Feb 2, 2020
Live the Beatitudes
Series: (All)
February 2, 2020. The Beatitudes are the way of the cross. Jon Heerboth preaches today on how Jesus lived them perfectly, and how if we are to follow Christ they must become our way too.
 
*** Transcript ***
 
Last winter I had to make a trip to a hospital emergency department in the middle of the night. The waiting room was full of sick people and injured people. Everybody needed help. Some were incapacitated by chronic illness. Some had no obvious illness, but were clearly in misery. And none could wait until morning for healing or for care. That waiting room experience reminds me of the crowds that followed Jesus around the Sea of Galilee. In Matthew 4 he had just called his first four disciples. They were fishermen, people I think of as business people. They were capable of catching fish with their nets or with their boats. They could make a living and sell the fish in their communities. They probably had enough to eat most days, and they did alright for themselves and their families. And they probably paid taxes to the Romans like everybody else. Well, these small-town men were used to a quiet life, I bet, and they might have found the crowds following Jesus to be overwhelming. Jesus taught in the synagogues and it says he cured every disease and sickness among the people, according to Matthew. You can imagine the excitement throughout the region. They brought him all the sick: those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them, according to verse 24.
 
Those of us in the waiting area of the emergency room, we were not a pleasant or appealing group of people. I wonder if Jesus' new disciples were put off by the crowds: their misery, their dependence upon others, their insistence on being healed, the stench of sickness, the impatience of those at the back of the line. Like healthy people walking through an emergency room, perhaps the disciples felt superior to the crowd. Did they recoil from the sick and from their caregivers? Maybe Jesus saw how the disciples reacted. We know he took them up the mountain where he sat down to teach. He didn't preach. Jesus taught them his values, like parents telling their children what is important to them and how they want their children to get through life. For Matthew, Jesus was the teacher of all righteousness. Jesus laid out a course for them to follow. Like any good teacher, Jesus connected the disciples with ideas that were larger than their own life experiences. The Sermon on the Mount was the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, in the book of Matthew. Jesus used the Beatitudes to teach the disciples how they should think about others as they live their lives, and to show them that being a disciple is to be the consummate student.
 
Matthew, right at the outset of the stories of Jesus' ministries, demands that our first act of discipleship is to recognize Jesus as our teacher. Many of us have been taught or have learned to get ahead by acquiring power, strength, position, awards, or wealth. We think that if we are rich we can have what we want. If we have power we can take what we want. If we are clever or insistent we can argue our way to get what we want. Winning brings us respect. Beauty and outward appearance can make us desirable. Does this sound familiar? Is this how we get through our lives? Have you ever been to a ball game where people waved signs that said, "We're Number Two?" Of course not. Everyone knows we are number one. That's the attitude that fills the headlines in magazines, the television, the social media, and our own lives. We seek our fortunes, as they say. They're our life coaches and public relations firms. We look out for number one, because if we do not, who will? That's what we hear. That's what we've been told. That's the myth of success that constantly surrounds us.
 
The words of Jesus from the mountain fly in the face of that myth. Jesus offers us a different pathway through life, a path of blessings that he has cleared for us. As God's people, we can find our way through life, but not through power, strength, accomplishment, or possession. As followers of Jesus, it is not enough to focus only on our lives or our little corners of the world. It is not enough to try to reform our politics or our economic systems. We don't navigate the Christian life by overcoming other people. We follow our true course in life by overcoming ourselves. What does that look like? Let's look at the Beatitudes:
 
Blessed are the poor in spirit. If we open our hearts to Jesus, we acknowledge our weakness and need, and we are able to see the weakness and need of others. We understand that our riches did not come from our own effort, but from God's gift of an eternal kingdom that Jesus proclaimed to his first followers and to us. God blessed us with salvation so that we can be a blessing to others.
 
Blessed are those who mourn. In our world of endless violence, in times of loss or crisis within our families, in nostalgia for loved ones long gone, we realize that our only comfort comes from God. In the worst of our times, our hope is in the risen Christ, even when we are not feeling his comfort and peace.
 
Blessed are the meek. If we think about it, we will realize that in the end we have no real power at all. We cannot take the Earth. We understand that God has given us all we have and all we need. In our meekness then, we respond with thankful stewardship, gratitude, and generosity toward others.
 
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. God calls us to be God's own people, knowing that only God's gift of grace through faith can ever satisfy us.
 
Blessed are the merciful. Mercy is the gift that we can give to other people, because we know the mercy that God has shown us through Jesus Christ.
 
Blessed are the pure in heart. We can only see God when we admit we need God.
 
Blessed are the peacemakers. We may not be able to fix all the problems of the world, but we can make peace in our own lives, in our families, and among our friends. We make peace through forgiveness, patience, and understanding. When we make peace, we set aside our human instinct for revenge. We follow Christ. Christ makes his people a new creation, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, chapter 5: "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!" All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Christ reconciled the world without counting our sins against us. We are free to do the same for others.
 
