silent Night."
     
    Just as likely, some of you are here because you felt a little pressure to join a family member who wanted to be here. Or perhaps worship is no longer a part of your regular weekly life, but there is just something about this night that draws you in, filling you with good memories of Christmases past, and reminds you of what used to hold meaning in your life, what once gave you a frame of reference. Perhaps you are here because you are searching. You have a deep sense, or a deep hope, that there is more to life than merely what you see around you. And so you have come. And finally, I imagine some of you are in worship on this Christmas Eve because you were lonely or grieving. On this night of all nights, you need to be among people, any people, in a safe space, a holy space, a space where you can just breathe.
     
    Regardless whatever the motivation, whatever has summoned you into this time of worship, at some level it probably has to do with the baby who is the center of the Christmas story. At some level, your reason for being here is intertwined with a desire to peer into the manger, once again, to see who exactly is in that manger and try again to comprehend what that baby means for us, and for our lives. Deep down, perhaps that is the real reason you are here. It is one reason that I am here. I am here to peer into the manger once again. I am here to imagine that baby's face. I am here to listen for, to remember, to ponder the story of God becoming flesh.
     
    I am well aware that this is a concept that is not easily understood, and I've come to accept that this is just part of the mystery that holds me in its grip -- that the almighty God would become human flesh as an expression of love. It's a concept that has inspired all kinds of speculation about a conversation that just might have happened when God told the angels about this plan. In response to God announcing this plan in the Heavenly realm, one of my favorite authors, Barbara Brown Taylor, surmises: This could have happened. We don't know. But the angels might have asked God, "Could you at least create yourself as a magical baby with special powers? It wouldn't take much, just the power to become invisible. Maybe the power to hurl bolts of lightning as the need might arise." The angels all felt like God coming as a baby was a stroke of genius idea, but it lacked adequate safety measures. God thanked the angels for their concern but said no. God thought just becoming a regular baby would be best. How else could God gain the trust of God's creatures? There was a risk, a very high risk, but that was part of what God wanted us to know, that God was willing to risk everything to get as close to us in hopes that we might receive this gift as a love letter from God, for each and every one of us.
     
    That's why we need to peer into the manger to be reminded of this wonder. God has chosen to come near to us, to be with us even in our everyday, normal lives. That's why we need to look at the baby Jesus' face. We need to once again be drenched in the mystery of the Incarnation, the gift of God becoming Emmanuel, God with us. God with us forever. For when we peer into that manger, we believe, we trust that we don't only see the face of the baby Jesus. When we peer into that manger, we believe and trust we also see the face of God. The baby reminds us that God loves us in this world so much that God simply could not stay away. God had to come and be one of us, one with us, so that we would know once and for all that no matter how much darkness we see, and how heavy life can feel, it will not overcome us and it will not last forever. When we peer into that manger, we are reminded that we worship a god who decided to get down into the dirt with us, down into the messiness and complications of life with us. When we peer into that manger, we see that God knew we needed a god, a savior who had tasted the darkness and the tensions of human existence firsthand. The baby in the manger proclaims to us that, because God chose flesh and blood, and we now know that there is nothing we can live with that God has not already absorbed into God's own heart as a result.
     
    Because of Jesus, God knows what it's like to be born, to be pushed out into this world. Because of Jesus, God knows what it is like to be vulnerable, to be a child, to be weak in power and completely dependent on others. And because of Jesus, God knows what it's like to grow up, to hurt, to die, to lose a loved one, and to weep. Because of the face of the one we see when we peer into the manger, we believe and trust that God knows all of what it means to be human, to be a creature, to be you and me.
     
    What is it that we see when we peer into the manger? We see a god who is strong enough to become a baby. We see a god who is powerful enough to take on human weakness. As former Yale chaplain John Vannorsdall once proclaimed, "By coming to be with us as a baby, God was demonstrating unilateral disarmament with humanity. Any concept we might have formed that God relishes coming to us in judgment can just go away in the face of the baby Jesus. Any god who comes as a baby," he preached, "is a god who intends us absolutely no harm." No harm. Only life. Only loving relationship. The kind of god is the one we see when we peer into the manger on this night. So whether you are part of worship on this Christmas Eve out of curiosity, or guilt, whether you are part of worship out of a routine and a deep desire for meaning, whatever has called you to this set apart moment, I hope you'll take the time tonight to look again and see.
     
