Sep 23, 2018
Radical Hospitality, Jesus Style
Series: (All)
September 23, 2018. Hospitality toward others is the way to welcoming God more fully into our lives. When Jesus' disciples argued about which of them would be greatest, he showed them what greatness meant by welcoming a child. Pastor Stephanie preaches on just how radical a thought this would have been for the disciples, and invites us to break down walls to welcome others into our lives.
 
*** Transcript ***
 
I imagine that many of you are familiar with the side of Jesus that wasn't what we'd call "meek and mild," right? Like for instance, the time that we read that he came into the temple and looked around, didn't like what he saw, so he started tossing some tables upside down. Yeah, he didn't much like how people were being exploited, so he made a rather dramatic show of his displeasure. Admit it, you love that, don't you? You love Jesus going and getting 'em and telling 'em what's right and what's wrong, as long as those aren't our tables. We love it that Jesus stands up for the little people against authorities that are taking advantage of them. I would also love to read a story about Jesus knocking down some walls. I mean, walls divide people all the time. And we like to talk about building bridges rather than building walls. So, walls that divide have to go. Wouldn't it be cool for Jesus to tear down a few? You who love action films have to be with me on this one: Jesus takes a karate chop or two and demolishes a barrier that the big shots have constructed to keep their own kind in and everyone else out. I'm sure you have an idea or two yourself how you'd like to see Jesus go about this.
 
Well, I might invite you then to sit down for an hour or two some time and read through the entire Gospel of Mark, and look for the many ways that Jesus does at least three things. He turns things upside down. He knocks down preconceptions. And he challenges conventional thinking. If you do that, I'm guaranteeing that you will find a pretty good-sized list of his words that do just that. These stories may not show a literal turning of objects upside down like tables, but they do an effective job of causing people to go, "What's that again, Jesus? You might have to run that past me again, because that isn't how things really go in this world."
 
Jesus was a master of knocking down walls that we build to keep our own ways of thinking and operating in, and his ways of operating out. That is pretty much the case when his disciples are walking along with him while he is talking about the suffering, dying, and rising again that he will be doing in the near future. Apparently, all they are hearing is the "wah wah." That happens sometimes, because this is not something that they want to hear about. Instead, they've been having their own little discussion walking behind him. Knowing this but calling them out on it, when they get to the house in Capernaum where they'll be staying, Jesus asked, "What was that that you were arguing about while you were walking behind me?"
 
We aren't told that anyone admitted to what they've been arguing over and that it was about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom that they just knew that Jesus was ushering in. In fact, the gospel writer Mark says they were silent because they did not want to own up to their aspirations for greatness. So can't you just imagine Jesus sighing once again and sitting them down to have a little lesson? This is how I imagine the conversation going based on the parts that we do have recorded before us:
 
"Okay, now as you know," Jesus says, "I've been teaching you about how different God's ways are than human ways. You think you know what greatness is, but..." (And I insert my own comment here. This could be easily addressed to our own contemporary culture, couldn't it? How little our society has learned over the years. It's hard now to even use the word "greatness" for things that actually are great, since "Make America Great Again" has become a thing -- and a thing that demonstrates anything but greatness.)
 
But back to Jesus' conversation. As he tells them, "You people think you know what greatness is, but you do not. You think that power, prestige, status, wealth, and social position are the great things. Not true at all. Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." That was probably met with silence again from the disciples. After all, Jesus just knocked down an invisible wall that they were leaning on.
 
"What?" They must be thinking. "Nobody, but nobody, gets ahead by going for last place or by doing menial jobs." Jesus goes on, "Here, let me show you." He took a little child into his arms and said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me."
 
So now he really has their attention. All they see is a child, whom they cannot imagine playing any kind of important role in this kingdom of love that Jesus keeps talking about. From our vantage point this act seems cute. "Aw, Jesus picks up and hugs a child." But it was likely not so cute to Jesus' disciples. In his day children were definitely seen but not heard. They had little to no inherent worth, in and of themselves. John Pilch, in his work The Cultural World of Jesus, sheds light on the customs and culture reflected in Jesus' actions and words. A child in our culture is deeply valued and put high on our priorities. At least we insist this is so, in spite of the number of children in poverty and other difficult circumstances. But for the most part, most people would agree that children are our treasures. However, in the time of Jesus, a child was lowest on the priority list. Children weren't worth much until they grew up and proved themselves. They were actually considered nobodies. Their worth was tied up in their potential to maybe someday becoming productive adults, who could support their families in their old age. Even in medieval times, I was surprised to learn, Mediterranean cultures put a low value on children. Thomas Aquinas himself taught that in a raging fire, a husband was obliged to save his father first, then his mother, next his wife, and last his young child. That kind of thinking is so hard for us to fathom.
 
But it helps to know that, to see just how radical Jesus' words were to his disciples. He's essentially saying this: you are worried about your greatness? I'll tell you what's great to me, and to the one who sent me. It's welcoming others, like this little child who has value to me far beyond what you can see. In fact, I want you to knock down all your preconceptions about who is important to me. Everyone is important to me, regardless of social status, or ability to be productive, or pedigree, or anything else. And I will demonstrate that every time. I welcome them all. To the extent that you welcome those like these little ones, you welcome me and my father who sent me. In fact, the way you show hospitality by welcoming others, that is what's greatness to me.
 
As preacher theologian Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, Jesus didn't just tell them, but showed them who was greatest by calling their attention to a little child. It's as if Jesus were creating a business card or a LinkedIn profile for a child bearing this message under the child's name: 26 inches tall. Limited vocabulary. Unemployed. Zero net worth. Nobody in the eyes of many. And then, in all capital letters, GOD'S BELOVED.
 
I hope not many of you can personally relate to being the most insignificant. Yet each of us often has something going on inside our heads that says that we really don't have any place getting too close to Jesus. We rule ourselves out from being someone whom he would like to have near him yet. Nothing could be further from the truth. The stories of Jesus' intentional actions, of going to dinner with a social outcast like a tax collector, of going to parties with people who are considered disgraceful by others, means that all of us, no matter our personal history or feelings of not being good enough, can find a place of welcome near Jesus.
 
We are all welcome: the little people and the big people who will make themselves little enough or humble enough to sit on the lap of Jesus, so to speak. And what's more, we are all invited to be God's agents in welcoming others. All of us who know we've been welcomed, not because we've had anything special to offer, but just because we've come to know that God loves us anyway. Well, we all have a special job. We get to invite others to come and to know the same for themselves. We get to knock down a few walls ourselves. We are commissioned to let people know there are no barriers to being welcomed by God. That puts us all on God's hospitality team now. We get to let others know that they are welcome just as they are, too. No special requirements need to be met. Just come and symbolically sit on the lap of Jesus. There's a lot of room there. It's a very big and welcoming lap. There aren't many places where you can find hospitality or welcome like that. In fact, there's nothing anywhere that can compare.
 
So Christ Lutheran Church, as all churches do, has a special job description. It's to exhibit radical hospitality, Jesus style.
 
I'll admit there is even something in it for us. Whenever we start with, as the disciples were doing here, "What's in it for us?" well we don't get much in God's operation. But when we do what God wants us to do there's always something in it for us as a side benefit. When we welcome others, Jesus says we welcome him and the one who sent him. Somehow God makes it fulfilling and joyful to welcome others, because we get to see God in action in that as they respond, and know God. The way we show hospitality by welcoming others is what is greatness to God.
 
Hospitality toward others is the way to welcoming God more fully into our lives. After all, we're told some have entertained angels unaware as they have knocked down walls to welcome others into their lives. Because where love and graciousness to others is present, there is God in the midst of our gatherings. It's exactly what the song we opened with envisions.
 
Let us build a house where all are named Their songs and visions heard And loved and treasured, taught and claimed As words within the word Built of tears and cries and laughter Prayers of faith and songs of grace Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter All are welcome, all are welcome All are welcome in this place
 
Amen.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot
WatchNotesDownloadDateTitle
  • Sep 23, 2018Radical Hospitality, Jesus Style
    Sep 23, 2018
    Radical Hospitality, Jesus Style
    Series: (All)
    September 23, 2018. Hospitality toward others is the way to welcoming God more fully into our lives. When Jesus' disciples argued about which of them would be greatest, he showed them what greatness meant by welcoming a child. Pastor Stephanie preaches on just how radical a thought this would have been for the disciples, and invites us to break down walls to welcome others into our lives.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I imagine that many of you are familiar with the side of Jesus that wasn't what we'd call "meek and mild," right? Like for instance, the time that we read that he came into the temple and looked around, didn't like what he saw, so he started tossing some tables upside down. Yeah, he didn't much like how people were being exploited, so he made a rather dramatic show of his displeasure. Admit it, you love that, don't you? You love Jesus going and getting 'em and telling 'em what's right and what's wrong, as long as those aren't our tables. We love it that Jesus stands up for the little people against authorities that are taking advantage of them. I would also love to read a story about Jesus knocking down some walls. I mean, walls divide people all the time. And we like to talk about building bridges rather than building walls. So, walls that divide have to go. Wouldn't it be cool for Jesus to tear down a few? You who love action films have to be with me on this one: Jesus takes a karate chop or two and demolishes a barrier that the big shots have constructed to keep their own kind in and everyone else out. I'm sure you have an idea or two yourself how you'd like to see Jesus go about this.
     
    Well, I might invite you then to sit down for an hour or two some time and read through the entire Gospel of Mark, and look for the many ways that Jesus does at least three things. He turns things upside down. He knocks down preconceptions. And he challenges conventional thinking. If you do that, I'm guaranteeing that you will find a pretty good-sized list of his words that do just that. These stories may not show a literal turning of objects upside down like tables, but they do an effective job of causing people to go, "What's that again, Jesus? You might have to run that past me again, because that isn't how things really go in this world."
     
    Jesus was a master of knocking down walls that we build to keep our own ways of thinking and operating in, and his ways of operating out. That is pretty much the case when his disciples are walking along with him while he is talking about the suffering, dying, and rising again that he will be doing in the near future. Apparently, all they are hearing is the "wah wah." That happens sometimes, because this is not something that they want to hear about. Instead, they've been having their own little discussion walking behind him. Knowing this but calling them out on it, when they get to the house in Capernaum where they'll be staying, Jesus asked, "What was that that you were arguing about while you were walking behind me?"
     
    We aren't told that anyone admitted to what they've been arguing over and that it was about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom that they just knew that Jesus was ushering in. In fact, the gospel writer Mark says they were silent because they did not want to own up to their aspirations for greatness. So can't you just imagine Jesus sighing once again and sitting them down to have a little lesson? This is how I imagine the conversation going based on the parts that we do have recorded before us:
     
    "Okay, now as you know," Jesus says, "I've been teaching you about how different God's ways are than human ways. You think you know what greatness is, but..." (And I insert my own comment here. This could be easily addressed to our own contemporary culture, couldn't it? How little our society has learned over the years. It's hard now to even use the word "greatness" for things that actually are great, since "Make America Great Again" has become a thing -- and a thing that demonstrates anything but greatness.)
     
