Feb 1, 2015
Leaving False Promises Behind
Series: (All)
February 1, 2015. Each of the gospels presents a slightly different aspect of Jesus. In Mark, Jesus speaks and acts with authority and has come to make a difference in the world. Pastor Keith's sermon today is about Jesus' first public appearance in Mark 1, casting out the demon from the man with an unclean spirit, and how his forgiveness also breaks into our lives and lets us have a new start.
 
*** Transcript ***
 
We hear our text this morning as we begin in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 
We hear of Jesus in one of my favorite towns, Capernaum, in the Holy Land. These days it's a peaceful town. It's on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. The hills rise up above it to the north and to the east and to the west, and it's surrounded by very few trees but lots of nice grassland. You can imagine the hills above it where Jesus did a lot of his preaching, and the lake nearby where the disciples did their fishing. You can see the foundations of the house where Peter's mother-in-law was at, where her house was. You can go to the ruins of the synagogue pictured on our bulletin today, probably where Jesus actually was -- if not on that level, just slightly below it. But you can be in the place and see what he would have seen. In those days it wasn't, though, a very sleepy town. It was a major center in the day of Jesus. It was on the major caravan route between Egypt and the East. It was a governmental center and it was a place of taxation. Matthew likely hung out there collecting his taxes. You can still visit the olive presses there where they would crush the olives for the oil, and end up growing commerce and growing agriculture in the area. And it's not far from Nazareth, and so it's easy to think how Jesus would have left his more remote home in Nazareth, came to the center of activity in Capernaum, and begun his ministry there.
 
Today we hear how he made his entry there. He was a visitor, having been actually someone from Nazareth. But he comes to the synagogue in Capernaum on the day of worship. That wasn't necessarily such a big deal itself. Any male is eligible to get up and speak in the synagogue and address the group. But what Jesus said and what Jesus did created a big stir. The speech was not ordinary. He captured the attention of the people. They said he spoke with authority. He wasn't like the other speakers they had. As I understand it, the Jewish tradition for speaking in worship is to build the kind of theological case based on those who have gone before. By quoting one and another respected rabbis from the past, they would build their speeches. But Jesus was different. He spoke on his own, not quoting the others. He knew the past, and often he would speak of the prophets of the past, but he usually took them to show that he was one with them and that their mission was his mission. Their words of promise and judgment were coming true in him.
 
I think it's helpful here to know that the Greek word for "authority" -- which the people said he spoke with: authority -- is "exousia," which means "out of one's being." "Exo" is "out of," and "usia" is "who you are," or "what one's being is." So to speak with authority is to come out of oneself from the authority that lies within. I think we all know people who have that kind of authority. It comes from within them, and people respect these people and look up to them because of the quality that comes through that person. It's different than just holding an office or a position and because of your authority that someone else gave you to make some pronouncement. Sometimes that authority comes from within, and that's what Jesus had. We've all known people who have, by their nature, inspired our trust and our respect. When they speak, their wisdom isn't something quoted from the past. It comes from within them. Jesus was special. He didn't just quote, he spoke the truth.
 
This was the first time in Mark that we hear Jesus speak in public. He had been baptized, he had been tempted in the wilderness, and he had chosen some disciples who were fishermen. But this is the first public appearance that he makes. It's sometimes said that you can tell how a gospel is going to end, what kind of quality the gospel will have, by the first public thing that Jesus does in the book. And it's kind of a tip-off by the author, by the writer, of what that book is going to be about. In Matthew, Jesus very early on teaches the Sermon on the Mount. And the teachings of Jesus are very important in Matthew. In Luke, Jesus has a very nice sermon in his hometown, but he talks about helping people who are poor. And this makes the townspeople nervous. He says he has this power within him, and they decide they want to go kill him -- which is what happens to him in the end. In John, his first public appearance is changing water into a whole lot of wine, showing the abundant love and care of God. And that theme follows through the book of John. But the main thing Jesus does in this first appearance in Mark is to perform an exorcism. Jesus not only speaks with authority, but he uses his authority to cast demons out of a person. This was very different than a usual Sabbath day speech. This was new power being shown. So early on in Jesus' ministry we see how he comes to the world to make a difference. It won't be like it was before. The old, the evil is being cast out and cast aside, and he brings in the new.
 
A few weeks ago we heard of his baptism. We heard mentioned how the heavens were torn or ripped apart. We tore a curtain up here with the kids to show them. So things were being torn apart in a new way. Something new is breaking into the world. The very first words of Mark's gospel are the beginning of the good news. Mark is doing all he can here to let us know that Jesus is breaking into the world in a powerful new way, to make a big difference. Things shouldn't be the same with Jesus in the picture. He comes to get rid of evil and to bring good news instead. He comes to say that we're not bound by the demons that possess us and they may be thrown off.
 
Years ago at a confirmation camp in Iowa, Penny and I would sit at the noon hour with other pastors who were there. And one of the pastors had gotten back from doing time as a missionary in Malagasy. He told how on his circuits, when he'd go around to the churches there, new people would show up. At some of the gatherings people would stand up from the group who were possessed with demons, like the man we heard about in our gospel today. And it was no surprise really to have this happen; sometimes more than one. And it reminded us that in the presence of the gospel, it seems like those who are possessed by demons can't stay seated. They have to react to it in some way. They know there's a higher power there. They must either leave or submit to this power. They react to this power of the goodness of Jesus Christ, the good news of Jesus Christ being preached to them. Culturally, we don't have that happen too much here anymore. We don't let that spirit come out and speak in opposition to Jesus. We don't have people doing that this morning and most mornings, thank goodness. But we do know the power of evil and the temptation that comes with it, and how it leads us in a way that counters the way of Jesus. And that's so even though we may not have people standing up and saying they have demons within them, we all have demons within us. We all have the devil within us. We have temptation within us, and we would like to have it exorcised from us. But it doesn't come out automatically just by a word from Jesus. We need to name it. We need to confess it. And then it can be forgiven as we bring it to Jesus and we hear Jesus' words of forgiveness to us.
 
Two weeks ago at the Youthquake, the main speaker was Jonathan Swenson. He acted out little plays or vignettes of Bible scenes. One of the stories was about a man who was demon-possessed (it wasn't our particular story today, but a different man who had a multitude of spirits in him) and had them exorcised by Jesus. The main prop that Swenson used in his dramatic presentation was a chain. He had a five or six foot, fairly heavy kind of long chain. And he used it to good effect. His main point to the kids was: what are the things that keep you chained up? What are the things that bind you, as though you had a chain wrapped around you and keep you in yourself? That is, what kind of things do you let possess you and keep you chained up, which are not healthy and would counter the way that God would have you live? We know how many things seem to possess us and keep us chained up. Our diseases, our addictions, our anxieties, our losses, our sorrows, our attractions to other gods that we make up ourselves and we get attracted to them. Both the powers that keep us chained in, and the things we voluntarily allow to possess us, are encountered by Jesus. Some things like the pressures of work, or financial burden, or home life, or caring for another person which maybe seems endless, can feel like they possess us. They get us down. Others of us, we often allow other things to possess us. We find it hard to let go of these chains, the things that we voluntarily seem to be tempted by. They end up having a hold on us that we would like to get rid of. So we're stuck with things that bind us like chains.
 
Both powers of Jesus that amazed the people that day in Capernaum continue with him. The more Jesus displays his power of speech and the power of exorcising demons, more peoples raise up the question: what authority does he have to do these things? The first remark that day was, "What authority he has," but the longer he did it, the more they wondered, "Where does this authority come from?" And the more he does it, the worldly authorities get more and more upset with him. Finally, they say he's exceeded his authority. He's claimed too much power for himself and he's blasphemed God by doing this. And so they bind him -- not with a chain, but with other things -- to a piece of wood in the shape of a cross, and think that they had gotten rid of him. They think that they are exorcising him from their presence, just as he had gotten rid of so many evil spirits.
 
But once again, the spirit of God broke through from the heavens, made a new start in the world. It raised Jesus from the dead and raised the number of followers of his who heard the good news that Jesus was alive. Just as a tomb could not keep Jesus in, he breaks the chains of those who are possessed by various demons in their lives. He gives a reminder that he loves all, no matter who they are or where they have been. He promises a healthy way of life and a relief from depending upon false hopes in the world. Just as he exorcised demons, he forgives sins. His forgiveness breaks into our lives and lets us have new starts in our lives. He gives powers and abilities to ministries, so that those who are dealing with dependencies and losses or troubles may find those who have the ability to treat those who are living in a troubled world. They find counselors and others, who are able to speak with them so that they're able to leave these things that trap them behind and come to new life. This is the Jesus of Mark breaking into our world, giving us new ways to live. He gives us a sense of health, a sense of worth by his enfolding love. It comes and captures us and releases us from what we've been doing before. We can see what we've been trapped by: our own conceptions about race, or about gender, or about age, or self authority, or ethnicity -- areas where we haven't been fully open. A new age can break in for us. We can lay aside the chains. We can decide what's best for our health, and leave the false promises behind. As Jesus breaks in to make a new world, he breaks in for you and he breaks in for me, so that we might live anew as his disciples in the world. Amen.
 
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2015, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, Mark 1:21-28
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  • Feb 1, 2015Leaving False Promises Behind
    Feb 1, 2015
    Leaving False Promises Behind
    Series: (All)
    February 1, 2015. Each of the gospels presents a slightly different aspect of Jesus. In Mark, Jesus speaks and acts with authority and has come to make a difference in the world. Pastor Keith's sermon today is about Jesus' first public appearance in Mark 1, casting out the demon from the man with an unclean spirit, and how his forgiveness also breaks into our lives and lets us have a new start.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We hear our text this morning as we begin in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    We hear of Jesus in one of my favorite towns, Capernaum, in the Holy Land. These days it's a peaceful town. It's on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. The hills rise up above it to the north and to the east and to the west, and it's surrounded by very few trees but lots of nice grassland. You can imagine the hills above it where Jesus did a lot of his preaching, and the lake nearby where the disciples did their fishing. You can see the foundations of the house where Peter's mother-in-law was at, where her house was. You can go to the ruins of the synagogue pictured on our bulletin today, probably where Jesus actually was -- if not on that level, just slightly below it. But you can be in the place and see what he would have seen. In those days it wasn't, though, a very sleepy town. It was a major center in the day of Jesus. It was on the major caravan route between Egypt and the East. It was a governmental center and it was a place of taxation. Matthew likely hung out there collecting his taxes. You can still visit the olive presses there where they would crush the olives for the oil, and end up growing commerce and growing agriculture in the area. And it's not far from Nazareth, and so it's easy to think how Jesus would have left his more remote home in Nazareth, came to the center of activity in Capernaum, and begun his ministry there.
     
