Feb 12, 2012
The Value of Traditions
Series: (All)
February 12, 2012. Our values and traditions can be a good thing, but they can also take on a life of their own and become destructive. Pastor Penny preaches today that it's important that we hear what Jesus is saying about values and tradition, to trust in him and listen to the word of God with open hearts.
 
*** Transcript ***
 
We begin this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 
The story of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" begins as the sorcerer, or the wizard, is finishing his day in the workshop and going home, and leaving his apprentice to clean up. But his apprentice does not like to clean up. Especially he does not like fetching the water from the well outside and bringing it into this big cistern in the workshop. The apprentice doesn't really know magic, but he's watched the wizard, and so he gets this idea that if he takes a broom, maybe he can cast a spell on it. And he does, and it works: the broom grows arms and legs and feet and hands, and he teaches the broom to fetch water. So the apprentice sits back, gleefully watching this broom doing all his work, going back and forth, bucket after bucket of water. But then he begins to realize something: the water is getting close to the top of the cistern and the broom is still gathering water. And he doesn't know enough magic to make it stop. Well, he just watches as it starts overflowing. And finally in desperation he grabs an axe and he chops the broom in half, only to discover that each half then grows arms and legs and begins to fetch water. Well, catastrophe is averted when the wizard, or the sorcerer, unexpectedly comes back and breaks the spell. But the broom, which was a useful tool and meant for good use, took on a life of its own and became a real danger.
 
In the gospel today, Jesus is saying that is exactly what can happen with tradition or rules or values. They are a good thing, but they can take on a life of their own and become destructive, even weapons. The laws of the Jews were something that were given to them as a gift. They were chosen to be the people of God and given the Ten Commandments. And they tried hard to obey them, because they wanted to stay connected with God. It was their response to God's love. It was a pleasure for them to strive to obey the Commandments. But of course, the Ten Commandments are pretty broad. And they need to be applied to daily life. So for that they looked to the leaders who came up with other laws, which they call the Oral Laws or the Tradition of the Elders. These were laws that would help them apply the Ten Commandments. But this is where the laws began to have a life of their own. And I think what happened is that the religious leaders began to lose their trust in God. They began to fear that if they didn't keep all of the laws perfectly, that God would turn God's back on them and let their nation be destroyed.
 
And by the time of Jesus there were six hundred and thirteen of these little laws, which the religious leaders taught the people they must keep perfectly. Now, the religious leaders were of the middle class and upper classes, and they had some leisure and they had some money. But the common people, called the people of the land disdainfully by the leaders, couldn't keep all of these. And so the leaders taught them that by failing to keep these, the Tradition of the Elders, they were failing God. They were unholy, they were unclean, and most heartbreakingly that there was no place for them in the Kingdom of God.
 
Jesus said to the Pharisees, you have rules that are human rules and you've elevated them above God's rules, and they go in opposition to the very heart of what God wants. Now these things happened over years, and they happen subtly, these changes in how they thought about the law. But I don't think we have to look very far back in the history of the Christian church to see how easily that happens. It wasn't even 200 years ago when many Christians believed that slavery was accepted by God. Paul had written that slaves should be diligent workers for their masters. And Jesus had never said anything about slavery being bad, so they assumed that slavery was acceptable. And for years the church taught that, until finally they woke up to see what a horrible and wicked thing slavery was, and how it was tearing apart our black brothers and sisters.
 
Well, there's another issue that people take sides on in the church today. And that is whether women should be pastors -- women's ordination. And I really understand why the tradition that only men should be pastors is so deeply felt by people, because I felt it very deeply. I grew up without seeing any women ministers, and I felt it was wrong for women to aspire to become a pastor. It took years before I felt differently. And only after I talked to people who had thought through the process, and prayed and studied and had come to the decision that it was destructive, and was a poor tradition that was destroying the church to bar half of the population from using their gifts to the glory of God. But it was a deep-seated feeling, and it still is in the hearts of many people.
 
Another issue over which I have changed my feelings is when I grew up I was taught that if you weren't a heterosexual, you were wrong and your lifestyle is wrong. I don't think I was taught that so much as society taught it to me. It was just a deeply ingrained tradition and value. My parents, however, taught me that you always are kind to people, even if you don't agree with them. And so when I was at a workshop once, I went to a breakout session where a woman and her partner did the presentation. This woman talked about her love for Christ, and how active she had been in church and how much she loved it. And then she talked about how when she was a little girl, she knew there was something different about her. But she never really understood it. And then when she was an adult and understood the difference, she found that her church no longer wanted her. And that made me start thinking. And I started reading and praying, and reading the scripture, and talking to people. And I slowly changed that value, that tradition that had been so deeply inside of me, to believe that however we are born -- whatever gender, or however we understand ourselves -- that we are in the image of God and that God wants everyone's life to be full of relationships and the ability to share their gifts with the church.
 
Now, I know not everyone agrees with me on this. Not everyone in our country or our church body, or I'm sure the congregation. But that's why it's so important that we hear what Jesus is saying today about values and tradition. He is saying we are not united because we all agree on how to live out the Christian life; we are united by Christ. We are united by our love of Christ, which bridges the differences that we have. We are called here by the Holy Spirit to be one Christian community, to love and respect one another in spite of differences. If ever we tried to find a way to avoid using our traditions and values as weapons against each other, it would be to look at the model of Jesus. He did not agree with the lifestyle of prostitutes and tax collectors, and yet he was willing to eat with them and talk with them, and he cared about them.
 
In this highly politicized world, I thought it was interesting to hear a story about two men who considered themselves to be enemies. One, whose name is Gene Gregory, is the president of the United Egg Producers of America. The other is Wayne Pacelle, and he is the president of the Humane Society of America. And they were at opposite ends on the issue of how you handle animals in the process of producing eggs. Pacelle really took on the egg producers, and said you have these chickens in these little tiny cages, and you cram the cages into these little tiny rooms, and it's wrong. Well, between them they were spending millions of their organizations' dollars fighting each other. And last summer they used kind of a go-between to ask each other: could we sit down and talk? And they did. And what they decided was they could spend the next 10 or 15 years throwing millions of dollars of their organizations' money back and forth and get nowhere. And better would be to see if they could devise a compromise they could both live with. And that's exactly what they did, and there will be a bill before Congress, if it passes, that is a compromise for both of them. And most interestingly what the article said is they discovered at the end of their conversations together they had respect for each other. Gregory said of Pacelle: he is a man of his word. He didn't really want to destroy the whole egg producing industry. He just wanted things to be right. And Pacelle said of Gregory: I learned so much from our talks. I learned all the pressures that farmers are under and why we have to move slowly so that we don't destroy their livelihood. Two men who had different values decided to stop using their values as weapons.
 
It is so very hard as Christians to know how to live out our faith. Culture does not teach us well. There are pitfalls all over. We can't go by the culture. We have to struggle with these things. But one thing, and one thing alone, is what Jesus asks us to do. And that is not to trust our traditions and our values and our laws above God, but to trust in Christ, to listen to the word of God with open hearts, to pray with an open heart, and to believe that the Holy Spirit has been given to us. And that as we trust in Christ there will be changes along the way. We may change our mind about things. We may ask for forgiveness, or we may not. We may find that what we believed was the right thing. But as we rely on Christ, we can be sure that the Spirit walks with us through all those questions and quandaries in life, and will never leave our side, and finally will bring us safely home into the arms of a loving God.
 
Thanks be to God. Amen.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2012, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Talmud, 613 laws, LGBTQ, Matthew 15:1-9, Mark 7:1-23
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  • Feb 12, 2012The Value of Traditions
    Feb 12, 2012
    The Value of Traditions
    Series: (All)
    February 12, 2012. Our values and traditions can be a good thing, but they can also take on a life of their own and become destructive. Pastor Penny preaches today that it's important that we hear what Jesus is saying about values and tradition, to trust in him and listen to the word of God with open hearts.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    The story of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" begins as the sorcerer, or the wizard, is finishing his day in the workshop and going home, and leaving his apprentice to clean up. But his apprentice does not like to clean up. Especially he does not like fetching the water from the well outside and bringing it into this big cistern in the workshop. The apprentice doesn't really know magic, but he's watched the wizard, and so he gets this idea that if he takes a broom, maybe he can cast a spell on it. And he does, and it works: the broom grows arms and legs and feet and hands, and he teaches the broom to fetch water. So the apprentice sits back, gleefully watching this broom doing all his work, going back and forth, bucket after bucket of water. But then he begins to realize something: the water is getting close to the top of the cistern and the broom is still gathering water. And he doesn't know enough magic to make it stop. Well, he just watches as it starts overflowing. And finally in desperation he grabs an axe and he chops the broom in half, only to discover that each half then grows arms and legs and begins to fetch water. Well, catastrophe is averted when the wizard, or the sorcerer, unexpectedly comes back and breaks the spell. But the broom, which was a useful tool and meant for good use, took on a life of its own and became a real danger.
     
    In the gospel today, Jesus is saying that is exactly what can happen with tradition or rules or values. They are a good thing, but they can take on a life of their own and become destructive, even weapons. The laws of the Jews were something that were given to them as a gift. They were chosen to be the people of God and given the Ten Commandments. And they tried hard to obey them, because they wanted to stay connected with God. It was their response to God's love. It was a pleasure for them to strive to obey the Commandments. But of course, the Ten Commandments are pretty broad. And they need to be applied to daily life. So for that they looked to the leaders who came up with other laws, which they call the Oral Laws or the Tradition of the Elders. These were laws that would help them apply the Ten Commandments. But this is where the laws began to have a life of their own. And I think what happened is that the religious leaders began to lose their trust in God. They began to fear that if they didn't keep all of the laws perfectly, that God would turn God's back on them and let their nation be destroyed.
     
    And by the time of Jesus there were six hundred and thirteen of these little laws, which the religious leaders taught the people they must keep perfectly. Now, the religious leaders were of the middle class and upper classes, and they had some leisure and they had some money. But the common people, called the people of the land disdainfully by the leaders, couldn't keep all of these. And so the leaders taught them that by failing to keep these, the Tradition of the Elders, they were failing God. They were unholy, they were unclean, and most heartbreakingly that there was no place for them in the Kingdom of God.
     
    Jesus said to the Pharisees, you have rules that are human rules and you've elevated them above God's rules, and they go in opposition to the very heart of what God wants. Now these things happened over years, and they happen subtly, these changes in how they thought about the law. But I don't think we have to look very far back in the history of the Christian church to see how easily that happens. It wasn't even 200 years ago when many Christians believed that slavery was accepted by God. Paul had written that slaves should be diligent workers for their masters. And Jesus had never said anything about slavery being bad, so they assumed that slavery was acceptable. And for years the church taught that, until finally they woke up to see what a horrible and wicked thing slavery was, and how it was tearing apart our black brothers and sisters.
     
    Well, there's another issue that people take sides on in the church today. And that is whether women should be pastors -- women's ordination. And I really understand why the tradition that only men should be pastors is so deeply felt by people, because I felt it very deeply. I grew up without seeing any women ministers, and I felt it was wrong for women to aspire to become a pastor. It took years before I felt differently. And only after I talked to people who had thought through the process, and prayed and studied and had come to the decision that it was destructive, and was a poor tradition that was destroying the church to bar half of the population from using their gifts to the glory of God. But it was a deep-seated feeling, and it still is in the hearts of many people.
     
    Another issue over which I have changed my feelings is when I grew up I was taught that if you weren't a heterosexual, you were wrong and your lifestyle is wrong. I don't think I was taught that so much as society taught it to me. It was just a deeply ingrained tradition and value. My parents, however, taught me that you always are kind to people, even if you don't agree with them. And so when I was at a workshop once, I went to a breakout session where a woman and her partner did the presentation. This woman talked about her love for Christ, and how active she had been in church and how much she loved it. And then she talked about how when she was a little girl, she knew there was something different about her. But she never really understood it. And then when she was an adult and understood the difference, she found that her church no longer wanted her. And that made me start thinking. And I started reading and praying, and reading the scripture, and talking to people. And I slowly changed that value, that tradition that had been so deeply inside of me, to believe that however we are born -- whatever gender, or however we understand ourselves -- that we are in the image of God and that God wants everyone's life to be full of relationships and the ability to share their gifts with the church.
     
    Now, I know not everyone agrees with me on this. Not everyone in our country or our church body, or I'm sure the congregation. But that's why it's so important that we hear what Jesus is saying today about values and tradition. He is saying we are not united because we all agree on how to live out the Christian life; we are united by Christ. We are united by our love of Christ, which bridges the differences that we have. We are called here by the Holy Spirit to be one Christian community, to love and respect one another in spite of differences. If ever we tried to find a way to avoid using our traditions and values as weapons against each other, it would be to look at the model of Jesus. He did not agree with the lifestyle of prostitutes and tax collectors, and yet he was willing to eat with them and talk with them, and he cared about them.
     
    In this highly politicized world, I thought it was interesting to hear a story about two men who considered themselves to be enemies. One, whose name is Gene Gregory, is the president of the United Egg Producers of America. The other is Wayne Pacelle, and he is the president of the Humane Society of America. And they were at opposite ends on the issue of how you handle animals in the process of producing eggs. Pacelle really took on the egg producers, and said you have these chickens in these little tiny cages, and you cram the cages into these little tiny rooms, and it's wrong. Well, between them they were spending millions of their organizations' dollars fighting each other. And last summer they used kind of a go-between to ask each other: could we sit down and talk? And they did. And what they decided was they could spend the next 10 or 15 years throwing millions of dollars of their organizations' money back and forth and get nowhere. And better would be to see if they could devise a compromise they could both live with. And that's exactly what they did, and there will be a bill before Congress, if it passes, that is a compromise for both of them. And most interestingly what the article said is they discovered at the end of their conversations together they had respect for each other. Gregory said of Pacelle: he is a man of his word. He didn't really want to destroy the whole egg producing industry. He just wanted things to be right. And Pacelle said of Gregory: I learned so much from our talks. I learned all the pressures that farmers are under and why we have to move slowly so that we don't destroy their livelihood. Two men who had different values decided to stop using their values as weapons.
     
    It is so very hard as Christians to know how to live out our faith. Culture does not teach us well. There are pitfalls all over. We can't go by the culture. We have to struggle with these things. But one thing, and one thing alone, is what Jesus asks us to do. And that is not to trust our traditions and our values and our laws above God, but to trust in Christ, to listen to the word of God with open hearts, to pray with an open heart, and to believe that the Holy Spirit has been given to us. And that as we trust in Christ there will be changes along the way. We may change our mind about things. We may ask for forgiveness, or we may not. We may find that what we believed was the right thing. But as we rely on Christ, we can be sure that the Spirit walks with us through all those questions and quandaries in life, and will never leave our side, and finally will bring us safely home into the arms of a loving God.
     
    Thanks be to God. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2012, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Talmud, 613 laws, LGBTQ, Matthew 15:1-9, Mark 7:1-23
  • Feb 5, 2012The Call to a Difficult Journey
    Feb 5, 2012
    The Call to a Difficult Journey
    Series: (All)
    February 5, 2012. Pastor Keith's sermon today is on Jesus' rejection in Nazareth, from Mark 6. Jesus did not receive a hero's welcome, because the people didn't want to hear what he had to say. We would probably prefer a more divine kind of messiah too. But we are reminded that the calling of a Christian to faith is a call to a difficult journey.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We look a little further at this long reading from Mark. We begin in the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    I think most people probably think of Jesus as a kind person, a pleasant person, someone to help people, and someone who cares about them a lot in a tender way. Often Jesus is pictured as a good shepherd, someone who cares for people in that way. He knows his flock. He cares for each lamb with untiring devotion and concern, and they maybe think of him as a mild and meek person. "Pleasant" and "attractive" are some of the adjectives that might go with his name. We think of him as the kind of person we may eagerly bring home to meet the family and be around the table with us. But in our lesson today we hear of a day when Jesus came home to his family, to his neighbors. And when he did, he received a mixed reaction. They no doubt heard about his teaching and healing. That reputation had gone before him as he had been out and about, now came back to Nazareth. And we might think he should have gotten a hero's welcome for being this person from a small town. Now he's making such a commotion in the countryside that he's become a hero in a sense, the good things he says and the miracles he does. It says they were astounded at what he said, and there was lots of amazement.
     
    But the point of our reading today is that they actually didn't receive him with the hero's welcome. Maybe they used it as an excuse. Because they didn't really want to hear what he had to say, because it cut them and was a way to call them to repent before God, they said well, he was the carpenter's son. He was a carpenter himself. He wasn't a religious professional. He's Mary's boy. He's got four brothers that are named in the text, and sisters. He's just one of the family kids down the block. We don't need to listen to him. So either because they didn't want to hear his words, or because they just said it didn't fit with who they thought the messiah was to be, they used every reason they could to discount what he said. The first reason was that he was a carpenter. How could a carpenter say such words about God? He wasn't a rabbi. He wasn't theologically trained. He wasn't the son of a priest. He had no credentials of any kind for the kinds of things he was saying and doing, and they were pretty emphatic saying he's just a guy from a regular family -- maybe even one of the poorer families in town at that. It names his four brothers and talk says he has sisters. If he's just a regular guy from a regular family, how could he be a person of God?
     
    The problem seemed to be that he was speaking the word of God with authority, and he was doing the works of God -- healing and teaching. But they didn't believe that God would work through such an ordinary person as this Jesus guy they'd always known. They either seemed to think he was unbalanced in his thinking, or just saying things that would put him in danger. In an earlier lesson in Mark, Jesus is speaking and his family wants to come and kind of rescue him -- take him out of a house -- and he refuses to go with them. He says everybody here's my brother and my sister, so these are my family. So we don't know at that point if the family was trying to prevent him from being ridiculed, or to keep him from being arrested. But his own family was trying to withdraw him from a social scene. It seems like the people knew him as a person, and what they expected was a message. When the messiah came through they thought we could know this message. But when it came through a person who lived in their midst, they found this offensive. How could this person be God? How can this person live out God? This is offensive to us. And they couldn't believe that this was a person of God.
     
    We don't know what his particular message was on that occasion in Nazareth. It doesn't say here. From other gospels we know that at other times when he spoke in Nazareth -- because he blasphemed and said that these words were fulfilled in their hearing and said as much, that he was God -- they wanted to put him to death right away. But for this crowd, he was too much of an ordinary town boy, too much a regular carpenter to be a regular religious teacher and miracle performer. And so they resisted him with all their might.
     
    I think we have to admit in our time there's a resistance that we have to Jesus too. He was awfully ordinary, in a way. He was one who suffered abuse. He was one who died for the cause. When those people come along, can we really say that this person was a person of God? He challenges us. In our day and age we tend to prefer someone more spectacular, someone more successful, someone more extravagant than what God gives us in Jesus: this carpenter guy who goes around has kind of a motley crew following him, and ends up on a cross. We'd probably too, like the people of Nazareth, really prefer a divine kind of messiah that comes with all the signs of a messiah, rather than a human messiah who was fully human. And so we in our minds sometimes try to "upgrade" Jesus. We try to transform this carpenter to kind of a Superman, who relentlessly battles for truth, justice, and the American way -- and of course always prevails as he does it. The Jesus as a Superman looks like a person, but inside this Superman Jesus is more than human. He wouldn't be killed and then rise again -- he'd be smart enough not to be killed in the first place. So as humans, we think we'd rather be taken out of our humanity also and say, "God, rather than save me as a human being so I have to go through more days like this, why don't you be a Superman to me and take me out of where I am as a human being, so that I can live above all this fray that I have every day." So our inclination is to make Jesus someone more divine than human and to wish that God would take us somehow away from this world of all of our troubles. We'd like to rise above it.
     
    The resistance of the town people to Jesus results in a very low number of miracles being performed there. He could do no mighty acts there, it says, except that he healed a few sick people. Sounds big enough by itself. But in other places he'd done much more than that. What Mark says is that there were just a very few miracles done there because there were very few believers. They didn't believe in him, so he could do no actions. It had to be faith that received these miracles for the miracles to happen. When we think about it, in Mark's gospel there's really more authority and power of Jesus shown over things of nature than over people. Jesus heals diseases. He casts out demons. He orders the wind to be calm. But he doesn't control people or dictate what they do. They're on their own for that. He commands people to be quiet about the miracles he's performed on them, and they go do the opposite: they tell everybody they can find. So he didn't have control over people. They feel like they need to tell others, and so even if Jesus tells them to be quiet they don't. He can't tell people what to do. And this all points to the fact that since Jesus doesn't control human beings, it's more the people's attitudes or faith in him that determines what he can do among them. Whether it's in his time or our time, it's a faith that receives what Jesus does. If the faith isn't there, the actions won't be there.
     
    He can't help people who don't desire to be healed. Jesus can't forgive people who don't want to be forgiven. He can't teach people who have closed minds and don't want to be taught. He can't bring new life to people who have no desire for it. He can't create peace among people who prefer to live in worlds of hate and revenge. There has to be a faith and an openness to what Jesus has, to receive it. And so this means the attitude that we have towards Jesus affects the works that he can do among us in our time. It's our faith that brings Jesus into our lives. It's our faith that transforms us to be people who are not only nurtured by him in different ways, but also turned into people who will serve him.
     
    Some of the reports I've heard from missionaries over the years in different cultures, some of those who have attended faith healing events too, say the same thing: that it takes a person willing to believe for this thing to happen. That is, if the culture is open and believes that there are evil spirits and demons, then it's possible to have exorcisms and so forth, and that kind of thing is alive and well. Or if there are people open to having words said and be healed by what we call "faith healing," then it can happen. But where a culture is, shall we say, scientific and doesn't believe that those things exist, then the things don't happen. But you can go to different places in the world today where the culture allows these things and believes that they are there, and the healings and exorcisms and that things like that can happen.
     
    To show how transformative Jesus is, Jesus calls the disciples to himself. He says this is Nazareth, let's go on now. And he sends them out. He walks among the villages and says: you go out two by two. Go into the villages around here. And these disciples were able to heal people and they were able to forgive sins. The group goes out with a sign of the good that can come with a person who follows the Lord. There was faith with the disciples. When Jesus told them, they believed it and they did it. They could heal people. And the people that they encountered evidently believed too, because once he left Nazareth there were all kinds of healings that happened. The disciples do well. They're excited when they get back. They've been able to do these things. They believed, and they performed many miracles of healing.
     
    Well, this all led to a lot of confusion in that day about who Jesus was. They didn't know what to make of him. Jesus caused such a clamor because of his healings and the words he said, that word about him got out -- even rose up to the leaders, to Herod, ruler of his territory in Galilee. And Herod wanted to know: is this guy human? Or is this guy of God? And Herod had John the Baptist on his mind, since he had put him to death. And so he says this Jesus must be John the Baptist come back to life again. So that was one of the theories that was out there: Jesus was John the Baptist come back to life again. The fact that John had lived his life and then met with such a horrible end is a warning, alongside the other lessons of today, that there is rejection. Whenever the ministry of Jesus is in action, there's rejection. The people of Nazareth rejected him. The authorities rejected John the Baptist. Herod rejected him so much he killed him. Jesus, when he tells the disciples to go out, he says: be prepared, people will reject you. So he tells them to shake the dust off their feet when they're done with the town, if they've been rejected there. The follower of Jesus finds resistance. Just as John found it, Jesus found it, and the disciples found it. Mark wants to prepare us all for that fact. If we're transformed, believing in ministry in the same style Jesus had, we will encounter resistance. It's part of being a disciple.
     
    The calling of a Christian to faith is a call to a difficult journey. It's not putting on the Superman cape and thinking that everything's going to be great. It's willingly enrolling in a life of servanthood, even though there are many opportunities for joys and for thanksgivings at every turn on this journey. Even though there are difficulties along the path, many fulfillments come with it. All of the parts of our reading today hint that when the truth of Jesus gets close to people, they react to it. Often it's a word that calls to a different kind of life, and says the life you're living right now isn't very close to what God wants for you. And you hear that word and it changes you. Sometimes it's the application of God's law, and we find out that strikes a nerve and there's a strong reaction. What we're doing isn't fitting what God wants for us very well.
     
    The word that Jesus spoke at his home church hit a nerve and energized that crowd against him very much. He spoke and brought up things that were very close to home for them. They didn't want to hear and learn what Jesus had to say. So they used his humanity as grounds against him. We don't want to hear this, they said. So they kind of covered their ears and said: you're too human for us. You're too ordinary for us. We don't want to hear it, whether it's right or not. Jesus knows that the disciples, as they said, will find this resistance as they go out. Some will welcome the word and some will not. And then when we hear about the story of John the Baptist again, we hear in a horrible recounting of his death that it was all about his speaking a word that hit a nerve. He called what Herod was doing wrong. He said you're committing adultery with your brother's wife. You shouldn't be doing that. And it met resistance that hit a nerve and it ended up causing him to lose his head. Herod and his wife then are angry with John. He points out what's not right and it costs him, and they get rid of him.
     
    So the word comes close to all of us, and when it does we react. It reminds us of who we are and reminds us of who we aren't. It convicts us of the wrongs that we've done. It reminds us how we don't like a Jesus too much like us, and how we are slow to serve. As he sent the disciples out, maybe we're a little slow to get in gear to serve as he wants us to. The word of Jesus comes and shows us our moral weaknesses, reminds us that as we follow Jesus, others will be out to pull us away and take us away from this mission of the Lord. It's not an easy path. But it also reminds us that we are children with Jesus in baptism, children of God. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus. It reminds us that we can celebrate the humanity of Jesus because that means he is like us. We are like him. He is one of us. He got into the water and was baptized as we were baptized. He entered into our world. He knows what we go through. So we can build up faith, so that we can receive the miracles, so that we can receive the healing. We can receive the forgiveness that he wants us to have. To those who believe, there is much to be received. God is there. He wants to give it. Believe and it will come to you. So we keep the faith so that we can receive the wonderful gifts God has in mind for us. Amen.
     
    And now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2012, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, Mark 6:1-13
  • Jan 15, 2012Words and Actions Together
    Jan 15, 2012
    Words and Actions Together
    Series: (All)
    January 15, 2012. Pastor Keith preaches on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last speech, his "I have been to the mountaintop" speech, and compares King's words and actions together with Jesus' own words and actions that lift us all up.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin in the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    The other evening I listened to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last speech given, as it was recorded. It was a speech that he was reluctant to give, because he was very, very busy at that time. There were threats upon his life at that time. And he was in the eastern part of the country and had to make a trip to Memphis. But he had committed himself to the cause of the workers -- the sanitation workers, particularly -- in Memphis, and upheld his commitment and went. That's an interesting speech to listen to, and I encourage you to do it if you have time this afternoon, or tomorrow on the holiday. Just dial it up on YouTube. And it's not that hard to find. It was a very moving speech, with references about practical matters in the strike that was at hand in Memphis. But it also contained a lot of biblical imagery and included the famous, "I have been to the mountaintop" and "I have this vision of everyone together." He had this hope for a triumphant people and a gathered people altogether. He had that vision. Of course, as kids pointed out, he was a preacher first. He was the son of a preacher himself, and very well trained in Christianity, as a graduate of a seminary. He had great oratorical skills as we all know, but having read a number of his sermons, you may not know that he was very skilled at composing sermons. And they are a delight to read, how he put the thoughts together no matter what part of the Bible it was. He was a great speech writer.
     
    But being so familiar with scripture, it's probably no accident that his speech in Memphis contains many of the same kind of approaches, I think, that we see from Mark's writing about Jesus in Capernaum today, and some other things that Jesus said along the way. Martin Luther King, Jr. learned a lot from the way Jesus did things. Mark was writing to a downtrodden people as he wrote down the gospel of Jesus. They were a struggling people, trying to survive the threats of the Romans and the Jewish authorities around them. They were looking for a way to build up their hope, and to give them some sense that they could continue on. So Mark tells them the story of Jesus in such a way that it would build up their encouragement and their hope that indeed they can live as Christians. And so he conveys to them the life and the teachings of Jesus in such a way that it gives them life and gives them hope for their struggles.
     
    Well, we're at today's lesson -- only 21 verses into the chapter of Mark -- and we hear Jesus already perform his first act of ministry. We heard last week about how he was baptized and how he was led into the wilderness and tempted there. He chose four disciples. And all that's the first 20 verses only. Now in verse 21 he's in Capernaum, which was a commercial center, an agricultural center, a fishing town and kind of a trade center, as caravans moving from east to west through the known world would come by Capernaum, there at the picturesque place at the north end of the Sea of Galilee. Well, Sabbath comes and Jesus goes to the local synagogue, and he preaches there. Mark doesn't say what the content of Jesus' sermon was, but we know the reaction he got. Mark says all the people were astounded. He preached like no one they had ever heard before. The scribes they were used to hearing usually would quote the rabbis from the past, and kind of mine the books and the scriptures for what so-and-so had said about this and that text, and they weren't so inspiring. But Jesus was different. He didn't remind them of what other people had said before. He spoke himself of what he knew to be true. He preached with authority. He didn't have to get words from the scholars who had gone before him. This was something very different for them to listen to: someone who spoke out of his own authority.
     
    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a great gift too. And you can tell, listening to the people's responses as he gave his speeches, that they believed he was a prophet in his time. They saw him communicating the truth to them, and they followed him. There were others in his entourage who had great oratorical skills: Jesse Jackson and Ralph Abernathy and Andrew Young, people like that. They all could hold their own, but none of them moved the movement the way that Martin Luther King, Jr. did. The response to him was such that great change did come above. He elicited the kind of response that did bring people to action. He couldn't do it by himself; it was because people responded to what he said that change happened.
     
    Well Jesus did two things in Capernaum that day. He preached in an astounding way, and he dealt with a man who, it says, suddenly rose up from the midst of the congregation, who had a demon or unclean spirit. The man didn't possess himself. He wasn't, you might say, in control of himself. This demon spirit controlled him. He was a prisoner in his own body. And this unclean spirit that came out of this man taunted Jesus and said, what are you here for? Have you come to destroy us, spirit? We know who you are, the Holy One of God. And he also said, what are you doing here from Nazareth? We're here in Capernaum. It says that, maybe as though someone in Memphis would have said, why do you come from Atlanta, Martin Luther King, to bother us? And so he held his geography against him too. But Jesus rebuked, it says, this unclean spirit and it came out of this man with a convulsion and with a crying out. And when the people witnessed this they were amazed, it says. They said, a new teaching with authority. The action of Jesus exorcising the demon from this man, backed up the astounding words of Jesus. And so words and actions go together to be the most convincing. The people said, we behold something completely new here. Not only were the words he said astounding, but the actions he said are heaven come to earth. This is new too. This man is a prophet to behold.
     
    Well that coming together, words and actions, was something that Martin Luther King, Jr. did very well also. He didn't just speak from podiums and pulpits. He was also the one leading the marches, giving the instructions and the tactics, and being arrested himself and going to jail. And as we know, word spread about him. And when he was speaking in Washington D.C. at the Lincoln Memorial, some 200,000 were thought to have been in that crowd to hear him speak. His actions and his words together made him have great impact.
     
    Well in his sermon at Capernaum, Jesus took on an evil spirit. Jesus knew it as it showed itself to him, and he brought the power to bear to exorcise this demon from the man. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not afraid to name the ills of the society that not only affected him and those of his race, but all those ills that affected all of society, whether it be issues of hunger, housing, the way finances work, and war that was going on at the time -- all these things that were of concern to all people were of concern to him. And he named them. Just as Jesus named the demons in that man, Martin Luther King, Jr. would name the demons' expression in the society of the day. The powers that profited from and enjoyed the status quo, as always happens, began to marshal forces so that his protest would be quelled. The resistance to King was predictable, and he was feeling it by way of threats, even on the day that he gave the speech.
     
    As Jesus would name himself, more and more authorities, especially those in the religious institutions as the ministry of Jesus went on, and he would point his finger and show how the church was acting in evil ways in his day -- those evils that he named would push back to him too, as we would say these days. He would say that the religion of his day was full of evil. It was full of corruption and needed to be corrected. And this cleansing of the devil from this man was the first step that he took. But we know how the institutions of his day pushed back against Jesus and finally took his life, because they couldn't stand to hear the naming of them amongst the evil of the world.
     
    For this man with the spirit to have been in a synagogue was a transgression of boundaries. The pharisaic Jewish system was all based on cleanliness, was about keeping a system of ritual cleanness. We heard something about that in our second lesson today, as Christians later on who had been Jews weren't sure how to handle certain meats. Were they clean or not clean? Were they under those rules or not? But for the Jews of that day, it was all about keeping this ritual cleanness: not touching certain things, not eating certain things, not touching certain people. But here was an unclean man right in the midst of their worship gathering. What could be worse than that? But Jesus lives in an unclean and messy world, in Mark. He's bumping into unclean people who have various ailments and bad spirits throughout his ministry. But what he does is that he rids them of their demons, he rids them of their diseases, so that instead of being outcast they become the welcome ones. Instead of being the ones shunned from the community, they become healed. To other people he'll say go show yourself to the priest, you are clean, you can join the community. He'll say that to some lepers he heals later on. Jesus was about rubbing shoulders with the outcast, so that they might be cleansed and then be welcomed into the community.
     
    Well that vision of Jesus is what Martin Luther King, Jr. was about too, in that which he brought to the work. He talks about it in that Memphis speech. He knows it will be messy. He and all African Americans were seen as unclean ones in the country: not welcome to eat in many places, not welcome to drink in many places, to share motels, schools, many other institutions with whites. They were the same as unclean. His dream was to name the ill, to come up with strategies that will confront that evil and make a new world. But again, the vision wasn't just for people of his race. It was for all people. He wanted there to be equality for all. That's why he worked, that's what he worked on and spoke and lived, and what he finally died for himself, as the pushbacks came in such a way that they took his life. He wanted everyone to be included. He named the outcast. He wanted there to be a cleansing so that everyone could be together.
     
    When Penny and I were in El Salvador a few months ago, the Lutheran Bishop there, Bishop Gomez, spoke of his dream for the ELCA church in El Salvador. In his country where machismo reigns and where women have little on their own and children are fortunate to go to school, his hope was for the ELCA church and his congregations, that they would become places of welcome and openness to all. He wanted them to be models of openness in a repressive society, and to be that way in the name of Jesus. That made me think that that's what our church is about here in the United States as well. Not that our society is all like that in El Salvador, but we still have plenty of problems to go around, plenty of people feeling outcast, plenty of people feeling not wanted, not important, or too ill or too different to be included in. The reign of God breaks in when our congregation and any congregation is an open and welcoming place, where all are welcome and know they are welcome. All are to be received in the name of Jesus.
     
    Last week we heard how the heavens opened up at the baptism of Jesus, and that's no accident as God comes down. But it is a kind of a compressing of heaven and earth together. That was a way of saying God's power was being unleashed in the world. It would be there with Jesus, and wherever he went heaven would come down to earth through him. The boundary of heaven and earth is blurred and collapsed as God's power comes to earth in Jesus. God is active and God is alive in Jesus, and the people of Jesus. That power of God unleashed comes out in the words of Jesus, as he speaks to that man and says, "Devil be out. Be cleansed." And he was. It comes out in the cleansing of that man. Heaven on earth. Heaven involved in the work of earth. In following weeks we'll see now in the first seven chapters or so of Mark how the various powers of God are unleashed on earth to do different things that show that God's power is active.
     
    Martin Luther King, Jr. was sensitive to this collapsing together of heaven and earth. He knows that any talk of heaven is empty unless it touches the earth. What use does it have, he says, of talking about the riches of heaven when people live in poverty? What use does it have, he says, of talking about milk and honey flowing in heaven when people don't have anything to eat and they are starving? He believed with Jesus that it doesn't have to be that way. God breaks in. God is active. God gives his power to be with his people to bring about change. With Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. it was all about getting and putting people together. Let them get together. By uniting and working together, they could accomplish good and great things. God could use them to bring about change for a more perfect earth. We hear the words of Jesus. We see the actions of Jesus. He lifts us up so that together we may be a force for good in the world around us, forming an accepting community of faith as we go. Amen.
     
    And now, may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2012, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, Mark 1:21-28, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
  • 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