    But back to Jesus' conversation. As he tells them, "You people think you know what greatness is, but you do not. You think that power, prestige, status, wealth, and social position are the great things. Not true at all. Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." That was probably met with silence again from the disciples. After all, Jesus just knocked down an invisible wall that they were leaning on.
     
    "What?" They must be thinking. "Nobody, but nobody, gets ahead by going for last place or by doing menial jobs." Jesus goes on, "Here, let me show you." He took a little child into his arms and said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me."
     
    So now he really has their attention. All they see is a child, whom they cannot imagine playing any kind of important role in this kingdom of love that Jesus keeps talking about. From our vantage point this act seems cute. "Aw, Jesus picks up and hugs a child." But it was likely not so cute to Jesus' disciples. In his day children were definitely seen but not heard. They had little to no inherent worth, in and of themselves. John Pilch, in his work The Cultural World of Jesus, sheds light on the customs and culture reflected in Jesus' actions and words. A child in our culture is deeply valued and put high on our priorities. At least we insist this is so, in spite of the number of children in poverty and other difficult circumstances. But for the most part, most people would agree that children are our treasures. However, in the time of Jesus, a child was lowest on the priority list. Children weren't worth much until they grew up and proved themselves. They were actually considered nobodies. Their worth was tied up in their potential to maybe someday becoming productive adults, who could support their families in their old age. Even in medieval times, I was surprised to learn, Mediterranean cultures put a low value on children. Thomas Aquinas himself taught that in a raging fire, a husband was obliged to save his father first, then his mother, next his wife, and last his young child. That kind of thinking is so hard for us to fathom.
     
    But it helps to know that, to see just how radical Jesus' words were to his disciples. He's essentially saying this: you are worried about your greatness? I'll tell you what's great to me, and to the one who sent me. It's welcoming others, like this little child who has value to me far beyond what you can see. In fact, I want you to knock down all your preconceptions about who is important to me. Everyone is important to me, regardless of social status, or ability to be productive, or pedigree, or anything else. And I will demonstrate that every time. I welcome them all. To the extent that you welcome those like these little ones, you welcome me and my father who sent me. In fact, the way you show hospitality by welcoming others, that is what's greatness to me.
     
    As preacher theologian Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, Jesus didn't just tell them, but showed them who was greatest by calling their attention to a little child. It's as if Jesus were creating a business card or a LinkedIn profile for a child bearing this message under the child's name: 26 inches tall. Limited vocabulary. Unemployed. Zero net worth. Nobody in the eyes of many. And then, in all capital letters, GOD'S BELOVED.
     
    I hope not many of you can personally relate to being the most insignificant. Yet each of us often has something going on inside our heads that says that we really don't have any place getting too close to Jesus. We rule ourselves out from being someone whom he would like to have near him yet. Nothing could be further from the truth. The stories of Jesus' intentional actions, of going to dinner with a social outcast like a tax collector, of going to parties with people who are considered disgraceful by others, means that all of us, no matter our personal history or feelings of not being good enough, can find a place of welcome near Jesus.
     
    We are all welcome: the little people and the big people who will make themselves little enough or humble enough to sit on the lap of Jesus, so to speak. And what's more, we are all invited to be God's agents in welcoming others. All of us who know we've been welcomed, not because we've had anything special to offer, but just because we've come to know that God loves us anyway. Well, we all have a special job. We get to invite others to come and to know the same for themselves. We get to knock down a few walls ourselves. We are commissioned to let people know there are no barriers to being welcomed by God. That puts us all on God's hospitality team now. We get to let others know that they are welcome just as they are, too. No special requirements need to be met. Just come and symbolically sit on the lap of Jesus. There's a lot of room there. It's a very big and welcoming lap. There aren't many places where you can find hospitality or welcome like that. In fact, there's nothing anywhere that can compare.
     
    So Christ Lutheran Church, as all churches do, has a special job description. It's to exhibit radical hospitality, Jesus style.
     
    I'll admit there is even something in it for us. Whenever we start with, as the disciples were doing here, "What's in it for us?" well we don't get much in God's operation. But when we do what God wants us to do there's always something in it for us as a side benefit. When we welcome others, Jesus says we welcome him and the one who sent him. Somehow God makes it fulfilling and joyful to welcome others, because we get to see God in action in that as they respond, and know God. The way we show hospitality by welcoming others is what is greatness to God.
     
    Hospitality toward others is the way to welcoming God more fully into our lives. After all, we're told some have entertained angels unaware as they have knocked down walls to welcome others into their lives. Because where love and graciousness to others is present, there is God in the midst of our gatherings. It's exactly what the song we opened with envisions.
     
    Let us build a house where all are named Their songs and visions heard And loved and treasured, taught and claimed As words within the word Built of tears and cries and laughter Prayers of faith and songs of grace Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter All are welcome, all are welcome All are welcome in this place
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot
  • Sep 2, 2018Be Doers of the Word
    Sep 2, 2018
    Be Doers of the Word
    Series: (All)
    September 2, 2018. The essence of hypocrisy is when people's words and actions may appear to honor God, but their hearts are steeped in pride and sin and judgment of others. Pastor Stephanie discusses this in the context of the Mosaic Law as well as how this happens today. Do we have some adjusting to do when we look in the mirror?
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Did you find it a bit odd that it appears in the gospel reading that Jesus' disciples are accused of eating with unwashed hands, and that's just okay with Jesus? After all, that seems like something over which there should be no dispute. Washing hands before eating is just common sense, isn't it? Our moms told us that, and nearly every bathroom has a sign reminding us, at least the employees, to do so before they go back to handling food. Because it's just a matter of good hygiene to get rid of the germs. So this must be about something else. The interaction between Jesus and these strict religious leaders has nothing whatsoever to do with germs and hygiene, just to put your mind at rest on that. But it is all about religious behaviors and expectations. So, a little context for that is an order.
     
    The law of Moses, which we call the first five books of the Bible, devoted a lot of attention to the matter of ritual purity. That means performing rituals in order to be considered pure. There were lots of things specified, from touching a dead body, to the mixing of meat and milk, and other things that we consider very peculiar now, that could make one ritually unclean and therefore barred from temple worship. But it's important to note that the state of uncleanness was not the same thing as sinfulness. One could be ritually unclean just in the normal course of life by having done nothing wrong. And the prescriptions for that were not repentance, but ritual cleansing.
     
    And over time, those cleansing rituals became of utmost importance and there were more and more of them. When visiting Israel these days, it's quite amazing how frequently you will see baths for ritual cleansing -- they're called mikvahs -- in nearly every archaeological excavation. They were ubiquitous as we traveled around the country, obviously revealing how valued they were as part of the religious culture into which Jesus arrived. I would certainly not want to give the impression that Jesus was against people being cleansed from impurities. That would be far from the truth. But the confrontation of Jesus with the Pharisees from Jerusalem, as recorded in Mark 7, is not really about the whole issue of purity or of being cleansed from sin. It's about how these Pharisees were using laws to construct a system of ritual purity, more or less to define who was in and who was out.
     
    After describing the Pharisees' complaint to Jesus, Mark steps back a bit from telling the story to do some explaining to the folks in Rome, for whom this gospel was written. He might as well be explaining to us, because we don't observe these rituals either. They knew little or nothing about Jewish interpretations of the Mosaic law at that time. Mark correctly points out that the law did specify that priests needed to wash before performing sacrifices on the altar, but the law handed down from Moses had nothing to say about everyone else washing their hands in a certain way before eating bread. As frequently happens in religious circles however, more details get added that detract from original intentions over time. So the Pharisees, the ultra religious leaders, amplified the original teaching to include the expectation that every God-honoring person should wash their hands before eating, but it had to be done in a prescribed way. The practice was to take a specifically designed pitcher of water and pour it twice from the right hand over the left hand, and then from the left hand over the right hand (unless you were left-handed and then you could reverse the process). But this had not been taught by Moses. It was simply added on over time. But this was all-important to the religious leaders, so they asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples wash their hands in the same manner as we do before eating bread?"
     
    Have you ever really looked at the way Jesus responds to those who claim to know God better than he does? It's quite ridiculous from our point of view, since we know who they are addressing but they clearly do not at this point. But, if you do look at Jesus' responses in these situations, you'll see that 9 times out of 10, Jesus will quote their scriptures back to them. So here, Jesus quotes from Isaiah, going right to the heart of the matter saying, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites. As it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. In vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.' " He is saying that people's words and actions may appear to honor God, but their hearts may be very steeped in pride and sin and judgment of others. That's the essence of hypocrisy. And Isaiah adds, apropos to Jesus' situation, that the laws they promote in order to demonstrate their holiness aren't even from God. These are human constructs. So Jesus' punchline is essentially this: you have let go of the commands of God and are holding onto human traditions.
     
    Well, it gets deeper. Since they brought up the topic of how to act in order to honor God, Jesus sharpens the discussion by giving another example of the same sort of manipulation of the law through human traditions. He brings up something that they practiced called corban. He saw that as clearly conflicting with the word of God. The word "corban" means the declaration that something is dedicated as an offering to God. But through some crafty juxtaposition of this law, these leaders had figured out a way to circumvent other obligations of God's law, such as the clear commandment to honor your father and your mother. In their teaching, if a person was afraid of losing too much of their wealth by having to care for parents in old age, they could declare some of their assets as corban, set aside only for God. That was a religiously contrived word, to mean assets that could be declared as only dedicated for God.
     
    Now, in and of itself that sounds like a good stewardship practice. After all, setting aside resources to give to God is an important practice of honoring God. However, this practice came to be grossly misused. Many times, people would make from this a religious loophole from having to give the money away at all. Jesus is saying that some of them have avoided both the care of their parents, and withheld their giving for the good of others. Their hypocrisy was that they claimed to do something altruistic, yet in reality they were being self-serving.
     
    In today's world, a person might declare that their entire life savings is dedicated to some mission endeavor in order to avoid having to pay for parents' nursing care. They actually use it for themselves. It would be the same pious thievery that Jesus addresses, rather than real religious zeal. Jesus says that they are actually nullifying God's law rather than honoring it, and he says you do many things like this. Essentially, Jesus is attacking forms of outward piety and good works that are actually selfish and have nothing to do with honoring God.
     
    It's not too difficult for us to see how this happens today, either. Generous public gifts may also serve as timely and money-saving tax write-offs. Politicians who make a point of their love for Jesus may also find that it helps them in the polls. Some religious leaders in our time use the ecclesiastical authority of their office to groom young men and women for sexual exploitation. A person can be scrupulous about bowing in prayer before meals in a public place as a good Christian practice, or to make a show of one's piety. And when the conversation over lunch turns to gossip, the depth of that piety is revealed for what it truly is. To all these things, Jesus says, it's a matter of where our hearts are.
     
    Which leads us to some self-examination. If nothing else happens during this worship service, I hope that we each find ourselves wondering about the quality of our own hearts. Are we inclined toward listening to the good news of the word of God and letting it transform our words, our thoughts, our actions, our policies? Or do we have some cleanup to do in our own ways of justifying or bending the Commandments to fit how we went to operate? I find the lesson in James helpful here. "Be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror. For they look at themselves and on going away immediately forget what they were like. But," always the good news, "Those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers but doers who act, they will be blessed in their doing." God's word does function as a mirror. When we let it reveal who we are at the depths, at our heart level, we can respond in two ways. We can see ourselves and deny what is revealed and go on our way. Or we can take in the truth of what is revealed and bring into alignment what we hear, and then act on it with God's help.
     