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. Jesus warned his listeners, as Jesus warns us in Matthew, that the world stands in opposition to his words. People with power, people who oppress others, people who seek wealth above all, will not give up without a fight. Opposition may not only come from the outside, but sometimes the worst persecution might come from voices within us -- voices that speak to us of unworthiness and shame. But we know that our places in the kingdom of God are secure. We can endure with the blessings of God. We overcome ourselves by living the Beatitudes, day after day, year after year, for a lifetime.
 
The Beatitudes -- in fact, the entire Sermon on the Mount -- these words are not an advice column in the newspaper, some TV preacher spouting a gospel of prosperity. They are not hints for happy living. These words came from the heart of the great teacher, Jesus. These words reflect God's values and teach us what life is like in the kingdom of God. If we live by the Beatitudes, our lives and longings will come to be like Jesus' life and longings for his people. It is the opposite of what we often like to do, our attempts to twist God's will to fit our own longings. Meek? That's not me. That's not our world. That doesn't even sound like the church sometimes. I can look at the Beatitudes and say that they reflect everything that I am not. God, however, focuses on what we can be as the people of God. These ideas seem weak and foolish when we read the tabloid covers in the checkout lines, or see the people who ride in private jets. But to those who follow Jesus, the Beatitudes are the power of God. In 1 Corinthians, it says "But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong."
 
The Beatitudes are the way of the cross. Jesus lived the Beatitudes perfectly, and the result was his crucifixion. If we find our lives in the Beatitudes, we will follow them to Jesus on the cross. Now we've all worked very hard to be successful in our lives. But eventually we all find ourselves in the emergency room. We need help from others. We face a crisis in our families. We lose a job. We're out of money. A bank wants to foreclose. A loved one is ill. We are very ill. Perhaps we must deal with abuse or addiction or a broken relationship. These are the events of life when the self-sufficiency we prize so much gives way to weakness. We begin to see ourselves as poor in spirit. In our despair, we awaken to the pain of the entire world, and we cannot help but mourn. We think less about ourselves then, and become more merciful to others. We remember our offertory prayer, that all we have comes from God. In our depths, there is nowhere to turn but to the face of Jesus. The more we think of God, the more we seek the righteousness we have in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We want to seek peace. We want to be reconciled with God and our neighbor. Regardless of our circumstances, as Matthew wrote, we should rejoice and be glad, for our reward is great in heaven. Jesus already paid the price for our sins and weaknesses. Matthew wrote that the crowd at the Sermon on the Mount came from all over. There would have been Jews and Gentiles alike, all living in Roman-occupied territory. They were looking for healing or seeking relief from the problems of their day. Jesus didn't ask anything of them. He simply healed them, and then tried to explain to his disciples what he was up to.
 
When I was in college, well before we could scan people's brains, we defined learning as "changed behavior." Jesus calls us to change our thinking and the way we live our lives. We have the good news. We are blessed. Our blessing is not for the sake of some pie-in-the-sky reward after we die. We are blessed so that we can make it through the tough times of our lives here on earth. We are free to put aside our self-seeking in favor of giving ourselves over to God and to our neighbor. We are free to set aside our tribalism, our blindness to the suffering of others, and our own fears in favor of love. We know that we can do that, because we understand that we have already received the blessings of God and we are the people of God. In a few minutes, together with God's people here and everywhere and in every time, we're going to gather at the Lord's table. We will be refreshed in our faith and our fellowship. We may follow the model of Jesus and live the Beatitudes as our response to God's blessings in our lives. The Beatitudes were Jesus' way. And if we are to follow Christ, they must become our way.
 
Amen.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Jon Heerboth, Matthew 4:24, Matthew 5:1-12, 2 Corinthians 5:17, 1 Corinthians 1:27
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  • Feb 2, 2020Live the Beatitudes
    Feb 2, 2020
    Live the Beatitudes
    Series: (All)
    February 2, 2020. The Beatitudes are the way of the cross. Jon Heerboth preaches today on how Jesus lived them perfectly, and how if we are to follow Christ they must become our way too.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Last winter I had to make a trip to a hospital emergency department in the middle of the night. The waiting room was full of sick people and injured people. Everybody needed help. Some were incapacitated by chronic illness. Some had no obvious illness, but were clearly in misery. And none could wait until morning for healing or for care. That waiting room experience reminds me of the crowds that followed Jesus around the Sea of Galilee. In Matthew 4 he had just called his first four disciples. They were fishermen, people I think of as business people. They were capable of catching fish with their nets or with their boats. They could make a living and sell the fish in their communities. They probably had enough to eat most days, and they did alright for themselves and their families. And they probably paid taxes to the Romans like everybody else. Well, these small-town men were used to a quiet life, I bet, and they might have found the crowds following Jesus to be overwhelming. Jesus taught in the synagogues and it says he cured every disease and sickness among the people, according to Matthew. You can imagine the excitement throughout the region. They brought him all the sick: those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them, according to verse 24.
     