    Every Christmas Eve I want to do that, to peer into the manger, to imagine that baby's face. I hope we will all indeed pause and consider what it means that God did not decide to simply act from above to save us, that God did not decide to swoop in with all power and might to force us into some kind of redemptive relationship. Nor did God simply decide to create us and just walk away, leaving us to stew in our own brokenness and despair. Rather, the baby in the manger proclaims to us that in Mary's body and with her consent, God became one of us. Not in theory, but in truth, so that we might know forever how God embraces us and this world, the world that God created and continues to redeem, and is making new, bit by bit.
     
    In the baby Jesus, God became one of us, one for us, one with us, so that we could see that indeed Isaiah's promise has come true. The people who walked in darkness will see a great light. This light shines for all, and the darkness shall never overcome it. Indeed, one day the darkness will give way to everlasting light. That proclamation is what we see when we peer into the manger this evening. That proclamation is what we most earnestly longed for. That proclamation is the promise that's already on the way. That proclamation is Christmas. So come, look, and be amazed. It's God's love made flesh to show us love.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot
  • Dec 23, 2018Bending Toward Justice
    Dec 23, 2018
    Bending Toward Justice
    Series: (All)
    December 23, 2018. On this Fourth Sunday in Advent, Pastor Stephanie preaches on reasons to be hopeful, the Magnificat, and the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I first heard the proclamation on the radio in the morning news several days ago: Merriam-Webster declared that its chosen word of the year for 2018 is "justice." Peter Sokolowski, editor-at-large, explained to the Associated Press why this word was chosen. "Searches for 'justice' throughout the year, when compared to 2017, were up 74% on the site that has more than a million page views a month and nearly half a million entries. To be word of the year worthy, an entry has to show both a high volume of traffic and a significant year over year increase in lookups," he said. "We are not editorializing. We looked at our data and we were ourselves surprised by this word. This is a word that people have been clearly thinking about for this entire year."
     
    Why would you suppose this would be the case? Yes, there was the Supreme Court Justice nomination and confirmation process that dominated the news for weeks. And yes, there is the ongoing story of the Mueller investigation, with the various courts of justice involved. Both of those undoubtedly prompted many of the lookups. But also, Sokolowski noted that there are verifiably more stories and op-ed articles with a high degree of reader interest on where we are in this country in the areas of criminal justice, racial justice, and social justice in general. These are hopeful signs. At least I want to believe that the curiosity in referencing this word is borne out of a longing for true justice to reign. Don't you hope for the same thing? I think we have reason to hope for what is happening. There is a deep restlessness to see justice given and received as normative. For justice to describe the way things are rather than merely what we feel they should be.
     
    Well, the theme of justice in Mary's song in our gospel reading, commonly called the Magnificat, is unmistakably present. Mary praises God for scattering the proud, for bringing down the powerful from their thrones, and lifting up the lowly. Mary's song celebrates that the least of these, the lowliest and the humblest, are lifted up, while the injustices perpetrated by the high and mighty will come to an end. You've probably heard the phrase "those who sing pray twice." There's something about a song that reaches us to the depths of our being. A song can put into words what we are often incapable of expressing in other ways, and Mary's voice echoes throughout the years as a refrain of hope, joy, and praising God for reorienting actions of justice. She voices the hearts and minds of generations of people for whom injustice has long been the norm. She uses verbs that indicate that there is a reason to hope in the present, that God has already done marvelous things like bringing down powerful ones from their thrones and filling the hungry with good things. She sees that God is also currently showing mercy for those who honor him.
     
    When my husband shared an article with me a few days ago, I could not help but see how it illuminates God bringing justice around the world. Even if the author did not use the phrase we use in the ELCA, "God's work, our hands," his conclusions are the result of many, many hands engaged around the world to bring about God-inspired justice. The article is titled "Four Reasons to Be Hopeful," and it starts out by saying that 2018 has not been an easy year in many senses. Kind of an understatement, I thought. But I kept reading because I'm a sucker for anything that promises hopeful news. The author writes, "Under the radar, some aspects of life on earth are getting dramatically better." I will share three of the reasons here.
     
    Extreme poverty is falling. You've probably heard over the years, and the decades actually, that millions of people in underdeveloped countries have been living on roughly one to two dollars per day, as inconceivable as that is to imagine. But many studies have shown that there has been a huge decline in the number of people for whom that is true. That statistic has gone down, from 36% of the world's population in 1990, to 10% percent in 2015. That's still too many to be sure for those people affected, but it's a hopeful trend.
     
    A second hopeful sign is that child mortality is falling. It has plummeted from 1990 to 2017, according to the United Nations Population Division. An overall improvement in global public health has accompanied the decline in extreme poverty. One good example: kids who were born in 2017 in developing countries are much more likely to not only reach five years of age than they were before, but to be able to live many more years after that -- well beyond the same kids who were studied in 1990.
     