    Why is this really important? What's at stake here? Certainly, the clarity of our witness. There is no way to completely root out the hypocrisy which shows up regularly in our human condition. But, there is a noticeable difference when people claim the truth and beauty of God's word, and humbly try to be continually reshaped and molded by the Holy Spirit to exemplify it. That's when the quality of the heart is revealed.
     
    The impact on others who observe us, and what we're about, is important. This is of grave concern when one considers the view the average non-church involved American has of our corporate witness today. I was just speaking about this with one of our professors here who said that so many students see the hypocrisy of people who call themselves Christian, but do all manner of unloving things. And they want nothing to do with that. As you know, recently a number of religious leaders were pictured as being at a meeting with the current president. We don't have time to go into the sordid details of the meeting, some of which I would label blasphemous and certainly heretical. So I'll let the synopsis of Jennifer Rubin, writer for the Washington Post, speak. She writes this: "The degree to which these religious leaders throw themselves at Trump's feet, ignoring all manner of immoral and un-Christian conduct for the sake of political power, has hurt both religion and politics."
     
    I wonder what Jesus would say about all the religious jargon and pious statements made by certain so-called Christian leaders, in light of the way that people are treated by this administration's policies. When all the rhetoric is stripped away, it would be difficult to say that the great commandment "Loving God and loving others as ourselves" is being honored.
     
    None of those things seem evident in any of the executive orders or policy changes that we currently see coming out of the White House. How did these policy changes measure up with your understanding of God's word, I might ask, although I think I know from knowing your hearts. It seems that these religious leaders, who eagerly follow and even bless what is currently going on, have done some of their own "adjusting" (if you will) of God's laws to fit their own blindness and pride. Not unlike the people whom Jesus challenges.
     
    But, because the reading of scripture reads "us," we also need to ask what about ourselves? Do we have some adjusting to do when we look in the mirror of God's law of love? I know that since I've been looking into the mirror this week, of the law, of love, of liberty, I have found words that would come into my mind to be spoken. But then when I thought about them more clearly, they seemed rather petty and unhelpful. Perhaps you see that also, when you stop to examine about the words that want to come forth from our mouths. James is helpful there. And I realized that some of my own signs or traditions that I've learned, as being the signs of a good Christian, are not necessarily essential to the faith.
     
    God is very good at changing our hearts. Let us give God the space and time to do that. Let us be examining ourselves as well to see, and then lets altogether be doers of the word, so that the words of life might be manifest in our lives. And by God's grace we will be able to exhibit the love of Christ which is in us and come out in an appropriate way to a greater degree than ever.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot
  • Aug 26, 2018Do We Choose Or Are We Chosen?
    Aug 26, 2018
    Do We Choose Or Are We Chosen?
    Series: (All)
    August 26, 2018. Do we choose or are we chosen? Pastor Stephanie tackles this theological puzzle today, as we as a congregation find ourselves between pastors and the Transition Team is meeting for the first time.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Do we choose or are we chosen? Perennial question. I will admit that right up front this week, I tried to choose another theme out of the lectionary passages for worship today. But where we are landing just kept coming back to me. It seemed too complicated to deal with in such a short time. So I tried to push it off to some other day, and I could never feel really good about choosing something else. So here we go. You see I find myself in that line of theological thought which insists that God chooses us long before we ever give a thought to choosing God.
     
    And yet, in both the words of Joshua today and in the words of Jesus in this week's gospel, we are given the matter of choice. Will we go forward, as Joshua proposes, and serve the Lord who has faithfully brought us this far in safety and care? Or, will we let our wandering hearts give in to other idols that vie for our attention and devotion? Will we follow the crowd that looks at the curious teachings of Jesus and the cost of discipleship and say, "That's too much for me," and back off? Or we will line up with Peter, who sees the cost, yet also sees the incredible value of following Jesus, and choose to line up behind him? Actually, I wish it were easy to choose God's ways once and for all, but really we get to choose over and over again. Or, should I say that we see how we have been chosen already by God, and we see the results of that over and over again throughout our lifetimes? Who is doing the choosing?
     
    Volumes have been written, and centuries of debate have been spent on trying to figure out this theological puzzle. See why I did not want to address this in 10 to 12 minutes? So, when faced with such puzzles, I say use narrative whenever possible.
     
    I have to say that when I look back over my own life as objectively as I can, it appears to me that a whole lot of time, choices that I think I made were pretty clearly mine. But maybe I wasn't really the one choosing. Maybe I was being guided into a choice. Here's an example: a few years ago, I received an invitation to work as the Coordinator for Adult Discipleship for the Reformed Church in America, the partner denomination to the ELCA, in which I was ordained as minister of word and sacrament. I thought I had chosen to accept that call. In that role there was one persistent theme that tugged at me. As I thought about what was the one key piece that holds all of discipleship together, one theme kept appearing: abiding in Christ, and Christ abiding in us.
     
    In our gospel reading today Jesus says, "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them." That is not an unusual phrase in the Gospel of John. In fact, the intimate connection between God and people abiding in each other is all over the place in John's gospel. "Abide," for those of you who don't use that word too often (perhaps we don't daily) means to remain in, to stay deeply connected with one another. Jesus says, "Abide in me, and I in you. Apart from me you can do nothing." Then he explains in John 15, "I am the vine and you are the branches." And throughout the gospel we see these phrases: "Abide in my love," "Abide in my word," "The spirit abides in you," and on and on. So to abide in or dwell in the living bread is what strengthens us to continue to choose whom we will follow. Because when we dwell with someone, we get more deeply acquainted with that one's nature, character, and dependability. So all of those abiding teachings became the lens through which I thought about, and taught about, discipleship from then on.
     
    But was I choosing this as a life and work theme, or was something else at play? Thinking back, it was inevitable. The silent retreats I felt drawn to attend, the people who stretched my view and practice of prayer, the sabbatical Phil and I took that deepened our practices of the inward journey into abiding with God. All of that had come before, and all of it had shaped what was now so obvious to me as the key thing to be emphasized. So I wonder, did I choose this or was it chosen for me?
     
    Well, Christ Lutheran Church, you have entered into a very unique time. You are at a crossroads between settled resident pastors. In this past week, the new Transition Team has met for the first time under the capable leadership of Pastor John Mann. This team will be periodically engaged with as many people as possible in this congregation in a process of discovery. As a church in the coming months, you'll be looking back at what has been shaping your life together. And as you do, certain themes are bound to come into focus. These will help you as you choose some aspects of the future you believe you are called to pursue.
     
    And as you abide in Christ together, you will wonder, "How much of this did we choose, and how much of this has been divinely chosen for us?" It seems to me this is what Simon Peter found himself struggling with, as Jesus questioned him as to whether he would choose to go away or stay and abide with Jesus. I hear, in Peter's response, a statement that there really is no choice at all for him, even though others have clearly chosen not to follow. "Lord, to whom can we go?" he says. "You have the words of eternal life."
     
    Can you imagine some of Peters thoughts though? "Yes, I did choose to follow you Jesus. But wait, you chose to call me first? But I did say 'No' to my fishing business, where I was a leader, and decided to be a follower instead. Then again, you chose me to be a follower and leader. So it's still been your choice all along." Ah, the nuances of faith issues. I expect in the end, it is perhaps some of both, interplaying. We are both guided by God, who has chosen to love us, and we are asked to choose to respond with commitment and gratitude. Indeed, it goes without saying that out of great love, God has chosen us all. And yet at the same time, I believe that you and I and we as a church are called to choose every day whom we will serve.
     
    For a while, God did choose to abide with us. You and I are still called to choose how we will live in response. When the joy of realizing that God abides with us even more intimately than we know how to abide with God, then every day can be a fresh new discovery of that grace.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, RCA
  • Aug 19, 2018The Real Deal
    Aug 19, 2018
    The Real Deal
    Series: (All)
    August 19, 2018. Pastor Stephanie's message is about the real deal, represented by Wisdom Woman in Proverbs 9, versus the lack of substance of Woman Folly. She illustrates the difference through the telling of a story from the Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Neon signs beckon us. Advertisements beg for our attention. Campaigns warn us of impending doom if we don't follow the way that they propose. Talk show people try to persuade us that their latest discoveries will revolutionize our lives. So many messages, so many invitations to come and eat at the tables of goodness, riches, a better life than ever. Just come, they beckon. Buy or use or try what we have to offer, and you will have the good life. It seems we have many invitations to sort through. Which ones are good and meaningful? Which ones actually deliver on their promises? How does one know where to turn?
     
    The way of wisdom, or learning to walk in wisdom, is a scriptural concept that was meant to help people to recognize that there are directions in our lives that we can take, based on the invitations, and which ones we should accept. And the whole chapter of Proverbs 9 gives us a clear look at the difference between accepting an invitation to the table of Wisdom Woman, or Woman Folly.
     
    Let me give you an example of the type of woman that is Folly, and you would find that by continuing on and reading the rest of Proverbs 9. She calls to us and invites us to eat at her table, just as the previous woman whom we read about does. But what Woman Folly has to offer only looks good on the surface. Everything she invites one to taste crumbles and turns sour, eventually. What she offers cannot satisfy, because it contains no true substance. Her promises are built on lies and fabrications, as she offers cheap imitations of the things which are truly good, pure, just, and kind.
     
    If you are familiar with the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, you may remember a depiction of one of the Pevensie children falling prey to the flattering words and flimsy promises of the White Queen. She is of the same ilk as Woman Folly in Proverbs 9. Now, the four children in this story -- two sisters and two brothers who are on this adventure -- have already met Aslan, who is the Christ figure. He is leading them on a path of wisdom and goodness. But human nature being what it is, the boy Edmund finds the temptation of following another way too much to resist. As this part of the story unfolds, he sneaks off with the White Queen because he can't resist the treat she offers, a delicious confection known as Turkish Delight. The queen offers him something to drink and then says, "It is dull to drink while not eating. What would you like best to eat?" She knows fully well where she can tempt him. "Turkish Delight please, your majesty," said Edmund. The queen let another drop fall from her bottle onto the snow and instantly there appeared a round box tied with green silk which, when opened, turned out to contain several pounds of the best Turkish Delight. Each piece was sweet and light to the very center, and Edmund had never tasted anything so delicious. He was quite warm now, and really comfortable.
     
    While he was eating, the queen kept asking him questions. At first, Edmund tried to remember that it is rude to speak with one's mouth full. But soon he forgot about this and thought only of trying to shovel down as much as possible. The more he ate, the more he wanted to eat, and he never asked himself why the queen should be so inquisitive. She seemed especially interested in the fact that there were four of them, and kept on coming back to it. "You are sure there are just four of you?" she asked, "Two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve, neither more nor less?" "Yes," said Edmund, "Two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve," while he stuffed his mouth more full of Turkish Delight and kept saying, "I told you that before," and forgetting to call her your majesty, but she didn't seem to mind now. At last the Turkish delight was all finished, and Edmund was looking very hard at the empty box and wishing that she would ask him whether he would like some more.
     
