Jan 19, 2020
Dwelling in Christ is What We Seek
Series: (All)
January 19, 2020. Wouldn't we love for all the sin of the world to just disappear? Pastor Stephanie's sermon on this celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday is on Jesus' first two disciples, who were hopeful that he would take away the sin of the world.
 
*** Transcript ***
 
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
 
I have a question for you. Have you found what you're looking for? There's a song by the Irish rock band U2 that begins with these words: "I have climbed the highest mountains / I have run through the fields / . . . / But I still haven't found / What I'm looking for." I'm sure some of you could sing that right along. It repeats many times, "And I still haven't found what I'm looking for." That song has a haunting quality to it. Its popularity seems to suggest that it hit a very responsive chord with the wonderings of many. Most days, we are busy enough with just doing what is necessary for the time being. It's not until a question like this is posed to us, or we are reminded through song or through other thoughts that come to us, that we realize that it's a question tugging at our hearts. Have we found what we're looking for?
 
In today's gospel, we are back in the same location as we were last week, with John the Baptist and Jesus being baptized and hearing the words, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." That was the Gospel of Matthew. But in this week's gospel reading from the Gospel of John, we again have John the Baptist. But this time he is still watching and waiting for the messiah, the anointed one of God, whom he is looking for. He'd been told that he would find what he was looking for by baptizing -- that when the right one arrived, the Spirit would descend and remain on him. "I myself did not know him," John says. "But the one who sent me to baptize with water said, 'The one on whom you see the spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' "
 
Can you just picture John the Baptist standing waist-deep in the Jordan River, looking intently at each person who comes to him for baptism, searching for some glimmer of divinity? And then when they come up out of the water, looking toward heaven to see if this will be the one on whom the Spirit descends and remains, always seeking to discover if he has at last found what he is looking for? It's kind of like panning for gold in some ways. You've seen pictures of this, or maybe some of you have done this on vacation out West. You scoop up a pan full of sand and gravel from the bottom of a creek and swirl it around, hoping that the sand and gravel will slosh out and some heavier gold will actually settle on the bottom. On a good day you might actually see a few flecks of gold in your pan. But of course, what you're really hoping for is a big, solid nugget the size of a golf ball. When Jesus appears before John for baptism, it is like John scooped up a nugget the size of a bowling ball. John's heart and mind are fully engaged. This is the one that we've been looking for.
 
Of course, he can't keep this good news to himself. The next day, two of his disciples are standing there with him. When he sees Jesus walking by he says to them, "Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." And immediately they leave John and start following Jesus. (I might say parenthetically here that we'll be singing "Lamb of God" twice this Sunday. We always sing it during communion, but it was chosen for the gospel acclamation because it shows that this is lifted right out of scripture. Just in case you ever wonder where some of the liturgy comes from, it pretty much follows what is scriptural. And this is one of the things that we get to celebrate in a big way today.) But now these disciples leave John -- and they've been his disciples -- and they start following Jesus. I wonder though, how closely they dared to follow him?
 
That they were intrigued and hopeful that Jesus would indeed take away the sin of the world is understandable. Wouldn't we love for all the sin of the world to just disappear? It's just too much to handle, all the bad news reports of violence and hatred that we receive. But what if they were realistic enough to know that there was plenty of sin within them? And if Jesus would zap away all the sin in the world, well, maybe they'd better follow from a distance. I know that I might want to leave some space between Jesus and me if I were in their  situation, not knowing how he was going to take away the sin of the world. He might want to deal with me and my sin in a way that's uncomfortable. At some point Jesus turns around and asks them, "What are you looking for?" Instead of answering him, they come up with a seemingly odd question for him. Was it out of nervous energy that they just blurted out, "Rabbi, where are you staying?"
 
Is the best answer they can come up with a question like "What hostel are you staying at tonight?" No, not really. They really are kind of answering Jesus' question by wondering if he is the one that they want to be following. They don't literally mean, where will you be sleeping? They are asking about his nature, his very identity. The Greek word "meno" is used here, and it's used frequently throughout the Gospel of John. It occurs something like 40 times, and every time it means some version of "to abide," "to remain," "to stay with," "to dwell within." Meno is what Jesus uses when he speaks of himself, later on in John, abiding in the Father, and the disciples abiding in him. It's the same word Jesus uses when he talks about the vine and the branches in chapter 15: "Whoever abides in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit."
 
To use preacher Tom Long's words, in essence the two disciples were asking Jesus, "Rabbi, who are you? Where is the home, the center of your life?" So you can think of it like this: when Jesus asked them, "What are you seeking?" they responded, "We are seeking a meaningful place in which our lives can dwell, they can take root, they can be at peace, they can be at home. Is that in you?" "Come and see," Jesus says. Come and see. "Come and see," Jesus says. "Come and dwell close to me, and I will show you, I will transform you with Epiphany eyes. You will see the reality of my kingdom." This story is compelling, because if we're honest with ourselves, we'll see that (seven words) dwelling in Christ is what we seek. We might feel quite at home in our lives, but any restlessness that we have, or thirst for deeper meaning that we experience, or longing for a centeredness to tie up the loose ends, reveals that deep down we are longing to be at home more fully with Jesus. Being part of the church means we are looking for the community of people with whom we can abide in God's presence. Being at home here means we can inhale God's grace and remember whose we are, as well as remember that we do not seek that home alone, but rather with each other. Like the first two disciples, we are here because we are seeking our home in Jesus. And we've heard him say, "Come and see." And so we follow Christ together because dwelling in Christ is what we seek.
 
As we grow in making our dwelling or our home in Jesus, remaining or abiding in him, we will certainly have moments when we rest in the truth that we are deeply loved and claimed. After all, we are the beloved children of God. But we'll also find that we'll have moments when we are called to account by the gospel, by the one who makes his home within us, for that which needs to be set right. He takes away the sin of the world all right. His body and blood are given for us for the forgiveness of sin. As we abide in him, he abides in us. He cleans us up from the inside out. As we dwell in him, he makes us aware of the judgments of others that we make, of how we use our resources, for the words that we use in speaking about and to each other, for the times that we were silent and should not have been, as well as for the times we used our voices when we should have remained quiet. As we keep following the call to seek our home in Jesus, like those very first two disciples, we will be challenged to change. And that challenge will never stop. In a sense, we are continually looking for him, for more of him. When we live our lives as those who seek our home in Jesus, that means we live our lives always on the way, always continuing to learn how to better reflect Jesus in this world, working for mercy, love, and justice for all people. Seeking to be home in Jesus will comfort us when we are afflicted. But make no mistake about it, it will afflict us whenever we become too comfortable and complacent. That is something that must be somewhere in the gospel's job description. Being at home with Jesus is wonderfully fulfilling, but it comes at a price of being ever re-created and made new by his very presence.
 
Now this weekend, as you know, we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. Dr. King was a preacher who knew the comfort found in seeking his home in Jesus. Being at home in Jesus centered him in a profound way, and gave him a love for others and a way of leading with non-violence that demonstrated the gospel for all to see, who would be able to see and comprehend. At the same time, being at home with Jesus, or abiding in him, took him to the places where Jesus dared to walk: right into the face of cruelty and injustice and hatred, in order to challenge its right to exist. As Dr. King wrote letters from his cell in Birmingham jail, far from his physical home with his family, he could still be at home with Jesus. He writes this in one of those letters: "We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. There is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy . . . Now is the time to make [racial] justice a reality for all of God's children . . . The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges." He could have written that yesterday.
 
At the 2019 ELCA churchwide assembly, if you keep up with some of those documents and pronouncements, the fact that the ELCA is 96% white was addressed. So a paper, which was long conceived and carefully written, was presented and adopted. It was called a "Strategy Toward Authentic Diversity within the ELCA." On all levels, leaders and churches are seeking ways to achieve ethnic diversity. When we take the time to listen and learn about the ways that people of color have experienced church life with us, we realize that we have a lot of room for growth, those of us from European backgrounds. If you read the latest issue of "Living Lutheran" magazine you came across an article entitled "Unpacking white privilege: the important work of making the church less harmful." If you have not read it, I encourage you to do so. Included in your bulletin you'll find a page taken from this article. It starts with bold letters saying, "As a European American in the ELCA," and followed by 26 items that are thought-provoking and should be conscience-pricking for all of those of us in the European American category. I invite you to take it home and look it over, thinking what it must be like for people of color to deal with some of the issues that are highlighted there. It's a call to awareness. If what we are looking for is a fuller expression and experience of God's kingdom among us, then this and so many other things can send us in the right direction. To be at home with Jesus is to dare to take on large challenges by following his lead through them. It's not always comfortable, but its presence within us takes us to where he is. And he is always shining light in darkness. To be a member of the St. Louis community is to recognize that the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, is to be found working to uproot racism and to replace it with love and care for all of God's people. If we want to come and see where he is, we will find him there. We will also find him everywhere there's a need for his light to shine, bringing hope, forgiveness, and restoration for any number of needs.
 
So what are you looking for? The good news is we don't need to keep wondering and waiting to find the hope of the world. He has come and he is among us. His call to the early disciples is the call to us: will we come and follow him? He is calling our names. And following him and dwelling in him as he dwells within us will never be the same, as goes the song we are going to use today for our hymn of the day. So, please rise to sing "Will You Come and Follow Me?"
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, John 1:29-42, MLK, Peter, Andrew, Cephas
WatchNotesDownloadDateTitle
  • Jan 19, 2020Dwelling in Christ is What We Seek
    Jan 19, 2020
    Dwelling in Christ is What We Seek
    Series: (All)
    January 19, 2020. Wouldn't we love for all the sin of the world to just disappear? Pastor Stephanie's sermon on this celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday is on Jesus' first two disciples, who were hopeful that he would take away the sin of the world.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
     
    I have a question for you. Have you found what you're looking for? There's a song by the Irish rock band U2 that begins with these words: "I have climbed the highest mountains / I have run through the fields / . . . / But I still haven't found / What I'm looking for." I'm sure some of you could sing that right along. It repeats many times, "And I still haven't found what I'm looking for." That song has a haunting quality to it. Its popularity seems to suggest that it hit a very responsive chord with the wonderings of many. Most days, we are busy enough with just doing what is necessary for the time being. It's not until a question like this is posed to us, or we are reminded through song or through other thoughts that come to us, that we realize that it's a question tugging at our hearts. Have we found what we're looking for?
     
    In today's gospel, we are back in the same location as we were last week, with John the Baptist and Jesus being baptized and hearing the words, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." That was the Gospel of Matthew. But in this week's gospel reading from the Gospel of John, we again have John the Baptist. But this time he is still watching and waiting for the messiah, the anointed one of God, whom he is looking for. He'd been told that he would find what he was looking for by baptizing -- that when the right one arrived, the Spirit would descend and remain on him. "I myself did not know him," John says. "But the one who sent me to baptize with water said, 'The one on whom you see the spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' "
     
    Can you just picture John the Baptist standing waist-deep in the Jordan River, looking intently at each person who comes to him for baptism, searching for some glimmer of divinity? And then when they come up out of the water, looking toward heaven to see if this will be the one on whom the Spirit descends and remains, always seeking to discover if he has at last found what he is looking for? It's kind of like panning for gold in some ways. You've seen pictures of this, or maybe some of you have done this on vacation out West. You scoop up a pan full of sand and gravel from the bottom of a creek and swirl it around, hoping that the sand and gravel will slosh out and some heavier gold will actually settle on the bottom. On a good day you might actually see a few flecks of gold in your pan. But of course, what you're really hoping for is a big, solid nugget the size of a golf ball. When Jesus appears before John for baptism, it is like John scooped up a nugget the size of a bowling ball. John's heart and mind are fully engaged. This is the one that we've been looking for.
     
    Of course, he can't keep this good news to himself. The next day, two of his disciples are standing there with him. When he sees Jesus walking by he says to them, "Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." And immediately they leave John and start following Jesus. (I might say parenthetically here that we'll be singing "Lamb of God" twice this Sunday. We always sing it during communion, but it was chosen for the gospel acclamation because it shows that this is lifted right out of scripture. Just in case you ever wonder where some of the liturgy comes from, it pretty much follows what is scriptural. And this is one of the things that we get to celebrate in a big way today.) But now these disciples leave John -- and they've been his disciples -- and they start following Jesus. I wonder though, how closely they dared to follow him?
     
    That they were intrigued and hopeful that Jesus would indeed take away the sin of the world is understandable. Wouldn't we love for all the sin of the world to just disappear? It's just too much to handle, all the bad news reports of violence and hatred that we receive. But what if they were realistic enough to know that there was plenty of sin within them? And if Jesus would zap away all the sin in the world, well, maybe they'd better follow from a distance. I know that I might want to leave some space between Jesus and me if I were in their  situation, not knowing how he was going to take away the sin of the world. He might want to deal with me and my sin in a way that's uncomfortable. At some point Jesus turns around and asks them, "What are you looking for?" Instead of answering him, they come up with a seemingly odd question for him. Was it out of nervous energy that they just blurted out, "Rabbi, where are you staying?"
     
    Is the best answer they can come up with a question like "What hostel are you staying at tonight?" No, not really. They really are kind of answering Jesus' question by wondering if he is the one that they want to be following. They don't literally mean, where will you be sleeping? They are asking about his nature, his very identity. The Greek word "meno" is used here, and it's used frequently throughout the Gospel of John. It occurs something like 40 times, and every time it means some version of "to abide," "to remain," "to stay with," "to dwell within." Meno is what Jesus uses when he speaks of himself, later on in John, abiding in the Father, and the disciples abiding in him. It's the same word Jesus uses when he talks about the vine and the branches in chapter 15: "Whoever abides in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit."
     
    To use preacher Tom Long's words, in essence the two disciples were asking Jesus, "Rabbi, who are you? Where is the home, the center of your life?" So you can think of it like this: when Jesus asked them, "What are you seeking?" they responded, "We are seeking a meaningful place in which our lives can dwell, they can take root, they can be at peace, they can be at home. Is that in you?" "Come and see," Jesus says. Come and see. "Come and see," Jesus says. "Come and dwell close to me, and I will show you, I will transform you with Epiphany eyes. You will see the reality of my kingdom." This story is compelling, because if we're honest with ourselves, we'll see that (seven words) dwelling in Christ is what we seek. We might feel quite at home in our lives, but any restlessness that we have, or thirst for deeper meaning that we experience, or longing for a centeredness to tie up the loose ends, reveals that deep down we are longing to be at home more fully with Jesus. Being part of the church means we are looking for the community of people with whom we can abide in God's presence. Being at home here means we can inhale God's grace and remember whose we are, as well as remember that we do not seek that home alone, but rather with each other. Like the first two disciples, we are here because we are seeking our home in Jesus. And we've heard him say, "Come and see." And so we follow Christ together because dwelling in Christ is what we seek.
     
    As we grow in making our dwelling or our home in Jesus, remaining or abiding in him, we will certainly have moments when we rest in the truth that we are deeply loved and claimed. After all, we are the beloved children of God. But we'll also find that we'll have moments when we are called to account by the gospel, by the one who makes his home within us, for that which needs to be set right. He takes away the sin of the world all right. His body and blood are given for us for the forgiveness of sin. As we abide in him, he abides in us. He cleans us up from the inside out. As we dwell in him, he makes us aware of the judgments of others that we make, of how we use our resources, for the words that we use in speaking about and to each other, for the times that we were silent and should not have been, as well as for the times we used our voices when we should have remained quiet. As we keep following the call to seek our home in Jesus, like those very first two disciples, we will be challenged to change. And that challenge will never stop. In a sense, we are continually looking for him, for more of him. When we live our lives as those who seek our home in Jesus, that means we live our lives always on the way, always continuing to learn how to better reflect Jesus in this world, working for mercy, love, and justice for all people. Seeking to be home in Jesus will comfort us when we are afflicted. But make no mistake about it, it will afflict us whenever we become too comfortable and complacent. That is something that must be somewhere in the gospel's job description. Being at home with Jesus is wonderfully fulfilling, but it comes at a price of being ever re-created and made new by his very presence.
     
    Now this weekend, as you know, we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. Dr. King was a preacher who knew the comfort found in seeking his home in Jesus. Being at home in Jesus centered him in a profound way, and gave him a love for others and a way of leading with non-violence that demonstrated the gospel for all to see, who would be able to see and comprehend. At the same time, being at home with Jesus, or abiding in him, took him to the places where Jesus dared to walk: right into the face of cruelty and injustice and hatred, in order to challenge its right to exist. As Dr. King wrote letters from his cell in Birmingham jail, far from his physical home with his family, he could still be at home with Jesus. He writes this in one of those letters: "We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. There is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy . . . Now is the time to make [racial] justice a reality for all of God's children . . . The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges." He could have written that yesterday.
     
    At the 2019 ELCA churchwide assembly, if you keep up with some of those documents and pronouncements, the fact that the ELCA is 96% white was addressed. So a paper, which was long conceived and carefully written, was presented and adopted. It was called a "Strategy Toward Authentic Diversity within the ELCA." On all levels, leaders and churches are seeking ways to achieve ethnic diversity. When we take the time to listen and learn about the ways that people of color have experienced church life with us, we realize that we have a lot of room for growth, those of us from European backgrounds. If you read the latest issue of "Living Lutheran" magazine you came across an article entitled "Unpacking white privilege: the important work of making the church less harmful." If you have not read it, I encourage you to do so. Included in your bulletin you'll find a page taken from this article. It starts with bold letters saying, "As a European American in the ELCA," and followed by 26 items that are thought-provoking and should be conscience-pricking for all of those of us in the European American category. I invite you to take it home and look it over, thinking what it must be like for people of color to deal with some of the issues that are highlighted there. It's a call to awareness. If what we are looking for is a fuller expression and experience of God's kingdom among us, then this and so many other things can send us in the right direction. To be at home with Jesus is to dare to take on large challenges by following his lead through them. It's not always comfortable, but its presence within us takes us to where he is. And he is always shining light in darkness. To be a member of the St. Louis community is to recognize that the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, is to be found working to uproot racism and to replace it with love and care for all of God's people. If we want to come and see where he is, we will find him there. We will also find him everywhere there's a need for his light to shine, bringing hope, forgiveness, and restoration for any number of needs.
     
    So what are you looking for? The good news is we don't need to keep wondering and waiting to find the hope of the world. He has come and he is among us. His call to the early disciples is the call to us: will we come and follow him? He is calling our names. And following him and dwelling in him as he dwells within us will never be the same, as goes the song we are going to use today for our hymn of the day. So, please rise to sing "Will You Come and Follow Me?"
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, John 1:29-42, MLK, Peter, Andrew, Cephas
  • Jan 12, 2020Persistent Reminders That We Are God’s Beloved
    Jan 12, 2020
    Persistent Reminders That We Are God’s Beloved
    Series: (All)
    January 12, 2020. Our interim resident pastor, Stephanie Doeschot, is ending her time with us very soon. Today, in one of her last sermons for us, she again reminds us that we are all beloved children of God.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
     
    Just to put your minds at ease, if you were here last week and either witnessed or heard about my little episode with overheating and dehydration, I'm going to take a large drink of water right now. [Takes a drink.] There, that's done. It is fitting anyway to talk about water today, since we are looking at the baptism of Jesus -- and baptism always requires water. Here in this church it requires very little, but water is essential. You may have heard this analogy before, but some have likened the practice of baptism to some of the branches of the military. Some Christian churches are like the Navy: they love a lot of water. They would be like the Baptists, who require full immersion for a legitimate baptism. Others are like the Army, who deal only with small amounts of water such as we have here in the baptismal font. A sprinkling of water will do, and that suits us just fine. Other churches are like the Marines. They operate on either land or sea, so they will do immersions or sprinkling. It's all the same to them. Regardless of the mode, all in the church see water as a means to communicate that we are washed in the forgiveness of Christ, and we emerge from either a lot or a little bit of water as people with a particular identity. In the rite of baptism, we are reminded of the great love that God has for us in Christ, and are called the beloved children of God.
     
    I wonder, though, if that is the first thing we think about when we are asked to define ourselves. Think about it. Most often when we think about who we are, and someone asks us, we answer with some version of "I am what I do." I work in an office. I paint houses. I sell real estate. I teach children. I perform surgeries. I write music. I clean homes. I go to school. Those are all fine, important things to do. But what we do doesn't define us. It tells something about how we spend some of our time, but it's still not truly who we are at the core. And that's a good thing, because what happens when a job gets outsourced, or we become disabled? Then, seeing ourselves as what we do becomes very, very inadequate.
     
    Another way we may describe who we are might be well, "Here is what people say about me." And we could list the accolades and awards we've received and feel really, really good about ourselves. It's a powerful thing to have people speak well of us. But then what happens to our sense of ourselves when negative things are said about us? If our identities are tied to what is said about us, we'll be on a very, very narrow balance beam, because no one hears only positive things about themselves. And studies have shown that a person can get ten compliments in a week, but if there's that one insult or criticism or negative comment that strikes at their heart about their character or something they've done, that is likely what they'll remember the most.
     
    Another way we can view ourselves is to think, "I am what I have." I have things that make my life enjoyable: good health, good friends, and family. That too is all well and good until losses come, and they do come in every life. What if I lose some of what I have that most defines me? When our identities come from what we do, what people say about us, or what we have, we are set up for living a roller coaster life. Because all these things vary throughout life, and they will at some points fail us, because they are a poor substitute for understanding where our true identity lies.
     
    Henri Nouwen, in his book The Life Of The Beloved, reminds us that Jesus was tempted to define himself in every one of those three categories, in what we call the Temptations of Jesus in the Wilderness. The first temptation that Jesus faced was to define himself by what he did. If you'll remember, the tempter whispered, "Turn these stones into bread, and then you'll really be somebody." Jesus refused. The second temptation Jesus faced was for him to uphold his reputation as Son of God and test God by jumping from the top of the temple. Again, Jesus refused. The third temptation came when he was shown all the kingdoms of the world. If only Jesus would bow down and worship Satan, he was promised, then Jesus could have it all. Jesus once again refused. Jesus responded to each of these lies of the false narratives of his true identity in each case. At his core he knew he was not what he did. He was not about keeping up a reputation based on a distorted self-image. And he could not be defined by what he had or did not have.
     
    The story of his baptism precedes these temptations for a very good reason. It was in the context of our baptism story today that Jesus could say no to the wrong ways of identifying himself, and say yes to his true identity throughout his earthly life. It was through his baptism that he heard these sweet and all-powerful words that told him most clearly who he was: "You are my beloved and with you I am well pleased." That message guided Jesus' three-year ministry that followed. Whether he was able to see a person receive wholeness or wellness that he had to offer, or when he was met with stubborn resistance to God's love, he kept hearing the voice that told him he was God's beloved. Whether Jesus faced warm welcomes or was met by angry crowds, he kept hearing the voice that told him he was God's beloved. When he had a sumptuous meal at the home of friends, or when he said he had no place to lay his head, he kept on hearing the voice that told him he was God's beloved. That is the same message that you and I need to hear about ourselves, because it is the truth that we affirm in our baptisms. It is the truth about the way God views each and every one of us. We are God's beloved.
     
    Now, in a few weeks my time of serving as your interim resident pastor will conclude. As I move forward from our time together, I will take with me so very many good memories of conversations and interactions with you as a congregation. You have enriched my life through your faith and witness to the gospel of grace, that has clearly formed you as the beloved people of God. Honestly, you are just some of the best people I've ever been privileged to know. And I've been alive for a very long time and I've known a lot of people, so I do not say that lightly. You do demonstrate well what it means to be the beloved children of God.
     
    One of the many conversations that will stick with me long after I depart occurred in my office with the Mudd family, as we talked about the baptism of Rick in early December. Not only were parents Philip and Sarah well-prepared to bring their son to receive baptism, they had also prepared his big sister Katie well for the occasion. Two-year-old Katie confidently answered her parents when they asked her to tell me what was going to happen to Rick soon. "He's going to be baptized," she answered. And then this: "And Katie, what will we call Rick then?" "A child of God." Well, we did not need to talk any longer about the theological implications of baptism after that. I did not have any more questions for the parents, because they were clearly telling their two-year-old Katie about her own identity in Christ, and also how her brother was to be identified. Both were told that they were the children of God, God's own beloved ones. Rick (eight months old at his baptism) may not have heard the words telling him that day that he is God's beloved, but I can well imagine that his parents and sister, all of you, will continue to tell him, and then tell him again as he grows up, that he is a child of God. Every time he sees others baptized he can remember that just as that person is proclaimed a child of God, all of these people and more, that also describes his fundamental identity.
     
    We all need persistent reminders that the truth about us from God's perspective -- the perspective that matters the most -- is that we are God's beloved. We are cherished. We are safe, and ultimately well and tethered to the source of life and love. We are made in God's image. And just as God proclaimed when creating all things, God delights in us and calls us created beings very, very good. Imagine for yourself that you hear these words from God: you are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased. There are additional words that have been addressed to us from God throughout the Bible. Here are just a few: I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have written your name on the palms of my hands. I have knitted you together in your mother's womb. Precious. That's what you and I and all people are to God. Beloved. God's own children in whom God delights.
     
    Can we carry that message with us as the dominant way we see ourselves, day in and day out, year in and year out, in the good times and not-so-good times? God gives us that message because it frees us from the baggage of ill-fitting and destructive identities. It is most truly who we are, independent of other voices and circumstances. Embracing the identity of "beloved child of God" is the only way we can love God and love others who are also beloved children of God. It is from a place of deep security that we are cherished, that we can live the full life that God wants us to have. But granted, it's a lifelong journey to claim that identity and live into it.
     
    In closing I share with you a poem written by Jan Richardson. It's entitled "Beloved is Where We Begin."
     
    If you would enter into the wilderness, do not begin without a blessing. Do not leave without hearing who you are: Beloved, named by the One who has traveled this path before you. Do not go without letting it echo in your ears, and if you find it is hard to let it into your heart, do not despair. That is what this journey is for. I cannot promise this blessing will free you from danger, from fear, from hunger or thirst, from the scorching of sun or the fall of the night. But I can tell you that on this path there will be help. I can tell you that on this way there will be rest. I can tell you that you will know the strange graces that come to our aid only on a road such as this, that fly to meet us bearing comfort and strength, that come alongside us for no other cause than to lean themselves toward our ear and with their curious insistence whisper our name: Beloved. Beloved. Beloved.
     
     
    As you come forward later for communion, you may want to dip your fingers in the water to remind yourself that you truly are the beloved of God. I encourage you to do whatever it takes to repeat that mantra to yourself, so that that becomes truly the way you see yourself, because it gives great honor also to God.
     
    Please rise now to sing our hymn of the day, and thanks to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Matthew 3:13-17, Circle of Grace
  • Jan 5, 2020The Journey of the Magi
    Jan 5, 2020
    The Journey of the Magi
    Series: (All)
    January 5, 2020. In this sermon, written by Pastor Stephanie and read by Jim Bennett, we look at the journey of the Magi as they follow the star that will lead them to the baby Jesus. They did not know how far it would be or how long it would take. But they were committed to the challenge, and one thing they did have was each other, a fellowship of star seekers.
     
    [This sermon was written by pastor Stephanie, and she wrote it in her own personal context. In the audio recording, Jim Bennett reads it as she has written it.]
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
     
    Recently a friend had asked me how we like living in a condo in Columbia, Illinois. We moved over there several months ago. And to be sure, there's a little more driving involved to participate in some of the city's amenities. But there's one thing that we are increasingly becoming aware of and enjoy a bit more by being in a smaller city, and that is the ability to gaze at the wide, expansive sky that fascinates Phil and me both day and night. We see so many interesting cloud formations, sunrises and sunsets, and so many more planets and stars than we could see on walks in our former neighborhood. I guess stars have always held a special interest for me. I remember gazing up at the Milky Way with wonder as a child, and that was well before we had such sophisticated telescopes that could tell us just how extremely far away these heavenly bodies were from Earth.
     
    Today, we just sang a song called "Follow the Star." And probably like you, I was curious as to how far the star could have been that the Magi followed so long ago. Also, the number of times that the verbs in our lessons today use the word "see" or "saw" or "observed" and other variations that indicate the possibility of seeing the light that comes from God through the readings of Isaiah, the Apostle Paul, and in the gospel lesson, causes one to wonder how that could be so. It seems that following a guiding star and recognizing the light that comes from God would call for some extraordinary vision. Something like, as an optometrist might say, 20/20 vision. Because when I look at stars, I cannot imagine seeing a moving star that stops and lingers right over the place where Jesus lay, according to that often sung carol "The First Noel." As is often the case in biblical interpretation, it helps to spend more time wondering about the deep meaning than getting all hung up on what could possibly be so.
     
    An author I like, Barbara Brown Taylor, wrote once upon a time there were some very wise men who were all sitting in their own countries, minding their own business, when a bright star lodged in the right eye of each of them. It was so bright that none of them could tell whether it was burning in the sky or in their own imagination, but they were wise enough to know that it didn't matter. The point was, something beyond them was calling them, and it was a tug that they had been waiting for all their lives. I like that, because her thoughts take us to a mystical awareness of God leading in inexpressible ways, far more compelling and interesting than we often make this story out to be. And along with that she discovered an ancient Syriac text from the second century that shed more light for her. One where the Magi were and how they were able to be guided to that place where they could worship Jesus, the newborn king.
     
    Brent Landau, a translator of that ancient text, revealed in his work that the Magi who came seeking Jesus might not have been primarily astronomers at all. He indicated that the manuscripts reveal they were first and foremost mystics, spiritual people who had dedicated themselves to a life of prayer and seeking after God's leading. As this tradition goes, generations before, these mystics were given a promise -- a prophecy of sorts -- that they were to guard and protect. They waited and looked forward with longing to a time when it was written that a star of indescribable brightness would appear, heralding the birth of God in human form. Every month of the year for centuries, the order of the Magi carried out its ancient rituals in expectation of that star's arrival. They ascended their country's most sacred mountains and prayed in silence at the mouth of the cave where they kept their prophetic books. And whenever one of the Magi died, a son or a close relative would take his place and their order continued through the ages. Regardless of the exact details, we can learn something from the Magi: their readiness to respond when they sensed God's beckoning them, and their commitment to engage on a journey to a place which called for them to rise to the challenge of following the unknown.
     
    The season of Epiphany. Epiphany means "manifestation" or "revelation." When it comes as a light leading the Magi, it compelled them to follow and trust, not knowing the consequences in advance. They did not know how far they would journey. They did not know how long the expedition would take. They did not know what kinds of circumstances they would encounter along the way. Most often when God illumines our hearts and minds to follow with faith into uncharted territory, we do not know, but we will find that it's not a smooth path without obstacles. After all, the journey of the Magi describes how the little interlude with King Herod could have derailed the whole journey, yet it did not.
     
    Many of you might be familiar with J. R. R. Tolkien's work The Fellowship of the Ring, either from the book or the movie version of it. Even if you're not, I'd like to share a scene with you. And the story features a wise wizard named Gandalf who assures the young hobbit Frodo Baggins that he is indeed the one destined to carry the evil ring back to its destruction in the fires of Mordor. No one would have guessed that it would have been Frodo to be the one chosen for such a task. The creatures Tolkien invented named hobbits were not particularly brave as this particular hobbit Frodo, and he even was afraid and unsure of his ability to respond to that calling. But there's something about Frodo -- his loyalty to friends, his inner strength, and his innate capacity to resist the ring's evil -- that made him the right one. "The ring came to you for a reason, Frodo," Gandalf tells him. "There is comfort in that." "I wish the ring had never come to me," Frodo despairs. "I wish that had never happened." "So do all who live in such times," Gandalf replied. "But while we cannot choose the time we live in, we can choose how to respond to that time we are given." Then, in perhaps the bravest words uttered by hobbit or human, Frodo says at last, "I will take the ring, but I do not know the way." It is often like that in the journey of faith. The Magi chose to follow the star not knowing where it would lead. Frodo chose to carry the ring, though he didn't know where it would take him. In ways large and small, we all say yes to things we cannot fully comprehend. "In order to reach a distant shore," writes the artist Andre Gide, "one must consent to lose sight of the shore from which we depart for a very long time."
     
    It makes you wonder sometimes. With all the challenges present for us in this day and age, following God's lead, how is it possible that it can be done? What is there to guide us in this life, into this year 2020, when we do not know the way -- especially when we are honest enough to be so very aware that our own vision is far from perfect 20/20 vision? We have, first of all, the star that is whatever instrument, circumstance, revelation, or calling it is and inspires us to begin our journey in the first place. It is certainly our baptismal identity, as part of letting our light so shine, that calls us to that following -- a light that illumines the love of God to others. Since following that light of Christ was never meant to be a solitary venture, we find that along the way we need help from other sources. The Magi's star, remember, led them at first to Jerusalem, to the palace of Herod, which was certainly not their ultimate destination. They had come to what seemed like a dead end. So they inquired of others for guidance. We may wonder why asking Herod had had to occur. But Herod passed on the question to those who can consult the ancient scriptures, and that brought them to the answer they needed to take the next step. Yes, there was to be a newborn king, they were told, in the city of Bethlehem, according to the prophet Micah. So off they went to Bethlehem, where they did indeed find what had been promised. Epiphany. The direction of the light of Christ. Illumination, through prayer and seeking after God, including scriptural reflection, brought the Magi to their destination.
     
    One other important factor played a role for the Magi, and is equally important for all of us who seek to follow the light of Christ. The Magi also had each other. They operated as a fellowship of star seekers, as Frodo did with his friends who also accompanied him. There is wisdom and guidance in community for us all. The way of following Christ that is laid out for us all through the New Testament resides in the power of the community bearing the light of Christ. It is when we come together as two or three or more that the Lord promises to be in the midst of us. As we come to learn and pray and struggle together with what it means to follow the light of Christ, we deal with our struggles and our uncertainties together. Christ was quite clear that his followers were not to be alone, that in this life and on this path, we needed one another. It was on God's people together, Isaiah proclaimed, that the light had come. Arise, shine, for the glory of the Lord has shown upon you all.
     
    With boldness and confidence in the Lord, who is the light, may you, may we, may the congregation of Christ Lutheran follow the star of God's leading into this New Year, 2020. As you do so together as a unit, a body of Christ's followers seeking after God through prayer and meditation, listening to and heeding the guidance of God's holy word, and encouraging one another when the way seems somewhat unclear. Our vision may not be, as optometrists say, "perfect 20/20," but there is I think an important awareness that comes with this particular New Year -- in the world's understanding but also in our congregation's understanding. But the one who does possess perfect vision will guide us and show us the way that leads to everlasting peace. It's where we, like the Magi, will find Jesus and worship him with overwhelming joy.
     
    So, please rise and join with me in offering a prayerful response through our next hymn, number 314, "Arise, Your Light Has Come." Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Jim Bennett, Matthew 2:1-12
  • Dec 29, 2019All Kinds of Refugees, All Kinds of Herods
    Dec 29, 2019
    All Kinds of Refugees, All Kinds of Herods
    Series: (All)
    December 29, 2019. What is it like to be a refugee? God told Joseph in a dream to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt to escape from Herod. What if they had found the border closed when they arrived? In his sermon today, Jon Heerboth tells us that the Herods of this world haven't changed over the millennia. And like Joseph, we must act to respond to God's plan.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    In my whole life, I never had a dream in which I woke up with the idea that I was told to take my family and flee in the middle of the night. But I do remember a night, in November of 1954 in Tokyo, when my father and mother snatched all three of us out of our beds and ran out into the night. The earth shook for a long time, and it shook hard. It was a terrible disaster for a lot of people there, but our parents kept us safely away from anything that might fall on us. To this day, I carry that fear with me in my head -- that the earthquake is the natural disaster that I most fear. When I look back on that it feels like a dream, but it wasn't. It really happened. Just to be sure, I checked before I related this event, because it was so powerful. A lot of people did die that night. But if I had some kind of warning in a dream, I wonder if I would heed it. If I was warned, would I have stayed home on the snowy morning a car slid into me on the way to work? I don't know. In 2005 I awoke in the middle of the night, zapped awake by a dream I couldn't remember, with the sure knowledge that I had to get up and decide to take a different job. And I saw that as some kind of direction and I took it.
     
    Most of us can think of times when a warning would be a great help. We'd love a warning that our slight pain isn't really indigestion, but something needing immediate action. It may be trivial, but I would like a warning as simple as some foreknowledge of a failing car battery. I would certainly pay attention to that. Unfortunately, that's just not how things usually work. As we go through life we make our choices, we pay attention to our instincts and our experiences, we profess our faith of course, and place our trust and hope in God. But most of the time, we are very much on our own.
     
    In today's lesson Joseph received a very strong, very direct warning, and specific instructions about what he should do to keep his family safe. Joseph's dreams seemed much more intense than my own dreams are. An angel came to him in his dream and told him to flee, to clear out, to get away as quickly as the family could go. The angel also told him why: that Herod was looking for him and would kill him. Joseph got specific directions about where he should go, and that he should stay in Egypt until the angel told him otherwise. Now, if I had a dream that vivid, would I heed it? Would I take my family in the middle of night and head for the border? I would like to think so. But Joseph was tuned in and receptive to the angels' words, and he acted quickly to save his wife and her son Jesus. But safe arrival in Egypt didn't stop the violence back in Bethlehem. When Herod could not find Jesus he ordered his people to kill all the boys, two and younger, in and around Bethlehem. Many scholars believe Herod suffered from depression and paranoia. According to the historian Josephus, Herod killed his favorite wife, his brother-in-law, three of his sons, 300 of his top military officers, and many others. Herod was so brutal and killed so many people that the murder of the children around Bethlehem seemed trivial, and is not even recorded in history. Herod was a violent man and would not ignore the baby the Magi came to honor as a king. He would have been enraged when he discovered that the Magi dismissed his order to come back and report to him. So, he took action himself to protect his power and his throne.
     
    Matthew's story of the flight to Egypt reminds us of when Pharaoh ordered the death of male Hebrew infants in Exodus 1. Pharaoh ordered the midwives to kill boy babies, and when that didn't work he ordered the Egyptians to throw the Israelite boys into the Nile. In today's gospel lesson, righteous Judeans must flee to Egypt to escape Herod's massacre in their own land. People like Herod and the pharaohs before him were powerful rulers who destroyed anyone they saw as a threat to their power. Walter Brueggemann, the noted Bible scholar and former professor at Eden Seminary, wrote about attempts to figure out which pharaoh might have been responsible for murdering the Hebrew babies in the Exodus story. He finally determined that it didn't matter which one. He wrote, "When you've seen one pharaoh, you've seen them all. They all act the same way in their greedy, uncaring, violent, self-sufficiency." Herod was that kind of man too, and he was out to get Jesus. God acted through Joseph to save the child from certain death, so that God's plan could move toward fulfillment. Jesus was in danger, God spoke to Joseph through an angel, and Joseph took action.
     
    The Herods and the Pharaohs of this world haven't changed over the millennia. They continue in their greed, their lack of care for people around them, and their instinct to oppress and even to kill. Their only concern would be to quash any threat to their power. In the gospel for today, God's command was, "Flee to Egypt." What do you see in your mind's eye when you hear that command? I can picture Joseph snatching Jesus from sleep and telling Mary to quickly gather their things. I see them fleeing through the darkness of night, looking over their shoulders to be certain they were not followed. With each moment, they were a little farther from the known and the familiar, and closer to a land they did not know. Their one thought, their only priority, would be to protect their child and keep him safe.
     
    I hear this story in a new way these days. This is a time of mass migration around the world. Large numbers of people are subject to persecution for their race or ethnicity, their nationality, their opposition to a ruler, their religion or sect, or their perceived difference. In some places people are on the run from war. In others, from murderous gangs. Many endure poverty. If we believe the news stories, the slaughter of the innocents continues around the world today with no let-up. People risk everything to flee to their Egypts, to what they hope will be someplace in which they can live safely and find people who will welcome and accept them.
     
    What if Joseph had found the border to Egypt closed when they arrived? What if the border was blocked by a wall, or if they had been turned back? What story would we be telling today? What if guards had taken the two-year-old Jesus from his family and placed Mary and Joseph in prison? Would there be any good news for you or me, for the refugees of the world? You may remember the tragic photograph of a two-year-old child and her father after they drowned in the Rio Grande last summer. They were fleeing El Salvador for safety and economic opportunity. When they arrived at the US border and asked for asylum, they were turned away because of a policy called metering. They decided to try to make it across the Rio Grande, bypassing the ports of entry. First, the father carried the child across and set her on the bank. When he returned to help his wife, the little girl threw herself in the water. Her father tried to rescue her but they both drowned in the river. I can feel the parents' fear for their child's safety, and their panic when she threw herself in the river. We can all feel the mother's desolation at the death of her husband and daughter Valeria, just like the timeless verse from Jeremiah in today's lesson: "Rachel weeping for her children, she refused to be consoled because they are no more." This story was in the news for a week or so. Mainly, I suspect, because of the strikingly sad photograph of the drowned refugees. The victims and the grieving mother have faded from the news and from our memories. They are just one story in the endless stream of refugees that pass briefly across our awareness.
     
    I cannot explain why the child Jesus found refuge and the children of Bethlehem did not. I don't know why one child is safe and another drowns in a river, or is lost from a raft at sea, only to be quickly forgotten. Matthew made it clear that the murder of the children was not the will of God. It was the result of Herod protecting his power. It was not because God loved Jesus more than God loved a drowned refugee like Valeria. It is not because Jesus was God's son and Valeria was just another Salvadoran refugee. If that is what we think, then we have missed the point of Christmas. We would be denying that the word became flesh, human flesh, vulnerable flesh subject to murder or neglect from tyrants, just like Valeria's flesh and just like yours and like mine. The angel did warn Joseph though, and he took action and Jesus was saved from Herod's violence, and later saved again from Herod's successor Archelaus. Jesus wound up in Nazareth, a place so humble that no one would think of looking there for a king.
     
    If you have ever left what was known and familiar to you, and traveled to the unknown and unfamiliar, if you ever knew your life was at risk and you had to make a change, or if your survival depended on crossing a border to a strange land, you know what it is like to be a refugee. Maybe your life has been disrupted and you needed a safe place to get away. Maybe you've known that it was no longer safe or good for you to stay where you were, or to stay the way you were. Perhaps you realized your life, your mental health, your economic welfare, or even your children were at risk. Some of us may be refugees from a miserable Christmastime, or fleeing from grief, sorrow, or fear of loss. If you've ever experienced these, or a thousand other experiences like these, then you know something of what it is like to be a refugee.
     
    Herod was not just a king who lived 2,000 years ago. Herod lives on today. In every era, Herod has the power to corrupt, to abuse, to disrupt, to destroy. Herod is the one who will strike down any threat to the tyrant's power. Herod is the one who creates the refugees and then ignores them or persecutes them. Herod is the one who will turn the refugee away. There are all kinds of refugees, and all kinds of Herods.
     
    I suspect that there are many people all over the world who have heard and responded to a nighttime call to flee their situations. There are two actions in today's gospel story: God delivers, but Joseph decides. That is the story of faith and our lives. Like the fragile holy family, our lives are held in the providential care of God. Deliverance is God's responsibility, not ours. Yet, like Joseph, we must decide how to respond to what we perceive to be the plan of God. We have to act. But that's seldom easy, and we will make wrong decisions. We will need to experience again and again in the Eucharist, the promise of God from the beginning. We decide, but God delivers. God, who was so determined to save us that God sent Jesus, God's very own son. Jesus was human flesh like us. Jesus suffered -- like all people suffer -- felt pain, hunger, and fear. God used Joseph to care for Jesus when he was helpless and vulnerable, so that he could live out his life and bring us to salvation.
     
    So here we are on Sunday morning in God's house, our sanctuary, our Egypt. Here is where we are safe among our sisters and brothers. God talks to us here through God's word, just like God talked to Joseph through the angels. Here is where we gather as refugees before God's holy table, fed with the word and sacrament, reassured of God's salvation through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When Joseph received direction from God, he followed the angels' instructions. We too are all God's children. We can't remain here in our sanctuary either. We must leave Egypt to return to our daily lives, with the strength to carry out God's plan for us. We pray for God's mercy and protection for everyone, and then we take action. We go into our communities to help feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and provide protection for the weak and vulnerable, so that God may work God's plan through us. God delivers, but we decide. We are the ones who must take action. Amen.
     
    Let's pray again the prayer for the day: O Lord God, you know that we cannot place our trust in our own powers. As you protected the infant Jesus, so defend us and all the needy from harm in adversity, through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit and God, now and forever. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Jon Heerboth, Matthew 2:13-23, Exodus 1, Jeremiah 31:15
  • Dec 24, 2019Behold His Glory, Full of Grace and Truth
    Dec 24, 2019
    Behold His Glory, Full of Grace and Truth
    Series: (All)
    December 24, 2019. The prophet Isaiah says a little child shall lead them. The way that children interpret nativity scenes can demonstrate that. Pastor Stephanie's message this Christmas Eve is about beholding Jesus, full of grace and truth, in and around the world.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace and peace from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate together this evening.
     
    A year ago I was invited back to the prior church that my husband Phil and I served, to speak at the installation of a pastor who succeeded us. My job was to give the "charge" to the congregation, a part of the service that acknowledges the partnership between pastor and congregation, urging the congregation to play its role well. Of course, I read the formulary that is part of the official installation rite. But I also had the freedom to speak personally, and so I did. Because it was early in Advent, and I had been reading the same John 1 portion that we often read this time of year, my head and heart were full of this phrase: we beheld his glory -- glory, as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. So I exhorted the church receiving their new pastor to continue to emulate the grace and truth they saw in Jesus. Come to think of it, that would be the same thing I'd encourage Christ Lutheran Church, as soon you will be welcoming your new pastor, following the lead of the one who is full of grace and truth. It doesn't get any better than that.
     
    Tonight we are beholding Jesus. Our plan for this hour is just that simple. We came to see and experience something of his grace and truth. Now, we don't use the verb "behold" very often anymore. I'm not much of a fan of using antiquated language to communicate to 21st century people, but there are some words that I just hang onto because we don't have any one word in the English language to replace them. "Behold" is one such word. Whenever it is used in the biblical text, it is a commanding word. That means we should pay very close attention. The Gospel of John, chapter 1 says the "Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us . . . we beheld his glory, full of grace and truth." In that context, the word "beheld" means we have contemplated the full impact of his glory. That was the testimony of the early disciples. Well we have not merely noticed it, they're saying. We have wondered about it. We have marveled over it. His glory, his essence is full of grace and truth, the likes of which we see nowhere else. Beholding his glory, contemplating its meaning and marveling at it, requires our full attention.
     
    A few weeks ago, I saw a photo on Instagram from a young pastor in Michigan who is my friend Monica. She and her husband Steve have three young children. She wrote that they had setup a nativity set on their coffee table that had all the traditional characters, made of unbreakable materials. It was a set designed for young children to handle, to reenact the story of the shepherds and the sheep coming near to baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, with an angel nearby -- all of the main characters. You get the picture. But the photo Monica shared was of a scene that she and Steve were surprised and delighted to see a few days after the nativity had been brought out and setup. The children had added some of their own toy figures to this diorama. Spider-Man was there. So was Elsa from Frozen. There was a pirate, Marshall from Paw Patrol, and some dinosaurs. That photo prompted some good comments from friends, as you might well imagine. One reported that his son had added a pig to his own little nativity set. Now the dad's comment was that he hoped his son knew that even though a good Jewish family wouldn't eat it, the pig was welcomed as one of God's creatures, to come and see, to behold this newborn king -- a baby like no other. Apparently the children saw that everyone needed to be there. Something special was going on in the birth of Jesus. In their own little minds and spirits, they beheld something of his glory, of his grace and of his truth. The "gift of God made flesh and dwelt among us" was for every kind of person and every creature. They seemed to realize that every type of character was welcome to come, to be near the newborn king.
     
    Now, you may be familiar with a verse that comes from the prophet Isaiah that says a little child shall lead them. There's a lot of wisdom in that. The way that children interpret nativity scenes can demonstrate that. Monica and Steve's children perceived that there is something magnetic about this story, this truth, that God has come near. And we all must check this out, behold it, see it for ourselves. Poor shepherds, influential kings, and all types of people in between, are drawn to come and behold the one who embodied grace in all its fullness.
     
    That got me to recalling something else that happened when our own children were young and their nativity set was out for them to play with. Sometimes, when it was time to pack up the nativity to put it back in the box until next year, the baby Jesus would be missing. Well, we'd look and look, and we'd find him in the midst of other toys that were also precious to our sons. It seems that they innately knew that Jesus had to be out into the mix of real life, not contained to one time or place. To really see Jesus is to behold him in and around the world. Beholding the coming of the one who came to dwell among us is also to see the truth of who he is and what is important to him. He came to this troubled world to shed the light of his truth through the entire world, for its salvation.
     
    We have come together tonight to behold him. In the readings, the carols, the candlelight, we experience his grace and truth, and that is very satisfying. Will we also see him as we go out into the world which he loves so much? Will we behold him in our everyday lives in the coming days? Will his grace and truth illuminate the way we see the challenges in our jobs, or hear the political bickering going on, or notice the inequities in our city that keep people from flourishing? Will his grace and truth mend our impaired relationships, bring balance to our overstressed lives, and shine a light of love, allowing us to relax, receive, step into the stream of God's ever-present goodness, and be agents of his love toward others?
     
    The people who walked in darkness have beheld a great light. Those who lived in a land of deep darkness -- on them and on us a light has shined. Friends, let us be drawn to this light like a child before the scene of Christ's birth. We have beheld him in his glory, full of grace and truth. By his grace, may we continue to do it every day and every year.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, John 1, Isaiah 11:6
  • Dec 11, 2019The Shoot of Jesse
    Dec 11, 2019
    The Shoot of Jesse
    Series: (All)
    December 11, 2019. Pastor Stephanie's sermon in this Advent evening service is about the shoot of Jesse from Isaiah 11, and how God is bringing new possibilities all around us.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Advent is a time of taking stock of reality, and it's a time of promise. That's quite a profound combination. Usually when we take stock of reality, we realize that we have a lot of work ahead of us. It might be that our cholesterol or triglyceride numbers need to improve, or our financial picture needs to be turned around, or maybe a reality check reveals a relational difficulty which will require much more time and attention than previously. We hold promise for ourselves in believing that with enough effort, we can turn things around. But sometimes even with extraordinary effort, or with loss or brokenness, there is no fixing of a broken heart or a discouraged spirit on the horizon.
     
    Now in the chapters prior to the reading that I read tonight, the prophet Isaiah has been telling the people that difficult circumstances will be their reality. The tallest trees, Isaiah says, will be cut down, and the lofty will be made low. There will be no human effort that will be mighty enough to turn that situation around. So why then does Isaiah get to speak into Advent? Where's the hope? Where's the waiting for God to do something big to turn things around? Well, Isaiah does go on to say a shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse. From what looked hopeless and lifeless, God says, new life will emerge. In God's timing, and by the mercy of God, the people will see life arise from destruction.
     
    Now, Phil and I have a hiking and photography trip planned in March, going to some of the most spectacular national parks in Arizona and Utah. If you've ever been anywhere where there are sheer walls of granite such as those present in Zion National Park, you've noticed with wonder how seedlings appear in the most unlikely places. You will find them in places where the environment seems most inhospitable. It's quite amazing that a seed that lodges in a narrow crevice could ever have enough soil in which to develop roots and to draw nourishment for growth. But it happens. In the same way, Isaiah tells us, out of the stumps seemingly given up as a lost cause, God brings forth life -- sometimes in very small, barely noticeable ways -- but life nonetheless. A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, like a seedling pushing through rock toward the sunlight.
     
    When I was growing up there was a sweet, elderly couple who lived around the corner from our home. Mrs. Bumgartz always had fresh cookies that she shared with the many, many kids in our neighborhood. And Mr. Bumgartz always had a smile as he walked past our house to join his friends for a cup of coffee and some lively conversation downtown. Then one day we learned that Mrs. Bumgartz had died. When Mr. Bumgartz ventured out of the house again after several weeks had passed, he would walk his familiar route past our house. But now his head was hanging down, the weight of his sorrow causing his shoulders to sag. His smile was gone. He did not even seem to notice us playing nearby anymore. He was like a barren stump, cut off from the life that he had known and had loved. Then, much later on, we started to notice that he would say a few words to us as he walked by while we were playing in our front yard. It seemed like an overnight change. But for him, it must have been painfully slow. Like a seedling pushing through rock toward sunlight, a shoot coming out from the stump of Jesse.
     
    We often decide too soon when things can't grow. "Surely not there," we say about some things. "The rock is too hard, the stump too dead." There are times when we assume whole groups of people cannot grow or thrive. Or the years of seeing cultural trends heading one direction can keep us from noticing when the tide begins to turn, bit by bit. But hope is nothing if not stubborn. All kinds of obstacles can be present, and yet something unexpected pushes up through the surface. A shoot breaks through the rock where you'd least expect it, and a renewed life appears in a broken-hearted old man.
     
    A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse. Who could imagine anything growing as they sat on the stump of utter despair? I've sat there myself. Perhaps you have, too. You might be there just now, at that place where hope seems cut off, where loss and despair, or just resignation to things being the way they are with no relief, have perhaps deadened your heart.
     
    God's Advent word, about a dead stump bringing forth a new shoot, comes to us. It's not a quick panacea, but it's a hopeful message. Even if it comes in a form we don't easily recognize, something small -- nearly imperceptible -- appears and grows. It's often sometime later that we recognize it as the work of God, bringing a hopeful situation out of a very tiny beginning. After all, the prototype shoot of Jesse of which Isaiah speaks, the promised Messiah, seemed to appear out of a very inhospitable situation, and grow without much fanfare or notice, until people looked back and saw him for who he really was. For he grew up before them, like a young plant. And like a root out of dry ground, he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
     
    Yes, a shoot shall come from the stump of Jesse, fragile yet tenacious and stubborn. It would grow like a plant out of dry ground. It would push back the stone from the rock hard tomb.
     
    God comes to us in this Advent time and invites us to notice where God's spirit is bringing new shoots of possibility all around us. Even when all we can see at times is a stump, God will sit with us. But God will also keep nudging us. "Look. Look over there. Look on the stump. Do you see that green shoot sprouting up?" Do we? Do we wait and wonder and look for God's presence in small and sometimes mysterious ways? Blessed are those who do look and see.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Isaiah 11
  • Dec 8, 2019A Proper Introduction
    Dec 8, 2019
    A Proper Introduction
    Series: (All)
    December 8, 2019. The hope of something better is the heart of what repentance truly means. Pastor Stephanie's message is on repentance, introductions, and John the Baptist introducing Jesus.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace and peace to each one of you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
     
    Would you pretend with me, for just a few moments, that you are planning a special event? I mean beyond your Christmas dinner, as special as that is. I'm thinking of something in which you might be passionate about, and decide that you want to have a uniquely qualified speaker come, to enlighten people that you will invite, on a specific topic. So, you would reserve the Mead Center and develop a list of things to be done for the preparation of the success of your event. There is one key aspect that can be easily overlooked in such a situation. But it shouldn't be. You can have all the big logistical matters covered and checked off your list. But if you neglect one important element, the stage for your event has not been properly set for maximum effectiveness. Its importance can elude us, because it can seem like just a polite nicety that's added only to provide a little transition to the main event. What is this of which I speak? You probably already guessed it. It's the way that you frame what you want in advance for your audience to be prepared for, so that they will be ready to get the most they possibly can out of what the speaker has to say. It's a proper introduction to the main event.
     
    A thoughtfully prepared introduction heightens the hopes and expectations of what is to come. It provides a context for understanding what will follow. Those who come for the talk, then, need to feel that they have made a good decision in coming, and need to be made ready for what is about to unfold. Come to think of it, I heard a very good introduction made yesterday by Jadee at the women's brunch. As she introduced Katie as the speaker, even though I knew generally what Katie intended to speak on, I found myself leaning in to listen more closely to what Jadee said about how Katie would deal with the topic that already interested me, and clearly the others around me.
     
    Having said all of that, would you laugh out loud if I told you that John the Baptist actually made a very, very good introduction? Or would you just smile inwardly and think I must have him confused with someone else? Because I know after reading the gospel lesson today, there are certain phrases that can just stick in our head that don't sound like they would be part of a good introduction. "You brood of vipers!" Not so much. But there was much more going on in John's message than that. It helps a lot, I think, to view what he said as an introduction, a setup, rather than to view it as the whole message. He was clearly pointing to someone else, the One who would be coming after him. John saw it as his job to prepare listeners to really hear what would be coming next. His role was to create a thirst for what could only be quenched when the Holy One of God would arrive on the scene.
     
    Now we may question his choice of words. But the power, the urgency, and the raw honesty within them was very, very effective. People responded. It says they came in droves, from all parts of other regions, to hear him set this stage, if you will, for the one whom he promised was coming to bring the full message. John's message of making the way prepared for the coming of the Lord was personal, and it transcends time. It is just as relevant for us today as it was for the original audience. Now here, we've had plenty of messages, especially since All Saints' Day, about how the coming of the Lord will make all things new, how all the corrupt will be wiped away, every tear will be dried, peace and justice will reign. It's so easy to rejoice in the news that God is going to address the inequitable systems and the big picture items.
     
    But this message from John, chosen for our attention early in Advent, is to focus on each one of us and our personal need. Praying for the presence of the Lord coming to us takes some internal work for each of us to be made ready. Lest we think we are pretty much already ready to receive him, John makes it clear that each one of us is in need of some wholesale change. When he says of the One to come that he, John himself, is not even worthy to carry his sandals, he's letting us all know that true greatness is about to appear.
     
    Now the words from Malachi, well-known from Handel's oratorio Messiah, come to mind: "But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? He is like a refiners fire." No, we are not ready for his coming, John concludes. Not even close. He dares to say that you and I are rehabilitation projects. We need the old ways cut away. We need to be cleansed by water and fire. We need some serious work done on us. Such audacity, we might think. He doesn't even know us. Or does he? Maybe he knows enough of the human condition, in which each of us is caught, to know that even on our best days there's some interior demolition to be done and plenty of rebuilding needed. This is how he says it: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." Repent, turn around to leave behind the unhelpful, and be ready to turn toward something vibrant and full of grace and goodness.
     
    Repentance often sounds to us like having to take the awful-tasting medicine that we had to endure as children. We don't like it, but it's supposed to be good for us. So we think it's about getting it over with, and then having some candy afterward. But John's introduction to the coming of Jesus was more compelling than that. Even in his harsh language, he was able to communicate that repentance leads to a chance to take hold of something far, far better than that which we are giving up. That had to be what attracted all those large groups of people as they hiked out to see what John the Baptist in the wilderness was up to. It wasn't just the chance to admit how bad they were -- it was the hope of something better. That is the heart of what repentance truly means. The word in Greek is "metanoia." It's turning away from something toward something better, a transformation of the mind accompanied by changed behaviors and actions, or in John's words it is bearing the fruit of repentance. When true, heartfelt repentance occurs, we begin to see our fallen inclinations the way God does, and we realize how deep-rooted is the corruption in our hearts. This awareness grows slowly over many years, because God mercifully deals with us a little bit over time.
     
    But God sees it all. God's is like the eye of a surgeon which sees through to the sickness deep within. There is no other way for us to be healed. John says the axe is laid at the root of the tree. That's his way of saying some skillful surgery is needed on us. And here's the good news: God wields the axe. But with no harm intended, but only to bring healing and restoration. Seeing what we really are is a hopeful thing. It's hopeful because we're seeing ourselves through the eyes of God, who won't leave us where we are, but wants to transform us into being fully human, fully alive. You've likely heard the saying that God loves us just the way we are, but far too much to leave us that way. God has so much more in store for us. And far better than any self-help book can offer, where we're left to muddle on trying to make improvements on our own.
     
    As we repent and turn toward God, it is actually God who is doing the work of transformation in us -- through Word, through the Spirit, through the cleansing water of baptism, and the nourishment at the table. With a steady diet of repentance, we are able to be prepared, more and more, for God to do more and more rehabilitation within us. And then our defense mechanisms, the layers of denial we built up over the truth about ourselves and coming clean, begin to be replaced by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Daring to stand exposed and vulnerable to God, the skilled surgeon who cuts away the unhealthiness, yields something far better for us to receive than we ever have to give up. It's the wise person who begins to hear "repent" more as an invitation than as a threat. "Repent!" the prophet cries. "Come home." "Repent," God calls. "Turn to me." "Repent," we hear. "Walk into freedom."
     
    Yes, John provides a lovely introduction to the One who is coming. He sets up our receptivity to the message of Jesus as he describes how great is our need for this One to whom he pointed, so that we would welcome him wholeheartedly. Unless we see our need, we cannot appreciate the greatness of the gift of the child born in Bethlehem, the One called Emmanuel: God with us, the One of whom the angel spoke when telling Joseph to take Mary as his wife and to name the child Jesus, because he was to save his people from their sin. He's introducing us to our need, as well as to the One who can cleanse us from all unrighteousness and make us ready for the kingdom of righteousness, simply by his grace and mercy. So, John the Baptist's message of repentance fits well in Advent. It's only in recognizing our need for the One sent to save us from our sin so that we can be open and gladly receiving the One to whom he introduces us.
     
    Thanks be to God for this introduction, preparing us to receive the greatest presence of all time, that God is continually coming to dwell within us and to make us whole people to his glory. Please rise as you are able to sing the hymn of the day in response to God's word.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Matthew 3:1-12, Malachi 3:2
  • 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.
     
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    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...
     
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    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Psalm 98