Jan 8, 2012
Fishers of People, Catchers in the Rye
Series: (All)
January 8, 2012. To repent is to acknowledge that there is pain in the world, and admit that we are partly responsible for it. Pastor Penny preaches on the story of Jesus' baptism, and how Jesus' message to the world was not gentle. It was about both promise and repentance. But it's when we repent that we can really hear the grace of God in our baptism.
 
*** Transcript ***
 
We begin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 
In the movie "My Week with Marilyn" we get a glimpse of the life of Marilyn Monroe, the glamorous movie star from the 1950s who shot into fame. She was a nobody, Norma Jean. And then she was found. Her life -- even though she was known throughout the world and people followed her around everywhere -- her life was not very joyful. She was married and divorced three times, and at the age of 36 she took her own life apparently, taking sleeping pills. I am sure that most people look to her early childhood for some explanation of the sadness in her adult life, because her early childhood was not very happy. She never knew her father, and her mother had a mental illness and had to be institutionalized. So Norma Jean, or Marilyn Monroe, grew up in an orphanage and in many different foster homes. And there's a very touching point in the movie, where she says she thinks that every little girl should be able to hear her mother say that she loves her. And you can only imagine that she never heard that, or heard it very seldom.
 
What a contrast between her childhood and her life and her relationship with her parents, and the voice that Jesus heard in his baptism, the voice of his Heavenly Father saying, "You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased." You know, with words of love and support from a parent like that, what couldn't a child accomplish? Now Jesus knew that he had his Father's love and support. But his Father did not coddle him by any means. Along with this love and support was a plan, were expectations. And the way that the Father lent his support -- just as we were talking about up here in our baptisms -- the way the Father lent his support to the Son was through the Holy Spirit. And the description of the Holy Spirit in our text this morning is not a gentle force. It says that the Spirit "tore open" the heavens to come down in the form of a dove. This Spirit drove Jesus. It didn't compel Jesus or lead Jesus. It drove Jesus, into the wilderness where there were wild beasts. And there he was tempted for 40 days and 40 nights, or in other words a long time, by Satan. Now, the Father was there in the form of angels who ministered to him. But that time must have been like boot camp for Jesus. You know, his natural inclination to love was being refined and strengthened and focused. And when he was done, he began his ministry and began calling his disciples.
 
And the Holy Spirit was not gentle with Jesus' disciples either. It was more like an eagle than a dove. Jesus walked up to Peter and Andrew, and it was as though they couldn't say no. It was as though the Holy Spirit wouldn't allow them to say no, because they dropped everything and followed Jesus. Or Jesus went up to James and John, and they left their father, they left the hired help. No handshakes to Dad or kiss Mom on the cheek or pack the bag. They were gone. And Jesus was not gentle with them either. When they came, he said, "I will make you fishers of people." He didn't say: I will teach you how to do this, I will encourage you, I will lead you. He said, "I will make you fishers of people."
 
I always think that expression "fishers of men" or "fishers of people" is kind of interesting. And I always think of the book The Catcher in the Rye, and this little teenager Holden Caulfield is trying to find himself, trying to become an adult. He runs away from home. He tries to get street savvy. But the vision that he has for what he really wants to be in life is a catcher in the rye. He has this picture of a big field of rye, and all these children playing. But at the edge of the field there is a cliff. And he wants to be the catcher, the one to stand there and protect those kids and keep them from falling off the cliff. And maybe that's a good way to think of what Jesus is making his disciples into, and making us into: people who catch people and keep them from falling off the cliffs, spiritually and emotionally and physically.
 
Well, Jesus' message to the world was not gentle either. He had two parts to it. The one was a promise. It was: believe in the good news. But the first part was a hard part: repent. That was the twofold message: repent and believe in the good news. And they go together. You really can't believe without repenting. Now "repenting" is a word we only use here and in these walls, and it goes with confession and sin. And we might feel that that word doesn't have much place in our ordinary lives. But repent is really quite a practical thing. It is simply acknowledging that there is pain in the world, and admitting that we are partly responsible for it. Acknowledging the pain and admitting that we are responsible. That's what it means to repent. And it's not easy to do even the first part, to acknowledge the pain in the world.
 
In his latest book, the travel writer Rick Steves says that for most of his adult life he willingly chose to ignore the pain that he knew was going on in some places. Central America was one he mentioned. He knew there was a civil war in the 80s, and that the left was fighting the right, and that our government was supporting the right. But he didn't know where the truth lay. He didn't understand it. It was too complicated, took too much energy. He just said I didn't need that. And then he went there. He went actually to El Salvador, and that changed everything. When he got there he realized that he did have the power to begin to discern the truth, by talking to people and observing. And not only could he, but he believed he should start to understand what was happening there. It was important to him. And it became the beginning of his whole new way of looking at travel, which is Travel as a Political Act. That's his most recent book.
 
And I think it's really easy for us living in this country to be like Rick Steves, and just sort of isolate and insulate ourselves from the pain in other parts of the world. We really don't want to think about it. But it's not just the other parts of the world that we like to ignore. It's pretty easy to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to when people are being mistreated at work or in school. It's just hard to know what to do. It's just easier not to do anything. And sometimes it's true that we even try to ignore the pain that is right within our own families.
 
The author of Almost Christian, a book that does a study of teenagers and faith, has a lot of critical remarks to make towards adults in mainline Christian churches. She says that we even make God into the kind of being who is removed from the pain of the world. She sees that so many churches teach about a God who is removed, who's distant, who's glad to see when things go well, wants us to be happy, wants us to feel good about ourselves, but doesn't really get involved. And there's no sin or responsibility involved with this God. And she says if you teach that kind of God, don't be surprised if your teenagers don't feel that that God is a part of their lives.
 
So it's easy for us to fail to see the hurt in the world. But some people live in a world of hurt and they can't ignore it. Their temptation is to just say, "Well that's not my fault. I'm not responsible. You know, it's a dog-eat-dog world. Do it to them before they do it to you. It's not my fault that things are happening." So that idea of repenting, seeing the hurt, taking responsibility, is really hard for us. And yet it is so essential.
 
And it was true, I think, at any stage in our lives that it's a hard thing to do. But the first time that we have an opportunity to do that publicly, to repent publicly, is in our baptisms. And it is so amazing, if we understand what's happening there, to see the blessing in it. I remember when our daughter was baptized. She screamed the entire time. And someone kindly afterwards said, "Well, it was just the devil coming out of her." I thought, it's not exactly comforting. On the other hand, it maybe is a good explanation. Maybe when there's a baptism, there's like a little fight going on, and God is finally booting the devil out and getting the upper hand. It's when we repent that we can really hear the grace of God in baptism.
 
Because God is saying I know that there's a world of hurt, and I know you're responsible for it in your selfishness, you just are. But I am about to drastically change your status. The stink of your sin is going to be removed. The stain of your sin is going to be replaced. I am going to give you a new identity, that of a perfect person. I will see you the way I see my Son, pure and innocent. And so what happens in baptism for each of us is that God is saying the very same words to us that God said at Jesus' baptism: "You are my son, you are my daughter, the beloved. With you I am well pleased. For you I have a plan. I will make you to be fishers of people, to be catchers in the rye."
 
With words of love and encouragement like that from our Heavenly Father, how could we not accomplish great things? Thanks be to God.
 
Amen.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2012, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Acts 19:1-8, Mark 1:4-20, My Week With Marilyn, The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger, Almost Christian, Kenda Creasy Dean, Travel as a Political Act, Rick Steves
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  • Jan 8, 2012Fishers of People, Catchers in the Rye
    Jan 8, 2012
    Fishers of People, Catchers in the Rye
    Series: (All)
    January 8, 2012. To repent is to acknowledge that there is pain in the world, and admit that we are partly responsible for it. Pastor Penny preaches on the story of Jesus' baptism, and how Jesus' message to the world was not gentle. It was about both promise and repentance. But it's when we repent that we can really hear the grace of God in our baptism.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    In the movie "My Week with Marilyn" we get a glimpse of the life of Marilyn Monroe, the glamorous movie star from the 1950s who shot into fame. She was a nobody, Norma Jean. And then she was found. Her life -- even though she was known throughout the world and people followed her around everywhere -- her life was not very joyful. She was married and divorced three times, and at the age of 36 she took her own life apparently, taking sleeping pills. I am sure that most people look to her early childhood for some explanation of the sadness in her adult life, because her early childhood was not very happy. She never knew her father, and her mother had a mental illness and had to be institutionalized. So Norma Jean, or Marilyn Monroe, grew up in an orphanage and in many different foster homes. And there's a very touching point in the movie, where she says she thinks that every little girl should be able to hear her mother say that she loves her. And you can only imagine that she never heard that, or heard it very seldom.
     
    What a contrast between her childhood and her life and her relationship with her parents, and the voice that Jesus heard in his baptism, the voice of his Heavenly Father saying, "You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased." You know, with words of love and support from a parent like that, what couldn't a child accomplish? Now Jesus knew that he had his Father's love and support. But his Father did not coddle him by any means. Along with this love and support was a plan, were expectations. And the way that the Father lent his support -- just as we were talking about up here in our baptisms -- the way the Father lent his support to the Son was through the Holy Spirit. And the description of the Holy Spirit in our text this morning is not a gentle force. It says that the Spirit "tore open" the heavens to come down in the form of a dove. This Spirit drove Jesus. It didn't compel Jesus or lead Jesus. It drove Jesus, into the wilderness where there were wild beasts. And there he was tempted for 40 days and 40 nights, or in other words a long time, by Satan. Now, the Father was there in the form of angels who ministered to him. But that time must have been like boot camp for Jesus. You know, his natural inclination to love was being refined and strengthened and focused. And when he was done, he began his ministry and began calling his disciples.
     
    And the Holy Spirit was not gentle with Jesus' disciples either. It was more like an eagle than a dove. Jesus walked up to Peter and Andrew, and it was as though they couldn't say no. It was as though the Holy Spirit wouldn't allow them to say no, because they dropped everything and followed Jesus. Or Jesus went up to James and John, and they left their father, they left the hired help. No handshakes to Dad or kiss Mom on the cheek or pack the bag. They were gone. And Jesus was not gentle with them either. When they came, he said, "I will make you fishers of people." He didn't say: I will teach you how to do this, I will encourage you, I will lead you. He said, "I will make you fishers of people."
     