    Today we hear how he made his entry there. He was a visitor, having been actually someone from Nazareth. But he comes to the synagogue in Capernaum on the day of worship. That wasn't necessarily such a big deal itself. Any male is eligible to get up and speak in the synagogue and address the group. But what Jesus said and what Jesus did created a big stir. The speech was not ordinary. He captured the attention of the people. They said he spoke with authority. He wasn't like the other speakers they had. As I understand it, the Jewish tradition for speaking in worship is to build the kind of theological case based on those who have gone before. By quoting one and another respected rabbis from the past, they would build their speeches. But Jesus was different. He spoke on his own, not quoting the others. He knew the past, and often he would speak of the prophets of the past, but he usually took them to show that he was one with them and that their mission was his mission. Their words of promise and judgment were coming true in him.
     
    I think it's helpful here to know that the Greek word for "authority" -- which the people said he spoke with: authority -- is "exousia," which means "out of one's being." "Exo" is "out of," and "usia" is "who you are," or "what one's being is." So to speak with authority is to come out of oneself from the authority that lies within. I think we all know people who have that kind of authority. It comes from within them, and people respect these people and look up to them because of the quality that comes through that person. It's different than just holding an office or a position and because of your authority that someone else gave you to make some pronouncement. Sometimes that authority comes from within, and that's what Jesus had. We've all known people who have, by their nature, inspired our trust and our respect. When they speak, their wisdom isn't something quoted from the past. It comes from within them. Jesus was special. He didn't just quote, he spoke the truth.
     
    This was the first time in Mark that we hear Jesus speak in public. He had been baptized, he had been tempted in the wilderness, and he had chosen some disciples who were fishermen. But this is the first public appearance that he makes. It's sometimes said that you can tell how a gospel is going to end, what kind of quality the gospel will have, by the first public thing that Jesus does in the book. And it's kind of a tip-off by the author, by the writer, of what that book is going to be about. In Matthew, Jesus very early on teaches the Sermon on the Mount. And the teachings of Jesus are very important in Matthew. In Luke, Jesus has a very nice sermon in his hometown, but he talks about helping people who are poor. And this makes the townspeople nervous. He says he has this power within him, and they decide they want to go kill him -- which is what happens to him in the end. In John, his first public appearance is changing water into a whole lot of wine, showing the abundant love and care of God. And that theme follows through the book of John. But the main thing Jesus does in this first appearance in Mark is to perform an exorcism. Jesus not only speaks with authority, but he uses his authority to cast demons out of a person. This was very different than a usual Sabbath day speech. This was new power being shown. So early on in Jesus' ministry we see how he comes to the world to make a difference. It won't be like it was before. The old, the evil is being cast out and cast aside, and he brings in the new.
     
    A few weeks ago we heard of his baptism. We heard mentioned how the heavens were torn or ripped apart. We tore a curtain up here with the kids to show them. So things were being torn apart in a new way. Something new is breaking into the world. The very first words of Mark's gospel are the beginning of the good news. Mark is doing all he can here to let us know that Jesus is breaking into the world in a powerful new way, to make a big difference. Things shouldn't be the same with Jesus in the picture. He comes to get rid of evil and to bring good news instead. He comes to say that we're not bound by the demons that possess us and they may be thrown off.
     
    Years ago at a confirmation camp in Iowa, Penny and I would sit at the noon hour with other pastors who were there. And one of the pastors had gotten back from doing time as a missionary in Malagasy. He told how on his circuits, when he'd go around to the churches there, new people would show up. At some of the gatherings people would stand up from the group who were possessed with demons, like the man we heard about in our gospel today. And it was no surprise really to have this happen; sometimes more than one. And it reminded us that in the presence of the gospel, it seems like those who are possessed by demons can't stay seated. They have to react to it in some way. They know there's a higher power there. They must either leave or submit to this power. They react to this power of the goodness of Jesus Christ, the good news of Jesus Christ being preached to them. Culturally, we don't have that happen too much here anymore. We don't let that spirit come out and speak in opposition to Jesus. We don't have people doing that this morning and most mornings, thank goodness. But we do know the power of evil and the temptation that comes with it, and how it leads us in a way that counters the way of Jesus. And that's so even though we may not have people standing up and saying they have demons within them, we all have demons within us. We all have the devil within us. We have temptation within us, and we would like to have it exorcised from us. But it doesn't come out automatically just by a word from Jesus. We need to name it. We need to confess it. And then it can be forgiven as we bring it to Jesus and we hear Jesus' words of forgiveness to us.
     
    Two weeks ago at the Youthquake, the main speaker was Jonathan Swenson. He acted out little plays or vignettes of Bible scenes. One of the stories was about a man who was demon-possessed (it wasn't our particular story today, but a different man who had a multitude of spirits in him) and had them exorcised by Jesus. The main prop that Swenson used in his dramatic presentation was a chain. He had a five or six foot, fairly heavy kind of long chain. And he used it to good effect. His main point to the kids was: what are the things that keep you chained up? What are the things that bind you, as though you had a chain wrapped around you and keep you in yourself? That is, what kind of things do you let possess you and keep you chained up, which are not healthy and would counter the way that God would have you live? We know how many things seem to possess us and keep us chained up. Our diseases, our addictions, our anxieties, our losses, our sorrows, our attractions to other gods that we make up ourselves and we get attracted to them. Both the powers that keep us chained in, and the things we voluntarily allow to possess us, are encountered by Jesus. Some things like the pressures of work, or financial burden, or home life, or caring for another person which maybe seems endless, can feel like they possess us. They get us down. Others of us, we often allow other things to possess us. We find it hard to let go of these chains, the things that we voluntarily seem to be tempted by. They end up having a hold on us that we would like to get rid of. So we're stuck with things that bind us like chains.
     
    Both powers of Jesus that amazed the people that day in Capernaum continue with him. The more Jesus displays his power of speech and the power of exorcising demons, more peoples raise up the question: what authority does he have to do these things? The first remark that day was, "What authority he has," but the longer he did it, the more they wondered, "Where does this authority come from?" And the more he does it, the worldly authorities get more and more upset with him. Finally, they say he's exceeded his authority. He's claimed too much power for himself and he's blasphemed God by doing this. And so they bind him -- not with a chain, but with other things -- to a piece of wood in the shape of a cross, and think that they had gotten rid of him. They think that they are exorcising him from their presence, just as he had gotten rid of so many evil spirits.
     
    But once again, the spirit of God broke through from the heavens, made a new start in the world. It raised Jesus from the dead and raised the number of followers of his who heard the good news that Jesus was alive. Just as a tomb could not keep Jesus in, he breaks the chains of those who are possessed by various demons in their lives. He gives a reminder that he loves all, no matter who they are or where they have been. He promises a healthy way of life and a relief from depending upon false hopes in the world. Just as he exorcised demons, he forgives sins. His forgiveness breaks into our lives and lets us have new starts in our lives. He gives powers and abilities to ministries, so that those who are dealing with dependencies and losses or troubles may find those who have the ability to treat those who are living in a troubled world. They find counselors and others, who are able to speak with them so that they're able to leave these things that trap them behind and come to new life. This is the Jesus of Mark breaking into our world, giving us new ways to live. He gives us a sense of health, a sense of worth by his enfolding love. It comes and captures us and releases us from what we've been doing before. We can see what we've been trapped by: our own conceptions about race, or about gender, or about age, or self authority, or ethnicity -- areas where we haven't been fully open. A new age can break in for us. We can lay aside the chains. We can decide what's best for our health, and leave the false promises behind. As Jesus breaks in to make a new world, he breaks in for you and he breaks in for me, so that we might live anew as his disciples in the world. Amen.
     
    Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2015, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, Mark 1:21-28
  • Jan 11, 2015We Are Baptized
    Jan 11, 2015
    We Are Baptized
    Series: (All)
    January 11, 2015. With baptism, we rely upon what God has done, rather than on what we think we have to do ourselves. Pastor Keith's message today is on the baptism of Jesus and what it means for us.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    If you do Facebook or Instagram or any of those kind of social media, you're always given the chance to "like" something, something that someone else has posted. Maybe it's what they say, or a situation they describe, or a picture that they put up and share. All these may lead you to "like" what they have done. You, of course, may be led to comment on the post as well. But the easiest way to let a person know that you've seen it and you appreciate it and find the image of what they say appealing is to "like" it.
     
    In today's gospel, we hear God "like" something. After Jesus is baptized by John, God weighs in on the event and on Jesus. The Spirit comes down like a dove, the voice of God comes down and says, "You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased." God likes this person. God likes this situation. But this is a little more than just a tap on a screen. This is not just to be liked, either. It is to be loved. Jesus is the Beloved. With him God is pleased. To be liked is something we normally all seek ourselves. When we're in grade school we like to be liked by the other kids. We whine when we're lonely and it seems like nobody cares about us, and we say, "Nobody likes me." We're pleased when we're liked by the other children. As adults we don't mind it either. We like to be liked by others. Maybe being popular isn't quite as important to us as it is in high school, when we're an adult. But we still like to be liked by others. When Sally Field won an Oscar a few years ago she said, "You like me! You really like me!" Desire to be liked by others is something that's powerful and deep with us. We want to be received by others.
     
    At the baptism of Jesus, God testifies to how he loves Jesus, and is pleased with him. That's the grace that we find in our baptisms also. When that word is spoken over us, it is God saying to us, "You are my Beloved. With you I am well pleased." We may be surprised at that. We know that we don't always do what God wants us to do. We don't always say what God wants us to say. We don't always think what God wants us to think. How can it be that God would love us and be pleased with us? Well that's the promise that becomes ours, because Jesus went into the water himself. And because he was baptized just as we are (though he didn't need it for the washing away of his sins) because of what he did for us he said, I want to be human along with these other humans. He said, I am one of you. What will happen to me, Jesus said, will happen to you. Because he dies, we die to sin with him. Because he rises, we have the promise of new life too. God is pleased with us, because when God sees us, his love lets us see Jesus in us.
     
    Well, if God hadn't wanted it this way God, would not have done it. But God liked us and loved us from the beginning and wants us to be friends with him. And as God liked us and loved us, so that as soon as we were created he made sure that there was a way we would find ourselves pleasing to him. So there's an assurance here that even though we may not always live as God's people, God wants us to be his. And he's provided this way so that we can be his, based on our faith in him. There's an assurance here. Otherwise, we'd worry all the time that it depends on me, and I need to be likable to God. You would worry that we have to have so much faith to make this thing happen. We would feel like we need to rely on our own faith in God. Do we have enough faith to believe, to satisfy God? But at baptism the direction is reversed. Instead of us trying to go up to God, God comes down to us. The Spirit comes to us as the Spirit came to Jesus and works faith in us, so we don't have to rely on our own. God creates the faith. God gives the faith to us. It's a wonderful gift of God.
     
    Martin Luther said that when he doubted, he would say to himself, "I'm baptized." He wouldn't say so much, "Well, I need to believe" or "I'm a Christian, so I oughta believe." He just said, "I'm baptized," because the strength of his faith was in his baptism. Because he knew God put God's claim on him when he was baptized. With baptism we rely upon what God has done, rather than on what we think we have to do ourselves. Baptism is relying on what God has done for us. We have the assurance therefore, through baptism, that we are the children of God and that we are filled with the Holy Spirit, even when it seems like so many signals are around us saying we're not really. So many signals come to us saying "you're a nobody." Baptism says to us, quoting God, "I am pleased with you."
     