    A third hopeful sign: we're getting better at preventing preventable diseases. One of the most effective preventative measures in this report is the one I chose to highlight because it's the growing use of bed nets to prevent malaria. Bed nets are a highly effective intervention that prevent infections that can lead to death. The number of people contracting malaria in Africa in the last couple of decades has dropped dramatically. For several years, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and other churches and agencies have advocated for donations to be sent to purchase these bed nets. It's always great to hear how effective our giving has been in being a blessing to the lives of others. These gifts have fostered health and extension of life. Justice for the lowly is being served. Martin Luther King Jr. was fond of saying, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." God has done and is bringing down tyrants from their thrones. Whether they are actual people or whether they are systems of discrimination and oppression, God is lifting up the lowly. We can sing about that along with Mary.
     
    Now we said that this is the fourth Sunday in Advent. I will bring you back to the first Sunday, if you can remember some of the readings from that day. But that is the time when we celebrate John the Baptist crying in the wilderness for the low places to be raised, for the mountains to be raised up, for the rough places to be ironed out, and he concludes, "Where all people will see the action and the salvation of God together." Advent now comes to a conclusion with the proclamation by Mary that God is the great leveler of all of those things that have been uneven and unfair. God is the great judge meting out justice so that all people, whether they are brought low or raised up, can see the goodness of God as God turns the world as we have known it in its struggles upside down. Mary's song is a celebration of what God has done for her and does for everyone. That is why Martin Luther wrote about this song of Mary that, "She sang it not for herself alone, but for all of us to sing it after her."
     
    And sing it we will. We will close the service today by singing the "Canticle of the Turning," with the passion and fervor of Mary for the great things God is doing. We'll sing these words:
     
    My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the
    Fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the
    Dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn!
     
    This morning we will sing. And we will pray. And we will gather at the Lord's table for all people as expressions of our faith in the God who brings justice and makes all things right. And today also, we will baptize a little baby boy, because we also affirm our faith in the God who is making all things right in the Rite of Baptism. It calls for followers of Christ to live into reality that is not yet fully seen, but coming into being because of God's trustworthy promises. As people of faith, we baptize our children as a sign of hopefulness. It is a sign of our trust in the God who is degree by degree turning the aspects of the world that need correction upside down. Or you could also say that God is turning the world right side up.
     
    In faith we say together: amen Lord, may it be so. Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot
  • Dec 2, 2018All the Signs Point to Christ
    Dec 2, 2018
    All the Signs Point to Christ
    Series: (All)
    December 2, 2018. Be prepared, for Jesus is coming. Jon Heerboth preaches on this first day of Advent about the preparations we Christians make for the Christmas celebration.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Be prepared, for Jesus is coming. It's the first Sunday in Advent, as we've been hearing all morning. And for us it's the beginning of a new church year and the time when we prepare for Christmas, which is our celebration of the first coming of Jesus Christ. When I think about getting ready for Christmas, I think about the little baby Jesus in the manger, the stable, the peaceful quiet night, the choir of angels, the pretty things that make me want to go home and set up my tree and my humble decorations and get out my Christmas Lego. I don't think about things that are mentioned in the lesson today. So we have to be prepared because there are no gentle images in today's gospel lesson. In fact, those images are anything but gentle. They're pretty brutal, and they were pretty brutal in Luke's time as well, when he read them. The people who heard this story from Luke the first time were worried, because the city of Jerusalem had been destroyed and the temple had been sacked, and the walls were pulled down stone by stone. It was a complete disaster.
     
    But today, it's not the helpless infant, but more of that. Images of the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. In the Christmas story, we see almost a paradox. The humble baby Jesus and then in today's gospel, the coming in clouds. Power and might. Glory. Maybe the destruction of the earth. God keeping the rest of his promises. And so we have to be prepared, because as Jesus tells us in Luke, the signs are all around us. Signs in the sun, the moon, the stars. Signs in the news, in shootings, in tragedies. Earthquakes in Alaska. Fires in California. Mayhem everywhere. Corruption. Hunger. And if you look at today's Post Dispatch, homelessness. Signs in the distress in families. Signs in the tragedies caused by a warming planet. What in the world is going on? What's the world coming to, we ask?
     
    Well, what happens to you when you're frightened, when you're pressed down or dismayed? I know sometimes we can't even concentrate because of what Jesus called the "roaring of the sea and the waves," or to us, the many distractions and stresses of our lives in a sinful world. We even have trouble in the month of December just getting ready for the Christmas holiday, which should be a time of peace and joy and families thinking about the first coming of Jesus Christ. It seems like everything can be difficult. In verse 26 today, Jesus said that people will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaking. What is my life coming to? I ask when I'm weighed down by cares and worries. I might walk more slowly. My shoulders sag. I might be burdened by my own actions or behaviors that I wish I could set aside.
     
    Earlier in chapter 21, Luke warned that things will not be easy as the end times approach. They're not going to be easy for Christians, either. Our lives will fall apart, he said. We will face hostility from neighbors, legal problems even, or even conflict within our own families. But for us though -- and this is almost a paradox -- all of these signs, all of these troubles, all of these trials in our lives point to Christ. When these things happen, our redemption is drawing near.
     
    Now, redemption already came to us in the past once and for all, with the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now that redemption is available to us, now and into the future. Even though the world around us may fall apart, that's not a sign of God's absence or lack of concern for us. We are still God's people. We have the promise of God's presence in our midst, even in the middle of all of our problems that we face from day to day.
     
    Now after Jesus listed all the depressing signs in his world, he stopped for a minute and spoke to his listeners in a very pastoral way. God's words, his reassuring promise of salvation, will last and will not fail. He said that while Heaven and Earth will pass away, his promises to us, his assurance that he is with us, God will remain with us always, and his promises will not fail. What the world sees as signs of despair, and heaven knows there are plenty of signs of despair out there, we see as signs of hope, because our redemption is here and now and will come again, Luke says, in power and majesty. Because everything points to Jesus Christ. Now we are all God's children, claimed and named in baptism. We are assured of eternal salvation by faith, in the death and resurrection of Jesus. By God's grace our sins are forgiven. We are redeemed and reconciled before Christ because of what Christ has done for us. This morning here in church we confessed our sins once again and received absolution, God's reassurance that our sins are forgiven. We are redeemed now before God so we can pray "Thy kingdom come" and mean it.
     
    In Advent, we remember God's coming in history, God's presence among us now, and we prepare for Jesus' return in majesty at the end of time. We pay attention to so much more than just the birth of Jesus. But how do we prepare for Christmas with the deep sense that God's work is still unfinished? There are still promises that we expect God to keep, so we have a sense of longing inside of us for the ultimate redemption and fulfillment of all God's promises that we encounter in the Bible. And we pray for him to come and fulfill those promises.
     
    We Christians prepare for Christmas in lots of ways. We go ahead and decorate our homes, light up the street even, go shopping for gifts, and we celebrate like everybody else. But we are also nonconformist. Our preparations, and you can see them here -- the blue paraments, the color of hope we say, we can come to church and see that. We can attend Advent services, the Holden Evening Prayer -- that beautiful, short reminder of God's promises to us. We can read daily Advent devotions. We come and practice for the cantata once a week, sometimes twice a week -- which I would recommend to anyone. (You know, the choir pays for advertising, so...) So we decorate the church, and we do what we have to do to remember God's promises to us. Our goal as Christians is to find God in our preparations for the Christmas celebration. We have to be able to see the coming of Christ, even though we have cares, burdens, fears, and sins -- even though it's often very hard to see God's work in the morning paper. We have to remember that for us, all of the signs point to Christ.
     
    In the reading from Thessalonians this morning, Paul explained to his readers what it means to be waiting for the Lord's return. Now, he wrote directly to the Christians at Thessalonica. He also speaks to his brothers and sisters at Christ Lutheran Church in Webster Groves. In verse 12 and 13 he hoped that the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. Here at Christ, we will prepare by being a distinctive and loving community while we await the Lord's return. We will pursue holiness by obedience to God's wishes, and through everyday discipleship within our community and out in our daily lives. So, we prepare for this upcoming event, the final turning point in Christians' experience: the second and final coming of Christ. So we may go shopping for Christmas gifts. Let us also find God this Advent season by attending church.
     
    We find God by hearing the word. We find God in the bread and in the wine. We find God in our prayers for one another and for the people of the world at large. We will surely find God in each other, in our sisters and brothers who wish us God's peace every Sunday. In verse 28 of our text today, Jesus says that when the signs of his second coming appear, we should stand up and raise our heads because redemption is drawing near.
     
    Here at Christ Lutheran Church, when we raise our heads and look up (you can do that now, raise your heads and look up) who do you see? You see the face of Christ over this incredibly beautiful altar. So we encounter Christ here the same way we should be encountering Christ everywhere, a constant reminder of God's promise of salvation and God's love for all people. Most important, we have to remember that Jesus, who died and rose, is still here with us and will return again at the end.
     
