Mar 5, 2017
Our North Star
Series: (All)
March 5, 2017. Do we need a kind of North Star in our lives? Today we hear the gospel story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. How did he know he was being tempted? Pastor Penny preaches on this text and says that he knew because what the devil was offering didn't match up with his mission. Our mission, like Jesus', is to help and care for others. Knowing this helps us to know when we're being tempted. And we can resist temptation because of our loving relationship with God, a relationship that becomes our North Star that will guide us home.
 
*** Transcript ***
 
We begin this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 
Well you may know this, but I just discovered that the North Star is not a particular star — that it is a kind of a star. And that right now as we are alive, Polaris is the North Star, but that different stars throughout the eons have served as a North Star. And a North Star is simply the star that is closest to the North Pole, that aligns with it most closely. And of course, the beauty of having a star that serves as a North Star is that in the night sky all the other stars seem to be rotating around and they're moving, but the North Star does not. So through the centuries, sailors for instance could always find their way by the North Star that would lead them safely home. And I bring that up because I think that as we talk about temptation, which is what our lessons are about today, we really need a kind of North Star for our lives.
 
Temptation is the topic. Adam and Eve were tempted in the garden. Jesus was tempted in the desert. And we are tempted in all kinds of different places. Maybe sometimes at our computer we're tempted to push "send" and send an angry comment, an angry email, or maybe to post something a little sarcastic. Or maybe it's that we're tempted to push "buy" when we shouldn't, but it's a spur-of-the-moment decision to purchase something that we really don't need. Or maybe we're tempted to have just one more cookie, or just one more drink. In either case, we don't really need them. Or maybe it's a matter of how we use our time. You know, we're tempted to watch just one more movie, play just one more video game, spend just a little longer on Facebook, or do one more crossword puzzle. Maybe we're tempted to spend another session in the gym or spend a long time on our phone, or maybe go to just one more store in the mall or online. And in all these cases, as we're confronted with things that can tempt us I think we need to ask two questions: how can we recognize when we're being tempted, and once we realize that how do we resist?
 
Well, we can look to Jesus in the gospel today, because he was tempted. There's nothing wrong with being tempted; it's what you do with it. And it's interesting, what you wouldn't know necessarily is that the thing that happened just before the lesson today is that Jesus was baptized. And then immediately after his baptism the Spirit of God sends him into the wilderness to be tempted. Now, why would the Father send his Son to be tempted? Is it that he wanted him to have some practice in resisting temptation and build up his moral muscles? Did he want Jesus to understand the human situation? We don't really know. But he was sent there, and a spirit — called Satan, the devil, the tempter — tempted him. And Jesus had to figure out what and whether he was being tempted. Because the first two temptations don't really stand out. Jesus had fasted and his fast was over, so what was wrong about accepting some food? Or the second one: Jesus as the Son of God had special powers. Was it really so bad to have a little fun and jump off a high building and watch the angels scoop you up and protect you? But the third one — that probably stood out as a clear temptation — was when the devil said all these kingdoms and their glory will be yours if you worship me.
 
How did Jesus determine whether he was being tempted or not? He used one method — and that was to see if those things being offered matched up with his mission. Jesus had a mission in life. And he knew what that mission was from scripture. And that's why he kept quoting all these passages from scripture. He knew his mission, and he knew his mission was not to have power and glory. He knew it was not to be frivolous about the powers that he had and tempt the angels. He even knew that his mission wasn't always to have a full stomach. He knew his mission was to rescue us. He knew his mission was to be a poor, traveling healer, who would be hurt and crucified and die and rise again, so that we might be children of God. He knew his mission, so he knew when he was being tempted.
 
Well, Jesus' mission is really, in some respects, our mission. Not that we're rescuing him, but we are called to look out for other people. So our mission isn't just to do whatever we're able to do or buy whatever we have money to buy or experience whatever we have opportunity to experience. Our mission is to see how our actions impact other people, to help people and to care about them. Knowing our mission helps us to know when we are being tempted. To spend hours on the phone with a friend who's going through a hard time, for instance, might very well be part of our mission in caring for people. To spend hours on the phone building ourselves up by criticizing other people and talking behind their backs would probably be a temptation. To spend a lot of time at the gym in preparation for the occasional marathon might be part of our mission to keep our bodies intact and maybe enjoy the community of athletes. But spending time at the gym to avoid responsibilities of schoolwork or work or family responsibilities — that could be a temptation.
 
So knowing that we have a mission helps us to identify and recognize when we're being tempted. But what do we do when we know we're being tempted? How do we have the strength to withstand those temptations? In the play — and it's also a book and a movie — To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is a lawyer in a small, southern town. And he has been appointed to stand up, to be the lawyer for a black man who has been accused of attacking a white woman. Now, he had a temptation not to do that, not to be that man's lawyer, because the whole town didn't like the man and they didn't want Atticus to do it. But Atticus felt he was being unfairly accused, that he was an innocent man. And so he went ahead and became his lawyer, and he was a strong lawyer in his defense. Of course, he paid a price. His family paid a price, and he paid a price. They were even attacked. But he didn't give in to the temptation. And then later on in the play he thinks his son might have been implicated in a crime, and he's tempted by his friend who's the sheriff to just sweep the evidence under the rug and forget about it. But Atticus says no. He says I can't be one person in church and another person in life. He says, if I don't live up to the things I've taught my son, I will lose him. And he is my most precious possession. Atticus did not give in. He had the strength to resist temptation because of a loving relationship, because he cared for his son and his son cared for him.
 
