Sep 6, 2015
Series: (All)
Tom Schoenherr, September 6, 2015
  • Sep 6, 2015Dayenu
    Sep 6, 2015
    Series: (All)
    Tom Schoenherr, September 6, 2015
  • Aug 30, 2015The Law
    Aug 30, 2015
    The Law
    Series: (All)
    Pastor Keith, August 30, 2015
  • Aug 23, 2015Change of Heart
    Aug 23, 2015
    Change of Heart
    Series: (All)
    Pastor Penny, August 23, 2015
  • Jul 19, 2015Follow the Leader
    Jul 19, 2015
    Follow the Leader
    Series: (All)
    July 19, 2015. Pastor Penny's message today is about fear. We fear being exposed for who we are. We don't want to admit that we need help, that we need a leader. But Jesus is our leader, our good shepherd, and he knows our faults and loves us anyway. Following him isn't always easy, but it does promise that our lives will have purpose. *** [Keywords: Dwell in the house of the Lord all my life long God-given God-used Jesus Lord is my shepherd Pastor Penny Psalm 23 aerophobia afraid all the days of my life angers angry words anxiety arachnophobia arguments being exposed bigger picture boredom capable of pretty bad things circle of light compassion confidence continuum cowering crowds crowds of humanity curse eternity failures fear fears fed good or bad good shepherd goodness and mercy grace of God grayer hardship healing hope hospital image keep moving leader life of darkness light monophobia need help never alone pedestal pediophobia pediphobia pedophobia phobias phobophobia police officer pray on mountain prepares a place protection pulling gun purpose regrets reveal our needs sheep shot sinfulness social media spouses valley of death words about life sermon]
  • May 3, 2015Isn’t God’s Vineyard Beautiful?
    May 3, 2015
    Isn’t God’s Vineyard Beautiful?
    Series: (All)
    May 3, 2015. Pastor Keith preaches on John 15. Jesus is the vine, we're the branches, and God is the gardener.
    *** Transcript ***
    We further reflect on this passage in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
    It's sometimes difficult, when reading the New Testament in English, to know what is meant by the word "you." We don't have a good way in English to describe a singular "you" from a plural "you," and so sometimes we don't know if we mean a group or one person. A friend of mine has suggested maybe we should always use the word "y'all" for whenever we mean "you" for "bunch of people." Well, today's gospel has one of those "y'all" kinds of meanings when it says "you." When Jesus says, "Abide in me as I abide in you," he means, "You all abide in me."
    Well when Jesus spoke these words, it wasn't a happy time. It was a meaningful time and a serious time, because he was at the Last Supper with his disciples. It happens early enough in John that Jesus is preparing his disciples for what will happen the next couple of days. He has a long talk, before they break from this Last Supper, go to the Garden of Gethsemane, and he goes on trial. But this speech, including these words "abide in me," is at the heart of it. He's saying as a group they need to remain together. He will remain or abide with them, even as he parts from them, and they are to abide or remain with him. It works both ways. But they are to be close together. And he knows it's going to be a hard time for them, and they will need each other and they will need him. It was hard for them to do right away. Jesus knew how hard it is to keep up this kind of spirit of love and abiding in him. Right away he was betrayed, and right away he was denied. So right after he gave the speech, they were in this risky time and they failed to do that. And so it points out, even for us, how difficult this is to do — to stay close to Jesus and to stay close to one another — given the hardships, the temptations of life, whether we're in a very tense situation, whether we're in a life-threatening situation, or whether we're just in a matter of convenience or public reputation. Maybe it's hard to pronounce, be bold with our Christianity. It can be hard to be a follower of Jesus. He knows we will need his life to support us. We need him. But we are the ones he depends on to get his spirit into the world.
    When John writes this, some 50 years after this, the issue is before them as much as ever. The question is of tense. There is no Jesus present with them then to ask about it. So they have to remember these words of John and Jesus. What does it mean to be a community of the Christian faith? What does it mean to be a person of the Way, as they called the church in the early days? John is saying that it means being together as a community, and it means being connected to Jesus. They as a group are like a bunch of branches on a grapevine: they have a common source of nourishment, and they're all subject to the vinegrower — the one whose vineyard it is. They produce for the vinegrower, but their branches are so intertwined when they're on the trellis, when they're on the fence, that it's hard to tell them apart, because all the branches get intertwined when you get out to the ends of it where the grapes are. You think about when you have a grapevine you have the basic trunk that comes out of the soil. Then you have the larger branches that come from that. Then you have these vines that go out further and then drop the drapes down. And as it goes out they become smaller and smaller, but the bunches of grapes are large. They're all pretty similar. There's not one that's bigger than another. They all kind of look alike. They are intertwined and it's hard to tell one from another. The clusters of grapes hang down from the various branches, but they're all kind of mixed up together on the vine. The grape picker comes to the vine and picks the one that's closest. He can't stand there a long time and say well, this is the one I want to pick. They just pick them all and put them in the baskets and go on. They're all together there. No one is greater than another.
    That's the kind of image that John and Jesus want us to have of the church. It's about thinking of the fruit we produce as a community in Christ. But it's not so much about what I produce or you produce. It's what we do together as we live close to the one who gives us life. It's not that I produce fruit for the church or you produce fruit for the church, but we do this together as a community.
    In the early church there was a lot of duress. Christians weren't normally welcome with the Jews. Nor were they welcome with the Romans. And it's commonly thought that John was in exile as he was writing this. The best way for Christians to make it and to have an impact was to be in community together, and that way they could not just survive but often thrive. They belonged to an organized community shaped by the love of Jesus. What they did as a community was more important than what they did as individuals. As a Christian community, the members were known for the acts of love they did in common with the other members. In those early days they lived together, and then they acted together. They were one community in Christ.
    When a vine grower looks at the vineyard and the grapevines within it, the target that the vine grower has in mind is a whole target. What will my harvest be this year? How many gallons of grape juice or how many pounds of grapes will I get from this vineyard that I have? The crop will be measured by the overall yield, not by what this plant did or by what that plant did. All of it is together. The gardener will pay attention to each plant during the year so that it's tended to and it's pruned, for the sake of the whole vineyard, so the whole overall yield is good. But the primary concern is the whole crop. And so with the church, each person is tended to by the Lord, and all are equal before the Lord, each producing the fruit. Each has a place in the faith community as a whole, all living with this common goal of living in the style of Jesus, the style of love. All are accountable to the standard of love set by Jesus, making decisions together based on the love that Jesus taught. Jesus paints here a picture of a community of faith, embodying the love of Jesus, acting as a community, producing the fruit of love. The mark of this community lives faithfully and loves the name of Jesus, rather than identifying itself by the individual member saying, well we have this member, we have that member. No, it's about how the church acts together. It's so tempting, so often we hear this passage and think of it in individual terms. We think of it as kind of a motivational shot to get me or you to do more good works, to produce more fruit individually. It's helpful to remember that we are in a vineyard together. God looks at us as a whole vineyard tied together in Jesus. As a whole we produce the fruits of the spirit. We do some individually, and individually we act on behalf of the community of faith. But it's good to step back and take stock of how we are doing together as the vineyard of the Lord. Are we together as a community in Christ doing well at producing the fruit of the spirit in love?
    Each one of us of course has a place in this vineyard. There are different gifts. There are different circumstances we each have which make a difference on how the love of Jesus is lived out. Some of it is done as members of the church in various life circumstances, with one's family or at work or in the community. Some of it's done though acting in community with others of the congregation, to live out the love of Jesus, doing things like going down to Humanitree or whatever, doing these things together. Just as the vinedresser pays attention to each plant and the vines of the plant, nurtures and prunes that plant as appropriate, so each of us has a responsibility for the good of all to live and act in ways that work for growing the love of Jesus.
    Well this love of Jesus that we live with and by shows itself in two ways in the congregation, the community of the beloved, as John's community was often called. It's a love that's lived out inside the congregation and outside of the congregation. And it's kind of encapsulated in the vision statement that has been discerned over the last couple years and been adopted by this congregation. And part of that vision statement is to live well within the community of this congregation, to develop meaningful relationships, and to care for one another as a community of people loved by Jesus. But this vision also looks to take this love out and to share the love of Jesus with the surrounding community and reach out to bear fruit in love. When we do this it brings meaning to life, life as it was intended by God, fulfilling our purpose and our need for meaning by producing the fruit of love in the vineyard of God.
    A news story, I think it was last weekend, of local interest caught my attention. It was about the Magdalene House. Some of you have an association with it, I think have done some work with Magdalene House and know maybe more about its operation than I do. But it is a Christian-based organization which helps young women who are victims of human trafficking to find refuge, and to get out of it and to learn a new way of life. A new shelter is being constructed for this organization in St. Louis. And the topic of the news story was that this new shelter being built had been robbed, and that thieves had come and stole many of the building materials so that the project was hampered in being finished. They couldn't go on. And the young men were apprehended who had taken the stuff, and the normal conclusion was, you would think as the story progressed, that they would be arrested and dealt with by the justice system.
    But I think the key part of the story was that Magdalene House took a different approach. The thieves were young men of the neighborhood, and the leadership of the house reckoned that the young men were victims too in a sense. Just as they cared for young women who were victims, these were young men, victims of the poverty and the tough life circumstances of their neighborhood. And the house said they need help too and declined to press charges, demonstrating to the young men the same kind of grace and love that they hoped to give to the young women, which is the work that Magdalene House stands for: caring for, helping young people — women normally, in this case men as well. But it was a demonstration of a Christian-based organization, a whole community making a stand, instead of one or two people saying this is what we'll do, acting as a group to say, this is how we are discerning the love of Jesus for us at this place. They acted together. In a way that's what we're talking about this morning. How do we as a congregation, as a group, make decisions that reflect the love of God?
    There's a yard on the opposite end of the block where we live which I like very much. It has kind of an oriental theme in its landscaping. Both by tree selection and by pruning I would say it's in Japanese style. I've been by it many times and seen it but never noticed before this season how beautiful the redbud tree is in that yard. And it's not just that it's a great burst of lavender and purple and just has lots of flowering buds. But it's pruned in such a way that the shape of the tree is beautiful in itself, with the tree branches very visible themselves. And they in turn enhance the beauty of the redbud blossoms. It's a beautiful sight. The pruning makes the tree's shape nice as it displays the redbuds of this season. Well I think in a way, that tree can kind of capture or symbolize what our gospel's about today. It's a thing of God's beauty to see a congregation live out what it's called to be in Jesus. It has many parts, many people who blossom in different kinds of ways. But the shaping of these people, to serve an overall goal of being beautiful and producing fruit in the eyes of God, requires thoughtful and loving attention. We can be people who come together. We receive the Lord, and then return to blossom in our individual ways. But when Jesus calls us we are really vine together. How do we shape things together as a group? As our community is shaped together, we are that much more effective as ones who inspire others to think: isn't God's vineyard beautiful? I want to be a part of it too. We can do even more together than we do individually.
    Each one of us as individuals have done personal pruning in our lives. We have habits. We have attitudes that we've let go of so that we can embrace better ones. And we're usually glad about that. We say: I'm glad I left that behind so I can live my life more richly now. We also look at ourselves today and we say: what changes do I need to make even now to make myself a better person, to be a better branch in the vineyard of Jesus?
    We can do that same kind of pruning as an assessment of our community of faith, too. Are there habits, are there behaviors, attitudes our congregation has let go of that we feel good about, that we've moved to a new place? But in the present we ask what are the habits? What are the behaviors? What are the attitudes now that need to be pruned away, so that we can produce more fruit for the good of God's vineyard? It's never easy to do this. It's always been a challenge for the church. And so often the decisions we make, the decisions that reflect the love of Christ are resisted, because usually it means reaching out to people who aren't popular in other places. The disciples got to know this very well. But it was the resurrected Lord who gave them the promise and the faith and the hope to go forward. In this Easter season, we're reminded of the same Easter promise of the resurrected Lord, who gives us the promise, gives us the hope and the faith so that we can remain in Christ as he remains in us in love, and we can go forward as well. In Jesus' name we pray this will happen. Amen.
    *** Keywords ***
    2015, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, John 15:1-8
  • Apr 5, 2015Easter Makes a Difference
    Apr 5, 2015
    Easter Makes a Difference
    Series: (All)
    April 5, 2015. Easter changes everything between us and God. Pastor Penny preaches this Easter morning on Jesus' promise to be with us to the end of the world, and the forgiveness he died to give to everyone as a free gift.
    *** Transcript ***
    We begin this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
    I have to wonder if some of us here this morning aren't feeling a little like the women did on the way to the tomb. They had just watched their friend and leader be killed, and their world had shaken. And they were very hopeless. And I think maybe, when I think over the year that we've had since last Easter, maybe some of us feel our world has shaken a little too. There was Ferguson, and then maybe people say the effect of Ferguson it seems renewed violence, renewed animosity between the races, between people and the police, and then somehow renewed animosity between the political parties. And then we hear about militants and violence all over the world, especially toward Christians, and we may feel our world has been shaken a little. And then adding to the hopelessness is the fact that we realize that part of the problem is with us, that we find it very hard to listen to people whose ideas are not like ours, that we are afraid of differences. We stick to stereotypes. In our fear we lose our way.
    But we're here this morning. We're here faithfully, dutifully — just as the women faithfully, dutifully went to anoint the body. We're here. But maybe we're wondering can Easter really change anything? Well, the women soon discovered that Good Friday and Easter changed everything. It changed their lives. It changed the world. And in truth, it does change our lives. On Good Friday, they watched their good friend die. And they knew that he was going through physical pain, but did they know what was really happening on that cross? He was also going through the pain of forgiveness. Now, I think we all know the pain of forgiveness. It's very hard to let it go when someone has hurt you. You just feel like there should be some sort of revenge, or at least some sort of tearful apology. But to forgive, to just let it go, is painful. I always feel bad in the movie "Frozen" where the character Elsa sings "Let It Go," because precisely at that moment she isn't able to let it go. People have hurt her, and for things that were out of her control. And she's angry and she doesn't know what to do. So she sings the song, but it really doesn't help. She hasn't let it go because it's so painful.
    When Jesus hung on that cross he was letting go of the sins, he was forgiving the sins of everyone that had come before him and everyone that would come after him, and it was painful. But the real forgiveness came three days later on Easter Sunday. That's when the forgiveness was finalized. You know, when Jesus rose from the dead, he did something that no one else has ever done: he came back to life and he stayed alive. He didn't die again. Some of you maybe have experienced, and I know people who have experienced, a medical death for a while, had near-death experiences. But when they came back to this life, we knew they would die again. But Jesus didn't. When he came back he had a different kind of a body. It wasn't that he was a vision. Many people saw him all together, and they saw the same thing. They could touch him, they could hear him. But his body seemed to be able to come and go mysteriously. And when he appeared to his friends sometimes and startled them, he always came with a word of peace. And then he always gave them some direction. And then he always ended by saying, "I will never leave you. I will be with you to the end of the world. And when you can no longer see me or touch me I will send the Holy Spirit. I will be with you." When Jesus rose from the dead he broke the chokehold that sin and evil and violence and death have held on us. He showed that his love is stronger than sin or violence or even death. He promises that we too will have a resurrection.
    Easter changed everything between us and God. Before Jesus, we were indebted to God and to one another for all our loveless acts and thoughts. We were in debt and we couldn't pay the debt off. We couldn't even pay the minimum. Our checks kept bouncing. And then Jesus came and he died to forgive all of the debt, completely, of everyone. Not just good people, but people who like violence — anyone from a classroom bully to someone on death row. He came and forgave everyone's sin. We read in the Bible, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son." Or Paul tells us God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself and not counting their trespasses against them. So Jesus wiped away our debt, and then amazingly started pouring money into our account. So it just ran over with goodness. He gave us his largesse of forgiveness and love and strength. And he didn't do it just to people who pray to him. He didn't just give it to people who believe in him. He didn't just give it to people who try to lead a good life. He gave that wealth, that righteousness, to everyone as a free gift from his love.
    So now the only question to ask is: how do we spend it? The young man at the tomb gave some direction to the women. He said, in so many words, go home and share the wealth. He said go home. He said go to Galilee, which was their home, and he said share this good news that Jesus is alive with Peter and the others.
    This morning, Jesus wants us to know that Easter makes a difference. And he tells us just go home and share the wealth, go home to your family gatherings or the restaurant, go home next week to your work or school or retirement, go home to your community, go home to your city and be bridge builders. Reach out to people who are different. Listen to ideas you don't always agree with. Build bridges and forgive. Because this Easter, we have the confidence that we can be changed. We are not alone. As the women told the world, we are not alone because he is alive.
    *** Keywords ***
    2015, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Luke 24:13-49, John 3:16, 2 Corinthians 5:18-19
  • Mar 8, 2015Jesus is in the Bread
    Mar 8, 2015
    Jesus is in the Bread
    Series: (All)
    March 8, 2015. We're tempted to fall into thinking that our relationship with God is something that we earn. But we know better. We know that God has come to us and given us not only the wonderful gifts of creation, but also the great gift of Jesus. Pastor Keith preaches today on the story of Jesus cleansing the temple. Jesus' body is the new temple, he is with us, and we receive him in the bread.
    *** Transcript ***
    On this weekend if we note the 50th anniversary of the march in Selma, Alabama, we know that that first march was met with high resistance — and that further attempts led finally to the completion of the march to Montgomery, and that changes eventually came in the voter rights that the people were seeking. But even though that march was 50 years ago, we hear from today's lesson how prophetic protests in public places are not very new.
    We know from the Old Testament that prophets like Jeremiah did public actions to bring attention to the waywardness of the people of Israel. And today we hear of Jesus as a protester. Jesus comes to the most visible place in the country — the temple grounds in Jerusalem at the season of high festival — and overturns the tables of the money changers, and drives out all the animals that they had there. And he speaks about this too. At Passover time, these are very critical things to have going on: you needed to have the sheep there to have the proper sacrifices for Passover. And the rule was that you needed to change your money from impure Roman money to the right kind of money to be acceptable in the temple, to make the exchange, so you could buy your sheep, so you could have your sacrifice. So, both these things that were going on were important to keep the Jewish festival in this holiest of Jewish places.
    Yet Jesus disrupts both of these things at the highest time of the year. He criticizes deeply what's going on and what they're doing, and announces that he is the key to a new way of relating to God, a new way of worship, and a new way of community. To make the point about Jesus is about new beginnings, the gospel writer John puts this at the beginning of his gospel. It's already in Chapter 2 of the Gospel of John. Jesus has only done one miracle before this: changing the water to wine at a wedding. In the other gospels this incident is at the end pretty much of Jesus' life, as it's the thing that really gets people angry so that they want to kill him and crucify him. John wants his readers to know from the beginning that Jesus is about new things, doing things in a new way. The changing of water to wine right before this shows that Jesus can do greater things. They were using ordinary water, but he changes that water into wine, showing the extravagance of God's love, and how he brings better quality to things. And the water that they're using for purification at this point, he says we can do better than that. He says, there's something greater than their purification rite. It has to do with the wine. And the criticism and the challenging the ways of the temple, along with his statements about who he is as the new temple himself, moves all this ahead dramatically. Times were changing. It's a new beginning. Everything is new with Jesus.
    Well, to look at the challenges and then the replacements that Jesus offers, let's kind of divide this into three things. First, it is the trading that's going on in the temple grounds. Here in John's gospel, Jesus doesn't criticize the morality of the people saying that they're cheaters or anything like that. What he's objecting to is the religious system and the temple system that reduces the high holy days to matters of doing the right things with money and animals to satisfy God. This turns a relationship with God into kind of a bartering process. It's something that you do to try to stay on God's good side, rather than to be in a loving relationship with God, realizing that all good things come from God and that God is extravagant in giving good things. It's about responding. It's supposed to be about responding and thanksgiving and gratefulness, rather than being a time to try to earn favor with God. Well, this tendency is something that has continued through the ages and continues even into our time. We're so tempted always to fall into this thinking that our relationship with God is something that we earn, it's about earning a place, being good enough so that God will regard us well. We know better. We know that God has come to us and given us not only the wonderful gifts of creation, but also the great gift of Jesus. As Jesus says, Jesus is the new temple. And he brings with that the new way of doing things, the gift to us of his raised body and the promise of life with God is a most wonderful thing that is promised to us. All this comes with Jesus. And just like the wine is way better than the water, so Jesus is way better than the temple system that was there before.
    But we know how tempting it is to fall back into this kind of bartering system with God, this marketplace idea. And it's tempting for us and it was tempting in Luther's day too. We know that Luther began to see that the church in his day was kind of in this barter relationship with God. He saw people around him literally paying money to the church to be given the promise of the forgiveness of sins. So he wrote and put up a written protest on (we might call the Facebook of the day) the church door, to tell people this wasn't right. He'd seen enough of this bartering. He lived through it, you might say in himself and the monastery, where he would punish his body at night. He did excruciating things to his body to try to earn favor with God, because that was the prevailing theology of the day. But then he realized in his studies that the Bible was telling of a different way, the way of grace and God's love and God's receiving people to himself. But we know how easy it is to bring that marketplace economy into our own thinking too. And sometimes in this Lenten season, we're most prone to that. We think in terms of giving things up so that God will like us more. We know that there are ways, good ways, to think about that, to give things up, and to be more disciplined in this season so that we can think more about God's goodness to us. Or somehow have a deeper relationship with God. Or maybe strengthen our relationships with other people in the world. They're all good things we can do in Lent as we give things up. But it's part of our human nature, to think that if I'm doing these good things, or if I'm giving this thing up, God likes me more.
    Some of you may know a friend of mine Steve Albertin, who is a pastor in metro Indianapolis and has some relationships with this congregation, and happens to be serving a congregation in Zionsville (but in the Indianapolis area) called Christ Lutheran Church too. I've never seen them, but he tells me in this congregation that they have T-shirts for their Christ Lutheran Church that say, "Christ Lutheran, where you get to..." They are adamant in making the point that our good deeds are not what we do to earn God's favor, but what we do in our joy because God has favored us with the love of Jesus. So we get to do all kinds of things. And it's interesting, on his Church website you can get to a whole sheet of about 10 or 12 things — things we get to do at Christ Lutheran in Zionsville. It's much more of a joy and privilege to serve the Lord than it is to see it as a duty that we do for God's favor.
    The second thing we learn from Jesus' protest of what was going on in the temple is that what is central is he, not the temple. It's widely thought that when John wrote these words, the temple had already been destroyed by the Romans. So the first hearers of the Gospel of John probably would have said yeah, the temple is gone and now Jesus, the new temple, has risen — and what is important is to worship him. And that's probably part of the reason why John writes these words the way he does. As I said to the children, Jesus is everywhere and not localized at any one place. And so the Christian church needed to hear this word. They could be okay without the temple. Because wherever Jesus was, wherever they were together in Jesus' name, there God was. On Ascension day, that's the main thing that we celebrate: that Jesus has ascended to heaven so that he can be everywhere, with everyone in the world. And he says wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them. So, our presence around him is what makes us be in worship — not to be in any certain building. Churches can be handy. They can even be inspiring (church buildings that is) but they aren't the main thing about our relationship with God. Jesus says that as the one in Jerusalem will be demolished, what raises in its place is his body. And that's what's important.
    The third thing we learn from this protest of Jesus about the temple is that even as the temple was the main place for the Jews to gather, to come together on holy days, Jesus now says we gather about him. We call ourselves as a church. We say we're the body of Christ. His body is risen, and we are his body as well, as we call ourselves the body of Christ. As we are gathered about his word, as we receive his meal together, as we are baptized in his name, we're in union with him. We're one with him and with one another. We can hold hands with one another, saying we're all together in him.
    It's widely thought that many Jewish groups in older days would all face the direction of Jerusalem when they worshipped together, much like the Muslims do today when they face Mecca when they pray together. But for Jesus there is no one holy place. He is the Holy One, and where people gather in his name, that's a holy place for those people. Because he is there. The community of people gathered about him is the important thing — not the place, not the building where that occurs.
    You may have seen in yesterday's Post Dispatch a front-page article about Sister Antona Ebo. Fifty years ago she was working as a nun at St. Mary's Infirmary for the African Americans in St. Louis, and she was asked to be part of a delegation from St. Louis that would go down to Selma, Alabama to the second march, following the Bloody Sunday march. And she did so. She went with them. She's now 90 years old, and she was telling about that experience in the article. But she also tells in the article about her childhood growing up in Bloomington, Illinois. Her mother died when she was very young, so she was placed in the McLean County Home For Colored Children in Bloomington, along with her brother and her sister, at a very young age. Her family had been raised Baptist, and that was her religion. But she met a boy who was Roman Catholic in this children's home. But he couldn't exercise his Catholicism because they forbade him from going to the Catholic Church. But one day she and he were out and there was a Catholic church open. So they snuck into the Catholic Church themselves, and she listened as this boy told her the Catholic faith and doctrine, including the phrase that she remembered: Jesus is in the bread. She was taken by this and became a Catholic herself, she says because of this theology of the Eucharist. When she was 18 she converted to Catholicism. In the 1950s she became one of the Franciscan sisters of St. Mary. She continues to be active and will be leading a vigil on Tuesday sometime in Ferguson. But what I want to highlight from this very short biography is the life-changing lesson she learned from that boy who was with her: Jesus is in the bread.
    Jesus says in our text that his body is the new temple. We also know that he gives us his body, in the bread of the Eucharist. When we receive him in our communities of faith, we're with him in a new temple. He's with us, and we receive him in the bread. We're all together in him. He is in our midst as we're gathered around his word, and sometimes we highlight that — on Easter and other special Sundays, when we read the word out in the middle of the congregation, to say we're all gathered about him. He is the center. Wood and masonry are nice, but gathered around him is the important thing. Jesus said the temple had become the marketplace. In his body religion is restored. It becomes a gathering of people, gathered about him in thanksgiving, receiving him with joy in the bread, and going forth then to share the word about him and to share him in deeds with other people. Amen.
    Now, may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
    *** Keywords ***
    2015, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, John 2:13-22
  • Feb 15, 2015Mountaintop
    Feb 15, 2015
    Series: (All)
    February 15, 2015. Pastor Penny's sermon today is on the Transfiguration of our Lord from the perspective of Peter, and on the risks we may take as we follow Jesus.
    *** Transcript ***
    We begin this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
    Poor Peter. The last thing he wanted to be doing was to be trudging up that mountain behind Jesus. Jesus has said we need to come away, we need to get away. We need to go up where it's quiet. But Peter wanted to stay down in the towns and keep working. It was the work that really gave Peter energy. He loved walking into a brand new village with Jesus and the other disciples. People would come up and mob Jesus. "Rabbi! Rabbi!" they would call. And then he and the other disciples would do crowd control to make sure that everyone had their opportunity to touch Jesus and be healed. And the best thing, the most amazing thing for Peter, was when Jesus sent them out, the disciples, two by two into the villages — and they discovered that they too had the power to heal. Peter had never felt so validated, never felt so important, never had such energy. He loved that work. He didn't even like to stop to listen to Jesus teach.
    And the last time that Jesus taught them, six days earlier, Peter and Jesus had had a fight. Jesus had been teaching the disciples and he said, I will have to be killed. I am going to be killed. And Peter thought that was the most ridiculous thing he had ever said. Jesus was popular. Everyone loved Jesus. And if he had a few enemies, I mean the people were not going to let someone hurt Jesus. And besides that, when Jesus said that, there was just a little bit of fear in Peter that it could be true. And the thought of losing Jesus... what would happen to them? What ministry would Peter have? Who would he be? A fisherman again, without Jesus. And how could they stand the idea of losing their good friend?
    So because Peter thought it was a ridiculous thing for Jesus to say, and because he was just a little bit afraid it could be true, he scolded Jesus. And then Jesus turned on him. And he called Peter a devil, and he said that Peter had been tempting him to do the wrong thing. And those words, six days later, still haunted Peter as he trudged up that mountain. They still hurt. They still made him feel afraid. They still made him a little angry. And he was afraid that when they got to the top of the mountain, there would be another teaching session. But little did Peter know that the experience he would have on that mountain would change his life. Because when they got up there, Jesus didn't begin teaching. Jesus didn't say a word. Instead, Jesus was transformed in front of them. It was as if through every pore of Jesus' body he was emitting light. He was glowing. And then Peter saw two figures with Jesus, two men that somehow instinctively Peter recognized as these men from ancient history, the ancient history of his faith.
    One of them was Moses, the giver of the Ten Commandments. Moses, whose words Peter had memorized in synagogue school. There he was! And with him was Elijah, that great prophet they had learned about who had the courage to stand up against Queen Jezebel. And they were talking to Peter's friend Jesus! It was as if the whole past of Peter and all he had learned was coming into the present, and all under the glow of the approval and the glory of God. He wanted to capture that moment. He didn't want it to ever end. So he said, let's build three shelters, one for each of you. But no sooner had he said that than they disappeared and he was hidden in a cloud. And then he heard a voice — instinctively he knew whose voice it was — then he heard the voice of God saying two things he would never forget.
    "This is my, Son the Beloved." Beloved, Peter thought. God is calling Jesus, my friend who looks like me, beloved. In all his life, Peter had learned about God, had worshipped God, had known that God was strong and to be worshipped and feared, and that they prayed that this strong God would deliver them from Rome. But he had never really thought of the word "love" with God. And here was God saying he loved Jesus, a man like Peter. But as he was basking in the glory of that thought, the next word of God came to him and hit him like a punch in the chest. Because God said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him." Listen to him. And Peter knew those words were meant for him. "Listen to my son." Peter knew that when Jesus said something, it was the word of God. Peter knew at that moment that what Jesus predicted — that Jesus would have to die and that the disciples too would face hardship — that that was true.
    When he came down from that mountain Peter was a different man. He had a sense of foreboding, because now he knew that Jesus and he would be facing hardship. But because of that experience, because he heard the voice of God, because he saw what he saw, it was covered over with a sense of peace — that whatever he had to face, Jesus would be alongside. Jesus would have been there beforehand. And whatever he had to endure, it would be under the shadow of the approval and the protection and the love of God.
    As followers of Jesus, we really never know what he will lay on our hearts to do, what risks we will be asked to take. My great aunt and her friend Patty (we called her) never married. They lived together in a big house in Minneapolis, and we invited them of course to every family gathering. And every Christmas they would come with an almost complete box of candied fruit, and they would say this was a gift sent to us by our Japanese-American friends who live in California and it was too much for us. So we took a few pieces out, but we brought the rest for you. And every Christmas they would bring that box with the same explanation — that it came from their young Japanese-American friends in California. And we always wondered, who were these people and what were they doing in California? And why did they keep sending my aunt and her friend gifts? We never knew the answer in their lifetimes. My aunt was the first one to die, and some years later her friend Patty. And it was at Patty's memorial service that we heard the story. Well, there were two young Japanese-American women working in Minneapolis, and somehow they had become friends with my aunt and her friend Patty. And then the second world war broke out, and my aunt and Patty, who was a devout Christian, heard about all the Japanese-Americans on the West Coast that were being torn away from their jobs and their homes and put in internment camps. And they didn't want that to happen to their friends. So they invited their friends to come and live with them, and basically they hid them for the entire duration of World War II. My mother and father were invited occasionally to have Sunday dinner with them during the war. They never knew, as they sat down in the dining room having dinner, that upstairs there were these two young women hiding to keep out of danger.
    So we really never know what God may lay upon our hearts, what risks we may take as we follow Jesus. We may find that we're risking our precious time as we get in extended conversations with someone at school or someone at work, who just needs a listening ear, and so we listen. We may find that God is calling us to take risks with our money to help someone, not knowing if they're really going to use our money properly or if we really have enough to share. We might find that God is asking us to risk our comfort and to stand up and work for justice for people who are very different from us, either in class, or in race, or in sexual orientation. And all these risks are scary. It may seem hard, but we have been to the mountain and we have heard the words of God and we have heard about Jesus. And so if we let those words they, like Peter, will change us. And we will find that yes, we may have a sense of foreboding sometimes for what it means to be a Christian. But that, overshadowing that sense of fear, like Peter, is a sense of peace, that whatever God is asking us to do, Jesus will be walking beside us. In fact, Jesus will probably have done it before us.
    And more than that, as we walk behind him, as we follow Jesus we will have that sense of abiding joy — of knowing that we are serving Jesus, who walked down that mountain so many years ago, and continued walking to Jerusalem and gave his life, so that we would have life — the joy of knowing that we serve him, and we serve God, who brought Jesus back to life, so that he could fling open the doors of the kingdom and say to each of us: welcome, come in. Now you are my beloved, the beloved sons and daughters of God.
    *** Keywords ***
    2015, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Mark 9:2-9, Transfiguration, LGBTQ
  • Feb 8, 2015Trust God’s Power
    Feb 8, 2015
    Trust God’s Power
    Series: (All)
    February 8, 2015. Do we trust our power? Do we trust God's power? Tom Schoenherr preaches on Isaiah 40 today. God promises comfort and strength to his people, but can we hear and believe those words in light of all of the terrible things that seem to go on in life sometimes these days?
    *** Transcript ***
    Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
    Last week was the Super Bowl. Many of you may have watched the game. Many may have watched the commercials. It was an exciting game, and it was an exciting close to the game. There were so many commercials, some of which were controversial I guess. But I was reminded about a commercial not from this Super Bowl, but from last year's Super Bowl. It was a Duracell commercial that featured Derrick Coleman, who is a football player with the Seattle Seahawks. You know him. And Derek became deaf when he was really quite young, and in that short little minute-long commercial it told about how he was bullied in school. He was not picked until the very end to be on a team. He was harassed by coaches. He was not chosen to be drafted by the NFL. And many people -- and this is a very important line -- he says everybody, everybody told me that it was over for me. My dream was gone. But I lost my hearing when I was three, and so I didn't listen to them. And then it goes on as he is pictured walking into the Super Bowl stadium. And he says, and all of these people, all of these fans are here cheering me on. And I can hear every one of them. And then there is the tagline that goes across the screen saying, "Duracell. Trust your power."
    Do we trust our power? Do we trust God's power? At the beginning of this chapter, we're focusing upon the Old Testament reading from Isaiah chapter 40. At the beginning of that chapter we hear those words during Christmastime: Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. In other words, your sins are taken care of. Your sins are forgiven, people. Comfort, that's what I come to bring to you. But what were the sins of the people? Those sins were that they trusted in arms. They trusted in weaponry. They trusted in alliances that they made with other nations in order to keep themselves safe from attacks from other countries. They chose to put their faith in weapons and forces of arms, and they did not trust God. And they went against the will of God. And so they were taken into captivity and they went into exile, and lived in Babylon for 50 years. Now God is saying, now it's time to come home. And there are people who have never seen home, because they were born in Babylon. There are other people who have died in Babylon. There are others who have grown quite old, and think of going back to the Promised Land as being something that they just can't do. They don't have the strength. They've become faint and weary.
    I am aware that for myself, and maybe for you too, when I see the atrocities that are done by the people of ISIS in other parts of the world, when I see the horrible things that happen to others in the name of religion, when I hear about break-ins in homes and I see people who are struggling with illness and aging, when I am aware that there are cyber criminals who get into all kinds of computers and be able to take the social security numbers and addresses of people throughout the country, then maybe I too struggle with believing that God is there to give me comfort and strength. I don't have faith, and I look for other ways in which I can get that strength. And maybe I too think boy, if we just had enough weapons, we could take care of all of those people who are threatening us throughout the world.
    So now, all of those people in the Old Testament reading are thinking at the end of this 50 years they have a lot of questions. They are wondering about many things in relation to returning to the Promised Land. What questions do you think they might have? I'm really asking. What questions might you have if you were one of those people? Would you have some questions of God? What might you ask? What will it be like? What is your plan for me? And for our whole community? Is my house still there? Probably, maybe not. Are you going to let this happen again? What if I don't trust him again? Will this happen once more? Is God powerful enough? Is God faithful to his people any longer? Are we the children of God, and what does that mean? Can there be peace in this world? What is the role of the community of faith in this kind of world, where it seems like there's a lot of scariness going on and people are wondering? So can the people of God hear those words: Comfort, O comfort my people?
    I am also confessing that I have trouble hearing and believing those words, in light of all of the terrible things that seem to go on in life sometimes these days. And I'm wondering what does that mean for my faith? If I put all of my emphasis and put all of my trust in gathering together weapons and arms, if I am focused on just trying to hold on to what is mine, then I draw more and more into myself. And there is no comfort and no hope. I am lost.
    But Isaiah doesn't want to give up on the people, and God doesn't want to give up on his people either. We hear those questions in this Old Testament reading: have you not known, have you not heard that I said comfort, comfort my people? Remember? And in the Old Testament reading it continues to go through all of the things that God has done and continues to do for his people. And God enters into the hopelessness, God enters into the struggle of his people with a promise. And that promise continues to be Emmanuel, God with us. And in the lesson it says that God gives power to the faint and strength to the powerless. He continues to reach out to his people, to gather them together and say: I am not faint. I am not weary. I am with you still. In the midst of all of the struggle, in the midst of all of the questions that you may have, I am still there. And he takes all of our fear, and all of our death, all of our struggle, all of our pain on himself, on the cross. And in Christ we know, we hear and trust a promise: that he is bringing life out of death. He is bringing hope out of hopelessness.
    And so these people of God, who are there in Babylon after 50 years, and also Peter's mother-in-law whom he heals, and all of those people who are gathered at the door for healing that Jesus reaches out to -- we are gathered with them. And Jesus comes among us and draws us again to himself at the table. And he invites us to bring all of our sin, all of our fear, all of our distrust of God to him. And he returns to us what we so desperately need: his forgiving love, his forgiveness, his power, his love for us in the gift of his own body and blood. And he invites us and calls us to be his people in the world. And he says we've got to go to other neighboring towns. Remember in the gospel where the disciples come looking for him, and Jesus says we need to go to the neighboring town so that I can proclaim the gospel there.
    We are invited and called as God's people, sent out in order that we might proclaim that message of life and hope to people who are struggling with hope and fear and loneliness and illness and aging, who have all kinds of things that are drawing them into themselves. And we are there, sent to be that promise. Because we live in the promised land -- this world that God loves so desperately and loves so much is the place of God's promise. And we are part of God's promised future as we stand before all people. And there are many who would say that life is cheap and life is meaningless. But we have a mission in this world, in order to say to all of the world: life is a gift from God and each life is precious. So we don't get our power from Duracell. We trust the power of God to give us strength, hope, and new life. And the tagline across our lives could be, "Jesus Lives. Trust God's power."
    In Christ's name, amen.
    *** Keywords ***
    2015, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Tom Schoenherr, Isaiah 40:1-2, Isaiah 40:21-31
  • Feb 1, 2015Leaving False Promises Behind
    Feb 1, 2015
    Leaving False Promises Behind
    Series: (All)
    February 1, 2015. Each of the gospels presents a slightly different aspect of Jesus. In Mark, Jesus speaks and acts with authority and has come to make a difference in the world. Pastor Keith's sermon today is about Jesus' first public appearance in Mark 1, casting out the demon from the man with an unclean spirit, and how his forgiveness also breaks into our lives and lets us have a new start.
    *** Transcript ***
    We hear our text this morning as we begin in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
    We hear of Jesus in one of my favorite towns, Capernaum, in the Holy Land. These days it's a peaceful town. It's on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. The hills rise up above it to the north and to the east and to the west, and it's surrounded by very few trees but lots of nice grassland. You can imagine the hills above it where Jesus did a lot of his preaching, and the lake nearby where the disciples did their fishing. You can see the foundations of the house where Peter's mother-in-law was at, where her house was. You can go to the ruins of the synagogue pictured on our bulletin today, probably where Jesus actually was -- if not on that level, just slightly below it. But you can be in the place and see what he would have seen. In those days it wasn't, though, a very sleepy town. It was a major center in the day of Jesus. It was on the major caravan route between Egypt and the East. It was a governmental center and it was a place of taxation. Matthew likely hung out there collecting his taxes. You can still visit the olive presses there where they would crush the olives for the oil, and end up growing commerce and growing agriculture in the area. And it's not far from Nazareth, and so it's easy to think how Jesus would have left his more remote home in Nazareth, came to the center of activity in Capernaum, and begun his ministry there.
    Today we hear how he made his entry there. He was a visitor, having been actually someone from Nazareth. But he comes to the synagogue in Capernaum on the day of worship. That wasn't necessarily such a big deal itself. Any male is eligible to get up and speak in the synagogue and address the group. But what Jesus said and what Jesus did created a big stir. The speech was not ordinary. He captured the attention of the people. They said he spoke with authority. He wasn't like the other speakers they had. As I understand it, the Jewish tradition for speaking in worship is to build the kind of theological case based on those who have gone before. By quoting one and another respected rabbis from the past, they would build their speeches. But Jesus was different. He spoke on his own, not quoting the others. He knew the past, and often he would speak of the prophets of the past, but he usually took them to show that he was one with them and that their mission was his mission. Their words of promise and judgment were coming true in him.
    I think it's helpful here to know that the Greek word for "authority" -- which the people said he spoke with: authority -- is "exousia," which means "out of one's being." "Exo" is "out of," and "usia" is "who you are," or "what one's being is." So to speak with authority is to come out of oneself from the authority that lies within. I think we all know people who have that kind of authority. It comes from within them, and people respect these people and look up to them because of the quality that comes through that person. It's different than just holding an office or a position and because of your authority that someone else gave you to make some pronouncement. Sometimes that authority comes from within, and that's what Jesus had. We've all known people who have, by their nature, inspired our trust and our respect. When they speak, their wisdom isn't something quoted from the past. It comes from within them. Jesus was special. He didn't just quote, he spoke the truth.
    This was the first time in Mark that we hear Jesus speak in public. He had been baptized, he had been tempted in the wilderness, and he had chosen some disciples who were fishermen. But this is the first public appearance that he makes. It's sometimes said that you can tell how a gospel is going to end, what kind of quality the gospel will have, by the first public thing that Jesus does in the book. And it's kind of a tip-off by the author, by the writer, of what that book is going to be about. In Matthew, Jesus very early on teaches the Sermon on the Mount. And the teachings of Jesus are very important in Matthew. In Luke, Jesus has a very nice sermon in his hometown, but he talks about helping people who are poor. And this makes the townspeople nervous. He says he has this power within him, and they decide they want to go kill him -- which is what happens to him in the end. In John, his first public appearance is changing water into a whole lot of wine, showing the abundant love and care of God. And that theme follows through the book of John. But the main thing Jesus does in this first appearance in Mark is to perform an exorcism. Jesus not only speaks with authority, but he uses his authority to cast demons out of a person. This was very different than a usual Sabbath day speech. This was new power being shown. So early on in Jesus' ministry we see how he comes to the world to make a difference. It won't be like it was before. The old, the evil is being cast out and cast aside, and he brings in the new.
    A few weeks ago we heard of his baptism. We heard mentioned how the heavens were torn or ripped apart. We tore a curtain up here with the kids to show them. So things were being torn apart in a new way. Something new is breaking into the world. The very first words of Mark's gospel are the beginning of the good news. Mark is doing all he can here to let us know that Jesus is breaking into the world in a powerful new way, to make a big difference. Things shouldn't be the same with Jesus in the picture. He comes to get rid of evil and to bring good news instead. He comes to say that we're not bound by the demons that possess us and they may be thrown off.
    Years ago at a confirmation camp in Iowa, Penny and I would sit at the noon hour with other pastors who were there. And one of the pastors had gotten back from doing time as a missionary in Malagasy. He told how on his circuits, when he'd go around to the churches there, new people would show up. At some of the gatherings people would stand up from the group who were possessed with demons, like the man we heard about in our gospel today. And it was no surprise really to have this happen; sometimes more than one. And it reminded us that in the presence of the gospel, it seems like those who are possessed by demons can't stay seated. They have to react to it in some way. They know there's a higher power there. They must either leave or submit to this power. They react to this power of the goodness of Jesus Christ, the good news of Jesus Christ being preached to them. Culturally, we don't have that happen too much here anymore. We don't let that spirit come out and speak in opposition to Jesus. We don't have people doing that this morning and most mornings, thank goodness. But we do know the power of evil and the temptation that comes with it, and how it leads us in a way that counters the way of Jesus. And that's so even though we may not have people standing up and saying they have demons within them, we all have demons within us. We all have the devil within us. We have temptation within us, and we would like to have it exorcised from us. But it doesn't come out automatically just by a word from Jesus. We need to name it. We need to confess it. And then it can be forgiven as we bring it to Jesus and we hear Jesus' words of forgiveness to us.
    Two weeks ago at the Youthquake, the main speaker was Jonathan Swenson. He acted out little plays or vignettes of Bible scenes. One of the stories was about a man who was demon-possessed (it wasn't our particular story today, but a different man who had a multitude of spirits in him) and had them exorcised by Jesus. The main prop that Swenson used in his dramatic presentation was a chain. He had a five or six foot, fairly heavy kind of long chain. And he used it to good effect. His main point to the kids was: what are the things that keep you chained up? What are the things that bind you, as though you had a chain wrapped around you and keep you in yourself? That is, what kind of things do you let possess you and keep you chained up, which are not healthy and would counter the way that God would have you live? We know how many things seem to possess us and keep us chained up. Our diseases, our addictions, our anxieties, our losses, our sorrows, our attractions to other gods that we make up ourselves and we get attracted to them. Both the powers that keep us chained in, and the things we voluntarily allow to possess us, are encountered by Jesus. Some things like the pressures of work, or financial burden, or home life, or caring for another person which maybe seems endless, can feel like they possess us. They get us down. Others of us, we often allow other things to possess us. We find it hard to let go of these chains, the things that we voluntarily seem to be tempted by. They end up having a hold on us that we would like to get rid of. So we're stuck with things that bind us like chains.
    Both powers of Jesus that amazed the people that day in Capernaum continue with him. The more Jesus displays his power of speech and the power of exorcising demons, more peoples raise up the question: what authority does he have to do these things? The first remark that day was, "What authority he has," but the longer he did it, the more they wondered, "Where does this authority come from?" And the more he does it, the worldly authorities get more and more upset with him. Finally, they say he's exceeded his authority. He's claimed too much power for himself and he's blasphemed God by doing this. And so they bind him -- not with a chain, but with other things -- to a piece of wood in the shape of a cross, and think that they had gotten rid of him. They think that they are exorcising him from their presence, just as he had gotten rid of so many evil spirits.
    But once again, the spirit of God broke through from the heavens, made a new start in the world. It raised Jesus from the dead and raised the number of followers of his who heard the good news that Jesus was alive. Just as a tomb could not keep Jesus in, he breaks the chains of those who are possessed by various demons in their lives. He gives a reminder that he loves all, no matter who they are or where they have been. He promises a healthy way of life and a relief from depending upon false hopes in the world. Just as he exorcised demons, he forgives sins. His forgiveness breaks into our lives and lets us have new starts in our lives. He gives powers and abilities to ministries, so that those who are dealing with dependencies and losses or troubles may find those who have the ability to treat those who are living in a troubled world. They find counselors and others, who are able to speak with them so that they're able to leave these things that trap them behind and come to new life. This is the Jesus of Mark breaking into our world, giving us new ways to live. He gives us a sense of health, a sense of worth by his enfolding love. It comes and captures us and releases us from what we've been doing before. We can see what we've been trapped by: our own conceptions about race, or about gender, or about age, or self authority, or ethnicity -- areas where we haven't been fully open. A new age can break in for us. We can lay aside the chains. We can decide what's best for our health, and leave the false promises behind. As Jesus breaks in to make a new world, he breaks in for you and he breaks in for me, so that we might live anew as his disciples in the world. Amen.
    Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
    *** Keywords ***
    2015, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, Mark 1:21-28