Mar 10, 2019
Secure in Our Identity
Series: (All)
March 10, 2019. Our guest preacher for this first Sunday in Lent is Rev. Susan Candea, who preaches on temptation and identity, how we are defined, and who defines us.
 
*** Transcript ***
 
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
 
Not to offend anyone, but I just don't get the whole attraction of reality shows on television. In the first place, why are they called "reality shows," because I'm betting that many of those, if not most of those scenes, are actually scripted. And why would anyone want to have a camera follow them around their house, or whatever they're doing, capturing what I would consider to be private conversations, to then be broadcast to who knows who? And why would I care to watch? Why do I want to watch somebody else's reality? I have enough reality in my own life, thank you very much. One of the latest reality shows out there is called "Temptation Island." I've never watched it, just seen it advertised. Apparently "Temptation Island" follows four unmarried couples at a crossroads of their relationship. Each must decide whether to commit to one another, or ultimately to give in to temptation. Together, the couples travel to a romantic paradise, where they join 24 sexy single men and women, all in search of love. Really? Brace yourselves for hot and heavy nights as the couples embark on an adventure full of temptations. Since its January 15th debut, "Temptation Island" has grown its audience by double digits. Obviously, there are some people out there who think watching others respond to temptations is actually entertaining.
 
I don't think of temptations as being particularly entertaining. I doubt Jesus would have described his experience in the wilderness, the temptations he faced, as being entertaining. He wasn't on some paradise island surrounded by sexy singles, but out in the wilderness for 40 days fasting -- which meant he was hungry and vulnerable -- being tempted by the devil. The story of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness is always the gospel reading for the first Sunday in Lent. I think the purpose of this story is not to warn us about giving in to temptations for whatever it is we've given up in Lent -- as if people actually do that anymore, give up things for Lent. But I think the purpose of this story at the beginning of this Lenten Journey these 40 days is to remind Jesus, and to remind us, whose and who we are. It is about our identity, and knowing our identity makes all the difference in how we journey through these 40 days. And so the theme of my sermon is this: the journey begins, discovering who and whose we are.
 
The story of Jesus' temptation immediately follows, in the gospel, the story of his baptism -- where the Spirit descended (remember that story) from the heavens and declared Jesus beloved Son of God, declared his identity, whose and who he was. Now that same spirit that filled him at his baptism leads him into the wilderness, where he is tempted. For the Gospel of Luke, the issue is not about personal temptations around one's faith, but about Jesus' unique identity and vocation as a Spirit-anointed Son of God. The temptations were all about how Jesus understands and therefore will live out this identity as a Son of God. Is it about his own power and glory and his own needs? Or is it about trusting God? Does Jesus belong to this world, and therefore the values of this world define him? Or does he belong to God? And therefore it is God, God's word, God's way that will direct his actions, his responses, his journey toward the cross.
 
You may not be aware, unless you attended the Adult Forum a little earlier, that I am what they call the "stewardship person" of the synod. I shared about all the things in which your mission support, which is that portion of the regular offering that you give to the church that is shared with the larger church (which by the way, you are very faithful and generous givers, so thank you very much) about that impacts the ministry we can do together. So as a stewardship person, you might think that our Old Testament reading, which commands the people to give first fruits back to the Lord, would be one of my favorites. Can you imagine what we could do if everyone gave their first fruits (which of course we're going to go with a tithe -- 10% -- that's always the way it was in scripture) of their income to the church, and every congregation gave their first 10%, first fruits offering, to the larger church? Oh my gosh, the ministry that we could accomplish! But that's not what this passage is actually all about. Commanding the people to give their first fruits was not a way to support the budget of either the temple or the church today. But giving first fruits was actually an acknowledgement by the people that everything has come from God, that it is God who gave them the land in the first place that produced the fruits. It is God to whom they owe all their lives. It is God to whom they belong. Giving the first fruits is actually an act of worship, of praise, of gratitude. It is an acknowledgement of our identity as children of God, reminding us who and whose we are.
 
Jesus' response to the temptations that he faced in the wilderness was also an affirmation of who and whose he was, that he belonged to God. How do we respond to the temptations that we face in our lives? Do you know what the top five temptations are that people face in their daily lives? Well, according to a couple surveys out there, the number one temptation that over 60% of people face on a regular basis is worrying or being anxious. The number two temptation is procrastination. Number three is overeating. Number four (some of you are going to love this) is the overuse of electronics or social media. And number five is laziness. But I actually think the biggest temptation we face is the same one that Jesus faced: to let other voices, other sources of authority, define who we are, rather than God. Are we defined, do we believe we have value only based on how much money we make, how big our houses, how nice our car? Is our identity determined by how popular we are, how much power over others we have? Is it our belief system, what we decide is right (because of course, we have it all figured out) that defines who we are? Or is it God -- God, who gives us our identity, our value, our purpose, our place?
 
My friends, regardless of those other voices that you hear, regardless of those temptations that you encounter, it is God who declares that we are beloved children, that we are anointed with God's spirit. Whether we are in the wilderness and feeling vulnerable and all alone, we are God's children. Whether we are on a paradise island and our lives are full, and everything's going well and we can indulge in everything, feeling pretty entitled and self-absorbed, we are still a child of God. So the next question is: how will we journey, not just through these 40 days, but through each day as children of God? What will we give? Not just the 10% that goes to charity, but what will we give of the remaining 90% of our lives, our resources, our time, our skills, our abilities to live this identity?
 
This past week I participated in an advocacy day at the state capitol in Topeka. You heard that the Central States Synod is all of Missouri and Kansas. There's an organization called Kansas Interfaith Action, which is a multi-faith issue advocacy organization that puts faith into action by educating, engaging, and advocating on behalf of people of faith, regarding critical social, economic, and climate justice issues. On their brochure, they quote the Dalai Lama, who said it is not enough to be compassionate. One must act compassionate.
 
I know that there are times in our churches that people struggle with what they perceive to be the mix of politics and religion. I've heard we shouldn't be preaching politics from the pulpit, but I have to tell you that sitting down with legislators and with the governor to express concern about people who fall through the cracks of Medicare, to talk about the lack of resources to care for foster children who are the most vulnerable, to advocate for ways in which we care for God's creation, for me was a way to not only live out my identity as a child of God, but also recognizing that all these other people that I'm advocating for are also children of God. And in fact, the whole earth belongs to God. Now, your identity as a child of God may take you in some different directions, having some different actions on behalf of others, but I'm convinced that if we get this identity question right, then we can indeed move out into the world to do the ministry that God calls us to do: to be followers of Jesus, who transform the world around us.
 
Jesus faced his temptations. He got it right. He trusted and relied on his identity as Son of God. Then he was ready to move out to preach and teach, heal and challenge systems that oppressed and excluded people. That is the same journey you and I are invited to in our faith lives, and I'm also convinced that when we face this temptation to really be clear about who we are and whose we are, relying on the Spirit, then it is actually easier to face all those other temptations. Especially the one about being worried and anxious. That's my number one biggie. Why do I worry so much? I belong to God. And why do I procrastinate and am lazy? God's spirit is within me, and there are people of God who need my compassion and help. And why do I overeat or not do all those healthy things for my body? Because this too belongs to God. There are always going to be temptations. You don't have to go to some paradise island to find them.
 
But there is always and ultimately going to be the voice of God, who keeps reminding us we are children of God. We belong to God. Secure in that identity, we can face what comes our way. We can create loving, respectful relationships. We can reach out with care and compassion. We can even take risks. And that, my friends, that is a kind of reality I do want to see in my life, and in the life of this whole church.
 
Amen.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Susan Candea, Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Luke 4:1-13, KIFA
WatchNotesDownloadDateTitle
  • Mar 10, 2019Secure in Our Identity
    Mar 10, 2019
    Secure in Our Identity
    Series: (All)
    March 10, 2019. Our guest preacher for this first Sunday in Lent is Rev. Susan Candea, who preaches on temptation and identity, how we are defined, and who defines us.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
     
    Not to offend anyone, but I just don't get the whole attraction of reality shows on television. In the first place, why are they called "reality shows," because I'm betting that many of those, if not most of those scenes, are actually scripted. And why would anyone want to have a camera follow them around their house, or whatever they're doing, capturing what I would consider to be private conversations, to then be broadcast to who knows who? And why would I care to watch? Why do I want to watch somebody else's reality? I have enough reality in my own life, thank you very much. One of the latest reality shows out there is called "Temptation Island." I've never watched it, just seen it advertised. Apparently "Temptation Island" follows four unmarried couples at a crossroads of their relationship. Each must decide whether to commit to one another, or ultimately to give in to temptation. Together, the couples travel to a romantic paradise, where they join 24 sexy single men and women, all in search of love. Really? Brace yourselves for hot and heavy nights as the couples embark on an adventure full of temptations. Since its January 15th debut, "Temptation Island" has grown its audience by double digits. Obviously, there are some people out there who think watching others respond to temptations is actually entertaining.
     
    I don't think of temptations as being particularly entertaining. I doubt Jesus would have described his experience in the wilderness, the temptations he faced, as being entertaining. He wasn't on some paradise island surrounded by sexy singles, but out in the wilderness for 40 days fasting -- which meant he was hungry and vulnerable -- being tempted by the devil. The story of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness is always the gospel reading for the first Sunday in Lent. I think the purpose of this story is not to warn us about giving in to temptations for whatever it is we've given up in Lent -- as if people actually do that anymore, give up things for Lent. But I think the purpose of this story at the beginning of this Lenten Journey these 40 days is to remind Jesus, and to remind us, whose and who we are. It is about our identity, and knowing our identity makes all the difference in how we journey through these 40 days. And so the theme of my sermon is this: the journey begins, discovering who and whose we are.
     
    The story of Jesus' temptation immediately follows, in the gospel, the story of his baptism -- where the Spirit descended (remember that story) from the heavens and declared Jesus beloved Son of God, declared his identity, whose and who he was. Now that same spirit that filled him at his baptism leads him into the wilderness, where he is tempted. For the Gospel of Luke, the issue is not about personal temptations around one's faith, but about Jesus' unique identity and vocation as a Spirit-anointed Son of God. The temptations were all about how Jesus understands and therefore will live out this identity as a Son of God. Is it about his own power and glory and his own needs? Or is it about trusting God? Does Jesus belong to this world, and therefore the values of this world define him? Or does he belong to God? And therefore it is God, God's word, God's way that will direct his actions, his responses, his journey toward the cross.
     
    You may not be aware, unless you attended the Adult Forum a little earlier, that I am what they call the "stewardship person" of the synod. I shared about all the things in which your mission support, which is that portion of the regular offering that you give to the church that is shared with the larger church (which by the way, you are very faithful and generous givers, so thank you very much) about that impacts the ministry we can do together. So as a stewardship person, you might think that our Old Testament reading, which commands the people to give first fruits back to the Lord, would be one of my favorites. Can you imagine what we could do if everyone gave their first fruits (which of course we're going to go with a tithe -- 10% -- that's always the way it was in scripture) of their income to the church, and every congregation gave their first 10%, first fruits offering, to the larger church? Oh my gosh, the ministry that we could accomplish! But that's not what this passage is actually all about. Commanding the people to give their first fruits was not a way to support the budget of either the temple or the church today. But giving first fruits was actually an acknowledgement by the people that everything has come from God, that it is God who gave them the land in the first place that produced the fruits. It is God to whom they owe all their lives. It is God to whom they belong. Giving the first fruits is actually an act of worship, of praise, of gratitude. It is an acknowledgement of our identity as children of God, reminding us who and whose we are.
     
    Jesus' response to the temptations that he faced in the wilderness was also an affirmation of who and whose he was, that he belonged to God. How do we respond to the temptations that we face in our lives? Do you know what the top five temptations are that people face in their daily lives? Well, according to a couple surveys out there, the number one temptation that over 60% of people face on a regular basis is worrying or being anxious. The number two temptation is procrastination. Number three is overeating. Number four (some of you are going to love this) is the overuse of electronics or social media. And number five is laziness. But I actually think the biggest temptation we face is the same one that Jesus faced: to let other voices, other sources of authority, define who we are, rather than God. Are we defined, do we believe we have value only based on how much money we make, how big our houses, how nice our car? Is our identity determined by how popular we are, how much power over others we have? Is it our belief system, what we decide is right (because of course, we have it all figured out) that defines who we are? Or is it God -- God, who gives us our identity, our value, our purpose, our place?
     
    My friends, regardless of those other voices that you hear, regardless of those temptations that you encounter, it is God who declares that we are beloved children, that we are anointed with God's spirit. Whether we are in the wilderness and feeling vulnerable and all alone, we are God's children. Whether we are on a paradise island and our lives are full, and everything's going well and we can indulge in everything, feeling pretty entitled and self-absorbed, we are still a child of God. So the next question is: how will we journey, not just through these 40 days, but through each day as children of God? What will we give? Not just the 10% that goes to charity, but what will we give of the remaining 90% of our lives, our resources, our time, our skills, our abilities to live this identity?
     
    This past week I participated in an advocacy day at the state capitol in Topeka. You heard that the Central States Synod is all of Missouri and Kansas. There's an organization called Kansas Interfaith Action, which is a multi-faith issue advocacy organization that puts faith into action by educating, engaging, and advocating on behalf of people of faith, regarding critical social, economic, and climate justice issues. On their brochure, they quote the Dalai Lama, who said it is not enough to be compassionate. One must act compassionate.
     
    I know that there are times in our churches that people struggle with what they perceive to be the mix of politics and religion. I've heard we shouldn't be preaching politics from the pulpit, but I have to tell you that sitting down with legislators and with the governor to express concern about people who fall through the cracks of Medicare, to talk about the lack of resources to care for foster children who are the most vulnerable, to advocate for ways in which we care for God's creation, for me was a way to not only live out my identity as a child of God, but also recognizing that all these other people that I'm advocating for are also children of God. And in fact, the whole earth belongs to God. Now, your identity as a child of God may take you in some different directions, having some different actions on behalf of others, but I'm convinced that if we get this identity question right, then we can indeed move out into the world to do the ministry that God calls us to do: to be followers of Jesus, who transform the world around us.
     
    Jesus faced his temptations. He got it right. He trusted and relied on his identity as Son of God. Then he was ready to move out to preach and teach, heal and challenge systems that oppressed and excluded people. That is the same journey you and I are invited to in our faith lives, and I'm also convinced that when we face this temptation to really be clear about who we are and whose we are, relying on the Spirit, then it is actually easier to face all those other temptations. Especially the one about being worried and anxious. That's my number one biggie. Why do I worry so much? I belong to God. And why do I procrastinate and am lazy? God's spirit is within me, and there are people of God who need my compassion and help. And why do I overeat or not do all those healthy things for my body? Because this too belongs to God. There are always going to be temptations. You don't have to go to some paradise island to find them.
     
    But there is always and ultimately going to be the voice of God, who keeps reminding us we are children of God. We belong to God. Secure in that identity, we can face what comes our way. We can create loving, respectful relationships. We can reach out with care and compassion. We can even take risks. And that, my friends, that is a kind of reality I do want to see in my life, and in the life of this whole church.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Susan Candea, Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Luke 4:1-13, KIFA
  • Mar 6, 2019Ring Around the Rosie
    Mar 6, 2019
    Ring Around the Rosie
    Series: (All)
    March 6, 2019. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. This Ash Wednesday evening, Pastor Stephanie preaches on the meaning of the sign of the cross of ash on our foreheads, of Jesus calling us forth to honesty, and on what we do in Lent.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I wonder if you remember the nursery rhyme "Ring around the rosie / A pocket full of posies / Ashes, ashes / We all fall down." Anybody remember that one? Yes? One explanation of the origin of this nursery rhyme connects it with the Bubonic plague, a deadly plague that happened during the Elizabethan era in England. People were succumbing to that plague left and right, by the thousands everyday. Drawings from that era include pictures of bodies being loaded up in carts or wagons. The art portrayed the reality of grimness during that plague. The rationale for connecting that nursery rhyme with the plague stems from the fact that one of the symptoms of the plague was a red rash, which is often found in circles on the body. That was thought to be the ring around the rosie. I certainly never knew that. There was widespread thought that the plague came from bad smell that existed everywhere. And so, people would carry packets of nice-smelling posies to ward off the smell. "Ring around the rosie / A pocket full of posies / Ashes, ashes / We all fall down," was simply a description of what was happening every day, all the time, for these people. If that is truly the origin of this schoolyard chant, it's a far, far cry from the way I remember singing it, and saying it with laughter with my friends on the schoolyard playground. This may or may not be the true origin of the rhyme. Sometimes we don't know about these things. But regardless, there is truth in the last sentence: ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
     
    For here we are on the Wednesday that signals the beginning of the season of Lent, the day we call Ash Wednesday. At the lunch meeting that Katie Ciorba and I had with our recent confirmands, we shared around the table our favorite church holidays, as an icebreaker while we ate lunch. Not surprisingly, Ash Wednesday was not mentioned by a single person, although Lent did get a favorable comment at one point. And yet it's such an important day in the life of the church, because it calls us to honest assessment, something rarely asked of us anywhere else. Ashes, ashes. We also come to death at some point. We prefer to dance around the roses. We prefer to ward off anything that confronts us with our own mortality, don't we? Our society supports that, in doing everything we can to avoid thinking about or preparing for our own deaths. So, we have our own ways of carrying around pockets full of posies to ward off the reality of death. Now, there's certainly nothing at all wrong with seeking the greatest health we can enjoy. We should do that. But at times, we are unrealistic about the effects of aging and frailty that our bodies will eventually display. That unrealistic bent leads us to denial of the truth of the matter because the truth is, in the end, each one of us will succumb. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
     
    Tonight you'll be invited to come forward to receive the sign of ashes on your forehead, a sign that will be made with ashes that were made (as I told the children) from the burning of Palm Sunday palms. The words you hear as you receive the ashes, if you choose to come forward, will be, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Ashes in the form of a cross will be placed on your forehead with this reminder of mortality. Some would say this is depressing. It can be. But the words are meant to remind us of the temporary nature of life. The words are meant to sound the trumpet for us, the loud alarm, that announcement that our lives do not last forever. We are formed from dust and one day we will all return to dust. To remember that our lives are temporary, is to remember to use them well.
     
    Prayers at the end stages of life often ask God to help us to live as those prepared to die, so that in our living and in our dying, our life may be in Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord. The words from Joel speak about fasting and mourning and returning to God. All of these are called forth from God. But Joel is quick to remind us that it is the intentionality of our hearts that needs assessment. Otherwise our outer exhibitions of mourning can belie a mockery of what God wants to see, as an inner commitment of hearts tenderized, opened up, rent apart by the truth of our need for God.
     
    Matthew says the same thing in different ways: get integrated, bring the disparate parts of yourself together. The words in Matthew's gospel call us out on our tendency toward hypocrisy. Jesus' instruction about prayer, like so much of what Jesus says, is a bit hyperbolic, exaggerated simply to make a point. His point is not to put down the act of praying in public, but to correct those who use prayer to pretend that they are religious, and to help themselves bolster up the idea that they are among the most faithful of all. And so Jesus says you might be better off giving up the showmanship and becoming humble, and doing the very hard work of prayer -- the hard work of daily prayer in a closet, if that's what it needs to be. He is speaking like Joel to the issue of hypocrisy and superficiality.
     
    I suspect that each one of us has come to this Ash Wednesday service for different reasons, but all of us are looking for something. Perhaps for a definite start to the Lenten season, a way to set the season apart. Others, perhaps, have come for inspiration and ideas. Some of you might be seeking a chance to think, to get centered, to decide will you give up something, or will you take on a new habit? Others come to services like this to try to get closer to Jesus, to try to identify with what he experienced. My hope for all of us is that no matter what we do this Lenten season, we will try to get honest -- honest with ourselves, honest with God, and honest with one another. It's honesty, shedding our pretenses in the ways in which we fool even ourselves, that will be an antidote to our individual and collective hypocrisy that creeps up at times.
     
    Say what you will about the vast sins of David that preceded his prayer of confession that we read responsively from Psalm 51. His sins were indeed grievous. But this prayer speaks of the great truth proclaimed by David that relates to us all -- that his offense is primarily against God, and so it is to God that he appeals in his recognition of his frailty. To the best of David's ability his confession is honest. He admits his brokenness. He allows himself to be humbled. He is ready for a journey like one he's never really taken before -- one where God is now the primary leader of his life. His own pride in what he had accomplished, up to this point, is seen for what it was: a disaster that led to sin and heartache. He is ready to throw himself on the mercy of God to begin anew. And that is what we do in Lent. We are beginning the journey of Lent together, and it's always wise to start out with honesty. We are told in Luke's gospel that Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. He knew that he was heading toward the week we now call Holy. Along the way, on that journey, his disciples had many reality checks. Jesus loved them too much to allow them to continue in their own self-deceptions. He called forth honesty and he spoke the truth to them with love, for their benefit. And he does the same for us.
     
    The ashes we will receive on our foreheads can be a reminder of his call to exhibit honesty. They can remind us that we are human, and in the end our struggles and sins and accomplishments and skills all turn to dust. We are mortal, and we easily sin. The shape of the cross that we made from the ashes will also be imperfect. A nice, even cross of ash is hard to make with fumbling thumbs and fingers. So the crosses will be imperfect too, because we are human. But the crosses will remind us that despite our sin, despite our humanness, we are sons and daughters of God, forgiven and freed from the weight of our failings, forgiven and loved in our mortality, invited into a journey of walking more closely with God toward the deeper life.
     