It is a loving relationship that Jesus uses to give himself strength. The relationship, of course, with the Father. He is in constant communication with his Heavenly Father through prayer. He senses the Father's presence in his regular worship, and we get a glimpse into the closeness between Jesus and his Father — the love they have for each other — in the prayer that he prays in the Book of John shortly before he is taken into custody. It goes like this (he's praying to the Father about his disciples): the glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me — that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you love me. That loving relationship is what gave Jesus strength. It was his North Star. The relationship he had with a loving Father guided him, gave him strength, and gave him the ability to make it home safely.
 
It's interesting that both Atticus Finch and Jesus Christ are not motivated by dread or fear. It's not a drudgery for them to resist temptation and to follow their mission. Instead, they do it out of love — love for someone who loves them. Maybe, as we think of ourselves going through life with various temptations, and we think of our relationship to our Heavenly Father, maybe the prodigal son will help us get some insight into how we interact with God. You know the story of the Prodigal Son probably. He took his father's hard-earned money, he went out and squandered it, and then he was penniless and hungry so he headed for home. And I think a lot of times we think, oh he went home because he had to. That was the only place, that was the last place he could go, so he went. But I wonder if there wasn't more to it than that. I can imagine him walking along those dusty paths home and thinking about his father, thinking about the relationship he had had with his father, how his father sacrificed to provide for him, how his father taught him, how his father had dreams for this son, a mission. And he must have hoped that that love that he used to know was still there. Well of course, we know the end to that story. The father is standing there with open arms ready to forgive this son when he comes home, still loving him.
 
That father figure represents for us our relationship with our heavenly parent, with God. Because we know that in the same way, God has sacrificed to provide for us, God has taught us, God has given us strength, and God, like the father in the Prodigal Son, forgives us when we fall on our faces. So it is that relationship with a loving God that is the most important relationship we have in life. And as we go through a field of temptations, it is that relationship with a loving God which becomes our North Star that will guide us safely home.
 
Amen.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2017, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 15:11-32, Prodigal Son, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
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  • Mar 5, 2017Our North Star
    Mar 5, 2017
    Our North Star
    Series: (All)
    March 5, 2017. Do we need a kind of North Star in our lives? Today we hear the gospel story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. How did he know he was being tempted? Pastor Penny preaches on this text and says that he knew because what the devil was offering didn't match up with his mission. Our mission, like Jesus', is to help and care for others. Knowing this helps us to know when we're being tempted. And we can resist temptation because of our loving relationship with God, a relationship that becomes our North Star that will guide us home.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    Well you may know this, but I just discovered that the North Star is not a particular star — that it is a kind of a star. And that right now as we are alive, Polaris is the North Star, but that different stars throughout the eons have served as a North Star. And a North Star is simply the star that is closest to the North Pole, that aligns with it most closely. And of course, the beauty of having a star that serves as a North Star is that in the night sky all the other stars seem to be rotating around and they're moving, but the North Star does not. So through the centuries, sailors for instance could always find their way by the North Star that would lead them safely home. And I bring that up because I think that as we talk about temptation, which is what our lessons are about today, we really need a kind of North Star for our lives.
     
    Temptation is the topic. Adam and Eve were tempted in the garden. Jesus was tempted in the desert. And we are tempted in all kinds of different places. Maybe sometimes at our computer we're tempted to push "send" and send an angry comment, an angry email, or maybe to post something a little sarcastic. Or maybe it's that we're tempted to push "buy" when we shouldn't, but it's a spur-of-the-moment decision to purchase something that we really don't need. Or maybe we're tempted to have just one more cookie, or just one more drink. In either case, we don't really need them. Or maybe it's a matter of how we use our time. You know, we're tempted to watch just one more movie, play just one more video game, spend just a little longer on Facebook, or do one more crossword puzzle. Maybe we're tempted to spend another session in the gym or spend a long time on our phone, or maybe go to just one more store in the mall or online. And in all these cases, as we're confronted with things that can tempt us I think we need to ask two questions: how can we recognize when we're being tempted, and once we realize that how do we resist?
     
    Well, we can look to Jesus in the gospel today, because he was tempted. There's nothing wrong with being tempted; it's what you do with it. And it's interesting, what you wouldn't know necessarily is that the thing that happened just before the lesson today is that Jesus was baptized. And then immediately after his baptism the Spirit of God sends him into the wilderness to be tempted. Now, why would the Father send his Son to be tempted? Is it that he wanted him to have some practice in resisting temptation and build up his moral muscles? Did he want Jesus to understand the human situation? We don't really know. But he was sent there, and a spirit — called Satan, the devil, the tempter — tempted him. And Jesus had to figure out what and whether he was being tempted. Because the first two temptations don't really stand out. Jesus had fasted and his fast was over, so what was wrong about accepting some food? Or the second one: Jesus as the Son of God had special powers. Was it really so bad to have a little fun and jump off a high building and watch the angels scoop you up and protect you? But the third one — that probably stood out as a clear temptation — was when the devil said all these kingdoms and their glory will be yours if you worship me.
     
    How did Jesus determine whether he was being tempted or not? He used one method — and that was to see if those things being offered matched up with his mission. Jesus had a mission in life. And he knew what that mission was from scripture. And that's why he kept quoting all these passages from scripture. He knew his mission, and he knew his mission was not to have power and glory. He knew it was not to be frivolous about the powers that he had and tempt the angels. He even knew that his mission wasn't always to have a full stomach. He knew his mission was to rescue us. He knew his mission was to be a poor, traveling healer, who would be hurt and crucified and die and rise again, so that we might be children of God. He knew his mission, so he knew when he was being tempted.
     
    Well, Jesus' mission is really, in some respects, our mission. Not that we're rescuing him, but we are called to look out for other people. So our mission isn't just to do whatever we're able to do or buy whatever we have money to buy or experience whatever we have opportunity to experience. Our mission is to see how our actions impact other people, to help people and to care about them. Knowing our mission helps us to know when we are being tempted. To spend hours on the phone with a friend who's going through a hard time, for instance, might very well be part of our mission in caring for people. To spend hours on the phone building ourselves up by criticizing other people and talking behind their backs would probably be a temptation. To spend a lot of time at the gym in preparation for the occasional marathon might be part of our mission to keep our bodies intact and maybe enjoy the community of athletes. But spending time at the gym to avoid responsibilities of schoolwork or work or family responsibilities — that could be a temptation.
     
