Mar 6, 2016
The Prodigal Son
Series: (All)
March 6, 2016. Are we tempted to push our relationship with God aside and trust only in ourselves? In talking about Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) Pastor Penny shows us that we can make the world a place of justice and mercy, passing on a legacy for sons who have been lost, by knowing that God forgives and loves us and by trusting in Him.
 
*** Transcript ***
 
We begin this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 
Last Friday Keith and I went to a very moving presentation at Eden Seminary. There were about a dozen men, all African American, who were recounting how they lost their sons to a violent death. The deaths were different. Sometimes it was gang-related. Sometimes it was related to the police. There was one death that had mysterious circumstances around it. There were men waiting to get court documents to get more details about their son's death. There were other men waiting to get a day in court to talk more about their son's death. And this presentation had two goals. I could tell that they were all waiting for justice. And that was one of the goals, to encourage the African American community and the white community to provide more justice for African Americans. But the other goal was to pass on a legacy for the sons they have lost — because it became very evident, when you heard one testimony after another, how much these men loved their sons, and how hurt they were to lose them.
 
Jesus told a story, a parable about a man who loved two sons. And they were very different from one another. If we can fill in the details (because this is a story after all) we can maybe imagine that the youngest son was kind of cocky. He didn't really want to get up in the morning and go help on the farm, and he chafed at having to be under his father's supervision. Maybe he was like Joseph and he had these dreams, of getting out on his own and creating his own life and making his own success and being his own boss. So one day, he made an unthinkable request of his father, unthinkable in his culture. He said, Father give me my inheritance. Now that was tantamount to wishing his father dead in his culture. It was a cruel thing. He wasn't thinking about his father's feelings. It was a selfish thing, as we were talking about selfishness. And another unthinkable thing was that the father gave him what he asked! He sold his half of the property and gave his son the money — not maybe a very wise thing, but he loved his son.
 
Well, we know what happened after that. The son went away, and despite all his great dreams, he ended up frittering away the money, all of the money, all of his father's hard-earned money. And only when he was starving did he have second thoughts about what he had done. And then he hatched a plan to come back and ask to work on his father's farm. What the boy didn't know, because he really wasn't thinking about his father the whole time, was that even after what he had done to his father, his father never stopped loving him. And we know that because when the young man approached from a distance, before a word of apology had come out of his mouth, his father ran to him, had compassion on him, threw his arms around him and kissed him. And I think the cover on the bulletin is very telling. You can imagine this young man just collapsing into his father's arms, his head on his shoulder, maybe bursting into tears — and at that moment, maybe for the first time, realizing what he had almost lost, at that moment realizing for the first time that he had almost lost his most precious possession: the love of his father.
 
Now there was an older son as well. And he (if we can embellish a little) I think it's safe to say he probably hated to get up and go to work in the field as well, as his younger brother had. He probably chafed under the supervision of his father and wanted to call the shots. But he waited. His tactic was to wait. He knew sooner or later he would inherit half the property and then he would be his own boss. So his role was to be the good son. He bit his tongue instead of saying things that he might. He mumbled under his breath. He wasn't happy, but he waited. In fact, he was probably happy when his younger brother made that cruel statement about his property and taking his money, because he thought finally, my father will see what a brat my little brother was, and we'll be rid of him. But when that brat came back and the father reinstated him as if nothing had happened, the older son was outraged. It was not fair, I'm sure he said. And it wasn't. His father wasn't being fair. He wasn't showing justice. He was going beyond justice to mercy. And then the older son said something I'm sure that hurt the father so deeply. He said, all my life I've been slaving for you. And the father must have thought: is that what it was like, is that what you thought you were doing? I thought we were working together and that everything I had was yours. For the older son couldn't see it, and didn't care and wouldn't celebrate.
 
Now it's important to notice the first verses in our gospel today. They come before the story. "Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling and saying, 'This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.' So he told them this parable." This story is for the scribes and Pharisees. And they were the good sons in their day. Oh, they had a relationship with their Heavenly Father, but they had pushed it to the side and were focusing on their role. Their role was to keep the laws. They believed that would please the Father, and then God would bless the whole nation. But in the process, their focus, their trust was on what they were doing, on being the good sons.
 
And I wonder sometimes if that isn't our temptation, too. Because we are good people. We are good churchgoers. We are good wives and husbands and mothers and children and fathers and workers and students and citizens, and we have a relationship with God. It's important. But do we push that to one side, and do we focus instead on who we are and what we do? Is that what we trust? I wonder if God is not saying to us this morning: don't be more sure of yourself than you are of me. Don't trust yourself more than you trust me, or you will never really know me, and you will never have the joy I intend you to have, and you will never work side by side with me in the kingdom. The joy I intend you to have. As Pastor Keith mentioned, this is Laetare Sunday in the tradition of the church year, from the Latin word for joy, rejoice. And I have to believe that if we could hear the story of the younger son after he came back, it would be full of joy. I can imagine him waking up and wanting to go to work, being so happy to have a roof over his head and three meals a day. I can imagine him seeing his dad for the first time and really knowing him, noticing how carefully his father treated the hired hands and the slaves. And he had been a hired hand, so it would mean a lot to the young boy, noticing that maybe his father left some of the crop so that the poor could come and glean it. And he had been poor, and it would mean a lot to see that, seeing maybe for the first time that his father was the greatest possession he had: the gift of his father's love, and how eager he was to live out that same lifestyle and legacy.
 
This is what God offers us today, that we too can collapse into the loving arms of a Heavenly Father, confessing our weaknesses, knowing that we are forgiven, hearing words of love, and hearing our Father say to us: I'm so glad you came back home. Now you can have the joy I intended you to have. Now we can work together to make the world a place of justice and mercy.
 