    Now before we end, I ran across something. My dad died about six-and-a-half years ago, and he was quite a scholar. He loved languages and spent a lot of his time studying. And he left a pile of books. Ordinarily you would just pass them on or get rid of them, but I don't think he wanted us to do that because in the books, he left notes. He left his old textbooks. He had cartoons of his professors that he drew. He left little notes here and there. Even in the pages of the book there would be little nuggets. But when I was preparing for this, I took his relatively new Greek New Testament and I opened the front cover, and as he would do there was a paragraph and so I ran into it. I hadn't seen it before, and it was in Latin. Of course. He knew that would drive me crazy. So I got his old lexicon out -- it's literally almost 200 years old -- and started trying to translate it. And then I realized my translation was no good, but I recognized what he had written. And it was the prayer for the first Sunday in Advent. And next to it, he wrote, "This prayer is the gateway to Eden for people who study the word of God." And I just thought we should end today by repeating this little prayer that we've already said. I like the little different translation of it better than what we said earlier. So let's pray together the words of the prayer for the day:
     
    Stir up your power, O Lord, and come. Rescue and protect us from the threatening perils of our sins by your might. For you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.
     
    The hymn for the day is 246, "Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding!" Take a look as you sing. Concentrate on verse 4, the words of comfort:
     
    When next he comes in glory
    And the world is wrapped in fear,
    He will shield us with his mercy
    And with Words of Love draw near.
     
    And so we rise, if we're able, for the hymn.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Jon Heerboth
  • Nov 25, 2018Authority Issues
    Nov 25, 2018
    Authority Issues
    Series: (All)
    November 25, 2018. How do you respond to authority? Pastor Stephanie preaches on John 18 and the interaction between Pilate and Jesus, two people who each have authority vested in them.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I have a question for you: How do you respond to authority? Don't worry, it's a rhetorical question, since I can't go row by row getting your responses right now. Even if I could, there would be many of you who would probably say, "Well, it's complicated." It's a difficult thing to answer, and I completely understand that. After working with a very authoritarian pastor in my first seminary fieldwork experience until I could take it no longer, I learned that I have authority issues. Never had to think too much about that before that year. And thankfully I had professionals around me who could help me to process the interior work that I needed to do around that issue. It did help to soften it some, to know that other seminary students had had issues with that same pastor. And so after my experience, the seminary little longer sent any students over to that pastor to work with him.
     
    But still, since I was bound to encounter others who exerted authority in the same manner in which this guy did, in ministry and in life in general, I had to learn and grow from that experience. Even with the self-reflection I took on after that, that is not to say that all of my authority issues have been resolved. I'm still a work in progress on that, and in so many other ways. We may like to think that not many people do have authority over us, because we like to emphasize our freedom and our autonomy, don't we?
     
    I'm reminded of the time when our oldest son expressed so emphatically one day when he got home from school, "I am the boss of me." If you're a parent, you'll know how glad we were to hear that. It took a little debriefing for Phil and me to understand where that had come from. But as we talked with Andrew more, we began to understand that his class had been listening to the school counselor that day, and she was helping them to understand boundaries of how to operate and respond with strangers. That all made perfect sense, and I was grateful for that reinforcement of what we were also teaching him. But it didn't mean that his father and I were less authority figures than we had been before that day.
     
    Because it is complicated to figure out how we relate to those in authority over us, the interaction between Pilate and Jesus in John 18 is intriguing, if we stop to analyze it. These are two people who each have authority vested in them. They are each called by various names by those around them and many of the titles imply elevated leadership, even though the power dynamics in this instance seem very unequal. Pilate seems to loom larger, since from a purely human point of view it would appear that he holds Jesus' future in his hands. But let's look at this as objectively as we can. Pilate has subjects who follow based on coercion, and structures set up for him to be obeyed or else. We don't even want to know what that might mean. But Jesus has followers who come by way of invitation and response. Pilate has soldiers all around his palace that would do his bidding on command, in an instant. Jesus is standing all alone before him with no apparent support system, much less foot soldiers nearby. Pilate is in control of this interview, yet he is the one who is threatened by Jesus. He must inquire as to whether Jesus does claim to be a king, as his followers have designated him, whether or not Jesus is guilty of committing any crimes. The one thing Pilate wants to know most of all: is this guy a threat to me and my authority? We've all known people like that, haven't we?
     