    So knowing that we have a mission helps us to identify and recognize when we're being tempted. But what do we do when we know we're being tempted? How do we have the strength to withstand those temptations? In the play — and it's also a book and a movie — To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is a lawyer in a small, southern town. And he has been appointed to stand up, to be the lawyer for a black man who has been accused of attacking a white woman. Now, he had a temptation not to do that, not to be that man's lawyer, because the whole town didn't like the man and they didn't want Atticus to do it. But Atticus felt he was being unfairly accused, that he was an innocent man. And so he went ahead and became his lawyer, and he was a strong lawyer in his defense. Of course, he paid a price. His family paid a price, and he paid a price. They were even attacked. But he didn't give in to the temptation. And then later on in the play he thinks his son might have been implicated in a crime, and he's tempted by his friend who's the sheriff to just sweep the evidence under the rug and forget about it. But Atticus says no. He says I can't be one person in church and another person in life. He says, if I don't live up to the things I've taught my son, I will lose him. And he is my most precious possession. Atticus did not give in. He had the strength to resist temptation because of a loving relationship, because he cared for his son and his son cared for him.
     
    It is a loving relationship that Jesus uses to give himself strength. The relationship, of course, with the Father. He is in constant communication with his Heavenly Father through prayer. He senses the Father's presence in his regular worship, and we get a glimpse into the closeness between Jesus and his Father — the love they have for each other — in the prayer that he prays in the Book of John shortly before he is taken into custody. It goes like this (he's praying to the Father about his disciples): the glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me — that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you love me. That loving relationship is what gave Jesus strength. It was his North Star. The relationship he had with a loving Father guided him, gave him strength, and gave him the ability to make it home safely.
     
    It's interesting that both Atticus Finch and Jesus Christ are not motivated by dread or fear. It's not a drudgery for them to resist temptation and to follow their mission. Instead, they do it out of love — love for someone who loves them. Maybe, as we think of ourselves going through life with various temptations, and we think of our relationship to our Heavenly Father, maybe the prodigal son will help us get some insight into how we interact with God. You know the story of the Prodigal Son probably. He took his father's hard-earned money, he went out and squandered it, and then he was penniless and hungry so he headed for home. And I think a lot of times we think, oh he went home because he had to. That was the only place, that was the last place he could go, so he went. But I wonder if there wasn't more to it than that. I can imagine him walking along those dusty paths home and thinking about his father, thinking about the relationship he had had with his father, how his father sacrificed to provide for him, how his father taught him, how his father had dreams for this son, a mission. And he must have hoped that that love that he used to know was still there. Well of course, we know the end to that story. The father is standing there with open arms ready to forgive this son when he comes home, still loving him.
     