Amen.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2016, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Luke 15:1-3, 11-32, Prodigal Son
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  • Mar 6, 2016The Prodigal Son
    Mar 6, 2016
    The Prodigal Son
    Series: (All)
    March 6, 2016. Are we tempted to push our relationship with God aside and trust only in ourselves? In talking about Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) Pastor Penny shows us that we can make the world a place of justice and mercy, passing on a legacy for sons who have been lost, by knowing that God forgives and loves us and by trusting in Him.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    Last Friday Keith and I went to a very moving presentation at Eden Seminary. There were about a dozen men, all African American, who were recounting how they lost their sons to a violent death. The deaths were different. Sometimes it was gang-related. Sometimes it was related to the police. There was one death that had mysterious circumstances around it. There were men waiting to get court documents to get more details about their son's death. There were other men waiting to get a day in court to talk more about their son's death. And this presentation had two goals. I could tell that they were all waiting for justice. And that was one of the goals, to encourage the African American community and the white community to provide more justice for African Americans. But the other goal was to pass on a legacy for the sons they have lost — because it became very evident, when you heard one testimony after another, how much these men loved their sons, and how hurt they were to lose them.
     
    Jesus told a story, a parable about a man who loved two sons. And they were very different from one another. If we can fill in the details (because this is a story after all) we can maybe imagine that the youngest son was kind of cocky. He didn't really want to get up in the morning and go help on the farm, and he chafed at having to be under his father's supervision. Maybe he was like Joseph and he had these dreams, of getting out on his own and creating his own life and making his own success and being his own boss. So one day, he made an unthinkable request of his father, unthinkable in his culture. He said, Father give me my inheritance. Now that was tantamount to wishing his father dead in his culture. It was a cruel thing. He wasn't thinking about his father's feelings. It was a selfish thing, as we were talking about selfishness. And another unthinkable thing was that the father gave him what he asked! He sold his half of the property and gave his son the money — not maybe a very wise thing, but he loved his son.
     
    Well, we know what happened after that. The son went away, and despite all his great dreams, he ended up frittering away the money, all of the money, all of his father's hard-earned money. And only when he was starving did he have second thoughts about what he had done. And then he hatched a plan to come back and ask to work on his father's farm. What the boy didn't know, because he really wasn't thinking about his father the whole time, was that even after what he had done to his father, his father never stopped loving him. And we know that because when the young man approached from a distance, before a word of apology had come out of his mouth, his father ran to him, had compassion on him, threw his arms around him and kissed him. And I think the cover on the bulletin is very telling. You can imagine this young man just collapsing into his father's arms, his head on his shoulder, maybe bursting into tears — and at that moment, maybe for the first time, realizing what he had almost lost, at that moment realizing for the first time that he had almost lost his most precious possession: the love of his father.
     
    Now there was an older son as well. And he (if we can embellish a little) I think it's safe to say he probably hated to get up and go to work in the field as well, as his younger brother had. He probably chafed under the supervision of his father and wanted to call the shots. But he waited. His tactic was to wait. He knew sooner or later he would inherit half the property and then he would be his own boss. So his role was to be the good son. He bit his tongue instead of saying things that he might. He mumbled under his breath. He wasn't happy, but he waited. In fact, he was probably happy when his younger brother made that cruel statement about his property and taking his money, because he thought finally, my father will see what a brat my little brother was, and we'll be rid of him. But when that brat came back and the father reinstated him as if nothing had happened, the older son was outraged. It was not fair, I'm sure he said. And it wasn't. His father wasn't being fair. He wasn't showing justice. He was going beyond justice to mercy. And then the older son said something I'm sure that hurt the father so deeply. He said, all my life I've been slaving for you. And the father must have thought: is that what it was like, is that what you thought you were doing? I thought we were working together and that everything I had was yours. For the older son couldn't see it, and didn't care and wouldn't celebrate.
     
    Now it's important to notice the first verses in our gospel today. They come before the story. "Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling and saying, 'This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.' So he told them this parable." This story is for the scribes and Pharisees. And they were the good sons in their day. Oh, they had a relationship with their Heavenly Father, but they had pushed it to the side and were focusing on their role. Their role was to keep the laws. They believed that would please the Father, and then God would bless the whole nation. But in the process, their focus, their trust was on what they were doing, on being the good sons.
     
    And I wonder sometimes if that isn't our temptation, too. Because we are good people. We are good churchgoers. We are good wives and husbands and mothers and children and fathers and workers and students and citizens, and we have a relationship with God. It's important. But do we push that to one side, and do we focus instead on who we are and what we do? Is that what we trust? I wonder if God is not saying to us this morning: don't be more sure of yourself than you are of me. Don't trust yourself more than you trust me, or you will never really know me, and you will never have the joy I intend you to have, and you will never work side by side with me in the kingdom. The joy I intend you to have. As Pastor Keith mentioned, this is Laetare Sunday in the tradition of the church year, from the Latin word for joy, rejoice. And I have to believe that if we could hear the story of the younger son after he came back, it would be full of joy. I can imagine him waking up and wanting to go to work, being so happy to have a roof over his head and three meals a day. I can imagine him seeing his dad for the first time and really knowing him, noticing how carefully his father treated the hired hands and the slaves. And he had been a hired hand, so it would mean a lot to the young boy, noticing that maybe his father left some of the crop so that the poor could come and glean it. And he had been poor, and it would mean a lot to see that, seeing maybe for the first time that his father was the greatest possession he had: the gift of his father's love, and how eager he was to live out that same lifestyle and legacy.
     
    This is what God offers us today, that we too can collapse into the loving arms of a Heavenly Father, confessing our weaknesses, knowing that we are forgiven, hearing words of love, and hearing our Father say to us: I'm so glad you came back home. Now you can have the joy I intended you to have. Now we can work together to make the world a place of justice and mercy.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2016, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Luke 15:1-3, 11-32, Prodigal Son
  • Feb 28, 2016Little Losses
    Feb 28, 2016
    Little Losses
    Series: (All)
    February 28, 2016. Pastor Penny preaches on Luke 13:1-9, which includes the parable of the fig tree. She says God does not want us to suffer little losses. The cross is not a symbol of punishment, but of God's abundant love, forgiveness, and mercy.
  • Feb 21, 2016Under the Wings of Jesus
    Feb 21, 2016
    Under the Wings of Jesus
    Series: (All)
    February 21, 2016. In Luke 13:31-35 Jesus compares himself to a hen gathering chicks under its wings. Pastor Keith preaches that the reality of Jesus' resurrection keeps hope alive for us when divisions or circumstances seem too hard to solve, and to sustain that hope we come together, like chicks gathered under the wings of Jesus.
  • Feb 14, 2016Temptation
    Feb 14, 2016
    Temptation
    Series: (All)
    February 14, 2016. Pastor Penny's message is about temptation, from Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by the devil in Luke 4:1-13, to how we are sometimes tempted to forget our identity as Christians.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    A mother was listening to her four-year-old recite the Lord's Prayer and she said, "and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us some email." That's how she heard it. And there was a bumper sticker that said, "and lead us not into temptation, because we'll find it for ourselves." And that unfortunately is too true, isn't it? Temptation is the topic of the gospel story today. And I think when we think of temptations, we think of being tempted to have that second piece of cake or another glass of wine, or maybe watch one more TV show or play one more video game, even though we know we have other things to do. But as we hear about Jesus' temptations, we begin to see that there's something much deeper than a piece of cake involved in temptation. And I think that this story of Jesus' temptation is kind of like an onion. We have to sort of peel away the layers to get to the real message, which I believe God has for us today.
     
    The first layer to peel off is what do we do with the devil? Okay, with Satan. I mean the whole story was like a dream, wasn't it? In an instant, Satan showed him all the kingdoms of the world. And so we have to think, who is this Satan? Was it a real person? Was Jesus dreaming this? Was this a way that he personified evil, to explain to his followers this time of testing that he went through? And you know, that makes sense in a lot of ways, because evil sometimes just seems to have a life of its own. We think of all the horrible things that have happened through history when mobs get violent. But it doesn't even take a mob. If you've been at a meeting or at a party, you can see that one or two people can change everything. They can get people turned against someone, criticizing them. And you might walk away from that meeting and think, why did I vote the way I did? I didn't really think that. Or walk away from the party and think, why did I laugh at that? I don't really believe that. So often, evil just seems to have a life of its own. And I think that's often why we personify it and we call it Satan or the devil. Maybe that's what Jesus was doing.
     
    But the most important thing to know about Jesus' temptations is to know what happened just before he was tempted. He was baptized. He was baptized, and the Spirit came into him and he heard the voice of the Father saying, you are my Son whom I really love and am really pleased with. And then that same Spirit led him to the wilderness, where for 40 days he was tempted by Satan. And he didn't eat in those 40 days, so at the end he was very hungry. And that's when I think we're most vulnerable, isn't it, when we are empty -- whether it's physically or spiritually -- when we are empty and hungry for something. So that's when the devil comes and says well then, just change this stone into bread. But you know, I think throughout the wilderness tempting, and in this temptation as well, Jesus must have heard the sound of his Father's voice reverberating in his mind and in his heart: but you are my Son. And so he detected that this wasn't the plan that God had for him and that God, who would take care of his beloved Son, would certainly feed him at the right time. And he said no, I won't do it. And he quoted scripture. And he refused to give in. It seemed as though it was a matter of being tempted by food.
     
    The second temptation, the devil takes them to see all the kingdoms of the world and says: these are mine. Just worship me and all the authority and glory will belong to you. But again, Jesus had the words of the Father in his head: you are my Son. In you I am well pleased. He knew that God would provide for him, and that at the right time and in the right place he would receive the glory and the authority that he deserved. So he quoted scripture and said no, I won't do it. And it seemed as though it was a matter of being tempted by glory or power.
     
    Finally, the third time the devil gets smart and starts quoting scripture to Jesus, figuring that's the way to do it. He says, why don't you (they're on top of the temple) just jump off of this, because right here in the Psalms it says the angels will catch you and you will be protected. But Jesus knew who he was. He did not need this kind of testing of the Father. He knew the Father would care for him and protect him in the way that was best. And so he said no, quoted scripture, and refused. And there it seemed as though it was a matter of safety that he was being tempted.
     
    Bread, power, safety... are those really what Jesus was being tempted to do, to give things up for those? Or was it something deeper? Because underlying all of these temptations, and all of the temptations that we feel, is the temptation to forget who we are, the temptation not to remember whose we are, because we heard the same voice in a way when we were baptized: you are sealed by the Holy Spirit and blessed with the cross of Christ forever. You are a child of God. These were the promises given to us. And in every temptation we face -- it may be a temptation about power, it may be a temptation about another piece of cake -- but underneath it all is the temptation to forget our own identity as sons and daughters of God. And we're being pressured so much to forget. Advertisers are always telling us what we lack, what we need, we're not prestigious enough or glamorous enough, or healthy enough. And so we should buy the car, the hair product, the medicine to save us, because we're not enough. Or the politicians are always telling us what's wrong with the country, so that we will vote for them and they will be our saviors and change everything. So often the way to undermine our identities is through fear.
     
    I was talking to a pastor who long ago had a call to a very wealthy section of Detroit, and when he came to his first meeting of the council (and this is Missouri Synod so they were all men) he said they sat around the first meeting and they were worried. They were fearful that they wouldn't be able to keep the lights on in the building. And how could they do this? And they were analyzing the budget very thoroughly. Well, this seemed to happen every time they met. So, three months into the call he got up in the pulpit and he -- and his wife was sitting there, and she said I was sinking down when he started talking -- and he said you know, if you want to keep the lights on in this building you just have to tithe. He said we sit at meetings and you talk about nickels and dimes how to keep this $250,000 building going, and you go home to your $400,000 homes. He said just tithe. Well of course there was a meeting right after that, and they said: you can't say that! You can't preach that! And he said yes I can, I'm called by God. That's the truth. Well, eight of the ten leaders of the congregation resigned and threatened to leave. Six of them came back. And with the remaining leaders and families, they were able to build a half million dollar addition to the church within five years -- and then there was another addition after that. It was simply a matter that they forgot who they were. They thought of themselves as business people, trying to keep all the dollars and cents in a row. They forgot that they were chosen people, that they were loved, protected, and that God had died for them. Because that of course is why Jesus was tempted to begin with: because Jesus, who was God, was willing to come and be a person and suffer temptation and be tortured and be killed, so that we would know beyond a doubt how much God loves us, so that we would know that God understands what we're going through and is with us. And Jesus was raised from the dead on Easter so that we would know beyond a doubt that God has the final word, that God's word is stronger than evil, stronger than fear, stronger even than death.
     
    Now, I know that our temptations are a lot more complicated than a piece of cake or a video game, that many of us struggle with balancing work and family and hobbies and health and commitment to the church. And I know that as citizens we struggle to balance giving people jobs and taking care of the environment, caring for the needy, keeping our country safe. But in all of this, in all of this, we need to remember who we are, that our identity does not depend on what we have or what we do, or the decisions we make, or even that we fall on our face and fall into temptation. But finally, our identity rests completely on the fact that we are loved, that we are protected, that we are chosen by God, and that we live in the promise that one day we will live out our identity perfectly as daughters and sons of God.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2016, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Luke 4:1-13, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
  • Feb 7, 2016Transfiguration
    Feb 7, 2016
    Transfiguration
    Series: (All)
    February 7, 2016. Pastor Penny talks about Luke 9:28-43a, in which Jesus takes Peter, John, and James up to a mountain to pray and is transfigured, and suggests that rather than remaining mired in a tyranny of selfishness, we can disregard our temptations and allow ourselves to get swept up into caring for others.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    I think we might understand the gospel a little more this morning, a little in a deeper way, if we imagine for a moment what Peter for instance might have been thinking about after these two days of events that we heard about:
     
    These last two days were some of the best and worst of my life. They started so well. Jesus invited me, and James and John, to go up to the mountain while he was praying. And so we followed him up the mountain. And he sat down under a tree and closed his eyes and began praying. And we sat down under another tree and closed our eyes and started to feel sleepy. But something jolted me awake. All of a sudden my eyes were drawn to Jesus, and it was as if light was coming out of the pores of his face. He just glowed. And his clothes glowed. And not only that, but sitting next to him were two people from ancient days. And I don't know how I recognized them, but I knew it was Moses and Elijah. And there they were, talking to him about what he would do in Jerusalem.
     
    It wasn't just that everything glowed. It was that it was a feeling. I was filled with a sense of peace, a sense of joy and anticipation, and I didn't want to lose that moment. So I blundered something and blabbered about, "Well, let me build some shelter for the three of you." And I hadn't even finished my offer when suddenly everything went dark. There was a cloud covering all of us. And I heard a voice -- and it could only have been the voice of God. It was more gentle than I thought it would be, but it was very firm. It said, "This is my son, the Chosen One; listen to him!" Listen to him. Those words kept echoing and suddenly the cloud was gone. The glow was gone. The feeling was gone. The light was gone. And it was just Jesus and the three of us.
     
    But you can imagine that the next day, as we came down from that mountain, I was thinking through that experience again and again. What did God mean, "Listen to him?" What an amazing time that had been. But we got down to the foot of the mountain and everything changed. There was this big crowd of people, and a young man threw himself on the ground, screaming and foaming at the mouth. And his father rushed up to Jesus and fell down on his knees and begged Jesus to take the demon out of his son. And he said I asked, I begged your disciples to do it, but they couldn't. And then the worst thing happened. Jesus got angry. He looked at all of us and he said, "You faithless and perverse generation. How much longer must I live here and remain with you?" And then he healed the young man. You can see why it was the best and the worst of days for me, from the heights to the depths. And I was left with two questions. First of all, what was I supposed to listen to? And secondly, why did Jesus get so angry?
     
    Well, I think both of those questions -- if Peter would have had them, and if we do happen to have them after hearing the gospel -- both of them can be partly answered by the words that come before the story of the Transfiguration. We heard some of those words in the gospel. Before this all happened, Jesus made his first prediction: that he would die. And he would say that to the disciples two more times. And every time, they did not want to hear it. They did not hear it. They blocked it out or they couldn't hear it, we don't know. But they could not understand. And he followed up this first prediction with these difficult words to hear for all of us. He said: if you want to follow me, you have to pick up your cross and deny yourself. If you want to find your life, you have to lose it. Well no wonder God had to say, "Listen." These are not words any of us want to hear. And that's why Jesus was so angry: because people didn't understand. Even the disciples were going to be fighting over who was the greatest in just a few moments after this Transfiguration account. Deny yourselves? We don't want to hear those words. That is not the way we like to operate. We might deny other people of things they need in order to get what we need, but we're not inclined to deny ourselves.
     
    We certainly see that with the political campaigns. Everyone wants the candidate who will give them what they want, and not really thinking about the country. And they often demonize people who don't agree with them. We see that in the way we protect our belongings, our possessions. "Not in my back yard," right? There might be a great program suggested for the city or for the state or the country. But if it affects my savings, if it diminishes my property value? Not in my backyard. We don't want to hear those words, and they are very hard for us to understand. And yet that is exactly why Jesus came: to free us from this tyranny of our selfishness. He denied himself. He gave up his life. He was raised from the dead so that he would not only show us how to be different, but empower us to be different.
     
    There is another way to translate the word "deny." There's another word that we can use, and that word is "disregard." And maybe that helps us to understand a little more what Jesus is saying here. Because I think we know how to disregard ourselves at times. You might be involved in a game and you're so into it that you don't realize you haven't eaten for hours. If you are only hungry when you've finished with the game, you've been able to disregard your appetite all that time because you got swept up in something bigger. Or maybe you feel aches and pains as you walk into the movie theater, or as you plop down in front of the TV, but once you get involved in that story you forget, you disregard your aches and pains. Or maybe there's a new adventure that you're starting on and you're a little scared about it. But in the excitement of it, you begin to forget your fear. We know how to disregard our feelings, our fears, our hunger, our pain when we get swept up into something bigger than us. And that is exactly what Jesus is telling us here. He's not saying deny yourself of everything. He is saying: let me help you get swept up in caring for others, to the point where you disregard your pain or your time or your feelings or your money.
     
    Sometimes we see people do this with broad strokes. We had a speaker here from the Concordance Academy of couple months ago. Maybe you read about Danny Ludeman. He was an executive for Wells Fargo, and he has just founded a ten million dollar agency to help ex-offenders return to society and have good lives and not return to crime. This came out of something with Lutheran roots called Project COPE. And when I listened to this interview with Danny, the interviewer said, "How did you get involved in this cause, to put your time and your money into this? Did you have relatives who spent some time in prison? Or why did you care about this cause?" And he said it started with a letter that the person from Project COPE wrote me, and I started looking at the statistics and I was amazed at the size of this problem. But he said that's not really why I got involved. I got involved because I started talking to the population, talking to ex-offenders, talking to their mothers and fathers and their children. And he said, I was overwhelmed with how many barriers society throws in front of these people that prevent them from leading good lives again. He said, I just had this compassion for this group of people and I had to do something.
     
    We don't have to start a million dollar organization to be swept up with compassion or get involved in the needs of others. I know so many of you are already involved. And we get involved in small ways daily. Maybe we disregard our fatigue at the end of a day when a friend calls with a problem, and we're on the phone for a couple hours. And we do it because we're involved in that life. We disregard ourselves. Or maybe you might resist the temptation to take the last two loaves of your favorite bread from the bakery shelf. And you might think well, maybe somebody else likes it as much as I do, and you leave that last loaf. Or maybe you drive past the parking place that is closest to the store, thinking someone else needs it more.
     
    Follow me, Jesus says, let me get you swept up into the needs of others, the concerns of others, so that you lose yourself. You lose your life, but you find a rich, rewarding, fulfilling life full of joy doing my work. So we have to imagine, what is it? Who is it that have needs that our compassion can ease? What are those causes out there that God is putting in front of us, that we might throw ourselves into, get swept up in? Well clearly, this goes against our human nature and we can't do this on our own. So Jesus has given us gifts. He has given us his word. He's given us his holy meal. He's given us baptism. He's given us his spirit and he's given us each other. And that is what we find when we come on Sunday morning. We find his word, his holy meal, his spirit, and one another.
     
    I read about a young couple who, when they couldn't both go to church because maybe one of their children was sick, they would each take a mental audit of the week that had gone before for them, and the week ahead, to decide who needed to go to church more. And they said it very simply. They said this: They said for us, worship is what makes sense of our lives. It is that pickup that we need. It's that connection with God that allows us to go out into our world the next week. Follow me, Jesus says. And it's not easy and we will never do it perfectly, not this side of heaven. This earth will not be perfect until Jesus returns. But as we follow, we do it having the joy of knowing that we are living for others and living for the Savior who loves us enough to die for us. And that is true living.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2016, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Luke 9:28-43a
  • Jan 31, 2016God Sightings
    Jan 31, 2016
    God Sightings
    Series: (All)
    January 31, 2016. Pastor Keith discusses the text of Luke 4:22-30, in which Jesus is rejected by his own hometown, and relates it to unpleasant truths we face if we don't remember that Jesus is there for us and we instead focus only our ourselves.
  • Jan 24, 2016Proclaiming the Era of God’s Welcome
    Jan 24, 2016
    Proclaiming the Era of God’s Welcome
    Series: (All)
    January 24, 2016. Pastor Penny preaches on Luke 4:18-21, in which Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord's favor, and tells us about how the spirit can open our eyes to the needs of others and proclaim the era of God's welcome.
  • Jan 17, 2016Sharing the Abundance
    Jan 17, 2016
    Sharing the Abundance
    Series: (All)
    January 17, 2016. Guest pastor Tom Schoenherr preaches on the story of the wedding at Cana from the Gospel of John, in which Jesus turns water into wine when the wine gives out. We too can share God's abundance with others when health, faith, or trust in God give out.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
     
    Weddings. Weddings are places where the hopes and dreams of many people come together. Weddings are also events where things can go wrong. I presided at a wedding where the bride chose to be late because that's what she normally did. The rings didn't show up. The candles didn't get lit. At this particular wedding at Cana, we are told the wine gave out. In the Greek, that word is lack. So it was lacking. It was finished. There wasn't any more wine. And in that particular time, the wedding reception would last about seven days. So if they're in about the third day, they have a long way to go. And I always struggle with this text. It doesn't mean that everybody should get drunk at weddings, please, nor the bar be open forever. The bar was closed. It was an embarrassment to the family, and I'm sure to the couple. They may not have had very much of their own. So Jesus does something special there. But the wine gave out. It wasn't a life-threatening thing that happened, but Jesus did it for what I said before: the purpose of showing us what abundance God's grace is.
     
    I know at our wedding patience gave out. The patience of our fathers in particular. The guys in the wedding party thought it would be fun to take my wife and kidnap her. And so they drove away with her, leaving me at the reception alone. An hour later when they showed up, having gotten lost, my father and Barb's father were there meeting them at the door. It was not a pleasant experience. Those guys in the wedding party still apologize every time they see us. So patience can give out. All kinds of things give out in our lives: health, friends and family who are no longer with us. There can be, as we are also focused upon Martin Luther King, Jr. this weekend, a giving out of a desire to live together as different races and cultures, in harmony and peace. We can even reach that point, where as we see these things giving out in our lives, whatever they may be -- health being one of them -- that we may get the feeling of helplessness. We want to fix it. We want to make things better. We want to work hard in order to make everything turn out right. And that helplessness can lead to panic at times.
     
    Finally, the thing that is giving out for us is the giving out of our faith and trust in God. We wonder where is God? Like in the Isaiah text, has God really abandoned us? Does he no longer understand that all kinds of things are giving out in our lives? And where is God? Why isn't God showing up? There's a feeling, even among those presidential hopefuls that are traveling around the country these days, that there is the scarcity. There's all kinds of things giving out, like money, like security, like jobs. And so as we look at our society today, we're thinking wow, everything is giving out. What are we going to do?
     
    Mary comes to Jesus and says they have no wine. She is aware that that has given out as well, and she believes that Jesus is the one who can help. But as long as we continue to focus upon that which is giving out and our own ability to make it better and fix it, then we can cut ourselves off from that grace of God that we need so desperately. And we are left with no wine. And only in our fear. And fear seems to be a great commodity these days, fear and suspicion. We see it everywhere we look. Jesus doesn't give up on the people at Cana, and he doesn't abandon us as well, in our deeper need. For in response to his mother's saying they have no wine, Jesus says, "My hour has not yet come." But when Jesus' hour does come, then Jesus' life will be given out. Poured out for you and me, that we may have life abundantly, that we may know the promise of a God who comes to enter into the very real problems of our lives where things keep running out, giving out. It is in that Lord Jesus Christ that we have the abundance of God's grace, grace upon grace that gives us new life and hope. That grace never runs out, never gives out. It continues to flow and be abundant in our lives always.
     
    And again, Jesus invites us to the table again today, where he is the host. And he is the one who stands with us in the midst of our pains and our struggles, our fears, our suspicions, in order that he might take them all on himself and return to us the abundance of his love, the abundance of his forgiveness and healing. In Jesus Christ, there is hope for us. Everything doesn't have to, as it all is eventually running out. We know that in Jesus Christ there is a new age, a new one who holds onto us that we can hold onto in our time of struggle and need. And he also fills us with that promise and that spirit, in sending us out to be the people of God in the world, to share that abundance of love and life and joy with everyone.
     
    And I wonder what could it be this week that you might do that would show the abundance of God's grace? Students going to Guatemala, certainly a way in which that grace of God, that love of God is shown to people as we sit and listen with them. But what does it take? What could we do? You might think about that. It could be a smile. There are lots of people walking around with frowns these days, but that smile might be a way to connect with someone about the grace of God. To sit and listen to someone, and just give your time. To be patient with someone. God's abundance of grace and love counters the abundance of fear, and of the giving out of everything that seems to be so dear to us in our lives. I wonder if Jesus had a dream that day. A dream that there would be that time when all of God's people would be drawn together to live in harmony. A dream that there would be enough for everyone so that all people could thrive and survive. A dream that all races and cultures might be able to live together in peace.
     
    We have been gifted with the abundance of God's grace and love, and we are sent in order that we might be that presence of God, that presence of joy, that presence of abundance of God's grace for all of God's people. May we be filled with that spirit of new life and hope for all the world. In Jesus' name, amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2016, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Tom Schoenherr, John 2:1-11, Wedding at Cana
  • Jan 10, 2016Baptism By Fire
    Jan 10, 2016
    Baptism By Fire
    Series: (All)
    January 10, 2016. What are our hopes for the future? In Jesus' day people were depending on a messiah for a better future, and John the Baptist told them that a messiah would come, baptizing not with water but with the Holy Spirit and with fire. But we don't usually associate Jesus with fire. Pastor Penny asks us to consider today thinking of Jesus as a judge. After all, Jesus has high expectations for us.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    A retired man liked to go to nursing homes and hospitals to do volunteer work. He went to a local hospital, and went from room to room telling what he thought were funny jokes and singing some songs, and he always had the habit, when he left a patient's room, of saying, "I hope you get better." And as he left one man's room he said, "Yeah, I hope you get better too." What are our hopes for the future? Will we get better? Or maybe I'm asking what do we depend on to assure us that the year ahead will be as good or better than the year behind us? If we're thinking about our work or our school, maybe we're depending on our hard work, our accomplishments in the past. If we're thinking about our social success, we might be depending on our own social graces, our ability to talk to anyone, our wit, or our even nature. If we're thinking about our financial future, maybe we're depending on our advisors, our retirement, our investments. If we're depending on our health in the future, maybe we're depending on our doctors, or on medical science to find a drug that maybe works better for our condition than the one we have.
     
    In Jesus' day people were depending on a messiah for a better future. They were hoping that God would send somebody that would get them out of the mess that Israel was in. They were an occupied country. They were always in jeopardy of being crushed by Rome, and finally they were. So through the hundreds of years that they had waited for a messiah, they were really waiting in Jesus' day. And when John the Baptist came on the scene, he was very charismatic. He had these fiery sermons. He invited the people to come for baptism, which wasn't our baptism, like an initiation. It was a baptism of renewal, of their commitment to God. When he invited them to come forward, they came in droves, hoping that maybe this man was the messiah. But John told them no, you need to hope for someone else. There is someone you can hope for. He's coming after me. He's stronger than I am. And he baptizes not with water, but with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
     
    Now we know of course he was referring to Jesus, and that kind of works with what we understand of Jesus. Especially the Holy Spirit part. We know that he was filled with the Holy Spirit. We know the Holy Spirit was part of his coming into the world, as the angel told Mary it would be. But what about fire? We don't usually associate Jesus with fire. Fire is a fierce, frightening force in the world. We talk about a "baptism by fire." And that expression began as a reference to a soldier's first battle. That was his baptism by fire. Now, we have used that expression to mean any time that we try to undergo something for the first time, and just find it quite overwhelming. We may learn a lot, but it's very difficult. It's our baptism by fire. Fire doesn't seem to go with Jesus. And then John the Baptist has another image of Jesus. It is the farmer standing with a winnowing fork. And that's kind of a scary picture as John describes it, because a winnowing fork was what a farmer used to separate the life-filled seed of the grain from the chaff that was empty. But what John is suggesting is that this person to come is both a judge and one who punishes. Do we think of Jesus as a judge? And as one who punishes?
     
    I think we can all think of times when Jesus judged people. He judged the Jewish rulers a lot because they were often hypocritical. He called them: you whited sepulchers, you whitewashed tombs. You look so good on the outside, and inside you're full of selfishness and evil. He turned the tables over in the temple, because the money changers were abusing the purpose of the temple. He did judge -- but he never punished. In fact, the only punishment in Jesus' life was the punishment he took upon himself when he was dying on the cross. And that was punishment, that was the result not of his evil, but of the evil of others. He died that horrible death partly because of the cruelty of the Roman Empire that used that form of execution. He was hanging there because of the cowardice of Pontius Pilate, who couldn't stand up to the Jewish leaders. He was there at the fault and in judgment of those Jewish leaders who, because of their blindness and because of their intense selfishness, wanted Jesus dead. And he was there in some mysterious, miraculous way, as a result of our selfishness, of the walls of selfishness that we build around ourselves. He was there on the cross to smash that wall down, so that God could come into our lives.
     
    So this was the picture that John the Baptist gave of the one to come. And of course Jesus did come. But when he first arrived on the scene with John the Baptist, it looked like he was just an ordinary person. He was lined up with the rest of them to be baptized. But when he was baptized something extraordinary happened. While he was still praying, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit came down -- we're told in bodily form, like a dove -- on him. And he heard a voice, "You are my Son, the Beloved. In you I am well pleased." The Father was well pleased with Jesus, even though Jesus hadn't even started his ministry yet. The Father was pleased with Jesus not for what he had done, but for the relationship they had. Because Jesus was his son, because they were flesh-and-blood together, because Jesus was a part of the Father. And the Father had great expectations for Jesus.
     
    Well, the gospel writer tells us all about Jesus' baptism -- not just because we need to to know the story of Jesus, which is important -- but because Jesus' baptism has something to do with our lives. Because the same words that the Father spoke to Jesus at his baptism are what this ritual, this rite, this sacrament conveys to us in our baptisms. In our baptisms God is saying, "You are my son. You are my daughter. I love you, and I'm really pleased with you." Pleased with us, not of course because we could have done anything. Most of us were baptized as infants, as we talked about with the children. Pleased because of the relationship that God has established with us, because we are God's children, because we are in a sense flesh and blood with God. We are a part of God. And God has high expectations for us.
     
    You know, we might not know when we were baptized. We might not remember it or even know the date, but what's important is that we know that our baptisms have something to do with life everyday. I was talking to a woman who was reflecting on her life, an older woman, an African-American woman, and I knew that she had worked as a sales clerk in a big department store for many years. But what I didn't know was how she got into that job. She originally came applying to be an elevator operator, only to be told that black people could not do that. So she was offered the job of being a matron, which is someone who cleans up the dressing rooms. But because of her hard work and her skill, she was soon the head matron. And then I don't know how many years it was, but she finally was allowed to be a sales clerk. Now, she told me this without any sense of bitterness, even though she knew how unfair and how racist this whole situation had been. Even though she's felt that, I'm sure many times in her life, I sensed no bitterness. She did not let what others thought of her tell her who she was. She did not let other people's ideas, or white culture's ideas, tell who she was. She knows her identity. She is a child of God. She is valued. She is precious. She is loved. And that has gotten her through day after day of mourning and of illness.
     
    Jesus has high expectations for us. And we know that there are people around us who are not looking forward to the new year with much hope. Maybe it's because they don't know who they are. Maybe it's because they take their identities from what people tell them they are. Maybe they are still dealing with voices from their past that haunt them and continue to form them. Maybe they base their identities on whether they succeed or fail. Jesus asks us to carry out his mission, to reach out to these people who are our friends, our relatives, our coworkers, our teammates, and show them by our life -- by how we treat them -- that they too are valuable. They are precious. They too are sons and daughters of God. And when Jesus asks us to do that, how can we say no? After all, we are God's children. It's our identity to carry on Jesus' mission. It is who we are.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2016, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
  • Jan 3, 2016New Beginnings
    Jan 3, 2016
    New Beginnings
    Series: (All)
    January 3, 2016. A new year is a time for new beginnings. We make resolutions -- to have better behavior, to lead a healthier lifestyle. It's a time to start over. Pastor Keith preaches on how Jesus coming into the world was a new beginning too, and how this is relevant to our world today. We may not be optimistic in the new year, given the terrorist attacks, refugee crisis, racial violence, floods, and other struggles we've faced in the past year. But we're reminded again of God's love for us, and how his word is stronger.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We continue to talk about our reading from John in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    Well, this week a typical greeting has been "Happy New Year." It's the proper thing to say this week as we've turned the calendar page and started a new year. We've drawn the previous year to a close and now we start dating things with a new number -- that time when you have to remember not to write 2015 anymore, but to start to write 2016 when you date something, the time for new beginnings. Not just for pages in account books, but as we consider the difference that the new year will make for us, we're more likely to think perhaps of better behaviors we could have for our own care. We figure out ways to maybe lead a more healthy lifestyle in the new year. We want to get started on the right track, and so we resolve that we're going to do this, and call those resolutions -- things that we're going to do differently in the new year, because it's a new beginning, a new time to start over.
     
    In our gospel today, the first verses of John we've heard are about new beginnings also. We hear John write, "In the beginning was the Word." And as we hear that, we remember that we've heard some words like that before. If we go back to the very first page of the Bible it says, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." So, John seems to be making a bold statement here, quoting from the ancient scriptures to start writing his gospel. But it's no accident. He's being bold, because the occasion calls for it. He's quoting Genesis as he talks about the beginning of the ministry in the life of Jesus, because this is a new beginning for the world. History is starting over here. Humanity is starting over here. This is a new beginning of God's involvement in the creation. John doesn't just want to tell us this. He wants us to have a deeper knowledge, a feeling for what it means to have a whole new beginning to the world. It's a new promise, a new living promise from God for a new beginning of human history. And so, just as the whole physical being of the world came at the first word of God, when God spoke and the world was created, now a re-creation for the world and for humanity comes in the person of Jesus. This is the new word of God.
     
    Bible scholars have noticed for a while now how the first part of the book of John is structured as seven different signs. The first sign you know is when Jesus turned the water into wine at Cana in Galilee. And the last sign, the seventh one, is when he raises Lazarus from the dead, who was the brother of Mary and Martha. That last sign though so angered the priests and the authorities of his day that they start to plot to kill him from that point. And they do. But Jesus rises from the dead, and that's the eighth sign. It's a sign of a brand new beginning. Jews typically thought of things coming in groups of seven. Seven was a complete kind of number. There were seven days in the week, capped by the Sabbath day. So, a week was complete after the seventh day. Now Jesus was raised on the eighth day, which meant that John is telling us that this is the first day of the week, and it's a brand new beginning. It's a sign that his resurrection is on par with the creation of the world. This is a new creation happening. There was a creation and the world came to be. Now, there's a creation of the new world because Jesus has not only come and died, but he's also risen for all of us. This is indeed new life for the world.
     
    And in John's writing, the place of creation is the same as well. I don't think it's just any accident. We usually think of the Garden of Eden as the place where things were beginning, and where creation happened as humanity came into the world. But where was Jesus raised from the dead, where did Jesus talk with the women, where did the disciples go to see the empty tomb? It was in a garden. This likely again is by intention. John wants us to know Jesus is the beginning of the new creation of the world. So we have these meaningful signs of a new creation, and we're at the beginning of a new year, but we may not be all that optimistic, even though it talks here about new beginnings. After the difficulty we've had the past year or so with troubles, with terrorist attacks, and hearing the plight of refugees, and unparalleled gun violence, and racial injustice, and major floods now in our area to end the year, we're ready for a new year and a new beginning.
     
    But here we are on the 3rd of January already, and we wonder how will it go? Will it be so new or will it just be more of the same? Our resolutions may be intact so far, but after three days into the year, we know that almost always it's just a matter of time until we break them. We know we don't let the resurrection and the new beginning of Jesus influence us all the time. So where are we at then, in these beginning days of 2016? Does John have relevancy for us? Or is what he says just some sort of a mystical hope that comes from his sometimes-sounding, kind of "otherworldly" dreams? And is John just kind of giving what's more dream talk that really doesn't hit us where we are?
     
    Well, we take two things in particular from John to remind us that the word still has bearing for us. For one thing, the fact that it is the word that comes to us is a good thing. The word is the essence of God. The powerful word that created the world is incarnated in Jesus. Jesus is that very power of God in the world. Jesus is also the language of God. We communicate through words. And so Jesus is there, in with our communications. We use words to talk, and they convey meanings between us. We have Jesus, who allows us to know the meaning of God. Because we have words, we can talk with people. We can have meaningful discussions. We can work on things together. When God wanted to thwart human beings, when they were about to build the tower so high that God was not pleased, the way God stopped them was to stop letting people understand one another, and he messed up their languages so that they couldn't understand one another anymore and allow them to communicate. Now in Jesus is the correction for that. Jesus is the Word. Jesus shows us that God is still communicating with us. A couple of years ago, you likely noticed that many of the UCC churches had banners in front of their churches saying "God is still speaking," comma, then an ellipse. It ended in that way to show that indeed God, the word of God, is ongoing. We need to remember that in Jesus, God is still speaking to us. He has shown us a way to change the world. The signs Jesus did when he was on earth were about healing, restoring life, and bringing goodness and wholeness to life. Jesus is still about that as we are his people in the world. God is still speaking, as we let God speak through us and bring healing and life and goodness to the world around us.
     
    The second way that connection is made between God and these words to bring hope and goodness to our world in our times is to remember that word from the lesson that "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." God didn't just beam out some radio signals, hoping that we would have the right kind of radio to know that he loves us. God sent his son in the flesh to say: I love you. Jesus was saying that in his ministry, but it wasn't always received very well. As we said before, the greater response to him was to be rid of him and to try to silence him permanently. And they did that with all their might, and they killed him. In doing that, he received the brunt of our human sinful tendency to want to go on our own way. Our sin rejected Jesus and put him on a cross, even as he was trying to bring life to us. But he was God's word in the flesh on the cross. In the flesh he died, and he died for us. He was God's communication to us of the depth and extent of God's love for us. He was the new word of God to us. He showed us that there's nothing that God wouldn't do, no place God wouldn't go, no suffering God wouldn't endure, to make the point of God's deep love for us. It was God's word in the flesh that showed the extent of God's thorough love for us. He wants there to be no doubt that we are God's beloved children, worthy of honor and love.
     
    We need to know this good, saving, loving word of God. But sometimes words come in one ear and go out the other, so we need more than words. We need a sign for it also, so we can be reminded of it again and again and again, when we forget and go our own way, that God's love is so deep for us. So as this morning we receive Leah Elise in baptism, in her baptism we are reminded of the baptism of each one of us. That's the sign that God became flesh, comes to us through the waters of new creation, to make us part of his new creation as well. Baptism is that sign, and it's a way to remember that God indeed has loved us so much. We think back to that sign: "I was baptized. That's true for me." Just as we witness it for Leah today, it's a reminder too for all of us that God in the flesh has come to love me that much.
     
    Water seems to have always been key to God. In the beginning, water and earth had to be separated. When the world went bad, God used water to destroy it with the great flood. When God chose the take it back then, he had Noah in the ark with his family to be the ones to start creation and humanity over again. Our fonts now have eight sides normally, to remember the number of people in Noah's family, to remember how God's water recreates the world and brings a new world to us. God's word is stronger than any floodwaters. It can can even hold back the Red Sea when necessary, as Moses found out. God is stronger than all things in creation, and uses those things in creation like water as a sign of life, not a thing of destruction.
     
    It's that power of God that's shown in the first creation, and in the second creation with Jesus, that's with us by virtue of baptism. That's why we can have hope, even when it seems like the new year is daunting. That's why we can have faith, when a little one is born into it. The one who created the world will continue to create and give new life. All the baptized have been sealed with the mark of baptism, according to John, to receive the inheritance from God. He claims Leah and all of us who are baptized, to be receivers of this inheritance of goodness and grace, and then to be speakers and assurers of this word, as we are the bearers of this hope to the people around us in the world.
     
    God's word became flesh in Jesus, but God's word becomes flesh in us also. As we act on his behalf, doing the kind of good that Jesus did on earth, God is showing that God isn't ephemeral, out there, distant somewhere. But God is in the world, bringing about the new creation. And the God who created the world in the beginning has created again in Jesus, and God continues to create in our time. We have that hope as we encounter challenges. And the promised now have an enduring relationship that God has made by the sign of baptism for all of us. Amen.
     
    Now, may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2016, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Keith Holste, John 1:1-18