    Probably the queen knew quite well what he was thinking, for she knew, though Edmund did not, that this was the enchanted Turkish Delight, and that anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it until they killed themselves. But she did not offer him any more. Instead, she said to him, "Son of Adam, I should so like to see your brother and your two sisters. Will you bring them to me?" "I'll try," said Edmund, still looking at the box. "Because, if you did come, bringing them with you of course, I'd be able to give you more Turkish Delight. I can't do it now. The magic will only work once. In my own house, it would be quite another matter." "Why can't we go to your house now?" said Edmund.
     
    When he had first got on her sleigh, he had been afraid that she might drive away with him to some unknown place, from which he would not be able to get back. But he'd forgotten that fear now. "It's a lovely place, my house," said the queen. "I'm sure you would like it. There are whole rooms full of Turkish Delight, and what's more I have no children of my own. I want a nice boy whom I could bring up as a prince. And he would eventually be king of Narnia when I am gone. While this boy would be prince, he would wear a gold crown and eat Turkish Delights all day long. And you are the cleverest and handsomest young man I've ever met. I think you'd make a fine prince, someday when you bring the others to me." "Why not now?" said Edmund. His face had become very red and his mouth and fingers were sticky. He did not look either clever or handsome, whatever the queen might say.
     
    As the story proceeds, Edmund would discover soon enough that he had left the path of wisdom to follow after a path filled with empty promises, whose intention was only to lead him to the destruction of his siblings and himself. He had fallen prey to the seductive power of folly or foolishness.
     
    Fortunately for Edmund, and for us, there is another invitation also calling to us. It comes from the Woman Wisdom. She is a strong and elegant lady, who invites us to walk in her way and to live in her home. It is a well-built home, stocked with everything needed for a fulfilling life, built on a firm foundation, and girded with seven pillars. Since pillars are only used in a house of substantial size and quality, this is a house to be reckoned with. The number seven is often used, as you may know, in scripture to tell us of something that is complete in and of itself.
     
    What Woman Wisdom has to offer is the real deal.
     
    Woman Wisdom was present when God was laying the foundations of all creation, according to Proverbs 8:22 were it says the Lord created wisdom at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts so long ago. Wisdom herself, wisdom personified, calls out and says to the one who lacks sense, "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live and walk in the way of insight." So it starts with a call to repentance. It's recognizing that on our own, we lack sense. We lack insight. We lack the wisdom we need for our walk throughout this life. True wisdom requires a healthy dose of humility being open to correction. As other Proverbs say, give instruction to the wise and they become wiser still. Teach the righteous, and they will gain understanding. And yet another: get wisdom, though it costs all you have, and gain understanding.
     
    Now following after wisdom begins with Proverbs 9 verse 10, right after our reading today. That's a familiar one. It shows up a couple of times in scripture. It says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is in sight. But what is this business of fearing God? Isn't that kind of hard to reconcile with all the other Bible verses that talk about God as being merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast mercy? We can understand and want to follow one who is merciful and kind, but who wants to follow someone we fear?
     
    Apparently, we have to dig in a bit to see what fearing God really meant when it was written, since words written in ancient times don't always have the same meaning as our current usage of a word or phrase. To get into this a bit better, I decided to have some fun by looking up meanings of other words that formerly meant something else than the way we currently use them. Here are a few examples:
     
    Did you know that the word "artificial" originally meant something artfully or skillfully constructed? Quite the opposite of what we mean by the word when we use it today. The word "awful," you can kind of imagine what that meant. It meant inspiring awe, or full of awe, and now it's defined as something very unpleasant. The word "egregious" caught me most by surprise. It now means shockingly bad, but the archaic meaning in the dictionary is remarkably good. I will now be more careful when describing someone as "pretty" when hanging out with Shakespeare fans, because in that genre, the word meant a person who was tricky and not to be trusted. So be careful who you call pretty. Just one more. "Silly" used to mean worthy of happiness. And now it describes someone or something being frivolous or even foolish.
     
    So does that mean that fearing the Lord could mean something other than cowering and dread before God? Yes, yes it certainly does. The original text of Proverbs was of course in Hebrew, and the word there meant respect, reverence, and awe of God. The fear of the Lord begins with that basic recognition of who God is, but it is more than that. The fear of the Lord means that we take God seriously. The fear of the Lord means that we do not casually dismiss or ignore what the Lord says and does, but we continue to learn from God's word, spend time listening to the Holy Spirit breathing truth into us, and worshipping and conversing with others who are seeking after wisdom.
     
    Walking in wisdom means to follow after truth, justice, kindness, mercy, service, honor of God and others, honesty, humility, peace and love above all else. Unfortunately, we see quite the opposite being valued in the crass elements of our society. It takes solid character and strong commitment to walk in the way of wisdom, when so many messages come at us daily that clearly have their origin in the way of folly or foolishness, leading to destruction.
     
    Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people, but as wise, says the Apostle Paul in the book of Ephesians. Both a reading in Proverbs and the gospel today show us the way to live as the wise. It does involve responding to an invitation to a table, the table where we are fed with that which brings us life. A table of true substance that nourishes us for the journey of life, and to a full and abundant life.
     
    Woman Wisdom says, "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity and live, and walk in the way of insight." And Jesus says in John 6, "I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever."
     
    Unlike the shallow, empty promises of the White Queen, or of Woman Folly, or of any other imposter, Jesus as the living bread demonstrated that his promises are true and that they endure forever. He went to the cross to show the depth of God's love for us. He died and was raised back to life. His invitation, to experience life with him at his table that he's prepared for us, has the most credibility that we can imagine. He has conquered death and now wants us to live fully and freely with him eternally. "Come, follow me," he says. Now that is an invitation to accept.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Proverbs 9, The Chronicles of Narnia
  • Aug 12, 2018Wilderness Experiences
    Aug 12, 2018
    Wilderness Experiences
    Series: (All)
    August 12, 2018. We all have wilderness experiences, times when we feel troubled, scared, and depressed. The Prophet Elijah was no stranger to these feelings. Pastor Stephanie talks about Elijah's journey, the origin of the word "companion," and Jesus the living bread, in today's sermon.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I'm sure many of you have heard of wilderness adventures that have been advertised as being exotic and one-of-a-kind experiences. They get people to shell out serious dollars to get away from it all and to experience time and space, to reconnect with nature and one's selves. I'm sure you've heard of them. They come in many forms. Maybe you've even gone off on one and had the time of your life. Having spent some time in the beautiful Rocky Mountains a month ago and hiking back into some less traveled paths, I can relate to refreshing experiences of enjoying wilderness beauty, and many of you can as well. Hardly anything beats slowing down enough to be refreshed by hanging out in beautiful locations.
     
    I assure you there was nothing too exotic on our itinerary. Just some good hiking, photography, and breathing in the lovely alpine air with our family. But judging from the coming and going of so many of you -- some whom I've met briefly and then you've been gone for a Sunday, or I've been gone for a Sunday -- I know that there have been times in our spaces together in which you have traveled as well as I have traveled, and I hope that you've had some wilderness type experiences that have refreshed your soul and your spirit. Because there is tremendous value in getting away to places that are full of natural beauty and near solitude. It helps our mental health, doesn't it? It refreshes our bodies, and our spirits as well.
     
    But sometimes being in the wilderness takes on an entirely different meaning, one that is not so pleasant, and even one that we would love to avoid at all costs. It can be described metaphorically as times when we feel somewhat lost, or at least less anchored. We might be experiencing challenging circumstances and we are feeling deeply discouraged, or we may be coming off a time period where the demands on our physical and emotional health have been such, but now we feel nearly depleted. It's even possible that we cannot put a finger on what it is that makes us feel out of sorts, but we are troubled, sometimes depressed and scared.
     
    We might call these our wilderness experiences.
     
    Now, parenthetically, depression is a tricky thing. Some of what I'll say today could cause more discouragement if you, or someone you know, is going through serious clinical depression. If that's the case, medical treatment should be sought. I would in no way want to be considered suggesting that a person is not spiritual enough when depressive thoughts are present. That is certainly not the case. There are many complicating factors, and it's best to have it fully examined and treated. Right now, we're going to be talking about things that make us mad or sad, like I was talking about with the children. Feeling depleted and discourage is certainly not an uncommon human condition.
     
    I'm sure many of us could relate a bit to Elijah. Even the likes of Elijah, one of the most well-known and respected of the Old Testament prophets, was engulfed in discouragement during the time of our reading. This reading recounts his discouragement following an extraordinarily high high for him, which indicates that success and feel-good moments can actually be rather short-lived, can't they? We can be high and feeling great one day, and the next day something happens and our feelings plummet.
     
    But Elijah has just challenged the Prophets of Baal to a showdown. And to sum it up, God showed up in a very big way to vindicate what Elijah was claiming that God had the power to do. So here in the next scene, we may be quite surprised that Elijah has run out into the wilderness after threats on his life were made by the wicked Queen Jezebel. After all he, had just faced off bigger odds, but now he is deeply shaken to his core.
     
    Elijah is so upset, he sends his servant away. That may mean he thinks he's done with his work that God had sent him to do. He seems to be quitting. He's had enough. Even more telling regarding his state of mind, he said to God that he would prefer that God take his life now. This is serious discouragement. Elijah is at the lowest point of low.
     
    But then he falls asleep, and we are told of this interesting sequence of events: an angel touches him and says, "Get up and eat." Looking around, Elijah sees a cake baking on the hot stones around him, as well as a jar of water. He eats the cake, kind of a bread-like item, and drinks the water, and decides to lie down again. A second time, the angel of the Lord touches him and says, "Get up and eat. Otherwise, the journey will be too much for you." Again, Elijah gets up and eats and drinks. But this time he gets up from his place of dejection and moves on. Apparently this interaction with the messenger from God, and the food and drink provided, have strengthened him enough, because the text says he sets off on a journey for 40 days and 40 nights. That is a pretty significant turn around.
     
    Incidentally, you may know that 40 days and 40 nights is Biblical talk for a Very Long Time. He's setting off on a very long hike. Some rabbinic traditions say that 40 days and 40 nights is the time period it takes to receive refreshment from impurities. In other words, it may take 40 days and 40 nights, or a very long time, for a complete renewal and full vigor to return. So probably, Elijah was in the process of being renewed through that time period as he reflected on God's caring presence in coming to share food with him. How thoughtful it was, he might have reminded himself, for God to come to him and tenderly feed him and encourage him. The more he dwelled on that thought, perhaps the better he felt. We can handle our toughest situations, can't we, when we know that God is with us.
     
    I learned something interesting this week. Something I'm kind of surprised that I'd never heard before. You're going to think I'm changing the subject or that I have lost my train of thought, which could also happen, but I'm going to ask you what the origin of the word "companion" means. Because really it does relate here. So I ask, does anyone seem to know what the origin of the word "companion" means? Who wants to venture a guess? [Someone answers.] Yes, absolutely. He's got it. It means "to have bread with." The Latin root of the word "com" (you probably know, it shows up in a lot of English words) means "with." But "panion" (or "panis" in Latin) means "one with whom we share bread." So it means it "bread." But when you put it with the "com" it becomes "one with whom we share bread." That is what a true companion is.
     
    I guess we all know that eating with others is something we enjoy, but I wonder if we've ever thought of eating bread as being foundational to strengthening us for life's challenges. Of course, when we think about it, it's what happens at every special event we want to commemorate. We have food. And what do we need daily for health and nourishment and nutrition? Food again. So, mix our food, our need for food, our awareness of food, with an awareness of the presence of God, and you have a winning combination.
     
    Both stories in our readings today have two things in common. First, Elijah and the people in the crowd with Jesus are given food to nourish them. And secondly they are aware, to some degree, of the presence of God caring for them as they eat. Essentially they are nourished by the companionship of God with them. We can all handle a lot, can't we, when we sense that God Is with us in whatever we're facing. And sometimes God makes that presence noticeable through sending friends and sending people who encourage us by the spirit of God.
     
    But it's a real difference maker when we know that God is with us despite the circumstances. That's why when Jesus tells us that he is the living bread, he is letting us know that he is with us, always. His presence with us, his companionship with us, is everlasting. His presence as living bread is continuous, making it very different from the manna that God provided for the people in the wilderness after they had fled Egypt. Manna, if you'll recall, had a very short shelf life. It had to be collected every morning and it would spoil if they kept it too long.
     
    But Jesus as the living bread is with us unendingly. Eternally. He never leaves us, nor forsakes us. He is with us in the joyful times, in our wilderness times, and at all times in between. Life wears us down with its demands, responsibilities, and challenges. But the good news, friends, is this: Jesus, the living bread, endlessly refreshes us as our companion on this journey that we call life, giving us strength for our own journeys.
     
    We will be fed once again today as we commune. As we approach the table of grace and provision today, let us be mindful that we are celebrating the companionship that our Lord offers. We are nourished at the table because of the Lord's presence with us. And as we receive these gifts of God, we receive the strength we need for the journey of life.
     
    Thanks be to God. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, podcast, sermon, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot
  • Aug 5, 2018Maturity of Faith
    Aug 5, 2018
    Maturity of Faith
    Series: (All)
    August 5, 2018. Katie Ciorba preaches (and sings!) on Paul's ideas about a maturity of faith. How do we grow in the body of Christ, with a childlike faith versus a childish faith? How do we grieve the loss of our pastors and of valued families, and still look forward together to the work of the Transition and Call Committees? It may seem overwhelming, but we don't have to do this work alone.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    In 1982, Amy Grant (a singer some of you may be familiar with, maybe for some of her later work which became crossover pop music like the song "Baby Baby") came out with the album Age to Age, which really was her first breakout music. She was a Christian singer. I was seven years old at that time, and I thought that Amy Grant sang and looked like an angel. She still is beautiful. She has some really amazing songs on that album. One is called "El Shaddai." There's another song called "Sing Your Praise to the Lord." I knew every single word on that entire album, and not only that but I forced all of the children in my neighborhood to know every word of that album, and we performed concerts for which we charged money to come watch us perform. At that time I still believed that one of the spiritual gifts God had given me was to be a singer. It's not true. But it was also the last time I sang in church. I sang "El Shaddai." Again, I was probably 10 years old and I believed that I could sing that song. So as I was reading the scripture for this week and thinking about where it brings me, one song from this album came to my mind and it's called "Fat Baby." Obviously it's not politically correct, and probably Amy wouldn't be singing it today. And it was buried in the middle of the album. To be honest, it's not a great song. It's a jazzy song and... okay, I will sing a little bit for you. So, pardon me. Remember, it's not my gift. So she says:
     
    He's just a fat little baby! Wa, wa, waaaaa... He wants his bottle, and he don't mean maybe He sampled solid foods once or twice But he says doctrine leaves him cold as ice He's been baptized, sanctified, redeemed by the blood His daily devotions are stuck in the mud He knows the books of the Bible and John 3:16 He's got the biggest King James you've ever seen!
     
    That's it for my singing. So, as I was thinking about this song a lot, thinking about what Paul had said in our epistle for today, he's saying that folks who really show off their Biblical knowledge without having a mature faith is exactly what Amy Grant was singing about. In our scripture, Paul asks us not to be children, but to be mature in Christ, which really led me to think a lot this week: what does it mean to not be a fat baby in Christ?
     
    I don't think that Paul was referring to things like mowing the lawn or paying the bills. You see often now on facebook or Instagram people doing such mundane tasks, and then saying "Hashtag: Adulting." I don't think that's what Paul was talking about in terms of maturity.
     
    I also actually think it's interesting some of the readings use the word, our face should not be like "infants." In our reading today we read "children," but I think actually probably "infants" is a better word for what we're talking about. I don't think Paul is actually being ageist against children. In other parts of the Bible, in Mark for example, Jesus says that the knowledge of God belongs to children. And we often hear that having a childlike faith is something we should aspire to. To me, what a childlike faith means is fully embracing the mystery that is God, and believing with all of our heart, soul, and mind. But perhaps what Paul is referring to is something that Rusty Osborne posits, that Paul is making the distinction between having a childlike faith and having a childish faith.
     
    Here, Paul seems to be saying that maturity is a firm, steadfast belief in Christ that endures times of questioning. He seems to be saying that being mature in our faith is actually a commitment to faith in and of itself. When Matt and I were getting married, many years ago now, I had grown up with a pastor named Pastor Weinman. In marriage counseling, I'll never forget how he talked to us. He said that the truth about human love is that human love waivers, it goes up and down, and there are times that you'll feel amazing love and compassion and passion toward one another, and other times you won't want to look at each other in the morning. But that what marriage is is a commitment to that relationship, that love goes up and down but commitment can be the steady thing. And I think that's what Paul is saying here, that sometimes our faith itself will go up and down, but to be mature in our faith is to be committed to that faith itself. To turn back when we are in times of questioning. That the commitment to faith itself is what makes us mature.
     
    In our gospel today, Jesus also seems to be thinking of the same committed, mature faith in him. This passage comes shortly after the loaves and fishes where Jesus feeds 5000, and people who had no food all of a sudden have food and the crowd is looking for Jesus. They saw this amazing thing, and now they want more. This amazing food was given to them where there was none. And they're looking for him. But Jesus is concerned that they're looking for him because of the food that he gave them, because of the immature way that they are looking for him. They're seeking him out, they're sated. They've had their food and now they want more. And they keep asking him, "What can we do? What can we do to get more of you? What can we do? How can you give us the signs? What's the easiest way for us to get what you have? We want more of it." And Jesus' answer to them is that their work is to believe in God, to be steady in their belief, to be focused not on feeding themselves daily, but to feast on the bread of God, that God provides, of Jesus himself.
     
    This is moving when I think about my own faith. It's often when I'm best fed that I'm grateful and remember to praise God. I'm sure you have your own memories of these times, but mine often include times when I'm in nature or moments when I'm sitting in this pew with my kids and just feeling so good to be together. Or, honestly, on the first day of school when everyone's out the door and I'm in a quiet home. These are the times that I remember to praise God, to look to him, to thank him. To be immersed in my faith.
     
    But I wonder about the times when I'm spiritually hangry. When I'm doing taxes, which definitely makes me hungry and angry, "hangry." And when I'm letting somebody down. When I'm embarrassed. When I have health concerns, or people that I love have health concerns that are questions that aren't getting answers. When I have parenting fails, which is not infrequent. When I'm doing things like wasting my time looking at facebook, or making my brain turn off when I should be engaging with humans that are around me. At those times I yell for signs. But Jesus, the living bread, is not what I'm looking for. I want the easy answers. I want it to be easier. I'm being immature in my faith, in my relationship with Jesus. But the miracle of Jesus is that he says the work for us to do is to believe in God. He understands it, this idea of faith is not simple. It's work. We have to continue to be looking back to what Jesus is doing, and no matter where we are, no matter how hangry we are, Jesus is there turned toward us, ready for us to look back toward him.
     
    The other thing that Paul says is that we cannot do this work, we cannot be in faith, without community. And that we together build our faith and grow in community, growing into the body of Christ. That we don't have to do this work of being mature in our faith alone. And members of the body of Christ, which is all of us and all of the people outside of these doors as well, are members that have different gifts to bring, and shine lights on our faith in different ways. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, to be honest. We are all important to the body of Christ, and we all have gifts, and none of us have to do this alone.
     
    I think as a body we've grieved the loss of our pastors. And I know for many of us, we are also now grieving the loss of the McCarty family. And that anytime a family member, a church member leaves our body, it can feel like an amputation. It's a loss. It's painful, and it's good and right to grieve that loss. I know I personally felt a lot of despair about this loss. And if I'm honest with myself, I have sometimes felt overwhelmed with the work of the church right now. Even as Brett was talking today, thinking about the work of the Transition Team and the Call Team. How are we going to educate our kids? Right now we have a vacuum to be honest, and what's going to happen with our high schoolers? Who's gonna pay for the renovations? All of these questions that weigh me down, that I feel like are mine to carry alone. And then I remember what Paul reminds us over and over again, that in Christ, with the body of God, with the body of Jesus, we have everything we need to complete these tasks.
     
    Knowing that we all have important roles in the church, but we don't have to do everything. We have our specialized roles. One of my favorite podcasts is "On Being" with Krista Tippett. I know Pastor Penny referred to it as well, so it must have the thumbs up. But one of the conversations that Krista had was with a nun named Sister Simone Campbell. She's from Nuns on the Bus. You may have heard of them. They go from town to town with activism and try to tell people about different causes. She has a lot of work through activism and contemplation and she was using the same message of Paul, saying that we need to do our part, even if that's just one thing. So she says in this conversation, "You know how in the scripture Paul says we're all one body. Not everybody is an eye. So one day I was meditating and trying to figure out what part of the body of Christ I am. So I came up with this insight. I think I'm the stomach acid."
     
    She goes on to say that the stomach acid sounds like just such a terrible part, but it's so important for metabolizing food and she says if the stomach acid runs amok it's an illness. So we need to keep it in one part of the body, that it generates energy and heat and all kinds of good stuff, but it is a very specific, small piece that depends on the whole system to be healthy and effective to work right.
     
    I think it's important for us to take a moment to just contemplate our own gifts, how our own gifts move the body of Christ forward. Most of us won't be the stomach acid, and I know O'Brien would say that I would probably be the voice, with my loud announcements. But what do we have to bring to this body together? What do we have to bring to this body, but also to the world?
     
    It can feel so overwhelming to do it alone at our church, yes. But also in this time when we see so much agony; kids separated from parents; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender folks who face death and discrimination simply for loving who they love; health and water crises; not enough healthcare; environmental harm; poverty. But we're reminded that we don't have to do it all alone. In fact, we can't.
     
    Another person that's very popular at this pulpit (actually he never stands here) Pastor Tom Schoenherr has a book that's called The Deeper Journey. In this book, he puts the idea of community and Jesus together eloquently. He says, "Jesus, the bread of life, draws us in the community with him and with one another, giving us joy and the promise of new life, sharing God's love."
     
    Sister Simone Campbell, whom I spoke about earlier, wrote a poem that I think is very poignant about this. She says, "I always joked that the miracle of the loaves and fishes was sharing. The women always knew this. But in this moment of need and notoriety, I ache, tremble, almost weep at folks so hungry, malnourished, faced with spiritual famine of epic proportions. My heart aches with their need. Apostle-like I whine, 'What are we among so many?!' The consistent 2,000 year-old ever new response is this: blessed and broken, you are enough. I savor the blessed, cower at the broken, and pray to be enough."
     
    Dear Jesus, help us to see each other and ourselves as enough as we continue to be spiritually fed, feasting on you, the bread of life, and holding each other steady, mature, yet growing in our faith as the body of Christ.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Katie Ciorba, LGBTQ, Transition Committee, Call Committee
  • Jul 29, 2018God’s Love For All
    Jul 29, 2018
    God’s Love For All
    Series: (All)
    July 29, 2018. The focus of Pastor Tom Schoenherr's sermon today comes from Psalm 145: God's love for all. Sometimes in our society we want to withhold God's grace and mercy for only certain people. But God keeps reminding us that it's for everyone.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
     
    I need to confess that the reading of the psalm was my idea, in order that we might be able to see that in those short amount of verses, there are 14 mentions of "all." Fourteen times I think -- you want to count them to make sure? Fourteen times that "all" is used in that psalm. And it just spoke to me as an evidence of God's multitude of his giving of his abundance. [Holding a paper] I know you can't see this. This is the Pickles cartoon for this weekend. They're both sitting on easy chairs in the living room. Earl is reading the paper. You know, the Pickles cartoon? It's an older couple. There, okay. And then you hear the phone ring. It looks like it's in his pocket. This is kind of a negative example. And he's still reading the paper, and the recording is going on in his pocket. It says, "Hi, this is Earl. I can't answer the phone right now, even though it's in my shirt pocket. At the tone, you can leave a message if you'd like. But who are we kidding? We both know you'd probably have better luck putting it in a bottle and tossing it in the ocean. Have a nice day." And then she looks at him and says, "You know you're despicable, don't you?"
     
    As I said, a kind of negative example of what this psalm and this gospel lesson for today are about. Some of you may use a portion of the psalm as your meal prayer. "The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing." What a wonderful prayer. And it is God's love for all that is the focus of that psalm, and is the focus of Jesus' feeding. It is that gift of God's grace and mercy that we so desperately need in our lives and in our world that we receive from God in this special way.
     
    Our world, including you and me, at times is very anxious. We live in an anxious time. People are kind of upset a lot, and into this world, into this anxiety, God gives a message that he has come to bring grace and mercy to all. And we want to withhold it for only certain ones. Or our society and our world do. But God keeps saying no, it's for all. It's for everyone. The words from the psalm are, "The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down."
     
    Dr. Rachel Remen tells a story about a time when she was on an airplane and she was sitting at the bulkhead. She was on the aisle seat, there was an empty seat, and then there was an older man who was sitting next to the window. And he was just looking out the window. She sat down and she put her purse in that empty seat, and then she opened a book. She was going to read as much as she could on this flight. And then the flight attendants came along and they were giving out a snack to people (this is a long time ago) of a bagel and a pint of yogurt. Well, she went back to reading her book, and then she heard her seat mate gasp. She looked down, and he had spilled all of that yogurt on to the carpeting of the floor, onto his shoe, and onto a small carry-on bag that was under the seat. She waited, thinking that he was going to do something to try to clean it up, but nothing happened.
     
    And so she looked and she noticed that he had a brace that was on his left leg. She thought, his left leg is paralyzed. She turned on her light for the flight attendants to come and help, but they were quite busy with the rest of the plane and plane passengers. And so when the flight attendant came, she was really quite upset with Rachel for asking her to do this little favor. But Rachel Remen said, "All I really need is if you would give me a wet towel, and I'll take care of it myself." Soon the wet towel came, and Rachel had it and he talked to her and said, "You know, eight months ago I had a stroke. And I don't have any feeling from my fingertips to my elbows in either arm. And of course, my left leg is paralyzed." And she said, "You know, I wear an ileostomy bag. And I have bad eyesight, and flying is not the easiest thing for me to do." And so he looked and he saw that she had this wet towel. His right leg was tucked underneath the seat, and he brought it out and she said to him, "May I?" And she proceeded to wipe off his shoes and the floor and the carry-on bag. And then he bent down toward her and he said, "You know, I used to play the violin."
     
    This man was suffering. Bowed down. Broken. A person who was in need at that particular time. And she was there to do the simple thing of wiping up the mess, and cleaning up what needed to be done.
     
    We are all suffering. It is suffering that describes us as human beings. It connects us to one another. None of us goes through life without having some suffering or brokenness of some kind in our lives. If we separate ourselves from one another, and separate ourselves from God and God's ways, we may feel very much alone and in the darkness. It's a very difficult thing.
     
    Many believe we are living in a zero-sum game. That when somebody else gets something good, then we don't and we lose something of our own. That's not the way God works. That is not God's way among us. For God's gift is for all, and everything is given. He gives everything he has for all.
     
    When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, the disciples would have heard that story as they heard Jesus speaking. And given the division between Jews and Samaritans, they probably would have expected that Jesus would have said that the Samaritan went through the man's pants pockets and took out his billfold and took out his credit cards and took out his money and his keys and walked away. But that isn't what happened. The Samaritan had pity on this man, put him on his own donkey, and took him to an inn where they were both welcomed.
     
    Isn't that God's way, even with those that we don't feel very comfortable with? Jesus calls us to give all. God says give it all away. And yet we know that there are lots of people, or at least some, who would go through the pants pockets and take out the billfold and take out the credit cards and the cash and the keys and walk away. We know that that's true.
     
    So what do we do? How do we live? Do we want to live in that suspicion of everybody who is anybody apart from me? And those who are immediately around me are always going to be suspected of doing those kinds of things? God says that's not a good way to live. And God continues to give and give and give for all, without suspicion of what the person's motives might be or what they might do.
     
    There's an ancient form of Japanese art called Kintsugi. What it does is to take valuable possessions that are cracked and broken, and mend them with gold leaf. So that you see the big crack in the bowl that you normally might throw away in the garbage. But it's valued and honored by the way in which it is repaired. And so you see all of that gold where those cracks and broken parts were, and it's all put back together.
     
    I wonder if that's what God's way is with us. We are cracked and broken people, whom he invites to the table again this morning. We come with all our cracks, all our our foibles, all of our fallenness, all of our brokenness, all of our bowed-down-ness. We bring it all to Jesus. And he takes it and he returns to us our lives -- where it was cracked and broken, filled with the gold leaf of God's abiding love In Jesus Christ. And that gift of forgiveness and healing is ours to share.
     
    There were twelve baskets left over. Were all of those thrown away, all of that food? We live in a society that wastes so much food. No, it was taken and given to others who might need it, so that all might be satisfied, all might know that abundant love of God that has come for all.
     
    The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord. You give us our food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing. No longer do we need to live with clenched fists, only thinking about ourselves and those around us that we know. But our hands are open, that we might share the abundance of God's grace and mercy and love with all of God's people, as God has so abundantly shared them with you and me.
     
    In Jesus' name, amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Paster Tom Schoenherr, Psalm 145:16-17
  • Jul 22, 2018One of Those Days
    Jul 22, 2018
    One of Those Days
    Series: (All)
    July 22, 2018. Have you ever had one of those days when you just need to have a break? Jesus and his disciples had those days. He had compassion for the human need facing him, and as his followers his compassion begins to take hold in our lives. So what do we do when we need some rest? Pastor Stephanie's sermon today is about following our shepherd and receiving what we need from his hands.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    You've all had "those days," haven't you? When all you want to do is get away from work after a [mic cuts out]. (I'm having one of those days. Okay, at least I got the children's message in the right time. But now I've got to shut the mic off. So here we go.) But you had those days where all you want to do is get away from work after a trying day, or from the nursing home where you become emotionally drained, or from school with its impossible demands on your time, or frankly from your colicky child whom you love more than life itself, but now you just have to have a break. You long for a place where you can relax in peace and quiet, where you can experience some comfort and refreshment, and you're just about to, and the relief is on the way, and then something happens to interrupt your plans. And you're back on duty being responsible and caring for the needs of others.
     
    This is pretty much where we find Jesus and his disciples in our gospel reading today. They've had it rough -- and I mean emotionally, physically, mentally, in every possible way rough. They're just coming off the horrific news, as we read in the scriptures last week, of the death of John the Baptist. And that would have been unnerving at the very least. To know that Herod's family system would take such vengeance on one of their own would have shaken them to the core. John was not only a co-worker, if you will. He was Jesus' own cousin and possibly one of his closest confidants.
     
    What was going on in Herod's palace? During that time, the disciples had been out in the countryside, sent by Jesus to cast out unclean spirits and to heal the sick. That had to be quite demanding as well. Exhilarating, and yet challenging. So now we have them all getting reunited. What a debriefing process that must have been: super, super high highs, and at least one devastating low. They are all beyond tired and weary from it all. So Jesus suggest that they retreat for some much needed R&R, and that is where they are headed as they make their way across the sea when they are met with enormous need, right in front of them. Crowds of people have gathered along the shoreline, desperate to experience Jesus' healing presence for themselves and their loved ones.
     
    The nearest I can come to imagining this would be to relate to you an experience I had in South India in 2006. My husband and I were part of a group of eight people who, with our gracious hosts from the church of South India, visited churches, schools, and medical facilities connected to our denomination's mission work. We were there for 14 life-changing days. Never have I met so many joy-filled, dedicated Christian believers all in one place as we met there. Nor have I met such crowds of people with so many looks of desperation and pleas of help on their very beings. To be with a small entourage in a sea of human need in the city of Chennai, or even on the hillsides of Kerala, is something I will never forget. I only know that by about day 12, I was nearly completely physically exhausted, and it was an over-the-top emotionally draining experience.
     
    Now, let's go back to the scene where Jesus and his disciples are anticipating a much-needed rest. They've had many days of meeting needs and caring for people, while managing their own weariness from doing so. Imagine the reality of that time of rest fading away as they face the vast human need coming into focus before their eyes. Can you imagine trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus' face in slow motion as he catches a glimpse of the crowd? What kind of face do you expect to see? A tired face, an annoyed face? Perhaps a little mix of both? Maybe we imagine Jesus sighing deeply, knowing there's still work to be done, but internally wishing it were not so. Not right now.
     
    We could relate to any one of those responses. Perhaps there was a mixture of those descriptions pertinent to Jesus at that time, but the prevailing image that is created in the gospel of Jesus at that point is whatever it takes for us to imagine a look of compassion on his face, compassion that overrides the rest of what was going on inside of him. We are told that Jesus was moved deeply from within by seeing the people in such need, and with such earnestness to receive from him. In the words ascribed to him there, we see that he noted that the people were tired and harried and "were like sheep without a shepherd." We can hear, even in those words, that he said how his heart was going out to them.
     
    Compassion. The Greek word is splagchnizomai. It's not a word synonymous with pity, as we often use it in our own language. It's a word that you can almost feel as you say it. You want to practice that? Splagchnizomai. It calls for something from the deep, because it is literally a visceral word. It means to be moved down deep into the deepest part of our beings, even described as being passion that arrives from our bowels.
     
    It makes me think of something like the feeling we had when we heard of the devastating accident at Table Rock Lake a few days ago. It was bad enough learning of the fatalities and feeling with the families who experience the loss of loved ones. But then it got even more intense when we learned that one woman and her nephew lost nine of their family members. For her it was the loss of her husband and all of her children. That is incomprehensible. One cannot help but have a physical reaction to such a situation. That's more than we can bear to imagine for another.
     
    But when we have a feeling of relating so deeply to the pain and hurt that another must be feeling, we do often bear some of the pain within ourselves. That is compassion in its rawest form. It means to have pathos or feeling with one another. The prefix "com" means "with." A compassionate response is to relate deeply, to suffer with or alongside, whatever is causing sorrow for another. Even saying this I know that I have hooked some of you in situations where you have had deep compassion for the sorrow of another, and for yourself perhaps.
     
    Mark shows us over and over again, Jesus demonstrates for us what it is like to be full of compassion, because just as we say "God is love" it's also true that God in Jesus is compassion. As followers of Jesus, his compassion begins to take hold of our lives. He gives us the opportunity and the ability to see what he sees, the more the reality of his dwelling within us takes hold. As we receive grace and provision for ourselves a transaction of sorts takes place. He transforms us, introducing grateful response for what we have received, which in turn helps us to be able to want to give that to others. We are able to give to another something qualitatively more valuable because of his presence in our lives than we could have ever conjured up ourselves. In a very real way the Good Shepherd operates through us, shaping us into people who are more able to see others with compassion and with love.
     
    As we grow in compassion, we can see what Jesus sees in each person a little bit more clearly. I think we together could compile a rather lengthy list among ourselves, if I were to ask you what calls for compassion in your life. What has taken extra strength and prayer for you to deal with, because it is intense and causes you to feel deeply for those who are suffering? I might suggest an easy one: family members and friends with chronic illnesses would surely make the list. Also thinking of those who live without adequate food or shelter. Additionally, policies in our government that make life more difficult for the most vulnerable. Hearing instances of bullying that degrade people, or seeing it in our schools, neighborhoods, or workplaces. And certainly when recurring incidences of racial discrimination and mistreatment occur in our city, time and again, and we imagine how hurtful that is. That's just to name a few items on a list, and I'm sure you have plenty more that pop into your head.
     
    I came across a story this week that I liked because it stretches us to see how Jesus taught us to see. It goes like this: A rabbi once asked his pupils how they could tell when night had ended and day had begun. "Could it be," said one of the students, "That when you see an animal off in the distance, you are able to tell it is a sheep rather than a dog?" "No," said the rabbi. Another said, "Is it when you are looking off in the distance at some trees, and you see a particular one and you can identify that as a fig tree rather than a peach tree?" "No, that is not it," answered the rabbi. After a few more unsuccessful suggestions, the pupils demanded of the rabbi, "Then what is it? How can we tell when night has ended and day has begun?" It is when you look at the face of a woman or man, a girl or a boy, and on that face you see your sister or your brother," said the rabbi, "Because if you cannot see this, it is still night."
     
    Even in our short time together, I can already see that this congregation is growing, and has grown significantly in seeing the face of others created in the image of God, not only within the congregation but within this community and the world at large. We see it, we know it, and even yet that isn't always the main issue as we know. Some of you may be thinking in response to all of this: I do see this. I do feel this. I have this list, but I am tired and weary myself. All that is going on in the world and with people for whom I care who are struggling, wears me out. Every day a new crisis or two is reported. We already see and feel too much of the world's burden many times.
     
    It is true that we are in a similar place to that of the disciples in our gospel reading. We too are invited to take a rest to be restored within the context of so very much need, so many people who are tired and harried and wanting something which will fill them.
     
    So what do we do? We too continue to follow the shepherd and receive what we need from his hands. It is for our own needs. It is also so we have something to give to others. He shepherds us, he feeds us, he heals us because he loves us and wants us to be filled with his love and grace. He also sends us out as the fed and healed sons and daughters to be his compassionate presence wherever we go.
     
    As we receive the words of life shared with us today, read, sung, and prayed together, and as we receive the nourishment that is present at the table, we are given some of the rest that we need. We are fed and refreshed from a never-ending supply of grace. It comes from the bread and wine given and poured out by the compassionate one to address the weariness and the hurriedness of our lives. It is given to restore hope, to experience healing, and to receive strength for the journey that each each of us must travel.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot
  • Jul 15, 2018Almost Too Good To Be True
    Jul 15, 2018
    Almost Too Good To Be True
    Series: (All)
    July 15, 2018. The Apostle Paul's letter to the Ephesians sounds almost too good to be true, perhaps a bit too gushy for some of our sensibilities. Pastor Stephanie preaches on this passage, and on the plan that God has for us all.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Sometimes when I confront a Biblical passage, it seems too big, too wonderful, too exalted to dare preach about it. Many of the passages, as you know, are so sublime and glorious that it's downright intimidating to think that any one of us could do it justice. I feel that way this morning about the words of a letter to the Ephesians that was read for us earlier, and yet it kept calling to me to work with it this Sunday.
     
    Realize, dear congregation, that the intro to this letter is something really special. I'm sure you caught the wide sweeping language the Apostle Paul employs to capture our imaginations, of a powerful vision for us regarding our relationship with a grand and loving God. So, how is the Apostle Paul handling this here? Mostly he is not giving a doctrinal lesson, as he sometimes does in Romans, although there is some of that here, nor is he giving an ethical lecture like he does to the church in Corinth. This passage is more like an overture to a vast musical composition in which all the great themes of a symphony are introduced. Paul seems to hurl himself here into a great burst of praise to God. In the Greek text, the passage that Pastor Jim read is one sentence, one sentence of long celebration that goes on and on for 12 verses. It's been broken down into a few sentences for us in English, thankfully for our reading, but it is still a mouthful for a lector to read, and a whole lot of soaring rhetoric for our minds to comprehend.
     
    So, how can and should this be preached? Even at this moment I'm not entirely sure, but I don't think it's to dissect it and analyze every piece of it. That's for an in-depth biblical study to do that. But focusing so narrowly on it would be to miss its wonder and depth. So somehow together I hope we can gain a glimpse of the vision expressed here and enter into its power.
     
    If this happens throughout our time here today, then we will have received what this text wants to give us: mental, emotional, and spiritual engagement that becomes a symphony of praise offered to our God. You do know that I run the risk here of sounding like a salesperson with an offer that is too good to be true, don't you? You heard the language employed here. It's one thing for the Apostle Paul to use this language, but for ordinary people like me, to go on and on about how you and I are chosen, how we are accepted, how we are adopted by God, how we are graced beyond our imaginations, how we are forgiven of everything we have ever done, how we are lavished with the riches of God's grace, how we are destined according to God's promises, and heirs of the almighty God... All of that could breed some distrust and suspicion, as I would imagine. That sounds almost too good to be true.
     
    The superlatives here border on the "bit too gushy" for some of our sensibilities. After all, over time we've had to become realists, and some of this sounds a bit too lofty to comprehend and to be completely true, through and through. Haven't we all listened to enough commercials and promotions to wonder if this language isn't just a bit over the top?
     
    We'll see as we move forward, but maybe, just maybe we need to examine what might be at play for us, even if it does sound too good to be true. First of all, one of the major concepts here is that we are beloved by God. That's well established throughout Scripture. God says in many places and times, "I have called you by name and you are mine." Another psalm says our names are written in the palm of God's hands. We have the whole narrative and theology of the fact that Christ died for us, even in our sin while we were yet sinners, loved us enough to die for us, and Jesus himself calls us his friends.
     
    And further, beyond that, it says that God has plans for us. That is abundantly clear in Ephesians. When I was growing up I knew that my mother had plans for me. She had health issues, and found the physicians who cared for her to be compassionate and admirable. Therefore, she developed this goal or purpose for me since I love studying the natural sciences. Anyway, she made it clear that she thought I should go into medicine. Well, my dad worked in a bank and he thought I could be a warm and friendly hometown loan officer, in the bank in the little community like he was. Since I liked math as well, that was enough for him.
     
    I'm sure you can see where this is going. I never did go into either field that fit my parents' plans for me. I think they got over it, eventually. I did not even go into a field that fit my own earlier plans for myself. I loved, loved, loved my second grade teacher, so much that I thought I was going to be an elementary school teacher. Eventually, of course, a different career path became obvious to me. But what my career became was only a piece, a small piece of the growing recognition of where God was moving in my life. More than what I did as a career, was the awareness that God had a wider, bigger picture for me as a person, as a child of God, a disciple, one baptized and called into the plans of God, just as God does for each and every person, here and beyond.
     
    These plans have existed since before time was created, and they are big and grand and very important. These plans and purposes that God has for us are amazing. What we do relates to this. But even more, who we are and how we operate seem to be in God's scheme of things. Paul tells us in Ephesians that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love. He goes on to say that God destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the beloved.
     
    The most obvious connection for this passage is our baptism. Where we rejoice that God has chosen us. God claims us as his own. When we remember how Christ washed away our sins and made us new creations in Christ. In baptism, we experience the sign and seal of God's promises. We recognize that this is a gift, because there's nothing that we could ever do to deserve the life we receive in Christ. Through remembering our baptism, we acknowledge that God chose us to be beloved sons and daughters, and God commissions us to be bearers of the promises of God throughout our lives. That is our true vocation and calling. To live as children of God who see our adoption into God's family as a grace gift, welcoming others to receive that same gift is part of the purpose and plan for our lives that God has always had for us.
     
    One of my favorite seminary professors endlessly found ways to weave a phrase that is prominent in this passage into most of the lectures I remember him giving. He taught homiletics and an elective class on prayer. If William Brownson has a theme to his teaching and his life, and he still does at age 90 I might add, it is that we are called to live for the praise of God's glory, whether we are preaching, teaching, performing surgery, caring for children or the elderly, preparing accounting reports, practicing for a piano recital, playing soccer, or sitting in a wheelchair and wondering what's next, our purposes are to be the same. However our lives evolve, God has destined us to live for the praise of God's glory.
     
    That isn't always easy to figure out, especially when times get tough. I'll give you a clue though in what makes this easier. It's something that most of us profess to know and believe, but in our day-to-day life it can be a little hard to hang on to. Spoiler alert, it's all going to turn out well in the end.
     
    The novel that God is writing has a very, very happy ending. Paul reminds us of this too in this passage. He says according to God's good pleasure that he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, God will gather up all things in him, things in Heaven and things on Earth. All of history is moving steadily toward the time when people of all tribes, of every language, will gather around the throne of God, singing to the praise of God's glory and every wrong will be righted, every tear wiped away. The dead will be raised in Christ, and all that has become corrupt and destructive will be made brand new and beautiful. Breathtakingly beautiful, isn't it?
     
    But what about now? We're not there yet. Now all around us people believe the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Sometimes that even includes us. Taking this Ephesians passage to heart, however, means we cannot give up hope. I'm sure we could all name a few situations that do seem hopeless to us. Most of the time we have good reason to think that, at least in the short term but certainly not in the long term. Paul is showing us this expansive vision for the plan of God as revealed in Christ, which claims that all things eventually work out for the glory of God. That, if nothing else, reminds us of the power of the gospel. God's grace prevails. It's over all and in all and cannot be conquered by evil. It's even given where not deserved. We cannot begin to comprehend how things we find so reprehensible can ever be redeemed, but God can imagine that and is making it so.
     
    How then do we fit into this as the adopted children of God, into this plan? As we reflect on the grace of God toward us, chosen, adopted, given a purpose, richly blessed with a massive inheritance of love, destined to live for the praise of God's glory, we are repositories of hope and grace to be shown to others.
     
    We can, ironically, be somewhat light-hearted, since the heavy lifting for all of this has already been done by God in and through us. And yet there's something weighty about this role as well. This playing the glory of God is no small thing. The Hebrew word for it is Chabad and it contains a gravitas, a significant awareness of the unique difference the presence of God makes. It's nothing to be taken flippantly. Paul would say that to live for the praise of God's glory means to live daringly, to live conscientiously in the presence of God, that in every situation God wills to bring hope and redemption.
     
    That very thing was what gave the disciples courage, even at the beheading of John the Baptist, something so horrible and vulgar that one could never get over it were it not for the awareness of the goodness of God being able to ultimately triumph over evil. It's also what gave the prophet Amos the chutzpa to speak truth to power about the state of Israel's life. Knowing God's truth and goodness are so much bigger than self-centered leaders gives a person that ability.
     
    It's what gives us the courage and fortitude to look suffering in the face with the eyes of love and the confidence that God is indeed making all things new. William Sloane Coffin, author and longtime pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, once noted that when we think about living as God's beloved children, we are often rather short-sighted in understanding what that really means. We sentimentally describe the sweet, simple trust of children. But Coffin wrote that we should not underestimate this sweet idealism of children. It's children, after all, who want to save the seals, save the whales, and save everybody else while they're at it. It's kids who set up lemonade stands and sell cookies so they can turn their nickels and dimes over to this or that relief effort. It's children who take home those little church-shaped banks and fill them with copper coins and then bring them back to the church, really believing that those pennies will make a new addition to the church or buy enough mosquito nets to really save lives. It's children who have a neighborhood walk around a school, holding up homemade signs calling for racial reconciliation and really believing that they are making a difference by taking to the sidewalk in that way. Of course, we encourage this in children. We buy the lemonade, we compliment their delicious cookies, and we stick our loose change into empty coffee cans.
     
    I think this Ephesians passage is encouraging us all to take up our own hopeful campaigns and causes with the end in mind. If God has plans for our lives to contribute to the restoration of the cosmos that is eventually coming, let's not lose heart at the things that look dismal today. But rather joyfully, enthusiastically join with children of all ages, beloved children of God, in doing the hopeful things that point to a God whose purposes are bigger than we ever dared to ask or imagine.
     
    We are chosen. We are destined. We are the baptized. We are set free and set loose to live for the praise of God's glory. People who live in Christ know that everything we have ever needed has been lavished upon us freely and completely. We know and believe that since we live in that sphere of influence that is Christ Jesus, it is precisely simple acts of trust, quiet acts of kindness, a gentleness of spirit, and a willingness to witness to the gospel, that can make all the difference in the world. One day that grace will change the world.
     
    Actually, by God's grace, it's already happening. Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot
  • Jul 8, 2018A Divine Humility
    Jul 8, 2018
    A Divine Humility
    Series: (All)
    July 8, 2018. Jesus was not accepted as the messiah in his own hometown. Pastor Jim Bennett's message is about how God's strength is shown best in weakness and humility, something that may be difficult for us, like the people of Nazareth, to embrace today.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I wonder if Christ Lutheran Church has ever had a son or a daughter who was raised in the church, and then went on to become an ordained pastor. There's a story of a new, young minister being introduced to her home congregation for the first time following her ordination to word and sacrament ministry. Her parents were proud. Her pastor was proud. Her Sunday School teachers were proud. Everybody was proud. She was surprised by the long, loud applause when she was introduced. And being young and quick of wit, she responded, "When there is applause at the start of one's ministry, that's faith. When there is applause in the middle of one's ministry, that's hope. When there's applause at the end of one's ministry, that's charity."
     
    When Jesus walked into his hometown of Nazareth for the first time after his commissioning in the temple, there was no applause. The people were not proud. They were confused. They reacted with disbelief to his words and deeds saying, "Is this not the carpenter?" They could not believe that Jesus of Nazareth, that small child that they perceived as a bit arrogant for having taught in the temple as a young boy, was there in their midst, was actually the Messiah that all the other surrounding towns were so excited about. The people of Nazareth could not accept Jesus for who or what he was because of their preconceived ideas that they carried with them.
     
    Let me digress just for a moment, if you will. Martin Luther was known for conveying some radical ideas about the gospel. I joined the Lutheran Church as a teenager and I have to confess, being unchurched for many, many years, that at that time, my life could have been a poster child for what inspired Luther's well-worn phrase where he said, "Sin boldly that grace may abound."
     
    Now, I'm not trying to compare myself with Jesus. But when I announced ten years later that I was intending to go to seminary to become a pastor, there were some people who, to say the least, had some quizzical looks on their faces. And following my ordination, I remember being invited back to my home congregation to face those proud Sunday School teachers who probably saw me as proof that miracles still exist.
     
    The people of Nazareth in Jesus' day, and sometimes the people in our own congregations, have some firmly set expectations of what or who they expect pastors and prophets to be. And the church has a right to expect that those who are called to be set apart in this way, to be above reproach, and who are respectful and honorable women and men who preach the Good News, who preach the gospel.
     
    But someone forgot to tell the people of Nazareth that the gospel that Jesus wants us to hear really can come across in two ways. The gospel is intended to comfort the afflicted, but it's also intended to inflict the comfortable. And I think Jesus in Nazareth did the latter.
     
    You remember that young woman pastor in the story that I started my sermon with, whose congregation was so proud of her? Well, the sermon that she preached that first Sunday after her ordination was one where the message conveyed an advocation for social justice. She was really challenging her congregation to step up and do some amazing things. She was calling her congregation to a higher level of accountability. Some members thought that she was pretty tough on them, but they thought she was young and they were still proud. So they invited her to return, year after year, and the second year when she came back, the very next year she preached the same sermon. Well, they were still proud. They were a little confused but they thought well, she's young. Maybe she forgot she preached the same sermon the year before.
     
    The next year she returned and she preached the same sermon as the two previous years. At that point they were less proud, and they were a little confused and angry. So the chair of the worship committee was appointed by the church council to take her aside and ask her, "Why is it that you continue to preach that same uncomfortable message year after year?" And she responded, "You know, I grew up in this congregation. And week after week, I heard the gospel that was comfortable to our members. And sometimes we need to hear the gospel that afflicts the comfortable. It sounds like you finally got my message."
     
    Now, I believe that to be an apocryphal story. But it speaks to our gospel lesson today. Jesus' message never got through to the people of his hometown. The story suggests that whenever someone comes into our midst, and shows or invites us to think in a radically different way from what we are used to believing or thinking about God, or about God's love, we feel threatened and our reaction is to judge or disbelieve.
     
    The people of Nazareth had placed their faith in a messiah that turned out to be a carpenter who grew up in their own town, and their belief made it impossible for God's good works to be done there.
     
    God's news can guide the work of God's people. It can be rough going at times. Some might believe that that's because we really need stronger, more charismatic or powerful leaders who represent God and inspire those who respond to God's message of the gospel to action. Well, that's probably the attitude the people of Nazareth had. A God who is strong and all-knowing should have the message proclaimed by those with similar characteristics. Yet there stood Jesus, that humble Carpenter.
     
    In our second lesson today, which was the theme for my children's sermon, the Apostle Paul tried to explain to the church at Corinth that God's strength shows through best in weakness. That may seem counterintuitive, but I invite you to think about it: Christ's human weakness allowed him to die on the cross, and then God turned that weakness into the most powerful message in human history.
     
    There has always been a point of tension between the humanity and divinity of Christ, between his weakness and his strength, and I think that is the same for many of us today. There are those who feel that they need to be in complete control of their lives, who are confident and self-reliant, that there is no room for doubt in their faith. And they have then little need for God. They're self-made women and men. And all of those characteristics, those traits, can be positive except when they become barriers to growth or barriers to relationship.
     
    I could not help think back to an old Mac Davis song from 1980. You probably have to be over 50 to remember this song. And I do believe he wrote it tongue-in-cheek, but it was titled "Oh Lord, It's Hard To Be Humble When You're Perfect In Every Way." You can Google that if you'd like.
     
    But then come those sudden chest pains. The lump in our neck or our breast, maybe a pink slip from work. Or the announcement of a separation or divorce. It stops us in our tracks and it reminds us that we are not gods. But we are mere mortals, frail and vulnerable. Those chinks in our armor are God's contact points. In our broken, imperfect lives God's light finds opportunities to show through in those cracks.
     
    Ralph Waldo Emerson is noted to have said, "As no person had ever a point of pride that was not injurious to him or her, so no person had ever a defect that was not in some way made useful to them." Strong, self-reliant people never had the opportunity to know the power or strength that can be found in weakness. Any human weakness can restore our sense of humility that leaves room for God's strength.
     
    It brings us into a condition of grace that is open to the light and spirit of God, and I have found that to be true in my own life and in the lives of many of the people to whom I come in contact with in my ministry.
     
    The people of God in Nazareth did not understand that concept that God's strength is shown best in weakness and humility. And even today it's difficult in our 21st Century for Americans to embrace it. We admire people who are strong, and given the choice between power and weakness, who would not choose power? We look for signs of God in the strong and powerful, and often overlook God in humble human interactions.
     
    But I wonder if our faith in God encountered in our everyday human condition is not really stronger in faith than that which relies on powerful proof in exceptional situations. Our gospel lesson states that because the people of Nazareth could not accept Jesus he could do no mighty works there. If, like the people of Nazareth, we cannot recognize God's presence in the most simple of people or situations, and perhaps even in the tragedies of our lives, God will not be able to do God's Mighty works.
     
    We look back to scripture and see the marvels of God, and have little doubt of the power of God. But the gospel, the Good News of God, wants us to embrace a divine humility found in God's weakness, God's death on the cross. The Apostle Paul knew what it was like to carry such weakness in his life. He talked about it as a thorn in his flesh and he prayed several times to "keep me from being afflicted." But God spoke to him. He said, "I sought the Lord about this that it should leave me. But he said, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' So I am content with weakness, for when I am weak I am strong."
     
    May God use our weakness to spread the Good News. And may we be open to hearing the Good News that comes in unexpected ways from unexpected people.
     
    But not Mac Davis.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Jim Bennett