    That father figure represents for us our relationship with our heavenly parent, with God. Because we know that in the same way, God has sacrificed to provide for us, God has taught us, God has given us strength, and God, like the father in the Prodigal Son, forgives us when we fall on our faces. So it is that relationship with a loving God that is the most important relationship we have in life. And as we go through a field of temptations, it is that relationship with a loving God which becomes our North Star that will guide us safely home.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2017, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 15:11-32, Prodigal Son, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  • Feb 26, 2017We’ve Got Work to Do
    Feb 26, 2017
    We’ve Got Work to Do
    Series: (All)
    February 26, 2017. We live in different worlds and have different experiences. We are white and black, police and nonpolice, hopeful and hopeless. It's all too easy to live our lives without knowing how other people live theirs. But when that bubble bursts, what do we do? Being exposed to new truths can be overwhelming. Pastor Penny relates this to how it must have been for Jesus' disciples, wondering whether they were on the right track following him. Jesus shared his vision with the disciples. What is God's vision for us, and what are we called to do with this new understanding? *** [Keywords: African Americans Bible Easter morning Father 2 Father Ferguson Get up and don't be afraid God was at work God's action in our world Holy Redeemer James Jerusalem Jesus would be crucified Jewish cemetary Jews John Lenten journey Lutheran Mediterranean Muslim PBS Peter Pontius Pilate Roman Catholic Rust Belt Syrians The Talk This is my son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased Transfiguration United Nations a few bad actors actions of Jesus afraid agonizing experiences alive again anger animosity ban been followed in store black people bottom of socioeconomic ladder boy's body brightness brought people together bubble burst caucasians civil war cloud college students come to worship command conflict country courage to listen cowardice crack open these silos crowds came out crucified days that followed demean different experience disappearing lifestyles disciples dishonor documentary drought drowned election face to face fisherman follow him forgave going to hell in a handbasket good will prevail grave challenge to police hardship have hope headed to Jerusalem healed healing holy communion honor and revere hope dried up hopeful and hopeless how do we deal hymns ideologically opposed insinuations insult jobs dried up killed by police late night comedians lepers lips of Christian friends listen to him little boys killed live in a bubble lived in shadows lives of others love your enemies males media midweek services millions of children mosque mountain new ways of understanding no hope no jobs norms of our society not comfortable not trying to escape on the right track out of body experience outright lies overwhelmed Penny Holste police and nonpolice political enemies politicians power of God prayers pulling gun pushed over headstones re-energized reignited rejuvenated religious leaders religious radio stations rituals selfishness shoplifting split second standards of decency have really dropped starvation stopped by police take heart the Word time for a vision together bringing love to this world two different worlds unclean unjustly untouchables vandals violence of mobs visionary experiences voice of God warning we have each other we have the world we support you we welcome immigrants we've got work to do what Jesus would say what are we supposed to do white and black white people without knowing about other people's lives worked together]
  • Feb 19, 2017Nevertheless, He Persisted
    Feb 19, 2017
    Nevertheless, He Persisted
    Series: (All)
    February 19, 2017. What is perfection? In Matthew 5:38-48 Jesus says we are to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect. But what does it mean to be perfect? Pastor Tom Schoenherr discusses this text, and suggests that we are to reach toward the goal of a life in deep and mature relationship with God. It's difficult for us to love those who have hurt us, but Jesus calls us to the struggle. He understands that we can't attain perfection but he calls us to persist. *** [Keywords: Bible Christ-like Janet Jan Roock Jesus July 31 LGBT deal with prejudice Maddy Roock Mark Roock Matthew 5:38-48 Pastor Tom Schoenherr Senator Elizabeth Warren Senator Mitch McConnell Sermon on the Mount abused all the way to the cross amputation as our heavenly Father is perfect at the table beyond our understanding bigger weapons boys and girls of God brokenness carers church combative coming alongside each of us compound fractures legs conflicts continue to move forward deeper relationship difficult doormats drawing us close to himself dreadfully imperfect easier take revenge emotional abuse empty tomb enemy of Christ eye for an eye feeding us flawless follower of Christ forgivers forgiving us give new life grief he persisted heal his own blood his own body holy hospital hurt impossible internal decapitation killed life in deep relationship with God life they have love your enemies lovers loving enemies mature maturity men and women of God mission mourn nevertheless she persisted new way to live and love in the world no matter our struggle outside Kingdom of Heaven pain people deal with racism perfection persisted persistence physical abuse prosthesis pursuing goal reach toward the goal reaching for a goal retribution sadness sexual abuse sisters struggle in persisting terrible accident therapy they persisted took great abuse in his own life took lives tooth for a tooth troubled vengeance was given an explanation was told was warned we are to be perfect we're not alone without sin woman reached out touched Jesus' robe woman spent time to find lost coin woman walked into temple gave everything she had woman wet Jesus' feet with her tears, dried with hair women who deal with sexism]
  • Feb 12, 2017Righteousness
    Feb 12, 2017
    Righteousness
    Series: (All)
    February 12, 2017. In Matthew 5:20-37, Jesus warns us that we cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. Pastor Keith talks about how righteousness isn’t just about adding up all the right actions, but about being in right relationships — with God, with those we love, and within the Christian community. Righteousness was a difficult concept for Martin Luther until he realized that God has already done everything so that we can be in perfect relationship. When we come to God every week, he helps us avoid temptation, to reconcile, and to make peace.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We look at this text from Matthew as we begin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    We hear a gospel like today's and it sounds pretty difficult. Jesus says that unless we exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, we cannot enter the kingdom of God. That's pretty hard on its own. But then he gives examples, and none of us find ourselves very clean as we hear that long list of things that doesn't just talk about actions, but what goes on in our mind as well. The scribes and Pharisees had dedicated themselves to keeping every little bit of the law. They said that it was important that everyone keep all of them. They had 613 extra ones -- the Talmud -- that bolstered the Ten Commandments and the other things that were in the Old Testament. So they were really into keeping all these little laws about the things that you're supposed to do, and to keep the Jewish faith and to be a good Jewish person. And so all that was going on. But Jesus says that's nothing compared to what I expect from you. To be more righteous than that is a very tough assignment. And Jesus goes on and says how they weren't even keeping the law very well, because he takes into account the motives and what goes on in the mind and the heart, besides what is written. It sounds very impossible.
     
    We know how we seem to innately kind of want to shrink the law, make it to a size that's manageable. We can shrink it to say "I won't steal," and so we don't steal. Or we say "I won't commit adultery," and we don't commit adultery. We find areas where we think we can keep it and we say, well I've done okay in these areas. Maybe that's good enough when I'm measured against the rules. But then we hear Jesus describe this process, and it's very unnerving. We wonder how we can ever be saved if all of our inner motives and our desires or temptations are condemning us -- let alone the small parts of the holy law that we break each week. How can we or anyone have a chance?
     
    This is what drove Martin Luther nearly crazy for quite a while in his life. When he was a monk, his confessor said he was spending way too much time in the confessional booth, and way too much time up at night feeling sorry and feeling convicted by his sins. How could he ever enter heaven, he wondered. He couldn't control his thoughts. He would think of something bad, and he would go back and have to confess it. And as soon as he'd do that the thoughts would enter his mind again, and it would start all over again. He never found peace in this period. And some believe he damaged his health permanently by the stress he put himself through in this time when he could never find peace, because he just knew he was always convicted by this word of Jesus. But through his study of scripture, Luther began to see the forgiving love of God. He began to see it wasn't a matter of being perfect or of having no hope, or being perfect in heart and mind and action, and then having to be condemned forever. He began to see that God in Jesus had come to save him and everyone from this problem. There was a way for him to have righteousness that exceeded that of the scribes and the Pharisees. There was a way to have peace with God. And it could change all those human relationships too, that Jesus was so concerned about. Jesus had said unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you are condemned.
     
    When we look at the Old English word of "righteousness" it literally means "right-wise" or "right way" or "right relationship." Its early true meaning wasn't to center on adding up all the rights and wrongs in a person's life. It was a measure of relationship. That's what Jesus is getting at here: being in a right relationship with God. When you're in a right relationship, you don't focus on the little actions and the words and the rules, and make them the main thing. Rather, you focus on your love for God or for the other person, and their love for you. And you act in ways that are loving for them. You do that automatically. You don't go to the rule book and say, I'm supposed to be doing these things for that person. You love them. You love God. And you do the things that naturally flow from that. When we have this right relationship with God, we are one with God. And indeed then, our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, because we are in a loving relationship with our God and our thoughts and our actions are redeemed by God. We will naturally then live out what is best for the relationship. Then it's not so much that we have to do certain things, but we get to do the best things for the relationship.
     
