May 5, 2019
What’s Next
Series: (All)
May 5, 2019. After Jesus' disciples witnessed his ministry, arrest, trial, execution, and resurrection, they went home and went fishing. What were they supposed to do next? Jon Heerboth preaches from John and Acts on how Jesus got the disciples' attention and ours, and tells us what he needs us to do next.
 
*** Transcript ***
 
On Easter Sunday here, we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ with many hallelujahs, we sang our favorite Easter hymns, and we felt that our world was full of new life -- new life in Christ as well as the new life of springtime. But today is the third Sunday after Easter. It's still Easter, but this Sunday feels a lot different than the week before last, doesn't it? There may not be a "Hallelujah Chorus" today. And I think that's the only singing you're going to get from a choir. But we will still be talking about the resurrected Christ and finding God's will for us, as we wait in the meantime between the First Coming and the Second Coming of Jesus. Last Sunday we heard how Jesus appeared to the disciples, and Thomas was there the second time. And he saw the holes, he felt his palm, he saw the wound in the side and said, "My Lord and my God." And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are those who," like you and me, like all of us, "have not seen and yet have come to believe." And then after that, John wrote that book so that its readers would come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing would have life in his name. And then that was the end of the book of John in chapter 20. Well, it would have ended anyway, except that there's an epilogue -- one more thing added to the book. And that is today's gospel lesson. Now, the purpose of an epilogue is to treat unfinished business. And most of it, according to the Gospel of John, revolved around Peter. There was unresolved tension with Peter and Jesus, and the other disciples, and there was a lot of confusion among them about what they were supposed to do next.
 
They had witnessed the risen Lord. And they, like us, were experts in the teachings of Jesus. And they, like us, had received the great commandment to love one another. And yet, the disciples seem like they were all dressed up with no place to go. Moreover, Peter was still agonizing over his treacherous denial, while his master was being interrogated and humiliated by the high priest of the Jewish Supreme Court. So it looks like, after hiding out in Jerusalem for a while, Peter and some of the others went home to Galilee. Maybe they thought they would be safer there. Maybe they were out of money, or were tired of waiting for something to happen. But at any rate, they went home. So the disciples witnessed the ministry, arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus. They found out about the resurrection. They met the risen Christ twice before in this gospel. The disciples had all the evidence they need to confirm that Jesus had died and risen from the dead. And how did they respond to these monumental events? They went fishing.
 
They went fishing. Now, this wasn't some weekend camping trip or a little vacation after a rough patch at work. They went fishing because that's who they were: fishermen. They went home to Galilee, and picked up where they left off when they left to follow Jesus. Galilee was home at least to four of them: James, John, Peter, and Andrew. Jesus called them from their lives in the boats and called them to go fish for people. They followed Jesus, from Galilee to Jerusalem. They listened to Jesus teach, and watched him heal the sick and work miracles. They were with Jesus at the Last Supper. They were around when he was arrested and crucified, and witnessed the resurrection. After all that, they returned home. They picked up their lives where they left them off months or years before, and then they went back to work. There was no one to tell them what else they should be doing.
 
In a way, we were like that after Easter Sunday. We celebrated, worshipped, had breakfast, and went back to our daily lives. But today's gospel lesson is set on the beach. When the people came home, I'll bet they endured ridicule from their neighbors. "Look who's back: the grand adventurers, the glorious revolutionaries. The idealists out to change the world have decided to come home after all. We always knew that their silly scheme would amount to nothing." Ever live in a small town? That's how they talk. "Love your neighbor." Who thought that was a good plan? Adding insult to injury was the fact that the disciples seemed to have lost their old touch. They had been out fishing all night and had caught absolutely nothing. When the sun began to rise, the man on the shore said, "Children. You have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No."
 
I'm sure that the only thing more irritating to professional fisherman than admitting failure, is receiving advice from someone who doesn't know how to fish at all. Jesus told them they should cast their net on the other side of the boat. And when they did, they had a very large catch indeed: a hundred and fifty-three fish. I'm not much of a fisherman, but that is a piece of advice I wish someone had given me along the way. Simply "cast over here instead of over there, because the fish must be somewhere else." They don't say fish are dumb. They hide from the bait. I don't know, but I know that people I know who fish don't like to be reminded of their failure, and I'm sure that this group of disciples were not happy after that night of failure.
 
Anyway, when they caught the fish, John recognized the man on the shore and said, "It is the Lord!" Impetuous Peter grabbed his clothes and headed into shore quickly. The rest were left to drag the boat and the heavy net to land all by themselves. Jesus said the words anyone would like to hear after an exhausting night: "Come and have breakfast." Jesus provided bread and fish for all of them. While they were sitting around the fire, Jesus approached Peter with their unfinished business. Peter had denied Jesus three times while Jesus was being interrogated. Jesus didn't blame Peter or shame him, and he didn't ask for his repentance. He asked questions. "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" Jesus was referring to loving Jesus more than life as a fisherman, life in the boat, Peter's life before discipleship. Peter said to him, "Yes, Lord. You know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord. You know that I love you." Jesus said, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt and maybe a little irritated when Jesus said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you." And Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep." But that was a powerful moment for Peter -- the charcoal fire, three questions. Peter knew that he was making a life-changing commitment to Jesus. Jesus didn't forgive Peter. Peter had to forgive himself and come to terms with what the rest of his life was going to be. Because he was going to have to be what Jesus needed him to be. As difficult as it would be for Peter, he had to accept that he was going to have to be the shepherd from now on, because Jesus wasn't going to be there. And that would be his identity.
 
When God has business with us, God will find us and will get our attention, and that's what happened to Saul on the road to Damascus. He was a zealous practitioner of Judaism, and was going to bring some of the followers of Jesus to Jerusalem for trial before the Jewish courts there. God had other plans both for Saul and for Ananias, the Christian in Damascus who went to help Saul but didn't want anything to do with him. But God said to Ananias, like he said to so many of us, "Go, for he's an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel." Paul needed to be what Jesus wanted him to be, and Jesus got his attention.
 
Paul's encounter with Jesus may be one of the most powerful images we have of bending human will to God's will. We don't expect our encounters with God to be as earth-shaking as St. Paul on the road to Damascus. I'm sure we would like all our worship to be as dramatic as the final choruses to Handel's Messiah. We might like our lives to be filled with such overwhelming experiences. Life isn't like that, though. It is not all emotional highs, moments of clear vision and bright light, dramatic experiences, or religious ecstasy. Our reality is simpler and more mundane. There's a clue for us in the disciples' experience. They were going about their ordinary lives, just like we do, and when they least expected him they encountered Christ. It was profound, and yet it was ordinary. Come and have breakfast, Jesus said. These brothers in Christ shared a simple meal after a long night. There were no bolts of light from the sky. No choirs of angels. No heavenly music from the Messiah. There was Easter, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in the ordinary course of a morning. Easter, in the simple passing of fish and bread around the warmth of a charcoal fire. Easter, in breakfast with the risen Jesus.
 
That was not the end of it for the disciples, just as Easter does not end for us with the benediction on Sunday. Jesus reconciled with Peter following Peter's denials when Jesus was arrested. Jesus did not promise resurrection, celebration, or joy. He promised suffering and martyrdom. Bonhoeffer wrote, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die." Peter was crucified. And Paul, according to legend, was beheaded in Rome. In the Book of John, there is no Last Supper. That story is not there. There are stories, though, of eating and drinking with Jesus -- at Cana, with the 5,000 that he fed, and on the shore here with the disciples. When Jesus was there he saw to it that there was food in abundance, wine for all the guests at the wedding in Cana, baskets of leftovers with the 5,000, and enough bread and fish for everyone at breakfast over the charcoal fire. These stories pull together much of what it means to be in relationship with Jesus. The way in which Jesus hosts meals helps us to see the Eucharist that was embedded in Jesus' life, not his death. A little different framework from the Lord's Supper might mean grace in abundance, forgiveness in abundance, salvation in the risen Christ. And that is our Easter, as we come to Christ Lutheran Church on this third Sunday of the Easter season. Jesus is here with bread and wine, offering grace and forgiveness for all of his people everywhere. Like the women at the tomb, we come and see Jesus here. We find God in each other at worship, at the table, and in fellowship. And then we go out into the world.
 
This is how we live out John 3:16. We understand what Jesus wants us to be. He wants us to be good shepherds when he can no longer be. We have to accept that Jesus could believe in us, and many of our people here respond accordingly. We have many shepherds here. We have people who work to feed the hungry, to find shelter for homeless people, people here who are working to protect God's creation by greening up our congregation and our communities. We have people who reach out to our community, with our facilities and with the word of God on a regular basis. We have people who come to church and volunteer their time as key people, assisting ministers, worship volunteers, people who help with fellowship and the flowers, and people who teach our children. On Sundays, we gather to celebrate the resurrection with joy. It's both empowering for us, and challenging. We are called to go forward in our lives as witnesses of faith, here at Christ and out in the rest of our lives. We know, though, how that witness has led to suffering and even death for so many of Jesus' followers.
 
We pray for guidance and protection, and we offer our thanks and praise to the Good Shepherd. Amen.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Jon Heerboth, Acts 9:1-6, (7-20), John 21:1-19, John 3:16
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  • May 5, 2019What’s Next
    May 5, 2019
    What’s Next
    Series: (All)
    May 5, 2019. After Jesus' disciples witnessed his ministry, arrest, trial, execution, and resurrection, they went home and went fishing. What were they supposed to do next? Jon Heerboth preaches from John and Acts on how Jesus got the disciples' attention and ours, and tells us what he needs us to do next.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    On Easter Sunday here, we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ with many hallelujahs, we sang our favorite Easter hymns, and we felt that our world was full of new life -- new life in Christ as well as the new life of springtime. But today is the third Sunday after Easter. It's still Easter, but this Sunday feels a lot different than the week before last, doesn't it? There may not be a "Hallelujah Chorus" today. And I think that's the only singing you're going to get from a choir. But we will still be talking about the resurrected Christ and finding God's will for us, as we wait in the meantime between the First Coming and the Second Coming of Jesus. Last Sunday we heard how Jesus appeared to the disciples, and Thomas was there the second time. And he saw the holes, he felt his palm, he saw the wound in the side and said, "My Lord and my God." And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are those who," like you and me, like all of us, "have not seen and yet have come to believe." And then after that, John wrote that book so that its readers would come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing would have life in his name. And then that was the end of the book of John in chapter 20. Well, it would have ended anyway, except that there's an epilogue -- one more thing added to the book. And that is today's gospel lesson. Now, the purpose of an epilogue is to treat unfinished business. And most of it, according to the Gospel of John, revolved around Peter. There was unresolved tension with Peter and Jesus, and the other disciples, and there was a lot of confusion among them about what they were supposed to do next.
     
    They had witnessed the risen Lord. And they, like us, were experts in the teachings of Jesus. And they, like us, had received the great commandment to love one another. And yet, the disciples seem like they were all dressed up with no place to go. Moreover, Peter was still agonizing over his treacherous denial, while his master was being interrogated and humiliated by the high priest of the Jewish Supreme Court. So it looks like, after hiding out in Jerusalem for a while, Peter and some of the others went home to Galilee. Maybe they thought they would be safer there. Maybe they were out of money, or were tired of waiting for something to happen. But at any rate, they went home. So the disciples witnessed the ministry, arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus. They found out about the resurrection. They met the risen Christ twice before in this gospel. The disciples had all the evidence they need to confirm that Jesus had died and risen from the dead. And how did they respond to these monumental events? They went fishing.
     
    They went fishing. Now, this wasn't some weekend camping trip or a little vacation after a rough patch at work. They went fishing because that's who they were: fishermen. They went home to Galilee, and picked up where they left off when they left to follow Jesus. Galilee was home at least to four of them: James, John, Peter, and Andrew. Jesus called them from their lives in the boats and called them to go fish for people. They followed Jesus, from Galilee to Jerusalem. They listened to Jesus teach, and watched him heal the sick and work miracles. They were with Jesus at the Last Supper. They were around when he was arrested and crucified, and witnessed the resurrection. After all that, they returned home. They picked up their lives where they left them off months or years before, and then they went back to work. There was no one to tell them what else they should be doing.
     
    In a way, we were like that after Easter Sunday. We celebrated, worshipped, had breakfast, and went back to our daily lives. But today's gospel lesson is set on the beach. When the people came home, I'll bet they endured ridicule from their neighbors. "Look who's back: the grand adventurers, the glorious revolutionaries. The idealists out to change the world have decided to come home after all. We always knew that their silly scheme would amount to nothing." Ever live in a small town? That's how they talk. "Love your neighbor." Who thought that was a good plan? Adding insult to injury was the fact that the disciples seemed to have lost their old touch. They had been out fishing all night and had caught absolutely nothing. When the sun began to rise, the man on the shore said, "Children. You have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No."
     
    I'm sure that the only thing more irritating to professional fisherman than admitting failure, is receiving advice from someone who doesn't know how to fish at all. Jesus told them they should cast their net on the other side of the boat. And when they did, they had a very large catch indeed: a hundred and fifty-three fish. I'm not much of a fisherman, but that is a piece of advice I wish someone had given me along the way. Simply "cast over here instead of over there, because the fish must be somewhere else." They don't say fish are dumb. They hide from the bait. I don't know, but I know that people I know who fish don't like to be reminded of their failure, and I'm sure that this group of disciples were not happy after that night of failure.
     
    Anyway, when they caught the fish, John recognized the man on the shore and said, "It is the Lord!" Impetuous Peter grabbed his clothes and headed into shore quickly. The rest were left to drag the boat and the heavy net to land all by themselves. Jesus said the words anyone would like to hear after an exhausting night: "Come and have breakfast." Jesus provided bread and fish for all of them. While they were sitting around the fire, Jesus approached Peter with their unfinished business. Peter had denied Jesus three times while Jesus was being interrogated. Jesus didn't blame Peter or shame him, and he didn't ask for his repentance. He asked questions. "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" Jesus was referring to loving Jesus more than life as a fisherman, life in the boat, Peter's life before discipleship. Peter said to him, "Yes, Lord. You know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord. You know that I love you." Jesus said, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt and maybe a little irritated when Jesus said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you." And Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep." But that was a powerful moment for Peter -- the charcoal fire, three questions. Peter knew that he was making a life-changing commitment to Jesus. Jesus didn't forgive Peter. Peter had to forgive himself and come to terms with what the rest of his life was going to be. Because he was going to have to be what Jesus needed him to be. As difficult as it would be for Peter, he had to accept that he was going to have to be the shepherd from now on, because Jesus wasn't going to be there. And that would be his identity.
     
    When God has business with us, God will find us and will get our attention, and that's what happened to Saul on the road to Damascus. He was a zealous practitioner of Judaism, and was going to bring some of the followers of Jesus to Jerusalem for trial before the Jewish courts there. God had other plans both for Saul and for Ananias, the Christian in Damascus who went to help Saul but didn't want anything to do with him. But God said to Ananias, like he said to so many of us, "Go, for he's an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel." Paul needed to be what Jesus wanted him to be, and Jesus got his attention.
     
    Paul's encounter with Jesus may be one of the most powerful images we have of bending human will to God's will. We don't expect our encounters with God to be as earth-shaking as St. Paul on the road to Damascus. I'm sure we would like all our worship to be as dramatic as the final choruses to Handel's Messiah. We might like our lives to be filled with such overwhelming experiences. Life isn't like that, though. It is not all emotional highs, moments of clear vision and bright light, dramatic experiences, or religious ecstasy. Our reality is simpler and more mundane. There's a clue for us in the disciples' experience. They were going about their ordinary lives, just like we do, and when they least expected him they encountered Christ. It was profound, and yet it was ordinary. Come and have breakfast, Jesus said. These brothers in Christ shared a simple meal after a long night. There were no bolts of light from the sky. No choirs of angels. No heavenly music from the Messiah. There was Easter, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in the ordinary course of a morning. Easter, in the simple passing of fish and bread around the warmth of a charcoal fire. Easter, in breakfast with the risen Jesus.
     
    That was not the end of it for the disciples, just as Easter does not end for us with the benediction on Sunday. Jesus reconciled with Peter following Peter's denials when Jesus was arrested. Jesus did not promise resurrection, celebration, or joy. He promised suffering and martyrdom. Bonhoeffer wrote, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die." Peter was crucified. And Paul, according to legend, was beheaded in Rome. In the Book of John, there is no Last Supper. That story is not there. There are stories, though, of eating and drinking with Jesus -- at Cana, with the 5,000 that he fed, and on the shore here with the disciples. When Jesus was there he saw to it that there was food in abundance, wine for all the guests at the wedding in Cana, baskets of leftovers with the 5,000, and enough bread and fish for everyone at breakfast over the charcoal fire. These stories pull together much of what it means to be in relationship with Jesus. The way in which Jesus hosts meals helps us to see the Eucharist that was embedded in Jesus' life, not his death. A little different framework from the Lord's Supper might mean grace in abundance, forgiveness in abundance, salvation in the risen Christ. And that is our Easter, as we come to Christ Lutheran Church on this third Sunday of the Easter season. Jesus is here with bread and wine, offering grace and forgiveness for all of his people everywhere. Like the women at the tomb, we come and see Jesus here. We find God in each other at worship, at the table, and in fellowship. And then we go out into the world.
     
    This is how we live out John 3:16. We understand what Jesus wants us to be. He wants us to be good shepherds when he can no longer be. We have to accept that Jesus could believe in us, and many of our people here respond accordingly. We have many shepherds here. We have people who work to feed the hungry, to find shelter for homeless people, people here who are working to protect God's creation by greening up our congregation and our communities. We have people who reach out to our community, with our facilities and with the word of God on a regular basis. We have people who come to church and volunteer their time as key people, assisting ministers, worship volunteers, people who help with fellowship and the flowers, and people who teach our children. On Sundays, we gather to celebrate the resurrection with joy. It's both empowering for us, and challenging. We are called to go forward in our lives as witnesses of faith, here at Christ and out in the rest of our lives. We know, though, how that witness has led to suffering and even death for so many of Jesus' followers.
     
    We pray for guidance and protection, and we offer our thanks and praise to the Good Shepherd. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Jon Heerboth, Acts 9:1-6, (7-20), John 21:1-19, John 3:16
  • Apr 21, 2019Jesus is Risen From the Dead
    Apr 21, 2019
    Jesus is Risen From the Dead
    Series: (All)
    April 21, 2019. We celebrate this Easter Sunday with a simple, six-word phrase: Jesus is risen from the dead. Pastor Stephanie preaches on what these words meant to Mary Magdalene and the disciples, and what they continue to mean for us today.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Happy Easter once again to all of you. It's such a glorious day to see each other, to sing, and to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord together. Now, as I was preparing for this message I was remembering how, a few years back, I learned about an interesting website, an online magazine called SMITH. (Just like the name sounds: S-M-I-T-H.) It's a collection of six word memoirs. I imagine there are some of you out here who are familiar with that, because it's been taken up by business, education, and other entities, to employ the tactics that they use. It was started as a challenging way to depict the lives of people and their wisdom about life, in only six words. Six words -- think about that. With such a tight economy of words, one really has to think about what one wants to communicate in that short space. Challenging though it was, the concept really caught on. The online magazine site eventually had so much material from contributors that it distilled what it considered the most thought-provoking into a few books. The names of them, of course titled with the requisite six words, are: Not Quite What I Was Planning, and the later edition is titled It All Changed In An Instant. Both phrases intended to pique our interests, to find out more.
     
    So I decided to bite. I searched through several examples of these memoirs captured in the six brief words. Here are a few examples. I will start with a very poignant one, but that's only because it is believed that this six word challenge was given to the famed writer Ernest Hemingway, and his is a very sad, pithy little one. He was challenged to write a short story in six words, and here's what he came up with: "For sale: baby shoes. Never worn." One person recovering from a breakup wrote: "I still make coffee for two." On the same theme comes this, from a person with a gift for expressing double meanings: "Our perfect match burned out quickly." Then there are other six-word memoirs that make you wonder what kind of response the writer wanted to elicit from us. "I am turning into my mother." Anybody relate? "Named me 'Joy,' Didn't work out." How about this one: "Never really finished anything besides cake." Here's a light-hearted version from screenwriter Nora Ephron: "Secret of life: marry an Italian." Lots of other good ethnicities too. This was on the website yesterday, for those who appreciate a good brew (and I know there are many of you present): "Easter Bunny Lager: contains more hops." And this one made me laugh: "Even I can't keep my secrets." The reviewers of the site also got in on the game by trying their hand at this as well. Because why not? I thought the brilliance of the New York Times one expressed the six-word memoir idea the best for me: "The brilliance is in the brevity." Brevity, having a succinct message, getting to the core truth. There's something to be said about that, in this world filled with ideas and words barraging us continually.
     
    When it comes to the mystery and beauty of the reason why we are celebrating today, it cannot be said any better than within these six words: Jesus is risen from the dead. These are the words that the breathless women carried from the empty tomb back to the other disciples. These are the words that have been passed on ever since, from person to person, from community to community, spreading to every continent in the last two millennia. It is these six words that have spoken to countless individuals whose lives were near death, broken by pain and suffering, by sin and darkness, and given them new life, hope, and purpose. Because death did not have the final word with Jesus, it does not have the final word with us either.
     
    So this is the message behind the comfort that is available to those with terminal illnesses, and to those who have lost loved ones. Death, with its awfulness and sorrow, does not have the last word. There is reason for hope, and there's something to hold onto. Because Jesus is risen from the dead.
     
    These six words tell us also that fear does not need to hold us in its grip. They tell us that we're never alone, even when it feels as though we've been abandoned. They let us know that light is shining somewhere, even when it seems that the darkness has won. It says that yes, death is a part of life, but it is not the ultimate end of it. It says that when we are weak, there is strength to carry us through. It says that when we are lost and bewildered, we will be found and restored. All the claims and promises that Jesus made to his followers, that have been passed on to us in the holy scriptures, are gloriously confirmed as true and reliable. All because Jesus is risen from the dead.
     
    These six words tell us that evil will not triumph over good. The six words give us a frame of reference that allows us to keep on working for justice, to pursue what is right and good, to focus on the long game rather than the short one. These are the words that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German martyr who opposed the Nazis and was forced into seclusion, taught his students in the secret seminary that he managed to hold. The meaning of these six words served as a drum beat for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles in seeking civil rights for all. The truth of these words gives courage to religious orders of women in our time, who risk arrest for giving water to migrants languishing in the desert. We can know that oppression and evil will ultimately crumble before the truth that is: Jesus is risen from the dead.
     
    How many lives have been transformed, starting with Mary Magdalene and her companions falling to the ground in utter shock upon hearing these six words? It is the reality of these six words that explain the countless number of people whose hearts have been burning within them because of the presence of God's spirit, alive and present, to comfort them, to give them hope, to grant them peace. When something mystical, yet so compelling, convinces us that we are not alone, but indeed that the risen Christ is among and with us -- that is when we say Jesus is risen from the dead.
     
    I found the words of the men in dazzling white who spoke to the women at the tomb very interesting. They stated plainly, "He is not here. He has risen." But then they gave the women a very, very important charge. They said: remember. Remember that Jesus told you these things, that he would be crucified and then rise again. Remember. That is a very good charge for us as well. When I'm feeling frustrated that things aren't going well, I need to pause, take a deep breath, and remember that Jesus is risen from the dead. And that puts the minutiae of life into perspective.
     
    When even bigger and more important things seem to be headed in the wrong direction, you and I can also remember that ultimately, God is bringing all things to a glorious and great conclusion, as we heard in the Isaiah reading. When we sense that we are swimming upstream, remember that the one who holds the keys to life is with us, and is keeping our heads above water. When the daily news makes us wonder if evil is not really getting the upper hand, remember that God is good and God is in charge. When we find ourselves losing hope, remember that God's love triumphs over even the darkest of days. It was when the women -- who had fallen down on their faces with fear and sorrow -- heard these words calling them to remember, that they did remember. And they got up and got about what they needed to be doing, because now they could see everything within a new light. And that was to get on with life, a renewed life with purpose, to go and tell the others to remember.
     
    And so it is with us. We are called to remember, and to remind each other to remember that Jesus is risen from the dead. And that, my friends, changes everything. Thanks be to God for our risen Savior. It is to him we sing our praises as we stand to sing the hymn of the day.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Isaiah 65:17-25, Luke 24:1-12
  • Mar 31, 2019Invited to the Celebration
    Mar 31, 2019
    Invited to the Celebration
    Series: (All)
    March 31, 2019. Pastor Stephanie preaches on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and how the story fits into our Lenten journey.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Well, as we've been saying all along in Lent, Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. So begins roughly the last half of the Gospel of Luke -- that little statement. So, you've been hearing that phrase regularly since we began our Lenten journey about 25 days ago. And every week since this journey has begun we've been saying that the journey continues, with some special emphasis or another. Any journey, though, that begins with ashes on your forehead and has an altar that looks like a stricken wasteland (when we usually have color and liveliness and vibrancy and beauty) sounds like something that's not going to make a travel folder that Joan O'Brien's going to promote. Like, who wants to come on this journey with me? Really, who wants to go on a journey that looks and sounds so dreary? And to top it all off, we can't even sing the word "hallelujah," because we're not supposed to be too happy or celebratory until we get to Easter.
     
    So really it's understandable that Lent can have a rather grim reputation. Now, don't get me wrong. I understand the reason for that and I affirm it, and I think all the themes that we've spent time on together in these past few weeks have been important for our spiritual well-being. Discovering who and whose we are, lamenting our sorrows, encountering God in the wilderness, turning to repentance -- those are all things worth dealing with, because we are people who need to be sobered up enough to deal with the reality of our desperate need for God. So those are valuable signposts on the journey, without a doubt.
     
    But in the midst of our serious encounter with God on this journey we are given a story in Lent that starts out seriously enough, yet it ends in a no-holds-barred rejoicing and celebrating, with plenty of hallelujah-like pronouncements filling the air, at a party to end all parties. How exactly, then, does this story fit into Lent, we may wonder? It's a story that's got to be in the top 20, for sure, of Bible stories that might be recognized -- even in a culture that recognizes fewer and fewer of the classics in biblical literature. A son who dishonors his father by asking for an inheritance, that essentially says, "Dad, I can't wait any longer for you to die. So please give me my inheritance now" -- and then continues to break his heart by going off without even a backwards glance or an occasional letter now and then, letting him know where he is and how he's doing.
     
    Then there is the other son. This one stays at home and carries out his responsibilities there, but there isn't much of a relationship with Dad here either that would make a good Hallmark movie. He might be polite enough at the dinner table, but there's obviously some serious resentment simmering underneath the surface about how he isn't really treated well enough. The narrative that runs through his head is that he is doing far more for Dad than he is ever getting in return. Good thing he's so responsible and hardworking or this place would fall apart, if you would hear him tell the story. Everything, though, comes to a head when the runaway makes his way back, now broke and broken, hoping to quietly slip in the back door and stay under the radar where he knows he at least has a chance for survival, but knowing he deserves nothing more than that. That doesn't happen, because the father will have none of that. But in the meantime, we also get to see the character of the responsible son showing his true colors. He sulks, he rants, he complains bitterly about how unfair life is, and refuses to welcome his brother home. Well, we can see that these sons are polar opposites. They are each on one end of the spectrum of behaviors and attitudes, styles and personality types -- if the spectrum includes ungrateful and unresponsive people to God. I suppose each of us can find ourselves leaning toward one more than the other, and maybe seeing a bit of ourselves in each one.
     
    But the real story is about the father who hijacks all of the drama in the story. Jesus doesn't tell this story so we can decide which brother was worse than the other or less deserving of the father's love. He doesn't even tell us that we should figure out which son we resemble most closely, although that is often what we do and it's understandable. I suspect that each one of us innately knows to which one we most closely relate. Jesus does not condemn either one, nor praise either one as being more virtuous or honest or sincere than the other. They just seem to exist as characters that depict human nature in its raw form -- not especially lovable when all pretense is stripped away. But here's the kicker: they aren't the main characters in this story. Because this is a story about a father whose love knows no bounds. It's about a father who has been wronged, yet runs to meet the bedraggled son and throw a grand party to welcome him back, even though the son knows he doesn't deserve even a shred of attention and care at this point. It's about a father whose steady presence with the other son has provided for him, has been available to him all along the way. Even now, without receiving the least acknowledgement of his kindness, the father holds no grudges, but warmly reminds this son that he desires to draw him in to celebrate life, love, laughter, and feasting. It's about a father who rejoices, whose joy knows no bounds in breaking down barriers and assuring each child that he is cherished.
     
    God is like that father, Jesus says. God's love is so immense that we cannot even imagine its intensity. God rejoices as we respond and let that love wash over us. There's a party going on, given by God, to which we are all invited. Now, we may not approve of the guest list that shows up at the party, but that really doesn't matter. It's the Father's party. When we get caught up in the magnitude of the extravagant grace that has been poured out upon us, to even bring us to this party -- well, we wonder why we were invited in the face of such great graciousness. That's when we can be captivated by the music, the feasting, the merriment of belonging to this Father of boundless love and joy.
     
    Several years back (since I'm going down memory lane today) there was a band called Kool and the Gang, and they had a song that went something like this: "There's a party going on right here." (Feel free to sing along if you want.) "A celebration to last throughout the years / So bring your good times, and your laughter too." (I knew Phil would know it because I hear him sing it a lot.) "We're gonna celebrate your party with you." That's right. Come on. That's it. Katie's got it. "We're gonna celebrate and have a good time." I think God wrote those words through that band, or at least they wittingly or unwittingly tapped into the kind of merriment and outright celebration that God invites us into, with his love at the center, energizing and embracing us all.
     
    So back to an earlier question. How does this story fit into Lent? If Lent is a journey, as we settle along then let's remember that a journey has a purpose. It's going somewhere. It's driven to see and to experience something. Jesus presents us this image of God on our journey, with open arms wanting to enfold us, to dance with us, to dine with us, to enjoy the music and the celebration of being in relationship with us -- all to show us who it is who is walking alongside us, and who beckons us onward. We can do this journey, even when it is difficult, because of God's love. When we stumble on the journey, God's arms restore us. When we are discouraged, God's love fills us. The journey is about continually moving toward the embrace of this magnetic love. If the journey doesn't end up in the Father's embrace, then it was a good walk spoiled (to name a book title that pokes fun at the game of golf, but I digress). It truly is a journey that is directed toward a patiently loving Father, whose embrace and welcomed are always there for us. Even when the journey takes us through difficult places -- and it does and it will -- we can celebrate along the way. For God's abundance love is unfailing, and God's arms hold us securely.
     
    Well, the journey toward Holy Week continues. Let's celebrate God's extravagant grace as we trek onward together. Thanks be to God for God's grace toward us. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, Parable of the Prodigal Son
  • 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