    Those of us in the waiting area of the emergency room, we were not a pleasant or appealing group of people. I wonder if Jesus' new disciples were put off by the crowds: their misery, their dependence upon others, their insistence on being healed, the stench of sickness, the impatience of those at the back of the line. Like healthy people walking through an emergency room, perhaps the disciples felt superior to the crowd. Did they recoil from the sick and from their caregivers? Maybe Jesus saw how the disciples reacted. We know he took them up the mountain where he sat down to teach. He didn't preach. Jesus taught them his values, like parents telling their children what is important to them and how they want their children to get through life. For Matthew, Jesus was the teacher of all righteousness. Jesus laid out a course for them to follow. Like any good teacher, Jesus connected the disciples with ideas that were larger than their own life experiences. The Sermon on the Mount was the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, in the book of Matthew. Jesus used the Beatitudes to teach the disciples how they should think about others as they live their lives, and to show them that being a disciple is to be the consummate student.
     
    Matthew, right at the outset of the stories of Jesus' ministries, demands that our first act of discipleship is to recognize Jesus as our teacher. Many of us have been taught or have learned to get ahead by acquiring power, strength, position, awards, or wealth. We think that if we are rich we can have what we want. If we have power we can take what we want. If we are clever or insistent we can argue our way to get what we want. Winning brings us respect. Beauty and outward appearance can make us desirable. Does this sound familiar? Is this how we get through our lives? Have you ever been to a ball game where people waved signs that said, "We're Number Two?" Of course not. Everyone knows we are number one. That's the attitude that fills the headlines in magazines, the television, the social media, and our own lives. We seek our fortunes, as they say. They're our life coaches and public relations firms. We look out for number one, because if we do not, who will? That's what we hear. That's what we've been told. That's the myth of success that constantly surrounds us.
     
    The words of Jesus from the mountain fly in the face of that myth. Jesus offers us a different pathway through life, a path of blessings that he has cleared for us. As God's people, we can find our way through life, but not through power, strength, accomplishment, or possession. As followers of Jesus, it is not enough to focus only on our lives or our little corners of the world. It is not enough to try to reform our politics or our economic systems. We don't navigate the Christian life by overcoming other people. We follow our true course in life by overcoming ourselves. What does that look like? Let's look at the Beatitudes:
     
    Blessed are the poor in spirit. If we open our hearts to Jesus, we acknowledge our weakness and need, and we are able to see the weakness and need of others. We understand that our riches did not come from our own effort, but from God's gift of an eternal kingdom that Jesus proclaimed to his first followers and to us. God blessed us with salvation so that we can be a blessing to others.
     
    Blessed are those who mourn. In our world of endless violence, in times of loss or crisis within our families, in nostalgia for loved ones long gone, we realize that our only comfort comes from God. In the worst of our times, our hope is in the risen Christ, even when we are not feeling his comfort and peace.
     
    Blessed are the meek. If we think about it, we will realize that in the end we have no real power at all. We cannot take the Earth. We understand that God has given us all we have and all we need. In our meekness then, we respond with thankful stewardship, gratitude, and generosity toward others.
     
    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. God calls us to be God's own people, knowing that only God's gift of grace through faith can ever satisfy us.
     
    Blessed are the merciful. Mercy is the gift that we can give to other people, because we know the mercy that God has shown us through Jesus Christ.
     
    Blessed are the pure in heart. We can only see God when we admit we need God.
     
    Blessed are the peacemakers. We may not be able to fix all the problems of the world, but we can make peace in our own lives, in our families, and among our friends. We make peace through forgiveness, patience, and understanding. When we make peace, we set aside our human instinct for revenge. We follow Christ. Christ makes his people a new creation, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, chapter 5: "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!" All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Christ reconciled the world without counting our sins against us. We are free to do the same for others.
     
    Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. Jesus warned his listeners, as Jesus warns us in Matthew, that the world stands in opposition to his words. People with power, people who oppress others, people who seek wealth above all, will not give up without a fight. Opposition may not only come from the outside, but sometimes the worst persecution might come from voices within us -- voices that speak to us of unworthiness and shame. But we know that our places in the kingdom of God are secure. We can endure with the blessings of God. We overcome ourselves by living the Beatitudes, day after day, year after year, for a lifetime.
     
    The Beatitudes -- in fact, the entire Sermon on the Mount -- these words are not an advice column in the newspaper, some TV preacher spouting a gospel of prosperity. They are not hints for happy living. These words came from the heart of the great teacher, Jesus. These words reflect God's values and teach us what life is like in the kingdom of God. If we live by the Beatitudes, our lives and longings will come to be like Jesus' life and longings for his people. It is the opposite of what we often like to do, our attempts to twist God's will to fit our own longings. Meek? That's not me. That's not our world. That doesn't even sound like the church sometimes. I can look at the Beatitudes and say that they reflect everything that I am not. God, however, focuses on what we can be as the people of God. These ideas seem weak and foolish when we read the tabloid covers in the checkout lines, or see the people who ride in private jets. But to those who follow Jesus, the Beatitudes are the power of God. In 1 Corinthians, it says "But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong."
     