    Thanks be to God for his good word to us.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Ash Wednesday, Joel 2:1-2,12-17, Psalm 51:1-17, cleansing, pardon, Matthew 6:1-6,16-21, almsgiving, prayer, fasting, treasures, Luke 9:51
  • Feb 17, 2019Fish Or Cut Bait
    Feb 17, 2019
    Fish Or Cut Bait
    Series: (All)
    February 17, 2019. Jim Bennett's sermon today is about the call to discipleship of Isaiah, Peter, and Paul, and how each of them responded. How have we heard that call? And how have we responded?
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
     
    Well, today you're hearing a sermon that I intended to preach last Sunday. I'm getting the feeling that maybe Mother Nature never wanted me to deliver this sermon, but I hope none of you feel the same way after you hear it. But I have to admit, right from the start of this message, that I'm not a fisherman. I've never enjoyed fishing. I can remember as a little boy my father taking my older brothers and me to Lake Springfield, about a hundred miles north of here, and trying to teach us to catch fish. I never caught a thing. It was so boring. So I can relate to Peter in our gospel lesson today, when it says he and his fellow fishermen came in after a long night of fishing with empty nets. They didn't catch a thing either. And they were professionals.
     
    Now I realize, in sharing my lack of enthusiasm for fishing, I risk alienating some of our good church members who enjoy drowning worms and telling great fish stories, real or imagined, about the ones that got away. However, as much as I try, there is no way of escaping the topic today as our gospel reading is baiting us to engage the more contemporary significance of the story about how Peter became a disciple of Jesus. And the theme of responding to God's call is also echoed in our first lesson -- the call of the prophet Isaiah -- and in our epistle lesson where Paul recounts his conversion from being a persecutor of Jesus' followers to one who proclaimed the Gospel. So the lure is unmistakable. At our time in history, when researchers are telling us that fewer and fewer people are hearing and responding to the call to become disciples or followers of Jesus, perhaps a closer look at today's readings might help us better understand why that might be the case, and also be instructive as to how we might impact that trend.
     
    First I'd like to take a closer look at our lessons, and point out some of the similarities that are found in these three readings, and then secondly to talk about how they offer different perspectives about how one might respond to the call of discipleship. And thankfully, we have more options than just fishing. Most of you know that I was a hospital chaplain for 25 years. And one of the opportunities I had in that vocation was to encounter and learn about many different faith perspectives that allowed me to compare and contrast them with my own. Now educated as a Lutheran Christian and as a pastor, I was well-indoctrinated with an orthodox theology that helped me understand that I needed Jesus in my life, because of my human shortcomings. No matter how hard I try, my humanness gets in the way of being the kind of person God wants me to be.
     
    Now, the three characters in our lessons today -- Isaiah, Peter, and Paul -- when confronted with the call to follow, each responded similarly: with fear and a confession that they were less than perfect men. Isaiah responded to God's call by saying, "Woe is me. I am a man with unclean lips." Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian Church, recounted his place in the hierarchy of apostles saying, "I am the least of apostles, unfit to be called an apostle." And Peter, in our gospel when he realized he was in the presence of God and Jesus, called out, "Depart from me. I am a sinful man, O Lord." So the common theme in all of our lessons today points out that to be a follower of Jesus meant that I must acknowledge my sinfulness and humble myself before the Lord. That's why each Sunday, I take part in reciting the confession and receiving absolution, and taking part in the grace of God that comes to us through the sacrament of Holy Communion.
     
    Doing all of that doesn't make me better than anyone else. It just reminds me of my need for God in my life and makes me more grateful that God forgives my sins. Martin Luther reminds us that as Christians, we are both saint and sinner at the same time. In our current culture outside of our churches on Sunday mornings, it's hard to find good public examples of humility and gratefulness that inspire faith in God. That might be because we too often privatize our faith on one hand, or perhaps we elevate it as something special and put it on public display, when really humility and gratefulness and faith might otherwise inspire action. Maybe, to use another fishing analogy, we choose to stay on the dock or fish from the safety of shore, or maybe we pride ourselves with the most expensive bass boat with all the technology and then show off with the size of our catch. If we do that, rather than putting on our waders and getting out into deeper water and simply do the work of God, we are missing that opportunity.
     
    Now, we saw just a glimpse of these characteristics of humility and gratefulness and trust being put into action a few weeks ago, in the news cycle during our government shutdown, when restauranteurs and business owners and agencies and volunteers were moving to action to help those who were furloughed and not receiving paychecks. There were reports of great generosity and humility and gratitude. And now that the government has reopened and individuals are now receiving those paychecks, there's less reporting of that activity. And I'd like to think that that activity is continuing, but just not being recognized on national TV. God knows there are still plenty of people without work, without food, without homes.
     
    But you see, that is the thing. Recognizing my need for having God in my life, and knowing that my sins are forgiven, is really only half the story in our lessons today. Believe it or not, it was the easy half: acknowledging one's sinfulness and need for God in our lives is the easy half, because cheap grace would tell us that that's all we need to do, is acknowledge it and receive it. But if we're going to exercise that grace, we have to hear the more costly message in our gospel lesson. It's about how we respond, once we've recognized that need for God in our lives. And again, our lessons are illustrative of how we might learn from Isaiah and Peter, each responding differently after recognizing their call.
     
    Isaiah was already a court prophet. Now in Isaiah's days, there were many different kinds of prophets. And in his day the court prophets were the kinds of prophets who worked for the government, and simply told the king what the king wanted to hear. We probably still have some of those kinds of prophets in our day. But we hear that Isaiah was at risk, if he were trying to bring the king closer to God. He could have not only lost his job, but he could have lost his head. But Isaiah stayed true to his calling and remained a court prophet after receiving his call to discipleship. Now in the same way, I suppose when you or I respond to God's call to discipleship we might continue in our same profession. We might live in the same place. We might do many of the same things. But we also might do some things differently. Our motives and our values may change. We might witness to our call to discipleship by being better stewards of our environment, or our resources. Our gratitude or humility might lead to more acts of kindness, or lead to involvement in volunteerism or social justice issues. This kind of discipleship is epitomized, I believe, in the words of the good Roman Catholic St. Benedict, when he proclaimed to his hearers, "Preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words." What he was saying is that the way we live our lives can speak volumes. Today, St. Benedict might have been known as an environmentalist.
     
    Now in contrast to Isaiah's response to God's call, Peter's call to discipleship led him to respond differently. He left his former profession as a fisherman to become a fisher of people. Jesus later taught that Peter did that so well that he was going to choose Peter to be the rock on which he would build his church. In the generations of followers since Peter, we've had varying degrees of success in building the church. We struggled sometimes to understand what it means to be an evangelical church, charged with sharing the Good News of Christ as if it was more like a fishing derby, requiring a certain technique or a secret science around how or where to fish, and what bait or lure to use, to reel in the biggest catch. But perhaps this is where this analogy between discipleship and fishing needs to break down, because I don't believe that Christians, as followers of God, can be hooked like fish. The success or failure of building our church, or of witnessing to God's love, will not depend on gimmicks that lure people by using the right bait or catching them in nets. 21st Century Christians cannot be captured. Our confession today talked about how we instead have been captured by sin, but we cannot be captured into staying here at 8:00am or at 10:30am every Sunday morning. I haven't checked lately, but I don't think they lock the doors when you come in for church so that you can't leave. But we have, I think, need to adopt a newer philosophy. I call it "Catch and Release." The love of God can catch us, and then we are released to share that Good News with others.
     
    In scripture, the Apostle Paul tells us that faith comes from hearing. The church of Jesus Christ calls us to be disciples, and in some cases like Peter, to leave whatever we're doing to become followers, to share the Gospel in word and deed, or responding to God's call by changing our priorities or values. What we hear and experience is God loves us, and that our shortcomings are forgiven, and that there is a community of faith that cares about one another and about all of God's creation.
     
    So today, Isaiah, Paul, and Peter hear the call to discipleship and respond. How have you heard that call? How have you responded? Are we going to fish or cut bait?
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Jim Bennett, Isaiah 6:1-8, A Vision of God in the Temple, Luke 5:1-11, Jesus Calls the First Disciples, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, The Resurrection of Christ
  • Feb 3, 2019A Costly Kind of Love
    Feb 3, 2019
    A Costly Kind of Love
    Series: (All)
    February 3, 2019. Pastor Stephanie talks today about what is expected from a sermon, the rejection of Jesus in his hometown synagogue from Luke 4, and the costly kind of love that God exhibits for us and for all.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I'm going to ask you a risky question. Well, it would be risky if this were a one-on-one conversation, and if I were to give you the impression that I would adjust my behavior to your specific answer, above all the other answers I might receive from other people. But since there are many people gathered here today, we might each answer this question differently, and it's relatively safe then for me to ask it. My question is: what do you expect from a sermon? And maybe a follow-up: what would you most like to happen to you when you are listening to a sermon?
     
    Over the years. I've heard a lot of responses -- some solicited and some not. But all are still valid in their own way, perhaps. One person might say, "I like a sermon that helps me to think about a Biblical passage in a new and fresh way. I think a sermon ought to increase my understanding of the word of God." Another might say, "I want inspiration. I like a feeling that it takes me to a higher place than I can get to by myself. I need to feel the love of God through a message." Still another might offer this: "The best sermons are those that give me something practical to hang onto, something that I can do in response to God's love and message to me. I need to understand how this works out in my daily life." There's some value in each one of those types of responses. Any one of those or a combination of them is appropriate.
     
    But that means, if those are the prevailing expectations of sermons, I might have a problem today. None of those responses line up well with today's gospel reading. It's the story we began last week and conclude today, where Jesus is preaching in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. Jesus certainly taught and preached often, yet we really have very few accounts of his actual preaching besides this passage, the Sermon on the Mount, and a few other snippets. So knowing that Jesus was very purposeful in his ministry, we have to wonder what was he trying to accomplish here in Luke 4.
     
    I think we'll do a quick review of what came before, since this passage was divided in two. We had the first part of it last week, and now we are concluding it. So what happened in the reading from last week was that Jesus was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah when he showed up in his hometown synagogue to preach. He read wonderful words of promise from the scroll, including, "The spirit of the Lord is upon me . . . to preach good news . . . to the captives . . . recovery of sight to the blind . . . to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. . . . These words have been fulfilled in your hearing," he concluded.
     
    I tell you, there must have been a stirring in the congregation when Jesus read those stunning words. At long last, they thought, this long-awaited time of deliverance, foretold by the prophet Isaiah, sounds like it's being fulfilled now, today. Undoubtedly there was über excitement in the congregation at Nazareth. After all, who is more deserving of God's salvation, God's restoration, than these people who have, for centuries, awaited and prayed and longed for their deliverance? At last, God is making good on his promises. At last, God is coming for us. Good news! And not only that, but there had to be thoughts of: this guy, our hometown son, he's the real deal. Notice how charismatic he is? I'll follow him anywhere. He's headed in the right direction. Then Jesus rolled up the scroll and sat down to preach, as was customary. And that's when the trouble started.
     
    The expectation in the room was sky-high. Imagine the people who are thinking, "This is going to be a fantastic sermon. We are the oppressed, and we're finally going to get some release." But Jesus' message took a turn from where the expectations were headed. He did have them in the palm of his hand, until he started to preach. Being a student of the sacred scriptures, he says something like this: "Isaiah says that God is coming to deliver the faithful. I tell you, the day of the Lord's advent is now. Now, let's see. When was the last time that God came to us? Yes, it was during the time of the great prophet Elijah. We have waited a long time to see this happen again. But let me remind you, there were many, many famished Jewish women when there was a great food shortage in the land. Isn't it interesting to find that God's prophet gave food to none of those hungry Jewish women, but rather to a pagan Gentile woman?"
     
    A hush fell over the crowd. And not a good kind of silence. It was more like, "Wait, what did he just say? Why is he talking about those troublesome Gentiles? God's promises are for us, for God's people." And then from the other side of their brains, they perhaps said, "Okay, cut him some slack. Surely he'll get around to the true message here." But Jesus continued: "And there had to be lots of people suffering from various illnesses during the time of the prophet Elisha. But God's prophet healed none of them. Only one, a Syrian army officer, was healed." I imagine, don't you, that the words "Syrian army officer" fell on the ears in much the same way that that would be perceived today, if someone says that God is showing some preference, or some healing, for a Syrian army officer and maybe not us as much.
     
    Luke writes: when they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was filled with anger. They rose up and ran him out of town. They led him to the crest of the hill on which their town had been built, so that they could throw him off the cliff. Well, I've had some reactions to my sermons over the years where people thought I was meddling in areas that I should not venture. But so far, no one has yet tried to murder me. I hope to keep that good record, although if I want Jesus to be my model, maybe I'll have to rethink that.
     
    If you look at the photo on the cover of your bulletin you can see Mount Precipice, the crest of the hill where people took this son of their congregation, with the intention of casting him over the edge, to let the boulders and the gravity have their way with him. Now, why did the congregation in Nazareth become so very upset? What turned their initial adoration and praise into murderous rage? Because that day in Nazareth, the young hometown preacher reminded the faithful that during the days of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, some pretty high and elevated times in their corporate memory, God was also working on the other side of the street. God had worked compassionate wonders not only among them, the chosen people, but also for pagan outsiders. God had shown abundant love to those who didn't even bother to keep God's commandments or worship Israel's God. If this were merely a logical matter, one could say of course this was consistent with the nature of God revealed throughout Old Testament history. After all, their beloved Moses was said to have shared in Deuteronomy, and in many other passages, that God said "you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in Egypt."
     
    And who can forget that compelling story from the Book of Jonah, where God sends the prophet Jonah to the outsiders, the foreigners, the pagan Ninevites of all people, to tell them that God cared enough for them to tell them to repent and turn to God, out of God's love for them. Jonah was so outraged that God would love those people that he ran away, and he would have preferred death to seeing those people receive God's love. Nonetheless, God's love for them prevailed and they did turn to God. And surely they would have remembered the words from Isaiah, a prophet whom they really admired, who was more willing to do and say what God commands than Jonah. These words are recorded from Isaiah 49 as being God's words: "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to only restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept" -- in other words, those currently on the inside track. "I will also make you a light to the Gentiles that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth."
     
    But of course it wasn't merely logical, was it? It was fraught with emotion and all kinds of hopes and expectations and mental images. The evidence was there that God's love reaches out to all. But sometimes that can be hard to hear. But that's a very good thing for us, since we are the Gentiles of which this is spoken. We were not the insiders. Unless you have a long ancestry of being part of Hebrew people, perhaps you would be in that same category with me. We are the ones who were formerly foreigners, for whom God was adamant that the good news of his love be shared. So now God reminds us, who now feel like insiders, that whoever we think of as Gentiles or outsiders are the ones to whom we need to bear the light of God. God's barrier-breaking, inclusive, higher-than-the-mountains, deeper-than-the-deepest-sea kind of love is for everyone, because God is love.
     
    So maybe it's time that I owned up to a simple, working definition that I use for an effective sermon. The purpose of a sermon to me is to reveal something of the nature of God. Then, when we encounter the nature of God through word and spirit, we might also very well be inspired, or we might very well understand something more clearly about our lives than we did before. All kinds of responses are possible when we encounter the living God. We might even be moved to have a change of heart, in light of God's revelation. Most times I hope we recognize the vast difference between God and ourselves. As one sage put it: there is a god and you are not it. When we encounter the nature of God's love and see what the epistle today had to say about love, we recognize that it is much, much more than a sentimental feeling.
     
    1 Corinthians 13 is a lovely piece to read at weddings, but it really is a 30,000 foot high view of love that only God can achieve. I'll read a few of the words that are familiar to you anyway. "Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." It is a costly kind of love. It is held up for us as the pattern that only God, who is perfect love, can weave into our very being. It is the kind of love that God exhibits for us and for all.
     
    It was risky and costly for Jesus to preach to his hometown friends and family about God loving those, whom he knew from living in their midst, the people that they feared and disrespected. It was a costly love that compelled Jesus to wash feet and to serve in lowly ways. It was a costly love that led Jesus to stand up for the oppressed against powerful rulers of his day. It was a costly love that Jesus demonstrated as he faced rejection, humiliation, torture, and even death on the cross.
     
    Well, another thing that people often like about sermons is when they wrap up nicely and neatly, where everything holds together. I gotta admit, I kind of like that too. This isn't that day, however. It seems to me that this is an open-ended sermon. I think it's supposed to get finished with a bit of silence as we each reflect on the nature of God's costly love for us and for others. Instead of me making some suggestions of how you might respond to that, I suggest we all listen to God's spirit speak to us. So, we're going to take a couple of moments, maybe a minute, just for you and God to think together about love. And then I'll say amen.
     
    [A minute of silence]
     
    Please rise as you're able to sing our hymn of the day. The title is "In Christ There Is No East or West." It again reminds us of the boundary-breaking God who loves expansively.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, 1 Corinthians 13, Luke 4:16-30, Rejection of Jesus
  • Jan 20, 2019Timing is Everything
    Jan 20, 2019
    Timing is Everything
    Series: (All)
    January 20, 2019. The gospel story today is the Wedding at Cana, and Pastor Stephanie talks about chronos time versus kairos time in Jesus' response to his mother's request when the wine gave out.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    You know what they say: timing is everything. Whether you're telling a joke, making a dramatic entrance, or popping the question, timing is everything. When the timing is right, people erupt with laughter at your punchline. When the timing is off you might hear a deafening silence just when you get to that part. When timing is right, your entrance on the stage makes a statement. When your timing is off people barely notice. When timing is right, someone smiles radiantly in response to your proposal. But if your timing would be off you might get a laugh and a wave of the hand and a comment that says, "You must be joking." Ouch, that would hurt.
     
    Timing is everything, which is what makes this wedding story at Cana such a scene. Jesus, his mother, and his disciples are all guests, and are probably having a pretty good time. Weddings in that day were quite the occasion. Many times they lasted up to seven days in duration. But at this particular wedding, something happens three days in that could turn the tide from celebration to awkward embarrassment of the hosts. No, it's not the toasts that were given by the maid of honor or the best man that might be in bad taste. We've all experienced those awkward moments. And it's not that the wedding officiant mispronounced the names of the bride and groom or confused the vows, such as happens many times in a romantic comedy movie. It's just that the wine ran out too early. When wedding celebrations last seven days, running out of wine on day three signifies that something in the planning and the timing of the whole process went terribly wrong. Whatever the host had imagined would be needed for each of the days of celebration was off by a long shot.
     
    Now if it were us, we might whisper nervously to some friends and ask them to please make a run to the local wine shop and pick up some more. But in this time and place, that was obviously not an option. Running out of wine too early wasn't just a little embarrassing in this case, it was a social disaster. Those of you who especially enjoy a glass of fine wine will be happy to learn or be reminded that in the Bible, wine isn't just a social drink. It is much, much more than that. It's a sign of harvest. It's a sign of God's abundance. It's a sign of joy and celebration and gladness. So, to run short on wine meant experiencing a shortage of blessing. Worse than ruining a joke by messing up the punchline, poor planning on the quantity of wine needed would seem like awful timing. The wine has run out before the wedding has, and it's a potential catastrophe if it becomes widely known.
     
    Now, Jesus' mother doesn't seem to have much of a sense of timing either, at first glance. At least that's what Jesus seems to think by his comments. They have no wine, she says to her son. We don't know whether she was close to the families of the bride or groom and so eager to help, or whether she was just particularly sensitive and horrified at this kind of social faux pas. Because however much we appreciate hospitality today, the people of Jesus' time and culture practiced it as more than that. It was practiced as a survival skill, a way of looking after one another in a hostile and perilous environment, and an assurance of being looked after in return. No wonder it became a matter of honor as well.
     
    So, Mary expected Jesus to do something about this grave matter. But Jesus seems to think that this is another instance of bad timing. "Woman," he responds, taking an oddly formal tone with his mother. "Woman, what concern is that to you or to me? My hour, my time has not come." But Mary continues to act as though it is time for action. Rather than raise an eyebrow at his tone, or offer a counterpoint to his assertion, she turns to the servants and tells them simply "do whatever he tells you." Now it could be that, like a good Jewish mother, Mary knew her son would come around. Protest he might, but eventually he'll listen to his mother. Or, it could be that Mary knew how to tell time better than Jesus thought -- she was, after all, the one who brought him into the world. The one who heard the promises about him, who cared for him as a baby and watched him grow. The one who dried his tears as a child, and followed him herself when he became an adult. So perhaps we shouldn't be surprised if Mary recognized that wherever her son was on the scene, it was no ordinary time.
     
    Well, you know the rest of the story. Jesus instructs the servants to fill six large stone basins with water, to draw some of that water out, now turned to wine, and take it to the chief steward. Once again, timing is an issue. Most hosts, you see, serve the very best wine upfront (wanting to make a good impression) and save the cheap wine for later when the palates of the guests have been, shall we say, sufficiently dulled so as to not recognize the drop in quality. But this host, the steward assumes, has bucked that traditional timing and saved the best wine for last. And suddenly this wedding celebration has six huge basins, up to 180 gallons, of fantastic wine -- more than enough for the remaining days of the celebration. No one could now leave this wedding thirsty, for abundance and blessing overflowed.
     
    Timing is everything, and not just in this scene but across John's gospel. In fact, there are two kinds of time that animate John's imagination as he writes. One is the kind of time with which we count and track everyday events, the seconds and minutes, the hours and days of our lives. It's the time we spend standing in line, or clocking in at work, or waiting at the stop sign, or waiting for a birthday party to begin. Yes, the primary way that we think of keeping time this way is called "chronos," related to our word "chronology."
     
    But there is another kind of time at play, the kind of time that transcends chronos, or ordinary time. It is called "kairos" time, time of opportunity. In kairos time, all that is predictable fades, and what emerges in its place is sheer possibility. This is God's time, and it punctures through the ordinary canvas and clocks of our lives, at unexpected intervals, to reveal a glimpse of the divine. So, when Jesus speaks of "his hour," he isn't speaking of a particular date or time on his calendar. He's talking about the time when God will reveal his glory through his cross, resurrection, and ascension. The time when God will be accessible to all, once and for all. That time, that hour, Jesus says, has not yet come.
     
    Now in the coming months, our gospel readings will be coming from Luke. But, if we were to spend more time in the Gospel of John, you would see how frequently John records Jesus as saying something about whether the hour has come for him to do something, or whether it was not the hour. Something like seven or eight times he uses such phrases. Timing was everything for Jesus. And his apostle John took note. After all, even though he wrote this gospel many, many years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, he was still mindful, after all that time, of the significance of timing in Jesus' ministry.
     
    The gospel story begins by noting that what is about to be related occurred on the third day. That doesn't often occur in our gospel story, so it calls attention to itself. It makes you wonder whether John is wanting to grab our attention here in a particular way. Maybe he wants us to think, Hey wait a minute, did you just say the "third day" as in "on the third day he was raised from the dead?" Maybe it's his rhetorical way of reminding us what can happen whenever there is need and Jesus is on the scene. Could be he's setting us up for this story to see that in such cases, resurrection and abundance are right around the corner. He might even be inviting us to think of this story as a resurrection story.
     
    I wish I had thought of this, but here instead I need to give credit to a friend of mine who noted that maybe this is John's hint at what resurrection is like. What if the life that we live after this life is the most excellent improvement on every one of the best things that we experience in this life? What if what we've been experiencing in this life is like drinking acceptable enough table wine, but resurrection is something like being given the finest of the fine wines in abundance and in community and in fine quality? It makes some sense, since the "life to come" is described often as a table of great abundance and joy.
     
    You know, I have to admit: with all this emphasis on hospitality and joy, as I was working through the readings this week I realized that emphasizing the theme of abundance, joy, celebration at what God's presence brings to our lives wasn't completely sitting well with me. Maybe it's because of the nature of this weekend and what we observe with Martin Luther King weekend. I wasn't sure why though, until I read some articles and thought of others whose biblical work I admire, who express their own sense that it can be hard to dwell on the abundance and joy that we experience, when we feel burdened by knowing that life is so very difficult for so many people. Can we honestly celebrate when others are struggling so? I will get back to this. But first I want to acknowledge that this is of course the weekend that we especially honor the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. -- and really so many others who have sacrificed and pressed on in the march toward a society of greater dignity and equality for all.
     
    One of those key civil rights leaders who continues to advocate for justice and mercy is Representative John Lewis. I was able to hear Congressman Lewis speak several years ago at a conference on Christian discipleship. If you know much about his life story, you know that he endured beatings on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on Bloody Sunday in 1965, and on several other occasions. He continues to serve to the best of his ability, even as the decades have passed. John Lewis knows the cost of discipleship, yet he presses on. I remember hearing him speak on the powerful influence of deep joy in his life. Apparently, he speaks of this quite often, because it was easy to find several quotes that he shared on many occasions. This joy, he says, comes directly from his faith in God who is still active, and who has not given up on any of us. Even when Congressman Lewis acknowledges that we as a nation still have much work to do in our quest for racial justice, he also exhorts us to in the meantime continue to celebrate God's abundance and goodness, and to regularly root ourselves in the joy that comes from our faith. "We serve a god of love, mercy, and grace," he preached. "So don't give up, don't give in, and don't give out. Keep the faith, and keep on continuing the story. Be hopeful. Be optimistic. Never become bitter. Do not give in to hate. Continue to look for and celebrate the signs of God's abundant kindness, which are everywhere."
     
    Congressman Lewis' tenacious joy mirrors the character, the joy we see bubble up in this text from John. It's the kind of joy we hear in Mary's voice when she expresses a deep trust that Jesus will do what needs to be done. Even if she has no idea how or what or when, she knows that Jesus will take care of it. That is the joy that comes from deep trust and an assurance that God is in the middle of circumstances of life with us. With Jesus' mother, his disciples, and his servants who were the only ones at the wedding who knew where this extraordinary wine had come from, we too can celebrate.
     
    Jesus is in the midst of us. He is with us always, whether or not it is the right time for him to do what we hope he would do right now. It is always the time to stop, notice his grace among us, and celebrate his abundant goodness. Just as we acknowledge in our prayers of intercession, we weep with those who weep, even as we rejoice with those who rejoice. And we remember the ancient wisdom of Ecclesiastes, that there is a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
     
    May our worship continue with an awareness of the god whose presence we celebrate. Timing is everything. And for us, worship is the time for thanks, for praise, for adoration, for recognition of God's great abundance in our lives.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Marriage at Cana, Wedding at Cana, John 2:1-11, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, MLK
  • Jan 13, 2019Embraced and Celebrated
    Jan 13, 2019
    Embraced and Celebrated
    Series: (All)
    January 13, 2019. As a body of beloved children of God, we hold to a system of beliefs. But we also recognize that being the beloved is a just and generous way of life. Pastor Stephanie preaches today on the baptism of Jesus, and God's love for us and for all people.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I read from a veteran preacher source that there are two things people want to discover in a sermon: is there a story here, and am I in it? If that is true for you, I can assure you that in this sermon there is a story, and you are most assuredly in it. Please pray with me that the story that is present, and the place where each of us resides in it, might become revealed through the power of the Holy Spirit in these next few minutes as we ponder this together. Let's pray. Holy One, you reveal your truth in your word and through your spirit. As we wait upon you with expectation, enable us to hear what you have to say to us today, we ask of you, so that we might respond to your good news, the Gospel. In Jesus' name, amen.
     
    We are dropped into a scene in the Gospel of Luke where a crowd has gathered, exuding high energy. People were restless with anticipation. The buzz in every village was that change could be afoot. Positive change. Thoughts had been shared, perhaps at the city gate among the elders, and those thoughts found their way to dinner table conversations around villages. From there, the ideas and rumors became open wonderings about this unique, shall we say, person named John the Baptizer. His message captivated them. Chaos and corruption in their country had created such anxiety and despair that probably anyone who confidently called for people to repent and change their ways would get some kind of a following. But this John was a different kind of guy, in so many ways from others they had heard. His lack of smooth talk and promises, like so many would-be messiahs before him, somehow made them trust him more. Because he did not make promises that their jaded hearts knew by now could not be fulfilled by anyone but God, they listened to him. He actually pointed them to God, rather than trying to draw people to himself. John reminded them of what they knew to be true. They needed a fresh start, and John pointed them to that.
     
    And so they asked John, "Are you the messiah? Are you the one who can refresh our lives and give us a true and lasting hope?" Imagine their surprise then when John said plainly, "No, I am not. I am not the one you have been longing for." But he respects their desire to know anything at all that John can tell them to give them hope. And so he tells them that the one they have hoped for is coming, and coming very soon. Is that the moment when he sees his cousin Jesus out of the corner of his eye, standing in the middle of the crowd, lining up to be baptized? Because Jesus was there standing around with everyone else who had come to be baptized that day. And then in the very process of Jesus experiencing the water of baptism, something remarkable happens. The heaven was opened, the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove, and a voice came from heaven saying, "You are my son, my beloved. In you I am well pleased."
     
    Now clearly this is a story of the baptism of our Lord. Did he need to be baptized as a sign of repentance? No, he did not. But in concert with his entire life's mission of coming to be with us, to demonstrate God's deep love for us, he was baptized. You may remember how frequently he would call people "daughter of God" or "son of Abraham," "son of God." Those are endearing titles that let people know that they, and we, are beloved children of God.
     
    Remember the Isaiah 43 reading, where God's love for us is strongly underscored? It says when you pass through the waters of difficulty, they will not overwhelm you. When you go through the fires of challenges, they will not consume you. If you want to flip back a page in your bulletin to see it again, you will see these words from God saying, "I have called you by name. You are mine. When you go through all these things that you might think would separate you from me," God assures us, "no circumstance can separate you from me. No way. I am with you. You are mine. You belong to me. You are my beloved. You are precious in my sight and honored, and I love you." Called by name, each one of you is known intimately by God and cherished as God's son, as God's daughter. Known by name, God is always with you. You are precious in God's sight. God honors you and God loves you. Your name might be Luke, or Sylvia, Kate, or Mike. But to God you have another name. So you are Beloved Luke. Beloved Sylvia. Beloved Kate. Beloved Mike. Baptism is a gift for us. It reminds us of our identification as being a child of God. It's about hearing the promises of God to be with us throughout our lifetimes. It is celebrating our belovedness. Knowing this changes everything for us.
     
    Do any of you ever do any negative self-talk? Just know, if you do, that does not come from God. Try to root that out. Of course, you are not perfect, but you are not stupid or whatever other label you might put on yourself that denigrates you. You are a beloved child of God. You, and you, and you, and you -- I could point out each and every one of you here present -- all of us who are part of this family, and those who are not present with us today, are the beloved. I am the beloved. We are part of the worldwide community of the beloved people of God. Now children who are secure in the knowledge that they are loved can become more loving toward others. Isn't that true? The more we revel in the love God has for each of us, the more we are able to recognize how very much God also loves others.
     
    Christ Lutheran Church affirms that all people are beloved of God. In preparation for the annual report on last year, I was looking through records and I found a statement that you adopted in November of 2017. It's a truly beautiful statement, laced with the understanding that all people are beloved of God. Let me read it to you. Some of you here undoubtedly helped to craft it, and I'm sure it's been shared periodically. But you may not have heard it recently. So here it is. It says, "Welcome to Christ Lutheran Church. We are a growing church community that welcomes and affirms all who seek God's grace. The world is often an unloving place. But as Christ has shown his love for us, we pledge to show love to one another. Members of Christ Lutheran humbly strive to create wholeness, inclusion, justice, understanding, and healing in a world divided. We affirm that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female (from Galatians 3:28). Christ has made us one. People of all sexual orientations, gender identities, ethnic and racial backgrounds, economic conditions, people who are differently abled, and all who may feel excluded, are embraced and celebrated at Christ Lutheran Church."
     
    If that doesn't cause a lump in your throat, then read it again, because it will then. We live into our baptism together. Our recognition that we are God's beloved as we extend hospitality, grace, and love to others. It reveals to them that we acknowledge that everyone is beloved of God. That is no small thing. Where this happens, here or anywhere, it is life-changing for people to know that they are beloved. The Christian church in this country and world could be described as the early church was, as turning the world upside down with love, if it majored in communicating belovedness in all that it says and does. But of course, such is not the state of things in far too many sectors.
     
    In his book The Great Spiritual Migration, Brian McLaren writes this: "For centuries, Christianity has been presented as a system of beliefs. That system of beliefs has supported a wide range of unintended consequences, from colonialism, to environmental destruction, subordination of women, to stigmatization of LGBTQ people, anti-Semitism to Islamophobia, religious leader pedophilia, to white privilege. What would it mean," McLaren asks, "for Christians to rediscover their faith, not as a problematic system of beliefs, but as a just and generous way of life rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion, that makes amends for its mistakes, and is dedicated to beloved community for all. Could Christians migrate from defining their faith as a system of beliefs, to expressing it as a loving way of life?"
     
    You know the answer to that question. Yes, as a body of beloved children of God we do hold to a system of beliefs. We affirm those beliefs in the Apostles' Creed and in other faith statements that we make, but we also recognize that being the beloved is a just and generous way of life, is dedicated to the beloved community for all. This coming transitional year has the possibility of seeing this dedication to being the beloved come together in fruition, in ever new and God-honoring ways.
     
    At this point I'd like to remind you of a practice that was made and known by none other than Martin Luther. Among many other things, Luther is remembered for passionately reminding people to "remember your baptism," he would say passionately and with fervor. Many, but certainly not all of us, were baptized as babies and can't remember our baptisms. But I think Luther meant something bigger than our historical memory of one day, and I have a feeling he wasn't just talking about dressing up in a pretty white dress or suit, having a party, and if we're a baby having everyone say how sweet we look. In his catechism, Luther wrote this: "A truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism once begun and ever to be continued." His own practice was to place his hand on his head most mornings, if not every morning, and say to himself, "I am baptized."
     
    Today as you come forward for communion, I invite you to dip your fingers into the water right here at the baptismal font, and either make the sign of the cross on your forehead or place your hand on your head -- whatever is most comfortable for you -- and say to yourself, "I am baptized" or "I am a beloved child of God." Then you'll be served the bread and the wine. As you do these things, remember who you are. Remember whose you are. And remember how very beloved you are, as you remember what God has done for you in Christ Jesus.
     
    Today in churches all around the world, people are still being baptized, still being washed in the living waters, still thirsting for God's grace and the word of forgiveness and life. Still waiting to be included, to find their place in the story of healing and salvation, still longing for their chance to start life over. Just like those crowds coming out to the wilderness so long ago with Jesus right there in their midst. Maybe you are with them and needing to be reminded of the vastness of God's love in calling us his own and washing us anew with grace, forgiveness, and hope. I think if we're honest, we're all in that place. The voice from heaven says, "You are my child, the beloved. With you I am well pleased." These words may come from heaven, but they do not come out of the blue. They echo God's words from Isaiah, mentioned earlier, from long before. "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name and you are mine. You are precious in my sight and honored, and I love you."
     
    Thanks be to God for this extraordinary love that is given to us all. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Isaiah 43
  • Dec 24, 2018Peer Into the Manger
    Dec 24, 2018
    Peer Into the Manger
    Series: (All)
    December 24, 2018. Pastor Stephanie invites us to peer into the manger this Christmas Eve and be amazed by God's love made flesh.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Well, here we are at Christmas Eve at last. Most likely, you've had at least 24 days of preparation for this night. Now, some of you started much earlier than that, when December 1 arrived and you turned that over in your calendar. Some other people here might be squirming even now and hoping some store is still open because you've just got one more person for whom you probably should get a gift. Or some of you are smiling smugly and saying, "I just started my shopping this morning and got everything I needed, so what's the big deal?" At any rate, I imagine each one of us is experiencing a mixture of feelings this night. There's the eagerness for the experience of sharing this time with loved ones and taking in the lights, the music, and the festivities of the season -- as well as more than a little bit of fatigue and the weariness of perhaps too many late nights and early mornings than usual to get everything ready.
     
    Whatever your routine has been of getting ready for celebrating Christmas, we are grateful to be able to welcome you here tonight. We're glad that you have come to celebrate this special night with us. Even as I say that, I'm wondering about the various motivations represented tonight for being here. Do you know why you are here? What has prompted you to come? We're not taking a poll. But I think it's safe to assume that some of you are here because this is your Christmas custom. You cannot imagine not being in a place where the carols are sung, where the familiar story of Jesus' birth is read, and the candles -- or in the case of this particular service, the glow sticks will be activated -- as we sing during a lovely, peaceful moment the beautiful strains of "Silent Night."
     
    Just as likely, some of you are here because you felt a little pressure to join a family member who wanted to be here. Or perhaps worship is no longer a part of your regular weekly life, but there is just something about this night that draws you in, filling you with good memories of Christmases past, and reminds you of what used to hold meaning in your life, what once gave you a frame of reference. Perhaps you are here because you are searching. You have a deep sense, or a deep hope, that there is more to life than merely what you see around you. And so you have come. And finally, I imagine some of you are in worship on this Christmas Eve because you were lonely or grieving. On this night of all nights, you need to be among people, any people, in a safe space, a holy space, a space where you can just breathe.
     
    Regardless whatever the motivation, whatever has summoned you into this time of worship, at some level it probably has to do with the baby who is the center of the Christmas story. At some level, your reason for being here is intertwined with a desire to peer into the manger, once again, to see who exactly is in that manger and try again to comprehend what that baby means for us, and for our lives. Deep down, perhaps that is the real reason you are here. It is one reason that I am here. I am here to peer into the manger once again. I am here to imagine that baby's face. I am here to listen for, to remember, to ponder the story of God becoming flesh.
     
    I am well aware that this is a concept that is not easily understood, and I've come to accept that this is just part of the mystery that holds me in its grip -- that the almighty God would become human flesh as an expression of love. It's a concept that has inspired all kinds of speculation about a conversation that just might have happened when God told the angels about this plan. In response to God announcing this plan in the Heavenly realm, one of my favorite authors, Barbara Brown Taylor, surmises: This could have happened. We don't know. But the angels might have asked God, "Could you at least create yourself as a magical baby with special powers? It wouldn't take much, just the power to become invisible. Maybe the power to hurl bolts of lightning as the need might arise." The angels all felt like God coming as a baby was a stroke of genius idea, but it lacked adequate safety measures. God thanked the angels for their concern but said no. God thought just becoming a regular baby would be best. How else could God gain the trust of God's creatures? There was a risk, a very high risk, but that was part of what God wanted us to know, that God was willing to risk everything to get as close to us in hopes that we might receive this gift as a love letter from God, for each and every one of us.
     
    That's why we need to peer into the manger to be reminded of this wonder. God has chosen to come near to us, to be with us even in our everyday, normal lives. That's why we need to look at the baby Jesus' face. We need to once again be drenched in the mystery of the Incarnation, the gift of God becoming Emmanuel, God with us. God with us forever. For when we peer into that manger, we believe, we trust that we don't only see the face of the baby Jesus. When we peer into that manger, we believe and trust we also see the face of God. The baby reminds us that God loves us in this world so much that God simply could not stay away. God had to come and be one of us, one with us, so that we would know once and for all that no matter how much darkness we see, and how heavy life can feel, it will not overcome us and it will not last forever. When we peer into that manger, we are reminded that we worship a god who decided to get down into the dirt with us, down into the messiness and complications of life with us. When we peer into that manger, we see that God knew we needed a god, a savior who had tasted the darkness and the tensions of human existence firsthand. The baby in the manger proclaims to us that, because God chose flesh and blood, and we now know that there is nothing we can live with that God has not already absorbed into God's own heart as a result.
     
    Because of Jesus, God knows what it's like to be born, to be pushed out into this world. Because of Jesus, God knows what it is like to be vulnerable, to be a child, to be weak in power and completely dependent on others. And because of Jesus, God knows what it's like to grow up, to hurt, to die, to lose a loved one, and to weep. Because of the face of the one we see when we peer into the manger, we believe and trust that God knows all of what it means to be human, to be a creature, to be you and me.
     
    What is it that we see when we peer into the manger? We see a god who is strong enough to become a baby. We see a god who is powerful enough to take on human weakness. As former Yale chaplain John Vannorsdall once proclaimed, "By coming to be with us as a baby, God was demonstrating unilateral disarmament with humanity. Any concept we might have formed that God relishes coming to us in judgment can just go away in the face of the baby Jesus. Any god who comes as a baby," he preached, "is a god who intends us absolutely no harm." No harm. Only life. Only loving relationship. The kind of god is the one we see when we peer into the manger on this night. So whether you are part of worship on this Christmas Eve out of curiosity, or guilt, whether you are part of worship out of a routine and a deep desire for meaning, whatever has called you to this set apart moment, I hope you'll take the time tonight to look again and see.
     
    Every Christmas Eve I want to do that, to peer into the manger, to imagine that baby's face. I hope we will all indeed pause and consider what it means that God did not decide to simply act from above to save us, that God did not decide to swoop in with all power and might to force us into some kind of redemptive relationship. Nor did God simply decide to create us and just walk away, leaving us to stew in our own brokenness and despair. Rather, the baby in the manger proclaims to us that in Mary's body and with her consent, God became one of us. Not in theory, but in truth, so that we might know forever how God embraces us and this world, the world that God created and continues to redeem, and is making new, bit by bit.
     
    In the baby Jesus, God became one of us, one for us, one with us, so that we could see that indeed Isaiah's promise has come true. The people who walked in darkness will see a great light. This light shines for all, and the darkness shall never overcome it. Indeed, one day the darkness will give way to everlasting light. That proclamation is what we see when we peer into the manger this evening. That proclamation is what we most earnestly longed for. That proclamation is the promise that's already on the way. That proclamation is Christmas. So come, look, and be amazed. It's God's love made flesh to show us love.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot
  • Dec 23, 2018Bending Toward Justice
    Dec 23, 2018
    Bending Toward Justice
    Series: (All)
    December 23, 2018. On this Fourth Sunday in Advent, Pastor Stephanie preaches on reasons to be hopeful, the Magnificat, and the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I first heard the proclamation on the radio in the morning news several days ago: Merriam-Webster declared that its chosen word of the year for 2018 is "justice." Peter Sokolowski, editor-at-large, explained to the Associated Press why this word was chosen. "Searches for 'justice' throughout the year, when compared to 2017, were up 74% on the site that has more than a million page views a month and nearly half a million entries. To be word of the year worthy, an entry has to show both a high volume of traffic and a significant year over year increase in lookups," he said. "We are not editorializing. We looked at our data and we were ourselves surprised by this word. This is a word that people have been clearly thinking about for this entire year."
     
    Why would you suppose this would be the case? Yes, there was the Supreme Court Justice nomination and confirmation process that dominated the news for weeks. And yes, there is the ongoing story of the Mueller investigation, with the various courts of justice involved. Both of those undoubtedly prompted many of the lookups. But also, Sokolowski noted that there are verifiably more stories and op-ed articles with a high degree of reader interest on where we are in this country in the areas of criminal justice, racial justice, and social justice in general. These are hopeful signs. At least I want to believe that the curiosity in referencing this word is borne out of a longing for true justice to reign. Don't you hope for the same thing? I think we have reason to hope for what is happening. There is a deep restlessness to see justice given and received as normative. For justice to describe the way things are rather than merely what we feel they should be.
     
    Well, the theme of justice in Mary's song in our gospel reading, commonly called the Magnificat, is unmistakably present. Mary praises God for scattering the proud, for bringing down the powerful from their thrones, and lifting up the lowly. Mary's song celebrates that the least of these, the lowliest and the humblest, are lifted up, while the injustices perpetrated by the high and mighty will come to an end. You've probably heard the phrase "those who sing pray twice." There's something about a song that reaches us to the depths of our being. A song can put into words what we are often incapable of expressing in other ways, and Mary's voice echoes throughout the years as a refrain of hope, joy, and praising God for reorienting actions of justice. She voices the hearts and minds of generations of people for whom injustice has long been the norm. She uses verbs that indicate that there is a reason to hope in the present, that God has already done marvelous things like bringing down powerful ones from their thrones and filling the hungry with good things. She sees that God is also currently showing mercy for those who honor him.
     
    When my husband shared an article with me a few days ago, I could not help but see how it illuminates God bringing justice around the world. Even if the author did not use the phrase we use in the ELCA, "God's work, our hands," his conclusions are the result of many, many hands engaged around the world to bring about God-inspired justice. The article is titled "Four Reasons to Be Hopeful," and it starts out by saying that 2018 has not been an easy year in many senses. Kind of an understatement, I thought. But I kept reading because I'm a sucker for anything that promises hopeful news. The author writes, "Under the radar, some aspects of life on earth are getting dramatically better." I will share three of the reasons here.
     
    Extreme poverty is falling. You've probably heard over the years, and the decades actually, that millions of people in underdeveloped countries have been living on roughly one to two dollars per day, as inconceivable as that is to imagine. But many studies have shown that there has been a huge decline in the number of people for whom that is true. That statistic has gone down, from 36% of the world's population in 1990, to 10% percent in 2015. That's still too many to be sure for those people affected, but it's a hopeful trend.
     
    A second hopeful sign is that child mortality is falling. It has plummeted from 1990 to 2017, according to the United Nations Population Division. An overall improvement in global public health has accompanied the decline in extreme poverty. One good example: kids who were born in 2017 in developing countries are much more likely to not only reach five years of age than they were before, but to be able to live many more years after that -- well beyond the same kids who were studied in 1990.
     
    A third hopeful sign: we're getting better at preventing preventable diseases. One of the most effective preventative measures in this report is the one I chose to highlight because it's the growing use of bed nets to prevent malaria. Bed nets are a highly effective intervention that prevent infections that can lead to death. The number of people contracting malaria in Africa in the last couple of decades has dropped dramatically. For several years, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and other churches and agencies have advocated for donations to be sent to purchase these bed nets. It's always great to hear how effective our giving has been in being a blessing to the lives of others. These gifts have fostered health and extension of life. Justice for the lowly is being served. Martin Luther King Jr. was fond of saying, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." God has done and is bringing down tyrants from their thrones. Whether they are actual people or whether they are systems of discrimination and oppression, God is lifting up the lowly. We can sing about that along with Mary.
     
    Now we said that this is the fourth Sunday in Advent. I will bring you back to the first Sunday, if you can remember some of the readings from that day. But that is the time when we celebrate John the Baptist crying in the wilderness for the low places to be raised, for the mountains to be raised up, for the rough places to be ironed out, and he concludes, "Where all people will see the action and the salvation of God together." Advent now comes to a conclusion with the proclamation by Mary that God is the great leveler of all of those things that have been uneven and unfair. God is the great judge meting out justice so that all people, whether they are brought low or raised up, can see the goodness of God as God turns the world as we have known it in its struggles upside down. Mary's song is a celebration of what God has done for her and does for everyone. That is why Martin Luther wrote about this song of Mary that, "She sang it not for herself alone, but for all of us to sing it after her."
     
    And sing it we will. We will close the service today by singing the "Canticle of the Turning," with the passion and fervor of Mary for the great things God is doing. We'll sing these words:
     
    My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the
    Fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the
    Dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn!
     
    This morning we will sing. And we will pray. And we will gather at the Lord's table for all people as expressions of our faith in the God who brings justice and makes all things right. And today also, we will baptize a little baby boy, because we also affirm our faith in the God who is making all things right in the Rite of Baptism. It calls for followers of Christ to live into reality that is not yet fully seen, but coming into being because of God's trustworthy promises. As people of faith, we baptize our children as a sign of hopefulness. It is a sign of our trust in the God who is degree by degree turning the aspects of the world that need correction upside down. Or you could also say that God is turning the world right side up.
     
    In faith we say together: amen Lord, may it be so. Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot
  • Dec 2, 2018All the Signs Point to Christ
    Dec 2, 2018
    All the Signs Point to Christ
    Series: (All)
    December 2, 2018. Be prepared, for Jesus is coming. Jon Heerboth preaches on this first day of Advent about the preparations we Christians make for the Christmas celebration.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Be prepared, for Jesus is coming. It's the first Sunday in Advent, as we've been hearing all morning. And for us it's the beginning of a new church year and the time when we prepare for Christmas, which is our celebration of the first coming of Jesus Christ. When I think about getting ready for Christmas, I think about the little baby Jesus in the manger, the stable, the peaceful quiet night, the choir of angels, the pretty things that make me want to go home and set up my tree and my humble decorations and get out my Christmas Lego. I don't think about things that are mentioned in the lesson today. So we have to be prepared because there are no gentle images in today's gospel lesson. In fact, those images are anything but gentle. They're pretty brutal, and they were pretty brutal in Luke's time as well, when he read them. The people who heard this story from Luke the first time were worried, because the city of Jerusalem had been destroyed and the temple had been sacked, and the walls were pulled down stone by stone. It was a complete disaster.
     
    But today, it's not the helpless infant, but more of that. Images of the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. In the Christmas story, we see almost a paradox. The humble baby Jesus and then in today's gospel, the coming in clouds. Power and might. Glory. Maybe the destruction of the earth. God keeping the rest of his promises. And so we have to be prepared, because as Jesus tells us in Luke, the signs are all around us. Signs in the sun, the moon, the stars. Signs in the news, in shootings, in tragedies. Earthquakes in Alaska. Fires in California. Mayhem everywhere. Corruption. Hunger. And if you look at today's Post Dispatch, homelessness. Signs in the distress in families. Signs in the tragedies caused by a warming planet. What in the world is going on? What's the world coming to, we ask?
     
    Well, what happens to you when you're frightened, when you're pressed down or dismayed? I know sometimes we can't even concentrate because of what Jesus called the "roaring of the sea and the waves," or to us, the many distractions and stresses of our lives in a sinful world. We even have trouble in the month of December just getting ready for the Christmas holiday, which should be a time of peace and joy and families thinking about the first coming of Jesus Christ. It seems like everything can be difficult. In verse 26 today, Jesus said that people will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaking. What is my life coming to? I ask when I'm weighed down by cares and worries. I might walk more slowly. My shoulders sag. I might be burdened by my own actions or behaviors that I wish I could set aside.
     
    Earlier in chapter 21, Luke warned that things will not be easy as the end times approach. They're not going to be easy for Christians, either. Our lives will fall apart, he said. We will face hostility from neighbors, legal problems even, or even conflict within our own families. But for us though -- and this is almost a paradox -- all of these signs, all of these troubles, all of these trials in our lives point to Christ. When these things happen, our redemption is drawing near.
     
    Now, redemption already came to us in the past once and for all, with the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now that redemption is available to us, now and into the future. Even though the world around us may fall apart, that's not a sign of God's absence or lack of concern for us. We are still God's people. We have the promise of God's presence in our midst, even in the middle of all of our problems that we face from day to day.
     
    Now after Jesus listed all the depressing signs in his world, he stopped for a minute and spoke to his listeners in a very pastoral way. God's words, his reassuring promise of salvation, will last and will not fail. He said that while Heaven and Earth will pass away, his promises to us, his assurance that he is with us, God will remain with us always, and his promises will not fail. What the world sees as signs of despair, and heaven knows there are plenty of signs of despair out there, we see as signs of hope, because our redemption is here and now and will come again, Luke says, in power and majesty. Because everything points to Jesus Christ. Now we are all God's children, claimed and named in baptism. We are assured of eternal salvation by faith, in the death and resurrection of Jesus. By God's grace our sins are forgiven. We are redeemed and reconciled before Christ because of what Christ has done for us. This morning here in church we confessed our sins once again and received absolution, God's reassurance that our sins are forgiven. We are redeemed now before God so we can pray "Thy kingdom come" and mean it.
     
    In Advent, we remember God's coming in history, God's presence among us now, and we prepare for Jesus' return in majesty at the end of time. We pay attention to so much more than just the birth of Jesus. But how do we prepare for Christmas with the deep sense that God's work is still unfinished? There are still promises that we expect God to keep, so we have a sense of longing inside of us for the ultimate redemption and fulfillment of all God's promises that we encounter in the Bible. And we pray for him to come and fulfill those promises.
     
    We Christians prepare for Christmas in lots of ways. We go ahead and decorate our homes, light up the street even, go shopping for gifts, and we celebrate like everybody else. But we are also nonconformist. Our preparations, and you can see them here -- the blue paraments, the color of hope we say, we can come to church and see that. We can attend Advent services, the Holden Evening Prayer -- that beautiful, short reminder of God's promises to us. We can read daily Advent devotions. We come and practice for the cantata once a week, sometimes twice a week -- which I would recommend to anyone. (You know, the choir pays for advertising, so...) So we decorate the church, and we do what we have to do to remember God's promises to us. Our goal as Christians is to find God in our preparations for the Christmas celebration. We have to be able to see the coming of Christ, even though we have cares, burdens, fears, and sins -- even though it's often very hard to see God's work in the morning paper. We have to remember that for us, all of the signs point to Christ.
     
    In the reading from Thessalonians this morning, Paul explained to his readers what it means to be waiting for the Lord's return. Now, he wrote directly to the Christians at Thessalonica. He also speaks to his brothers and sisters at Christ Lutheran Church in Webster Groves. In verse 12 and 13 he hoped that the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. Here at Christ, we will prepare by being a distinctive and loving community while we await the Lord's return. We will pursue holiness by obedience to God's wishes, and through everyday discipleship within our community and out in our daily lives. So, we prepare for this upcoming event, the final turning point in Christians' experience: the second and final coming of Christ. So we may go shopping for Christmas gifts. Let us also find God this Advent season by attending church.
     
    We find God by hearing the word. We find God in the bread and in the wine. We find God in our prayers for one another and for the people of the world at large. We will surely find God in each other, in our sisters and brothers who wish us God's peace every Sunday. In verse 28 of our text today, Jesus says that when the signs of his second coming appear, we should stand up and raise our heads because redemption is drawing near.
     
    Here at Christ Lutheran Church, when we raise our heads and look up (you can do that now, raise your heads and look up) who do you see? You see the face of Christ over this incredibly beautiful altar. So we encounter Christ here the same way we should be encountering Christ everywhere, a constant reminder of God's promise of salvation and God's love for all people. Most important, we have to remember that Jesus, who died and rose, is still here with us and will return again at the end.
     
    Now before we end, I ran across something. My dad died about six-and-a-half years ago, and he was quite a scholar. He loved languages and spent a lot of his time studying. And he left a pile of books. Ordinarily you would just pass them on or get rid of them, but I don't think he wanted us to do that because in the books, he left notes. He left his old textbooks. He had cartoons of his professors that he drew. He left little notes here and there. Even in the pages of the book there would be little nuggets. But when I was preparing for this, I took his relatively new Greek New Testament and I opened the front cover, and as he would do there was a paragraph and so I ran into it. I hadn't seen it before, and it was in Latin. Of course. He knew that would drive me crazy. So I got his old lexicon out -- it's literally almost 200 years old -- and started trying to translate it. And then I realized my translation was no good, but I recognized what he had written. And it was the prayer for the first Sunday in Advent. And next to it, he wrote, "This prayer is the gateway to Eden for people who study the word of God." And I just thought we should end today by repeating this little prayer that we've already said. I like the little different translation of it better than what we said earlier. So let's pray together the words of the prayer for the day:
     
    Stir up your power, O Lord, and come. Rescue and protect us from the threatening perils of our sins by your might. For you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.
     
    The hymn for the day is 246, "Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding!" Take a look as you sing. Concentrate on verse 4, the words of comfort:
     
    When next he comes in glory
    And the world is wrapped in fear,
    He will shield us with his mercy
    And with Words of Love draw near.
     
    And so we rise, if we're able, for the hymn.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Jon Heerboth
  • Nov 25, 2018Authority Issues
    Nov 25, 2018
    Authority Issues
    Series: (All)
    November 25, 2018. How do you respond to authority? Pastor Stephanie preaches on John 18 and the interaction between Pilate and Jesus, two people who each have authority vested in them.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I have a question for you: How do you respond to authority? Don't worry, it's a rhetorical question, since I can't go row by row getting your responses right now. Even if I could, there would be many of you who would probably say, "Well, it's complicated." It's a difficult thing to answer, and I completely understand that. After working with a very authoritarian pastor in my first seminary fieldwork experience until I could take it no longer, I learned that I have authority issues. Never had to think too much about that before that year. And thankfully I had professionals around me who could help me to process the interior work that I needed to do around that issue. It did help to soften it some, to know that other seminary students had had issues with that same pastor. And so after my experience, the seminary little longer sent any students over to that pastor to work with him.
     
    But still, since I was bound to encounter others who exerted authority in the same manner in which this guy did, in ministry and in life in general, I had to learn and grow from that experience. Even with the self-reflection I took on after that, that is not to say that all of my authority issues have been resolved. I'm still a work in progress on that, and in so many other ways. We may like to think that not many people do have authority over us, because we like to emphasize our freedom and our autonomy, don't we?
     
    I'm reminded of the time when our oldest son expressed so emphatically one day when he got home from school, "I am the boss of me." If you're a parent, you'll know how glad we were to hear that. It took a little debriefing for Phil and me to understand where that had come from. But as we talked with Andrew more, we began to understand that his class had been listening to the school counselor that day, and she was helping them to understand boundaries of how to operate and respond with strangers. That all made perfect sense, and I was grateful for that reinforcement of what we were also teaching him. But it didn't mean that his father and I were less authority figures than we had been before that day.
     
    Because it is complicated to figure out how we relate to those in authority over us, the interaction between Pilate and Jesus in John 18 is intriguing, if we stop to analyze it. These are two people who each have authority vested in them. They are each called by various names by those around them and many of the titles imply elevated leadership, even though the power dynamics in this instance seem very unequal. Pilate seems to loom larger, since from a purely human point of view it would appear that he holds Jesus' future in his hands. But let's look at this as objectively as we can. Pilate has subjects who follow based on coercion, and structures set up for him to be obeyed or else. We don't even want to know what that might mean. But Jesus has followers who come by way of invitation and response. Pilate has soldiers all around his palace that would do his bidding on command, in an instant. Jesus is standing all alone before him with no apparent support system, much less foot soldiers nearby. Pilate is in control of this interview, yet he is the one who is threatened by Jesus. He must inquire as to whether Jesus does claim to be a king, as his followers have designated him, whether or not Jesus is guilty of committing any crimes. The one thing Pilate wants to know most of all: is this guy a threat to me and my authority? We've all known people like that, haven't we?
     
    Jesus, by contrast, is not threatened by Pilate in the least. He is calm, he is confident, and he speaks with authority that allows him to turn the question of whether he is the king of the Jews back to the questioner. "Do you ask this on your own, or have others suggested this to you?" Jesus is amazing in that he is clearly not anxious in this situation. I think we can perceive from his demeanor that he is communicating, "You, Pilate, are in authority within your own little kingdom, but you cannot stir me up because you are not in authority over me. And as a matter of fact, I have a question for you to ponder. What is it about you that worries you so much about me? Your own insecurity, or your desire to please others so you can retain your power?" If we are at all honest with ourselves, questions like that, when addressed to us, can be unnerving as well. We really don't want to probe that deeply to find out why we act or react as we do in our most anxious moments at times. At this point Pilate is not interested in probing his own motives. No, this is way too scary for him, or perhaps unlikely. He was too pompous to think that it might even be relevant. You can almost hear the fear in his voice when he nearly spits out, "I'm not a Jew, am I?" He refuses to let this be anything about him. So he throws it back on Jesus, reminding him that he must have done a terrible thing to have his people handing him over to Pilate.
     
    Well, one of the most common human responses to fear is to run and hide or, as in the case of Pilate, to double down on the power that we can grab to protect ourselves. Pilate has power. He likes power. He wants to keep it that way, and he's willing to use force, if necessary, to secure his lock on his position. He has been taught a way of being an authority for so long that he doesn't question whether there is a better way. His way of wielding the kind of power uses weapons and soldiers, invasions and persecutions to protect what Rome already has, and seeks to expand. And let's be clear, he was very interested in securing his own place in that hierarchy as well. The trappings of power might reassure Pilate, but he's clearly unsettled by a different kind of power that he senses in this stranger from the hinterlands who stands before him. He wonders, "Who is this guy who is not cowering before me and pleading for his very life?"
     
    So, Jesus decides to let Pilate in on the basis of his confidence. It's as if he's saying, "You see Pilate, your frame of reference about your kingdom causes you to think and to respond in a certain way. For me to be a king threatens your kingdom. But I am the king of a kingdom of which you are not familiar. You were talking apples. I am talking oranges." In Jesus recorded words, we have this: "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." This has to be mind-blowing to Pilate. Who has ever heard of such a thing? How does one keep a kingdom intact without force, without fighting back rivals? And if his kingdom isn't from this world, then from where does it come?
     
    Well, the Gospel of John has been building, building, building toward a climax of demonstrating the truth of this very kingdom to which Jesus refers. The opening chapter in the gospel shares with us that the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory of grace and truth. So, Jesus responds to Pilate saying, "You see that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world. To testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." There you have it: Jesus' authority rests on the fact that he is the truth. He doesn't need a campaign or soldiers to stand guard in his kingdom. All that is good and kind and right is part of his kingdom, because his kingdom is a kingdom of truth. His royal mission began in heaven and he came to earth with a divine mandate. He was sent to unveil the truth. When Jesus talks about truth, he's not just talking about honesty or truthfulness -- although he is talking about that. He's not saying merely that he's going to say true things. He says he embodies, and he is the truth.
     
    The irony in this story is that truth is the only authority and power that Jesus wields. He stands as the naked truth that upholds the universe before the lies of religion and power politics, and any other kind of lies you can think of. As we know, lies undermine. Lies erode trust. Without trust there can be no genuine relationships. Marriages, friendships, partnerships all rely on trust born out of thankfulness and truthfulness. If anything makes us suspicious it's when lies, untruths, and deceptions become accepted as, "Oh well, the way it is." Nothing good can be built on a foundation of lies. Only truth will bear the weight of building something with integrity and strength, and foster good and decent relationships. So Jesus spoke the truth to Pilate, just as he had spoken truth to the religious leaders. But neither the religious leaders would listen to the truth nor Pilate. Together they would conspire to destroy Jesus.
     
    But here's the good news, folks: the truth cannot be overcome. Christ the King Sunday reminds us that Jesus, in all of his truth, overcomes all kinds of lies and deception. His is the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never overcome it. They could take Jesus' life, for a time. But as God raised him to life, truth won the day. And truth will ultimately always win. So what can we say about Jesus' kingdom versus other lesser, rival kingdoms? First of all, Jesus' kingdom is a kingdom of truth. It's not a kingdom that lies and manipulates others by striking fear into people's hearts. His is the kingdom of mercy. It's not a kingdom of coercion, where the strong dominate the weak. His is the kingdom that frees the enslaved. The truth shall set you free. It's not a kingdom that enslaves to keep control. His is a kingdom that has a wide circle of inclusion where all belong. It is not a kingdom where the king asserts his superiority and all the subjects live in fear as to whether they are in or out. His is the kingdom where love and service for the good of all creation is the mode of operation. His is the kingdom that can never be toppled by rival kingdoms, because it is the one true kingdom that goes on and on, forever and ever
     
    I know Brent referred to this as well, but this is the end of the liturgical year. I could wish you a Happy New Year. We think it's December 31 to January 1 where we observe a new year, and that's true on our calendars that we observe in this society. But for us this Sunday is the end of the year, and it is most appropriate that these readings come to us to remind us that Jesus is from the beginning to the end, and on and on into eternity. We can close the liturgical year affirming and rejoicing that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father. All things are under his guidance, and he will come again to wipe out warfare and sorrow and sickness. As we prepare to celebrate Advent, that is exactly what we'll be doing. We'll be celebrating the fact that our king is coming, has come, and will come again. With such a king we need not have authority issues, because he is no bully. His authority over us yields love, forgiveness, and wide acceptance. That is compelling and deserves our worship and praise. Our hymn of the day seems to take on some of the language of kingdoms that do battle and strive to conquer others, but please listen carefully to the language of this hymn as you sing it. It transforms concepts like battle and conquest, and points out that the king whom we serve brings an entirely different kind of kingdom than the one the world has to offer.
     
    Let's honor Christ for this as we sing hymn number 805 using some of these words:
     
    For not with swords' loud clashing
    Or roll of stirring drums
    With deeds of love and mercy
    The heavenly kingdom comes
     
    Lead on, O King eternal
    We follow, not with fears,
    For gladness breaks like morning
    Where'er your face appears
     
    We pray with the church worldwide. Come, Lord Jesus.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot