Dec 1, 2019
This Grand, Awaited Spectacle
Series: (All)
December 1, 2019. What if Christmas didn't come on December 25th, but instead arrived with the first snowfall of the year? Pastor Stephanie's sermon on this first Sunday in Advent is about anticipation. We do not know the day or hour of Christ's Second Coming, so we must be ready at all times.
 
*** Transcript ***
 
Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
 
Once I chose the theme of anticipation for this week's theme, Carly Simon's lyrics of her song released in 1971 about anticipation kept rolling through my head: "We never know about the days to come / But we think about them anyway / Anticipation " -- although she sings with a lot of flourish -- "Anticipation is makin' me late / is keepin' me waitin'." But then I thought, I simply cannot only use references that are familiar to my generation, so I Googled songs with anticipation themes. Well, Buddy Holly had one in the '50s, and so did the Arctic Monkeys have one in 2002, but they were more precise in anticipating "romantic adventures," so we'll just stick with Carly for right now. Even though she too probably had romance on her mind, at least she captured the waiting part. Anticipating something we long for does keep us waiting, doesn't it?
 
And waiting is what we do in Advent. We hear the promises. We read the nearly too-good-to-be-believed images in Isaiah all month long, such as people streaming to the mountain of God to learn of God's ways, swords being beat into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks, a wolf lying down with a lamb, the wilderness bursting forth in full bloom, the blind having sight restored, and people singing with everlasting joy. Just so you know (a side note) you'll hear more about all of these transformational promises in our Wednesday night Advent worship services, where the readings of Isaiah will be featured each week. But how then can we not anticipate, with deep longing, God's fulfillment of these images?
 
Lately I've found myself reading, more and more, just headlines for some of the depressing stories in the news around the world. A person can only take so much, right? And then I scan for the hopeful ones -- of the good Samaritans exhibiting acts of kindness. They are out there too, and definitely worth the search. I'm thankful that Advent is here, because it is such a hopeful time. God's promises to be with us, in any and all ways despite disturbing circumstances, cheer our hearts. A theologian once wrote: take your Bible and take your newspaper and read both. But always interpret the newspaper from the Bible. Now, some people can take that to the wrong extent. But the message of hope is clearly there in the Bible.
 
That is good advice for lots of reasons. As disciples of Christ, it's proper to lament the lamentable, to be spurred on to be agents of peace and reconciliation where there is brokenness -- but always, always, always in the context of being filled with hope and confidence that God is in the business of making all things right in the end. That is our reason for hope.
 
So let's think about this week's gospel reading. Matthew plunges right into thinking about Jesus' Second Coming or Second Advent. He remembers Jesus' teaching that he was going to be crucified, would rise again and ascend, but that he would come again. According to Matthew, Jesus' words went like this: "Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming . . . You must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour." I've always thought that the reference to the Son of Man coming like a thief, breaking into a house at night, is somewhat confusing. But really, I think it just shows us how we are to not take every little detail of a parable literally. Instead, it's a pointed image intended to help us grasp the essence of the teaching. Jesus is certainly not saying that he is like a thief, but he is conveying that his Second Coming will be unexpected. He's giving us the reference to remind us that, just as we guard against being unprepared for a thief to come, we don't want to be unprepared for his arrival. His arrival is going to be the best of everything we can imagine, and then some. When he comes again, all that is corrupt and evil will be wiped away, and heaven and earth will be restored to the paradise of Eden. So what's not to anticipate?
 
A preacher named Jim Somerville got my attention this week in my reading, when he likened waiting for Christ's return to the anticipation children have waiting for Christmas. Their eyes gleam. They look for signs that it's coming soon. They prepare with their families for the big celebration, as gifts are made or purchased and carefully wrapped. Holiday goodies, like cookies and candies, are baked and made. And all kinds of readiness take place in anticipation of something they just know is going to be wonderful. But what I'm really borrowing from Jim here is this statement of his: Imagine a world in which Christmas didn't come on a prescribed date like December 25. Instead, it would arrive with the first snowfall of the year. That got me to thinking. Wouldn't that just change everything? Let's pretend for a few minutes that we would not know when the first snowfall would occur, since weather forecasts (sorry if there are any meteorologists out here) aren't always all that accurate anyway. When the first flakes then appear, it would signal that Christmas was here -- no matter what the date on the calendar says. Our shopping, our cleaning, our baking would be done early. We'd be ready to celebrate at any moment. Our affairs would be in order. The messages of good cheer toward people we sometimes take for granted -- well, we'd just share them everyday because you never know. We'd be mindful of doing what we'd be pleased to be doing when that special moment arrived. We would be ready. Instead of a countdown until Christmas, every morning could be greeted with, "I wonder if today is the day?"
 
And when each day would come to an end, still waiting for the hope for snowfall, one could still sleep in peace knowing that we'd be one day closer to that day of days and look forward to it, perhaps tomorrow. And then one day, when the sun goes behind the clouds and the skies turn gray, you can just imagine a child glancing out of a classroom window and seeing the first snowflakes appear. Forgetting the protocol of raising his hand, he would surely shout out for all to hear, "Christmas is here!" And everyone in the classroom would hurry over to the windows to see this grand, awaited spectacle. They would barely hear the principal making the announcement that since Christmas has just arrived, they should put their work away right away, because the buses are lining up to take them home ASAP. Everything in town would stop. Every person would drop everything else that was going on, and would immediately join in on the celebration. It would be strange living in a world like that, wouldn't it? It would be so different from the way we currently celebrate Christmas. But you know, it wouldn't be all that different from the unscheduled first Christmas, and it's almost exactly like the unscheduled Second Coming of Christ.
 
"About that day and hour no one knows," Jesus says, "neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." The first coming of Christ caught his mother in a strange town, miles away from the comforts of home and the help of her local midwife. Yes, she knew he was coming soon. That was obvious. But I wonder if she hoped that maybe she could sneak this little trip in, and still get back home before the baby was actually born. But babies come on their own timetables, and this baby came at the exact time and in the exact circumstances that suited God's timing. Ready or not, God says, I will come when I am ready.
 
Now, the Second Coming of Christ is even less predictable. And so, says Jesus, we must be ready all the time, with our clothes laid out, with calluses on our knees, and with our accounts made good with other people. Martin Luther reportedly said, when asked what people should be doing to prepare for Christ's return, that we should be planting peach trees. He got it. We don't let up on being about the good work that God has given us to do as we wait with anticipation for God to come and make all things right. But waiting is very hard, and we can get distracted thinking it's probably not going to happen for a very long time, and then we forget to wait intentionally. Our epistle reading today is what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome and surrounding areas, as they were growing somewhat weary of waiting for Christ's return. Paul writes this: "You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day."
 
Let us get our affairs in order. Let us live honorably as in the day. Let us wait with purpose. Let our anticipation guide us in the midst of our circumstances. Can it be possible that being faithful to our Lord in our everyday routines demonstrates holy watchfulness for his return? Is being an honest office manager, a careful school bus driver, an ethical attorney, a thoughtful spouse, and a generous neighbor, really a sign that Jesus is coming back? Yes it is. And if you doubt that, look at the lives of those who do not share an awareness that the Lord is coming soon. Look at the ethical and moral shortcuts that are available, and that many people in our society take all the time. Whether it's something big like the corporate scandals that get revealed every now and then, or something comparatively smaller like the person who steals supplies from the company. Whether it's taking the easy way out by pouring mercury into a river rather than going through the expense of disposing of it properly, or whatever the scenario, people all over the place live like there's no tomorrow, and as though no one who cares is watching them anyway.
 
The days of Noah are still the context. That's what Jesus brings to mind. And this will remain even the church's context right up until the end. Someone is watching, and someone is returning. As we wait with great anticipation for all the relief and joy that we can experience then, we are employed to live as honorably as we can, waiting with hearts full of hope. Have you seen the bumper sticker that says "Jesus is coming, look busy?" Well, Jesus is coming. Soon. But rather than look busy, the scriptures tell us that he is saying go about your lives doing the honorable things that you'd want to be found doing when he returns -- it matters, it really does -- and wait for him with joy that is deeper than merely just putting a smile on your face. Listen to him now, and find him present in your daily lives, and a wellspring of joy will bubble up from within. Jesus will return at the time of the Father's choosing. Whenever that is, you can anticipate a grand party, because his father knows how to give a really spectacular party.
 
So you'll want to be ready at all times and join in the prayer of the saints throughout the centuries: Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord Jesus! Please pray with me: Lord God, teach us to wait with patience and intentionality for your coming. We look forward to your full arrival. May you find us ready and eager to celebrate your goodness. Amen.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44, watchfulness
WatchNotesDownloadDateTitle
  • Dec 1, 2019This Grand, Awaited Spectacle
    Dec 1, 2019
    This Grand, Awaited Spectacle
    Series: (All)
    December 1, 2019. What if Christmas didn't come on December 25th, but instead arrived with the first snowfall of the year? Pastor Stephanie's sermon on this first Sunday in Advent is about anticipation. We do not know the day or hour of Christ's Second Coming, so we must be ready at all times.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
     
    Once I chose the theme of anticipation for this week's theme, Carly Simon's lyrics of her song released in 1971 about anticipation kept rolling through my head: "We never know about the days to come / But we think about them anyway / Anticipation " -- although she sings with a lot of flourish -- "Anticipation is makin' me late / is keepin' me waitin'." But then I thought, I simply cannot only use references that are familiar to my generation, so I Googled songs with anticipation themes. Well, Buddy Holly had one in the '50s, and so did the Arctic Monkeys have one in 2002, but they were more precise in anticipating "romantic adventures," so we'll just stick with Carly for right now. Even though she too probably had romance on her mind, at least she captured the waiting part. Anticipating something we long for does keep us waiting, doesn't it?
     
    And waiting is what we do in Advent. We hear the promises. We read the nearly too-good-to-be-believed images in Isaiah all month long, such as people streaming to the mountain of God to learn of God's ways, swords being beat into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks, a wolf lying down with a lamb, the wilderness bursting forth in full bloom, the blind having sight restored, and people singing with everlasting joy. Just so you know (a side note) you'll hear more about all of these transformational promises in our Wednesday night Advent worship services, where the readings of Isaiah will be featured each week. But how then can we not anticipate, with deep longing, God's fulfillment of these images?
     
    Lately I've found myself reading, more and more, just headlines for some of the depressing stories in the news around the world. A person can only take so much, right? And then I scan for the hopeful ones -- of the good Samaritans exhibiting acts of kindness. They are out there too, and definitely worth the search. I'm thankful that Advent is here, because it is such a hopeful time. God's promises to be with us, in any and all ways despite disturbing circumstances, cheer our hearts. A theologian once wrote: take your Bible and take your newspaper and read both. But always interpret the newspaper from the Bible. Now, some people can take that to the wrong extent. But the message of hope is clearly there in the Bible.
     
    That is good advice for lots of reasons. As disciples of Christ, it's proper to lament the lamentable, to be spurred on to be agents of peace and reconciliation where there is brokenness -- but always, always, always in the context of being filled with hope and confidence that God is in the business of making all things right in the end. That is our reason for hope.
     
    So let's think about this week's gospel reading. Matthew plunges right into thinking about Jesus' Second Coming or Second Advent. He remembers Jesus' teaching that he was going to be crucified, would rise again and ascend, but that he would come again. According to Matthew, Jesus' words went like this: "Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming . . . You must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour." I've always thought that the reference to the Son of Man coming like a thief, breaking into a house at night, is somewhat confusing. But really, I think it just shows us how we are to not take every little detail of a parable literally. Instead, it's a pointed image intended to help us grasp the essence of the teaching. Jesus is certainly not saying that he is like a thief, but he is conveying that his Second Coming will be unexpected. He's giving us the reference to remind us that, just as we guard against being unprepared for a thief to come, we don't want to be unprepared for his arrival. His arrival is going to be the best of everything we can imagine, and then some. When he comes again, all that is corrupt and evil will be wiped away, and heaven and earth will be restored to the paradise of Eden. So what's not to anticipate?
     