    The Beatitudes are the way of the cross. Jesus lived the Beatitudes perfectly, and the result was his crucifixion. If we find our lives in the Beatitudes, we will follow them to Jesus on the cross. Now we've all worked very hard to be successful in our lives. But eventually we all find ourselves in the emergency room. We need help from others. We face a crisis in our families. We lose a job. We're out of money. A bank wants to foreclose. A loved one is ill. We are very ill. Perhaps we must deal with abuse or addiction or a broken relationship. These are the events of life when the self-sufficiency we prize so much gives way to weakness. We begin to see ourselves as poor in spirit. In our despair, we awaken to the pain of the entire world, and we cannot help but mourn. We think less about ourselves then, and become more merciful to others. We remember our offertory prayer, that all we have comes from God. In our depths, there is nowhere to turn but to the face of Jesus. The more we think of God, the more we seek the righteousness we have in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We want to seek peace. We want to be reconciled with God and our neighbor. Regardless of our circumstances, as Matthew wrote, we should rejoice and be glad, for our reward is great in heaven. Jesus already paid the price for our sins and weaknesses. Matthew wrote that the crowd at the Sermon on the Mount came from all over. There would have been Jews and Gentiles alike, all living in Roman-occupied territory. They were looking for healing or seeking relief from the problems of their day. Jesus didn't ask anything of them. He simply healed them, and then tried to explain to his disciples what he was up to.
     
    When I was in college, well before we could scan people's brains, we defined learning as "changed behavior." Jesus calls us to change our thinking and the way we live our lives. We have the good news. We are blessed. Our blessing is not for the sake of some pie-in-the-sky reward after we die. We are blessed so that we can make it through the tough times of our lives here on earth. We are free to put aside our self-seeking in favor of giving ourselves over to God and to our neighbor. We are free to set aside our tribalism, our blindness to the suffering of others, and our own fears in favor of love. We know that we can do that, because we understand that we have already received the blessings of God and we are the people of God. In a few minutes, together with God's people here and everywhere and in every time, we're going to gather at the Lord's table. We will be refreshed in our faith and our fellowship. We may follow the model of Jesus and live the Beatitudes as our response to God's blessings in our lives. The Beatitudes were Jesus' way. And if we are to follow Christ, they must become our way.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Jon Heerboth, Matthew 4:24, Matthew 5:1-12, 2 Corinthians 5:17, 1 Corinthians 1:27
  • 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
  • May 5, 2019What’s Next
    May 5, 2019
    What’s Next
    Series: (All)
    May 5, 2019. After Jesus' disciples witnessed his ministry, arrest, trial, execution, and resurrection, they went home and went fishing. What were they supposed to do next? Jon Heerboth preaches from John and Acts on how Jesus got the disciples' attention and ours, and tells us what he needs us to do next.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    On Easter Sunday here, we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ with many hallelujahs, we sang our favorite Easter hymns, and we felt that our world was full of new life — new life in Christ as well as the new life of springtime. But today is the third Sunday after Easter. It's still Easter, but this Sunday feels a lot different than the week before last, doesn't it? There may not be a "Hallelujah Chorus" today. And I think that's the only singing you're going to get from a choir. But we will still be talking about the resurrected Christ and finding God's will for us, as we wait in the meantime between the First Coming and the Second Coming of Jesus. Last Sunday we heard how Jesus appeared to the disciples, and Thomas was there the second time. And he saw the holes, he felt his palm, he saw the wound in the side and said, "My Lord and my God." And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are those who," like you and me, like all of us, "have not seen and yet have come to believe." And then after that, John wrote that book so that its readers would come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing would have life in his name. And then that was the end of the book of John in chapter 20. Well, it would have ended anyway, except that there's an epilogue —  one more thing added to the book. And that is today's gospel lesson. Now, the purpose of an epilogue is to treat unfinished business. And most of it, according to the Gospel of John, revolved around Peter. There was unresolved tension with Peter and Jesus, and the other disciples, and there was a lot of confusion among them about what they were supposed to do next.
     
    They had witnessed the risen Lord. And they, like us, were experts in the teachings of Jesus. And they, like us, had received the great commandment to love one another. And yet, the disciples seem like they were all dressed up with no place to go. Moreover, Peter was still agonizing over his treacherous denial, while his master was being interrogated and humiliated by the high priest of the Jewish Supreme Court. So it looks like, after hiding out in Jerusalem for a while, Peter and some of the others went home to Galilee. Maybe they thought they would be safer there. Maybe they were out of money, or were tired of waiting for something to happen. But at any rate, they went home. So the disciples witnessed the ministry, arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus. They found out about the resurrection. They met the risen Christ twice before in this gospel. The disciples had all the evidence they need to confirm that Jesus had died and risen from the dead. And how did they respond to these monumental events? They went fishing.
     
    They went fishing. Now, this wasn't some weekend camping trip or a little vacation after a rough patch at work. They went fishing because that's who they were: fishermen. They went home to Galilee, and picked up where they left off when they left to follow Jesus. Galilee was home at least to four of them: James, John, Peter, and Andrew. Jesus called them from their lives in the boats and called them to go fish for people. They followed Jesus, from Galilee to Jerusalem. They listened to Jesus teach, and watched him heal the sick and work miracles. They were with Jesus at the Last Supper. They were around when he was arrested and crucified, and witnessed the resurrection. After all that, they returned home. They picked up their lives where they left them off months or years before, and then they went back to work. There was no one to tell them what else they should be doing.
     
    In a way, we were like that after Easter Sunday. We celebrated, worshipped, had breakfast, and went back to our daily lives. But today's gospel lesson is set on the beach. When the people came home, I'll bet they endured ridicule from their neighbors. "Look who's back: the grand adventurers, the glorious revolutionaries. The idealists out to change the world have decided to come home after all. We always knew that their silly scheme would amount to nothing." Ever live in a small town? That's how they talk. "Love your neighbor." Who thought that was a good plan? Adding insult to injury was the fact that the disciples seemed to have lost their old touch. They had been out fishing all night and had caught absolutely nothing. When the sun began to rise, the man on the shore said, "Children. You have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No."
     
    I'm sure that the only thing more irritating to professional fisherman than admitting failure, is receiving advice from someone who doesn't know how to fish at all. Jesus told them they should cast their net on the other side of the boat. And when they did, they had a very large catch indeed: a hundred and fifty-three fish. I'm not much of a fisherman, but that is a piece of advice I wish someone had given me along the way. Simply "cast over here instead of over there, because the fish must be somewhere else." They don't say fish are dumb. They hide from the bait. I don't know, but I know that people I know who fish don't like to be reminded of their failure, and I'm sure that this group of disciples were not happy after that night of failure.
     
    Anyway, when they caught the fish, John recognized the man on the shore and said, "It is the Lord!" Impetuous Peter grabbed his clothes and headed into shore quickly. The rest were left to drag the boat and the heavy net to land all by themselves. Jesus said the words anyone would like to hear after an exhausting night: "Come and have breakfast." Jesus provided bread and fish for all of them. While they were sitting around the fire, Jesus approached Peter with their unfinished business. Peter had denied Jesus three times while Jesus was being interrogated. Jesus didn't blame Peter or shame him, and he didn't ask for his repentance. He asked questions. "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" Jesus was referring to loving Jesus more than life as a fisherman, life in the boat, Peter's life before discipleship. Peter said to him, "Yes, Lord. You know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord. You know that I love you." Jesus said, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt and maybe a little irritated when Jesus said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you." And Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep." But that was a powerful moment for Peter — the charcoal fire, three questions. Peter knew that he was making a life-changing commitment to Jesus. Jesus didn't forgive Peter. Peter had to forgive himself and come to terms with what the rest of his life was going to be. Because he was going to have to be what Jesus needed him to be. As difficult as it would be for Peter, he had to accept that he was going to have to be the shepherd from now on, because Jesus wasn't going to be there. And that would be his identity.
     
    When God has business with us, God will find us and will get our attention, and that's what happened to Saul on the road to Damascus. He was a zealous practitioner of Judaism, and was going to bring some of the followers of Jesus to Jerusalem for trial before the Jewish courts there. God had other plans both for Saul and for Ananias, the Christian in Damascus who went to help Saul but didn't want anything to do with him. But God said to Ananias, like he said to so many of us, "Go, for he's an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel." Paul needed to be what Jesus wanted him to be, and Jesus got his attention.
     
    Paul's encounter with Jesus may be one of the most powerful images we have of bending human will to God's will. We don't expect our encounters with God to be as earth-shaking as St. Paul on the road to Damascus. I'm sure we would like all our worship to be as dramatic as the final choruses to Handel's Messiah. We might like our lives to be filled with such overwhelming experiences. Life isn't like that, though. It is not all emotional highs, moments of clear vision and bright light, dramatic experiences, or religious ecstasy. Our reality is simpler and more mundane. There's a clue for us in the disciples' experience. They were going about their ordinary lives, just like we do, and when they least expected him they encountered Christ. It was profound, and yet it was ordinary. Come and have breakfast, Jesus said. These brothers in Christ shared a simple meal after a long night. There were no bolts of light from the sky. No choirs of angels. No heavenly music from the Messiah. There was Easter, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in the ordinary course of a morning. Easter, in the simple passing of fish and bread around the warmth of a charcoal fire. Easter, in breakfast with the risen Jesus.
     
    That was not the end of it for the disciples, just as Easter does not end for us with the benediction on Sunday. Jesus reconciled with Peter following Peter's denials when Jesus was arrested. Jesus did not promise resurrection, celebration, or joy. He promised suffering and martyrdom. Bonhoeffer wrote, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die." Peter was crucified. And Paul, according to legend, was beheaded in Rome. In the Book of John, there is no Last Supper. That story is not there. There are stories, though, of eating and drinking with Jesus — at Cana, with the 5,000 that he fed, and on the shore here with the disciples. When Jesus was there he saw to it that there was food in abundance, wine for all the guests at the wedding in Cana, baskets of leftovers with the 5,000, and enough bread and fish for everyone at breakfast over the charcoal fire. These stories pull together much of what it means to be in relationship with Jesus. The way in which Jesus hosts meals helps us to see the Eucharist that was embedded in Jesus' life, not his death. A little different framework from the Lord's Supper might mean grace in abundance, forgiveness in abundance, salvation in the risen Christ. And that is our Easter, as we come to Christ Lutheran Church on this third Sunday of the Easter season. Jesus is here with bread and wine, offering grace and forgiveness for all of his people everywhere. Like the women at the tomb, we come and see Jesus here. We find God in each other at worship, at the table, and in fellowship. And then we go out into the world.
     