    I always think that expression "fishers of men" or "fishers of people" is kind of interesting. And I always think of the book The Catcher in the Rye, and this little teenager Holden Caulfield is trying to find himself, trying to become an adult. He runs away from home. He tries to get street savvy. But the vision that he has for what he really wants to be in life is a catcher in the rye. He has this picture of a big field of rye, and all these children playing. But at the edge of the field there is a cliff. And he wants to be the catcher, the one to stand there and protect those kids and keep them from falling off the cliff. And maybe that's a good way to think of what Jesus is making his disciples into, and making us into: people who catch people and keep them from falling off the cliffs, spiritually and emotionally and physically.
     
    Well, Jesus' message to the world was not gentle either. He had two parts to it. The one was a promise. It was: believe in the good news. But the first part was a hard part: repent. That was the twofold message: repent and believe in the good news. And they go together. You really can't believe without repenting. Now "repenting" is a word we only use here and in these walls, and it goes with confession and sin. And we might feel that that word doesn't have much place in our ordinary lives. But repent is really quite a practical thing. It is simply acknowledging that there is pain in the world, and admitting that we are partly responsible for it. Acknowledging the pain and admitting that we are responsible. That's what it means to repent. And it's not easy to do even the first part, to acknowledge the pain in the world.
     
    In his latest book, the travel writer Rick Steves says that for most of his adult life he willingly chose to ignore the pain that he knew was going on in some places. Central America was one he mentioned. He knew there was a civil war in the 80s, and that the left was fighting the right, and that our government was supporting the right. But he didn't know where the truth lay. He didn't understand it. It was too complicated, took too much energy. He just said I didn't need that. And then he went there. He went actually to El Salvador, and that changed everything. When he got there he realized that he did have the power to begin to discern the truth, by talking to people and observing. And not only could he, but he believed he should start to understand what was happening there. It was important to him. And it became the beginning of his whole new way of looking at travel, which is Travel as a Political Act. That's his most recent book.
     
    And I think it's really easy for us living in this country to be like Rick Steves, and just sort of isolate and insulate ourselves from the pain in other parts of the world. We really don't want to think about it. But it's not just the other parts of the world that we like to ignore. It's pretty easy to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to when people are being mistreated at work or in school. It's just hard to know what to do. It's just easier not to do anything. And sometimes it's true that we even try to ignore the pain that is right within our own families.
     
    The author of Almost Christian, a book that does a study of teenagers and faith, has a lot of critical remarks to make towards adults in mainline Christian churches. She says that we even make God into the kind of being who is removed from the pain of the world. She sees that so many churches teach about a God who is removed, who's distant, who's glad to see when things go well, wants us to be happy, wants us to feel good about ourselves, but doesn't really get involved. And there's no sin or responsibility involved with this God. And she says if you teach that kind of God, don't be surprised if your teenagers don't feel that that God is a part of their lives.
     
    So it's easy for us to fail to see the hurt in the world. But some people live in a world of hurt and they can't ignore it. Their temptation is to just say, "Well that's not my fault. I'm not responsible. You know, it's a dog-eat-dog world. Do it to them before they do it to you. It's not my fault that things are happening." So that idea of repenting, seeing the hurt, taking responsibility, is really hard for us. And yet it is so essential.
     
    And it was true, I think, at any stage in our lives that it's a hard thing to do. But the first time that we have an opportunity to do that publicly, to repent publicly, is in our baptisms. And it is so amazing, if we understand what's happening there, to see the blessing in it. I remember when our daughter was baptized. She screamed the entire time. And someone kindly afterwards said, "Well, it was just the devil coming out of her." I thought, it's not exactly comforting. On the other hand, it maybe is a good explanation. Maybe when there's a baptism, there's like a little fight going on, and God is finally booting the devil out and getting the upper hand. It's when we repent that we can really hear the grace of God in baptism.
     
    Because God is saying I know that there's a world of hurt, and I know you're responsible for it in your selfishness, you just are. But I am about to drastically change your status. The stink of your sin is going to be removed. The stain of your sin is going to be replaced. I am going to give you a new identity, that of a perfect person. I will see you the way I see my Son, pure and innocent. And so what happens in baptism for each of us is that God is saying the very same words to us that God said at Jesus' baptism: "You are my son, you are my daughter, the beloved. With you I am well pleased. For you I have a plan. I will make you to be fishers of people, to be catchers in the rye."
     
    With words of love and encouragement like that from our Heavenly Father, how could we not accomplish great things? Thanks be to God.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2012, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Acts 19:1-8, Mark 1:4-20, My Week With Marilyn, The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger, Almost Christian, Kenda Creasy Dean, Travel as a Political Act, Rick Steves
  • Nov 27, 2011Cultural Distraction
    Nov 27, 2011
    Cultural Distraction
    Series: (All)
    November 27, 2011. Pastor Penny's sermon is on the ancestry and reign of Josiah, King of Judah, and how he achieved reforms and helped his people rediscover who they were after being culturally distracted. It is the same for us. It is so easy to be distracted by our culture. This Christmas, let's not forget our story.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    See if you can follow my line of thinking. What do all of these activities require in order to do them well: play video games, play laser tag, go deer hunting, bird watching, watching for falling stars, waiting for your parents after school when there are lots of cars, or as you're driving to work making sure that you take the right exit from the freeway to get where you're going. What do all those things require? Skill? Patience? You've got to be awake. You can't get diverted. You've got to be awake and you can't get distracted.
     
    We heard from a long passage, which our lector Carol did so well with all those names, and it was about Josiah. It was a sliver in the life of the children of Israel when they were very distracted. For maybe more than a hundred years, they went through this period of being very distracted by this immense empire of Assyria that was sliding down toward them like some poisonous river. And first it filled up the Northern kingdom, which at that time was called Israel. And it took over, it conquered them and ruined their capital, Samaria. And then it slid down into the Southern kingdom, which at that time was called Judah. But it stopped short of Jerusalem. They could not conquer Jerusalem. So it receded back and the Assyrians let Judah become a vassal state. They didn't really conquer them, but they had to pay money.
     
    The strange thing is the king of Judah, a Jewish man, Ahaz, chose not only to be a political vassal, but to be a cultural and religious vassal of Assyria as well. He started taking on the manners and the language of Assyria as well as their gods. And many people did. He built altars to the gods of Assyria. Now when Ahaz died, Hezekiah his son ruled Judah and he had a small reform. He reformed his father's ways and he wiped out the altars. But when he died, his son Manasseh was remembered as the most wicked king of Judah, because he fully embraced the culture and the values of Assyria. He had altars to their gods all over the land and even in the house of God in the temple in Jerusalem. He encouraged temple prostitutes, and most horrible of all he sacrificed his own son to the god of Moloch. When Manasseh died, another son ruled for two years and was killed. And then the powers that ruled put his son in place. His little eight-year-old son became the king of Judah, and that boy's name was Josiah. And he was able to achieve reforms that none of his ancestors had. When he came into power he got rid of all the altars.
     
    But the most important thing was later on in his kingship. He sent people in to repair the temple and they discovered a book -- the "Book of the Law" it's called -- and experts have tried to figure out what that book was. And what they determined is that it was a big part of the book we have of Deuteronomy, the book of the law. Most likely it was the part that described how 500 years earlier, their ancestors had made a covenant with God. Moses had led them to make a covenant with God. God offered it first. God said, "I will be your God. I will protect you. I will bless you. I will make you the light of the world. Just live like my people." And they said yes. Well, of course they didn't all live that way. And certainly they weren't living that way in this distracted time. But Josiah had called them back to be the people they were intended to be. You see, they had forgotten their story -- the story of being freed from Egypt, the story of being led to the promised land. They forgot their story and who they were. They had become distracted, by a culture that didn't share those values and didn't know them.
     
    Well, I think we live in a time with far more distractions than they lived in. I think we're full of distractions, and it only gets worse before Christmas. There are so many things on our to-do lists -- so many responsibilities, so many pressures -- that it's very easy for us to get distracted by our culture and to let our culture determine who we are and what we think about ourselves. You know, we are people of God who can look in the mirror every morning and say, "That person I'm looking at is a treasure to God. That person is valuable." But our culture doesn't always let us do that, because we have this huge list of things we're supposed to be doing. You know, as people of God we should be able to look at our faults and our failures honestly, without excuses, to be willing to admit when we have said words in anger, to be willing to admit when we've dropped the ball and let people down, because we know that God still loves us, that God forgives us, and that God's judgment on us is the only judgment that matters. Everything else is distraction. And when we are free not to worry about our image, not to worry about how we're doing, not to worry about what we look like in the eyes of others, then we are free to see what's happening around us, to sense the people that need our help, and we're free to help them.
     
    Last week Keith and I were at a workshop and we heard about a man (they changed his name, they called him Jerry) who worked for Merrill Lynch in New York City, and he was a manager. He has was highly appreciated and well-respected. But one day, upper management gave him quite a task. They said, "Take this group that you've been shepherding, that you've been managing. We want half of them to go across the river to Jersey City and be headquartered there, and the rest to stay here in New York City." So Jerry thought well, that's fine. It's better for Merrill Lynch apparently. And it was going to be fine for those people that were going to go to Jersey City, because most of them lived across the river. So it would be a far shorter commute.
     
    But they weren't situated very long across the river before he began to hear complaints. "This building you have us in is sick. We're all getting respiratory illnesses." Well Jerry, being a problem solver, gets the engineers in there and investigates, and they said, "We can't find anything wrong with this building." Well after a little while there was another complaint from the group across the river. They said, "Parking is a problem here." So, Jerry meets with the building manager and they work it out so that parking isn't a problem. After a little while, Jerry gets a complaint. But it's not from the group across the river. It's from his boss. He said, "Jerry I need to see you." And when he sat down in the office he said, "Jerry you've always been such a good manager. But what's happened? This group over there across the river, they are unfocused and they're not pulling their weight. They're so unproductive. Now, I'm sending you to an executive coach and that will help you."
     
    So Jerry went reluctantly to the executive coach, sat down, and told him everything that had happened. And the executive coach could see that Jerry was demoralized. He was feeling bad about himself. He was feeling like a failure. He he was guilt-ridden. And so the coach did one thing. He said, "Jerry, tell me about everything that happened before this. Tell me how you got to be a manager at Merrill Lynch. Tell me what your accomplishments were that got you this job." And then Jerry began to tell him, and it was a wonderful record of achievement. When Jerry left the coach's office, he felt a lot better. And it wasn't long before a light bulb came on in his mind and he understood the group across the river. He said, "You realize that the group across the river wasn't upset because of the building or because of the parking. They were upset because they felt cut off, they felt exiled, they felt ignored, unappreciated." So then it was an easy thing to fix. He simply divided his time between New York City and Jersey City. He had two offices. And when they had staff meetings, they alternated locations between the two. And he even orchestrated a party for those across the river river: "Welcome to Jersey City" party. Freed from his guilt and his distraction of worrying about his own ego, his own abilities, he was able to see the needs of others and to help them.
     