    When Jesus was baptized, God gave him the verbal assurance that he was indeed God's son. He could always know that the Spirit was with him. And Jesus would need these assurances, as he was tempted, while he was doing his ministry, and when he suffered and died. From his baptism, the next thing he did was go to the wilderness for 40 days where he was tempted. And he was sorely tempted not to follow through with God's Mission, and to take a more comfortable route. His baptism and God's words of assurance gave him the strength of faith to counter the devil and do what he needed to do.
     
    The first thing Jesus did in his ministry after he called the disciples was to encounter a man possessed by demons. When he exorcised the demons from the man, then some of the people thought Jesus must be of the devil himself, if he did that. And that was just the start of all the naysayers, all the people who were against Jesus in his ministry -- always either out to get him, to dissuade him from doing things, always saying he must not be real, there's some other reasons these things are happening. So he needed the assurance during his ministry that he'd been baptized and endowed by the Spirit so that he indeed could carry on his own ministry. And when Jesus suffered on the cross, he was tempted yet again. By words of the people around him, the devil was tempting him to come down from the cross and prove himself, that he could do miracles. He didn't need to die. But yet even on the cross Jesus reached for the words of God and remembered the assurances that God had given him, going all the way back to his baptism so that he could withstand.
     
    We may not have such dramatic encounters with those who would like to peel us away from our relationship with Jesus. But the difficulties of our lives can be temptations, to make us wonder. Doubts creep into our minds. Did Jesus really mean that he was the Son of God? Is that really who he was? Is he really connected to me? Could some person who lived back then have some connection to me? All kinds of doubts can come into our minds. Temptations can be there for us not to follow through when we know it's the right thing to do. We may have good intentions, but it gets really hard to do what we intend to do. Do we have enough sacrifice to do that? Maybe it is to help someone or to stand up for someone. We say, "Well, I don't know. Can I really do that?" It's a temptation not to do what we know we ought to do.
     
    Hard times make us wonder too. Our own forms of death -- illnesses, loneliness, embarrassment -- all kinds of ways that we die little deaths make us wonder if we will live well. Is God there to help me through my hard time? Like Luther, we remember that we are baptized. The assurance is there, just as it was for Jesus. God says, you are my child, with whom I am well pleased. With the water of baptism, the Spirit has come down upon you. You have me with you in your doubt, in your temptations, and in your hard times. Trust me, God says. I've come down. I will stay with you. And it is the Spirit with a capital 's' that comes to us in baptism as it did to Jesus. Just as the Spirit was sweeping over the waters at creation, as our first lesson talked about today, the Spirit comes through the water of baptism for us. It comes to give us new life. The Spirit came with such power at the baptism of Jesus that it was like tearing the heavens open, we mentioned. It was a new creation. New things were beginning. It was the beginning of a new world with Jesus in it. So it is a new life that comes to us at baptism. We are a new creation. It's our second birth. We are revived from the sin we are born into, and given a new life with God.
     
    With that new life, we create a new world around us, just as Jesus did. You live a new way, not captive to the standards and goals the world puts up around us, but responding to the kind of life that Jesus taught us that we should have. It's the life where we're ready to forgive. We're ready to help another person. We're ready to put ambition aside for the sake of being of service. We live the new life of Jesus as we are empowered and given this new life by the spirit of God.
     
    So, we are liked and loved by God. We are assured by God. We are revived by God's spirit to live a new life. All of this comes through our baptism. It is a wonderful gift. A great thing happened on the day we were baptized. We began anew with God. We were given a pattern to go by, to live out this sometimes difficult way of life. But with the Spirit we are able to do it, knowing that we are ones who are liked by God. Amen.
     
    And now may the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2015, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, Genesis 1:1-5, Mark 1:4-11
  • Jan 4, 2015Little Invitations
    Jan 4, 2015
    Little Invitations
    Series: (All)
    January 4, 2015. All of us, everyone, wants to know their lives have a meaning apart from the day-to-day, that they have a purpose in their lives. Pastor Penny preaches on the first chapter of John, how the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and how we are given the power to become children of God. In this season of Epiphany, what we do is share that gift by sprinkling little invitations around our lives, inviting people to know that God is with us, through this life and into the next.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    As Becky was gathering up the last of her Christmas cards, she felt a familiar pang in her heart realizing that once again, neither of her brothers had sent her a Christmas card. She and her brothers had become kind of estranged. They had become distant. Her older brother, who was always very outgoing and popular, had gone into sales -- and he'd gone right to the top and he was moving in social circles that were different from Becky's. He had several houses in different cities, and she kind of figured he was spending the holidays abroad. She hadn't heard from him in years. Her younger brother was a different story altogether. He had started drinking, and the drinking had taken over his life and his personality. And Becky had pleaded with him. She had warned him. She had loaned him money. When nothing seemed to help she just cut it off, and he kind of drifted away, and she had not heard from her younger brother for years. But as she was cleaning up and putting her decorations away, it just kept bothering her. She remembered old Christmases where they all had such fun, she and her brothers. And she wanted so badly to reconnect, so she decided to do something different. She decided she would call them. She had phone numbers and she thought they might still work.
     
    When her older brother received the call, he was on his sailboat. He saw on his caller ID, to his surprise, it was his sister. "Becky? What does she want?" He thought about it. He was so hesitant to pick up. "What do we have in common?" he thought. "What could I say to her? This would be very uncomfortable. I'll just let it go to voice message and maybe I'll text her later." And he went back to his book and to his martini. When Becky's younger brother got the call, he was in his trailer house. And he too saw on caller ID that it was his sister, and immediately he felt guilty. The last words she had said to him were very harsh, and he had let her down so many times. He hesitated to pick up. All he could feel was shame. But then he knew that what she had said to him was what saved him, because he finally heard it, and he finally gave up drinking and had been clean for a year. And so he reached over, hoping that she would forgive him, and he picked up.
     
    Like Becky's brothers, when God calls us -- and God does, through our conscience, through other people, through the scriptures -- when God calls us, we too are often hesitant to pick up. We know the voice at the other end might tell us something about ourselves we don't want to hear: that we drink too much, or that we should quit smoking, or that we should never talk to our spouse the way we do, or that success has gone to our heads -- whether it's at school or in the office or in sports -- it's become everything, or that we haven't become very generous in our lives. We are hesitant to pick up when God calls.
     
    And we hear in the scripture today that God knew that would happen from the very beginning. And so God created a plan to rescue us from this disconnection with God that we insist upon. And it is in the Book of John that we hear this plan most vividly described. You know, Matthew, Mark, and Luke -- those gospels tell the story of Jesus. But John tells it and tells what it means. John gives us the plan that God had for rescuing us. John, the Gospel, is the one that we read part of together back and forth this morning. It starts out in a very poetic manner: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And then a little later: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."
     
    Well, we can tell now where it's going. The "Word" obviously is Jesus. In Jesus, God became flesh. But why call Jesus "the Word?" That is very strange -- until you think of the fact that words are our best way of communicating. I can imagine that most of you who have been parents have looked into the face of a screaming infant and thought, "Oh, if she could only tell me what she needs." You know, words. They are the most effective way that we can share something from our heart to someone else's heart. And of course then what better thing to call Jesus, who is God's way of communicating with us? But as John goes on to describe the Word, we find out that the Word became flesh and dwelt here on the earth. But some people didn't accept the Word, while others did. And then comes, I think, one of the most beautiful passages in scripture, where John says, "But those who accepted him, who believed in his name, were given the power to become children of God."
     
    There is not a person in this world who does not want to be connected to something bigger than themselves. They may think of it as God. They may think of it as fame or posterity. All of us, everyone, wants to know their lives have a meaning apart from the day-to-day, that they have a purpose in their lives. All of us want to know or be comforted by the thought that when we take our last breath, that's not the end of us. And here is that promise: those who accept him are given the power to become the children of God, the family of God, flesh and blood with God. That means that God promises to be with us and protect us and to be bonded to us, past the time we take our last breath in this life. So that's the plan that John reveals.
     
    But then we go to the gospel and suddenly we come out of the cosmic realm, and we land firmly on the ground. In fact, our feet are in the dusty town of Bethlehem. And it's two years or so after Jesus is born, and he's a toddler. And Mary and Joseph are probably living in a modest home. And they have visitors, strange people. Now, of course, we always want to tidy things up in the church so we've glamorized these strange people, we've called them kings. But the Bible doesn't say that. They are called in the Greek "Magi" -- magicians, sorcerers, astrologers. And they were on the fringe of society. They were not highly regarded people. In the book of Acts, Paul encounters a Magi and calls him son of the devil. And yet these fringe people were guided by something that they were familiar with, a star, to the very place where Jesus was born.
     
    Now, they had gone to look for him in a palace where you would look for a king. But they had come to a little dusty town, and there through the eyes of faith that were given to them, they could see in this little toddler a king. And they fell down on their knees in front of him and worshiped him, and gave him gifts. That event, of course, is called the Epiphany. It's celebrated in the church year on January 6th every year, which is Tuesday. Today we're kind of celebrating it in advance. And the time in the church year, after Epiphany to the beginning of Lent, is called the season of Epiphany. We remember that event for lots of reasons. But I think today it teaches us two things: it reminds us, as we have been reminded so many times, that God builds God's kingdom with people on the fringe, probably because they're the ones that will answer the call, they will pick up. The other thing it tells us is that God uses things that are familiar to people. The stars were familiar to the Magi. That's what they studied. And so it was a star that drew them to Jesus. In the Bible, God uses ordinary people: David, Abraham, the disciples. I firmly believe that what God wants us to hear from this account, this story today, is that we are the familiar people that draw others to Christ, that we are the stars that make that call.
     
    Now it's not easy to make a cold call. So what we do is we sprinkle "little invitations" around in our lives. Maybe a mug that says "Christ Lutheran Church" that's on your office desk. Or maybe in your home there's a plaque, a religious plaque, that kind of describes your faith. Or maybe when someone has revealed a deep problem to you, you conclude the conversation with something like "I'll pray for you." We set out these little invitations because there is not a person in our offices, in our home rooms, in our book clubs, or on our soccer teams, who does not want to be connected to something beyond themselves, who does not want to know that their lives have meaning and purpose, who does not want to be assured that their lives will have meaning past the time they take a breath. And so we leave these invitations knowing that sooner or later, someone will come up to us having seen these little hints and say something like, "My wife and I are kind of having a hard time, and we've been thinking about finding a church." Or, "We are looking for a place to baptize our child." Or maybe just, "You know, I've been feeling that there must be more to life. I've been feeling that I'm missing something. You go to church. Why do you do that?"
     