    But Luther figured out finally that it wasn't all up to him. It had all been done for him by God in Christ. Jesus knew what all happened with people. That's why he could name all those temptations and things that people do. He was willing to take all those things upon himself, keep them all upon himself, and die with all those things. And when he did, a righteous or right way relationship with God became possible. He died with all those things and he rose, and with that God brought forgiveness to us and gave us righteousness. That is a right way of being with God. We began to be in a good relationship with God. We began to do those things and live in those ways that God wants us to do, because God sees us now as little Christs, people wearing Christ around with us. God cares for us, and we know that we have someone in God whom we can trust and love, rather than someone we need to fear and try to placate all the time and live despairing that we will never do enough to please God. Jesus accomplished the way for us to live right-wise, in a good relationship with God.
     
    In many ways it's like how we see marriage. That is, we love the person that we're married to, and have a good relationship with them. Because we love them, we do things for them. We live for them. We want them to flourish in life. We want them to be satisfied. We want them to have happiness. We don't go around with a rule book saying I need to do this or that to please my spouse. Because we know them and love them, we do what will build them up. Our relationship comes first, and the words and the actions follow. Jesus is saying that when it gets turned around, then the relationship's pretty much gone. When we focus on doing the right little things and not on the relationship, we're going the wrong direction. We may be doing okay on this small scale doing some of the correct things. But if we do it without the relationship things like Paul says, or like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal, they're empty. They are noises without meaning. The love needs to be there. We know how we don't always keep the love in the relationship right, and we wander off. We do things wrong. We focus on the little things rather than the relationship. We start to feel that things aren't right and we know that we need to find our way back. We may need to step back and think about where we are with God, with those we thought we loved, and with those in our Christian community.
     
    Jesus uses that example in our lesson today. Two people have forgotten the good relationship they have in Jesus. They go to make their offering at the worship service, but they don't like each other as they do make their offering. Jesus says stop, go and make peace with the other, and then come back and bring the offering. Jesus isn't interested in money that isn't given in love. When we share and make the peace in our worship, that is what we're doing. We're making God happy by showing our love for our Lord. We're restoring our faith relationship so we can be in good relationship as we stand before the Lord. So sometimes we do need to step back and evaluate where we are in a relationship, whether with Jesus or with someone else. We need to mend that relationship to be right with that person. Then we can proceed into a right relationship with God. It doesn't work to say we love God but not to love those who are around us, especially fellow ones in Christ. There are right times to make reconciliations, to heal wounds, and to do what's necessary to make things right with others, so that we can be in a right relationship with God.
     
    Peter Steinke is a Lutheran pastor, but also a psychologist. He's written a number of books on things that make healthy people and healthy congregations. He notes that relationships often get into trouble when they get fearful and anxious, and the people in the relationships begin to pull into themselves, become more self-centered, and less open to what's happening around them. For good health he says it's good to keep an outward focus and be engaged with the world around. And the same, he believes, is true for congregations. When congregations become self-centered and self-oriented they don't do so well. They get ingrown and tend to fight among themselves. But when congregations look outward, work together to do mission and projects outside themselves, they do things together and it builds up the spirit of oneness and enthusiasm for mission, looking outward rather than inward. The temptations are always there. There are always temptations to look inward, to focus on the small things instead of the relationships we are a part of, to think about ourselves and to ignore or harm those who are around us. We find these temptations in our relationships, especially when we aren't feeling very good about ourselves. We find these temptations in our communities of faith when we lose sight of the mission we all have as God's family, and think more about how things are with me. And we're tempted to do it as a country or even as the world, as people in countries draw back into individualism and tribalism rather than thinking of the whole world as having the potential to be a whole world wide community.
     
    We come together here every week because we know how easily we forget and go back to our old ways. So we come here every week to be reminded that it isn't about us, but it's about us and our Lord. Just like in our human relationships, we can get sloppy sometimes and don't care for them very well. We need to come every week to be strengthened in our relationship with our Lord. We receive the good word of God's love. We receive the meal that God offers us. It's a meal of reconciliation. We make our peace. We make our offering. We can offer ourselves because God has made that peace with us, and declare that we are at one with God. God has done everything so that we can be in a perfect relationship. Because of God we can have and live with righteousness -- even righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and of the Pharisees. Amen.
     
    Now may this peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2017, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, Matthew 5:20-37
  • Feb 5, 2017Build Bridges, Not Walls
    Feb 5, 2017
    Build Bridges, Not Walls
    Series: (All)
    February 5, 2017. In Matthew 5:13-20, Jesus tells us that we’re the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In the time of Jesus, salt and light were very important. We’re important too. Especially now, with our politics and our communities and country divided more than ever, Jesus urges us not to hide our light. Instead of building walls between us and those with whom we disagree, we should build bridges. We’re reminded just how much power God gives us, and in her sermon today Pastor Penny talks about some ways we can be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I want to start with a word association this morning. If I would say Starbucks, you would say? If I would say McDonald's? Okay, how about Boeing? And Enterprise? Christ Lutheran Church? We have to think, right? What is our product? It's not quite so easy, and it might be different for different people. And you have to think about it. I think that some churches are known for things that they do within their four walls. Good Shepherd Lutheran Church hosts the Feed My Starving Children program, and we've been involved in that. We think of that, maybe, when we think of that church. There are churches that have a community meal. There are churches that might have daycare or a latchkey after school. But I have to believe that what people know about a congregation is not so much what happens here, but what happens outside these walls. I believe that we are the product of Christ Lutheran Church -- that you all are the product. And when you think about how many people (I was asking the children how many people they see) think of the people that we make contact with in one day's time. And then multiply it by all of you. You know that our impact is mostly felt out in the world. We are the product of Christ Lutheran Church.
     
    And Jesus tells us how important we are as a product. He says, You are the light of the world. You are the salt of the earth. And of course, salt and light are important today. Food would taste pretty bad without a little salt. But in Jesus' day, salt and light were very important. Salt particularly, because it was the way you preserved food. It became a very important trade commodity, salt did, and we get our word salary (like in "earning a salary") from the Latin word for salt, because some Roman soldiers were paid in salt. That's how important it was. Light, of course, is always important. If we didn't have artificial light when the sun went down, we wouldn't get much done. In Jesus' day, when the sun went down they would light little lamps with oil. And it wasn't a very bright light, but it allowed them to go out into the world in safety or to stay home and do what they needed to do safely and securely and with comfort. So when Jesus says you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, he means it is very important.
     
    And it is, and you are. You are these things in your communities. You -- through your words of encouragement, through your faithful work, wherever you work, through your volunteer efforts, through the promises you make and faithfully keep, through the protests or marches you're in or the prayers you pray, when you show patience with a child, when you sacrifice for a friend -- you are the light of the world, the salt of the earth. And you are important. And I think we are especially important right now, because this is a hard time as a nation and as a world community. We know that with each new event that happens in politics, our country is more divided. When we think of the last two weeks under a new administration, I know that a good share of the country is going "Yes!" and a good share of the country is going "No!" And a good share of the country is saying, I don't know what's going on. I'm going to wait and see. We are divided. So it is very much the time that we need to be salt and light.
     
    And I think that's why Jesus urges us in today's gospel not to, he said, let your salt lose its flavor. And I'm not quite sure how to depict that. But he says don't put your light under a bushel basket. Don't hide your light. And I do think it would be easy to do that right now, with all the division in our country. It would be easy to do it by disengaging, by just turning off the news and throwing yourself into your work, into your family, into your hobbies, into the Super Bowl and just saying, I really have no control over this and I don't have that much power. So I'm just not going to bother with it. But Jesus said we do have power. A little bit of salt goes a long way. A little candle, when the power goes out in a storm and you reach for that candle or that flashlight, makes a big difference. A little bit of God's power goes a long way.
     
    In the second lesson, Paul said to his congregation, "I came to you and I didn't have lofty wisdom or lofty words. I was trembling," he said. "But my meager words had power because the Spirit was behind them." In the same way, we may feel powerless. But God says, You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. If we don't disengage, we might be tempted to hide our life in the opposite way. We might accept our power and use it abusively. Instead of disengaging, we might demonize the people we don't agree with. We might demonize the other side. We might eagerly take every negative statement we hear, every stereotype, and began piling these grievances on one another, like we're building a wall, until we've built a wall -- and we can't see through it or beyond it to see the goodness or even the neutrality of people who are on the other side. And when we do that, when we demonize people, what we do is we not only discard their ideas, their political views, but we discard them as people. We stop asking why. Why do they believe differently than I do? What hardships have they experienced in the past that makes them feel the way they do? What good have they experienced that they want to bring back again? Why do they believe the way they do? So clearly, if we are not to hide our light under a bushel basket, if we are not to disengage or demonize, we've got to build bridges and not walls. And that requires us to talk. We have to be willing to listen and to talk to people we don't agree with.
     
    Maybe you saw the news story about the Retired Marine who went around the country, and he'd go to cities and he'd hold a placard that said "I am a Marine and a Muslim. Ask me anything." And people did. When he listened and he talked, I'm sure he learned a lot, and they did too. I said this at first service -- and I'm waiting for someone to take me up on it: I would love it if this congregation could model what that could look like, because I'm sure we have the wide range of political spectrum here in this congregation. If we could model what it would be like to talk about controversial subjects, and do it while we care for each other, what a light we would be to this community, and really to the world. It may be, however, that you just feel that you haven't got the energy to take this on, that you just don't have the strength to fight this fight, to try to listen and to try to speak to people who don't agree with you. And in that case, I think it's important to remember that when Jesus said you are the light of the world and you are the salt of the earth, the "you" in Greek was plural. He meant we as a community are that. Sometimes we need to hold each other up. When one of us gets weary, we need to give each other strength. And that's why we come here on Sunday morning. That's why we worship here. That's why we pray together. We pray for understanding and for wisdom. We pray to have the courage to live out the beliefs that we have. And we pray for people who don't agree with us.
     
    Or maybe you have the strength, but you're just not sure. You're in that middle group and you just don't know what to believe. What is right? What is the right thing to do? What is the right thing to say? Well, we could look at Jesus' life. And he gives us a glimpse of that in the last part of the gospel, where he talks about the law and fulfilling it. We see in Jesus' life that he did not keep the law -- he fulfilled it. And that sometimes meant breaking the law. Like when he healed people on the Sabbath, or when he ate with the outcasts, the church society said no. No, don't do that. And Jesus said yes, this is the will of God. Because he knew God, because he had a firm relationship with the Heavenly Father, he knew what God would want him to do in that situation. It's kind of like if you have older children, and parents go out for the evening and the children are on their own, and you have this rule: you say "no friends over." In fact, don't let anybody in for safety's sake. Well if there's a fire, of course they're going to let in the firefighters and they're going to break your commandment. But they're going to fulfill your wishes as parents, because they know we love them, and they know what you would want them to do in that situation. So it all comes down to the relationship we have with God, that we stay close so that we can let God speak to us about how to live out our faith in these separate situations.
     