    A preacher named Jim Somerville got my attention this week in my reading, when he likened waiting for Christ's return to the anticipation children have waiting for Christmas. Their eyes gleam. They look for signs that it's coming soon. They prepare with their families for the big celebration, as gifts are made or purchased and carefully wrapped. Holiday goodies, like cookies and candies, are baked and made. And all kinds of readiness take place in anticipation of something they just know is going to be wonderful. But what I'm really borrowing from Jim here is this statement of his: Imagine a world in which Christmas didn't come on a prescribed date like December 25. Instead, it would arrive with the first snowfall of the year. That got me to thinking. Wouldn't that just change everything? Let's pretend for a few minutes that we would not know when the first snowfall would occur, since weather forecasts (sorry if there are any meteorologists out here) aren't always all that accurate anyway. When the first flakes then appear, it would signal that Christmas was here -- no matter what the date on the calendar says. Our shopping, our cleaning, our baking would be done early. We'd be ready to celebrate at any moment. Our affairs would be in order. The messages of good cheer toward people we sometimes take for granted -- well, we'd just share them everyday because you never know. We'd be mindful of doing what we'd be pleased to be doing when that special moment arrived. We would be ready. Instead of a countdown until Christmas, every morning could be greeted with, "I wonder if today is the day?"
     
    And when each day would come to an end, still waiting for the hope for snowfall, one could still sleep in peace knowing that we'd be one day closer to that day of days and look forward to it, perhaps tomorrow. And then one day, when the sun goes behind the clouds and the skies turn gray, you can just imagine a child glancing out of a classroom window and seeing the first snowflakes appear. Forgetting the protocol of raising his hand, he would surely shout out for all to hear, "Christmas is here!" And everyone in the classroom would hurry over to the windows to see this grand, awaited spectacle. They would barely hear the principal making the announcement that since Christmas has just arrived, they should put their work away right away, because the buses are lining up to take them home ASAP. Everything in town would stop. Every person would drop everything else that was going on, and would immediately join in on the celebration. It would be strange living in a world like that, wouldn't it? It would be so different from the way we currently celebrate Christmas. But you know, it wouldn't be all that different from the unscheduled first Christmas, and it's almost exactly like the unscheduled Second Coming of Christ.
     
    "About that day and hour no one knows," Jesus says, "neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." The first coming of Christ caught his mother in a strange town, miles away from the comforts of home and the help of her local midwife. Yes, she knew he was coming soon. That was obvious. But I wonder if she hoped that maybe she could sneak this little trip in, and still get back home before the baby was actually born. But babies come on their own timetables, and this baby came at the exact time and in the exact circumstances that suited God's timing. Ready or not, God says, I will come when I am ready.
     
    Now, the Second Coming of Christ is even less predictable. And so, says Jesus, we must be ready all the time, with our clothes laid out, with calluses on our knees, and with our accounts made good with other people. Martin Luther reportedly said, when asked what people should be doing to prepare for Christ's return, that we should be planting peach trees. He got it. We don't let up on being about the good work that God has given us to do as we wait with anticipation for God to come and make all things right. But waiting is very hard, and we can get distracted thinking it's probably not going to happen for a very long time, and then we forget to wait intentionally. Our epistle reading today is what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome and surrounding areas, as they were growing somewhat weary of waiting for Christ's return. Paul writes this: "You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day."
     
    Let us get our affairs in order. Let us live honorably as in the day. Let us wait with purpose. Let our anticipation guide us in the midst of our circumstances. Can it be possible that being faithful to our Lord in our everyday routines demonstrates holy watchfulness for his return? Is being an honest office manager, a careful school bus driver, an ethical attorney, a thoughtful spouse, and a generous neighbor, really a sign that Jesus is coming back? Yes it is. And if you doubt that, look at the lives of those who do not share an awareness that the Lord is coming soon. Look at the ethical and moral shortcuts that are available, and that many people in our society take all the time. Whether it's something big like the corporate scandals that get revealed every now and then, or something comparatively smaller like the person who steals supplies from the company. Whether it's taking the easy way out by pouring mercury into a river rather than going through the expense of disposing of it properly, or whatever the scenario, people all over the place live like there's no tomorrow, and as though no one who cares is watching them anyway.
     
    The days of Noah are still the context. That's what Jesus brings to mind. And this will remain even the church's context right up until the end. Someone is watching, and someone is returning. As we wait with great anticipation for all the relief and joy that we can experience then, we are employed to live as honorably as we can, waiting with hearts full of hope. Have you seen the bumper sticker that says "Jesus is coming, look busy?" Well, Jesus is coming. Soon. But rather than look busy, the scriptures tell us that he is saying go about your lives doing the honorable things that you'd want to be found doing when he returns -- it matters, it really does -- and wait for him with joy that is deeper than merely just putting a smile on your face. Listen to him now, and find him present in your daily lives, and a wellspring of joy will bubble up from within. Jesus will return at the time of the Father's choosing. Whenever that is, you can anticipate a grand party, because his father knows how to give a really spectacular party.
     