    And then that's when we need to have a very short statement about what it means, what our faith means. And we've heard some beautiful ones over this last year, as some of you have done the welcome at the beginning of worship. We've heard people say that "I come to church because this is my anchor" or "I come to church because I want to be in this community" or "I come to church because this is where I know I'm forgiven" or "I come to church because I need to be here." It's not easy to talk about our faith. And I'm as shy as any one of you to talk about it outside of these walls. But we are not being asked to sell people something, to promote something, to push an idea on someone, or to disrespect their spirituality. God works in mysterious ways. God worked through sorcerers today. What we are simply doing is inviting people to experience what we experience, to be in the family, to be flesh and blood with God, to know that God is with us through this life and into the next. All we're doing is inviting people to be what God, by God's grace, has allowed us to be: children of God.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2015, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, John 1:1-18, Acts 13:8-12
  • Aug 17, 2014Ferguson
    Aug 17, 2014
    Ferguson
    Series: (All)
    August 17, 2014. In this sermon, Pastor Penny compares the story of Jesus healing the Canaanite woman's daughter with the situation in Ferguson, MO following the shooting there of Michael Brown, and suggests ways we might overcome the violence by individually reaching out and getting to know people.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
     
    The woman shouldn't have come out of the shadows. She shouldn't have tried to cross that invisible line of prejudice. She was a Canaanite woman. Canaanites had been cursed by the Jews from the time of Noah. She had the wrong culture, the wrong gods, and she was a woman. Women should not begin a conversation with a man they don't know -- certainly not with a Jew if she was a Canaanite. But you see, this woman had a daughter, a daughter she loved, who some time in her life had been imprisoned by a demon who made her violent toward herself and toward others so people feared her and hated this daughter, and who gave her horrible fits. And in the middle of one of these convulsions she often locked eyes with her mother, and her mother could see the fear in her daughter's eyes and could see that question, "Mommy, why can't you help me?"
     
    And so when this Canaanite woman heard about this healer Jesus coming, she could not stop herself. She stepped out of the shadows and she began shouting again and again, "Have mercy on me Lord, son of David, because my daughter is being tormented." And then Jesus did nothing. But his disciples said, send her away, she's not one of us. She's not our problem. Jesus didn't do that, but he refused to help her. He said, it's not in my job description. I've been sent here to help the the Israelites. Not people like you. But this woman had such a love for her daughter, such a desire to have a healing touch for her daughter, that she further humbled herself by getting down on her knees in front of Jesus and said, "Lord, help me." And then Jesus so uncharacteristically insults her. He said, it is not fair. It is not just. It is not morally right for me to take the bread from the children of Israel and throw it to dogs. Now in Jesus' day, to call someone a dog was a terrible insult. In Greek you can see he softens it a little -- he calls her a puppy. But nevertheless, here's this woman needing help at the feet of Jesus, and it seems that because of this separation between Jews and Canaanites she is not being helped. Did Jesus' compassion end with that ethnic group? Now there have been many things written about why Jesus acted the way he did. Some say well, he was testing her faith or testing the disciples' faith. Some say no, he really thought that God only wanted him to give help at this time apparently to the Jews. But whatever the reason, here is a woman who, because of this ethnic difference, is refused help.
     
    I don't think it's too hard to compare the situation of the Canaanite woman with what has been going on in Ferguson. Because I believe that the shooting of Michael Brown, and the violence that followed, is a result of the fact that we are separated from each other. And some of us have separated ourselves from those who look different or have a different socioeconomic background. "White flight" has left areas of St. Louis City and County without a tax base, without good schools, without jobs. It's not surprising that those areas have crime. And of course the media is very happy to show us that crime again and again. But I believe that what's happening, the crime and the violence that we see, is because we don't have a knowledge of people who look different or have a different background than we. We go on those stereotypes that we are given in the media -- on both sides, I think, of the color line. And those stereotypes do nothing but incite fear. And fear incites violence.
     
    We don't know each other. There's an area in Chicago that apparently has so much crime they call it Chiraq: "Chicago" and "Iraq." So many murders. There was an editorial by some fifth graders from Chiraq in the Chicago Tribune a few weeks ago, and they were taking the media to task for swooping in every time there's a murder, covering it, and swooping out and never getting to know the people. And so their essay is called "You Don't Really Know Us," and I'll read a few excerpts. "We want you to know us. We know that man on the corner. He works at the store and gives us free Lemonheads. The people in the suits are not people going to funerals. They're going to church. If you listen, you'll hear the laughter and chattering coming from the group of girls on the corner who are best friends, and who really care about each other. Do you see the smile on the cashier's face as kids walk in the store? Why? Because this neighborhood is filled with love. This isn't Chiraq. This is home. This is us."
     
    If we don't know each other, I think it spawns fear. And that spawns violence. By the grace of God, in the story that we heard about Jesus, this Canaanite woman is able to bridge the gap between the Canaanites and the Jews by her humility. She does it as she's kneeling before Jesus. And she catches that insult he throws, but she uses it. She says yeah, I am a dog. I'm not powerful. I'm not that important. I make lots of mistakes. But even dogs get the crumbs that fall from the children's table. By the grace of God, she had so much faith -- even this non-believer -- that she believed God's compassion extended to her. By the grace of God she believed that Jesus not only had enough power to help her, but wanted to. And of course from that point on everything changes in the story. We see the Jesus we knew we would see. He is overwhelmed by her faith. And in the Greek (you can read it in the Greek, it's even clearer) he says, "Oh woman, your faith is so strong, may it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly.
     
    I think the only way we are going to overcome the violence that we have seen in Ferguson, that can pop up anywhere and that does everywhere across the country, is if we get to know people who are different from us. I think our congregation is on the right track. The mission trip that the youth took was intended to help them see a way of life that they are not used to. The mission trip to the Native American reservation is intended to do the very same. But other things that have happened here: the working with the Epworth youth a week ago or so, going to Gateway 180 homeless shelter for VBS, helping with childcare at with Humanitree, clients who have been homeless. All these things that we do together are ways that we can bridge that gap, get to know people -- really know them, not just what is said about them.
     
    But I think when it finally comes down to it, the only way things are going to change is if we individually reach out. I mean, it might be as simple a thing as talking to someone at the store you don't usually talk to, or befriending someone at school or at the office that you aren't usually a friend with. One of you told about last week being on the Metrolink train that was stalled for an hour. And this was after the shooting of Michael Brown, and there were both African Americans and white people on that train and there was, as she said, a real obvious effort for people to be a little more polite to each other, a little kinder to each other.
     
    I don't really know what the answer to the violence is or how it's going to be changed. But I know from today, and we know from Jesus' life, he wouldn't have walked by that woman. He was always going to help her some way or another, and he did. And I know why our hearts tell us to do the same, because we are like that Canaanite woman. Maybe more like her daughter. We daily turn to our Heavenly Father, sometimes with fear in our eyes, saying please help. Please help me through this. Please give me guidance. Please protect my family. Please help me with my finances, with my health. And Jesus, like the loving Canaanite mother, looks at us and has so much love for us, that he also humbled himself but to the point of death in order to heal us, and be able to tell us yes, God will always be with you.
     
    I don't think the killing of Michael Brown was an incident between one police officer and one young man. I think it is the result of years and years of injustice and hatred and misunderstanding. It's part of a system. And we're part of that. All of us. And now our great healer, our greatest friend, reaches to us and says, "I need your help." Hold out a hand of healing. And I believe by the grace of God we are, and we will reach out that healing hand.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2014, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Matthew 15:21-28, Mike Brown, Darren Wilson
  • Apr 13, 2014The Passion
    Apr 13, 2014
    The Passion
    Series: (All)
    April 13, 2014. Why did Jesus have to suffer and die? Some answer that question by saying now God understands how it feels to be human, understands our fears, our pains. Pastor Penny suggests though that maybe it was simply to demonstrate for us God's unequivocal love.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    I think it's safe to say that most of us like to be in control. We like to have control over the TV remote, over our checkbooks, over our schedules. We like to decide who we want to be friends with. We like to decide what to wear. (Quite a lot of criticism when the Ballpark Village had a dress code, I noticed a few weeks ago.) We want to control things ourselves.
     
    I was struck as I read that Passion story in the Book of Matthew, the last week of Jesus' life, how much of that week Jesus seemed to be in control. It was more like he was the director and the actor of a play. He choreographed the entry into Jerusalem. He organized the celebration of the Passover, which became the Last Supper. He knew what would happen before it happened. He knew who would desert him, who would betray him, who would deny him. He knew when he would die and how he would die and who would kill him. It seemed very much like he was coolly marching through that week and everything was under control — until we get to the Garden of Gethsemane, until we get to the prayer scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he was praying to the Father.
     
    Now if you read the story in Matthew, it's not at all like the pictures where he is calmly kneeling before a large rock looking up to heaven, with a beam of light coming down, and his hands in a prayer pose. In Matthew, he throws himself on the ground and begins to beg the Father if there is any other way that this can happen. "Spare me. But not my will, but your will, Father. Your will, Father, be done." And from that moment on it seems as though Jesus abdicated his control. He didn't protest when they arrested him. He didn't speak in his own defense before the high priest Caiaphas, or the governor Pilate. He let them bind him and carry him from place to place like an animal. He let them strip him and torture him and humiliate him, and finally crucify him. It is so much like the words we hear in Philippians, apparently an ancient hymn in the Christian church. I like the words in the RSV: "Christ was in the form of God, did not count equality a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, and came in the form of a slave. And found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on the cross."
     
    But why? Maybe that was his question in Gethsemane: why. "Why, Father, does it have to be this way?" That was a question we had in Confirmation class last week. Why did Jesus have to suffer and die? The answer we always give is: to save us from our sins. But God is God. It could have been done in a different way. Some will answer that question, of why Jesus had to suffer and die, by saying now God understands how it feels to be human, understands our fears, our pains. But God created us. We are creatures created by God. Surely God understands our hearts. No, I think maybe one of the best reasons we can think of to explain why Jesus had to go through what he went through is simply to demonstrate for us, unequivocally, God's love. Because when Jesus went through this he sacrificed himself, he did what was unnecessary and hard, and by going through this pain for us, though we didn't deserve it, God is trying to drown out all those voices of violence that we hear in the world. By giving us this display of amazing love, God is trying to drown out the voices within us that tell us we can't be forgiven or that we will never forgive someone else. By this amazing display of unmerited love, God is drowning out the fears in our hearts, the fears of what may lie ahead, the fear of being alone, the fear of death.
     
    You know, I think we have typically said that the most amazing miracle that Christians understand — the thing that sets us apart from others — is the miracle that we'll celebrate next Sunday on Easter, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. But I would venture to say that maybe a greater miracle than that is what happened on Good Friday. Because in that amazing love, Jesus — God — convinced us unequivocally that God loves us more than God loves himself. That is truly a miracle, and what a blessing to know it.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2014, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Philippians 2:6-8, Revised Standard Version Bible
  • Apr 6, 2014Lessons From Lazarus
    Apr 6, 2014
    Lessons From Lazarus
    Series: (All)
    April 6, 2014. Pastor Keith preaches on the lessons of faith we can learn from the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Near the very end of his gospel, the writer John says, "Now these things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name." And this story about Jesus and Lazarus, and the other people involved, is a story that tells us what this believing for the sake of having life is like. It shows us what some of the dimensions of this faith are like, and what life with faith can look like. As we think of different characters we've heard about in this story we have read, we've seen faith at work in at least five different ways.
     