    Jesus, by contrast, is not threatened by Pilate in the least. He is calm, he is confident, and he speaks with authority that allows him to turn the question of whether he is the king of the Jews back to the questioner. "Do you ask this on your own, or have others suggested this to you?" Jesus is amazing in that he is clearly not anxious in this situation. I think we can perceive from his demeanor that he is communicating, "You, Pilate, are in authority within your own little kingdom, but you cannot stir me up because you are not in authority over me. And as a matter of fact, I have a question for you to ponder. What is it about you that worries you so much about me? Your own insecurity, or your desire to please others so you can retain your power?" If we are at all honest with ourselves, questions like that, when addressed to us, can be unnerving as well. We really don't want to probe that deeply to find out why we act or react as we do in our most anxious moments at times. At this point Pilate is not interested in probing his own motives. No, this is way too scary for him, or perhaps unlikely. He was too pompous to think that it might even be relevant. You can almost hear the fear in his voice when he nearly spits out, "I'm not a Jew, am I?" He refuses to let this be anything about him. So he throws it back on Jesus, reminding him that he must have done a terrible thing to have his people handing him over to Pilate.
     
    Well, one of the most common human responses to fear is to run and hide or, as in the case of Pilate, to double down on the power that we can grab to protect ourselves. Pilate has power. He likes power. He wants to keep it that way, and he's willing to use force, if necessary, to secure his lock on his position. He has been taught a way of being an authority for so long that he doesn't question whether there is a better way. His way of wielding the kind of power uses weapons and soldiers, invasions and persecutions to protect what Rome already has, and seeks to expand. And let's be clear, he was very interested in securing his own place in that hierarchy as well. The trappings of power might reassure Pilate, but he's clearly unsettled by a different kind of power that he senses in this stranger from the hinterlands who stands before him. He wonders, "Who is this guy who is not cowering before me and pleading for his very life?"
     
    So, Jesus decides to let Pilate in on the basis of his confidence. It's as if he's saying, "You see Pilate, your frame of reference about your kingdom causes you to think and to respond in a certain way. For me to be a king threatens your kingdom. But I am the king of a kingdom of which you are not familiar. You were talking apples. I am talking oranges." In Jesus recorded words, we have this: "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." This has to be mind-blowing to Pilate. Who has ever heard of such a thing? How does one keep a kingdom intact without force, without fighting back rivals? And if his kingdom isn't from this world, then from where does it come?
     
    Well, the Gospel of John has been building, building, building toward a climax of demonstrating the truth of this very kingdom to which Jesus refers. The opening chapter in the gospel shares with us that the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory of grace and truth. So, Jesus responds to Pilate saying, "You see that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world. To testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." There you have it: Jesus' authority rests on the fact that he is the truth. He doesn't need a campaign or soldiers to stand guard in his kingdom. All that is good and kind and right is part of his kingdom, because his kingdom is a kingdom of truth. His royal mission began in heaven and he came to earth with a divine mandate. He was sent to unveil the truth. When Jesus talks about truth, he's not just talking about honesty or truthfulness -- although he is talking about that. He's not saying merely that he's going to say true things. He says he embodies, and he is the truth.
     
    The irony in this story is that truth is the only authority and power that Jesus wields. He stands as the naked truth that upholds the universe before the lies of religion and power politics, and any other kind of lies you can think of. As we know, lies undermine. Lies erode trust. Without trust there can be no genuine relationships. Marriages, friendships, partnerships all rely on trust born out of thankfulness and truthfulness. If anything makes us suspicious it's when lies, untruths, and deceptions become accepted as, "Oh well, the way it is." Nothing good can be built on a foundation of lies. Only truth will bear the weight of building something with integrity and strength, and foster good and decent relationships. So Jesus spoke the truth to Pilate, just as he had spoken truth to the religious leaders. But neither the religious leaders would listen to the truth nor Pilate. Together they would conspire to destroy Jesus.
     
    But here's the good news, folks: the truth cannot be overcome. Christ the King Sunday reminds us that Jesus, in all of his truth, overcomes all kinds of lies and deception. His is the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never overcome it. They could take Jesus' life, for a time. But as God raised him to life, truth won the day. And truth will ultimately always win. So what can we say about Jesus' kingdom versus other lesser, rival kingdoms? First of all, Jesus' kingdom is a kingdom of truth. It's not a kingdom that lies and manipulates others by striking fear into people's hearts. His is the kingdom of mercy. It's not a kingdom of coercion, where the strong dominate the weak. His is the kingdom that frees the enslaved. The truth shall set you free. It's not a kingdom that enslaves to keep control. His is a kingdom that has a wide circle of inclusion where all belong. It is not a kingdom where the king asserts his superiority and all the subjects live in fear as to whether they are in or out. His is the kingdom where love and service for the good of all creation is the mode of operation. His is the kingdom that can never be toppled by rival kingdoms, because it is the one true kingdom that goes on and on, forever and ever
     
    I know Brent referred to this as well, but this is the end of the liturgical year. I could wish you a Happy New Year. We think it's December 31 to January 1 where we observe a new year, and that's true on our calendars that we observe in this society. But for us this Sunday is the end of the year, and it is most appropriate that these readings come to us to remind us that Jesus is from the beginning to the end, and on and on into eternity. We can close the liturgical year affirming and rejoicing that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father. All things are under his guidance, and he will come again to wipe out warfare and sorrow and sickness. As we prepare to celebrate Advent, that is exactly what we'll be doing. We'll be celebrating the fact that our king is coming, has come, and will come again. With such a king we need not have authority issues, because he is no bully. His authority over us yields love, forgiveness, and wide acceptance. That is compelling and deserves our worship and praise. Our hymn of the day seems to take on some of the language of kingdoms that do battle and strive to conquer others, but please listen carefully to the language of this hymn as you sing it. It transforms concepts like battle and conquest, and points out that the king whom we serve brings an entirely different kind of kingdom than the one the world has to offer.
     
    Let's honor Christ for this as we sing hymn number 805 using some of these words:
     
    For not with swords' loud clashing
    Or roll of stirring drums
    With deeds of love and mercy
    The heavenly kingdom comes
     
    Lead on, O King eternal
    We follow, not with fears,
    For gladness breaks like morning
    Where'er your face appears
     
    We pray with the church worldwide. Come, Lord Jesus.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot
  • Nov 4, 2018God With Skin On
    Nov 4, 2018
    God With Skin On
    Series: (All)
    November 4, 2018. Pastor Stephanie's sermon on this All Saints' Sunday recalls the many kindnesses of others who have lifted us up by their words of encouragement and their actions of love, the saints of God with skin on.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Once again today during our worship service, we will be repeating the words of the Apostles' Creed together, as you see in your bulletin. If some here are not familiar with it, it helps to know that it is the most ecumenical of all Christian creeds, meaning it's widely accepted among the various denominations as containing essential truths about the nature of God and elements of our faith. In the last paragraph there's a phrase that I'm going to highlight today, since it's All Saints' Sunday.
     
    That phrase, as you're probably guessing if you're scanning ahead in your memory, is the one that affirms belief in the "communion of saints." Perhaps it's been said so often that we don't stop to think about it very much, regarding that particular phrase as we say it together. I will admit that growing up, I didn't ever think that phrase had very much to do with me. I figured we were just referring to that special relationship that those bigger than life super Christian-types labeled as "saints" must have had with each other. My concept was that they were on some kind of higher spiritual plain -- lower than Jesus but way, way higher than the rest of us -- in some kind of spiritual hierarchy. That kept me from sensing that this phrase had anything to do with me, or people that I knew. Eventually though, I learned that the New Testament refers to the people who form the Christian community, the baptized and the called, as "saints" over 50 times. The idea still took some getting used to, because we're not commonly used to calling each other saints in our everyday life, even within the church.
     
    After all, the very word "saint" means holy one, and that's hard for us to accept as a designation for ourselves, isn't it? As is often the case though, the way we use the word "holy" in our daily conversations isn't really what is meant in the New Testament language. Throughout the New Testament the word for saint, hagios, refers to Christians, whatever their personal sanctity or holiness might be as individuals, being called "holy" because they are made holy by the redeeming work of Christ on their behalf.
     
    That changes the way we look at ourselves and others significantly. If we realize that we are made holy and that other people have been made holy too by Christ, then our relationships are more communion, or interacting, or a deep fellowship with one another, than they are mere friendships. If we are related to each other primarily through God who made us, that's a closer relationship than even parent-child, siblings, or even marriage relationships. God is in the midst of our relationships, uniting and bonding us together.
     
    The vision in the Book of Revelation helps here. It says, "The home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them." Here it might be helpful to imagine a triangle, with God at the apex and then the two angles on the bottom -- one consisting of you and me, of ourselves individually, and the other angle perhaps of all the people who have gone before us, who are living today, those who have yet to be born. And so there's a kind of a dance going on in which we are all connected, communing with one another simply because God is communicating with us and has chosen to be in the midst of us.
     
    The communion of saints then, is a joyful, hopeful dance where the influence we've had from being in the dance with God rubs off on one another, and their influence certainly rubs off on us. As father Henri Nouwen once wrote, the ground between us then is sacred ground, because the Christ in me recognizes the Christ in you. Or, as Martin Luther taught, we are all little Christs interacting with each other. Now, God has come near to us in many forms, and we long to have communion with God in a high touch, deeply communing kind of way. Many times God chooses to let us know of his presence through his people, the saints.
     
    Perhaps you've heard the story of a little boy who was frightened one night during a big thunderstorm. Terrified, he cried out from his room, "Daddy, I'm scared!" His father, not really wanting to get out of bed, called back, "Don't worry, son. God is with you and will take care of you." There was a moment of silence. Then the little boy said, "I know God loves me, but I want someone with skin on."
     
    God with skin on. God demonstrates coming down from on high and dwelling with us mortals by enfleshing his love, and wrapping it up in surprising packages of people like you and I, made in God's image. Taking imperfect human vessels who are made capable of holding the treasure of God's love and grace, God's love is spread far and wide. As we experience something of God and other people, the enfleshment of God is among us. God with skin on through the saints, who have gone before. Whose stories we continue to remember and celebrate, and those who live among us. We celebrate All Saints' Day because people recognized long ago: it's a good thing to honor those whose lives have witnessed to the grace of God, and have positively impacted our own faith. Heaven knows we have enough sad stories circulating of people who have hurt or marginalized us or others. I hope we'll use this day, this All Saints' Sunday, to recall the many kindnesses of others who have lifted us up by their words of encouragement, and their actions of love, the saints of God with skin on affecting us and others.
     
    It is the "count your many blessings" month anyway, since we will soon be celebrating Thanksgiving. I can only imagine how much more meaningful this entire month could be for all of us, if we would take stock of the people that God has used to bless us in our lifetimes. Even if you're out there and you're 5 years old or 12 years old or only 14, and you think you don't have a lot of life to draw on yet, you still have a lot of people on your list, once you start thinking of all the people who have made your life good and comfortable and joyful. There are people who've inspired each one of us to be more loving and kind. There are people who have comforted us when we have felt vulnerable and afraid, who have listened to us and communicated our value as a human being, who challenge us to use our talents and our gifts, who walk with us as companions. The list could go on and on, but you get the drift. Saints lift us to higher levels of living than we could have ever achieved by ourselves, because there is something within them that is inspired by God, who is perfect love.
     
    I asked for examples of saints who have influenced us, and received this lovely one from Susan, which I share with her permission. "My parents are my examples of saints. He was a physician and felt such awe for God the creator. She had a deep love for Jesus, and started telling me about him at such a young age that I can't remember a time when I did not think of him as my friend and my savior." Saints indeed.
     
    As I shared with the children a few minutes ago, my maternal grandmother Jenny was a saint in my life. She endured many hardships and losses over her 91 years, yet she exuded the peace and joy of Christ as she taught me to pray and to trust God. She was the grandmother who had the well-worn Bible next to her favorite chair, and she read to me from it often. As I've been asked in various settings, whether on retreat or in some occasion, who had the most influence on my life of faith as a child, it is without a doubt my grandmother Jenny, whose faith in Christ was compelling and winsome. I suspect Susan and I would both say that her parents and my grandmother were God's love, wrapped with skin on them, for us. Saints, people made holy by God's presence within them. Someday friends, we will all gather as the vision of Saint John in the Book of Revelation shares with us, with all the saints of God around God's throne.
     
    For the glory of God will be overwhelmingly beautiful, too hard to describe or to really comprehend. There it says God himself will wipe away every one of the tears in our eyes. There will be no more death. There will be no mourning or grieving, no more crying and no more pain. It will be no more. All these things will pass away into a new reality when God makes all things new. In the meantime, we can thank God for the saints living among us who ease our pain and sorrow, who increase our joy in living, who help us to sense God's nearness and care, even as we remember those who have gone before who have done the same. In a few minutes, we'll be acknowledging the saints who have gone before us in this past year, and of course that brings to mind other saints who have died in previous years. As we remember them, let us continue to give thanks to God for the ways these dear people have influenced our own faith and the faith of others.
     
    Those of us who were able to attend the excellent presentations at "Views and Brews" on Friday night saw a chart that shows how steadily, over the last several years, news sources we are exposed to are moving more and more to granting coverage of tragic and disappointing storylines. Don't you often say with your friends as I do, that we just don't hear enough feature stories anymore of people doing heroic or even quietly significant things for the common good? Well, sharing stories of people exhibiting self-giving love, and going out of their way to be of service to others, can remind us all of the activity of saints among us.
     
    By God's grace, we too are the saints who helped to carry the burdens of others by exemplifying the love of God within us. We are in communion with God and with others to allow the light to shine through us, to bring hope and healing and encouragement to others. So saints, let's look for ways to be God's agents of love with skin on for one another, and let's continue to celebrate the ways God has shown us his love through the saints who have gone before us. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot