Jan 16, 2011
A Purpose Beyond Ourselves
Series: (All)
January 16, 2011. The prophet Isaiah told the downtrodden people of Israel that they were to be a light to the nations, that they had a purpose beyond themselves to bring God's salvation to the ends of the earth. Years later Jesus took up the mantle of this mission, and called others to help him. In his sermon today, Pastor Keith reminds us of that mission we too have, to go beyond ourselves, to serve God's purpose and to be lights to the nations.
 
*** Transcript ***
 
Today for our meditation we look at our first lesson today, from Isaiah 49. We begin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 
After World War II, things could have gone differently than they did. We as a country could have come home, having won a victory at a great cost to us, and just concentrated on getting the country back going again, gotten back to business, licked the wounds and focused on putting as much as we could to in the country here. And indeed, lots and lots of that was done. But after the war we also paid attention to other parts of the world. The Marshall Plan was enacted to rebuild Europe. We spent a lot of time and energy in Berlin, flying food in for the people in Berlin, and doing other rebuilding in Asia and in Europe. It wasn't all altruistic, and that had a lot to do with fighting the encroachment of communism, and had to do with restoring the world economy and getting things in the whole world going again. But still, we didn't have to do that. We could have just stayed home and said we'll pay attention to what's within our borders and get things really strong here, and not pay attention to the rest of the world.
 
In our first lesson of the day, from Isaiah, we hear of the person writing this -- Isaiah -- who is very sensitive to the great hardship his people are coming through, and the plight that they're in as they are in exile in Babylon. But we also hear him have words of vision and hope for them, and even a mission. Even while they're in this plight and it seems like the world is too tough for them, he ups the ante. He says God has even more in mind for you. Isaiah writes this as though it's two people talking, as though Israel is a person talking with God. But Israel represents the whole people, and so even though it's like a dialogue between two people, it's between the nation and God. And so when he writes, "Before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb, he named me," this is meaning the whole people of Israel. God had something in mind for them as a people, before they even were a people. But he has a very personal way of talking with them. 
 
He's saying that even before they became a nation, God had a mission in mind for them, and a vision in mind for them. God had a purpose in mind for them. Isaiah knows full well that the people of Israel had violated most of God's rules, if not all of them, when they were back in Jerusalem. As a prophet, he had warned them of the consequences of their behavior, that they had trusted treaties and armaments too much, and their security systems and things like that. And they had gone after false gods. He knew about all that and warned them about shaping up, but they hadn't. So he watched them not heed these rules of God and warnings, and be defeated and be dragged off to Babylon. And he knows what kind of suffering that they're in now. But knowing that suffering, he is able to bring words of vision and hope. And even while they're down, even while they're in this time of wondering if they'll ever survive again or not, he says, I have words of a great mission for you. God has a purpose for you, from before you were a people. He wants you to be a light to the nations. And so God has a purpose in mind for you. He will take you back. But don't get comfortable. Know that you have a mission to perform.
 
They were in those awful circumstances. They weren't at home. They had been given lots of trouble by foreign rulers. They were captives and prisoners of war. How could God have a mission in mind for them? They were downtrodden. But down and out as they are, he says you really are the hidden arrow in the quiver. You are a shiny, silver arrow in the quiver. You are to be a light to the nations. God's saving you, so to speak, for the right time when he pulls out his best arrow and sends it to bring the world around. They would have likely been content just to come home from war, rebuild the country, rebuild the temple, get their city together, get their country together, get their people together. They'd endured so much at the hands of the Babylonians. Why couldn't they just come home and live in peace? But Isaiah says no, that's too light a thing. Just to put life together again would not live up to the purpose that God has in mind for you. It's too light a thing, Isaiah says, that you should be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel, just to put things back together. That's not enough. Just collecting everyone and restoring every one of the people: that's not enough. God says through Isaiah, you will be a light to the nations. I will give you to the nations as a light, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. God has a purpose in mind for them. They can't just go home and be family or be country or be nation. No, they have a purpose beyond themselves to bring God's salvation to the ends of the earth.
 
God has in mind for Israel, coming back from losing a war, a much greater mission than just to come home and get healed. They are to be the healing force for the world. Small nation as they are, beaten up as they are, they are to be the silver arrow that will solve the difficulties of the world. We talk in our age about silver bullets. They are to be the silver, shining arrow that would solve the world's problems. But for them to do this, they had to get beyond themselves. They are chosen for a mission beyond themselves. God has a mission in mind for them. They can't just go home and be isolationist. They need to reach out and show the world the kind of healing, loving, and saving God that they have.
 
Well, this is the message that Jesus is reviving when he is baptized. Five hundred years later or so, Jesus is on the scene. He remembers this word from Isaiah. This word from Isaiah is still a mission of the people of Israel and it's his mission. He is taking on the mantle of the mission of God, showing himself to be the light of the world. He is baptized and anointed by John the Baptist as the beloved Son of God, chosen to do his Father's will. Today, we hear him pick up this task now. He begins to do this work of teaching, going about, talking to people. He is the embodiment of Israel. And so he invites Peter and Andrew to come and see what he's about, what Israel is about, and what they are to be about. God has a purpose in mind for them. Jesus will radiate the light of God, through his teaching, through his actions, through his healing, through his preaching. He will show what it means to be a light to the nations. But it doesn't stop with him. They are part of this mission.
 
Jesus' mission was, of course, beyond himself. He could have just come, I supposed, to be a demonstration of what a person loving God is like. He could have settled down in a town, married, had children, and been a good community person and shown what it is to be a good follower of God, to be a demonstration of a God person. But that wasn't his purpose. The purpose of Jesus was to go beyond himself. His mission was not to serve himself, but to serve God by carrying out God's purposes for him and for his people. Just as the people of Israel had to suffer, he had to suffer. He was required what was needed to give up himself for the sake of the world. He prayed that there might be some other way. He prayed Lord, if there's some other way, let this cup pass from me. But the only way open to him was the way of the cross. He needed to get beyond himself, outside of himself, even to give up himself.
 
Over the past decade a very popular book has been The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren. And one of his themes is that God doesn't put us on earth just to serve ourselves. We have a purpose, given by God. Our natural inclination is to serve ourselves and to find happiness that way. As Martin Luther called it, sin is being curved in on ourselves, not being outward in our thinking but being inward and seeing everything as coming back to us. Instead of being lights to the world or healers or servants to the others, we tend to look at ourselves first. Look out for ourselves first. Our inclination is to have a nice nest, to pad it well, and to be comfortable. By our baptisms we have drowned the kind of life that that selfishness represents, and we're chosen ones now to live for the sake of all nations. Go and baptize all nations, we are told. We are the ones who go out. But so often we don't get that right. Daily we don't get that right. Daily we go back to our selfish inclination, that "me first" kind of thinking. But daily, God forgives us and reminds us of the mission to go beyond ourselves to serve his purpose and to be lights to the nations.
 
There is a Lutheran pastor and consultant who blends systems theory and theology, and his name is Peter Steinke. Maybe some of you know him or know of him. He's often called in where congregations are in deep distress, or having conflict or some sort of deep trouble, as a consultant. And he's written some books based on his experiences with the congregations. Usually his more recent books capture the idea that he's come up with and discovers time and time again, that health comes from having a focus from outside oneself. This works whether you're a person, or whether you're a family, or whether you're a congregation. You need to have a focus outside yourself to have real health yourself. And this echoes a former bishop of mine. More often than once I heard him proclaim in speeches and so forth that when he came to work with congregations, he would judge whether they were a dying congregation or a lively and thriving congregation, about how their stance was. Did they seem to just exist for themselves, to keep themselves going, keep the building open and lights on, and have their own little happy club? Or were they existing for the sake of the community around them and the world around them? Did they have a mission beyond themselves that would unify them, bring them together, and help them serve the world around them? That brought a unity and a liveliness to them. That's how he would determine if a congregation was thriving or dying, if it was healthy or not. He and Steinke think a lot alike.
 