    So you'll want to be ready at all times and join in the prayer of the saints throughout the centuries: Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord Jesus! Please pray with me: Lord God, teach us to wait with patience and intentionality for your coming. We look forward to your full arrival. May you find us ready and eager to celebrate your goodness. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44, watchfulness
  • Nov 24, 2019A Different Kind of King
    Nov 24, 2019
    A Different Kind of King
    Series: (All)
    November 24, 2019. In Luke 23, Jesus is humiliated, derided, and brutalized. How could he be considered a king then, when this is not how kings act? Pastor Stephanie preaches on Jesus' humble beginnings and the unexpected way he brought salvation, and how as his followers we are called to operate in a way that seems counterintuitive. For his is a different kind of kingdom, and Jesus is a different kind of king.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace to you and peace from the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
     
    Now, I know this is a controversial thing. But I'm going to bring it up anyway. It's about putting up Christmas decorations, so you can exhale if you were too worried. I'm not going to go into anything that causes fights, but you have to admit: when you start talking about that, people have very strong opinions about when is the appropriate time to put up decorations. Well, our daughter-in-law loves to get Christmas decorations up at, or even before Thanksgiving in any year. But this year she's pregnant and growing every week. So let's cut her some slack, okay? Andrew and Nicole's son Jack, our three-year-old grandson, came into our house a few days ago and saw that unlike their house, which is now fully decorated, we have no decorations up yet. He says to me, "Where is your baby God?" Because at his house they have the child-friendly, manipulable nativity scene at the base of the Christmas tree, quite appropriately, I think. The best gift of all, in a place of prominence among the other gifts there, is the place for the baby God, the baby king, Jesus. Even last year, Jack could say "baby G" for baby Jesus, but this year he's just come up with baby God. Hold on to that thought, if you will. We'll come back to it.
     
    Now, as I pondered what to say on this Christ the King Sunday, otherwise known in many circles as Reign of Christ Sunday, there is a theme that captures me based on this gospel reading. It is the utter vulnerability of Christ hanging on the cross, stripped naked, the soldiers gambling for possession of the only earthly possessions he has left: his garments. He's been deserted, humiliated, beaten ferociously, wears a painful crown of thorns on his head. And now, at this point, he's hanging in a most miserable condition, with spikes driven through his hands and feet. This is about as vulnerable as one can get.
     
    How then are we to find kingliness in this picture? And as you recall, many of the people around him added insult to injury. Not only was he brutalized physically, but they also verbally assailed him. Their scorn and derision was particularly around the assigning of kingship on Jesus that had become a popular title among the crowds who had admired him. By contrast, we have three examples of how he was treated with verbal assaults on the cross. As the people stood by, the leaders scoffed at him saying, "He saved others. Let him save himself if he's the Messiah of God, his chosen one." The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, "If you are the King of Jews, save yourself." There was also that inscription over him that says, "This is the King of the Jews." One of the criminals who was hanging there also kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us."
     
    Three times, three groups of people, three different ways Jesus had it flung in his face, that he was certainly no king in any way that anyone there could comprehend. In fact, how could he be a king at all? First of all, what king would allow himself to be crucified? In our mentalities it doesn't fit. Where is his might and strength? Secondly, what kind of king would forgive the very people who have condemned him to death? It's a king's prerogative, everyone knows, to exact revenge and make enemies pay for their treachery. Thirdly, this kind of king, while hanging bleeding and suffering on his cross, grants salvation to the criminal on the cross next to him, assuring him of a place in Paradise. Who would do that? This is no king that is recognizable in our world today. This is a king like no other we have ever known.
     
    Now you can travel back with me to the baby God. As we've said, next week is the beginning of Advent, the beginning of the church year. So of course that makes this Sunday the last Sunday of the church year. The year begins next week with a king who is born as a very vulnerable baby. The Magi saw his star and came to worship him as a newborn king. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, but he came to this earth in a most lowly, unimpressive way by the world's standards. And the church year ends this year with this baby king now grown up and dying in the most demeaning, lowliest way a person could die -- on a humiliating cross between thieves. Why, we ask ourselves, does God go through such lengths to come and live among us from birth to death in the most humble, vulnerable ways? It just seems counterintuitive. It's so much easier in this world to gain attention and a following by being flashy and commanding. But Christ made it clear, to any who would listen, that his kingdom was not of this world. It's an entirely different kind of kingdom than they had ever experienced. And that is because he was a different kind of king. He had a different kind of mission and message.
     
    I submit to you that the beginning and end of Jesus' earthly life are entirely consistent with his entire message. As Paul has written in Philippians 2, we are urged to let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross. That's why he told us that it's better to give than to receive. It's his way. That's why he patiently explained and demonstrated that he came to serve, and not to be served. It's why he described the way to follow him is to die ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him.
     
    Those who follow Christ are called to operate in a way that seems counterintuitive. We are called to be vulnerable as our king leads us to pursue justice and righteousness. We are called to be trusting on the journey toward pursuing what is good and true, because it is also risky and uncertain as to how we will get there at times. We're in good company when we go that way. After all, our king is the one leading us in a different kind of way, to show the world what true righteousness is.
     
    Now, November 9th this year marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Because it was in the news, I learned an interesting story related to it that I'd never heard before. A Lutheran pastor, Christian Führer in Leipzig, was deeply impacted by the sorrow of families who were separated from their loved ones as the years went on. His congregation was weary of the oppression under which they lived. So Monday night prayer services began in 1980, with a small group who gathered to pray for peace, where division had so long been their reality. As the weeks and years went on, the prayer services grew to include tens of thousands of participants. Every week, week in, week out, Monday night prayer service. Knowing there could be altercations breaking out at any time, Pastor Führer and the leaders of other churches and organizations that had joined them in the meantime, gave very clear instructions. They were to resist violence and never return evil for evil. I think you know from whom they got that direction. As good citizens of the Kingdom of God, they took it to heart. As the Stasi, the secret police, watched and waited on the perimeters, ready to take action at provocation, some in the large crowd wanted to carry rocks just in case. But they were told by others to put them away, and instead to carry candles as they marched together. The massive group of people praying and walking in the streets by candlelight, together on Monday nights, continued over a nine-year period.
     
