Jan 31, 2016
God Sightings
Series: (All)
January 31, 2016. Pastor Keith discusses the text of Luke 4:22-30, in which Jesus is rejected by his own hometown, and relates it to unpleasant truths we face if we don't remember that Jesus is there for us and we instead focus only our ourselves.
  • Jan 31, 2016God Sightings
    Jan 31, 2016
    God Sightings
    Series: (All)
    January 31, 2016. Pastor Keith discusses the text of Luke 4:22-30, in which Jesus is rejected by his own hometown, and relates it to unpleasant truths we face if we don't remember that Jesus is there for us and we instead focus only our ourselves.
  • Jan 24, 2016Proclaiming the Era of God’s Welcome
    Jan 24, 2016
    Proclaiming the Era of God’s Welcome
    Series: (All)
    January 24, 2016. Pastor Penny preaches on Luke 4:18-21, in which Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord's favor, and tells us about how the spirit can open our eyes to the needs of others and proclaim the era of God's welcome.
  • Jan 17, 2016Sharing the Abundance
    Jan 17, 2016
    Sharing the Abundance
    Series: (All)
    January 17, 2016. Guest pastor Tom Schoenherr preaches on the story of the wedding at Cana from the Gospel of John, in which Jesus turns water into wine when the wine gives out. We too can share God's abundance with others when health, faith, or trust in God give out.
    *** Transcript ***
    Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
    Weddings. Weddings are places where the hopes and dreams of many people come together. Weddings are also events where things can go wrong. I presided at a wedding where the bride chose to be late because that's what she normally did. The rings didn't show up. The candles didn't get lit. At this particular wedding at Cana, we are told the wine gave out. In the Greek, that word is lack. So it was lacking. It was finished. There wasn't any more wine. And in that particular time, the wedding reception would last about seven days. So if they're in about the third day, they have a long way to go. And I always struggle with this text. It doesn't mean that everybody should get drunk at weddings, please, nor the bar be open forever. The bar was closed. It was an embarrassment to the family, and I'm sure to the couple. They may not have had very much of their own. So Jesus does something special there. But the wine gave out. It wasn't a life-threatening thing that happened, but Jesus did it for what I said before: the purpose of showing us what abundance God's grace is.
    I know at our wedding patience gave out. The patience of our fathers in particular. The guys in the wedding party thought it would be fun to take my wife and kidnap her. And so they drove away with her, leaving me at the reception alone. An hour later when they showed up, having gotten lost, my father and Barb's father were there meeting them at the door. It was not a pleasant experience. Those guys in the wedding party still apologize every time they see us. So patience can give out. All kinds of things give out in our lives: health, friends and family who are no longer with us. There can be, as we are also focused upon Martin Luther King, Jr. this weekend, a giving out of a desire to live together as different races and cultures, in harmony and peace. We can even reach that point, where as we see these things giving out in our lives, whatever they may be -- health being one of them -- that we may get the feeling of helplessness. We want to fix it. We want to make things better. We want to work hard in order to make everything turn out right. And that helplessness can lead to panic at times.
    Finally, the thing that is giving out for us is the giving out of our faith and trust in God. We wonder where is God? Like in the Isaiah text, has God really abandoned us? Does he no longer understand that all kinds of things are giving out in our lives? And where is God? Why isn't God showing up? There's a feeling, even among those presidential hopefuls that are traveling around the country these days, that there is the scarcity. There's all kinds of things giving out, like money, like security, like jobs. And so as we look at our society today, we're thinking wow, everything is giving out. What are we going to do?
    Mary comes to Jesus and says they have no wine. She is aware that that has given out as well, and she believes that Jesus is the one who can help. But as long as we continue to focus upon that which is giving out and our own ability to make it better and fix it, then we can cut ourselves off from that grace of God that we need so desperately. And we are left with no wine. And only in our fear. And fear seems to be a great commodity these days, fear and suspicion. We see it everywhere we look. Jesus doesn't give up on the people at Cana, and he doesn't abandon us as well, in our deeper need. For in response to his mother's saying they have no wine, Jesus says, "My hour has not yet come." But when Jesus' hour does come, then Jesus' life will be given out. Poured out for you and me, that we may have life abundantly, that we may know the promise of a God who comes to enter into the very real problems of our lives where things keep running out, giving out. It is in that Lord Jesus Christ that we have the abundance of God's grace, grace upon grace that gives us new life and hope. That grace never runs out, never gives out. It continues to flow and be abundant in our lives always.
    And again, Jesus invites us to the table again today, where he is the host. And he is the one who stands with us in the midst of our pains and our struggles, our fears, our suspicions, in order that he might take them all on himself and return to us the abundance of his love, the abundance of his forgiveness and healing. In Jesus Christ, there is hope for us. Everything doesn't have to, as it all is eventually running out. We know that in Jesus Christ there is a new age, a new one who holds onto us that we can hold onto in our time of struggle and need. And he also fills us with that promise and that spirit, in sending us out to be the people of God in the world, to share that abundance of love and life and joy with everyone.
    And I wonder what could it be this week that you might do that would show the abundance of God's grace? Students going to Guatemala, certainly a way in which that grace of God, that love of God is shown to people as we sit and listen with them. But what does it take? What could we do? You might think about that. It could be a smile. There are lots of people walking around with frowns these days, but that smile might be a way to connect with someone about the grace of God. To sit and listen to someone, and just give your time. To be patient with someone. God's abundance of grace and love counters the abundance of fear, and of the giving out of everything that seems to be so dear to us in our lives. I wonder if Jesus had a dream that day. A dream that there would be that time when all of God's people would be drawn together to live in harmony. A dream that there would be enough for everyone so that all people could thrive and survive. A dream that all races and cultures might be able to live together in peace.
    We have been gifted with the abundance of God's grace and love, and we are sent in order that we might be that presence of God, that presence of joy, that presence of abundance of God's grace for all of God's people. May we be filled with that spirit of new life and hope for all the world. In Jesus' name, amen.
    *** Keywords ***
    2016, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Tom Schoenherr, John 2:1-11, Wedding at Cana
  • Jan 10, 2016Baptism By Fire
    Jan 10, 2016
    Baptism By Fire
    Series: (All)
    January 10, 2016. What are our hopes for the future? In Jesus' day people were depending on a messiah for a better future, and John the Baptist told them that a messiah would come, baptizing not with water but with the Holy Spirit and with fire. But we don't usually associate Jesus with fire. Pastor Penny asks us to consider today thinking of Jesus as a judge. After all, Jesus has high expectations for us.
    *** Transcript ***
    We begin this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
    A retired man liked to go to nursing homes and hospitals to do volunteer work. He went to a local hospital, and went from room to room telling what he thought were funny jokes and singing some songs, and he always had the habit, when he left a patient's room, of saying, "I hope you get better." And as he left one man's room he said, "Yeah, I hope you get better too." What are our hopes for the future? Will we get better? Or maybe I'm asking what do we depend on to assure us that the year ahead will be as good or better than the year behind us? If we're thinking about our work or our school, maybe we're depending on our hard work, our accomplishments in the past. If we're thinking about our social success, we might be depending on our own social graces, our ability to talk to anyone, our wit, or our even nature. If we're thinking about our financial future, maybe we're depending on our advisors, our retirement, our investments. If we're depending on our health in the future, maybe we're depending on our doctors, or on medical science to find a drug that maybe works better for our condition than the one we have.
    In Jesus' day people were depending on a messiah for a better future. They were hoping that God would send somebody that would get them out of the mess that Israel was in. They were an occupied country. They were always in jeopardy of being crushed by Rome, and finally they were. So through the hundreds of years that they had waited for a messiah, they were really waiting in Jesus' day. And when John the Baptist came on the scene, he was very charismatic. He had these fiery sermons. He invited the people to come for baptism, which wasn't our baptism, like an initiation. It was a baptism of renewal, of their commitment to God. When he invited them to come forward, they came in droves, hoping that maybe this man was the messiah. But John told them no, you need to hope for someone else. There is someone you can hope for. He's coming after me. He's stronger than I am. And he baptizes not with water, but with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
    Now we know of course he was referring to Jesus, and that kind of works with what we understand of Jesus. Especially the Holy Spirit part. We know that he was filled with the Holy Spirit. We know the Holy Spirit was part of his coming into the world, as the angel told Mary it would be. But what about fire? We don't usually associate Jesus with fire. Fire is a fierce, frightening force in the world. We talk about a "baptism by fire." And that expression began as a reference to a soldier's first battle. That was his baptism by fire. Now, we have used that expression to mean any time that we try to undergo something for the first time, and just find it quite overwhelming. We may learn a lot, but it's very difficult. It's our baptism by fire. Fire doesn't seem to go with Jesus. And then John the Baptist has another image of Jesus. It is the farmer standing with a winnowing fork. And that's kind of a scary picture as John describes it, because a winnowing fork was what a farmer used to separate the life-filled seed of the grain from the chaff that was empty. But what John is suggesting is that this person to come is both a judge and one who punishes. Do we think of Jesus as a judge? And as one who punishes?
    I think we can all think of times when Jesus judged people. He judged the Jewish rulers a lot because they were often hypocritical. He called them: you whited sepulchers, you whitewashed tombs. You look so good on the outside, and inside you're full of selfishness and evil. He turned the tables over in the temple, because the money changers were abusing the purpose of the temple. He did judge -- but he never punished. In fact, the only punishment in Jesus' life was the punishment he took upon himself when he was dying on the cross. And that was punishment, that was the result not of his evil, but of the evil of others. He died that horrible death partly because of the cruelty of the Roman Empire that used that form of execution. He was hanging there because of the cowardice of Pontius Pilate, who couldn't stand up to the Jewish leaders. He was there at the fault and in judgment of those Jewish leaders who, because of their blindness and because of their intense selfishness, wanted Jesus dead. And he was there in some mysterious, miraculous way, as a result of our selfishness, of the walls of selfishness that we build around ourselves. He was there on the cross to smash that wall down, so that God could come into our lives.
    So this was the picture that John the Baptist gave of the one to come. And of course Jesus did come. But when he first arrived on the scene with John the Baptist, it looked like he was just an ordinary person. He was lined up with the rest of them to be baptized. But when he was baptized something extraordinary happened. While he was still praying, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit came down -- we're told in bodily form, like a dove -- on him. And he heard a voice, "You are my Son, the Beloved. In you I am well pleased." The Father was well pleased with Jesus, even though Jesus hadn't even started his ministry yet. The Father was pleased with Jesus not for what he had done, but for the relationship they had. Because Jesus was his son, because they were flesh-and-blood together, because Jesus was a part of the Father. And the Father had great expectations for Jesus.
    Well, the gospel writer tells us all about Jesus' baptism -- not just because we need to to know the story of Jesus, which is important -- but because Jesus' baptism has something to do with our lives. Because the same words that the Father spoke to Jesus at his baptism are what this ritual, this rite, this sacrament conveys to us in our baptisms. In our baptisms God is saying, "You are my son. You are my daughter. I love you, and I'm really pleased with you." Pleased with us, not of course because we could have done anything. Most of us were baptized as infants, as we talked about with the children. Pleased because of the relationship that God has established with us, because we are God's children, because we are in a sense flesh and blood with God. We are a part of God. And God has high expectations for us.
    You know, we might not know when we were baptized. We might not remember it or even know the date, but what's important is that we know that our baptisms have something to do with life everyday. I was talking to a woman who was reflecting on her life, an older woman, an African-American woman, and I knew that she had worked as a sales clerk in a big department store for many years. But what I didn't know was how she got into that job. She originally came applying to be an elevator operator, only to be told that black people could not do that. So she was offered the job of being a matron, which is someone who cleans up the dressing rooms. But because of her hard work and her skill, she was soon the head matron. And then I don't know how many years it was, but she finally was allowed to be a sales clerk. Now, she told me this without any sense of bitterness, even though she knew how unfair and how racist this whole situation had been. Even though she's felt that, I'm sure many times in her life, I sensed no bitterness. She did not let what others thought of her tell her who she was. She did not let other people's ideas, or white culture's ideas, tell who she was. She knows her identity. She is a child of God. She is valued. She is precious. She is loved. And that has gotten her through day after day of mourning and of illness.
    Jesus has high expectations for us. And we know that there are people around us who are not looking forward to the new year with much hope. Maybe it's because they don't know who they are. Maybe it's because they take their identities from what people tell them they are. Maybe they are still dealing with voices from their past that haunt them and continue to form them. Maybe they base their identities on whether they succeed or fail. Jesus asks us to carry out his mission, to reach out to these people who are our friends, our relatives, our coworkers, our teammates, and show them by our life -- by how we treat them -- that they too are valuable. They are precious. They too are sons and daughters of God. And when Jesus asks us to do that, how can we say no? After all, we are God's children. It's our identity to carry on Jesus' mission. It is who we are.
    *** Keywords ***
    2016, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
  • Jan 3, 2016New Beginnings
    Jan 3, 2016
    New Beginnings
    Series: (All)
    January 3, 2016. A new year is a time for new beginnings. We make resolutions -- to have better behavior, to lead a healthier lifestyle. It's a time to start over. Pastor Keith preaches on how Jesus coming into the world was a new beginning too, and how this is relevant to our world today. We may not be optimistic in the new year, given the terrorist attacks, refugee crisis, racial violence, floods, and other struggles we've faced in the past year. But we're reminded again of God's love for us, and how his word is stronger.
    *** Transcript ***
    We continue to talk about our reading from John in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
    Well, this week a typical greeting has been "Happy New Year." It's the proper thing to say this week as we've turned the calendar page and started a new year. We've drawn the previous year to a close and now we start dating things with a new number -- that time when you have to remember not to write 2015 anymore, but to start to write 2016 when you date something, the time for new beginnings. Not just for pages in account books, but as we consider the difference that the new year will make for us, we're more likely to think perhaps of better behaviors we could have for our own care. We figure out ways to maybe lead a more healthy lifestyle in the new year. We want to get started on the right track, and so we resolve that we're going to do this, and call those resolutions -- things that we're going to do differently in the new year, because it's a new beginning, a new time to start over.
    In our gospel today, the first verses of John we've heard are about new beginnings also. We hear John write, "In the beginning was the Word." And as we hear that, we remember that we've heard some words like that before. If we go back to the very first page of the Bible it says, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." So, John seems to be making a bold statement here, quoting from the ancient scriptures to start writing his gospel. But it's no accident. He's being bold, because the occasion calls for it. He's quoting Genesis as he talks about the beginning of the ministry in the life of Jesus, because this is a new beginning for the world. History is starting over here. Humanity is starting over here. This is a new beginning of God's involvement in the creation. John doesn't just want to tell us this. He wants us to have a deeper knowledge, a feeling for what it means to have a whole new beginning to the world. It's a new promise, a new living promise from God for a new beginning of human history. And so, just as the whole physical being of the world came at the first word of God, when God spoke and the world was created, now a re-creation for the world and for humanity comes in the person of Jesus. This is the new word of God.
    Bible scholars have noticed for a while now how the first part of the book of John is structured as seven different signs. The first sign you know is when Jesus turned the water into wine at Cana in Galilee. And the last sign, the seventh one, is when he raises Lazarus from the dead, who was the brother of Mary and Martha. That last sign though so angered the priests and the authorities of his day that they start to plot to kill him from that point. And they do. But Jesus rises from the dead, and that's the eighth sign. It's a sign of a brand new beginning. Jews typically thought of things coming in groups of seven. Seven was a complete kind of number. There were seven days in the week, capped by the Sabbath day. So, a week was complete after the seventh day. Now Jesus was raised on the eighth day, which meant that John is telling us that this is the first day of the week, and it's a brand new beginning. It's a sign that his resurrection is on par with the creation of the world. This is a new creation happening. There was a creation and the world came to be. Now, there's a creation of the new world because Jesus has not only come and died, but he's also risen for all of us. This is indeed new life for the world.
    And in John's writing, the place of creation is the same as well. I don't think it's just any accident. We usually think of the Garden of Eden as the place where things were beginning, and where creation happened as humanity came into the world. But where was Jesus raised from the dead, where did Jesus talk with the women, where did the disciples go to see the empty tomb? It was in a garden. This likely again is by intention. John wants us to know Jesus is the beginning of the new creation of the world. So we have these meaningful signs of a new creation, and we're at the beginning of a new year, but we may not be all that optimistic, even though it talks here about new beginnings. After the difficulty we've had the past year or so with troubles, with terrorist attacks, and hearing the plight of refugees, and unparalleled gun violence, and racial injustice, and major floods now in our area to end the year, we're ready for a new year and a new beginning.
    But here we are on the 3rd of January already, and we wonder how will it go? Will it be so new or will it just be more of the same? Our resolutions may be intact so far, but after three days into the year, we know that almost always it's just a matter of time until we break them. We know we don't let the resurrection and the new beginning of Jesus influence us all the time. So where are we at then, in these beginning days of 2016? Does John have relevancy for us? Or is what he says just some sort of a mystical hope that comes from his sometimes-sounding, kind of "otherworldly" dreams? And is John just kind of giving what's more dream talk that really doesn't hit us where we are?
    Well, we take two things in particular from John to remind us that the word still has bearing for us. For one thing, the fact that it is the word that comes to us is a good thing. The word is the essence of God. The powerful word that created the world is incarnated in Jesus. Jesus is that very power of God in the world. Jesus is also the language of God. We communicate through words. And so Jesus is there, in with our communications. We use words to talk, and they convey meanings between us. We have Jesus, who allows us to know the meaning of God. Because we have words, we can talk with people. We can have meaningful discussions. We can work on things together. When God wanted to thwart human beings, when they were about to build the tower so high that God was not pleased, the way God stopped them was to stop letting people understand one another, and he messed up their languages so that they couldn't understand one another anymore and allow them to communicate. Now in Jesus is the correction for that. Jesus is the Word. Jesus shows us that God is still communicating with us. A couple of years ago, you likely noticed that many of the UCC churches had banners in front of their churches saying "God is still speaking," comma, then an ellipse. It ended in that way to show that indeed God, the word of God, is ongoing. We need to remember that in Jesus, God is still speaking to us. He has shown us a way to change the world. The signs Jesus did when he was on earth were about healing, restoring life, and bringing goodness and wholeness to life. Jesus is still about that as we are his people in the world. God is still speaking, as we let God speak through us and bring healing and life and goodness to the world around us.
    The second way that connection is made between God and these words to bring hope and goodness to our world in our times is to remember that word from the lesson that "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." God didn't just beam out some radio signals, hoping that we would have the right kind of radio to know that he loves us. God sent his son in the flesh to say: I love you. Jesus was saying that in his ministry, but it wasn't always received very well. As we said before, the greater response to him was to be rid of him and to try to silence him permanently. And they did that with all their might, and they killed him. In doing that, he received the brunt of our human sinful tendency to want to go on our own way. Our sin rejected Jesus and put him on a cross, even as he was trying to bring life to us. But he was God's word in the flesh on the cross. In the flesh he died, and he died for us. He was God's communication to us of the depth and extent of God's love for us. He was the new word of God to us. He showed us that there's nothing that God wouldn't do, no place God wouldn't go, no suffering God wouldn't endure, to make the point of God's deep love for us. It was God's word in the flesh that showed the extent of God's thorough love for us. He wants there to be no doubt that we are God's beloved children, worthy of honor and love.
    We need to know this good, saving, loving word of God. But sometimes words come in one ear and go out the other, so we need more than words. We need a sign for it also, so we can be reminded of it again and again and again, when we forget and go our own way, that God's love is so deep for us. So as this morning we receive Leah Elise in baptism, in her baptism we are reminded of the baptism of each one of us. That's the sign that God became flesh, comes to us through the waters of new creation, to make us part of his new creation as well. Baptism is that sign, and it's a way to remember that God indeed has loved us so much. We think back to that sign: "I was baptized. That's true for me." Just as we witness it for Leah today, it's a reminder too for all of us that God in the flesh has come to love me that much.
    Water seems to have always been key to God. In the beginning, water and earth had to be separated. When the world went bad, God used water to destroy it with the great flood. When God chose the take it back then, he had Noah in the ark with his family to be the ones to start creation and humanity over again. Our fonts now have eight sides normally, to remember the number of people in Noah's family, to remember how God's water recreates the world and brings a new world to us. God's word is stronger than any floodwaters. It can can even hold back the Red Sea when necessary, as Moses found out. God is stronger than all things in creation, and uses those things in creation like water as a sign of life, not a thing of destruction.
    It's that power of God that's shown in the first creation, and in the second creation with Jesus, that's with us by virtue of baptism. That's why we can have hope, even when it seems like the new year is daunting. That's why we can have faith, when a little one is born into it. The one who created the world will continue to create and give new life. All the baptized have been sealed with the mark of baptism, according to John, to receive the inheritance from God. He claims Leah and all of us who are baptized, to be receivers of this inheritance of goodness and grace, and then to be speakers and assurers of this word, as we are the bearers of this hope to the people around us in the world.
    God's word became flesh in Jesus, but God's word becomes flesh in us also. As we act on his behalf, doing the kind of good that Jesus did on earth, God is showing that God isn't ephemeral, out there, distant somewhere. But God is in the world, bringing about the new creation. And the God who created the world in the beginning has created again in Jesus, and God continues to create in our time. We have that hope as we encounter challenges. And the promised now have an enduring relationship that God has made by the sign of baptism for all of us. Amen.
    Now, may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
    *** Keywords ***
    2016, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Keith Holste, John 1:1-18
  • Dec 27, 2015Being About the Father’s Business
    Dec 27, 2015
    Being About the Father’s Business
    Series: (All)
    Pastor Keith, December 27, 2015
  • Dec 24, 2015Breaking In
    Dec 24, 2015
    Breaking In
    Series: (All)
    Pastor Penny, December 24, 2015
  • Dec 23, 2015The Promise of Micah
    Dec 23, 2015
    The Promise of Micah
    Series: (All)
    December 23, 2015. On this last Wednesday of Advent before Christmas, Pastor Keith preaches on the promise of Micah. Micah lived in a time similar to ours in some ways, with love of money, corruption, scandals, and fear running rampant. But then he prophesied that a new ruler would arise from Bethlehem and be a person of peace, unlike the military leader the people expected. God delights in doing what's not expected. We should be prepared to be surprised. *** [Keywords: Abraham Advent Mid-Week Service Assyrians Bethlehem Christmas David God's covenant Herod Isaac Isaiah Israel Jesus Joseph Judah Mary Micah 5 Nazareth New Testament Old Testament Pastor Keith Holste Samaritans Samuel Sarah Syria barter cash for goods clan of Ephrathah corruption countryside eternal everlasting expected fear fragility gentile government leaders he who laughs hill town intermarried king lowly occupations military leader money nations new economy new ruler not always predictable occupied oracle people will dwell secure perpetual fear person of peace playing a joke princess promise of Micah prophecy prophesied scandals sex abuse shepherd small town surprised surprising terror village girl what's not expected yearn for security]
  • Dec 9, 2015The Messenger
    Dec 9, 2015
    The Messenger
    Series: (All)
    Pastor Keith, December 9, 2015
  • Dec 6, 2015Advent Preparation
    Dec 6, 2015
    Advent Preparation
    Series: (All)
    Pastor Keith, December 6, 2015