    This is how we live out John 3:16. We understand what Jesus wants us to be. He wants us to be good shepherds when he can no longer be. We have to accept that Jesus could believe in us, and many of our people here respond accordingly. We have many shepherds here. We have people who work to feed the hungry, to find shelter for homeless people, people here who are working to protect God's creation by greening up our congregation and our communities. We have people who reach out to our community, with our facilities and with the word of God on a regular basis. We have people who come to church and volunteer their time as key people, assisting ministers, worship volunteers, people who help with fellowship and the flowers, and people who teach our children. On Sundays, we gather to celebrate the resurrection with joy. It's both empowering for us, and challenging. We are called to go forward in our lives as witnesses of faith, here at Christ and out in the rest of our lives. We know, though, how that witness has led to suffering and even death for so many of Jesus' followers.
     
    We pray for guidance and protection, and we offer our thanks and praise to the Good Shepherd. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Jon Heerboth, Acts 9:1-6, (7-20), John 21:1-19, John 3:16
  • Dec 2, 2018All the Signs Point to Christ
    Dec 2, 2018
    All the Signs Point to Christ
    Series: (All)
    December 2, 2018. Be prepared, for Jesus is coming. Jon Heerboth preaches on this first day of Advent about the preparations we Christians make for the Christmas celebration.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Be prepared, for Jesus is coming. It's the first Sunday in Advent, as we've been hearing all morning. And for us it's the beginning of a new church year and the time when we prepare for Christmas, which is our celebration of the first coming of Jesus Christ. When I think about getting ready for Christmas, I think about the little baby Jesus in the manger, the stable, the peaceful quiet night, the choir of angels, the pretty things that make me want to go home and set up my tree and my humble decorations and get out my Christmas Lego. I don't think about things that are mentioned in the lesson today. So we have to be prepared because there are no gentle images in today's gospel lesson. In fact, those images are anything but gentle. They're pretty brutal, and they were pretty brutal in Luke's time as well, when he read them. The people who heard this story from Luke the first time were worried, because the city of Jerusalem had been destroyed and the temple had been sacked, and the walls were pulled down stone by stone. It was a complete disaster.
     
    But today, it's not the helpless infant, but more of that. Images of the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. In the Christmas story, we see almost a paradox. The humble baby Jesus and then in today's gospel, the coming in clouds. Power and might. Glory. Maybe the destruction of the earth. God keeping the rest of his promises. And so we have to be prepared, because as Jesus tells us in Luke, the signs are all around us. Signs in the sun, the moon, the stars. Signs in the news, in shootings, in tragedies. Earthquakes in Alaska. Fires in California. Mayhem everywhere. Corruption. Hunger. And if you look at today's Post Dispatch, homelessness. Signs in the distress in families. Signs in the tragedies caused by a warming planet. What in the world is going on? What's the world coming to, we ask?
     
    Well, what happens to you when you're frightened, when you're pressed down or dismayed? I know sometimes we can't even concentrate because of what Jesus called the "roaring of the sea and the waves," or to us, the many distractions and stresses of our lives in a sinful world. We even have trouble in the month of December just getting ready for the Christmas holiday, which should be a time of peace and joy and families thinking about the first coming of Jesus Christ. It seems like everything can be difficult. In verse 26 today, Jesus said that people will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaking. What is my life coming to? I ask when I'm weighed down by cares and worries. I might walk more slowly. My shoulders sag. I might be burdened by my own actions or behaviors that I wish I could set aside.
     
    Earlier in chapter 21, Luke warned that things will not be easy as the end times approach. They're not going to be easy for Christians, either. Our lives will fall apart, he said. We will face hostility from neighbors, legal problems even, or even conflict within our own families. But for us though -- and this is almost a paradox -- all of these signs, all of these troubles, all of these trials in our lives point to Christ. When these things happen, our redemption is drawing near.
     
    Now, redemption already came to us in the past once and for all, with the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now that redemption is available to us, now and into the future. Even though the world around us may fall apart, that's not a sign of God's absence or lack of concern for us. We are still God's people. We have the promise of God's presence in our midst, even in the middle of all of our problems that we face from day to day.
     
    Now after Jesus listed all the depressing signs in his world, he stopped for a minute and spoke to his listeners in a very pastoral way. God's words, his reassuring promise of salvation, will last and will not fail. He said that while Heaven and Earth will pass away, his promises to us, his assurance that he is with us, God will remain with us always, and his promises will not fail. What the world sees as signs of despair, and heaven knows there are plenty of signs of despair out there, we see as signs of hope, because our redemption is here and now and will come again, Luke says, in power and majesty. Because everything points to Jesus Christ. Now we are all God's children, claimed and named in baptism. We are assured of eternal salvation by faith, in the death and resurrection of Jesus. By God's grace our sins are forgiven. We are redeemed and reconciled before Christ because of what Christ has done for us. This morning here in church we confessed our sins once again and received absolution, God's reassurance that our sins are forgiven. We are redeemed now before God so we can pray "Thy kingdom come" and mean it.
     
    In Advent, we remember God's coming in history, God's presence among us now, and we prepare for Jesus' return in majesty at the end of time. We pay attention to so much more than just the birth of Jesus. But how do we prepare for Christmas with the deep sense that God's work is still unfinished? There are still promises that we expect God to keep, so we have a sense of longing inside of us for the ultimate redemption and fulfillment of all God's promises that we encounter in the Bible. And we pray for him to come and fulfill those promises.
     
    We Christians prepare for Christmas in lots of ways. We go ahead and decorate our homes, light up the street even, go shopping for gifts, and we celebrate like everybody else. But we are also nonconformist. Our preparations, and you can see them here -- the blue paraments, the color of hope we say, we can come to church and see that. We can attend Advent services, the Holden Evening Prayer -- that beautiful, short reminder of God's promises to us. We can read daily Advent devotions. We come and practice for the cantata once a week, sometimes twice a week -- which I would recommend to anyone. (You know, the choir pays for advertising, so...) So we decorate the church, and we do what we have to do to remember God's promises to us. Our goal as Christians is to find God in our preparations for the Christmas celebration. We have to be able to see the coming of Christ, even though we have cares, burdens, fears, and sins -- even though it's often very hard to see God's work in the morning paper. We have to remember that for us, all of the signs point to Christ.
     
    In the reading from Thessalonians this morning, Paul explained to his readers what it means to be waiting for the Lord's return. Now, he wrote directly to the Christians at Thessalonica. He also speaks to his brothers and sisters at Christ Lutheran Church in Webster Groves. In verse 12 and 13 he hoped that the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. Here at Christ, we will prepare by being a distinctive and loving community while we await the Lord's return. We will pursue holiness by obedience to God's wishes, and through everyday discipleship within our community and out in our daily lives. So, we prepare for this upcoming event, the final turning point in Christians' experience: the second and final coming of Christ. So we may go shopping for Christmas gifts. Let us also find God this Advent season by attending church.
     
    We find God by hearing the word. We find God in the bread and in the wine. We find God in our prayers for one another and for the people of the world at large. We will surely find God in each other, in our sisters and brothers who wish us God's peace every Sunday. In verse 28 of our text today, Jesus says that when the signs of his second coming appear, we should stand up and raise our heads because redemption is drawing near.
     
    Here at Christ Lutheran Church, when we raise our heads and look up (you can do that now, raise your heads and look up) who do you see? You see the face of Christ over this incredibly beautiful altar. So we encounter Christ here the same way we should be encountering Christ everywhere, a constant reminder of God's promise of salvation and God's love for all people. Most important, we have to remember that Jesus, who died and rose, is still here with us and will return again at the end.
     
    Now before we end, I ran across something. My dad died about six-and-a-half years ago, and he was quite a scholar. He loved languages and spent a lot of his time studying. And he left a pile of books. Ordinarily you would just pass them on or get rid of them, but I don't think he wanted us to do that because in the books, he left notes. He left his old textbooks. He had cartoons of his professors that he drew. He left little notes here and there. Even in the pages of the book there would be little nuggets. But when I was preparing for this, I took his relatively new Greek New Testament and I opened the front cover, and as he would do there was a paragraph and so I ran into it. I hadn't seen it before, and it was in Latin. Of course. He knew that would drive me crazy. So I got his old lexicon out -- it's literally almost 200 years old -- and started trying to translate it. And then I realized my translation was no good, but I recognized what he had written. And it was the prayer for the first Sunday in Advent. And next to it, he wrote, "This prayer is the gateway to Eden for people who study the word of God." And I just thought we should end today by repeating this little prayer that we've already said. I like the little different translation of it better than what we said earlier. So let's pray together the words of the prayer for the day:
     
    Stir up your power, O Lord, and come. Rescue and protect us from the threatening perils of our sins by your might. For you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.
     
    The hymn for the day is 246, "Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding!" Take a look as you sing. Concentrate on verse 4, the words of comfort:
     
    When next he comes in glory
    And the world is wrapped in fear,
    He will shield us with his mercy
    And with Words of Love draw near.
     
    And so we rise, if we're able, for the hymn.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Jon Heerboth
  • Sep 30, 2018Stumbling Blocks
    Sep 30, 2018
    Stumbling Blocks
    Series: (All)
    September 30, 2018. Jon Heerboth preaches on Philippians 1:18. We may have many points of view about our best way forward here at Christ Lutheran. Our agreement though should be just like Paul said. "What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true, and in that I rejoice."
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    If I were in a classroom instead of in a church today, I would say that we're going to have a brief review here before we start the lesson for today. Last week we heard Jesus explain that he would be put to death, and three days later he would rise again. But the disciples didn't know what he was talking about. They didn't understand him and they were afraid to ask, so instead they were arguing about who of them was the greatest. Jesus sat them down and explained that whoever wanted to be first must be last of all and servant of all, and then he picked up a small child and held the child in his arms and said that whoever welcomed the child welcomed Jesus, and the one who sent Jesus.
     