We all know people who seem to have no purpose outside themselves. They think about themselves all the time. Most of the conversation is either what they've done or what's ailing them, and they themselves are their only focus. They don't get out much and interact with other people much. And their problems seem to grow, because they have no life-giving focus outside themselves. Families are healthier too when there's a focus beyond the family system, when there's life outside, a realization that family exists in a community, and we've received from the community and we need to give back to the community. There's a mission to the community and a mission for the things that we believe in as a family. That makes a family stronger, as they unite behind the mission that the family has. Then congregations: if we turn in on ourselves, we have departed from the purpose that we've been given by God. We lose the nature of who we are, given by God. We become something we were never intended to be. By our God-given nature, by the vision that God has had us from before we were a congregation even, God had in mind that the people of his congregations would be lights to the nations. We are to be lights shining out, not trying to keep all the energy in for ourselves, but to share that energy with a purpose.
 
This weekend, we honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I'm sure there were many nights, including his last night in Memphis, when he would have been happier just to be at home with Coretta and the kids. It would have been a much more simple life for him. But he felt like he had a call from God for his country, which kept the focus from being just on his own self and just on his own happiness. But he had a mission for the health of the country, for his people: that there might be racial equality. It was a costly mission, as it cost him his life. The entire goal wasn't accomplished and his mission still requires work. But his mission was the way he spent himself knowing he was a chosen one of God, given a purpose by God, and giving his energy and his life for the sake of many. Isaiah put this image before his people, which was lived out by Jesus and is passed on now to us: that we are chosen by God. God chooses us for the sake of God's mission -- that God's salvation, God's health, may reach to the ends of the earth. We thank God that we are chosen, that we are saved, that we're baptized, that we have a purpose beyond ourselves, given to us by God. Amen.
 
And now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2011, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, Isaiah 49:1-7, Servant's Mission, John 1:29-42, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren
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  • Jan 16, 2011A Purpose Beyond Ourselves
    Jan 16, 2011
    A Purpose Beyond Ourselves
    Series: (All)
    January 16, 2011. The prophet Isaiah told the downtrodden people of Israel that they were to be a light to the nations, that they had a purpose beyond themselves to bring God's salvation to the ends of the earth. Years later Jesus took up the mantle of this mission, and called others to help him. In his sermon today, Pastor Keith reminds us of that mission we too have, to go beyond ourselves, to serve God's purpose and to be lights to the nations.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Today for our meditation we look at our first lesson today, from Isaiah 49. We begin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    After World War II, things could have gone differently than they did. We as a country could have come home, having won a victory at a great cost to us, and just concentrated on getting the country back going again, gotten back to business, licked the wounds and focused on putting as much as we could to in the country here. And indeed, lots and lots of that was done. But after the war we also paid attention to other parts of the world. The Marshall Plan was enacted to rebuild Europe. We spent a lot of time and energy in Berlin, flying food in for the people in Berlin, and doing other rebuilding in Asia and in Europe. It wasn't all altruistic, and that had a lot to do with fighting the encroachment of communism, and had to do with restoring the world economy and getting things in the whole world going again. But still, we didn't have to do that. We could have just stayed home and said we'll pay attention to what's within our borders and get things really strong here, and not pay attention to the rest of the world.
     
    In our first lesson of the day, from Isaiah, we hear of the person writing this -- Isaiah -- who is very sensitive to the great hardship his people are coming through, and the plight that they're in as they are in exile in Babylon. But we also hear him have words of vision and hope for them, and even a mission. Even while they're in this plight and it seems like the world is too tough for them, he ups the ante. He says God has even more in mind for you. Isaiah writes this as though it's two people talking, as though Israel is a person talking with God. But Israel represents the whole people, and so even though it's like a dialogue between two people, it's between the nation and God. And so when he writes, "Before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb, he named me," this is meaning the whole people of Israel. God had something in mind for them as a people, before they even were a people. But he has a very personal way of talking with them. 
     
    He's saying that even before they became a nation, God had a mission in mind for them, and a vision in mind for them. God had a purpose in mind for them. Isaiah knows full well that the people of Israel had violated most of God's rules, if not all of them, when they were back in Jerusalem. As a prophet, he had warned them of the consequences of their behavior, that they had trusted treaties and armaments too much, and their security systems and things like that. And they had gone after false gods. He knew about all that and warned them about shaping up, but they hadn't. So he watched them not heed these rules of God and warnings, and be defeated and be dragged off to Babylon. And he knows what kind of suffering that they're in now. But knowing that suffering, he is able to bring words of vision and hope. And even while they're down, even while they're in this time of wondering if they'll ever survive again or not, he says, I have words of a great mission for you. God has a purpose for you, from before you were a people. He wants you to be a light to the nations. And so God has a purpose in mind for you. He will take you back. But don't get comfortable. Know that you have a mission to perform.
     
    They were in those awful circumstances. They weren't at home. They had been given lots of trouble by foreign rulers. They were captives and prisoners of war. How could God have a mission in mind for them? They were downtrodden. But down and out as they are, he says you really are the hidden arrow in the quiver. You are a shiny, silver arrow in the quiver. You are to be a light to the nations. God's saving you, so to speak, for the right time when he pulls out his best arrow and sends it to bring the world around. They would have likely been content just to come home from war, rebuild the country, rebuild the temple, get their city together, get their country together, get their people together. They'd endured so much at the hands of the Babylonians. Why couldn't they just come home and live in peace? But Isaiah says no, that's too light a thing. Just to put life together again would not live up to the purpose that God has in mind for you. It's too light a thing, Isaiah says, that you should be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel, just to put things back together. That's not enough. Just collecting everyone and restoring every one of the people: that's not enough. God says through Isaiah, you will be a light to the nations. I will give you to the nations as a light, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. God has a purpose in mind for them. They can't just go home and be family or be country or be nation. No, they have a purpose beyond themselves to bring God's salvation to the ends of the earth.
     
    God has in mind for Israel, coming back from losing a war, a much greater mission than just to come home and get healed. They are to be the healing force for the world. Small nation as they are, beaten up as they are, they are to be the silver arrow that will solve the difficulties of the world. We talk in our age about silver bullets. They are to be the silver, shining arrow that would solve the world's problems. But for them to do this, they had to get beyond themselves. They are chosen for a mission beyond themselves. God has a mission in mind for them. They can't just go home and be isolationist. They need to reach out and show the world the kind of healing, loving, and saving God that they have.
     
    Well, this is the message that Jesus is reviving when he is baptized. Five hundred years later or so, Jesus is on the scene. He remembers this word from Isaiah. This word from Isaiah is still a mission of the people of Israel and it's his mission. He is taking on the mantle of the mission of God, showing himself to be the light of the world. He is baptized and anointed by John the Baptist as the beloved Son of God, chosen to do his Father's will. Today, we hear him pick up this task now. He begins to do this work of teaching, going about, talking to people. He is the embodiment of Israel. And so he invites Peter and Andrew to come and see what he's about, what Israel is about, and what they are to be about. God has a purpose in mind for them. Jesus will radiate the light of God, through his teaching, through his actions, through his healing, through his preaching. He will show what it means to be a light to the nations. But it doesn't stop with him. They are part of this mission.
     
    Jesus' mission was, of course, beyond himself. He could have just come, I supposed, to be a demonstration of what a person loving God is like. He could have settled down in a town, married, had children, and been a good community person and shown what it is to be a good follower of God, to be a demonstration of a God person. But that wasn't his purpose. The purpose of Jesus was to go beyond himself. His mission was not to serve himself, but to serve God by carrying out God's purposes for him and for his people. Just as the people of Israel had to suffer, he had to suffer. He was required what was needed to give up himself for the sake of the world. He prayed that there might be some other way. He prayed Lord, if there's some other way, let this cup pass from me. But the only way open to him was the way of the cross. He needed to get beyond himself, outside of himself, even to give up himself.
     
    Over the past decade a very popular book has been The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren. And one of his themes is that God doesn't put us on earth just to serve ourselves. We have a purpose, given by God. Our natural inclination is to serve ourselves and to find happiness that way. As Martin Luther called it, sin is being curved in on ourselves, not being outward in our thinking but being inward and seeing everything as coming back to us. Instead of being lights to the world or healers or servants to the others, we tend to look at ourselves first. Look out for ourselves first. Our inclination is to have a nice nest, to pad it well, and to be comfortable. By our baptisms we have drowned the kind of life that that selfishness represents, and we're chosen ones now to live for the sake of all nations. Go and baptize all nations, we are told. We are the ones who go out. But so often we don't get that right. Daily we don't get that right. Daily we go back to our selfish inclination, that "me first" kind of thinking. But daily, God forgives us and reminds us of the mission to go beyond ourselves to serve his purpose and to be lights to the nations.
     
    There is a Lutheran pastor and consultant who blends systems theory and theology, and his name is Peter Steinke. Maybe some of you know him or know of him. He's often called in where congregations are in deep distress, or having conflict or some sort of deep trouble, as a consultant. And he's written some books based on his experiences with the congregations. Usually his more recent books capture the idea that he's come up with and discovers time and time again, that health comes from having a focus from outside oneself. This works whether you're a person, or whether you're a family, or whether you're a congregation. You need to have a focus outside yourself to have real health yourself. And this echoes a former bishop of mine. More often than once I heard him proclaim in speeches and so forth that when he came to work with congregations, he would judge whether they were a dying congregation or a lively and thriving congregation, about how their stance was. Did they seem to just exist for themselves, to keep themselves going, keep the building open and lights on, and have their own little happy club? Or were they existing for the sake of the community around them and the world around them? Did they have a mission beyond themselves that would unify them, bring them together, and help them serve the world around them? That brought a unity and a liveliness to them. That's how he would determine if a congregation was thriving or dying, if it was healthy or not. He and Steinke think a lot alike.
     
    We all know people who seem to have no purpose outside themselves. They think about themselves all the time. Most of the conversation is either what they've done or what's ailing them, and they themselves are their only focus. They don't get out much and interact with other people much. And their problems seem to grow, because they have no life-giving focus outside themselves. Families are healthier too when there's a focus beyond the family system, when there's life outside, a realization that family exists in a community, and we've received from the community and we need to give back to the community. There's a mission to the community and a mission for the things that we believe in as a family. That makes a family stronger, as they unite behind the mission that the family has. Then congregations: if we turn in on ourselves, we have departed from the purpose that we've been given by God. We lose the nature of who we are, given by God. We become something we were never intended to be. By our God-given nature, by the vision that God has had us from before we were a congregation even, God had in mind that the people of his congregations would be lights to the nations. We are to be lights shining out, not trying to keep all the energy in for ourselves, but to share that energy with a purpose.
     
    This weekend, we honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I'm sure there were many nights, including his last night in Memphis, when he would have been happier just to be at home with Coretta and the kids. It would have been a much more simple life for him. But he felt like he had a call from God for his country, which kept the focus from being just on his own self and just on his own happiness. But he had a mission for the health of the country, for his people: that there might be racial equality. It was a costly mission, as it cost him his life. The entire goal wasn't accomplished and his mission still requires work. But his mission was the way he spent himself knowing he was a chosen one of God, given a purpose by God, and giving his energy and his life for the sake of many. Isaiah put this image before his people, which was lived out by Jesus and is passed on now to us: that we are chosen by God. God chooses us for the sake of God's mission -- that God's salvation, God's health, may reach to the ends of the earth. We thank God that we are chosen, that we are saved, that we're baptized, that we have a purpose beyond ourselves, given to us by God. Amen.
     
    And now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2011, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, Isaiah 49:1-7, Servant's Mission, John 1:29-42, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren
  • Jan 2, 2011A New Year, Full of Possibilities
    Jan 2, 2011
    A New Year, Full of Possibilities
    Series: (All)
    January 2, 2011. A new year is full of possibilities. All of us have experienced transitions in the past year, and there are transitions ahead of us in 2011. In his sermon today, Mark Roock asks us to consider the mission to which God is calling us, as individuals and as a congregation, to help God's plan come to fulfillment.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Well, just five weeks ago we started a new church year, a year of grace, with the season of Advent. And we were anticipating the birth and the coming and the fulfillment of God's promise of a messiah. And then with Christmas, just nine days ago, we celebrated the birth of the Christ. And we are still in that season of Christmas. And yet overlaid with that celebration are other festivals that the church observes. On December 26th, the Feast of Saint Stephen, who cared for people and gave his life -- stoned to death, one of the first martyrs of the church. Then on December 27th we honor St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, the gospel writer of today's gospel lesson. And on the 28th of December, so last Tuesday, we celebrated the Holy Innocents as martyrs. These were the young boys killed at the order of Herod, who wanted to assure that there were no boys in Bethlehem who might be the new king -- because after all, the wise men hadn't returned to give him the identity of the person, of the child that they had visited who was to be king of the Jews. And then yesterday, the New Year was also the eighth day of Christmas and the day we celebrate the name of Jesus. Because in Jewish tradition, on the eighth day the son was brought to the temple to be circumcised and to receive his name. And the name this child received was the name the angel had given and that Mary and Joseph had said he should receive: Jesus, which means "the Lord will save."
     
    Now I don't know about you, but in our house on January 1 we hang up a new calendar. We take down one calendar and hang up a new one. So for us, a new calendar year of course has begun as well. But it strikes me that this really is a time of transitions, a time of change. All of us have experienced transitions in the past year in different forms. Some of us became engaged, some were married, some had a child for the first time, or some were blessed with a grandchild or a great-grandchild. Some had to change jobs, either because of necessity or because they saw different opportunities, and felt a leading and a calling that would lead them to a new opportunity. Some entered retirement. Some had to experience the fracture of relationships. Some entered school for the first time, and some matriculated to other levels of schooling, including college and graduate studies. In all of these ways, transitions took place. Some lost loved ones and long to be reunited with them in heaven. Some transitioned from independent living to assisted living, some to skilled nursing care. Some transitioned into heaven. All of life's transitions mean change. And change can be challenging -- sometimes very challenging.
     
    Think of the Israelites, who were about to leave exile after having been in exile for several hundreds of years. Now they were to return to their homeland, the land of promise. But this generation had not been there, so for them this was an undertaking almost as large as the exile itself or as the first coming to the promised land. What would it be like? What will await us there? What will we face? It is difficult sometimes to give up the things you know and have perhaps become comfortable with, and to venture out into something that is new. But that potentially holds great promise for you. So I have experience that moving forward and going forward, taking that one step at a time that leads you perhaps on a path that you have envisioned -- but also perhaps on a path that you could not have imagined -- that taking that step is in itself an act of faith.
     
    It is an act of faith because we believe. We believe in God's faithfulness. We believe in the trustworthiness of God, that he will fulfill his promise even if sometime we look at it and we say, "Man, this is screwed up. How can this possibly happen?" Yet God has a way of breaking down the walls we erect for our worlds, for what we imagine to be best for us. God has a way of breaking down those walls because he calls us to new ventures, and to get beyond the walls, to experience the more that is out there. As I get older too, I'm more and more convinced, or more and more experiencing I should say, that I recognize how little I know. And I've thought a long time, and you know early in my life I've kind of felt I know a lot. I've gone through college. I've gone through seminary. I know a lot. But our experiences over life teach us how little we do know and how much we must rely on God. We believe. We believe in God's trustworthiness, that he will fulfill the promise.
     
    Now our lessons say today that God has a plan. And the plan is that he will gather up all things in heaven and all things on earth under him. The question is then how will we contribute to the fulfillment of God's plan? What can I do to make that happen? After all, God's love has been so great for us. After all he says, "You are mine. I have called you." We have become, under Jesus Christ, through God's grace, children of God -- sisters and brothers to our Savior, Jesus Christ. So in response to that, we ask what can I do? What can I do in response to your great love for me? I don't have that answer for you. I don't even always have that answer for myself. But I do recognize that because God is trustworthy and that because God is faithful, it behooves us to assure that we have opportunities to communicate with him, to pray, to read the scriptures, to consider what he has in store for us, to ask that question continually. What is the mission to which God is calling me? And as a congregation, what is the mission to which God is calling us?
     
    A new year is full of possibilities. There are transitions ahead of us that we may contemplate and be planning, and there may be transitions ahead of us in this twelve-month period that we know nothing about. Yet this faithful God is with us. Remember Jesus' words: "I am with you always, even to the end of the ages." So as we experienced transitions, we can be assured that God is with us, there to sustain us, there to help us. Sometimes it happens in the way of friends and counselors and others. Sometimes in what I term is angels unawares: people perhaps I've met for the first time, but whose kind word or whose kind deed have helped me, and have pointed me again to give thanks to this great God.
     
    So as we enter the rest of 2011, I encourage you to go with God, to keep him in your hearts, to come to him in prayer, to receive his body and blood in the sacrament, to recognize the opportunities you have in ways small and great, to help God's plan come to fulfillment.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2011, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Mark Roock, Jeremiah 31:7-14, Ephesians 1:3-14, John 1:1-18, Magi
  • Dec 5, 2010Living In Harmony
    Dec 5, 2010
    Living In Harmony
    Series: (All)
    December 5, 2010. Welcome to the Christ Lutheran Church podcast. Each week we will bring you a new message, a new sermon. In this first episode, Pastor Penny Holste preaches on Isaiah 11:1-9 and tells us how we're meant to reach out to those who are different from us and live in harmony with them.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    The waters of baptism. I remember you. Well, I don't really remember you, but I have a certificate that says I was baptized. I wonder if that's what you want me to do, just to remember that once you washed me and it's in my baby book, or do you want me to come back again and again to let you kill the arrogance within me, to let you put to death the ego in me, to let you wipe out all the things that make me think I might be a little better than the next person, a little smarter than the next person, a little nicer than the next person. Do you want me to come back again and again so that you can get rid of all the things that stand in the way and leave only what God has given me?
     
    In our gospel today, John the Baptist did a strange thing. He baptized people who already believed. It was not a conversion experience. These Jewish people were Jews and they came from all over. I don't know if you caught that, but there were crowds of them. And you have to ask what drew them to this strange man, this kind of wild man who wore the skins of animals and ate bugs and lived out in a desert. Why would people come and wade into the cold Jordan River and confess that they were sinners and have water poured on them? Why would they do this?
     
    Well, John said something that caught their attention. He said someone is coming. He said a man of God is coming with fire to be a judge and with the spirit, and that resonated with them because they had been waiting. Those were turbulent times. They were turbulent times politically and religiously, and the people were hungry for this promise to be fulfilled that they had been waiting for for many years. And when this man, even though he was strange, came and said, "Now is the time, he's coming, he will judge the world and set things straight," well, they didn't want to be caught unprepared. If God was coming to judge the world, they wanted to have their sins washed away. And so they came and confessed their sins and repented.
     
    Well, most of them. There was this little group of Pharisees and Sadducees, and they came too. And actually the interpretation that's more accepted says that they did not come to be baptized. They came to watch and maybe to criticize. But John really let them have it. He said, "You snakes. Just because your ancestors are Jewish and you are Jewish, or just because you keep the law so perfectly, you think that you have more right to God's love than other people and that somehow you don't need to confess your sins." He said, "You should be reaching out to the very people you feel better than, reaching out listening to them, caring for them. God wants the fruits of your life to show that you are Jewish. He wants your lives to bear fruit, not what you're doing."
     
    And you know, our lessons were all about the fruit that God wants, the harmony, that God wants us to reach out to those who are different, to listen and to care about them. We heard it in the Peaceable Kingdom in the Old Testament lesson, where even the animals will set aside their natural instincts to tear each other apart. We heard it when Paul talked about the Jews and the gentiles coming together, and you can imagine the hard feelings, the arguments, the bad blood between those groups. And yet Paul is asking them to set that aside and reach out to one another. That is what glorifies God, and you will be blessed.
     
    Our baptisms are not something to remember in the baby book. They are something to remind us daily to confess our sins, to come back again and again, to be ones who reach out to those who are different and make peace. And what a world we have. It's so divided, politically, racially, even in the world of sports if you listened to all the booing that LeBron James heard last week. There is so much division, and yet we are called as baptized Christians to reach out to those who are different.
     
    It's not easy. At our text study last Tuesday, a professor from Eden described a class that he's teaching now. The student body is very diverse. There are blacks and whites, and women and men, and gays and straight, and people from different denominations and different countries, all in the same class. Now, his usual method is to lecture, and then in the last part of the class he has them break up into small groups and discuss the lecture. Well, he asked them to do just that and of course they all went to people just like themselves. So you have the whites there and the blacks here and the gays there and the straights there, and he said that the discussions weren't very good. They disintegrated, they dissolved into talking about who won the game the night before.
     
    So he decided to do it differently. The next time he said I want you to divide up and and spread yourselves out. I don't want you to be with people just like yourselves. And they knew what he meant, so they did. And he said the discussions that came out of that heterogeneous group was so full of energy. So many ideas came out of those discussions.
     
    God wants us to reach out to people who are different. God wants us to live in harmony with them. That is what brings God glory and that's what blesses us. Last week, a professor from Webster University was meeting with some of us, and she mentioned her adult son who has extreme autism and he also has attention deficit problems. So much so that she said even now, as a young man, he'll never be able to live on his own or even in a group home. But when he was a boy in school she went to the school district, the administration at University City, and she begged them to let her son be mainstreamed as much as possible. That is, that he could take classes with kids who didn't have autism as often as it would work out. And they let her. And as a result of that, he was with the same people through all his years. Two of his classmates, a young man and a young woman, became close friends even though they didn't have autism. And now these many years after they've all graduated from high school, they still are friends. And the young man has gone into the health field because of his experience, and the young woman said to this mother: knowing your son has changed my life.
     
    When we reach out and live in harmony with those who are different, we bring glory to God and we are blessed. And that's why it is because of our baptisms that God expects us to bear fruit, so that at school where there are people that you aren't comfortable with, people no one else is comfortable with, they are the very people we are to reach out to. At work, those people who are abrasive. In the community, those people whose political views you do not agree with. They are the very people that God is asking us to reach out to, to listen to, and whether we agree with them or not, to love.
     
    These next few weeks offer so many opportunities, because we are getting together with friends and family. And we all know there are people in our families that we've had arguments with, people we no longer talk to very much. This is the time. This is the time when we reach out to them and listen, maybe for the first time, and forgive.
     
    This is the hard work, but the beautiful fruit that we are asked to do as baptized Christians, that brings God glory. Will we fail? Yes, again and again, we will fail. But that's why we come back to baptism, because it not only kills what is arrogant in us, but it brings alive what is good. Jesus was there when we were baptized, bringing us out of the water saying, "I love you. I've always loved you, even before you knew right from wrong."
     
    And as we come back and repent, Jesus is there again raising us up out of the cold water and saying, "I love you. And that's why I let people kill my ego and take away my livelihood and my comfort and my security and my friends, and that's why I let people nail me to the cross, hanging there almost naked as people mocked me. I did it," he said, "So that I could do this one thing: I could raise you up when you repent and say, 'But I love you.' I love you whether you fail or not, because in baptism I have made you my own."
     
    Thanks be to God. Amen.
     
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    2010, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, audio, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, The Peaceable Kingdom, Isaiah 11:1-9