    It's all about our relationship with God. And you know, our relationship with God is strong. Our relationship with God is solid, not because our faith is so strong or our self-discipline is so strong or our wisdom is so strong, but because God's love for us is unshakable -- so much so that Jesus died to make us what we are. So when it comes right down to it, being the light of the world simply means to be what God has made us to be, to stay close to God, and to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2017, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Matthew 5:13-20, 1 Corinthians 2:1-12
  • Jan 29, 2017Blessing and Honor
    Jan 29, 2017
    Blessing and Honor
    Series: (All)
    January 29, 2017. Today we hear about the Beatitudes, the eight blessings from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, and consider a new way to look at blessings. God has a plan to make life better for the poor in spirit; those who mourn; the meek; and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Pastor Penny preaches that by honoring them, those of us who are merciful; pure in heart; peacemakers; and persecuted for righteousness sake can provide strength and comfort to the downtrodden, and then everyone is blessed. *** [Keywords: Aleppo Bana Alabed Beatitudes Gospel of Matthew Jesus Latin Palestinians Pastor Penny SUV Sermon on the Mount St. Louis Syria Tom Lake argument bad choices badmouthed beautiful reward begging blessing civil war comfort comforted contractor crayon on walls crowds of people destitute disciples doormats down and out downtrodden drugs employees employers followers greatest reward homeless honor honorable house being sold inherit the earth insulation justice kingdom of Heaven merciful middle class might makes right murders never solved no hope no land no power peacemakers persecuted pity police officer poor in spirit power pure in heart refugee camp righteousness safety net satisfied second third chance shot spiritless stains on carpet stand up strength success teenager the meek those who hunger and thirst those who mourn translated translation tweeted]
  • Jan 22, 2017Mending Our Nets
    Jan 22, 2017
    Mending Our Nets
    Series: (All)
    January 22, 2017. Today we hear from the Gospel of Matthew. In the beginning of Jesus' ministry, he picks up John the Baptist's message of repentance, going around telling people about a new way to live. He convinces Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew, who were suffering under the thumb of the Roman government, to leave their fishing nets and follow him. Pastor Keith reminds us that while government is a gift, our ultimate allegiance is not to government but to our Lord, who comes to us with good news and a new way to order things. *** [Keywords: Andrew Capernaum Gentiles God's benevolent style Greece Herod James Jesus John John the Baptist Joseph Mary Matthew Nazareth Pastor Keith Persia Roman Sea of Galilee Simon called Peter abundance allegiance daily bread democracy disease empire of God fishermen fishing follow me frayed good news government healing healthcare inauguration mending ministry mixed-race nets new economy new way to live politics refugees repentance scarcity separation sickness taxing center trading route wellness wise men]
  • Jan 8, 2017Fulfilling Our Promise
    Jan 8, 2017
    Fulfilling Our Promise
    Series: (All)
    January 8, 2017. Baptism is a two-way street. God promises us his unconditional love, and we too make a promise. We promise to follow in God's way. The roles we play in our lives may describe us, but only God can define us. He has made us more. Pastor Penny talks today about how we can use the encouragement God gives to us to live out his way and fulfill the promise we made at our baptisms.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    It has been said that when Sam Houston, famous politician and soldier and also given to fights, was baptized as an adult in a spring in a river, when he came up out of the water his friends congratulated him and they said, "Well general, now all your sins have been washed away." "If that be the case," Houston said, "Then God help the fish." He was an honest politician. And certainly when we think of baptism, as I mentioned with the children, we think of our sins being washed away. But baptism is so much more. And it kind of caught me off guard in our text study: baptism is a two-way street. We think of baptism as God's promise of unconditional love and strength. But we make a promise too. We make a promise at our baptisms, as a response to God's gracious offer. We promise to stay away from sin and to follow in God's way. I think it's really hard to keep in mind that second part. You know, it's wonderful to know that your parents love you. But then if that means you have to clean your room, that's a little harder. It's wonderful to know that God loves us unconditionally, but it's not always easy to pry ourselves out of a warm house on a cold January morning -- which you did -- and write out that check for the offering when you have other needs. It's easy to focus only on what God is doing and not what we do. Maybe when our response seems hard, when it's hard to come to focus on our response to God's promise, we need to look at God's promise again. What is actually being promised in baptism?
     
    Jesus' baptism is a good case in point. And it may have surprised you, as it does every year, that Jesus was just born two weeks ago and now he is an adult and he's being baptized. Well, of course it's because we know so little about his life in those intervening years. There's one story about him. But it serves our purpose well today to think that Jesus arrives at his baptism with a clean slate. He has not begun his ministry. He's done no miracles. He's done no teaching, no healings, no self-sacrificial acts. And still God says to him in baptism, "This is my Son, my Beloved, in whom I am well pleased." We hear God also saying a similar thing to another unnamed servant, in the Old Testament lesson in Isaiah we read this morning where God says to his servant, "My soul is delighted in you." Those are the words that are meant to be conveyed to us in our baptisms: that God is delighted in us.
     
    And you know, this is unconditional. Just as Jesus had not done anything yet in his ministry, just as an infant has done nothing to deserve God's love, and the promise is made -- so that promise continues throughout our lives unconditionally, whether we begrudgingly came to church this morning, or whether we have had an argument with our best friend, whether we have recently fallen off the wagon (whatever that could mean in your life), whether we have shirked our duties and instead involved ourselves in activities that gave us pleasure, whether we have hurt someone we love. Even then God is delighted in us, because that is who God is. Because that is who God chose to be. Because God chose us as children. Now I think we need to know, I think we have a yearning to know, that God loves us unconditionally.
     