    I'd like to now switch over to the actual words of Pastor Führer during his interview with NPR a few years before he died in 2014. He says this: "On Monday, the 9th of October [in 1989], when we tried to leave the church after evening peace prayers, the square and the streets were completely flooded with people; people everywhere. And as this mass of 70,000 people with their candles and flowers trying to move peacefully toward the city center, I felt immense gratitude because no one shot at them. I also felt that the GDR [East Germany] that evening was not the same GDR of the previous day. Something huge and completely different had happened. What I saw that evening still gives me the shivers today. And if anything deserves the word 'miracle' at all, then this was a miracle of biblical proportions. We succeeded in bringing about a revolution which achieved Germany's unity. This time without war and military might."
     
    The security chief who desperately wanted to subdue the rebellion by force, was later shown on film as he stared out in the crowd in front of his headquarters. The crowd, whose freedom march had begun in the church, the crowd who had heard the prophetic witness of a pastor emerging from decades of oppression saying, "Let's move forward in peace," the crowd so enormous that it stirred fear in the incredibly powerful chief of security, even with all his tanks and tear gas and firearms. In that potentially explosive moment, the security chief ready to unleash his armed guards was heard to have said this: "We planned for everything, everything we could imagine. We were prepared for everything. Every single thing, except candles and prayers." One month later, the wall was taken down. An entity far superior to military might was in operation.
     
    On this Christ the King Sunday, we remember the one who brought salvation in a completely unexpected way, via a cross. Because we know Good Friday was not the last word. An entity far superior to angry crowds and fearful rulers was in operation, and Easter morning dawned, and something new had begun. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God by virtue of following our king, Jesus. To be a citizen of his kingdom, we honor him as king as we embrace a different way of living, a way that seeks for peace and reconciliation, a way that chooses to be vulnerable and trusting in God's spirit even when it seems foolish to other eyes, a way that counts the cost of serving our king in his way, and recognizing it's a cost worth paying for its supreme value. A way that gives more than seemed sensible, a way that makes love its highest aim because, you see, we serve a different kind of king.
     
    Our hymn of the day serves as a prayer song. Please rise as you are able and sing it with reverence for our different kind of king.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Luke 23:33-43, Philippians 2:5-8
  • Nov 17, 2019Even So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come
    Nov 17, 2019
    Even So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come
    Series: (All)
    November 17, 2019. Pastor Stephanie reminds us today that this world is filled with challenges to our faith and troubling circumstances that we must endure. And at the same time, we are sure that Christ is very near to us and provides us with what we need, in order to endure to the end with him.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace and peace to each one of you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
     
    Six years ago today, my husband and I were returning from a two-week trip to the Holy Land to Israel, where we saw sites that we heard about since we were children, and we met people whose life situations we tried to understand as we interacted with several groups. It is a troubled land as you know, and yet it was a marvelous trip. One of the places most indelibly imprinted on my memory is Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The view from Temple Mount allows one to gaze across the Kidron Valley and see Bethany, where Jesus stayed with his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. There are so many biblical scenes that one can envision by standing in that place. Another one is being able to see the "lay of the land" as you imagine Jesus making his way on the donkey with the procession into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. When you stand on Temple Mount today, you stand on the foundation from centuries ago. The temple from Jesus' day was destroyed in 70 AD, but the foundational stones are something to still behold. As we stood at the corner where two massive walls met, we felt like miniatures compared to each of the massive building blocks that comprise the walls. The architectural wonder of how so many of those massive stones could have been built on top of one another in a time without heavy machinery is simply astounding. It was no wonder that those who saw the temple, as described in the Gospel of Luke, were quite impressed by it.
     
    Our gospel reading today opens with Luke telling us that some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus does not share their admiration for it. What they see and what he sees are two quite different things. They see the big and impressive, the same kinds of things that we see in our world: bigger than life things, impressive feats of construction, or works of human hands that capture us. Those are the things that get our notice. It's completely understandable to me that Jesus' disciples would have been admiring the stones of this mighty temple. They were a magnificent display of human ingenuity and dedication. Think of how frequently we too are wowed by large and beautiful, or complex works of architectural design that we have seen. They do inspire our admiration and our respect. We love the places that give testimony to power and prestige. Those are the things that get featured in magazine articles, and top billing in headline news stories. But Jesus saw that same building that they admired so greatly, and he saw it quite differently. He saw a show place that was built by the proud tyrant King Herod, who exploited people. He was not impressed with the structural integrity of the building, because there was no integrity to the man who wanted all the glory for having built it, nor was there integrity in the way it had come to be used by the religious establishment.
     
    In the chapter prior to the one we read today, Jesus describes the abuses of the religious establishment that had gone on in the temple. The leaders, he says, have devoured widows' houses, and for a show make lengthy prayers. No, Jesus is not impressed. So he says to those around him that the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another. All will be thrown down in this temple that so enamors you. And just when those around him think he must be having a really bad day, he goes on to describe some more disturbing circumstances that they can expect to experience. He tells them that false teachers will appear who will try to lead them astray. Some will even claim to be operating in his name, but they are not to be followed. Nation will rise against nation. Kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes, famines, and plagues. It's really quite a depressing scene that he portrays. And then it gets worse. He goes on to say his followers will be persecuted and experience real hardship. None of this is what you would put in a brochure inviting people to come to church to experience what it means to follow Christ. If that is what is part of the bargain, that doesn't sell particularly well.
     
    But I've come to see that Jesus is drawing a dramatic picture of the kind of world we already live in, and he helps us to see that what initially looks good to us is not at all what it many times seems to be. Things that are not built up and operating according to God's intentions have a short shelf life in God's scheme of things. Nations, kingdoms, people who are not built on the foundation of God's truth and love will continually cause upheaval, for their integrity is not sound. They will try to put on an impressive show, but they only carry it off for so long before they crumble under the weight of their own pomposity and self-aggrandizement. Better to not be impressed or swayed by them. In fact, I think Jesus is reminding us to make sure that we have our feet firmly planted with him. In face of all the difficulties we'll face, Jesus wants us to see the opportunity embedded with them, because with him there is always good news woven into life. Jesus says that when we see the these troublesome situations, we have an opportunity to testify to God's presence and love. To speak of what is really real. To bear witness to the hope that we have in Christ. To mention that his presence never leaves nor forsakes us, and to talk about the peace that we can experience that passes all understanding. Remembering and sharing instances of where we have been adrift and have found the everlasting arms of God to be more than sufficient in holding us up.
     
    Challenges for those in Christ reveal that we do stand on a firm foundation, and never does that foundation reveal its true integrity more than when we are going through troubled times. Jesus says we don't need to be concerned about what we will say when we were up against troubles. He will be right there with us, giving the words to say with wisdom that will baffle opponents and surprise even us.
     
    Paul Manz, whose gifts of music are enriching our worship today, is best known for the song that the choir will sing during the offertory. The name, as you see it printed, is "E'en so, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come." I understand that it was written when Paul was in anguish over the critical health condition of his young son. When circumstances around him were swirling, he found his true foundation in the promises of Christ. This piece expresses his desire to have the presence of Jesus come quickly to give him aid.
     
    The testimony of faith that is called forth from each of us is to know on whom to call when storm clouds of trouble surround us. We cannot and need not make this journey of life on our own strength. We are not strong enough to withstand and prevail when turbulence comes. Out of the troubling news that we are unable comes the good news of the gospel, that Christ is more than able to deal with all that comes our way. He is more than willing to come near to us, to give us his comfort, hope, and peace. He is capable of quelling the storms or giving us peace, so that we might endure through them.
     
    Now the lectionary has set us up in these weeks, from All Saints' Day, through next week when we will observe Christ the King Sunday. There's a very special purpose, it seems, bound up in these weeks of readings. We get to deal with the contrast between what our broken world has to offer, and the life that is abundant in Christ. Of course we are sobered, as we mentioned on All Saints' Day, by the loss of our loved ones. At the same time, we are able to rejoice that they live because God is not the god of the dead, but of the living. All are alive in him.
     
    We are reminded daily that this world is filled with challenges to our faith and troubling circumstances that we must endure. And at the same time, we are sure that Christ is very near to us and provides us with what we need, in order to endure to the end with him. There is no triumphalism here. There is no way to go along with "live your best life if you follow these six easy principles," as some try to promise. No glitzy religious promises based on wishful thinking here. Just the raw truth, that troubles and challenges in this life are very real, and they come to all people. The faithful experience them just as fully as everyone else.
     
    But in the midst of it all, the one whose structural integrity is intact is with us. Temples may be destroyed, but God will never be destroyed. Neither will God's people ever be destroyed. Some may betray us, but God will hold us up and give us what we need to be able to, once again, sing a new song as we are exhorted to do in Psalm 98. So let us sing with gusto. Let us praise God for his faithfulness. Let us testify to God's goodness while we have breath. Our hymn of the day probably says, better than anything I've said today, to speak to God's faithful presence even in the midst of challenging circumstances. I invite you to join me as we offer our songs of praise to our God. Please stand as you are able as we sing...
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Psalm 98
  • 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]
  • Mar 10, 2019Secure in Our Identity
    Mar 10, 2019
    Secure in Our Identity
    Series: (All)
    March 10, 2019. Our guest preacher for this first Sunday in Lent is Rev. Susan Candea, who preaches on temptation and identity, how we are defined, and who defines us.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
     
    Not to offend anyone, but I just don't get the whole attraction of reality shows on television. In the first place, why are they called "reality shows," because I'm betting that many of those, if not most of those scenes, are actually scripted. And why would anyone want to have a camera follow them around their house, or whatever they're doing, capturing what I would consider to be private conversations, to then be broadcast to who knows who? And why would I care to watch? Why do I want to watch somebody else's reality? I have enough reality in my own life, thank you very much. One of the latest reality shows out there is called "Temptation Island." I've never watched it, just seen it advertised. Apparently "Temptation Island" follows four unmarried couples at a crossroads of their relationship. Each must decide whether to commit to one another, or ultimately to give in to temptation. Together, the couples travel to a romantic paradise, where they join 24 sexy single men and women, all in search of love. Really? Brace yourselves for hot and heavy nights as the couples embark on an adventure full of temptations. Since its January 15th debut, "Temptation Island" has grown its audience by double digits. Obviously, there are some people out there who think watching others respond to temptations is actually entertaining.
     
    I don't think of temptations as being particularly entertaining. I doubt Jesus would have described his experience in the wilderness, the temptations he faced, as being entertaining. He wasn't on some paradise island surrounded by sexy singles, but out in the wilderness for 40 days fasting -- which meant he was hungry and vulnerable -- being tempted by the devil. The story of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness is always the gospel reading for the first Sunday in Lent. I think the purpose of this story is not to warn us about giving in to temptations for whatever it is we've given up in Lent -- as if people actually do that anymore, give up things for Lent. But I think the purpose of this story at the beginning of this Lenten Journey these 40 days is to remind Jesus, and to remind us, whose and who we are. It is about our identity, and knowing our identity makes all the difference in how we journey through these 40 days. And so the theme of my sermon is this: the journey begins, discovering who and whose we are.
     
    The story of Jesus' temptation immediately follows, in the gospel, the story of his baptism -- where the Spirit descended (remember that story) from the heavens and declared Jesus beloved Son of God, declared his identity, whose and who he was. Now that same spirit that filled him at his baptism leads him into the wilderness, where he is tempted. For the Gospel of Luke, the issue is not about personal temptations around one's faith, but about Jesus' unique identity and vocation as a Spirit-anointed Son of God. The temptations were all about how Jesus understands and therefore will live out this identity as a Son of God. Is it about his own power and glory and his own needs? Or is it about trusting God? Does Jesus belong to this world, and therefore the values of this world define him? Or does he belong to God? And therefore it is God, God's word, God's way that will direct his actions, his responses, his journey toward the cross.
     
    You may not be aware, unless you attended the Adult Forum a little earlier, that I am what they call the "stewardship person" of the synod. I shared about all the things in which your mission support, which is that portion of the regular offering that you give to the church that is shared with the larger church (which by the way, you are very faithful and generous givers, so thank you very much) about that impacts the ministry we can do together. So as a stewardship person, you might think that our Old Testament reading, which commands the people to give first fruits back to the Lord, would be one of my favorites. Can you imagine what we could do if everyone gave their first fruits (which of course we're going to go with a tithe -- 10% -- that's always the way it was in scripture) of their income to the church, and every congregation gave their first 10%, first fruits offering, to the larger church? Oh my gosh, the ministry that we could accomplish! But that's not what this passage is actually all about. Commanding the people to give their first fruits was not a way to support the budget of either the temple or the church today. But giving first fruits was actually an acknowledgement by the people that everything has come from God, that it is God who gave them the land in the first place that produced the fruits. It is God to whom they owe all their lives. It is God to whom they belong. Giving the first fruits is actually an act of worship, of praise, of gratitude. It is an acknowledgement of our identity as children of God, reminding us who and whose we are.
     
    Jesus' response to the temptations that he faced in the wilderness was also an affirmation of who and whose he was, that he belonged to God. How do we respond to the temptations that we face in our lives? Do you know what the top five temptations are that people face in their daily lives? Well, according to a couple surveys out there, the number one temptation that over 60% of people face on a regular basis is worrying or being anxious. The number two temptation is procrastination. Number three is overeating. Number four (some of you are going to love this) is the overuse of electronics or social media. And number five is laziness. But I actually think the biggest temptation we face is the same one that Jesus faced: to let other voices, other sources of authority, define who we are, rather than God. Are we defined, do we believe we have value only based on how much money we make, how big our houses, how nice our car? Is our identity determined by how popular we are, how much power over others we have? Is it our belief system, what we decide is right (because of course, we have it all figured out) that defines who we are? Or is it God -- God, who gives us our identity, our value, our purpose, our place?
     
    My friends, regardless of those other voices that you hear, regardless of those temptations that you encounter, it is God who declares that we are beloved children, that we are anointed with God's spirit. Whether we are in the wilderness and feeling vulnerable and all alone, we are God's children. Whether we are on a paradise island and our lives are full, and everything's going well and we can indulge in everything, feeling pretty entitled and self-absorbed, we are still a child of God. So the next question is: how will we journey, not just through these 40 days, but through each day as children of God? What will we give? Not just the 10% that goes to charity, but what will we give of the remaining 90% of our lives, our resources, our time, our skills, our abilities to live this identity?
     
    This past week I participated in an advocacy day at the state capitol in Topeka. You heard that the Central States Synod is all of Missouri and Kansas. There's an organization called Kansas Interfaith Action, which is a multi-faith issue advocacy organization that puts faith into action by educating, engaging, and advocating on behalf of people of faith, regarding critical social, economic, and climate justice issues. On their brochure, they quote the Dalai Lama, who said it is not enough to be compassionate. One must act compassionate.
     
    I know that there are times in our churches that people struggle with what they perceive to be the mix of politics and religion. I've heard we shouldn't be preaching politics from the pulpit, but I have to tell you that sitting down with legislators and with the governor to express concern about people who fall through the cracks of Medicare, to talk about the lack of resources to care for foster children who are the most vulnerable, to advocate for ways in which we care for God's creation, for me was a way to not only live out my identity as a child of God, but also recognizing that all these other people that I'm advocating for are also children of God. And in fact, the whole earth belongs to God. Now, your identity as a child of God may take you in some different directions, having some different actions on behalf of others, but I'm convinced that if we get this identity question right, then we can indeed move out into the world to do the ministry that God calls us to do: to be followers of Jesus, who transform the world around us.
     
    Jesus faced his temptations. He got it right. He trusted and relied on his identity as Son of God. Then he was ready to move out to preach and teach, heal and challenge systems that oppressed and excluded people. That is the same journey you and I are invited to in our faith lives, and I'm also convinced that when we face this temptation to really be clear about who we are and whose we are, relying on the Spirit, then it is actually easier to face all those other temptations. Especially the one about being worried and anxious. That's my number one biggie. Why do I worry so much? I belong to God. And why do I procrastinate and am lazy? God's spirit is within me, and there are people of God who need my compassion and help. And why do I overeat or not do all those healthy things for my body? Because this too belongs to God. There are always going to be temptations. You don't have to go to some paradise island to find them.
     
    But there is always and ultimately going to be the voice of God, who keeps reminding us we are children of God. We belong to God. Secure in that identity, we can face what comes our way. We can create loving, respectful relationships. We can reach out with care and compassion. We can even take risks. And that, my friends, that is a kind of reality I do want to see in my life, and in the life of this whole church.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Susan Candea, Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Luke 4:1-13, KIFA
  • Mar 6, 2019Ring Around the Rosie
    Mar 6, 2019
    Ring Around the Rosie
    Series: (All)
    March 6, 2019. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. This Ash Wednesday evening, Pastor Stephanie preaches on the meaning of the sign of the cross of ash on our foreheads, of Jesus calling us forth to honesty, and on what we do in Lent.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I wonder if you remember the nursery rhyme "Ring around the rosie / A pocket full of posies / Ashes, ashes / We all fall down." Anybody remember that one? Yes? One explanation of the origin of this nursery rhyme connects it with the Bubonic plague, a deadly plague that happened during the Elizabethan era in England. People were succumbing to that plague left and right, by the thousands everyday. Drawings from that era include pictures of bodies being loaded up in carts or wagons. The art portrayed the reality of grimness during that plague. The rationale for connecting that nursery rhyme with the plague stems from the fact that one of the symptoms of the plague was a red rash, which is often found in circles on the body. That was thought to be the ring around the rosie. I certainly never knew that. There was widespread thought that the plague came from bad smell that existed everywhere. And so, people would carry packets of nice-smelling posies to ward off the smell. "Ring around the rosie / A pocket full of posies / Ashes, ashes / We all fall down," was simply a description of what was happening every day, all the time, for these people. If that is truly the origin of this schoolyard chant, it's a far, far cry from the way I remember singing it, and saying it with laughter with my friends on the schoolyard playground. This may or may not be the true origin of the rhyme. Sometimes we don't know about these things. But regardless, there is truth in the last sentence: ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
     
    For here we are on the Wednesday that signals the beginning of the season of Lent, the day we call Ash Wednesday. At the lunch meeting that Katie Ciorba and I had with our recent confirmands, we shared around the table our favorite church holidays, as an icebreaker while we ate lunch. Not surprisingly, Ash Wednesday was not mentioned by a single person, although Lent did get a favorable comment at one point. And yet it's such an important day in the life of the church, because it calls us to honest assessment, something rarely asked of us anywhere else. Ashes, ashes. We also come to death at some point. We prefer to dance around the roses. We prefer to ward off anything that confronts us with our own mortality, don't we? Our society supports that, in doing everything we can to avoid thinking about or preparing for our own deaths. So, we have our own ways of carrying around pockets full of posies to ward off the reality of death. Now, there's certainly nothing at all wrong with seeking the greatest health we can enjoy. We should do that. But at times, we are unrealistic about the effects of aging and frailty that our bodies will eventually display. That unrealistic bent leads us to denial of the truth of the matter because the truth is, in the end, each one of us will succumb. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
     
    Tonight you'll be invited to come forward to receive the sign of ashes on your forehead, a sign that will be made with ashes that were made (as I told the children) from the burning of Palm Sunday palms. The words you hear as you receive the ashes, if you choose to come forward, will be, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Ashes in the form of a cross will be placed on your forehead with this reminder of mortality. Some would say this is depressing. It can be. But the words are meant to remind us of the temporary nature of life. The words are meant to sound the trumpet for us, the loud alarm, that announcement that our lives do not last forever. We are formed from dust and one day we will all return to dust. To remember that our lives are temporary, is to remember to use them well.
     
    Prayers at the end stages of life often ask God to help us to live as those prepared to die, so that in our living and in our dying, our life may be in Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord. The words from Joel speak about fasting and mourning and returning to God. All of these are called forth from God. But Joel is quick to remind us that it is the intentionality of our hearts that needs assessment. Otherwise our outer exhibitions of mourning can belie a mockery of what God wants to see, as an inner commitment of hearts tenderized, opened up, rent apart by the truth of our need for God.
     
    Matthew says the same thing in different ways: get integrated, bring the disparate parts of yourself together. The words in Matthew's gospel call us out on our tendency toward hypocrisy. Jesus' instruction about prayer, like so much of what Jesus says, is a bit hyperbolic, exaggerated simply to make a point. His point is not to put down the act of praying in public, but to correct those who use prayer to pretend that they are religious, and to help themselves bolster up the idea that they are among the most faithful of all. And so Jesus says you might be better off giving up the showmanship and becoming humble, and doing the very hard work of prayer -- the hard work of daily prayer in a closet, if that's what it needs to be. He is speaking like Joel to the issue of hypocrisy and superficiality.
     
    I suspect that each one of us has come to this Ash Wednesday service for different reasons, but all of us are looking for something. Perhaps for a definite start to the Lenten season, a way to set the season apart. Others, perhaps, have come for inspiration and ideas. Some of you might be seeking a chance to think, to get centered, to decide will you give up something, or will you take on a new habit? Others come to services like this to try to get closer to Jesus, to try to identify with what he experienced. My hope for all of us is that no matter what we do this Lenten season, we will try to get honest -- honest with ourselves, honest with God, and honest with one another. It's honesty, shedding our pretenses in the ways in which we fool even ourselves, that will be an antidote to our individual and collective hypocrisy that creeps up at times.
     
    Say what you will about the vast sins of David that preceded his prayer of confession that we read responsively from Psalm 51. His sins were indeed grievous. But this prayer speaks of the great truth proclaimed by David that relates to us all -- that his offense is primarily against God, and so it is to God that he appeals in his recognition of his frailty. To the best of David's ability his confession is honest. He admits his brokenness. He allows himself to be humbled. He is ready for a journey like one he's never really taken before -- one where God is now the primary leader of his life. His own pride in what he had accomplished, up to this point, is seen for what it was: a disaster that led to sin and heartache. He is ready to throw himself on the mercy of God to begin anew. And that is what we do in Lent. We are beginning the journey of Lent together, and it's always wise to start out with honesty. We are told in Luke's gospel that Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. He knew that he was heading toward the week we now call Holy. Along the way, on that journey, his disciples had many reality checks. Jesus loved them too much to allow them to continue in their own self-deceptions. He called forth honesty and he spoke the truth to them with love, for their benefit. And he does the same for us.
     
    The ashes we will receive on our foreheads can be a reminder of his call to exhibit honesty. They can remind us that we are human, and in the end our struggles and sins and accomplishments and skills all turn to dust. We are mortal, and we easily sin. The shape of the cross that we made from the ashes will also be imperfect. A nice, even cross of ash is hard to make with fumbling thumbs and fingers. So the crosses will be imperfect too, because we are human. But the crosses will remind us that despite our sin, despite our humanness, we are sons and daughters of God, forgiven and freed from the weight of our failings, forgiven and loved in our mortality, invited into a journey of walking more closely with God toward the deeper life.
     
    Thanks be to God for his good word to us.
     
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    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Ash Wednesday, Joel 2:1-2,12-17, Psalm 51:1-17, cleansing, pardon, Matthew 6:1-6,16-21, almsgiving, prayer, fasting, treasures, Luke 9:51