    Now, in today's gospel Jesus is still holding the child. He still has the child in his arms while he's talking with his disciples. But John interrupted Jesus to report that some other healer had been casting out demons in the name of Jesus. The disciples went and told him to stop it because he was not one of them. "You can't use Jesus' name unless you're one of us," they said. Now you can imagine the disciples gathering around Jesus closely to hear what he had to say about this. Jesus began to speak, but he could see that they weren't getting it. He had to make his point three times. "Do not stop him, for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able to soon afterwards speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward." Jesus had to work hard to make that point to the disciples, but it's a point that we need to hear as well.
     
    We are used to hearing phrases like, "If you're not for me you're against me." Pro or con. X or not x. No middle ground. The problem is that this kind of thinking excludes so many people, and Jesus turns it on its head: "Whoever is not against us is for us." Just the opposite of the way we often think. With these words, Jesus moves us from excluding people to being inclusive, from suspicion to welcome, from left out to invited in. The love of Jesus and the power of God can cut through this "friend or foe" thinking, so that we can welcome almost everyone into our fold.
     
    My dad related his experience years ago, before Lutherans were talking about working together as church bodies. It was 1949, just four years after the end of World War II, when my parents arrived in Sapporo, Japan to begin their careers as missionaries. Shortly after they arrived, Dad and his good friend Paul were invited to a prayer group of Japanese Christians. Dad said they really wanted to attend the meeting, but they were troubled and a little worried because none of the attendees was Lutheran, and they were not permitted to pray with people of other denominations. Dad and Paul decided that they would attend the prayer meeting, but they were worried that a very strict colleague might create a problem for them by reporting to the mission board in St. Louis. So, Dad and Paul went and they were introduced to a group of Japanese Christians. Dad said that each one introduced himself with a name and his former Christian denomination. "I am of Baptist antecedent." "I am of Methodist antecedent." "I am of Roman Catholic antecedent," and so forth. Before World War II these Japanese Christians stayed with their denominational groups, but when the war started it turned out the secret police didn't ask their denomination. They all got locked up together for the duration of the war. "When they came for us, they came because we were Christian." Denomination became irrelevant to them. What mattered was that they all followed Jesus. The two missionaries learned what mattered and what didn't.
     
    Now, we worship here among like-minded Christians for the most part. We know we have a lot of work here to do at Christ and in the world at large. We would like to grow as a congregation. Our congregational leaders and our members have been looking at this growth from several directions. The monthly newsletters and weekly announcements remind us of how often we tie in with other Christians in our area and throughout the world. There are many opportunities here to work together for others and to bring others to Christ. Our doors are open and we hope they are welcoming. In addition, we have been thinking about how to improve our outreach by maintaining and improving our facilities.
     
    Now the last thing we want to do is what Jesus warned us against in today's gospel. We want to be open to all, and we do not want to place any stumbling blocks in the path of one of these little ones who believe. Now Jesus was speaking directly of a young child he was still holding in his arms during all of this, but you could substitute the child with anyone who feels like he doesn't quite belong, any one of low social standing, anyone who's felt like an outsider instead of an insider, anyone who is different and feels different and feels like they don't belong with the rest of us. Jesus is talking about doing things that make other people feel unworthy, like somehow they are not good enough or their differences are somehow too great to receive salvation through their faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus has harsh words for them: a millstone, a big one, pulled by a donkey, tied around the neck, tossed into the sea for those who leave stumbling blocks.
     
    Now it's really easy to read through this and skip over those passages about millstones cutting off hands, feet, tearing out eyes, and just say that Jesus was exaggerating and move on. But if we do that we, miss the central point, that we don't want to be the cause of anyone stumbling in faith. Jesus was still holding that small child. He was absolutely serious about stumbling blocks and coming judgment.
     
    Do we want to hear the truth, that we could be the cause of someone tripping up in their discipleship, that we could be the cause of someone stumbling in his or her faith, that we could be the cause of someone questioning whether or not he or she is truly a critical and viable member of God's kingdom. And we would rather blame someone else, or just conduct safe and secure demonstrations of faith, than take accountability for the ways in which we might have prevented others from living into their fullness as disciples, their fullness as children of God. We would like to assume that putting stumbling blocks in the ways of others is just a temporary misstep in their lives. We think they'll quickly get back up on their feet and get over it. A nondescript, almost unnoticeable trip up along the way couldn't lead to a lifelong trajectory, could it? Maybe we could convince ourselves of that. But yet, if we're honest, we know that tripping over something, a little stumble can lead to a major fall, a fall from which it takes a very long time to recuperate, if ever. We learned that this week from watching the news, didn't we? When we place stumbling blocks in the paths of those trying to answer God's call, as they and only they can hear it and live it, we are essentially silencing them. "No," said Jesus. "Don't you dare."
     
    We do not want to feel that unquenchable fire. Now we will have many points of view here and differing opinions about our best way forward here at Christ. Our agreement though should be just like Paul said in Philippians, chapter 1. "What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true, and in that I rejoice."
     
    We Christians here at Christ, and wherever our brothers or sisters gather on Sunday morning, are united in our desire to hear the word, pray together, and to gather at the Lord's table. We don't want to be salt that has lost its flavor, and we sure don't want to be salted with fire. Our salt is from God. So let us all be at peace with one another.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Jon Heerboth, Philippians 1:18