    A few days ago Keith and I went to the movie "Fences" starring Denzel Washington. He plays a man in the early 20th century who is from a poor neighborhood, but he does have a job, a home, a wife. He loves a child, but he has a yearning for more. He has a yearning, he says, to be able to laugh from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head, to be able to sing. I think he needed fulfillment. He needed to know he was more than his job or his marriage or his parenthood. And I think we can understand that, because we are many things too. We play many roles. We have many interests in life. We are husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, children. We are doctors, lawyers, students, teachers. We are knitters, we are bridge players, we are runners, we are golfers. And these things bring us joy, and sometimes they don't. But is that really who we are? Don't we have a yearning to know that there's more to us than that? These things come and go. These things might describe us, but they do not define us. We are more than all the things we do and all the roles we play and all the things we've accomplished. And God tells us what does tell us who we are. And it is God's promise of unconditional love, no matter what, that we are bringing delight to God's soul. That is what defines us. And when we focus on that, that does give us the encouragement to live out our part of the bargain, to live out God's righteousness.
     
    The word "righteous" comes up a couple times in today's texts. And it has a lot of meanings. But you notice that at first, John wouldn't baptize Jesus because Jesus had no sins to wash away. But Jesus insisted. He said no, we'll do it to fulfill all righteousness. And then in Isaiah, the passage that Brett read, God says to this unnamed servant, "I have called you in righteousness to be a covenant to the world, to be a light to the nations, to bring sight to the blind, to open the dungeons of all those who are slaves." Now, this isn't talking about keeping the rules. When we pledge to God at our baptisms we are not saying that we are going to keep all the rules, because we know we won't. But what we are pledging is to let God use us to bring righteousness to the world, to make the world all right.
     
    Sometimes we see that done in people's lives, that response to their baptismal vow in such a clear way. Many of you know about Harriet Tubman. I don't know a lot about her, but I've been hearing more about her lately, and she is so intriguing. An African-American woman who was born in the early 1800s, born a slave in the state of Maryland. And she was in a horrible situation, as most slaves are. And by using the Underground Railroad, that network of people that helped slaves escape, she was able to get away to her freedom in Philadelphia. She was a strong Christian. She felt that God called her to certain things. She had dreams. So she went back into slave territory 13 times, risking her own freedom and her own life so that she could free hundreds of others, hundreds more slaves than herself. And this is the reason she did it. She says, "Twant me, 'twas the Lord. I always told Him, 'I trust to you. I don't know where to go or what to do, but I expect you to lead me,' and He always did." Because not only does God give us this promise of unconditional love but God gives us the Holy Spirit and our baptisms. God gives us strength. In the Old Testament lesson, God said to this unknown, unnamed servant, "I take you by the hand."
     
    And that is what God does: God takes us by the hand. God has our back as we work to free people from their various dungeons. God gives us the courage, for instance, to talk to the woman who comes to work every day with eyes red from crying, and ask her what's going on in her life. God may give us the courage to talk to a family member whose behavior we feel is getting really self-destructive, to talk to them about it. God may give us the courage to write a letter to the editor of a paper about something we see going on in the community that is unjust. God may give us the courage to stand up when we hear someone being badmouthed, whether they're there or not, or whether someone is being bullied. God gives us this courage because we have the Holy Spirit. We are not alone. And maybe when we shy away from these things, when we want to forget about our part of this bargain, our response to God's unbelievable promise -- maybe the only thing we can do -- is very simple: maybe we should just ask at the beginning of each morning just a simple prayer, a simple thought that as we're washing our faces, as we're taking our showers, as we're cleaning our bodies, to ask God to remind us of how we were baptized. And how everything that will happen to us that day, all the things we'll be involved with, the things that we'll throw ourselves into and maybe we'll be successful or maybe we won't, they are not us. They may describe us, but they do not define us. That God has made us more, that we are sons and daughters of God, beloved ones in whom God finds delight.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2017, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Isaiah 42:1-9, Matthew 3:13-17
  • Dec 24, 2016Go Change the World
    Dec 24, 2016
    Go Change the World
    Series: (All)
    December 24, 2016. On this Christmas Eve we might imagine a future only of good and beauty, but we know the burdens of reality will set back in. We know we can't expect forgiveness for all our selfishness. But God gives us a gift we don't expect: a new reality. We know we don't have to follow Santa's rules. We don't have to worry about how successful or productive we've been, or even whether we've pleased God. In her sermon this evening, Pastor Penny reminds us that God gives us the best gift when he says that we're his daughters and sons whom he loves, and that this gift is so great we need to share it. *** [Keywords: "Go change the world" Christmas tree Christmas Eve Francisco Ortega God's children Mexico Pastor Penny Santa animals beauty belonging burdens of reality childhood daughters expect expectation forgiveness future future gift glimmering ornaments glowing lights good good and beauty immigrant joy magical feeling merit naughty new reality nice peace pressure productive respectable selfishness shepherds smell good socioeconomic pole sons successful tension unearned unexpected]
  • Dec 4, 2016A New American Dream
    Dec 4, 2016
    A New American Dream
    Series: (All)
    December 4, 2016. People flock to find a leader. Why did people stream from all over to hear John the Baptist? Did his stark message of repentance represent an alternative reality for them, a new hope? Today Pastor Penny wonders whether it's time for us as Americans to not just repent, but to bear fruit too. A new American dream, a kingdom of God, is unfolding right now in our lives. How can we work with God to make it a reality on earth? *** [Keywords: Bernie Sanders Charles Dew Chicken Coop Church Donald Trump Grantsburg WI Hail Mary full of grapes Holy Redeemer Howard be thy name John the Baptist Our father Martin in heaven Pastor Penny Pharisees Roman government Romans Sadducees The Making of a Racist Wisconsin alternative reality animal skin clothes baptism bear fruit children of God confess confession conservatives country end of life options flock healthcare historian holy fishes income tax kingdom of God leader leaders liberals lifestyle mental health issues new American dream new hope new laws oppressed peaceable kingdom poor racism recovering addicts repent repentance stark message tour unfolding unjust wild wilderness willing to change]