    It is that way for us, and that's what Jesus is telling us. It is so easy to be distracted by our culture, to let them name us, to let them guide us, to forget our own story, and therefore to forget who we are, the story of God's love, an amazing love -- starting at Bethlehem and ending on the cross, and then ending again as he rose from the dead. So this Christmas let's not forget our story. Let's be reminded of its glory, and therefore reminded of who we are. Let's get out those Advent wreaths. And some of us just made some this morning. Let's light a candle. Let's find that Bible. And whether you're alone or with a family, open it up, read it, pray. And let this Advent be a time when we are not focused on the distractions of our culture, but focused instead on the important story. Our story. The story that tells us who we are.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2011, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, 2 Chronicles
  • May 1, 2011That They Might Have Faith
    May 1, 2011
    That They Might Have Faith
    Series: (All)
    May 1, 2011. "Fear not. Peace be with you." Pastor Keith preaches on Jesus' appearance to his disciples after his resurrection. They were hiding in fear — fear of the authorities, and fear of Jesus' response after they'd failed him. But instead, Jesus brought peace to his people. And today he sends us out to bring peace and forgiveness to the world.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    As we reflect on our gospel today, we begin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    Often when we are children, our response to fear is to hide. If we're fearful about something, we go and hide. And often this ends up being tragic in fires in homes, because if a fire breaks out, children go and hide because they're afraid of the fire. Then it becomes that much harder for the firefighters and other rescuers to find them. And we probably always remember those times when we were anticipating punishment of some kind because we'd done something wrong and we knew it, and so we went to hide under the bed, or hide in the closet, go to the far end of the house, go to the basement or whatever, so we wouldn't have to be confronted or be found by our parents. We wanted to avoid them, because we were afraid of what would happen.
     
    In our gospel today, we hear of our disciples hidden in fear. It's after the crucifixion. It's after the resurrection. But they are fearful, and they go and hide in the house, behind locked doors, because they're fearful. There were the authorities to fear — they were identified with Jesus, and the last word they'd heard from the authorities is that Jesus had been crucified, and so they anticipated the same kind of reaction. They might not be crucified, but they'd be imprisoned at a minimum. And since they were cohorts with Jesus, some of his band, they were fearful of being arrested at least themselves. And of course, they hadn't really expected to see Jesus alive again after he died. He had told them on occasion, but they really didn't catch onto that. And by that first Easter evening, there were some reports that he'd been seen alive. But they still weren't so sure. So when Jesus is to enter the room, I'm sure they're afraid. What is this? This person who we saw die and was buried, now is alive in front of us? It would be a fearful kind of thing. It would be fearful for any of us if we went to someone's funeral and then saw them a few days later. So we can imagine just that thing of seeing someone alive who had been dead was a fear-causing thing.
     
    They had other reasons to be fearful in his presence. Remember how they had acted in the run-up to his execution. They could expect Jesus, if he came in the room, to say something like, "You failed me." When the going got tough at the times, and the prayer in the garden, and the trials, and at the execution, most of the disciples fled. After Jesus was arrested they all fled, it says. John showed up at the cross. Maybe others of the disciples we don't know about. But when things were tough for Jesus, the disciples were generally not around him. Or they might have been afraid of Jesus coming in and saying something like this: "You left me, just as I told you you would." He could have reviewed with them all the predictions — that he would suffer and die and rise again — that he had given them ahead of time but they had ignored or not understood, and reminded Peter of how he had told him that Peter would deny him three times before the cock crowed. And Peter did that, and so he could have reminded Peter about that. So it's a different way of saying: you failed me. I told you these things that would happen, and you didn't believe me. On the more positive side, they might have expected Jesus to say something like, "I'll give you one more chance though." Because when they'd failed him before, he never fired them as disciples. He kept working with them and teaching them. They might have expected now even one more show of grace from a forgiving master.
     
    So the disciples were no doubt full of fear that first Easter evening. The authorities were after them. They had heard these strange reports of his resurrection and they were fearful of what he might say to them, how he would remind them of how they had failed him and not listened to him very well. But when Jesus enters the room, he says something different. He says, "Fear not. Peace be with you." In his presence they really had no reason to fear, he assures them. He dispels their fears about the authorities coming to get them. Instead, they will be empowered to go out as disciples, unafraid of what the authorities might do. The authorities will do things to them, but they will go out with a new attitude. They are bold. They are willing to do whatever they need to do for the sake of Jesus, unafraid of the authorities — because they know the mission. And their mandate for mission is so strong.
     
    By saying "Fear not, peace be with you," Jesus dispelled also their fears about him. There was a forgiveness implied here. They could be at peace — for he came as their friend and teacher, not someone to punish them. By his words Jesus brought calm to them. He showed them himself so they could believe indeed he was risen. And so even if they were reacting in fear to the fact that he was a resurrected person, he put them at ease about that by showing them that indeed he was, but it was true what they've been hearing. It was true. He was raised and alive again. Twice, and then a third time the next week, Jesus says, "Peace be with you." Jesus brings peace to his people. His desire is that those who are with him will have peace. He wants them to have an inner peace of knowing that they are accepted and loved, by him and by God. He wants them to have the inner peace of knowing that everything is okay. They don't have to be fearful.
     
    But we could also say when Jesus says "peace be with you" he's being the prayer for an external peace, we could call it — that is being at peace with people around them. Not just an inner peace, but a peace with the people around them. It is being able to forgive as they have been forgiven. It means living in harmony. When a person is not so self-centered, but being centered on living in Jesus, then there's an ability to live at peace with other people. And that peace is so important for Jesus to communicate to us.
     
    After saying, "Fear not, and peace be with you," Jesus says, "Receive the Holy Spirit." This was an empowering word as he was sending them out. This means that they go out now in the name of Jesus, in the risen Lord, but they go out with the power of the Spirit. Jesus before had wanted people to be quiet about him. He'd do miracles and he'd say don't tell anybody about this. But now his work is complete. He's done miracles. He's done teaching. He's died and he's risen. Now he wants everyone to see this whole story, and to see what he was about. So after the resurrection, there's this clear instruction to be sent and to go out with the message about Jesus.
     
    Well it's a week later, and Thomas is with the disciples this time. He has found it hard during the week to grasp the reports that Jesus is alive. He's sensible, and he questions how can a man who has been dead come alive again? And he declares that he won't believe in the resurrection of Jesus unless he can see him with his own eyes and feel him with his own hands. We see Thomas in this gospel change right before our eyes. He goes from not believing, to seeing and touching Jesus, to believing and confessing to Jesus, "My Lord and my God!" His believing made all the difference. He went from fear and skepticism to a full confession, and to then active mission work as a follower of Jesus. Thomas reminds us of how we all develop in faith to some degree.
     
    There's a book entitled Will Our Children Have Faith? that tells about the stages of faith development of young people. And it says that children go from kind of knowing God through their parents, and kind of believing with their parents, in their very young years and days as they kind of experience a faith with the parents, to being more in groups of people and on their own, being parts of youth groups and things like that, where they are associated with the church, but they're kind of differentiating their own faith at that point, to probably being a little older when they begin to ask real questions about the faith and about Jesus and what this means for them. It's kind of a third stage. And then the fourth and final stage is that they come to say, "Oh, this is my faith" — that after being skeptical, maybe asking hard questions, they come to believe in a certain way that's theirs, and it's not just parroting say their parents' faith, but they say, "This I truly believe. This is my Lord. This is my life."
     
    Thomas models this pattern for us. Thomas followed the group as the disciples were going about with Jesus. Then when he missed the first announcement of Jesus' resurrection by Jesus, he didn't believe it. But when his questions were answered and he could come to believe, he openly confessed his faith in the risen Lord. And it's been pointed out that Thomas is the only one really who speaks a confession here. The other disciples are there and they kind of say yeah, we believe you're alive. But we don't really hear them say that. Thomas we hear quoted: "My Lord and my God!" He came to a faith that he lived by.
     
    John writes, as we spoke of with the children, "These things are written that you come to believe, and believing, you may have life." Coming to this kind of belief makes a huge difference. It's a life-changing kind of experience. Belief can replace anxiety with peace. Belief can replace fear with confidence. And belief brings the ability to receive forgiveness and to forgive. In this rich passage Jesus says, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven." So all these things make huge differences for us. These words of Jesus after his resurrection give us a whole new perspective on life. We can be at peace with ourselves and at peace with one another. Jesus brings peace to us. We know we are one with him, and that means we can forgive others and be at peace with them. We can live with confidence rather than live with fear. We have confidence because we know the one that we believe in rose from the dead. Death couldn't even do him in. And so we too now have the promise of eternal life. We know that we can be fearless, because nothing can do us in eternally.
     
    I think now of some of these interviews I've heard this last week of people who were struck by the terrible tornadoes in Alabama. And maybe you heard some of the interviews too. There were people saying, "I believed — even though my life was in danger and my child's life was in danger — I believed that no matter what would happen, on the other end I would be with God." And their belief in God carried them through this time, and they could be fearless in a sense, because they knew either way they would win. They would be with the Lord.
     
    Believing in the resurrection brings meaning to life. Life isn't just being born and living and dying. Life has a purpose. Life has a mission. Jesus sends us out to bring peace and forgiveness to the world, and with this new life comes hope. Believing in him gives us a scheme in which to place our life, and to say my life does have meaning because I'm connected to Jesus, and I have a meaning for my life each day. We know that we're connected to something much bigger. It's not just me, what I do each day. I'm not just a little atom going around doing what I do. But whatever I do each day, I'm on a mission with and for Jesus. And I live so others may believe, and then when they believe, that they might have faith. And having faith, have life. We're not by ourselves. We are connected with many more who call themselves followers of Jesus, and we're on a mission with and for him. Because Jesus is risen, because we know about it, because we believe it, because we have a way to go now at life, we have a direction. We're on a mission that others might believe. And that they, believing, might have life as well. Amen.
     
    Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2011, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, John 20:19-31, John H. Westerhoff, Will Our Children Have Faith?
  • Apr 10, 2011The Ultimate Faith
    Apr 10, 2011
    The Ultimate Faith
    Series: (All)
    April 10, 2011. We see in Jesus the ultimate faith, because raising Lazarus from the dead was the last nail in his coffin. When he performed this miracle, his enemies decided they were going to kill him. Jesus put his entire life into God's hands, because he knew God would use it to bring life. Pastor Penny preaches today on that being the kind of faith we're called to as well.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    Some of you know that Keith's father died several weeks ago. The memorial service was last week, and as my son and I were coming back a little early on the plane, we discovered it was absolutely full and we were in the very back seat. But it was a really interesting opportunity for me to just look out over all the collection of people that were flying together with us that day. And I wondered to myself what was going on in their minds and what kind of hopes and dreams did they have. There was a young couple in front of us with a brand-new baby. There were three high school girls on a spring break across the aisle, a couple men up front of them talking sports, and the flight attendant was crammed into a little bench way in the back. And I thought, what faith we all have as we get in this fairly flimsy structure that planes are, and fly thousands of miles over the surface of the earth. And we have faith that this little plane and this little crew will get us where we want to go safely. And I thought, if only we had that same kind of faith in God.
     
    The story of the raising of Lazarus is really a story of faith — or a story of lots of different faiths. You've got Martha with a criticism as soon as she sees Jesus: "Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died." And then we go on to hear about her faith. She confesses that she believes in resurrection at the end of the age. She believes and confesses that Jesus is the messiah. And yet, when Jesus takes her to the tomb and asks that the stone be rolled away, she objects. She says no, he's been in there four days. The body will smell. She believes, she has faith that Jesus could heal her brother, but that's kind of where her faith ends. She doesn't even imagine the possibility that Jesus could reclaim her brother from death.
     
    And then there's Mary. And we don't know much about her faith. She has the same lament when she meets Jesus — "if you had been here" — but then she falls at his feet in a worshipful pose and just begins crying. Again she's trusting him, but she doesn't know what for.
     
    And then there's Lazarus. And you wonder what it felt like to be Lazarus. He knew that his good friend who loved him, maybe his best friend, Jesus, knew that he was in dire straits and had been informed of that. And yet he wasn't showing up. How did Lazarus feel as life was slipping out of his hands, and he kept looking probably at the door thinking surely he will be here? Did he have faith right to the end that Jesus would be there for him?
     
    And then there's Jesus. And it's so mysterious at first as to why he did not show up. He loved these people. Why didn't he prevent all this anguish and the pain and the fear? Well, he explains in two places. He knew beforehand that Lazarus was going to die, and he said, "It is so that God will be glorified, and I will be glorified." Well, that sounds very self-serving. When we think of someone being glorified we think of a star athlete, carrying the the winning touchdown over the line or hitting the winning hit for the ball game. And we think is that what Jesus wants — all this acclaim and this honor and people fawning over him? No, that's not what he means by glory. Here he means he will reflect the glory of the Father. And we see that when he prays out loud and he says to the Father, "I'm praying so that they may believe" (all those people around him) "that you have sent me." He wanted to perform this amazing miracle — that he had never performed I think in this gospel; he had not brought anyone back to life yet — to prove to the people, to help them believe that all that he had said and done, his teachings of love and forgiveness: all of it was from God.
     
    So we see in Jesus the ultimate faith, because we know from reading a little further in the gospel that this miracle was the last nail in his coffin, that when he performed this miracle, his enemy says that's it, we are going to kill him. Jesus is the epitome of faith, as he entrusts his whole timetable, his whole life into God's hands. He didn't come back to Bethany based on the needs of his friends, as much as he probably wanted to. He didn't come back to Bethany based on the needs of himself, because he loved these people. How wonderful it would have been to rush to Lazarus' side and bring him out of this evil sickness. But he put his entire life, his entire timetable, into God's hands because he knew God would use it to bring life.
     
    That is the faith that we are called to. Saying it very boldly, we are called — like Lazarus or like Jesus — to die so that the power of God may work through us for life. We are called to die so that God can work through us for life. And it really begins right here. Olivia went through that process today. We have this ritual dying, a symbolic dying. We don't really die physically in baptism. But something more than ritual went on this morning. Something real happened. The Holy Spirit entered her in a way that the Spirit had not been there before, beginning this process of faith, allowing her to say no to the selfishness that we are born with, and to more and more place her life in God's hands.
     
    So we start with baptism and then that faith grows. And as I think about a life of faith, freshly back from my father-in-law's memorial I think about my father-in-law Art. There were so many things in his life that showed that willingness to give over his agenda to God. But I think one of my favorites is that when he retired at 65 as a civil engineer with the Soil Conservation Service in Kansas, he and my mother-in-law Doris could have had a nice, comfortable retirement. But instead they signed up to go to Papua New Guinea for two years to volunteer his work as a civil engineer, to go into the villages and help them. Well, it's not an easy place to live, in Papua New Guinea. It's more humid than St. Louis, and the terrain is quite challenging, if like my in-laws their responsibility was to go to these little villages in the mountain. They had to climb some really rough terrain, bringing their things with them. And there were diseases that we don't have or have as prevalently; my mother-in-law got both malaria and hepatitis while they were there. And there was the cultural barrier and the language barrier. And yet they were able to do so much. One of my father-in-law's projects was to replace a vine bridge, that crossed a roaring river far below, with a metal chain bridge, because several times a year people would fall off that vine bridge to their deaths. Another project he did was to bring water to a village so that the women would not have to walk for miles and hours carrying these plastic jugs of water, balancing them on their heads. They had fresh water right in the village. And the people were so thankful that when they would leave a village, the people would all line up with little gifts, things they had made or flowers. And my mother-in-law said, of those two rugged and sometimes dangerous years, they were the best years of her life. And I think my father-in-law would have concurred. We are called to die, so that God's power can work through us for life.
     
    So, back to the plane. You know, as I thought about it, I thought that the faith we have that this airplane and this crew is going to get us where we want to go safely is really not at all like the faith that God asks of us to believe in him. Because when we're on a plane, we expect it to land, and then we'll carry on our plans and our dreams and our responsibilities just as we had decided we would. But God wants us to let him be the pilot, to allow him to take our lives sometimes where we don't want it to go, sometimes where it is uncomfortable, to take our lives in places where God's power works through us for life. And if my father-in-law is typical, there is a great blessing in that kind of faith. Because as we entrust our life to God, we have this sense of abiding joy and confidence that God is with us every step of the way, loving us and caring for us. So that is the challenge and the blessing of faith.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2011, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, John 11:1-45, PNG
  • Mar 9, 2011My Lenten Plan
    Mar 9, 2011
    My Lenten Plan
    Series: (All)
    March 9, 2011. On this Ash Wednesday we are faced with seeing ourselves for who we really are. This is the ideal time to take action and remove whatever obstacles keep us from having strong faith and loving God. In her sermon this evening, Pastor Penny suggests a plan, a Lenten Plan, for making a promise and being faithful to it in these next 40 days.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    I never used to like (and still don't I guess) the way God was depicted in the Old Testament: a wrathful God so often. And you know some of those incidents. Maybe you remember that when Moses was on Mount Sinai getting the Ten Commandments, the children of Israel were down at the foot of the mountain, melting down their golden earrings to make a golden calf and to worship an idol. And God got so angry that he killed 3,000 of them in one split second. Or the many times that they began to worship idols and God allowed other countries to come in and conquer them, carry them away even as prisoners of war to Babylon. Or even when someone, another country, would oppress the children of Israel. God was so angry. These are the words that the prophet Isaiah attributes to God: "I trampled down peoples in my anger, I crushed them in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth."
     
    There's an old sermon written in the 1600s by Jonathan Edwards called "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." Maybe some of you had to read it for college English. It talks about God holding this sinner above the yawning mouth of hell, and that at any moment God could drop that sinner because that sinner deserves it. So it's that kind of thing that just drives me to say: that's not my God. You know, my God is the God of Jesus, and the forgiving God, and the loving God. That Old Testament God, that's not my God. And when you read the scholars, they help you to understand that a lot of those words are affected by the culture of the time, yes. But I've taken a class on the Book of Job, and some of us are hearing Dr. Ben Asen on Sunday mornings. And I think I've begun to understand that we need those words, we need to know that God is angry. Because unless we know that, we don't really know what sin is.
     
    We are all sinners and we have a selfish outlook, and our standards are really not to be trusted. What we think of as normal, God thinks of as sin. Think, for instance, what God's intention was for this world: that everyone would have plenty to eat, that there would be no wars, that there would be no hostility, that people would feel loved and there would be good things for all. That was God's vision. And look what has happened. So our standards are really very low. When there are good things that happen, we make quite a lot of them. If there's a billionaire who gives a few million or maybe more than that to a needy country, we praise that person. And yet God expects all of us every day to be generous. Or if someone gives his or her life to save somebody else's life, we call that person a hero. And yet Jesus says love one another as I have loved you. And he gave his life. So our standards are really not to be trusted. We are so deeply entrenched in this selfishness we call sin that we really don't know sin. And we kid ourselves and think that we don't, most of the time.
     
    That's what we heard about both in the Old Testament and in the gospel tonight. Back to Isaiah, God was angry because he said: you think you're worshipping me when you come and wear sackcloth and ashes, but at the same time all you think about is yourself. You oppress your workers. You raise the wicked fist at each other. He said that's not worship. No, worship is when you release people from bondage, and you clothe the naked, and you give food to those who are hungry, and you find homes for those who are homeless. That's true worship. You are kidding yourselves. You are blind to sin.
     
    Or what we heard in Matthew, in the New Testament, in the gospel. And Jesus is angry at the Pharisees. He says you think that you're really praising me by giving alms and praying, when all the while you're doing it for show. You just want the praise of people to say oh, those are such pious leaders we have. He said that's not worship, you're fooling yourselves. That's sin. And the sad thing is when we don't see our sin. We don't understand the cost of being forgiven and we don't understand the love of God.
     
    A mother of a spoiled young man sent her son to a good college at quite a lot of expense to herself. And he was only there a few weeks when he called. He said, "Mom, I need a car." So she sold her car and got a an older one. She cashed in some savings, she gave up on a trip that she had been looking forward to and talking about a lot, and came up with the money and bought a car. And when he came home, he was so wrapped up in himself he didn't notice that she had an old car that she was driving. He hadn't really listened to her plans for a trip, so he didn't realize that she had given up on that. He didn't know, of course, that she had cashed in savings. So he did not really value the car. He took it to college. He didn't use it very well. He got in an accident and he ruined it. He didn't understand the gift and the value of it. But more importantly, he did not understand how much his mother loved him.
     
    So it is Ash Wednesday. And tonight what we are faced with is to look deeply into ourselves and really admit that we're caught, that selfishness is what we're all about — to see ourselves for who we are. Because God, like that mother, took his wrath and turned it on himself, and gave up his most precious thing: his son. And now remember, we're talking about a triune God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. One God. He gave himself. There is no difference between the Father and the Son in this case. He gave himself. He turned his anger, his rightful anger against us, back on himself. And it is only when we face our sin that we can understand the depth of his love for us. So tonight, that is our task. And the readings and the service will help us.
     
    And I want to do one more thing. You'll find, in your bulletin, an envelope. And the ushers are ready to give more if you're sharing a bulletin. You should each have one. And it's called My Lenten Plan. We have 40 days — or really 47 I think, if you count the Sundays — ahead of us to Easter. This is the ideal time, once we have admitted our sin and once we have reminded ourselves of the depth of God's love, to take action and use these weeks to remove whatever obstacles keep us from having a strong faith, and keep us from loving God. So this is something you may choose to do. You may choose to decide to do something for Lent. If you don't pray everyday, this is the ideal time to make that your promise. If you don't read the Bible at home, this is the perfect time to find a time when you can read a little bit every day — maybe the Book of Matthew, which is what our gospels are based on. If there's someone who you've ignored and really needs your love, maybe this is the time to carve out a little bit of time in your schedule, whether it means taking something out you like to do that gives you more time to spend with this person. Or if there's a bad habit that's been an obstacle between you and God, this is the perfect time to work on that. So whatever it is that you promise to do, think of it as a method that will allow God to draw you close, something that will allow God to strengthen your faith and your love for him. After you've done that I'd like you to put it in the envelope, seal it, and write your own address here and put it in the offering plate. And in three weeks, middle of Lent, we'll mail it back to you. It can be kind of a check, kind of a way for you to keep faithful to your promise. Now, you may not want to do this or you may need more time. You certainly could bring this Sunday and put it in the offering plate. You may just want to think about it rather than write it down. But whatever it is that we choose to do in these next 40 days, may God bless us and draw us closer, in love and faith and joy.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2011, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Isaiah 58:1-12, Isaiah 63:6, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
  • Mar 6, 2011Red-Letter Days
    Mar 6, 2011
    Red-Letter Days
    Series: (All)
    March 6, 2011. Jesus was transformed at his Transfiguration and he headed in a new direction. It was an important day, a red-letter day, in his life. For all of us, there are those days when we live out the gospel as we know it, and we are changed people by it. Pastor Keith preaches on these important days in our lives that cause us to head out in new directions.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We reflect more on this Transfiguration story as we begin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    Well, assuming if we were all journal keepers and wrote down the highlights of each day of our life, and kept a page for each day or a paragraph, at the end of the year we should be able to go back and maybe put a special mark around the days that were significant for us, days that stood out as being particularly important. Maybe we'd have a "top ten" days of the last year. And then if we'd put a journal for each year of our life, we'd put those all together and collect all those top ten days out of all those years together, we could find out which were the most important days of our life. Maybe out of those hundred days or whatever we'd have for our lives collected through the years, maybe we'd pick the top ten out of all those days. We could narrow it down to the important days of our lives. Most of us could probably pick out five to ten days that were very significant for us, even without having kept journals. We could go sift through in our minds and think about those things that have been particularly important to us, times that maybe meant a change in direction for how we lived. Maybe life wasn't quite the same for us after we lived through those particular days. Maybe it was a particular prize we won or accomplishment we achieved. Maybe it was the start of a new relationship, or the end of a relationship that was very important to us. Maybe we made a new discovery on a certain day. Or maybe we took a new position. Maybe we saw someone else do something that inspired us and said, I want to be like that. And we took off in a new direction.
     
    And if we wanted to mark those days, we might put a special color on them, kind of highlight them, take a yellow highlighter and mark those days if we could imagine a journal, whether or not we have one. We might put special marks on a calendar saying these were days significant in my life. We would somehow set them apart so that not only we, but other people would be able to see in some way that these were life-changing days for me, special days. In icon art, as we've been talking with the children often, kind of a halo of a special color is put over the people we want to identify in an icon, is who the central figures are. Now our eye is drawn to that main person. The story represented by the picture revolves around that person. Today we see Jesus with the special mark on the bulletin cover, and then Moses and Elijah with him. It gives us an idea of the purpose of the picture. And if we're meditating on it, as we are to do with an icon, it helps us focus on the meaning of one certain person.
     
    Well, as a way to describe what's happening in today's gospel, we could maybe think of it as a snapshot or an icon of the life of Jesus. And the nimbus is above him. The special nimbus is above him to say this is the important person in this picture. He is the central one and it is an important day for him. It gives meaning to his ministry that he has this day of Transfiguration, and to have been there must have shaped the belief of Peter, James, and John. In this case it's not just an artist's rendering that gives a special nimbus or mark to Jesus, because it shows forth a day when we could say all of heaven on earth — God gives a special mark to Jesus. His face shone brightly on its own, not just by some artist's brush, but the face of Jesus shone so brightly people could not look at it. It was the glory of God dwelling on and in Jesus. He was glowing in divine radiance. Moses and Elijah were there with him, as these figures of the past were highlighted too. And then there was the very voice of God, the voice of God saying, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him."
     
    This must have been so memorable for Peter and James and John to have been there. It must have sustained them later on when they were challenged in following him. They would go into very harsh times. They would be persecuted for his sake. And they must have been taunted with phrases that said, oh Jesus was just a man who died, why are you paying any attention to him? What was so important about that guy? They knew he wasn't just a man. He was the Son of God. Regular people don't change their appearance. They don't appear with Moses and Elijah. And they don't hear proclamations of God come from the sky. Peter, James, and John could remember that they had witnessed this special moment, and it would be with them as a marked time, a special day, a highlighted day when they were being persecuted for the sake of the Lord.
     
    We don't want to forget the impact it must have had on Jesus himself, as well. As soon as this event is over and they head down the hill, Jesus announces that he must suffer and die. When God's voice comes and he hears too, along with the others, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him," he is telling him, as well as the others around him, that this suffering, this dying, this rising is all-important. It's all part of the plan. And Jesus, we know, it was a hard time for him. This must have been affirming to him, to hear that indeed he must go through with this. Indeed it was God's will that he go through with this plan. As amazing as it was, they all needed to hear it: Jesus, Peter, James, and John. It was the plan of God.
     
    Well, these four will have other red-letter days coming in their near future. There will be such things as the parade into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. There will be the Last Supper. There will be the trials before the priests and before Pilate. There will be the crucifixion. And there will be the resurrection. Each one of these days would qualify as a nimbus day, a red-letter day, a specially-marked day with special status given for meditation. Each of those days deserves its own meditation and its way into the mind of God, its way into the mind of Jesus. Certainly the death and the resurrection of Jesus would receive the most attention. And that would get the highest, the biggest nimbus of all, the biggest mark saying: focus on this above all others. But when a series of events all leads up to that great moment, each one of those events is important — just as in our lives we can look back and say this event led to that event that led to that event that led to where I got to today. So starting with the Transfiguration then, these other events all build up as special days in themselves, but they all are most important because they lead up to the death and the resurrection of our Lord.
     
    So the fact that this day happened, this Transfiguration of the Lord, helped the disciples put the death and resurrection of Jesus in perspective. It helped them to see that indeed he was God's Son, suffering for the sake of the world. It helped them to see that he wasn't just the consummation of the law and the prophets and Moses and Elijah, but he was a whole step above Moses and Elijah. He was above them and brought a whole new way of relating to God — not just through the word of the prophets, not just through the word of the law. Jesus was above this and gives us a whole new way of being in relationship with God. It helped them to see that Jesus had God's vocal stamp of approval on what would unfold in his life, and led them to see that this was all part of the plan.
     
    After the death and resurrection of Jesus, it took the young church quite a while to figure out what the life of Jesus really meant. How were they to interpret this? Some have been some places, some have been other places. Some had seen some healing. Some had heard this. Some had been at the resurrection or seen the resurrected Lord. Some hadn't. They knew about a crucifixion. They knew about all these different things. But how do they all fit together? What did they all mean? This was important for them, to tell the story of Jesus. It highlighted who he was and how he fit in with the prophets who had gone before him, how God approved what happened to him. And it reminded him that they were not to stand in the glory forever. They were to mark it for its meaning and importance, and then move on, to go down the mountain, to live the Christian life.
     
    Another icon picture of Jesus would likely be of his baptism. No doubt there would be a nimbus above him, and maybe one on John the Baptist too, to show who were the important characters in that icon. That's where the ministry of Jesus would begin, which would lead him to the point of the Transfiguration. And from the Transfiguration he would go on, seeing his last days ahead of him — as we in this time of the church year are saying: now we begin that journey through Lent, to the crucifixion and resurrection. The Transfiguration marked for Jesus that time when he was then setting his face toward Jerusalem, knowing what had to happen.
     
    I would hope that for each one of us who is baptized, that we would be able to mark that baptism day as a special day for us, the day when we began a journey with Jesus. Most of us don't remember that day, but we can know the date and we can say that was an important day in my life, when God marked me and said I am his child. If there is a baptism picture of us on that day, we might want to pencil in, or imagine penciled in, a little halo over us saying that was the day God said to me, "You are a child of mine." It would show us receiving the blessing of life of God as we were there wet, forgiven, and ready to start a new life lived in God. That day would be a beginning day though, a day folded into other days, marked in church life — important dates for us in our lives, saying there were other important days after baptism that marked my life in God. One of those would be like our confirmation day, or other days where we took a new step, saying I understand the faith in a new way today, and this is a mark day of my Christian faith life.
     
    For all of us, there are those days when we live out the gospel as we know it, and we are changed people by it. Or we witness maybe someone else serving in the name of Christ, and it moves us to be like them. That's what saints are so useful for: to hear their stories and how they lived out their lives, and we hear of them and say that's an example I might want to follow. But we have contemporary saints, people around us who show us the faith. And when we admire what they do it says I want to be like that person. And there are those days when someone admires us, someone comes up to us and thanks us for what we've done, and it spurs us on to think well maybe something I'm doing is right. There are those times when someone else so in need grabs our attention that we cannot but help them. And there are those days we mark in red when we do that, when we say I'm stepping out of myself, my normal patterns here, to say that person needs my help, I'm going to help them. I'm stepping out because God has shone on me, chosen me, and said you're the person to help that person today. There are days when the nimbus is on us.
     
    We are thankful to be servants of Christ who are also saints of Christ. By what Jesus has done for us, we are made righteous before God. We have faith which is active in love. We go down the mountain and we get involved where life is happening. We bring the healing goodness of Jesus to the world. Jesus was transformed at his Transfiguration and he headed a new direction. We are transformed by him, and we head in new directions. Instead of serving the self, we serve others. Instead of wanting to be the ones who have the nimbus on us, we focus on the work of other people around us and on the serving to be done. And we may receive recognition, but that's not why we do it. We do it because we're doing it for someone else. We do this all better when we keep our eyes on Jesus as we would on an icon, and we live with him and follow him down the mountain to the people who are in need. Amen.
     
    And now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2011, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, Matthew 17:1-9
  • Feb 13, 2011Zero Tolerance
    Feb 13, 2011
    Zero Tolerance
    Series: (All)
    February 13, 2011. Pastor Keith preaches from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus selects four areas of life as examples of where the scribes and Pharisees are kind of tolerant, but God has zero tolerance. And Jesus receives the zero tolerance punishment of death for us, and sets us at peace with God and at peace with one another.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We reflect more on these verses from Matthew in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. We begin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    I'm guessing that most of us, if not all of us, when we were children had times when we resisted taking a bath. Our parent would say to us it's time to have a bath, and we would say I just had one. Maybe it was days ago, but we'd say that anyway. Or I'm really not dirty, I don't need one. Well when Jesus came, he was telling the people around him in so many words: you need to take a bath. You need to get cleaned up, just like a child in denial thinking that they really don't need a bath, even though they are dirty. And Jesus is saying to the Pharisees and the scribes and the people around him: you need to get yourselves cleaned up. He says to them, in effect, you've convinced yourselves that you are clean, but you've lowered the standards of what cleanliness is. And in a way, you've kind of hidden it with perfume or deodorant or something like that. You don't realize how dirty you are. And who among us hasn't looked at the Ten Commandments and said, I think I can keep them okay? I don't really do so badly. I care about God. I try to watch my language. I go to church. I care for my parents. I don't kill people. I don't steal. I don't commit adultery. I don't lie about others. I don't plot to get their stuff from them and take their workers away from them. I'm not really so bad, really. I just need a tune-up maybe now and then, but I'm not so bad when it comes to the Ten Commandments.
     
    But in Jesus' day people who were really serious about the Jewish faith wanted to be absolutely right about it, because they didn't want to be taken into exile again ever. They wanted to get it right. And so they thought maybe the Ten Commandments were too vague. So they added some 613 laws to have a more complete guide about how to live. They sorted through the first five books of the Old Testament -- that's what we call it; they would call it the Torah -- and counted some 613 different laws for human behavior. There were rules for exactly what you should believe, how to do the rituals, how to do marriage, how to do sexuality, how to take a vow, how to correctly appoint a worship space, how to be proper at the holy days. There were laws about how to treat your neighbor, and on which days how to treat them, how to be fair in financial dealings. In all that were 613 rules for righteous living. And they set about keeping them, thinking that things were fine between them and God if they kept these 613 rules.
     
    But our lesson today shows us that Jesus has something else in mind. He says in the verse right before where our text begins, "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter into heaven." The scribes and Pharisees thought they had it pretty well together. They thought they were clean. They had enough income to keep the rules. They attempted to be righteous enough that God would look favorably upon them. And they had it together pretty well. They were the epitome of devoted living. They had the means to keep these laws in detail. They thought they were in for sure. Their hope was through their carefulness and their respect for God, so they thought they had an in.
     
    But Jesus comes and says: not so quick. You've given honor to God, but look where your loyalty is. It's really to a book of laws. And that really distracts you from God. You think about those laws, how you can satisfy those laws, but really they're just the basics. It goes much deeper than just some prescriptions for behavior. Your whole person is involved in this, Jesus is saying. Your head, your heart, your hands, all of you is involved in this. And unless you respond with your whole self in a perfect way, you have come up short. We hear about zero tolerance for this or that infraction. Especially we hear about it in schools and workplaces. But the prime example of the one who has zero tolerance is God. The scribes and the Pharisees thought they had it mediated in such a way that they could find the law of God as something they could keep, and they defined it for themselves. But just as Jesus says, unless you are more righteous than the scribes and the Pharisees you will not see the kingdom of God. They needed a bath. They weren't clean enough. Their whole selves had not been dedicated to God. They needed something to clean them up. They were only half clean.
     
    Jesus selects here then four areas of life as examples of where they are kind of tolerant, but God has zero tolerance. They may think they have kept the faith and the commandment if they haven't killed someone, but this commandment goes all the way inside. It's not just about killing and committing murder. It's also about hurting someone, hating someone, or even having anger against someone. All these are the same in God's eyes. It's not about just calling somebody a fool or not insulting them. All these things are included. It even goes inside, into what you're thinking. So this is where Jesus calls for a thorough cleanup and for peace, so that you don't come before God, even get to church and find your offering is there but you still have a lingering thought about someone, anger with that person. He says drop your offering where you are, go amend those differences with that person so you aren't thinking hateful thoughts when you come before me. Get yourself cleaned up. Come to the table with a good feeling and with peace.
     
    A little while ago we made peace with one another. Get all that stuff cleaned up. You want to be clean before the Lord. We exchanged peace. And this is what Jesus does: Jesus exchanges it. While calling for righteous living, he takes our sin upon himself. He receives the zero tolerance punishment of death for us, and sets us at peace with God and at peace with one another. With our greeting of peace to each other as we did this morning, we remind each other of this peace that God has with us, and therefore we have with each other. And we extend that forgiveness ourselves as we forgive other people, with the authority that God has given us to do that. The exchange has been made. Jesus took the punishment. We are able to receive the peace, and we share that peace. What a difference a bath makes. If we call that baptismal washing in the font that we had a moment ago a bath, we find that we are cleansed -- and we are cleaned by God. Our actual sins and the sins we mentally contemplate come before God and they are forgiven. We come away with peace with God, and not so focused on our behavior. We come away giving thanks to God for the peace that has been given us. And we make peace with other people.
     
    When we look at these laws we find out how much trouble we're really in. We find out that being angry or hateful is contrary to God. We find also that our inclination to make other people into objects that we would like to possess is what amounts to lust. Again, it's hard to put limits on where our mind goes. We image and desire things and people that were not meant to be ours. We know how hard it is to keep our mind from going where God doesn't want it to go. But rather than pretending we're okay, it's time to take a bath and to be cleansed of it. This morning, little William got one of these baths. Most of us here have gotten one of these baths at the font. They are named after the Greek word for washing: to be baptism. That's where the word comes from. As William was baptized, we have been baptized with the double kind of promise that our sins have been washed away through God's own death for us, and we're free to have a whole relationship with God and with others. We don't reduce our connection to others because we just look at them on the basis of looks and say I only care about how you look. Because we've been baptized, we connect with people on a deep level, with the whole person, appreciating that person as a gift of a thorough creation God has given to us in another person.
     
    And God gives us the gift of family and the unity of marriage. Especially in times when women were viewed as property more than as full human beings, it was easy to change wives. One could write a certificate, a piece of paper, and be done with the association. As long as one followed the rules of the day, a person really saw no problem with it and no sin was really involved, they thought. But Jesus says that's not really the way it is. For a man and a woman to be in marriage is not a matter of property. It's a matter of full human relationship. One doesn't move from one person to another person as though you're changing titles to cars. Relationship is a whole human endeavor involving heart, mind, and soul. God is a god of relationship. God has created human beings to be in relationship with each and every one. Since the first man and the first woman, that relationship has been abused and taken advantage of by humans. God, in zero tolerance, could have said you've offended me, you went away from me already in the Garden of Eden, and you failed this relationship. God could have written a certificate declaring that God was out of there, God was done with it all, and said: you're on your own. I'm out of here. I have no care for you anymore. God had every right when people disobeyed him.
     
    But God didn't. God valued the humans and the relationship too much to do that. God said: I will do whatever it takes to redeem and restore this relationship. So God gave his son. And he came and he loved us, showed us, and reminded us what this relationship is all about. He said and showed how it was about love, about whole people, about dignity, and regarding one another as full human beings. The only certificate that was written was the one that was above his head when he was hanging on the cross that said, "This is the king of the Jews." And far more powerful than that paper certificate was the word that came from heaven that said of his upcoming death, when he was at the Mount of Transfiguration, "This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased." That was like a verbal certificate saying this is the one. Jesus was washed for us at his baptism that we might live as full human beings, and in full relationship with God, and in full and loving relationships with one another. And Jesus died for us that these same things might happen.
     
    Well, what do we need for relationships? And it's what we talked to the kids about: we need full communication and loving communication to have good relationships. Sometimes we say to someone who's spoken badly: go wash your mouth out. Our speech is critical, both with God and with one another. It's the second ranking commandment behind love of God himself. We say you shall have no other gods, and then we say you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. It's number two commandment. Our speech with God is all important. It's what we use to thank and to praise and to pray. It's a precious thing. When we throw our speech around like it's nothing and use God's name in vain when we're not talking to or about God, we're taking God's name and making it into something cheap. God says it's a precious thing I've given you: my name, and speech, and the ability to communicate with me. Use it as this precious thing.
     
    And so Jesus says make your communication with one another, with other human beings, precious too. As you talk to other people, as you talk to God, don't make it so light and so unreliable that you need to swear to some sort of oath to make someone think that you're telling the truth. Be truthful in all of your communication, so that when you say yes, people know you mean yes -- and when you say no, people know you mean no. And they can count on you to be reliable about that. That's having a washed-out mouth. That is a baptized mouth, one that knows that to be loved by God and to love means that truth is spoken for the sake of relationships. As Jesus tells us these things that are expected of us, it can be daunting. But they are the things that God's had in mind from the beginning. It's all a matter of what makes for a good relationship -- with God and with one another: feelings of love not anger, valued persons, valued relationships, and valued communication for the sake of relationships. In Holy Baptism we have been cleansed. We've been reborn. We start again to love, to cherish, to go the extra mile, to speak well to and about one another. What Jesus says might seem arduous and even impossible just to hear it. But through the Holy Spirit these are marks of the Christian life. And with Christ they're not only possible, but even likely. Amen.
     
    And now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2011, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, Matthew 5:20, Matthew 5:21-37
  • Jan 16, 2011A Purpose Beyond Ourselves
    Jan 16, 2011
    A Purpose Beyond Ourselves
    Series: (All)
    January 16, 2011. The prophet Isaiah told the downtrodden people of Israel that they were to be a light to the nations, that they had a purpose beyond themselves to bring God's salvation to the ends of the earth. Years later Jesus took up the mantle of this mission, and called others to help him. In his sermon today, Pastor Keith reminds us of that mission we too have, to go beyond ourselves, to serve God's purpose and to be lights to the nations.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Today for our meditation we look at our first lesson today, from Isaiah 49. We begin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    After World War II, things could have gone differently than they did. We as a country could have come home, having won a victory at a great cost to us, and just concentrated on getting the country back going again, gotten back to business, licked the wounds and focused on putting as much as we could to in the country here. And indeed, lots and lots of that was done. But after the war we also paid attention to other parts of the world. The Marshall Plan was enacted to rebuild Europe. We spent a lot of time and energy in Berlin, flying food in for the people in Berlin, and doing other rebuilding in Asia and in Europe. It wasn't all altruistic, and that had a lot to do with fighting the encroachment of communism, and had to do with restoring the world economy and getting things in the whole world going again. But still, we didn't have to do that. We could have just stayed home and said we'll pay attention to what's within our borders and get things really strong here, and not pay attention to the rest of the world.
     
    In our first lesson of the day, from Isaiah, we hear of the person writing this -- Isaiah -- who is very sensitive to the great hardship his people are coming through, and the plight that they're in as they are in exile in Babylon. But we also hear him have words of vision and hope for them, and even a mission. Even while they're in this plight and it seems like the world is too tough for them, he ups the ante. He says God has even more in mind for you. Isaiah writes this as though it's two people talking, as though Israel is a person talking with God. But Israel represents the whole people, and so even though it's like a dialogue between two people, it's between the nation and God. And so when he writes, "Before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb, he named me," this is meaning the whole people of Israel. God had something in mind for them as a people, before they even were a people. But he has a very personal way of talking with them. 
     
    He's saying that even before they became a nation, God had a mission in mind for them, and a vision in mind for them. God had a purpose in mind for them. Isaiah knows full well that the people of Israel had violated most of God's rules, if not all of them, when they were back in Jerusalem. As a prophet, he had warned them of the consequences of their behavior, that they had trusted treaties and armaments too much, and their security systems and things like that. And they had gone after false gods. He knew about all that and warned them about shaping up, but they hadn't. So he watched them not heed these rules of God and warnings, and be defeated and be dragged off to Babylon. And he knows what kind of suffering that they're in now. But knowing that suffering, he is able to bring words of vision and hope. And even while they're down, even while they're in this time of wondering if they'll ever survive again or not, he says, I have words of a great mission for you. God has a purpose for you, from before you were a people. He wants you to be a light to the nations. And so God has a purpose in mind for you. He will take you back. But don't get comfortable. Know that you have a mission to perform.
     
    They were in those awful circumstances. They weren't at home. They had been given lots of trouble by foreign rulers. They were captives and prisoners of war. How could God have a mission in mind for them? They were downtrodden. But down and out as they are, he says you really are the hidden arrow in the quiver. You are a shiny, silver arrow in the quiver. You are to be a light to the nations. God's saving you, so to speak, for the right time when he pulls out his best arrow and sends it to bring the world around. They would have likely been content just to come home from war, rebuild the country, rebuild the temple, get their city together, get their country together, get their people together. They'd endured so much at the hands of the Babylonians. Why couldn't they just come home and live in peace? But Isaiah says no, that's too light a thing. Just to put life together again would not live up to the purpose that God has in mind for you. It's too light a thing, Isaiah says, that you should be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel, just to put things back together. That's not enough. Just collecting everyone and restoring every one of the people: that's not enough. God says through Isaiah, you will be a light to the nations. I will give you to the nations as a light, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. God has a purpose in mind for them. They can't just go home and be family or be country or be nation. No, they have a purpose beyond themselves to bring God's salvation to the ends of the earth.
     
    God has in mind for Israel, coming back from losing a war, a much greater mission than just to come home and get healed. They are to be the healing force for the world. Small nation as they are, beaten up as they are, they are to be the silver arrow that will solve the difficulties of the world. We talk in our age about silver bullets. They are to be the silver, shining arrow that would solve the world's problems. But for them to do this, they had to get beyond themselves. They are chosen for a mission beyond themselves. God has a mission in mind for them. They can't just go home and be isolationist. They need to reach out and show the world the kind of healing, loving, and saving God that they have.
     
    Well, this is the message that Jesus is reviving when he is baptized. Five hundred years later or so, Jesus is on the scene. He remembers this word from Isaiah. This word from Isaiah is still a mission of the people of Israel and it's his mission. He is taking on the mantle of the mission of God, showing himself to be the light of the world. He is baptized and anointed by John the Baptist as the beloved Son of God, chosen to do his Father's will. Today, we hear him pick up this task now. He begins to do this work of teaching, going about, talking to people. He is the embodiment of Israel. And so he invites Peter and Andrew to come and see what he's about, what Israel is about, and what they are to be about. God has a purpose in mind for them. Jesus will radiate the light of God, through his teaching, through his actions, through his healing, through his preaching. He will show what it means to be a light to the nations. But it doesn't stop with him. They are part of this mission.
     
    Jesus' mission was, of course, beyond himself. He could have just come, I supposed, to be a demonstration of what a person loving God is like. He could have settled down in a town, married, had children, and been a good community person and shown what it is to be a good follower of God, to be a demonstration of a God person. But that wasn't his purpose. The purpose of Jesus was to go beyond himself. His mission was not to serve himself, but to serve God by carrying out God's purposes for him and for his people. Just as the people of Israel had to suffer, he had to suffer. He was required what was needed to give up himself for the sake of the world. He prayed that there might be some other way. He prayed Lord, if there's some other way, let this cup pass from me. But the only way open to him was the way of the cross. He needed to get beyond himself, outside of himself, even to give up himself.
     
    Over the past decade a very popular book has been The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren. And one of his themes is that God doesn't put us on earth just to serve ourselves. We have a purpose, given by God. Our natural inclination is to serve ourselves and to find happiness that way. As Martin Luther called it, sin is being curved in on ourselves, not being outward in our thinking but being inward and seeing everything as coming back to us. Instead of being lights to the world or healers or servants to the others, we tend to look at ourselves first. Look out for ourselves first. Our inclination is to have a nice nest, to pad it well, and to be comfortable. By our baptisms we have drowned the kind of life that that selfishness represents, and we're chosen ones now to live for the sake of all nations. Go and baptize all nations, we are told. We are the ones who go out. But so often we don't get that right. Daily we don't get that right. Daily we go back to our selfish inclination, that "me first" kind of thinking. But daily, God forgives us and reminds us of the mission to go beyond ourselves to serve his purpose and to be lights to the nations.
     
    There is a Lutheran pastor and consultant who blends systems theory and theology, and his name is Peter Steinke. Maybe some of you know him or know of him. He's often called in where congregations are in deep distress, or having conflict or some sort of deep trouble, as a consultant. And he's written some books based on his experiences with the congregations. Usually his more recent books capture the idea that he's come up with and discovers time and time again, that health comes from having a focus from outside oneself. This works whether you're a person, or whether you're a family, or whether you're a congregation. You need to have a focus outside yourself to have real health yourself. And this echoes a former bishop of mine. More often than once I heard him proclaim in speeches and so forth that when he came to work with congregations, he would judge whether they were a dying congregation or a lively and thriving congregation, about how their stance was. Did they seem to just exist for themselves, to keep themselves going, keep the building open and lights on, and have their own little happy club? Or were they existing for the sake of the community around them and the world around them? Did they have a mission beyond themselves that would unify them, bring them together, and help them serve the world around them? That brought a unity and a liveliness to them. That's how he would determine if a congregation was thriving or dying, if it was healthy or not. He and Steinke think a lot alike.
     
    We all know people who seem to have no purpose outside themselves. They think about themselves all the time. Most of the conversation is either what they've done or what's ailing them, and they themselves are their only focus. They don't get out much and interact with other people much. And their problems seem to grow, because they have no life-giving focus outside themselves. Families are healthier too when there's a focus beyond the family system, when there's life outside, a realization that family exists in a community, and we've received from the community and we need to give back to the community. There's a mission to the community and a mission for the things that we believe in as a family. That makes a family stronger, as they unite behind the mission that the family has. Then congregations: if we turn in on ourselves, we have departed from the purpose that we've been given by God. We lose the nature of who we are, given by God. We become something we were never intended to be. By our God-given nature, by the vision that God has had us from before we were a congregation even, God had in mind that the people of his congregations would be lights to the nations. We are to be lights shining out, not trying to keep all the energy in for ourselves, but to share that energy with a purpose.
     
    This weekend, we honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I'm sure there were many nights, including his last night in Memphis, when he would have been happier just to be at home with Coretta and the kids. It would have been a much more simple life for him. But he felt like he had a call from God for his country, which kept the focus from being just on his own self and just on his own happiness. But he had a mission for the health of the country, for his people: that there might be racial equality. It was a costly mission, as it cost him his life. The entire goal wasn't accomplished and his mission still requires work. But his mission was the way he spent himself knowing he was a chosen one of God, given a purpose by God, and giving his energy and his life for the sake of many. Isaiah put this image before his people, which was lived out by Jesus and is passed on now to us: that we are chosen by God. God chooses us for the sake of God's mission -- that God's salvation, God's health, may reach to the ends of the earth. We thank God that we are chosen, that we are saved, that we're baptized, that we have a purpose beyond ourselves, given to us by God. Amen.
     
    And now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2011, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, Isaiah 49:1-7, Servant's Mission, John 1:29-42, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren
  • Jan 2, 2011A New Year, Full of Possibilities
    Jan 2, 2011
    A New Year, Full of Possibilities
    Series: (All)
    January 2, 2011. A new year is full of possibilities. All of us have experienced transitions in the past year, and there are transitions ahead of us in 2011. In his sermon today, Mark Roock asks us to consider the mission to which God is calling us, as individuals and as a congregation, to help God's plan come to fulfillment.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Well, just five weeks ago we started a new church year, a year of grace, with the season of Advent. And we were anticipating the birth and the coming and the fulfillment of God's promise of a messiah. And then with Christmas, just nine days ago, we celebrated the birth of the Christ. And we are still in that season of Christmas. And yet overlaid with that celebration are other festivals that the church observes. On December 26th, the Feast of Saint Stephen, who cared for people and gave his life -- stoned to death, one of the first martyrs of the church. Then on December 27th we honor St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, the gospel writer of today's gospel lesson. And on the 28th of December, so last Tuesday, we celebrated the Holy Innocents as martyrs. These were the young boys killed at the order of Herod, who wanted to assure that there were no boys in Bethlehem who might be the new king -- because after all, the wise men hadn't returned to give him the identity of the person, of the child that they had visited who was to be king of the Jews. And then yesterday, the New Year was also the eighth day of Christmas and the day we celebrate the name of Jesus. Because in Jewish tradition, on the eighth day the son was brought to the temple to be circumcised and to receive his name. And the name this child received was the name the angel had given and that Mary and Joseph had said he should receive: Jesus, which means "the Lord will save."
     
    Now I don't know about you, but in our house on January 1 we hang up a new calendar. We take down one calendar and hang up a new one. So for us, a new calendar year of course has begun as well. But it strikes me that this really is a time of transitions, a time of change. All of us have experienced transitions in the past year in different forms. Some of us became engaged, some were married, some had a child for the first time, or some were blessed with a grandchild or a great-grandchild. Some had to change jobs, either because of necessity or because they saw different opportunities, and felt a leading and a calling that would lead them to a new opportunity. Some entered retirement. Some had to experience the fracture of relationships. Some entered school for the first time, and some matriculated to other levels of schooling, including college and graduate studies. In all of these ways, transitions took place. Some lost loved ones and long to be reunited with them in heaven. Some transitioned from independent living to assisted living, some to skilled nursing care. Some transitioned into heaven. All of life's transitions mean change. And change can be challenging -- sometimes very challenging.
     
    Think of the Israelites, who were about to leave exile after having been in exile for several hundreds of years. Now they were to return to their homeland, the land of promise. But this generation had not been there, so for them this was an undertaking almost as large as the exile itself or as the first coming to the promised land. What would it be like? What will await us there? What will we face? It is difficult sometimes to give up the things you know and have perhaps become comfortable with, and to venture out into something that is new. But that potentially holds great promise for you. So I have experience that moving forward and going forward, taking that one step at a time that leads you perhaps on a path that you have envisioned -- but also perhaps on a path that you could not have imagined -- that taking that step is in itself an act of faith.
     
    It is an act of faith because we believe. We believe in God's faithfulness. We believe in the trustworthiness of God, that he will fulfill his promise even if sometime we look at it and we say, "Man, this is screwed up. How can this possibly happen?" Yet God has a way of breaking down the walls we erect for our worlds, for what we imagine to be best for us. God has a way of breaking down those walls because he calls us to new ventures, and to get beyond the walls, to experience the more that is out there. As I get older too, I'm more and more convinced, or more and more experiencing I should say, that I recognize how little I know. And I've thought a long time, and you know early in my life I've kind of felt I know a lot. I've gone through college. I've gone through seminary. I know a lot. But our experiences over life teach us how little we do know and how much we must rely on God. We believe. We believe in God's trustworthiness, that he will fulfill the promise.
     
    Now our lessons say today that God has a plan. And the plan is that he will gather up all things in heaven and all things on earth under him. The question is then how will we contribute to the fulfillment of God's plan? What can I do to make that happen? After all, God's love has been so great for us. After all he says, "You are mine. I have called you." We have become, under Jesus Christ, through God's grace, children of God -- sisters and brothers to our Savior, Jesus Christ. So in response to that, we ask what can I do? What can I do in response to your great love for me? I don't have that answer for you. I don't even always have that answer for myself. But I do recognize that because God is trustworthy and that because God is faithful, it behooves us to assure that we have opportunities to communicate with him, to pray, to read the scriptures, to consider what he has in store for us, to ask that question continually. What is the mission to which God is calling me? And as a congregation, what is the mission to which God is calling us?
     
    A new year is full of possibilities. There are transitions ahead of us that we may contemplate and be planning, and there may be transitions ahead of us in this twelve-month period that we know nothing about. Yet this faithful God is with us. Remember Jesus' words: "I am with you always, even to the end of the ages." So as we experienced transitions, we can be assured that God is with us, there to sustain us, there to help us. Sometimes it happens in the way of friends and counselors and others. Sometimes in what I term is angels unawares: people perhaps I've met for the first time, but whose kind word or whose kind deed have helped me, and have pointed me again to give thanks to this great God.
     
    So as we enter the rest of 2011, I encourage you to go with God, to keep him in your hearts, to come to him in prayer, to receive his body and blood in the sacrament, to recognize the opportunities you have in ways small and great, to help God's plan come to fulfillment.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2011, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Mark Roock, Jeremiah 31:7-14, Ephesians 1:3-14, John 1:1-18, Magi
  • Dec 5, 2010Living In Harmony
    Dec 5, 2010
    Living In Harmony
    Series: (All)
    December 5, 2010. Welcome to the Christ Lutheran Church podcast. Each week we will bring you a new message, a new sermon. In this first episode, Pastor Penny Holste preaches on Isaiah 11:1-9 and tells us how we're meant to reach out to those who are different from us and live in harmony with them.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    The waters of baptism. I remember you. Well, I don't really remember you, but I have a certificate that says I was baptized. I wonder if that's what you want me to do, just to remember that once you washed me and it's in my baby book, or do you want me to come back again and again to let you kill the arrogance within me, to let you put to death the ego in me, to let you wipe out all the things that make me think I might be a little better than the next person, a little smarter than the next person, a little nicer than the next person. Do you want me to come back again and again so that you can get rid of all the things that stand in the way and leave only what God has given me?
     
    In our gospel today, John the Baptist did a strange thing. He baptized people who already believed. It was not a conversion experience. These Jewish people were Jews and they came from all over. I don't know if you caught that, but there were crowds of them. And you have to ask what drew them to this strange man, this kind of wild man who wore the skins of animals and ate bugs and lived out in a desert. Why would people come and wade into the cold Jordan River and confess that they were sinners and have water poured on them? Why would they do this?
     
    Well, John said something that caught their attention. He said someone is coming. He said a man of God is coming with fire to be a judge and with the spirit, and that resonated with them because they had been waiting. Those were turbulent times. They were turbulent times politically and religiously, and the people were hungry for this promise to be fulfilled that they had been waiting for for many years. And when this man, even though he was strange, came and said, "Now is the time, he's coming, he will judge the world and set things straight," well, they didn't want to be caught unprepared. If God was coming to judge the world, they wanted to have their sins washed away. And so they came and confessed their sins and repented.
     
    Well, most of them. There was this little group of Pharisees and Sadducees, and they came too. And actually the interpretation that's more accepted says that they did not come to be baptized. They came to watch and maybe to criticize. But John really let them have it. He said, "You snakes. Just because your ancestors are Jewish and you are Jewish, or just because you keep the law so perfectly, you think that you have more right to God's love than other people and that somehow you don't need to confess your sins." He said, "You should be reaching out to the very people you feel better than, reaching out listening to them, caring for them. God wants the fruits of your life to show that you are Jewish. He wants your lives to bear fruit, not what you're doing."
     
    And you know, our lessons were all about the fruit that God wants, the harmony, that God wants us to reach out to those who are different, to listen and to care about them. We heard it in the Peaceable Kingdom in the Old Testament lesson, where even the animals will set aside their natural instincts to tear each other apart. We heard it when Paul talked about the Jews and the gentiles coming together, and you can imagine the hard feelings, the arguments, the bad blood between those groups. And yet Paul is asking them to set that aside and reach out to one another. That is what glorifies God, and you will be blessed.
     
    Our baptisms are not something to remember in the baby book. They are something to remind us daily to confess our sins, to come back again and again, to be ones who reach out to those who are different and make peace. And what a world we have. It's so divided, politically, racially, even in the world of sports if you listened to all the booing that LeBron James heard last week. There is so much division, and yet we are called as baptized Christians to reach out to those who are different.
     
    It's not easy. At our text study last Tuesday, a professor from Eden described a class that he's teaching now. The student body is very diverse. There are blacks and whites, and women and men, and gays and straight, and people from different denominations and different countries, all in the same class. Now, his usual method is to lecture, and then in the last part of the class he has them break up into small groups and discuss the lecture. Well, he asked them to do just that and of course they all went to people just like themselves. So you have the whites there and the blacks here and the gays there and the straights there, and he said that the discussions weren't very good. They disintegrated, they dissolved into talking about who won the game the night before.
     
    So he decided to do it differently. The next time he said I want you to divide up and and spread yourselves out. I don't want you to be with people just like yourselves. And they knew what he meant, so they did. And he said the discussions that came out of that heterogeneous group was so full of energy. So many ideas came out of those discussions.
     
    God wants us to reach out to people who are different. God wants us to live in harmony with them. That is what brings God glory and that's what blesses us. Last week, a professor from Webster University was meeting with some of us, and she mentioned her adult son who has extreme autism and he also has attention deficit problems. So much so that she said even now, as a young man, he'll never be able to live on his own or even in a group home. But when he was a boy in school she went to the school district, the administration at University City, and she begged them to let her son be mainstreamed as much as possible. That is, that he could take classes with kids who didn't have autism as often as it would work out. And they let her. And as a result of that, he was with the same people through all his years. Two of his classmates, a young man and a young woman, became close friends even though they didn't have autism. And now these many years after they've all graduated from high school, they still are friends. And the young man has gone into the health field because of his experience, and the young woman said to this mother: knowing your son has changed my life.
     
    When we reach out and live in harmony with those who are different, we bring glory to God and we are blessed. And that's why it is because of our baptisms that God expects us to bear fruit, so that at school where there are people that you aren't comfortable with, people no one else is comfortable with, they are the very people we are to reach out to. At work, those people who are abrasive. In the community, those people whose political views you do not agree with. They are the very people that God is asking us to reach out to, to listen to, and whether we agree with them or not, to love.
     
    These next few weeks offer so many opportunities, because we are getting together with friends and family. And we all know there are people in our families that we've had arguments with, people we no longer talk to very much. This is the time. This is the time when we reach out to them and listen, maybe for the first time, and forgive.
     
    This is the hard work, but the beautiful fruit that we are asked to do as baptized Christians, that brings God glory. Will we fail? Yes, again and again, we will fail. But that's why we come back to baptism, because it not only kills what is arrogant in us, but it brings alive what is good. Jesus was there when we were baptized, bringing us out of the water saying, "I love you. I've always loved you, even before you knew right from wrong."
     
    And as we come back and repent, Jesus is there again raising us up out of the cold water and saying, "I love you. And that's why I let people kill my ego and take away my livelihood and my comfort and my security and my friends, and that's why I let people nail me to the cross, hanging there almost naked as people mocked me. I did it," he said, "So that I could do this one thing: I could raise you up when you repent and say, 'But I love you.' I love you whether you fail or not, because in baptism I have made you my own."
     
    Thanks be to God. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2010, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, audio, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, The Peaceable Kingdom, Isaiah 11:1-9