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
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  • 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
    Mountaintop
    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.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** 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
  • Jan 11, 2015We Are Baptized
    Jan 11, 2015
    We Are Baptized
    Series: (All)
    January 11, 2015. With baptism, we rely upon what God has done, rather than on what we think we have to do ourselves. Pastor Keith's message today is on the baptism of Jesus and what it means for us.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    If you do Facebook or Instagram or any of those kind of social media, you're always given the chance to "like" something, something that someone else has posted. Maybe it's what they say, or a situation they describe, or a picture that they put up and share. All these may lead you to "like" what they have done. You, of course, may be led to comment on the post as well. But the easiest way to let a person know that you've seen it and you appreciate it and find the image of what they say appealing is to "like" it.
     
    In today's gospel, we hear God "like" something. After Jesus is baptized by John, God weighs in on the event and on Jesus. The Spirit comes down like a dove, the voice of God comes down and says, "You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased." God likes this person. God likes this situation. But this is a little more than just a tap on a screen. This is not just to be liked, either. It is to be loved. Jesus is the Beloved. With him God is pleased. To be liked is something we normally all seek ourselves. When we're in grade school we like to be liked by the other kids. We whine when we're lonely and it seems like nobody cares about us, and we say, "Nobody likes me." We're pleased when we're liked by the other children. As adults we don't mind it either. We like to be liked by others. Maybe being popular isn't quite as important to us as it is in high school, when we're an adult. But we still like to be liked by others. When Sally Field won an Oscar a few years ago she said, "You like me! You really like me!" Desire to be liked by others is something that's powerful and deep with us. We want to be received by others.
     
    At the baptism of Jesus, God testifies to how he loves Jesus, and is pleased with him. That's the grace that we find in our baptisms also. When that word is spoken over us, it is God saying to us, "You are my Beloved. With you I am well pleased." We may be surprised at that. We know that we don't always do what God wants us to do. We don't always say what God wants us to say. We don't always think what God wants us to think. How can it be that God would love us and be pleased with us? Well that's the promise that becomes ours, because Jesus went into the water himself. And because he was baptized just as we are (though he didn't need it for the washing away of his sins) because of what he did for us he said, I want to be human along with these other humans. He said, I am one of you. What will happen to me, Jesus said, will happen to you. Because he dies, we die to sin with him. Because he rises, we have the promise of new life too. God is pleased with us, because when God sees us, his love lets us see Jesus in us.
     
    Well, if God hadn't wanted it this way God, would not have done it. But God liked us and loved us from the beginning and wants us to be friends with him. And as God liked us and loved us, so that as soon as we were created he made sure that there was a way we would find ourselves pleasing to him. So there's an assurance here that even though we may not always live as God's people, God wants us to be his. And he's provided this way so that we can be his, based on our faith in him. There's an assurance here. Otherwise, we'd worry all the time that it depends on me, and I need to be likable to God. You would worry that we have to have so much faith to make this thing happen. We would feel like we need to rely on our own faith in God. Do we have enough faith to believe, to satisfy God? But at baptism the direction is reversed. Instead of us trying to go up to God, God comes down to us. The Spirit comes to us as the Spirit came to Jesus and works faith in us, so we don't have to rely on our own. God creates the faith. God gives the faith to us. It's a wonderful gift of God.
     
    Martin Luther said that when he doubted, he would say to himself, "I'm baptized." He wouldn't say so much, "Well, I need to believe" or "I'm a Christian, so I oughta believe." He just said, "I'm baptized," because the strength of his faith was in his baptism. Because he knew God put God's claim on him when he was baptized. With baptism we rely upon what God has done, rather than on what we think we have to do ourselves. Baptism is relying on what God has done for us. We have the assurance therefore, through baptism, that we are the children of God and that we are filled with the Holy Spirit, even when it seems like so many signals are around us saying we're not really. So many signals come to us saying "you're a nobody." Baptism says to us, quoting God, "I am pleased with you."
     
    When Jesus was baptized, God gave him the verbal assurance that he was indeed God's son. He could always know that the Spirit was with him. And Jesus would need these assurances, as he was tempted, while he was doing his ministry, and when he suffered and died. From his baptism, the next thing he did was go to the wilderness for 40 days where he was tempted. And he was sorely tempted not to follow through with God's Mission, and to take a more comfortable route. His baptism and God's words of assurance gave him the strength of faith to counter the devil and do what he needed to do.
     
    The first thing Jesus did in his ministry after he called the disciples was to encounter a man possessed by demons. When he exorcised the demons from the man, then some of the people thought Jesus must be of the devil himself, if he did that. And that was just the start of all the naysayers, all the people who were against Jesus in his ministry -- always either out to get him, to dissuade him from doing things, always saying he must not be real, there's some other reasons these things are happening. So he needed the assurance during his ministry that he'd been baptized and endowed by the Spirit so that he indeed could carry on his own ministry. And when Jesus suffered on the cross, he was tempted yet again. By words of the people around him, the devil was tempting him to come down from the cross and prove himself, that he could do miracles. He didn't need to die. But yet even on the cross Jesus reached for the words of God and remembered the assurances that God had given him, going all the way back to his baptism so that he could withstand.
     
    We may not have such dramatic encounters with those who would like to peel us away from our relationship with Jesus. But the difficulties of our lives can be temptations, to make us wonder. Doubts creep into our minds. Did Jesus really mean that he was the Son of God? Is that really who he was? Is he really connected to me? Could some person who lived back then have some connection to me? All kinds of doubts can come into our minds. Temptations can be there for us not to follow through when we know it's the right thing to do. We may have good intentions, but it gets really hard to do what we intend to do. Do we have enough sacrifice to do that? Maybe it is to help someone or to stand up for someone. We say, "Well, I don't know. Can I really do that?" It's a temptation not to do what we know we ought to do.
     
    Hard times make us wonder too. Our own forms of death -- illnesses, loneliness, embarrassment -- all kinds of ways that we die little deaths make us wonder if we will live well. Is God there to help me through my hard time? Like Luther, we remember that we are baptized. The assurance is there, just as it was for Jesus. God says, you are my child, with whom I am well pleased. With the water of baptism, the Spirit has come down upon you. You have me with you in your doubt, in your temptations, and in your hard times. Trust me, God says. I've come down. I will stay with you. And it is the Spirit with a capital 's' that comes to us in baptism as it did to Jesus. Just as the Spirit was sweeping over the waters at creation, as our first lesson talked about today, the Spirit comes through the water of baptism for us. It comes to give us new life. The Spirit came with such power at the baptism of Jesus that it was like tearing the heavens open, we mentioned. It was a new creation. New things were beginning. It was the beginning of a new world with Jesus in it. So it is a new life that comes to us at baptism. We are a new creation. It's our second birth. We are revived from the sin we are born into, and given a new life with God.
     
    With that new life, we create a new world around us, just as Jesus did. You live a new way, not captive to the standards and goals the world puts up around us, but responding to the kind of life that Jesus taught us that we should have. It's the life where we're ready to forgive. We're ready to help another person. We're ready to put ambition aside for the sake of being of service. We live the new life of Jesus as we are empowered and given this new life by the spirit of God.
     
    So, we are liked and loved by God. We are assured by God. We are revived by God's spirit to live a new life. All of this comes through our baptism. It is a wonderful gift. A great thing happened on the day we were baptized. We began anew with God. We were given a pattern to go by, to live out this sometimes difficult way of life. But with the Spirit we are able to do it, knowing that we are ones who are liked by God. Amen.
     
    And now may the peace of God which surpasses 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, Genesis 1:1-5, Mark 1:4-11
  • Jan 4, 2015Little Invitations
    Jan 4, 2015
    Little Invitations
    Series: (All)
    January 4, 2015. All of us, everyone, wants to know their lives have a meaning apart from the day-to-day, that they have a purpose in their lives. Pastor Penny preaches on the first chapter of John, how the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and how we are given the power to become children of God. In this season of Epiphany, what we do is share that gift by sprinkling little invitations around our lives, inviting people to know that God is with us, through this life and into the next.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    As Becky was gathering up the last of her Christmas cards, she felt a familiar pang in her heart realizing that once again, neither of her brothers had sent her a Christmas card. She and her brothers had become kind of estranged. They had become distant. Her older brother, who was always very outgoing and popular, had gone into sales -- and he'd gone right to the top and he was moving in social circles that were different from Becky's. He had several houses in different cities, and she kind of figured he was spending the holidays abroad. She hadn't heard from him in years. Her younger brother was a different story altogether. He had started drinking, and the drinking had taken over his life and his personality. And Becky had pleaded with him. She had warned him. She had loaned him money. When nothing seemed to help she just cut it off, and he kind of drifted away, and she had not heard from her younger brother for years. But as she was cleaning up and putting her decorations away, it just kept bothering her. She remembered old Christmases where they all had such fun, she and her brothers. And she wanted so badly to reconnect, so she decided to do something different. She decided she would call them. She had phone numbers and she thought they might still work.
     
    When her older brother received the call, he was on his sailboat. He saw on his caller ID, to his surprise, it was his sister. "Becky? What does she want?" He thought about it. He was so hesitant to pick up. "What do we have in common?" he thought. "What could I say to her? This would be very uncomfortable. I'll just let it go to voice message and maybe I'll text her later." And he went back to his book and to his martini. When Becky's younger brother got the call, he was in his trailer house. And he too saw on caller ID that it was his sister, and immediately he felt guilty. The last words she had said to him were very harsh, and he had let her down so many times. He hesitated to pick up. All he could feel was shame. But then he knew that what she had said to him was what saved him, because he finally heard it, and he finally gave up drinking and had been clean for a year. And so he reached over, hoping that she would forgive him, and he picked up.
     
    Like Becky's brothers, when God calls us -- and God does, through our conscience, through other people, through the scriptures -- when God calls us, we too are often hesitant to pick up. We know the voice at the other end might tell us something about ourselves we don't want to hear: that we drink too much, or that we should quit smoking, or that we should never talk to our spouse the way we do, or that success has gone to our heads -- whether it's at school or in the office or in sports -- it's become everything, or that we haven't become very generous in our lives. We are hesitant to pick up when God calls.
     
    And we hear in the scripture today that God knew that would happen from the very beginning. And so God created a plan to rescue us from this disconnection with God that we insist upon. And it is in the Book of John that we hear this plan most vividly described. You know, Matthew, Mark, and Luke -- those gospels tell the story of Jesus. But John tells it and tells what it means. John gives us the plan that God had for rescuing us. John, the Gospel, is the one that we read part of together back and forth this morning. It starts out in a very poetic manner: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And then a little later: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."
     
    Well, we can tell now where it's going. The "Word" obviously is Jesus. In Jesus, God became flesh. But why call Jesus "the Word?" That is very strange -- until you think of the fact that words are our best way of communicating. I can imagine that most of you who have been parents have looked into the face of a screaming infant and thought, "Oh, if she could only tell me what she needs." You know, words. They are the most effective way that we can share something from our heart to someone else's heart. And of course then what better thing to call Jesus, who is God's way of communicating with us? But as John goes on to describe the Word, we find out that the Word became flesh and dwelt here on the earth. But some people didn't accept the Word, while others did. And then comes, I think, one of the most beautiful passages in scripture, where John says, "But those who accepted him, who believed in his name, were given the power to become children of God."
     
    There is not a person in this world who does not want to be connected to something bigger than themselves. They may think of it as God. They may think of it as fame or posterity. All of us, everyone, wants to know their lives have a meaning apart from the day-to-day, that they have a purpose in their lives. All of us want to know or be comforted by the thought that when we take our last breath, that's not the end of us. And here is that promise: those who accept him are given the power to become the children of God, the family of God, flesh and blood with God. That means that God promises to be with us and protect us and to be bonded to us, past the time we take our last breath in this life. So that's the plan that John reveals.
     
    But then we go to the gospel and suddenly we come out of the cosmic realm, and we land firmly on the ground. In fact, our feet are in the dusty town of Bethlehem. And it's two years or so after Jesus is born, and he's a toddler. And Mary and Joseph are probably living in a modest home. And they have visitors, strange people. Now, of course, we always want to tidy things up in the church so we've glamorized these strange people, we've called them kings. But the Bible doesn't say that. They are called in the Greek "Magi" -- magicians, sorcerers, astrologers. And they were on the fringe of society. They were not highly regarded people. In the book of Acts, Paul encounters a Magi and calls him son of the devil. And yet these fringe people were guided by something that they were familiar with, a star, to the very place where Jesus was born.
     
    Now, they had gone to look for him in a palace where you would look for a king. But they had come to a little dusty town, and there through the eyes of faith that were given to them, they could see in this little toddler a king. And they fell down on their knees in front of him and worshiped him, and gave him gifts. That event, of course, is called the Epiphany. It's celebrated in the church year on January 6th every year, which is Tuesday. Today we're kind of celebrating it in advance. And the time in the church year, after Epiphany to the beginning of Lent, is called the season of Epiphany. We remember that event for lots of reasons. But I think today it teaches us two things: it reminds us, as we have been reminded so many times, that God builds God's kingdom with people on the fringe, probably because they're the ones that will answer the call, they will pick up. The other thing it tells us is that God uses things that are familiar to people. The stars were familiar to the Magi. That's what they studied. And so it was a star that drew them to Jesus. In the Bible, God uses ordinary people: David, Abraham, the disciples. I firmly believe that what God wants us to hear from this account, this story today, is that we are the familiar people that draw others to Christ, that we are the stars that make that call.
     
    Now it's not easy to make a cold call. So what we do is we sprinkle "little invitations" around in our lives. Maybe a mug that says "Christ Lutheran Church" that's on your office desk. Or maybe in your home there's a plaque, a religious plaque, that kind of describes your faith. Or maybe when someone has revealed a deep problem to you, you conclude the conversation with something like "I'll pray for you." We set out these little invitations because there is not a person in our offices, in our home rooms, in our book clubs, or on our soccer teams, who does not want to be connected to something beyond themselves, who does not want to know that their lives have meaning and purpose, who does not want to be assured that their lives will have meaning past the time they take a breath. And so we leave these invitations knowing that sooner or later, someone will come up to us having seen these little hints and say something like, "My wife and I are kind of having a hard time, and we've been thinking about finding a church." Or, "We are looking for a place to baptize our child." Or maybe just, "You know, I've been feeling that there must be more to life. I've been feeling that I'm missing something. You go to church. Why do you do that?"
     
    And then that's when we need to have a very short statement about what it means, what our faith means. And we've heard some beautiful ones over this last year, as some of you have done the welcome at the beginning of worship. We've heard people say that "I come to church because this is my anchor" or "I come to church because I want to be in this community" or "I come to church because this is where I know I'm forgiven" or "I come to church because I need to be here." It's not easy to talk about our faith. And I'm as shy as any one of you to talk about it outside of these walls. But we are not being asked to sell people something, to promote something, to push an idea on someone, or to disrespect their spirituality. God works in mysterious ways. God worked through sorcerers today. What we are simply doing is inviting people to experience what we experience, to be in the family, to be flesh and blood with God, to know that God is with us through this life and into the next. All we're doing is inviting people to be what God, by God's grace, has allowed us to be: children of God.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2015, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, John 1:1-18, Acts 13:8-12
  • Aug 17, 2014Ferguson
    Aug 17, 2014
    Ferguson
    Series: (All)
    August 17, 2014. In this sermon, Pastor Penny compares the story of Jesus healing the Canaanite woman's daughter with the situation in Ferguson, MO following the shooting there of Michael Brown, and suggests ways we might overcome the violence by individually reaching out and getting to know people.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
     
    The woman shouldn't have come out of the shadows. She shouldn't have tried to cross that invisible line of prejudice. She was a Canaanite woman. Canaanites had been cursed by the Jews from the time of Noah. She had the wrong culture, the wrong gods, and she was a woman. Women should not begin a conversation with a man they don't know -- certainly not with a Jew if she was a Canaanite. But you see, this woman had a daughter, a daughter she loved, who some time in her life had been imprisoned by a demon who made her violent toward herself and toward others so people feared her and hated this daughter, and who gave her horrible fits. And in the middle of one of these convulsions she often locked eyes with her mother, and her mother could see the fear in her daughter's eyes and could see that question, "Mommy, why can't you help me?"
     
    And so when this Canaanite woman heard about this healer Jesus coming, she could not stop herself. She stepped out of the shadows and she began shouting again and again, "Have mercy on me Lord, son of David, because my daughter is being tormented." And then Jesus did nothing. But his disciples said, send her away, she's not one of us. She's not our problem. Jesus didn't do that, but he refused to help her. He said, it's not in my job description. I've been sent here to help the the Israelites. Not people like you. But this woman had such a love for her daughter, such a desire to have a healing touch for her daughter, that she further humbled herself by getting down on her knees in front of Jesus and said, "Lord, help me." And then Jesus so uncharacteristically insults her. He said, it is not fair. It is not just. It is not morally right for me to take the bread from the children of Israel and throw it to dogs. Now in Jesus' day, to call someone a dog was a terrible insult. In Greek you can see he softens it a little -- he calls her a puppy. But nevertheless, here's this woman needing help at the feet of Jesus, and it seems that because of this separation between Jews and Canaanites she is not being helped. Did Jesus' compassion end with that ethnic group? Now there have been many things written about why Jesus acted the way he did. Some say well, he was testing her faith or testing the disciples' faith. Some say no, he really thought that God only wanted him to give help at this time apparently to the Jews. But whatever the reason, here is a woman who, because of this ethnic difference, is refused help.
     
    I don't think it's too hard to compare the situation of the Canaanite woman with what has been going on in Ferguson. Because I believe that the shooting of Michael Brown, and the violence that followed, is a result of the fact that we are separated from each other. And some of us have separated ourselves from those who look different or have a different socioeconomic background. "White flight" has left areas of St. Louis City and County without a tax base, without good schools, without jobs. It's not surprising that those areas have crime. And of course the media is very happy to show us that crime again and again. But I believe that what's happening, the crime and the violence that we see, is because we don't have a knowledge of people who look different or have a different background than we. We go on those stereotypes that we are given in the media -- on both sides, I think, of the color line. And those stereotypes do nothing but incite fear. And fear incites violence.
     
    We don't know each other. There's an area in Chicago that apparently has so much crime they call it Chiraq: "Chicago" and "Iraq." So many murders. There was an editorial by some fifth graders from Chiraq in the Chicago Tribune a few weeks ago, and they were taking the media to task for swooping in every time there's a murder, covering it, and swooping out and never getting to know the people. And so their essay is called "You Don't Really Know Us," and I'll read a few excerpts. "We want you to know us. We know that man on the corner. He works at the store and gives us free Lemonheads. The people in the suits are not people going to funerals. They're going to church. If you listen, you'll hear the laughter and chattering coming from the group of girls on the corner who are best friends, and who really care about each other. Do you see the smile on the cashier's face as kids walk in the store? Why? Because this neighborhood is filled with love. This isn't Chiraq. This is home. This is us."
     
    If we don't know each other, I think it spawns fear. And that spawns violence. By the grace of God, in the story that we heard about Jesus, this Canaanite woman is able to bridge the gap between the Canaanites and the Jews by her humility. She does it as she's kneeling before Jesus. And she catches that insult he throws, but she uses it. She says yeah, I am a dog. I'm not powerful. I'm not that important. I make lots of mistakes. But even dogs get the crumbs that fall from the children's table. By the grace of God, she had so much faith -- even this non-believer -- that she believed God's compassion extended to her. By the grace of God she believed that Jesus not only had enough power to help her, but wanted to. And of course from that point on everything changes in the story. We see the Jesus we knew we would see. He is overwhelmed by her faith. And in the Greek (you can read it in the Greek, it's even clearer) he says, "Oh woman, your faith is so strong, may it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly.
     
    I think the only way we are going to overcome the violence that we have seen in Ferguson, that can pop up anywhere and that does everywhere across the country, is if we get to know people who are different from us. I think our congregation is on the right track. The mission trip that the youth took was intended to help them see a way of life that they are not used to. The mission trip to the Native American reservation is intended to do the very same. But other things that have happened here: the working with the Epworth youth a week ago or so, going to Gateway 180 homeless shelter for VBS, helping with childcare at with Humanitree, clients who have been homeless. All these things that we do together are ways that we can bridge that gap, get to know people -- really know them, not just what is said about them.
     
    But I think when it finally comes down to it, the only way things are going to change is if we individually reach out. I mean, it might be as simple a thing as talking to someone at the store you don't usually talk to, or befriending someone at school or at the office that you aren't usually a friend with. One of you told about last week being on the Metrolink train that was stalled for an hour. And this was after the shooting of Michael Brown, and there were both African Americans and white people on that train and there was, as she said, a real obvious effort for people to be a little more polite to each other, a little kinder to each other.
     
    I don't really know what the answer to the violence is or how it's going to be changed. But I know from today, and we know from Jesus' life, he wouldn't have walked by that woman. He was always going to help her some way or another, and he did. And I know why our hearts tell us to do the same, because we are like that Canaanite woman. Maybe more like her daughter. We daily turn to our Heavenly Father, sometimes with fear in our eyes, saying please help. Please help me through this. Please give me guidance. Please protect my family. Please help me with my finances, with my health. And Jesus, like the loving Canaanite mother, looks at us and has so much love for us, that he also humbled himself but to the point of death in order to heal us, and be able to tell us yes, God will always be with you.
     
    I don't think the killing of Michael Brown was an incident between one police officer and one young man. I think it is the result of years and years of injustice and hatred and misunderstanding. It's part of a system. And we're part of that. All of us. And now our great healer, our greatest friend, reaches to us and says, "I need your help." Hold out a hand of healing. And I believe by the grace of God we are, and we will reach out that healing hand.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2014, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Matthew 15:21-28, Mike Brown, Darren Wilson
  • Aug 8, 2014World of Abundance
    Aug 8, 2014
    World of Abundance
    Series: (All)
    August 3, 2014. Pastor Penny preaches on the feeding of the 5000, from the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus has invited us into his world of abundance.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    I wonder if you would rather have more time or more money? Maybe a show of hands? How many would like a little more time? How many would like a little more money? Or both? And the two go together of course. If you have more time, you can probably find a way to get more money. If you have more money, you can find a way to give yourself some more time. But the bottom line is that we usually go through life feeling we don't have enough of something: time, money, whatever. It's kind of what keeps us awake at night wondering, "Am I a good enough parent? Do I have enough friends? Do I look good enough? Have I done well enough at school? Have I done well enough at my work? Is there going to be money at the end of my life? How is my health?" These are the things that we worry about, and it always comes down to this: do I have enough?
     
    And when we worry, we become afraid. And when we become afraid, it is not our best person that is shown forth, because we pull in on ourselves. We don't notice other people and their problems. And if we do, sometimes they even seem to be competitors with us for this small amount of goods that is available to us or not.
     
    I have an idea though, that when you walked through the church doors you wanted to hear about a different world than the world of scarcity and fear. And when you open up your Bibles, and when you open up your hearts in prayer, you're looking for a different reality than a world of scarcity and fear. So this morning let's just push that world, that seems to control us so many times, out of our minds. Let's just push it out.
     
    Because there is a different world, a world we hear described in the Old Testament, when the world was new and everything was good, and God said to Adam and Eve, "Be fruitful and multiply." It was a world of abundance. God told Abraham, "You will have so many descendants you won't be able to count them. They'll be like the stars in the sky." An abundant number of descendants. Or even when the children of Israel were in the wilderness and they were hungry, God sent manna. Everyone got everything they needed. There is another world. It's a world of abundance in which not the bank, and not the health insurance company, but God is in charge.
     
    And it is that world of abundance that broke into the world of fear and scarcity in today's gospel. Because there were people who were afraid and who didn't feel they had much: the crowds that came to hear Jesus. They were by and large poor people. They were there because they, or someone they loved, was sick and they were bringing them to be healed. And they probably had traveled for days, and they were very tired and hungry. And then there are the disciples. They had their own fears. First of all, they were tired because they were all thinking, "Oh good. We have a chance to take a little break here and be off with Jesus by ourselves." And then the crowd shows up. But they were also afraid because just before this event, we're told in Matthew that Jesus' cousin John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod. And then Herod heard about Jesus and thought that Jesus was John brought back to life. So the disciples of course were afraid. Herod would be after Jesus, and them next.
     
    So even with their fear, the disciples could see the need of the crowd. They knew they were hungry. But because they were tired, and because they were fearful, and because they felt they needed more power and they needed so much, this was the disciples' solution. They turned to Jesus and said, "Jesus, send those people to the cities to buy their food." But Jesus turned to them, and I can just imagine he had a smile on his face, and he said, "No. You feed them. You give them food."
     
    You see, what Jesus was asking his followers, his disciples to do, was to push away that world of scarcity and fear and to believe that they had the power of Christ. What he wanted them to do was allow themselves, through his power, to change the world.
     
    Now, this story of Jesus feeding these people — the feeding of the 5000 as we've come to call it — is the only story about Jesus' miracles that is in all four gospels. And people have looked at it and said, "I'm not sure that really Jesus miraculously fed 5000 plus people. Maybe what happened is that people started sharing. And when people started sharing, everyone had enough." But others have said, "No. No, this really happened." And you see, if we're willing to push aside the world of fear and doubt, if we're willing to suspend our doubts, if we're willing to believe that there may be a truth out there that we can't prove in a laboratory, that we might not understand, if we say this is God's world, then I think we too can say, "No, it happened."
     
    And I believe it happened. I believe Jesus fed those people, for two reasons according to the gospel. First, they were hungry and he wanted to help them. But secondly, he wanted to show the disciples that they could participate, they could do a miracle. And this story has been passed down all these years, and is here today I believe, because God wants to tell us the same thing. We, through the power of God, have the power to do God's will, God's miracles.
     
    The miracle of course that we saw Jesus doing was sharing. And so God's telling us the same thing: "You can do it." Now, of course the reason we can is that Jesus has invited us into this world of abundance where we can lose our fears. Jesus says, "You don't have to fear the past — those things that you wish you hadn't done — I've forgiven them. You don't have to fear the future. I'm with you every step of the way. You don't have to fear the end of your life. I've got that covered. I died on the cross to assure that you are in my kingdom." And he says, "What you just simply need to do is feed my people."
     
    And of course what we have, and I've often worried that we don't have enough of, is money and time. After the church service today, we're all invited to join the people of Emmanuel Episcopal and go down to a homeless shelter where there are mostly women and children — Gateway 180 — and we're just going to spend some time. We're not doing much for them. We're going to bring some pizza, play games with the kids, just talk a little bit with the moms. But you know what that does. We all have felt a healing power from being given time by someone. If you can't do that, you know of many people in your lives who either need money or time, and I know our first thought is, "But I've barely got enough for myself!" But this is God's world.
     
    And I imagine you've had the same experience I have, when you start the day and you try to prioritize, try to think, "What would God want me to do today?" It works out. Somehow there is the time. And even if you're really tired at the end of the day, it's a good kind of tired. Because this is God's world. It's a world of abundance. So in this world, Jesus looks at us and says, "Feed my people." And in this world of abundance, knowing of God's promises and love, we have the courage to look at Jesus and smile and say, "We can and we will."
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2014, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Matthew 14:13-21
  • Apr 13, 2014The Passion
    Apr 13, 2014
    The Passion
    Series: (All)
    April 13, 2014. Why did Jesus have to suffer and die? Some answer that question by saying now God understands how it feels to be human, understands our fears, our pains. Pastor Penny suggests though that maybe it was simply to demonstrate for us God's unequivocal love.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    I think it's safe to say that most of us like to be in control. We like to have control over the TV remote, over our checkbooks, over our schedules. We like to decide who we want to be friends with. We like to decide what to wear. (Quite a lot of criticism when the Ballpark Village had a dress code, I noticed a few weeks ago.) We want to control things ourselves.
     
    I was struck as I read that Passion story in the Book of Matthew, the last week of Jesus' life, how much of that week Jesus seemed to be in control. It was more like he was the director and the actor of a play. He choreographed the entry into Jerusalem. He organized the celebration of the Passover, which became the Last Supper. He knew what would happen before it happened. He knew who would desert him, who would betray him, who would deny him. He knew when he would die and how he would die and who would kill him. It seemed very much like he was coolly marching through that week and everything was under control — until we get to the Garden of Gethsemane, until we get to the prayer scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he was praying to the Father.
     
    Now if you read the story in Matthew, it's not at all like the pictures where he is calmly kneeling before a large rock looking up to heaven, with a beam of light coming down, and his hands in a prayer pose. In Matthew, he throws himself on the ground and begins to beg the Father if there is any other way that this can happen. "Spare me. But not my will, but your will, Father. Your will, Father, be done." And from that moment on it seems as though Jesus abdicated his control. He didn't protest when they arrested him. He didn't speak in his own defense before the high priest Caiaphas, or the governor Pilate. He let them bind him and carry him from place to place like an animal. He let them strip him and torture him and humiliate him, and finally crucify him. It is so much like the words we hear in Philippians, apparently an ancient hymn in the Christian church. I like the words in the RSV: "Christ was in the form of God, did not count equality a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, and came in the form of a slave. And found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on the cross."
     
    But why? Maybe that was his question in Gethsemane: why. "Why, Father, does it have to be this way?" That was a question we had in Confirmation class last week. Why did Jesus have to suffer and die? The answer we always give is: to save us from our sins. But God is God. It could have been done in a different way. Some will answer that question, of why Jesus had to suffer and die, by saying now God understands how it feels to be human, understands our fears, our pains. But God created us. We are creatures created by God. Surely God understands our hearts. No, I think maybe one of the best reasons we can think of to explain why Jesus had to go through what he went through is simply to demonstrate for us, unequivocally, God's love. Because when Jesus went through this he sacrificed himself, he did what was unnecessary and hard, and by going through this pain for us, though we didn't deserve it, God is trying to drown out all those voices of violence that we hear in the world. By giving us this display of amazing love, God is trying to drown out the voices within us that tell us we can't be forgiven or that we will never forgive someone else. By this amazing display of unmerited love, God is drowning out the fears in our hearts, the fears of what may lie ahead, the fear of being alone, the fear of death.
     
    You know, I think we have typically said that the most amazing miracle that Christians understand — the thing that sets us apart from others — is the miracle that we'll celebrate next Sunday on Easter, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. But I would venture to say that maybe a greater miracle than that is what happened on Good Friday. Because in that amazing love, Jesus — God — convinced us unequivocally that God loves us more than God loves himself. That is truly a miracle, and what a blessing to know it.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2014, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Philippians 2:6-8, Revised Standard Version Bible