    For one thing, we hear Mary and Martha react to Jesus when he finally gets to them. We hear how faith has a basic trust, but how it leaves room to grow. Their faith grew from where they were before Jesus came that time. When both Martha and Mary approached Jesus, each one demonstrated that Jesus had the ability to heal Lazarus. They said, "If you'd been here Lord, you could have healed him. He would not have died." So they had this basic belief that Jesus was good and Jesus had this power to heal someone. It was a good faith, and likely more faith than most of the people around them had — who were still very doubtful about Jesus, and sometimes against Jesus. Yet we know that all along, there was even more in store for them to know about, and more for them to grow in faith. Jesus had more in mind than to simply heal Lazarus from an illness. Jesus had something more he was going to use. He had an intention for this time. So Jesus timed his arrival especially late, so that their faith could be stretched. Not only would Jesus heal Lazarus, he would bring him back to life from death. Jesus gives the sign here that he's about more than just sustaining physical life. He's about having life itself. Jesus structured his visit so that this would be apparent. He intentionally waited those extra days after the call for help came to him, so that Lazarus would be thoroughly dead, so there could be no thought that he just kind of passed out for a while and was coming back to life. He was officially dead after four days. Jesus wanted the faith in Mary and Martha to grow. They had that basic belief that he could heal. Jesus shows their faith has room to grow. It can grow to believe that Jesus brings life from death.
     
    There's a good reminder for us in this lesson. How often does God do more for us than we even expected God would do? There are those times when we'd be happy if this or that came out of a certain situation, but maybe even more goodness comes out of it than we thought would come from it. Maybe there's not just a healed body, but a healed relationship that comes out of some medical thing. Maybe we believe in such a way that we'll be happy if only one good thing comes out of it, and many more good things come out of it. Or faith is shown that we believe so much, but even more God is capable to give to us. Faith has room to grow.
     
    A second lesson about faith from this story is that faith tolerates what it cannot understand. That is, faith has a growing edge that sometimes is kind of difficult. Just as growth in many things happens only with growing pains, so growth in faith comes with a measure of difficulty. Faith understands this, and faith accepts difficult times as times to grow. In this story both Martha and Mary blame Jesus. Their anger shows. While they're glad to see Jesus, because their faith had expectations of Jesus they were upset that he didn't come sooner. "If you had been here, Lazarus would not have died." The disciples also questioned Jesus. They tried to dissuade him from going near Bethany, which is in Judea where Lazarus lived, because they feared that Jesus would be stoned by the Jews were out to get him, if not they themselves. Their faith had a growing edge here also. For all of them, their faith came to a new and deeper place, but they had to go through a painful time to get there. This wasn't easy for any of them. They all had to go through an experience they would have preferred to avoid. Disciples would have preferred to stay where they were and not go to Judea. Mary and Martha would have preferred for Jesus to come early so that he could heal Lazarus while he was still alive. But they all came to a deeper faith, which received an even greater gift than they first imagined. But it came with difficulty.
     
    How often doesn't it happen for us — that the way for our faith to grow could not have come by an easier path and we think we'd prefer an easier way, but maybe there's something difficult we need to go through and that grows our faith? Maybe there's an illness we would have happily gone without. Maybe there's some circumstance in life, maybe related to our work or our career or our relationship. Maybe there was a really hard way for us, involving a loss of something or someone. Yet it started and worked with our faith, and our faith was able to have a growing edge, and we came to an even deeper relationship with God than we were before, and a deeper appreciation of the life that God gives.
     
    A third thing we see about faith in this story is that it cares with feeling. Faith is not something of just one dimension. It's not just something we do with our mind and say we believe. Faith, by its nature, involves other parts of life. Faith cares for others. Along the lines that James says, "Faith without works is dead," we could say that faith involves love. While love is apparent on many levels of this story — there are great relationships between Jesus and Mary and Martha and Lazarus and the disciples — it involves one of the deepest signs of emotions that we hear in any of the gospels. It says, in fact, that Lazarus was one who was loved by Jesus. It says that Jesus weeps on the way to the tomb. We're not exactly sure if he was weeping because of the loss of Lazarus, or because he was weeping in sympathy with all the others who were so sad about the death of Lazarus. But either way, Jesus has lots of empathy here. Jesus, even in his faith, has love for others. We know that Jesus does weep here. And at that time, Jesus shows his faith by speaking to the Father. And he says, "Father I do this. I pray to you now that I will be raising Lazarus," he's saying. "And I do this as a way to show them that I have this faith in you." The faith of Jesus even involves a love that cares deeply. It brings out his full emotions and his deepest love. Faith is like that. Our faith is showing when we care about others, whether family or friends or of others who suffer hardship or discrimination, or Christians who are being persecuted, or others in the world having a hard time. Our faith brings us to feel for them and to care for them, so that we do what we can to ease their situation.
     
    The fourth lesson about faith in this story is that faith believes unto death. In the early part of the story when Jesus is with his disciples, he comes to this decision to go to Judea. And at first they don't understand. But he says it's for Lazarus' sake, and Lazarus has died. And then Thomas says we too must go, that we may die with him. They'd just been talking about how dangerous it was and how lethal it could be to go there, yet Thomas voices his faith that's ready to go. He has a faith that's ready to die with and for Jesus. This is the same Thomas who, after the resurrection, had a hard time believing it. But his basic faith grows to accept this new reality of Jesus, that Jesus is the resurrected Lord. This Thomas goes through a hard time with the other disciples as the Jewish council, based on what Jesus does with Lazarus, decides Jesus is too dangerous — and they actively start to kill Jesus then, to go after him, to arrest him. Thomas knows about that, and Thomas has a love and a heart that's deep. And as he comes through this very painful time, and is helped along by Jesus, he finally says after the resurrection with a faith deeper than before, "My Lord and my God." From then on and once again, he puts his life on the line. Thomas is able to say: my faith leaves me even to be willing to die. As tradition has it, he went to India for the sake of Jesus and died a martyr's death. Thomas, like his Lord, has a faith unto death and lives it out to the end.
     
    The faith commitment we make with Jesus is deep. We follow the one who believed the mission all the way to the cross, and we follow him. We need a strong community to do this, other people with us to do this. And we need the marks that we make by baptism and by membership in a community, marks which set us apart and say: I'm with this group and I'm with the Lord too. I also myself say, "My Lord and my God," each one of us says. And we follow where our Lord leads us, no matter how difficult the path may be.
     
    There's at least one more lesson about faith in this story. It's a joyful end, but there's something undone. We just kind of talked about it with the children here. Lazarus was out of the tomb. He's alive, but he's not free to go. He's all bound up. And so Jesus has to say, "Unbind him and let him go." He can't unbind himself. His hands are all tied up. He needs help to do this. Being people of faith means we are the ones who do the unbinding where God has set people in the world free. God has freed the world. God has given new life. Sometimes people are still bound up where they are and don't know the freedom, and don't know the life that God wants them to have. God's faithful ones are the ones who do the freeing of others. God's faithful ones have seen what God is up to, and have a word to share with others so that they can see what God has done for them. And as Jesus did so often, and touched people's eyes so that they could see, and then he would send them on their way with new life, God's faithful ones today are the unbinders. We are people who are unbound ourselves, and so we help others become unbound from the fetters of their lives. We can help people's eyes become open so that they can see another way to live, what God has in mind for them.
     
    So there are at least five ways here we can learn about faith in this story. First of all that faith, even though it has a basic trust, still has room to grow. Secondly a faith has growing edges, sometimes difficult, as it gets deeper. We know thirdly that faith cares with feeling and love. We know fourthly that faith believes unto death. And fifthly, faith acts as it responds to the command of Jesus: to unbind those who have been given new life and set free, and to help them in that process. May we all let the means that God gives us — through his word, through baptisms, through communion, and through the good word of one another — find faith that is nourished and that grows in these ways. Amen.
     
    And now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2014, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, John 11:1-45, James 2:17
  • Mar 9, 2014Locked For Life With God
    Mar 9, 2014
    Locked For Life With God
    Series: (All)
    March 9, 2014. Jesus died to show us that God loves us and has declared that we are not just acceptable, but we are treasured and priceless beyond measure. Pastor Keith preaches on Jesus' temptation in the desert and how he withstood it. Just as Jesus was baptized, we are baptized too. Just as he was tempted then as the Son of God, so we are tempted now as children of God. And just as Jesus successfully carried out his mission, as God's children we continue to carry on the mission, locked for life with God.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We continue to look at our text about the temptation of Jesus. We begin in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    Well, several of our youth spent most of the weekend enduring a 30-hour famine. They chose to fast for 30 hours so they could identify with those who are hungry most of the time. They became more aware of world hunger and food distribution issues, and of hunger in our area. I haven't been able to talk with any of them since they came back, so I'm not sure how that all went. But maybe we can all chat with some of those who went to this famine, and we can find out how they dealt with the hunger and how they dealt with the time. Maybe everybody who went should hold up their hands. Okay, Ray did. I guess we've got Ray here today. Others are maybe — I don't know — recovering? But okay, talk to Ray. Okay.
     
    Well, while 30 hours seems like a long time to us, that was only a fraction of the time that Jesus was fasting. Jesus had just been baptized. And as prophets and other spiritual leaders often did after, when they were ready to start their life's work they would go off to a desert or wilderness to be there for some time, to engage in a kind of meditation time before they were to engage in the ministry — because usually their ministry involved a lot of very rigorous activity and challenges. It was a time to become connected to God, so that one had a connection that would stay during this challenging ministry ahead. And so, while Jesus was in this time of fasting for some 40 days, the devil sees this as an opportune time to come to Jesus and tempt Jesus from his mission. He thought Jesus might be getting desperate, I suppose, at this time to break his fast and saw it as the good time. And while the temptations may have been for certain things, the key to the temptation is in how the question is stated to Jesus, how the devil talks to Jesus. "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." He doesn't say: I dare you to turn these stones into bread, or wouldn't you like to turn these stones into bread. Rather it is, "If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread." The temptation is about who Jesus is. Will he keep his identity as a son of God and be true to the Father, or will he become someone else, give up on the mission, and not go through with God's plan for his life and kind of change his life's direction?
     
    I was recently at a conference where research was quoted that says that the two things people want most in life are meaning in life, and connections. And it occurred to me that I think the two go together. It may not be true in every little bit of the way life works, but much of our meaning, a great deal of our meaning, comes from the people we are associated with, the people we are connected to. The connections we have in life give this life meaning. How the people react to us, and how we relate to them, says much about who we are. We gain our identity and likely our meaning from the people we are connected to. We can't be fathers or mothers, which is identity for some of us, without children. We're all a child to a parent. We may be a husband or a wife to someone. We're connected to people at work. And all that is part of who we are. We have neighbors. We have friends. We're all citizens with one another in a country. All these are different connections that we have, and all these things work together to give us meaning for who we are. We have an array of relationships, and these tell us, and make us, and define us who we are. They give us our identity.
     
    Well in the story of the Temptation, the devil begins by trying to undermine the identity of Jesus, who had just received his baptism from God. And God has just said, "This is my Son with whom I am well pleased." Now, the devil comes and tempts Jesus, and says if you are God's son then turn these stones into bread. The devil seeks to rob Jesus of his God-given identity, and to replace it with a false one of his own making. Jesus resists this temptation, but not by brute force — knocking the devil out or something like that — or by sheer will. But he takes refuge in his identity, and that's where he gets the strength to withstand this temptation. It's his identity that's grounded in his relationship with God. That's his main connection. He's connected to God. He has a relationship with God, so he turns to that relationship with God for his ability to withstand this temptation. It's the relationship that involves his complete dependence upon God. But even as he does that, he identifies with all other human beings. Keeping within who he is, Jesus doesn't get out of himself but stays within his own person. Jesus will be hungry as other people are hungry. He will be beat, dependent upon the will and grace of God. So he identifies with human beings and he identifies with God. As he identifies with people, he will be at risk or be vulnerable as other people are. But he will always find his safety, his strength, and his relationship with his Father. He will refuse to say no, I'm going to go another direction, I'm going to get my power over here. He continues always to be in relationship with his Father.
     
    Well as Jesus had just been baptized, he was baptized because he wanted to show that he was one of us, that he identified completely with us. So he became human as we are, and the baptism was a way to show his humanity. So in his baptism, he is one of us. And just as he was tempted then as Son of God, so we are tempted as children of God. And so we share this identity with Jesus. In baptism we've been declared children of God. We're tempted also. We're challenged to find our wherewithal to withstand temptations in our relationship with God. Just as Jesus used that means, that's the resource we have for fighting temptation ourselves. We are connected to God. We keep that connection because that is our very strength.
     
    Sometimes we fall into doubt though. That's what the original temptation was in the garden. The devil approached Adam and Eve, as we heard a little bit ago in the first lesson, and established doubt. Did God really say that? Do you think God really meant that, that if you eat that fruit things will fall apart? Was that really what God had in mind? Eat the tempting fruit and find out, was the temptation — who you can really be. You can really be so much better. You don't know how good you can be if you don't go beyond the limits God has put on you. You can be like God in fact, the devil said. So doubt was created about who they were and whether God was really for them or not. They lost track of themselves. They lost their perfect relationship with God.
     
    So the devil comes to us and creates doubt also. Are you really who you think you are? Can you really survive in your current state? Aren't you being held back from your potential? Maybe you could do better if you went another direction. If you get out of your current self, and kind of shed it like a snake would shed its skin, wouldn't you be much more successful and happy? That's the kind of doubt that seeps into our mind as we're tempted. In each day we're besieged by countless ads that seek to create in us a sense that we're lacking something. A sense of insecurity is planted in us. And that sense puts a plant in us that we're inadequate. We need something more. And our God-given identity is undermined with the thought that if we buy this car, or improve our smell, or make our teeth whiter, somehow we will be more acceptable. They say we hear some 18,000 messages a day just kind of picking away at us, saying do this, do that, and you'll be better if you get this product. All these are always saying to us: you're not good enough the way you are. You're not skinny enough, you're not smart enough, or you're not pretty enough, or you're not strong enough, or you're not rich enough to deserve the love and respect and acceptance (which really we already have from God) but they say there could be more if you buy into these things. We're told always you need something more. You can get LifeLock or other products to supposedly keep your identity from being stolen. But the temptation to let our trust in God be co-opted is a far worse threat than identity theft happening for us. If we let our identity as a person of God, fully reliant on God for what we need, be taken from us by trusting in something else, then something far worse has happened to us than what has happened to our credit card if it got compromised at Schnuck's or Target or something like that. Then a key relationship is threatened and we risk losing our soul, the soul of who we are. We need to stay locked tight with God.
     
    We're tempted by the quick fixes. We would like to have plenty so we'd never have to worry about having plenty. We'd like to have superpowers that we could rescue maybe an inadequate paycheck or too short a retirement account, and just have powers to take care of that. We'd like to be king of the hill, as the devil tempted Jesus, or we'd like to rule the world. We'd like those things. And in our desperate moments — our times when it seems that we're famished, or we have just no more energy, or no more fuel to go on — when it seems like we're all alone and we have no relationships to remind us of who we are, and we feel like a homeless person who has nowhere to go except around the corner, hoping that corner will block the wind for us, we're challenged to keep trusting, not to lose our connection, and to remember who we are as ones connected to God.
     
    Just as Jesus was baptized, we are baptized. We are marked by God, as we were created by God. We are put in a life locked with God. The same Jesus who withstood the temptation in the wilderness would be tempted again. The devil would speak through criminals, through soldiers, through the people gathered at the foot of the cross while Jesus was there, and they would tempt him with the same kinds of words: "If you think you are the messiah, if you are the Son of God, come down off the cross." Always tempting Jesus. "Are you who you think you are, or are you someone else?" To the very end he was tempted, and to the very end Jesus remembered who he was. He was God's son, and so in his last words he says, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." He knew who he was because of the one he was connected to.
     
    Well, this work of Jesus is our way to come through our times of desperation, our temptations to lose sight of who we are, to go off some other direction trying to find quick relief. Jesus offers us a way to safeguard our identity by locking it in God's good gift and promise. Jesus died to show us that God already loves us and has declared that we are not just acceptable, but we are treasured and we are priceless beyond measure. Think about this last week. Was there a time maybe when your identity was threatened, that you were tempted to live outside yourself? Was there a time when you felt inadequate or unworthy? How did it go? Were you able to remember and believe the promise of the one you are connected to, the promise of God in Jesus that you are enough — not just enough, more than enough – and accepted as God's own child? I hope so.
     
    When Jesus was hungry, it was preparation for his mission. He completed that mission in the coming months and years as he succeeded in doing what he needed to do, and even suffered unto death for it. When our youth were on this hunger famine time, yesterday on their fast, they did not just sit around thinking about how hungry they were or how nice it would be to have food, or play games to divert themselves, to think about other things. Rather, they were involved in a service project with Humanitree, learning about people who live in hard situations much of the time. Knowing who they were as children of God, they were on mission in God's name. So we, as we allow God to keep us connected, know who we are as God's children, locked for life with God, and we carry on the mission — even willing to pay the cost that we incur doing that — because we know whose we are. Amen.
     
    Now, may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2014, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, Genesis 2:15-17, Genesis 3:1-7, Matthew 4:1-11
  • Feb 9, 2014American Hustle
    Feb 9, 2014
    American Hustle
    Series: (All)
    February 9, 2014. In Matthew 5, the scribes and the Pharisees were hustlers. They used the law of God to their own advantage against others. They refused to admit it and to seek forgiveness. But that is the difference between them and us. Pastor Penny preaches today on this text, and reminds us that Jesus doesn't call us hustlers. Jesus has other words for us. He says we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    His father owned a company that didn't do very well because people took advantage of him, so he determined he would be different. He would be famous and rich, at the expense of others if need be. She left a small town that didn't seem to notice her and struck out to find fame and fortune, and she didn't care if she had to shove people aside to do it. And they, the man and woman, met at a party and instantly were a dynamic duo. And they went through life garnering glamour and goods on the backs of other people. They sold fake loans and counterfeit art. They bribed politicians. They even got a little close to the Mafia, and they did alright for a while. Okay, now that is the plot of a movie. It's called, if you've seen it, "American Hustle." But it's not just a movie. It was loosely based on the Abscam event, where politicians were bribed or did accept bribes. But it's also called American Hustle because I think it really does describe what we have learned to accept as the way the world goes: you need to watch out for yourself. You need to stretch and get what you need. And if you hurt other people, or if they somehow get hurt, don't notice it. Just carry on. I mean, we're not surprised when we hear about a politician accepting a bribe anymore. It seems the way of life. Or we hear about a high financier getting inside information to make a deal. It's normal.
     
    It's so normal, this idea that we look out for number one even at the expense of others, that it gets into our blood. Somebody does something dishonest at work or at school and we look the other way. We've got our careers to worry about, or our friends or our status. Don't get involved. Someone proposes building something that would be great for the community, but it might jeopardize the value of your home, so you oppose it. I mean after all, isn't the American way to elect officials that will help us? We don't think too much about whether it will help the state or help the country or the world, but that's the way government works: they help us. And we use resources that we know deep down are going to be needed in the future, but it's so hard to give up the comfortable life. In so many ways we have bought into the American hustle, and we don't even notice when we work to get what we want at the expense of others.
     
    But Jesus doesn't call us hustlers. Jesus has other words for us. Jesus says you are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world. And he said that because we have been given a different understanding of success, a different reason to feel good. We have been given this view of goodness that means we look out for each other. We heard that in the Old Testament. God said, I don't want all your false fasts. What I want you to do is be merciful, clothe the naked, take the homeless into your home, feed the hungry. Then, then I am pleased. That's what is beautiful. That's what is good. And we have this vision. But how do we carry it out in a world that is constantly trying to shape us into hustlers? Well we can't do it alone. And if you read the gospel in the Greek, you will see that when Jesus says you are the light of the world, you are the salt of the earth, that word "you" is plural. He's not saying it to one person. He's saying it to all the followers. He's saying it to us as a community, as a congregation. And we know that it makes a huge difference that we do things together. It is such a beautiful thing to be part of a community.
     
    We had a meeting a few nights ago thinking about the vision of this church. And as we talked, we began to wonder: although we value the community, do we value the gifts of the individual members? Maybe some of you have thought: why don't they ask me? I know about this. Why hasn't anybody asked me to do this or my advice, or come to me? And we began to think that maybe it's for shyness or lack of knowledge of who has what gifts, or just because we're in a hurry, we may not have asked people to use their valuable gifts for this community. And then on the other side, there's that part of us that may not want to use our gifts. We might think, oh no, another meeting. We may not see the value that we have to offer, the value of what we have right here.
     
    There's a story about a pastor who came to visit a parishioner who hadn't been coming to church for a while. And he graciously received the pastor, and he knew what the pastor was there for. And he had made a fire in the fireplace, so he invited the pastor to sit down. And they sat there and he waited for the pastor to say what a pastor would say. The pastor didn't say a word. After a few minutes the pastor got up and he pushed the screen of the fireplace over, and took the tongs and he took a little piece of wood that had been burning right in the middle of the fire, and he put it over to the edge all by itself. And then he sat down. Together he and the parishioner watched as that little piece of wood just got darker and darker, until it was hardly even an ember. And then he got up and he took the tongs and he put it back in the middle of the fire, and it burst into flames. And then he said well, I guess I should be going now. And as the parishioner walked the pastor to the door, he said: thank you pastor for your visit, and for your fiery sermon. And he said I'll be back in church next Sunday.
     
    We need each other. This is how we get our fire. This is how we keep on the level path. We need each other, and we're best when we're together. We think of what the church has done together, how we have stood up against racial discrimination, abuse of women, prejudice against gays and lesbians, how we have built hospitals and nursing homes and had a whole social service network, how we have helped stop world hunger. This is what we can do together. And even a congregation, like the salt, can influence all that is around it. When Keith was on his internship at Our Redeemer in Indianapolis, already the neighborhood was getting kind of crime-ridden. But the congregation refused to move, as they have up to this time. They have a beautiful plan. They say if we keep our building up, if we come driving in there every Sunday morning, we're helping the neighborhood -- even if it means that we hire a guard to watch our cars for evening meetings, which they do.
     
    There's so much we can do together. But is it enough? We hear that haunting last sentence of the gospel: unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. But you see, the scribes and the Pharisees were hustlers. They used the law of God to their own advantage against others. They refused to admit it and to seek forgiveness. And that is the difference between them and us. Every Sunday we publicly confess our sins. In our own homes we probably say the same to God, and we receive that forgiveness. And so Jesus says to us: I didn't say you will be the salt of the earth. I didn't say if you work hard enough, you might be the light of the world. I died and rose to say to you: you are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. All we need to do is to live what we already are -- to live life, watching out for others, and being able to step back ourselves. Not an easy task, but we have each other, and we have the power of the Holy Spirit. And we have the promise that when Christ returns, everything will be transformed and we will all see together the Kingdom of Heaven.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2014, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, LGBTQ, Matthew 5:13-20
  • Feb 2, 2014Papua New Guinea
    Feb 2, 2014
    Papua New Guinea
    Series: (All)
    February 2, 2014. Pastors Penny and Keith talk about their recent trip to Papua New Guinea.
     
    [In this sermon, Pastor Penny and Pastor Keith refer to photos that were being displayed by projectors in the church at the time.]
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    [Pastor Keith]
     
    Well we've heard about Simeon in our reading this morning as one who held this Christ child and said he is the light of the nations. And this gospel that comes through Jesus then is the light to all nations, and we're going to focus this morning on it being the light to a place in the world called Papua New Guinea. It's just north of Australia. And the part that you see in orange there is the part that's Papua New Guinea. The island is divided in half. It's the second largest island in the world. But the part that's in orange, and then New Britain and some of the other islands around it, make this country that's in partnership with our Central States Synod, ELCA. We've been in partnership for many years now. Different people in our synod, including a former bishop, have lived in Papua New Guinea during part of their lives. So we have a partnership with Papua New Guinea, as well as with Eastern Russia, the Urals, and Siberia. People from there were with us this summer, and we hosted a dinner for them back in June. But today's focus is on Papua New Guinea.
     
    This is a picture of our delegation. See Penny there, and the mission developer in our synod office, and pastor Gary Teske, who most recently was pastor at Lawrence, Kansas. Now he's retired, but still working with our companion synod committee. The two other men you see there are Walter and Phillip, two men who were the ones who took us around and took care of us on this trip. I want to talk about the last Sunday morning we were there. We went to this church at a place called Sattelburg. It's kind of in a German style; you can see it looks like a cathedral. The mission was started by Germans about 1886, late 1800s, when Germans had come to put in plantations and to take trees for wood. There was a pastor who came first to be minister to the workers, but then noticed all the people who were doing the low-level work, the natives, and began to change his idea from being a chaplain to the German workers, to being a missionary to the workers who were doing the hard work. And so he started that in this area. It took a long time, maybe 25 years or so, to get conversions to happen.
     
    But this church is on a very high mountain, one of the highest places in that area. And as you probably recall, important things happen in the spiritual world on mountains. In the Old Testament we have several things that happen on mountains. And the normal lesson for today, if we weren't doing the Presentation of Our Lord, would include the words of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus was on a mountain to speak. So, high places like mountains, in both more native religions as well as Christianity, can be important parts. And so it was a symbol to have a Christian church on this mountain that had been the premier spot for the native religion of Papua New Guinea. For the people it was their high, holy place. And so their religion went away, and Christianity came to take that place. And so this is at this place called Sattelburg.
     
    Well for once on the trip, we were early for something. We were early for church. And so we'd ridden in this pickup up there. And so we were talking, waiting for the worship to happen. And the man you see on the right had been in our conferences all week. Even though he was an older man, he was always concerned that the stewardship plans that we were talking about were not modern enough, that they would not appeal to the young people. And so we heard from him in other ways, both in the pigeon, that normal language, and he could speak English also. But here we begin with a new theme, and he talked to us with a big thank you. He said, "I want to thank you for being here." First I thought he meant like other people we've run into, people on the reservation or people in El Salvador, or others who say, "Thank you for being here because it just helps us keep up hope." But that was just his start. He did thank us for coming, but he said, "I mean 'you,' as all of your people who have brought the gospel to us. We would not be the same. We would be back in slavery to death," like we heard in our Hebrews lesson today, "If it weren't for the gospel having come here. It's completely changed us as a people, both in ways that make for good institutions, but especially in our faith. It changes how we think." And so he was one who thanked us as representing all those who have come before, as ones who brought the gospel to him and to those people.
     
    We talked to Pastor Gary Teske, who was with us on this trip. He had been a missionary in the western highlands for about nine years. In our conversations we asked Gary, how did you come into villages that have never heard a word about Jesus or the gospel, and make any change with them? He said well, we'd arrange a meeting with either the tribal elders, and other people would come, and we'd say you live under this "slavery to death." That is you live under, in your former religion, the fear always of what the spirits of the ancestors are going to do to you today. Are you going to make the right move? Are you going to do the right thing? Or will your ancestor haunt you in some way? You never have a moment of joy because you're always worried about what the spirit of the ancestors are going to do. I have news to you, Gary would say, of a different god, a god who cares about you, a god who doesn't want you to live in fear, a god who wants you to live knowing care and love. And it wasn't always at the first meeting that they would convert, but hearing a word of a god who loves them rather than gods who are always after them converted the people. And that's, I think, what he really was trying to say to us that day.
     
    About 15 miles away is another church, and it's the scene where another conversion happened for the people in about 1909 (we'll see on a chart in a minute) when a pastor got all the tribes together on this spot and said: this is the day I ask you to choose. I ask you to choose to live for the Lord Jesus and to lay down your weapons. And he had the persuasive power -- we'll call it the power of the Holy Spirit, would be better explanation. They laid down their weapons and they all that day said yes, said -- as many tribes -- that they would now become Christian. And so, we begin to get a hint of what a difference this has made in the last hundred, hundred twenty-five years in this country and change of life. Someone said, we used to fight all the time, we would eat each other, you know. There were cannibals. It was awful. But everything is different now with the news of Jesus.
     
    Pastor Teske used the example when he was in the highlands that, as for Paul and others, congregations don't always get along very well. One of the congregations under his charge had split. He was disappointed and had a meeting with them, and said we've been talking about love and loving one another in the Lord. Isn't there a way to work this out? And they said no, there's no way to work it out. And a man came to him afterwards and said Pastor Gary, just remember that in former times we would have killed each other. Now we're just splitting into two different churches. So it's a depth of change that the gospel has made in this place, and we came to appreciate it. Part of our guide's thanks was for the institutions that came with the church. They didn't have organized schools. They didn't have organized hospitals. But because of God's care now, through the faith, they have. This is the sign for a hospital begun by Lutherans from Germany -- the Brown Hospital, still operating. They have hospital care, ways to heal one another, ways to heal a person. And now they have things like a school system and regular daily primary public schools. They also have a government. He was proud that Lutherans are in high places in the government, that they are a part of things. People from their district are high up in the government. And so this wouldn't have happened in the days before PNG became independent in 1975. So he went on and on to talk to us about big changes. The gospel has made this light of Christ to the nations, has changed them just thoroughly, as individuals and as a people, because it's come to them.
     
    Now Pastor Penny will pick it up.
     
     
    [Pastor Penny]
     
    As Pastor Keith mentioned, it's probably been a hundred twenty-five years since the light of the gospel came to people in Papua New Guinea. As an aside, the children were looking at a picture of a child fascinated by wheels. It's been said that in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, in the isolated valleys, the first time they ever saw wheels was in the second world war, because they were that isolated. So this was a country that was very isolated and certainly didn't know the gospel until a hundred twenty-five years ago. And like Anna and Simeon, they live now the gospel. You can see it in big ways, where they've come to be peaceable and they've organized a government. But we saw it in three ways that I think are very distinctive in Papua New Guinea.
     
    In the first way, we saw how the gospel changed them, that they love to get together. And it's nothing for them to travel by foot, on hot and humid days, carrying things on their heads and on their backs for a half hour or more to get to a meeting or to get to church. They routinely walk, and they're just so eager to be together. They had a farewell dinner at one place for us, and it was a potluck. And I sat next to a lady and I said what did you bring? And she pointed to a big tray of things. Turns out she'd walked for a half hour or more carrying that tray. And by the time that potluck was over it was pitch dark, and she was going to just turn right around and walk -- no electricity or anything, no flashlights -- home again, carrying her tray. She was happy to do that. They love being together. They love community.
     
    Another thing that I noticed was (and this is not new for anybody who's ever been to a third world country) they have a different sense of time. And of course it's a challenge to people from the Western world, but I came to really get a better sense of why they have a different sense of time. They took time to greet people. We went to a nature preserve, and the men that were guiding us went up and they were talking with the the guards and shaking hands and laughing. I thought they must know these men. No, that's just the way you are in Papua New Guinea: you take time for one another. They didn't mind just watching each other. We saw three men who were volunteering to repaint the student union at a seminary in Lae. And there were four or more watching them, just spending time with them. They took the time to be together, to encourage each other, to be friendly. When we were staying in the rural area, we stayed in a guest house, which is the house on the left. And it was right next to the district office, right across the lawn from us. And I was amazed that late into the night there would be guys in there laughing and talking. It was a place of socialization, not just business. They did get business done, but they did it on their own time, which allowed for a lot of talk and care of one another.
     
    We took a number of different hikes. And I was hiking with this man who's a minister named Robert. And before he became a minister, for 18 or 19 years he was a commercial fisherman, or sailor I should say. And he told me one time they sailed to Florida and they docked in Miami and spent a month there. And I said, what did you think of United States? And he said, I've told my friends if you want to live in the United States, it's all about time, time, time. We have a different sense of time. We have our own agendas. Therefore our meetings start on time. Their's don't. Their worship may not start on time and may not end on time. But the reason, I came to realize, is because they set aside their personal agendas for other people, and they're just very willing to let interruptions become their business. So it was frustrating and refreshing at the same time.
     
    The third way that the light of the gospel really shows through in their way of life is their hospitality. We were fed three times a day by a woman who insisted on bringing these lavish meals for us. We told her we still have some left over, we can eat this for two meals. No, she would take what was left over and give us something brand-new out of her garden, which was quite a distance away. She had to hike to it. Or she would go to the local market and use the fruits and vegetables from the area. But she would also have canned meat and ramen noodles. They have their own brand of ramen noodles, many flavors -- and she used it so creatively. Every meal was different, very tasty and beautiful. This is how she liked to serve the fruit. So we really knew the hospitality of food and being well cared for. Often when we'd go places there would be a ceremony to greet us. They call them "sing sings," where they'd have native garb and they'd sing native songs. The second time we encountered it was when we came from traveling by ferry to this rural area. And of course being PNG, they didn't have the battery for the ferries. The ferry was three or four hours late. So what they had intended to be a ceremony in the afternoon leading up to dinner, was now in the evening and it's pitch-dark there. But they waited for us. And then they met us and they had erected kind of a gate out of foliage and it would fall down -- they would push it down -- to show that we were welcomed, and then we would walk over that gate. They had prepared the passage to the meeting house where we were going to have the meeting, decorated it with petals. And they led us by this procession wearing their native garb and singing their native songs all the way up to the house where we would be having the meeting.
     
    There were often gifts. You can see we all got PNG hats. I mean they have so little. Beautiful bags, you saw the men wearing them around their heads. Everyone used them as a way to transport papers, books, groceries, babies, whatever you had. You put that around your head to transport your baby. You can see we're trying out our caps. Necklaces too. They liked to give gifts, and it was a beautiful thing they did. But I think the person who embodied hospitality the most for us was Walter. He's an official with their district -- or their synod, it would be like our synod. But he was our guide. And he was always hovering, so to each other we called him our mother hen. He was a beautiful man. And the last time he showed it, we were about to leave to return to Lae for a four-hour ride in a motorboat. I'm going to move ahead so you can see what they are like. They're not that big, and they pack them full of people and things, and they sit really low on the water and go very fast and they're way out in the sea. And nobody, nobody has life jackets. Well Walter couldn't stand that. Here he was in charge of the four of us, and he wanted to make sure we got there without drowning. So Walter borrowed life jackets, four of them -- and there were fifteen of us in there, so I'm not sure what would happen. And here he is, like a good flight attendant showing us how to put on the lifejacket to make sure we were protected. He was a beautiful person and his hospitality was amazing.
     
    At one service, which is so typical of them, they just turned to the four of us and said, you sing a song. And we looked at each other thinking okay, what do we know the words to that kind of fits in? And someone said how about "They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love." We thought okay, we probably all know that one, so we started singing it. And of course they knew it and they joined right in -- and they knew all the words. And it was really a kind of a theme song, I think for me anyway, because as we flew out it was a very sad time. I figured, being logical, I would never see these people again. And they were so gracious and so passionate about their faith. But they reminded me of all the ways that we who have the light of Christ live that light out -- in the way we treat other people, in the way we treat time, in the little things as well as the big things. They were a good reminder to me of the wonderful responsibility and gift that we have in knowing the light of Christ, and that whatever we do we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to let the world see that we are Christians by our love.
     
    So they taught us a lot. And we have a lot to be grateful for. And hopefully we will keep in contact with them and continue to support them.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2014, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Pastor Keith Holste, Hebrews 2:14-18, Luke 2:22-40
  • Jan 12, 2014Rules vs Relationships
    Jan 12, 2014
    Rules vs Relationships
    Series: (All)
    January 12, 2014. Sometimes people think that being Christian is all about the Ten Commandments. But while they are not featured front and center in many churches, baptismal fonts are. Pastor Penny preaches on the role of baptism in our lives, and with the help of Mark Twain illustrates the difference between two ways of looking at life: through rules or through relationships.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    I wonder how you would feel if this display were always front and center in our churches. And for those of you in the back, it's the Ten Commandments that we're illustrating here. I think those who don't understand Christianity might think that that is who we are as Christians. And sometimes we are tempted to believe that too. People will say that Christians are people who do the right things, who do good things. It's about the Ten Commandments. But you know, these things aren't front and center here, and I don't know of any church where they are. What is front and center is our baptismal font. And that's front and center in a lot of Christian churches. I've been in one church (and probably more than that, but one that I know of) where the baptismal font is always there. It's installed there; it never moves. And that way everyone has to pass by it. On the way to communion in this church, because the railing is up here, everyone passes by the font. If there's a wedding, the bride and groom separate and pass by the font. When there's a funeral, the casket and the mourners pass by the font. And the reason, I believe, that the baptismal font is so visible in our churches, is to remind us that everything that happens in our lives is touched by our baptisms.
     
    Now I know that sounds like an amazing claim. And you say well, really how does baptism make a difference in my daily life? Let's look at what Jesus said at his baptism. You probably remember that John the Baptist went about baptizing people with a kind of ritual washing away of their sins. But he promised that someone who would come after him would be more powerful. And when that person came, the baptism that that person would give to people would give them the Holy Spirit. Well, then one day John sees the very man that he's been predicting, kneeling before him, asking John to baptize him. And John says no. I mean, it should be the other way around. And then Jesus says no, it's proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness. And I think that's the word that trips us up: righteousness. Because we go back to this. We think of doing good things, that's what makes us righteous. But you see, that's the Greek understanding of that word. You know, that there are certain values and certain deeds that, if you do them, you are a righteous person. But that wasn't Jesus' understanding. That wasn't the Hebrew understanding. That wasn't the understanding of that word all through the Old Testament. What righteousness is in Jesus' eyes and in the Old Testament is: being faithful to a promise.
     
    God, the Old Testament writers said, was righteous because God was faithful to the promise that God made to Abraham and Abraham's descendants: to be their God, to guide them, to forgive them, to protect them. So God was righteous. God was faithful. And the children of Israel were on and off: faithful, righteous -- because they were intermittently faithful to their part of the promise -- that in response they would trust this guy, God, who claimed them. Now, of course the Ten Commandments had something to do with their faithfulness, but it wasn't integral. What was center to their faithfulness was trusting the relationship. And then, out of joy and out of thanksgiving, they would try very hard to keep the Ten Commandments. And there's quite a difference then, when we think of these two ways of looking at life: through the Commandments -- through rules, or through relationships.
     
    Maybe a good illustration of this comes from a favorite story, a classic story of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Samuel Clemens or Mark Twain. If you know the story of Huck Finn, you know that he was a poor boy. I don't know whether his mother died (she wasn't really in the story as far as I can remember) but his father was a drunkard. And so poor Huck, he had a rough, tough life. But he was very free. But two older ladies, sisters -- one a widow, one never married I think -- took pity on Huck, and they took him under their wing. They took him into their home to civilize him. So they bought him new clothes. They tried to teach him to read. They brought him to church. They tried to teach him manners. But poor Huck, he just couldn't stand that confinement that they gave him. He appreciated what they were trying to do, but he ran away because he couldn't handle it. Well while he was running away and hiding out on an island, he bumped into another man who had run away, who was none other than Miss Watson's (one of these two ladies) slave, Jim.
     
    Now as soon as he saw Jim, he started having conscience pangs. Huck started to think, I should turn him in. He's a runaway slave. Because the rules that they were teaching, even the church in those days, were that Jim was a possession of Miss Watson. And so Huck felt he was stealing not to make Jim go back or to turn him in. But Huck pushed away those feelings and those conscience pangs, and he and Jim became quite a duo. For day after day, they floated down the river (as we're speaking of rivers) toward Cairo, where Jim believed he would be free. And they had lots of adventures. But as they got close to Cairo, these conscience pangs returned to Huck and he started feeling that God was so angry with him. He used the word many times "wicked" -- that he was a wicked person for not turning Jim in, and so he said the way to do it, the way to get out of this feeling is, I've got to write and tell Miss Watson: "Here's where Jim is. Come and get him." So he sat down. He wrote the letter. But just when he was about to send it, he started thinking of his relationship with Jim. All the nights they had travelled together that. They had sung together. They had eaten together. Jim's kindness to Huck. They had taken shifts in staying awake to make sure people didn't find them. And sometimes Jim would take Huck's shift just to let Huck sleep a little longer. And Huck remembered how he told Jim, I won't turn you in, don't worry. And Jim said, you are my best friend.
     
    So here's this poor boy. He is just torn with agony. On the one hand, he feels God is so angry with him for stealing against a lady who just tried to help him. And on the other hand, he cares for Jim. What he finally does is he says, I think I am going to burn in hell for this, but he rips up the letter and he refuses to turn Jim in. He's a good illustration of the difference between living by rules -- which can be wrong or can be misapplied -- and living by a relationship and a commitment to a promise.
     
    And when Jesus was righteous in his baptism, what he did was the Holy Spirit came to him to share with others. So that when we are baptized we are initiated into this same kind of a relationship. And it is so freeing to know that we are not the rules of life. That's not our identity. We are not the good things we do. We're not the bad things. We're not the things we're proud of, the achievements. We're not the failures or the things that we are ashamed of. The rules are there and they can be helpful. But our identity is here. It is: sons and daughters of God. And this is where it begins. Just like with the children of Israel, we're going to break these rules, these Ten Commandments. We are going to forget. We are going to avoid being faithful to God. But God is always faithful to us and takes us back and forgives us, again and again.
     
    So that's the first way that baptism touches our everyday lives. We have a whole different relationship with God. But as you know, we are not baptized privately. We have a baptism in the middle of a church service with a whole congregation, because we're baptized into a congregation. And that's the second amazing blessing from baptism: we learn to treat people differently. No longer are we bound to be judgmental, to nitpicking, to criticizing, to remembering and keeping score, and feeling superior to people and putting them down. We don't have to do that, because we have been made in this community, brothers and sisters. We set aside all those worries and we concentrate on our relationships. And this is really where we learn to to treat people outside of this congregation. This is our laboratory. I mean, you think of the differences of the people within this congregation. There are people who are Republicans. There are people who are Democrats. There are people who love classical music. There are people who love hard rock. There are people who want to sing songs written by dead white men only (and I've been told that). And there are people who would just as soon hear Negro spirituals every Sunday. And we tolerate each other. We accept one another. We don't nitpick. We say: but we are one. We are brothers and sisters. So it's here that we learn how to treat people outside of these walls.
     
    So that's the second blessing. We have a whole new way of looking at people. But there's one more blessing to baptism. You probably know that we have another baptismal font. We own a second one as a congregation, but it's not in this building. It's outside, in the columbarium. And there's another congregation around that baptismal font. They are the faithful departed. They are our loved ones who are represented there with ashes and sometimes with a memorial stone only. But they are waiting for the third blessing of baptism, which we are too because we've had already two births, haven't we? We've been born as human beings. We've been reborn as children of God. And because of the righteousness of God, because of the faithfulness of God, because of the faithfulness of Christ unto death, we are invited -- we expect, we celebrate -- a third birth, when Christ returns. And these will be here. And it will be our great joy to be utterly faithful to God and to one another for eternity.
     
    Thanks be to God. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2014, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain