Oct 20, 2019
Do Not Lose Heart
Series: (All)
October 20, 2019. The message today is on Luke 18:1-8, the Parable of the Unjust Judge. Pastor Tom Schoenherr tells us that we should not lose heart or give up on God, but that we should continue to believe the promise.
 
*** Transcript ***
 
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
 
Before beginning, I want to say I am not colorblind and I did not wake up this morning just bleary thinking I picked up the wrong stole. This is blue. It is the Advent stole, the Advent color. But the focus of the gospel is on hope. And more and more, we need hope in our world and in our lives. And so the Advent theme being hope, I know it just looks strange to see it in relation to the green of this season, but think not necessarily that we're into the wrong season, but it's hope that's our focus.
 
Grace to you. Peace.
 
On Thursday night, my wife and I joined with a group of a hundred and fifty other people to pack food for Feed My Starving Children. During that whole time, Wednesday night through Sunday today, at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, they're going to pack nearly a million meals. On Wednesday night, they finished packing five million meals over a thirteen year period. Every time, at the end of one of those sessions, we pray over all of those meals that are going to be sent. We pray in the face of hunger, and still there is hunger in the world.
 
My wife and I have good friends who want to have a resolution in court for their daughter. It's been going on for three years. They and we keep praying for a miracle, and yet it hasn't happened. And still the problem is going on, and it seems like lawyers and judges and even God are not listening. And that's the way it is sometimes with prayer for us, isn't it? It just seems as though God isn't there, or isn't listening.
 
My wife and I have a list at our kitchen table of all of those people who are loved ones, friends, family for whom we are praying. We keep praying for a miracle. And yet also we wonder when will God show up and do for these people like we are praying for them. And it's difficult. It's so hard because we want so much for them to be healed. And yet it doesn't seem like things change sometimes. We pray for this person that they might be delivered from their disease. We pray for this person that they might be delivered and comforted in their time of grief. We pray for family that they might be connected to God's love for them in the midst of the process that they're going through of grieving.
 
And yet it seems like things go on and problems continue, even though we've prayed. And I wonder if what God is saying to us is that prayer is not a matter of just asking for things, but that prayer has to do with connecting with God's will and God's way of compassion and care. And that we are changed in the process of praying, that we are opened more and more to what God has intended for us and for his world.
 
This widow comes continually wanting to have a resolution of her problem and she doesn't seem to get any response. She comes without anyone standing by her. As Katie mentioned, she doesn't have a husband. She doesn't have another person who's going to come with her and stand there in the court with her. She is alone and she is unfortunately more easily ignored. So she keeps coming and finally, as she does, this unjust judge grants her what she wants, because she's going to give him a black eye. That's what he's concerned about. He's more concerned about his own reputation than he is about what's going on with her. And so in order to prevent her from giving him a black eye in the public eye, he gives her what she wants.
 
I think it's one of those places where Jesus is really wanting us to laugh. It's that sense of humor that Jesus is showing us this woman who, as Katie said, doesn't have much to offer, is pummeling this judge because he doesn't do his job. And it sets up a way in which Jesus is also pointing out that the whole justice system seems to be weighted against widows and against orphans and against immigrants and refugees and all of those who seem to be powerless.
 
In the face of it all it seems as though it's easy for us to lose heart. That's the reason Jesus tells the parable in the first place, that we do not lose heart. But it's easy to lose heart, isn't it? To give up on God? To think that somehow God could be able to do something to resolve all of these issues and everything would be fine with our loved ones and our friends and ourselves. But it isn't.
 
And turning our back on God's promise, turning our back on God and not trusting God, we're left without a prayer and hopeless. So in the face of all of the injustice in the world, in all of the injustice that we are feeling in ourselves, how do we not lose heart? And how do we not give up on God?
 
Jesus points out something to us. He says something: watch this unjust judge. Even though he doesn't respect God and he doesn't respect other people, he does for her give her justice. And then Jesus says that this judge is nowhere like God at all. Then he says, as he has given her justice how much more will God give mercy and compassion and love for the people who cry to him day and night?
 
And we keep crying to God day and night for our loved ones. And God keeps lifting all that injustice, taking all of that injustice, all of that pain, all of that distrust that we have of God's promise and he lays it on Jesus on the cross. And Jesus takes it to the cross and dies there and rises again for us, that we may have a new life, that we might know love and forgiveness, that we might know God's compassion and care for us, now and forever. And that even though things are not working out the way we hoped they would at our time and in our way, that God is still working, that even though we cannot hear or see, God is still there working out his purposes and his way in the world.
 
And now God is no longer the one who is our opponent, but God is the gracious god of love. And we are empowered through God's spirit to be like this widow. We are empowered to continue to come and persevere in prayer. We're empowered to stand with the people who are going through terrible times, who are losing heart, who are giving up on God, that we can stand with them and for them and let them know that there is a God who has not given up on them, but continues to care for them, to reach out to them with compassion and love.
 
And this widow is also a witness to us that prayer is not a passive thing. But a prayer invites us to be passionate about injustice in the world, to be passionate about people who are not experiencing mercy or compassion, to be passionate for all of those people who are struggling in our world and in our lives, people we care about. Not to give up, for God does not give up on us.
 
And he calls us to continue to love and care for the world that he loves so deeply. And to count and to continue to believe the promise, for he says, "Will I find faith on earth when I come again?" That in faith, we continue to believe the promise that love and hope will have the last word over injustice and hopelessness and fear.
 
In Jesus' name, amen.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Tom Schoenherr, Parable of the Unjust Judge, Luke 18:1-8
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  • Oct 20, 2019Do Not Lose Heart
    Oct 20, 2019
    Do Not Lose Heart
    Series: (All)
    October 20, 2019. The message today is on Luke 18:1-8, the Parable of the Unjust Judge. Pastor Tom Schoenherr tells us that we should not lose heart or give up on God, but that we should continue to believe the promise.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
     
    Before beginning, I want to say I am not colorblind and I did not wake up this morning just bleary thinking I picked up the wrong stole. This is blue. It is the Advent stole, the Advent color. But the focus of the gospel is on hope. And more and more, we need hope in our world and in our lives. And so the Advent theme being hope, I know it just looks strange to see it in relation to the green of this season, but think not necessarily that we're into the wrong season, but it's hope that's our focus.
     
    Grace to you. Peace.
     
    On Thursday night, my wife and I joined with a group of a hundred and fifty other people to pack food for Feed My Starving Children. During that whole time, Wednesday night through Sunday today, at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, they're going to pack nearly a million meals. On Wednesday night, they finished packing five million meals over a thirteen year period. Every time, at the end of one of those sessions, we pray over all of those meals that are going to be sent. We pray in the face of hunger, and still there is hunger in the world.
     
    My wife and I have good friends who want to have a resolution in court for their daughter. It's been going on for three years. They and we keep praying for a miracle, and yet it hasn't happened. And still the problem is going on, and it seems like lawyers and judges and even God are not listening. And that's the way it is sometimes with prayer for us, isn't it? It just seems as though God isn't there, or isn't listening.
     
    My wife and I have a list at our kitchen table of all of those people who are loved ones, friends, family for whom we are praying. We keep praying for a miracle. And yet also we wonder when will God show up and do for these people like we are praying for them. And it's difficult. It's so hard because we want so much for them to be healed. And yet it doesn't seem like things change sometimes. We pray for this person that they might be delivered from their disease. We pray for this person that they might be delivered and comforted in their time of grief. We pray for family that they might be connected to God's love for them in the midst of the process that they're going through of grieving.
     
    And yet it seems like things go on and problems continue, even though we've prayed. And I wonder if what God is saying to us is that prayer is not a matter of just asking for things, but that prayer has to do with connecting with God's will and God's way of compassion and care. And that we are changed in the process of praying, that we are opened more and more to what God has intended for us and for his world.
     
    This widow comes continually wanting to have a resolution of her problem and she doesn't seem to get any response. She comes without anyone standing by her. As Katie mentioned, she doesn't have a husband. She doesn't have another person who's going to come with her and stand there in the court with her. She is alone and she is unfortunately more easily ignored. So she keeps coming and finally, as she does, this unjust judge grants her what she wants, because she's going to give him a black eye. That's what he's concerned about. He's more concerned about his own reputation than he is about what's going on with her. And so in order to prevent her from giving him a black eye in the public eye, he gives her what she wants.
     
    I think it's one of those places where Jesus is really wanting us to laugh. It's that sense of humor that Jesus is showing us this woman who, as Katie said, doesn't have much to offer, is pummeling this judge because he doesn't do his job. And it sets up a way in which Jesus is also pointing out that the whole justice system seems to be weighted against widows and against orphans and against immigrants and refugees and all of those who seem to be powerless.
     
    In the face of it all it seems as though it's easy for us to lose heart. That's the reason Jesus tells the parable in the first place, that we do not lose heart. But it's easy to lose heart, isn't it? To give up on God? To think that somehow God could be able to do something to resolve all of these issues and everything would be fine with our loved ones and our friends and ourselves. But it isn't.
     
    And turning our back on God's promise, turning our back on God and not trusting God, we're left without a prayer and hopeless. So in the face of all of the injustice in the world, in all of the injustice that we are feeling in ourselves, how do we not lose heart? And how do we not give up on God?
     
    Jesus points out something to us. He says something: watch this unjust judge. Even though he doesn't respect God and he doesn't respect other people, he does for her give her justice. And then Jesus says that this judge is nowhere like God at all. Then he says, as he has given her justice how much more will God give mercy and compassion and love for the people who cry to him day and night?
     
    And we keep crying to God day and night for our loved ones. And God keeps lifting all that injustice, taking all of that injustice, all of that pain, all of that distrust that we have of God's promise and he lays it on Jesus on the cross. And Jesus takes it to the cross and dies there and rises again for us, that we may have a new life, that we might know love and forgiveness, that we might know God's compassion and care for us, now and forever. And that even though things are not working out the way we hoped they would at our time and in our way, that God is still working, that even though we cannot hear or see, God is still there working out his purposes and his way in the world.
     
    And now God is no longer the one who is our opponent, but God is the gracious god of love. And we are empowered through God's spirit to be like this widow. We are empowered to continue to come and persevere in prayer. We're empowered to stand with the people who are going through terrible times, who are losing heart, who are giving up on God, that we can stand with them and for them and let them know that there is a God who has not given up on them, but continues to care for them, to reach out to them with compassion and love.
     
    And this widow is also a witness to us that prayer is not a passive thing. But a prayer invites us to be passionate about injustice in the world, to be passionate about people who are not experiencing mercy or compassion, to be passionate for all of those people who are struggling in our world and in our lives, people we care about. Not to give up, for God does not give up on us.
     
    And he calls us to continue to love and care for the world that he loves so deeply. And to count and to continue to believe the promise, for he says, "Will I find faith on earth when I come again?" That in faith, we continue to believe the promise that love and hope will have the last word over injustice and hopelessness and fear.
     
    In Jesus' name, amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Tom Schoenherr, Parable of the Unjust Judge, Luke 18:1-8
  • Oct 6, 2019How Long, O Lord?
    Oct 6, 2019
    How Long, O Lord?
    Series: (All)
    October 6, 2019. We see it all around us: injustice, violence, strife, contention. In challenging times, what's a person to do? Is our faith enough? Today Pastor Stephanie preaches on Luke 17:5-7 and the Book of Habakkuk and relates them to all we see and hear around us and in the world.
     
    *** [Keywords: 2019 Christ Lutheran Church sermon Apostle Paul English translation Garden of Gethsemane God's own timetable Grandmother Lois How long, O Lord? Jesus Laura Martin pastor MSP Middle Eastern people Ministry Site Profile Mother Eunice New Testament Greek On Seeking Mustard Seed People Prophet Habakkak Psalm 37 Psalms able to guard airing grievances all of us together all that is not right with the world all we see and hear also be translated angry another piece another word authentically grateful for big God big issues bodies of water challenging times chaos chemotherapy clear the air commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him and He will act contention dealing with pain deepen our despair demands desired results destruction disciples discouraged discrimination disillusionments emotional illnesses entrusted to him even the smallest evidences of God's grace exhorted to do the same faith faith inadequate faith is too small faith of another family of origin feeling judged full flowering tree hang onto faith hateful have to bear headed to cross hiddenness hold the faith for each other holding out hope honest honest expressions hope and encouragement hopes how much more if you all have faith if you all hold faith if you have faith the size of a mustard seed injustice instability it is enough because of god's grace items job promotions labor under these challenges lamented life out of death little bit of faith losing job macro level marital strife me in Jesus mental merciful God micro level mulberry tree mustard seed off balance other places in the world our Savior in whom we trust our own city pastoral interactions patience people of faith pie in the sky planted in the ground plural you poem political mood praise God anyway prayer prison proclamation of faith protege Timothy relate righteous shall live by faith serious illnesses shriveled up dead dried up seed singular you solutions elude something good something significant southerners speak these concerns standalone people strife struggling suffering sufficient that is faith this congregation this country throughout the ages time of pain tiniest amount of faith trials trust uncomfortable unrest unspoken cares uprooted cast into sea violence wait and watch waiting not our favorite thing way they thought we are made righteous weary what God was going to do what's a person to do? y'all you in your faith]
  • Aug 11, 2019Treasure of Faith
    Aug 11, 2019
    Treasure of Faith
    Series: (All)
    August 11, 2019. Pastor Stephanie preaches on Luke 12. "Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Our faith is the only unfailing treasure that we ultimately have, and needs to come first in our lives.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace and peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ.
     
    I thought about calling this message and the theme of the day "What's in Your Wallet?" But then I realized I might lose all of you right off the bat as you visualize commercials you've seen with that theme. Is it too late already? Or, you might start thinking about whether you should change credit card companies, or any number of things that can come to mind that could distract us from where I hope we will actually go together during this time. So, now that I have given in to the urge to actually start with that, I hope you'll come back with me and explore with me some of the teaching of today's gospel.
     
    Jesus uses a curious phrase in the midst of talking to his disciples about God's provision. Before we get to that, let's be reminded of the context though. It all starts with how abundantly God has provided for us. Backing up into Luke 12 -- which was not part of our reading today, but just before this -- we can be reminded of the context. It all starts with how abundantly God provides for us. We can read this: therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing. Then Jesus illustrates this by calling attention to the ravens, who don't sow, reap, or store up for themselves. Yet God feeds them. And he reminds them and us of the lilies of the field, who stand stately and proud, healthy and vigorous and beautiful, without constant striving for more. Again, God clothes them and cares for us. And then Jesus states how much more does God care for us? So here is the curious phrase that Jesus uses to give punch to the takeaway he wants us to have: make purses.
     
    Now, some translators interpret this word in the Greek as "bags" or "wallets," any item that you carry around with you with your goods in it. But our reading today says make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, so I'll use that one. But it continues saying that they carry an unfailing treasure in heaven where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys. Now, whether you carry a wallet or a purse or a bag or a backpack is irrelevant. But the image of carrying our valuables with us is far from irrelevant. Jesus is getting at what we carry with us that does not take on physical form, but it certainly has a lot to do with what we treasure.
     
    I once kept in my pocket a shiny little gold coin purse that was given to me by my maternal grandmother. It came with a shiny silver dollar, and I used it throughout childhood for the little bits of change that I had for buying treats. I took pretty good care of it, and I treasured it because it came from my dear grandma. Funny how, after all these years, I think I finally realized now why I never pitched that little coin purse. It seems to represent for me the real treasure that was given to me by my grandma. My relationship with my grandmother has always been a treasure to me, because she was the key person whose faith I admired and wanted to experience in the same way that she did as I was growing up.
     
    So when I read of Jesus' words about purses that do not wear out, I remembered the gift of faith that was transmitted to me by the Holy Spirit through the person of my grandma. I think that is the real kind of purse (bag, wallet, backpack) that Jesus refers to that is worth making and cultivating, because faith never wears out. The gift of faith that we receive from God and consider our greatest treasure will never fail us, nor can it be stolen, nor will it disintegrate over time. It's a sturdy gift, quite unlike nearly everything else that we receive as gifts in this life. But apparently it takes some response or action on our part too. I get it that according to Ephesians 2 it's by grace that we have been saved, and that's not of our own doing, or our own works. It is purely the gift of God through the grace of Christ.
     
    Isn't it interesting then that Jesus gives us a directive that requires us to do something with this gift? He says make purses for yourselves that do not wear out. So, how can we make such a purse that can hold the gift of faith? I think we have to go on to the reading where it says, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Sometimes we think that our hearts lead and the rest will just follow, but this says that there's a different order of things as to how this works. Our part, I think, is to make a space or a compartment in our lives that is large enough to hold the faith that is given to us, so that it can lead us and then lead our hearts to follow along with where faith takes us.
     
    Now this will date me, but that's okay. When I was growing up, we would sometimes watch these old-time Westerns. Maybe some of you still like them. Maybe as children you've never seen one, so you don't know what I'm talking about. But in these old-time Western movies, you would often see someone running, or most likely on horseback, chasing after a train as fast as they could get their horse to go. It's pretty dramatic. They're usually riding this horse and just encouraging it to go faster, faster, faster, because they're always just outside of reach of getting to the caboose and able to jump on that train and be whisked off. But they're usually carrying a bag, and they know they can't make the jump onto the train while holding onto that bag. The bag, of course, contains what they treasure. Maybe it's money or gold. I have to admit sometimes they were robbers, so it was illicit goods. But just for the sake of this illustration just say it's something really, really good that they want and that they need to go on. It's their treasure. But it's precious to them, so they throw the bag onto the train first, and then they jump onto the train. The treasure goes first. The heart follows the treasure.
     
    Our treasure is a faith in God who provides for all of our needs abundantly. It's a faith that tells us that we are loved and provided for, just as well and even better than the birds and the flowers of the field. The faith that has been given us by the mercy of God, revealed to us in the word of God and through God's spirit, assures us of everlasting life both now and into an eternal future. The faith that brings us to the baptismal font to pour water on the heads of infants, and all who will come to be baptized, affirms us of our status of being children of God. This faith reminds us all that, along with Martin Luther who would often touch his head at the font and say "I am baptized" to be reminded over and over again, that calls for us to live in ever-growing and ever more deeply committed response to this treasure of faith that we have been given. It's the only unfailing treasure that we ultimately have, so it's the kind of treasure that needs to come first in our lives. If we imagine running swiftly through life to keep up or catch a metaphoric train, the invisible but real bag of faith needs to precede us. If it leads us, all will ultimately be well.
     
    It's our most valuable treasure, even in times when it seems harder to hold onto, just like Abraham and Sarah had their moments of doubt as to whether the promises of God were ever going to come true for them. But if it's what we treasure most, Jesus says, then it is where our hearts will be also. For wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be. That gets at our role in the whole faith business. Faith is a gift we receive. Everything we need to have through it comes from God and is sustained by God. Our response is to treasure it, to throw it on the train that keeps moving, trusting that it's going to be there going ahead of us as we keep running to experience it.
     
    The Glascock family will have the opportunity, from this day forward, to tell Carson the story of how his parents treasured the gift of faith that they have received enough to bring him for baptism today. They will make promises. The sponsors will make promises. And you as a congregation will make promises to jointly make purses that do not wear out, as Carson grows up and ever more claims the faith that is given to him. This is the most significant gift that can be given to Carson. I'm sure he's already received many, many fine gifts in his young life. And he'll continue to be showered with gifts from his loving family and friends. But this treasure of faith being passed on to him will be his greatest, most valuable treasure. Carson's great-grandfather, Pastor Dahlstrom seated up here, will be baptizing him today. We welcome you, Pastor Dahlstrom, and we're grateful for the significance that your presence and your wife's also represent that remind us that there may be other memorabilia that we receive from prior generations, but the treasure of the faith of our ancestors and of the elders of this church and other churches being passed on to us, is also in that bag or purse that is made in our lives. Let's also take note of the children who make up this congregation, many of whom we saw seated up here a few moments ago. And let's look at each other to be reminded of promises that are being made to the Glascock family, and also the promises of the words of this rite that we will pass on this treasure to one another as other people have done for us, and we will continue to do for coming generations.
     
    So circumstances happen and then fade, possessions come and go. But faith endures forever, because it is rooted in our gracious God's mercy, which endures forever. So at the risk of diverting your attention once again to the commercial world of credit cards, I will ask: what is in your wallet? What kind of purse do you carry? Is the treasure that you carry the indestructible kind that never ever wears out? Let's all continue to proclaim our faith in the baptismal liturgy which follows, and as we come to the table to be nourished by the body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And then as we go out afterwards on our way, keeping this unfailing treasure of faith always before us, so that our hearts will follow into the places where God will take us and keep us, and give us his grace.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Luke 12:32-40
  • Jun 16, 2019We Had Hoped
    Jun 16, 2019
    We Had Hoped
    Series: (All)
    June 16, 2019. After Jesus' death, two of his disciples spoke what are maybe the three saddest words in scripture: we had hoped. We had hoped Jesus was the one to save us, to restore Israel. Instead, Jesus is dead and we are defeated. Guest Pastor Karen Scherer preaches today on a hope that does not disappoint.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
     
    I don't know if any of you know or have heard of Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. Any of you know of her? Good, a few of you. Pastor Bolz-Weber is shockingly pastoral. She has tattoos and sleeves all up and down her arms, telling the story of the Trinity on her body. She wears nose rings and earrings, and periodically a lip ring, and her hair stands up straight. And she uses language in church -- that you probably would ask me not to use -- to express the reality of her faith and to proclaim the gospel to others. Young people love her because of her genuineness, and because of the love that God has placed in her heart and the faith that she has. She was pastor of a church called House For All Sinners and Saints. That name was chosen specifically to have Sinners be first and Saints be second in that title.
     
    I recently read a story of how Pastor Bolz-Weber would meet with new people who were wanting to join her church, a congregation that was exploding in membership. And she would meet with them at this welcoming meeting with newcomers, and she'd ask them to tell why they came to All Sinners and Saints. And they would share and give various reasons. Some would say they heard that she was very funny and inspiring, and very radical. Some shared that it was a compromise, because one side of the family was Baptist and the other side was Roman Catholic, and they thought maybe they could sort of meet in the middle at this Lutheran church. Others said they really liked the music. And another said that they felt it was a very welcoming and inclusive church. At the end of a meeting, she makes a point of always telling the people who are wanting to come to this church and become part of it: it's great to have you all here and it's great to hear of what has brought you here. But I need you to hear something from me, and that is that the church will disappoint you, and I will fail to meet your expectations or I'll say something stupid and hurt your feelings. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. Welcome to the congregation, we will disappoint you.
     
    And is this not true? That's why Saint Paul makes an absolutely astounding statement in our reading for today from the letter to the Romans. He says that hope does not disappoint. Hope does not disappoint. Now, think about that for a moment. How many times have you hoped that something would happen and were sorely disappointed when it did not? Everyone of us has. But remember the story at the end of Luke's gospel, when three days after Jesus' death a couple of his disciples were walking down a road to Emmaus trying to make sense of what had just happened in Jerusalem: the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, the shared meal, the betrayal, the arrest and the trial, and the crucifixion. And as they were talking about all of this, a stranger walks up (and of course -- spoiler alert -- it was Jesus, but they didn't recognize him). And he said to them, "Hey, what are you guys talking about?" So they told the story of Jesus' life to him. They told the story of his ministry and death, at which point they then spoke what are maybe the three saddest words in scripture: we had hoped. We had hoped Jesus was the one to save us, to restore Israel. Instead, Jesus is dead and we are defeated.
     
    Those two disciples started out with hope and ended with deep disappointment. Why? Because hope as a starting point for us looks like Palm Sunday. It looks like the crowds entering triumphantly into Jerusalem shouting "Hosanna!" But Palm Sunday always turns to Good Friday eventually. Think about it in your own life. We had hoped. We had hoped that the time and money spent on the graduate degree we had would mean we'd have a job by now in our field. We had hoped that our parents would love us unconditionally. We had hoped that by this time in life we would be happily married, or we would have a meaningful career, or we would be able to retire, or we would feel like we at least knew what we were doing. We had hoped that the Blues would win the Stanley Cup. Oh yes, they did! But what if they hadn't, which was highly possible? Our hopes would have been dashed. Disappointment. We had hoped that our children or our loved one would not have to suffer. We had hoped that what we had worked for so long would finally come to fruition, and that didn't happen. So it's a little hard to hear Saint Paul say that hope does not disappoint. What world is he living in, anyway?
     
    Well, the world humankind has constructed and strives to live in, we know, is filled with disappointment and pain and suffering -- because our hope, you see, is built on us and what we think we want. Our expectations, our hopes. But what about God's hope for us? You see, our hope is built on something less, on less of what it is that God has planned for us. That is, sharing the glory of God was God's intention for humankind, being in the full presence and in deep, solid relationship with God in the garden of the earth. The cosmos, following God's will for us, not our own.
     
    But our hope disappoints because we place our faith elsewhere. We place it on our own work, our own fate, our own hearts' desires. And you know what happens? That turns into an idealistic hope that somehow we can make things happen. And those things are about us, about what we want. And when something happens to dash that hope which has now become our goal, we find someone to blame. And so often, God is about the handiest person we have -- or ourselves, or others -- which is maybe why not only does Paul speak of a hope that does not disappoint, but he connects it to suffering. Because of those three saddest words -- we had hoped -- he connects it to the suffering and death of Christ Jesus. To the redeeming work of a God who seeks reconciliation with us and who seeks to give us peace and connection with God and with one another.
     
    The Easter hope we have, brothers and sisters, the hope that does not disappoint, has nothing to do with idealism or naïve optimism -- like when God shuts a door, God always opens a window. It has nothing to do with the avoidance of suffering. The Easter hope that we have is a hope that can only come from a God who has experienced our life, our suffering, our world -- who has experienced love and friendship and lepers and prostitutes and betrayal and suffering and death and burial and a descent into hell itself. Only a god who has borne suffering can bring us any real hope of resurrection. Only a god who is with us, and who has been with us and for us and among us and known the suffering of our lives, can bring us real hope. And that is the hope of new life, the hope of being raised up, the hope of resurrection. And if ever given the choice of optimism or resurrection, I'd go with resurrection any day of the week.
     
    And this is the god of whom Paul speaks and in whom we place our hope. This is a hope that does not disappoint, that looks less like being idealistic about ourselves, and more like being realistic about God's redeeming work in the world. It's a hope that comes not from naïve optimism, but from being wrong and falling short and experiencing betrayal and being a betrayer, and it comes from a suffering and the grave and what feels like a night from which dawn could never emerge, and then how God reaches into the graves we dig ourselves and others, and again loves us back to life.
     
    The Christian faith is one that does not pretend things are not bad. This is a faith that does not offer platitudes to those who've lost loved ones to violence or tornadoes or floods or terrible terrorist actions. This is a faith that does not take us out of suffering, but assures us of God's presence in the very midst of suffering. And we know this through Jesus Christ and by the power of the Spirit. So maybe the way suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, is that suffering, endurance, and character actually free us, free us from the burden of having to be naïvely optimistic and more to be absolutely realistic about the God who is with us and for us and among us.
     
    Maybe if hope isn't a very reliable starting point, then hope is not something we strive to muster up ourselves. Maybe real hope is always something we are surprised by. Maybe hope is that which is left after all else has failed us. This is an Easter hope. Nadia Bolz-Weber writes, "This is not a faith that produces optimism. It is a faith that produces a defiant hope that God is still writing the story, and that despite darkness, a light shines. And that God can redeem our crap," although she didn't use that word. "That God can redeem our crap, and that beauty matters, and that despite every disappointing thing we've ever done or that we have ever endured, that there is no hell from which resurrection is impossible." We have a hope that does not disappoint, given to us through the Father, through his son Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. We have a hope that raises us and gives us hope for new life. And a hope that does not disappoint.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Karen Scherer, Romans 5:1-5, Luke 24:13-35
  • Jun 9, 2019Temptation to Build Ivory Towers
    Jun 9, 2019
    Temptation to Build Ivory Towers
    Series: (All)
    June 9, 2019. Pentecost is the start of a new church year. Jim Bennett's sermon today reminds us that we don't need to build ivory towers or to elevate ourselves, so that we stand out in the presence of God. Instead, God comes to us in our everyday lives.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    So as they say the cat's out of the bag, so to speak. Today we celebrate Pentecost. It is the birthday of the church. In the liturgical church year, it is the start of a new church year. And Pentecost is the third most important festival in the church year, behind Easter and Christmas. I suppose many of you may know that already, if you are active in the congregation. But if you were not here last Sunday to hear pastor Stephanie's sermon, you missed an important prologue for today's message. She preached about the ascension of Jesus on the last Sunday of the Easter season, where Jesus told his disciples that he must go away so that God could send his followers the Holy Spirit. He said to them, "Stay here in the city until you have been clothed with the power from on high." And Pentecost, then, was the fulfillment of Jesus' promise.
     
    Today's lesson in the book of Acts tells how that promise was fulfilled. It says when the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place, and suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared on them tongues of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Yet many of us do not realize that when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, not only was it to fulfill what Jesus promised prior to his ascension, but Pentecost the event closed an important loop -- a loop that's depicted between our first and second lesson today: the story of the Tower of Babel depicted in the Book of Genesis, and what Paul recounts occurred at Pentecost, our second lesson today.
     
    In our first lesson we're introduced to the Rabble of Babel. And they were trying to make a name for themselves to build a tower to the top of the heavens. And as our reading points out, God's response to them was, "Let us confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." And God scattered them abroad over the face of the Earth. And then at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit gave Jesus' followers utterance to speak in other tongues, it says the visitors -- the Medes, the Parthians, Elamites, residents of Pamphylia, and Egypt, and Cyrene, and Rome, and Libya, and Cretan, on and on -- all heard the disciples speak in their own language. So the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost brought full circle God's promise to reverse the Babel Rabble and give God's people a counselor to lead them in faith. And the Holy Spirit has counseled God's church for over 2000 years.
     
    Now unfortunately, it has not necessarily made the Babel Rabble an extinct species. The temptation to build ivory towers and make a name for ourselves is ever-present. I recently read a story of a chance encounter between two men having coffee at a roadside diner somewhere here in the Midwest. Sitting at the counter, a traveler turned to the man next to him, who appeared to be a farmer, and asked, "You live around here?" "Sure do," the farmer responded. "Right down the road apiece." Looking to do some Texas bragging, the traveller asked, "How big's your place?" The farmer responded, "About a hundred acres." So the traveler said, "Let me tell you about my place out in Texas. I get in my truck early in the morning every morning, and it takes me all day to get to the other side of my spread. What do you think about that?" Well, the farmer shook his head understandably and said, "I know just what you mean. I had a truck like that once."
     
    We are all susceptible to the temptation to build our ivory towers, if not out of brick and mortar, then out of our professions, recognition, or accumulation of wealth. That Midwestern farmer was not impressed with the babble of that Texas traveler. God isn't impressed with ours either. We can try to pervert our relationship with God and with others, to raise ourselves above mere human existence. And there is certainly a lot of babble going on in our world today. But let's face it, we cannot all be geniuses as some purport. When we try to raise ourselves above it all, to set ourselves apart, we take ourselves out of relationship with God and out of relationship with others, and the result is often disunity, if not out set idolatry. But Pentecost reminds us that we don't need to build those towers or to elevate ourselves so that we stand out in the presence of God. The Pentecost event tells us that God comes to us wherever we are. That Spirit of God, the mighty Counselor, descended as Jesus, ascended as he had promised. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the church is born. We don't have to go in search of God in the heavens. In good times and bad, God comes to us in our everyday lives.
     
    Last Sunday, pastor Stephanie reminded us that the church's season of Pentecost is the longest season in the church year. This year it's going to be about 24 weeks. The length of the season was no accident. The church leaders that developed the liturgical calendar didn't establish the length of Pentecost because they ran out of other things to celebrate. It was very purposeful. There's plenty of work for the Holy Spirit to do during this time. Our gospel reading for today reminds us of some of the work of the Spirit. Our gospel lesson in John begins a series of five statements about the Holy Spirit. Two of those purposes are listed in today's gospel. Jesus says the Counselor is the Spirit of Truth that dwells in you and will be in you. You know, we hear that promise as part of the celebration of baptism where it states in the liturgy: you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. It is a gift, an indwelling of the Holy Spirit to guide us in our development of faith. And then in verse 25, today's gospel lesson, Jesus tells his followers the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, will teach you all things and will bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
     
    So not only does the Spirit indwell with us, but it is there to remind us of all the things that Jesus taught us. So in the weeks to come, in this long season of Pentecost, our lessons will remind us of all that Jesus taught his followers. Jesus never expected his followers, after the ascension, to be without guidance. Without the Holy Spirit to guide God's church, could you imagine the church living to celebrate its 2000th birthday? That's a lot of candles. There may still be a lot of babbling going on in our world by those who think themselves better than the rest, but the work of the church -- the teachings of God's word to alleviate hunger and need, of sharing our wealth and talents -- they cannot be fulfilled from ivory towers.
     
    God's spirit binds us together with hope and promise. It keeps our feet on the ground. So happy birthday, and let us celebrate. Christ Lutheran Church has some exciting opportunities and some challenges in this coming year. Celebrate, and then let us get back to work and do God's will.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Jim Bennett, Acts 2:1-21, Genesis 11:1-9, John 14:8-17, 25-27
  • May 5, 2019What’s Next
    May 5, 2019
    What’s Next
    Series: (All)
    May 5, 2019. After Jesus' disciples witnessed his ministry, arrest, trial, execution, and resurrection, they went home and went fishing. What were they supposed to do next? Jon Heerboth preaches from John and Acts on how Jesus got the disciples' attention and ours, and tells us what he needs us to do next.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    On Easter Sunday here, we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ with many hallelujahs, we sang our favorite Easter hymns, and we felt that our world was full of new life — new life in Christ as well as the new life of springtime. But today is the third Sunday after Easter. It's still Easter, but this Sunday feels a lot different than the week before last, doesn't it? There may not be a "Hallelujah Chorus" today. And I think that's the only singing you're going to get from a choir. But we will still be talking about the resurrected Christ and finding God's will for us, as we wait in the meantime between the First Coming and the Second Coming of Jesus. Last Sunday we heard how Jesus appeared to the disciples, and Thomas was there the second time. And he saw the holes, he felt his palm, he saw the wound in the side and said, "My Lord and my God." And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are those who," like you and me, like all of us, "have not seen and yet have come to believe." And then after that, John wrote that book so that its readers would come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing would have life in his name. And then that was the end of the book of John in chapter 20. Well, it would have ended anyway, except that there's an epilogue —  one more thing added to the book. And that is today's gospel lesson. Now, the purpose of an epilogue is to treat unfinished business. And most of it, according to the Gospel of John, revolved around Peter. There was unresolved tension with Peter and Jesus, and the other disciples, and there was a lot of confusion among them about what they were supposed to do next.
     
    They had witnessed the risen Lord. And they, like us, were experts in the teachings of Jesus. And they, like us, had received the great commandment to love one another. And yet, the disciples seem like they were all dressed up with no place to go. Moreover, Peter was still agonizing over his treacherous denial, while his master was being interrogated and humiliated by the high priest of the Jewish Supreme Court. So it looks like, after hiding out in Jerusalem for a while, Peter and some of the others went home to Galilee. Maybe they thought they would be safer there. Maybe they were out of money, or were tired of waiting for something to happen. But at any rate, they went home. So the disciples witnessed the ministry, arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus. They found out about the resurrection. They met the risen Christ twice before in this gospel. The disciples had all the evidence they need to confirm that Jesus had died and risen from the dead. And how did they respond to these monumental events? They went fishing.
     
    They went fishing. Now, this wasn't some weekend camping trip or a little vacation after a rough patch at work. They went fishing because that's who they were: fishermen. They went home to Galilee, and picked up where they left off when they left to follow Jesus. Galilee was home at least to four of them: James, John, Peter, and Andrew. Jesus called them from their lives in the boats and called them to go fish for people. They followed Jesus, from Galilee to Jerusalem. They listened to Jesus teach, and watched him heal the sick and work miracles. They were with Jesus at the Last Supper. They were around when he was arrested and crucified, and witnessed the resurrection. After all that, they returned home. They picked up their lives where they left them off months or years before, and then they went back to work. There was no one to tell them what else they should be doing.
     
    In a way, we were like that after Easter Sunday. We celebrated, worshipped, had breakfast, and went back to our daily lives. But today's gospel lesson is set on the beach. When the people came home, I'll bet they endured ridicule from their neighbors. "Look who's back: the grand adventurers, the glorious revolutionaries. The idealists out to change the world have decided to come home after all. We always knew that their silly scheme would amount to nothing." Ever live in a small town? That's how they talk. "Love your neighbor." Who thought that was a good plan? Adding insult to injury was the fact that the disciples seemed to have lost their old touch. They had been out fishing all night and had caught absolutely nothing. When the sun began to rise, the man on the shore said, "Children. You have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No."
     
    I'm sure that the only thing more irritating to professional fisherman than admitting failure, is receiving advice from someone who doesn't know how to fish at all. Jesus told them they should cast their net on the other side of the boat. And when they did, they had a very large catch indeed: a hundred and fifty-three fish. I'm not much of a fisherman, but that is a piece of advice I wish someone had given me along the way. Simply "cast over here instead of over there, because the fish must be somewhere else." They don't say fish are dumb. They hide from the bait. I don't know, but I know that people I know who fish don't like to be reminded of their failure, and I'm sure that this group of disciples were not happy after that night of failure.
     
    Anyway, when they caught the fish, John recognized the man on the shore and said, "It is the Lord!" Impetuous Peter grabbed his clothes and headed into shore quickly. The rest were left to drag the boat and the heavy net to land all by themselves. Jesus said the words anyone would like to hear after an exhausting night: "Come and have breakfast." Jesus provided bread and fish for all of them. While they were sitting around the fire, Jesus approached Peter with their unfinished business. Peter had denied Jesus three times while Jesus was being interrogated. Jesus didn't blame Peter or shame him, and he didn't ask for his repentance. He asked questions. "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" Jesus was referring to loving Jesus more than life as a fisherman, life in the boat, Peter's life before discipleship. Peter said to him, "Yes, Lord. You know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord. You know that I love you." Jesus said, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt and maybe a little irritated when Jesus said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you." And Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep." But that was a powerful moment for Peter — the charcoal fire, three questions. Peter knew that he was making a life-changing commitment to Jesus. Jesus didn't forgive Peter. Peter had to forgive himself and come to terms with what the rest of his life was going to be. Because he was going to have to be what Jesus needed him to be. As difficult as it would be for Peter, he had to accept that he was going to have to be the shepherd from now on, because Jesus wasn't going to be there. And that would be his identity.
     
    When God has business with us, God will find us and will get our attention, and that's what happened to Saul on the road to Damascus. He was a zealous practitioner of Judaism, and was going to bring some of the followers of Jesus to Jerusalem for trial before the Jewish courts there. God had other plans both for Saul and for Ananias, the Christian in Damascus who went to help Saul but didn't want anything to do with him. But God said to Ananias, like he said to so many of us, "Go, for he's an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel." Paul needed to be what Jesus wanted him to be, and Jesus got his attention.
     
    Paul's encounter with Jesus may be one of the most powerful images we have of bending human will to God's will. We don't expect our encounters with God to be as earth-shaking as St. Paul on the road to Damascus. I'm sure we would like all our worship to be as dramatic as the final choruses to Handel's Messiah. We might like our lives to be filled with such overwhelming experiences. Life isn't like that, though. It is not all emotional highs, moments of clear vision and bright light, dramatic experiences, or religious ecstasy. Our reality is simpler and more mundane. There's a clue for us in the disciples' experience. They were going about their ordinary lives, just like we do, and when they least expected him they encountered Christ. It was profound, and yet it was ordinary. Come and have breakfast, Jesus said. These brothers in Christ shared a simple meal after a long night. There were no bolts of light from the sky. No choirs of angels. No heavenly music from the Messiah. There was Easter, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in the ordinary course of a morning. Easter, in the simple passing of fish and bread around the warmth of a charcoal fire. Easter, in breakfast with the risen Jesus.
     
    That was not the end of it for the disciples, just as Easter does not end for us with the benediction on Sunday. Jesus reconciled with Peter following Peter's denials when Jesus was arrested. Jesus did not promise resurrection, celebration, or joy. He promised suffering and martyrdom. Bonhoeffer wrote, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die." Peter was crucified. And Paul, according to legend, was beheaded in Rome. In the Book of John, there is no Last Supper. That story is not there. There are stories, though, of eating and drinking with Jesus — at Cana, with the 5,000 that he fed, and on the shore here with the disciples. When Jesus was there he saw to it that there was food in abundance, wine for all the guests at the wedding in Cana, baskets of leftovers with the 5,000, and enough bread and fish for everyone at breakfast over the charcoal fire. These stories pull together much of what it means to be in relationship with Jesus. The way in which Jesus hosts meals helps us to see the Eucharist that was embedded in Jesus' life, not his death. A little different framework from the Lord's Supper might mean grace in abundance, forgiveness in abundance, salvation in the risen Christ. And that is our Easter, as we come to Christ Lutheran Church on this third Sunday of the Easter season. Jesus is here with bread and wine, offering grace and forgiveness for all of his people everywhere. Like the women at the tomb, we come and see Jesus here. We find God in each other at worship, at the table, and in fellowship. And then we go out into the world.
     
    This is how we live out John 3:16. We understand what Jesus wants us to be. He wants us to be good shepherds when he can no longer be. We have to accept that Jesus could believe in us, and many of our people here respond accordingly. We have many shepherds here. We have people who work to feed the hungry, to find shelter for homeless people, people here who are working to protect God's creation by greening up our congregation and our communities. We have people who reach out to our community, with our facilities and with the word of God on a regular basis. We have people who come to church and volunteer their time as key people, assisting ministers, worship volunteers, people who help with fellowship and the flowers, and people who teach our children. On Sundays, we gather to celebrate the resurrection with joy. It's both empowering for us, and challenging. We are called to go forward in our lives as witnesses of faith, here at Christ and out in the rest of our lives. We know, though, how that witness has led to suffering and even death for so many of Jesus' followers.
     
    We pray for guidance and protection, and we offer our thanks and praise to the Good Shepherd. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Jon Heerboth, Acts 9:1-6, (7-20), John 21:1-19, John 3:16
  • Apr 21, 2019Jesus is Risen From the Dead
    Apr 21, 2019
    Jesus is Risen From the Dead
    Series: (All)
    April 21, 2019. We celebrate this Easter Sunday with a simple, six-word phrase: Jesus is risen from the dead. Pastor Stephanie preaches on what these words meant to Mary Magdalene and the disciples, and what they continue to mean for us today.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Happy Easter once again to all of you. It's such a glorious day to see each other, to sing, and to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord together. Now, as I was preparing for this message I was remembering how, a few years back, I learned about an interesting website, an online magazine called SMITH. (Just like the name sounds: S-M-I-T-H.) It's a collection of six word memoirs. I imagine there are some of you out here who are familiar with that, because it's been taken up by business, education, and other entities, to employ the tactics that they use. It was started as a challenging way to depict the lives of people and their wisdom about life, in only six words. Six words -- think about that. With such a tight economy of words, one really has to think about what one wants to communicate in that short space. Challenging though it was, the concept really caught on. The online magazine site eventually had so much material from contributors that it distilled what it considered the most thought-provoking into a few books. The names of them, of course titled with the requisite six words, are: Not Quite What I Was Planning, and the later edition is titled It All Changed In An Instant. Both phrases intended to pique our interests, to find out more.
     
    So I decided to bite. I searched through several examples of these memoirs captured in the six brief words. Here are a few examples. I will start with a very poignant one, but that's only because it is believed that this six word challenge was given to the famed writer Ernest Hemingway, and his is a very sad, pithy little one. He was challenged to write a short story in six words, and here's what he came up with: "For sale: baby shoes. Never worn." One person recovering from a breakup wrote: "I still make coffee for two." On the same theme comes this, from a person with a gift for expressing double meanings: "Our perfect match burned out quickly." Then there are other six-word memoirs that make you wonder what kind of response the writer wanted to elicit from us. "I am turning into my mother." Anybody relate? "Named me 'Joy,' Didn't work out." How about this one: "Never really finished anything besides cake." Here's a light-hearted version from screenwriter Nora Ephron: "Secret of life: marry an Italian." Lots of other good ethnicities too. This was on the website yesterday, for those who appreciate a good brew (and I know there are many of you present): "Easter Bunny Lager: contains more hops." And this one made me laugh: "Even I can't keep my secrets." The reviewers of the site also got in on the game by trying their hand at this as well. Because why not? I thought the brilliance of the New York Times one expressed the six-word memoir idea the best for me: "The brilliance is in the brevity." Brevity, having a succinct message, getting to the core truth. There's something to be said about that, in this world filled with ideas and words barraging us continually.
     
    When it comes to the mystery and beauty of the reason why we are celebrating today, it cannot be said any better than within these six words: Jesus is risen from the dead. These are the words that the breathless women carried from the empty tomb back to the other disciples. These are the words that have been passed on ever since, from person to person, from community to community, spreading to every continent in the last two millennia. It is these six words that have spoken to countless individuals whose lives were near death, broken by pain and suffering, by sin and darkness, and given them new life, hope, and purpose. Because death did not have the final word with Jesus, it does not have the final word with us either.
     
    So this is the message behind the comfort that is available to those with terminal illnesses, and to those who have lost loved ones. Death, with its awfulness and sorrow, does not have the last word. There is reason for hope, and there's something to hold onto. Because Jesus is risen from the dead.
     
    These six words tell us also that fear does not need to hold us in its grip. They tell us that we're never alone, even when it feels as though we've been abandoned. They let us know that light is shining somewhere, even when it seems that the darkness has won. It says that yes, death is a part of life, but it is not the ultimate end of it. It says that when we are weak, there is strength to carry us through. It says that when we are lost and bewildered, we will be found and restored. All the claims and promises that Jesus made to his followers, that have been passed on to us in the holy scriptures, are gloriously confirmed as true and reliable. All because Jesus is risen from the dead.
     
    These six words tell us that evil will not triumph over good. The six words give us a frame of reference that allows us to keep on working for justice, to pursue what is right and good, to focus on the long game rather than the short one. These are the words that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German martyr who opposed the Nazis and was forced into seclusion, taught his students in the secret seminary that he managed to hold. The meaning of these six words served as a drum beat for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles in seeking civil rights for all. The truth of these words gives courage to religious orders of women in our time, who risk arrest for giving water to migrants languishing in the desert. We can know that oppression and evil will ultimately crumble before the truth that is: Jesus is risen from the dead.
     
    How many lives have been transformed, starting with Mary Magdalene and her companions falling to the ground in utter shock upon hearing these six words? It is the reality of these six words that explain the countless number of people whose hearts have been burning within them because of the presence of God's spirit, alive and present, to comfort them, to give them hope, to grant them peace. When something mystical, yet so compelling, convinces us that we are not alone, but indeed that the risen Christ is among and with us -- that is when we say Jesus is risen from the dead.
     
    I found the words of the men in dazzling white who spoke to the women at the tomb very interesting. They stated plainly, "He is not here. He has risen." But then they gave the women a very, very important charge. They said: remember. Remember that Jesus told you these things, that he would be crucified and then rise again. Remember. That is a very good charge for us as well. When I'm feeling frustrated that things aren't going well, I need to pause, take a deep breath, and remember that Jesus is risen from the dead. And that puts the minutiae of life into perspective.
     
    When even bigger and more important things seem to be headed in the wrong direction, you and I can also remember that ultimately, God is bringing all things to a glorious and great conclusion, as we heard in the Isaiah reading. When we sense that we are swimming upstream, remember that the one who holds the keys to life is with us, and is keeping our heads above water. When the daily news makes us wonder if evil is not really getting the upper hand, remember that God is good and God is in charge. When we find ourselves losing hope, remember that God's love triumphs over even the darkest of days. It was when the women -- who had fallen down on their faces with fear and sorrow -- heard these words calling them to remember, that they did remember. And they got up and got about what they needed to be doing, because now they could see everything within a new light. And that was to get on with life, a renewed life with purpose, to go and tell the others to remember.
     
    And so it is with us. We are called to remember, and to remind each other to remember that Jesus is risen from the dead. And that, my friends, changes everything. Thanks be to God for our risen Savior. It is to him we sing our praises as we stand to sing the hymn of the day.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Isaiah 65:17-25, Luke 24:1-12
  • Mar 31, 2019Invited to the Celebration
    Mar 31, 2019
    Invited to the Celebration
    Series: (All)
    March 31, 2019. Pastor Stephanie preaches on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and how the story fits into our Lenten journey.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Well, as we've been saying all along in Lent, Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. So begins roughly the last half of the Gospel of Luke -- that little statement. So, you've been hearing that phrase regularly since we began our Lenten journey about 25 days ago. And every week since this journey has begun we've been saying that the journey continues, with some special emphasis or another. Any journey, though, that begins with ashes on your forehead and has an altar that looks like a stricken wasteland (when we usually have color and liveliness and vibrancy and beauty) sounds like something that's not going to make a travel folder that Joan O'Brien's going to promote. Like, who wants to come on this journey with me? Really, who wants to go on a journey that looks and sounds so dreary? And to top it all off, we can't even sing the word "hallelujah," because we're not supposed to be too happy or celebratory until we get to Easter.
     
    So really it's understandable that Lent can have a rather grim reputation. Now, don't get me wrong. I understand the reason for that and I affirm it, and I think all the themes that we've spent time on together in these past few weeks have been important for our spiritual well-being. Discovering who and whose we are, lamenting our sorrows, encountering God in the wilderness, turning to repentance -- those are all things worth dealing with, because we are people who need to be sobered up enough to deal with the reality of our desperate need for God. So those are valuable signposts on the journey, without a doubt.
     
    But in the midst of our serious encounter with God on this journey we are given a story in Lent that starts out seriously enough, yet it ends in a no-holds-barred rejoicing and celebrating, with plenty of hallelujah-like pronouncements filling the air, at a party to end all parties. How exactly, then, does this story fit into Lent, we may wonder? It's a story that's got to be in the top 20, for sure, of Bible stories that might be recognized -- even in a culture that recognizes fewer and fewer of the classics in biblical literature. A son who dishonors his father by asking for an inheritance, that essentially says, "Dad, I can't wait any longer for you to die. So please give me my inheritance now" -- and then continues to break his heart by going off without even a backwards glance or an occasional letter now and then, letting him know where he is and how he's doing.
     
    Then there is the other son. This one stays at home and carries out his responsibilities there, but there isn't much of a relationship with Dad here either that would make a good Hallmark movie. He might be polite enough at the dinner table, but there's obviously some serious resentment simmering underneath the surface about how he isn't really treated well enough. The narrative that runs through his head is that he is doing far more for Dad than he is ever getting in return. Good thing he's so responsible and hardworking or this place would fall apart, if you would hear him tell the story. Everything, though, comes to a head when the runaway makes his way back, now broke and broken, hoping to quietly slip in the back door and stay under the radar where he knows he at least has a chance for survival, but knowing he deserves nothing more than that. That doesn't happen, because the father will have none of that. But in the meantime, we also get to see the character of the responsible son showing his true colors. He sulks, he rants, he complains bitterly about how unfair life is, and refuses to welcome his brother home. Well, we can see that these sons are polar opposites. They are each on one end of the spectrum of behaviors and attitudes, styles and personality types -- if the spectrum includes ungrateful and unresponsive people to God. I suppose each of us can find ourselves leaning toward one more than the other, and maybe seeing a bit of ourselves in each one.
     
    But the real story is about the father who hijacks all of the drama in the story. Jesus doesn't tell this story so we can decide which brother was worse than the other or less deserving of the father's love. He doesn't even tell us that we should figure out which son we resemble most closely, although that is often what we do and it's understandable. I suspect that each one of us innately knows to which one we most closely relate. Jesus does not condemn either one, nor praise either one as being more virtuous or honest or sincere than the other. They just seem to exist as characters that depict human nature in its raw form -- not especially lovable when all pretense is stripped away. But here's the kicker: they aren't the main characters in this story. Because this is a story about a father whose love knows no bounds. It's about a father who has been wronged, yet runs to meet the bedraggled son and throw a grand party to welcome him back, even though the son knows he doesn't deserve even a shred of attention and care at this point. It's about a father whose steady presence with the other son has provided for him, has been available to him all along the way. Even now, without receiving the least acknowledgement of his kindness, the father holds no grudges, but warmly reminds this son that he desires to draw him in to celebrate life, love, laughter, and feasting. It's about a father who rejoices, whose joy knows no bounds in breaking down barriers and assuring each child that he is cherished.
     
    God is like that father, Jesus says. God's love is so immense that we cannot even imagine its intensity. God rejoices as we respond and let that love wash over us. There's a party going on, given by God, to which we are all invited. Now, we may not approve of the guest list that shows up at the party, but that really doesn't matter. It's the Father's party. When we get caught up in the magnitude of the extravagant grace that has been poured out upon us, to even bring us to this party -- well, we wonder why we were invited in the face of such great graciousness. That's when we can be captivated by the music, the feasting, the merriment of belonging to this Father of boundless love and joy.
     
    Several years back (since I'm going down memory lane today) there was a band called Kool and the Gang, and they had a song that went something like this: "There's a party going on right here." (Feel free to sing along if you want.) "A celebration to last throughout the years / So bring your good times, and your laughter too." (I knew Phil would know it because I hear him sing it a lot.) "We're gonna celebrate your party with you." That's right. Come on. That's it. Katie's got it. "We're gonna celebrate and have a good time." I think God wrote those words through that band, or at least they wittingly or unwittingly tapped into the kind of merriment and outright celebration that God invites us into, with his love at the center, energizing and embracing us all.
     
    So back to an earlier question. How does this story fit into Lent? If Lent is a journey, as we settle along then let's remember that a journey has a purpose. It's going somewhere. It's driven to see and to experience something. Jesus presents us this image of God on our journey, with open arms wanting to enfold us, to dance with us, to dine with us, to enjoy the music and the celebration of being in relationship with us -- all to show us who it is who is walking alongside us, and who beckons us onward. We can do this journey, even when it is difficult, because of God's love. When we stumble on the journey, God's arms restore us. When we are discouraged, God's love fills us. The journey is about continually moving toward the embrace of this magnetic love. If the journey doesn't end up in the Father's embrace, then it was a good walk spoiled (to name a book title that pokes fun at the game of golf, but I digress). It truly is a journey that is directed toward a patiently loving Father, whose embrace and welcomed are always there for us. Even when the journey takes us through difficult places -- and it does and it will -- we can celebrate along the way. For God's abundance love is unfailing, and God's arms hold us securely.
     
    Well, the journey toward Holy Week continues. Let's celebrate God's extravagant grace as we trek onward together. Thanks be to God for God's grace toward us. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, Parable of the Prodigal Son
  • Mar 10, 2019Secure in Our Identity
    Mar 10, 2019
    Secure in Our Identity
    Series: (All)
    March 10, 2019. Our guest preacher for this first Sunday in Lent is Rev. Susan Candea, who preaches on temptation and identity, how we are defined, and who defines us.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
     
    Not to offend anyone, but I just don't get the whole attraction of reality shows on television. In the first place, why are they called "reality shows," because I'm betting that many of those, if not most of those scenes, are actually scripted. And why would anyone want to have a camera follow them around their house, or whatever they're doing, capturing what I would consider to be private conversations, to then be broadcast to who knows who? And why would I care to watch? Why do I want to watch somebody else's reality? I have enough reality in my own life, thank you very much. One of the latest reality shows out there is called "Temptation Island." I've never watched it, just seen it advertised. Apparently "Temptation Island" follows four unmarried couples at a crossroads of their relationship. Each must decide whether to commit to one another, or ultimately to give in to temptation. Together, the couples travel to a romantic paradise, where they join 24 sexy single men and women, all in search of love. Really? Brace yourselves for hot and heavy nights as the couples embark on an adventure full of temptations. Since its January 15th debut, "Temptation Island" has grown its audience by double digits. Obviously, there are some people out there who think watching others respond to temptations is actually entertaining.
     
    I don't think of temptations as being particularly entertaining. I doubt Jesus would have described his experience in the wilderness, the temptations he faced, as being entertaining. He wasn't on some paradise island surrounded by sexy singles, but out in the wilderness for 40 days fasting -- which meant he was hungry and vulnerable -- being tempted by the devil. The story of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness is always the gospel reading for the first Sunday in Lent. I think the purpose of this story is not to warn us about giving in to temptations for whatever it is we've given up in Lent -- as if people actually do that anymore, give up things for Lent. But I think the purpose of this story at the beginning of this Lenten Journey these 40 days is to remind Jesus, and to remind us, whose and who we are. It is about our identity, and knowing our identity makes all the difference in how we journey through these 40 days. And so the theme of my sermon is this: the journey begins, discovering who and whose we are.
     
    The story of Jesus' temptation immediately follows, in the gospel, the story of his baptism -- where the Spirit descended (remember that story) from the heavens and declared Jesus beloved Son of God, declared his identity, whose and who he was. Now that same spirit that filled him at his baptism leads him into the wilderness, where he is tempted. For the Gospel of Luke, the issue is not about personal temptations around one's faith, but about Jesus' unique identity and vocation as a Spirit-anointed Son of God. The temptations were all about how Jesus understands and therefore will live out this identity as a Son of God. Is it about his own power and glory and his own needs? Or is it about trusting God? Does Jesus belong to this world, and therefore the values of this world define him? Or does he belong to God? And therefore it is God, God's word, God's way that will direct his actions, his responses, his journey toward the cross.
     
    You may not be aware, unless you attended the Adult Forum a little earlier, that I am what they call the "stewardship person" of the synod. I shared about all the things in which your mission support, which is that portion of the regular offering that you give to the church that is shared with the larger church (which by the way, you are very faithful and generous givers, so thank you very much) about that impacts the ministry we can do together. So as a stewardship person, you might think that our Old Testament reading, which commands the people to give first fruits back to the Lord, would be one of my favorites. Can you imagine what we could do if everyone gave their first fruits (which of course we're going to go with a tithe -- 10% -- that's always the way it was in scripture) of their income to the church, and every congregation gave their first 10%, first fruits offering, to the larger church? Oh my gosh, the ministry that we could accomplish! But that's not what this passage is actually all about. Commanding the people to give their first fruits was not a way to support the budget of either the temple or the church today. But giving first fruits was actually an acknowledgement by the people that everything has come from God, that it is God who gave them the land in the first place that produced the fruits. It is God to whom they owe all their lives. It is God to whom they belong. Giving the first fruits is actually an act of worship, of praise, of gratitude. It is an acknowledgement of our identity as children of God, reminding us who and whose we are.
     
    Jesus' response to the temptations that he faced in the wilderness was also an affirmation of who and whose he was, that he belonged to God. How do we respond to the temptations that we face in our lives? Do you know what the top five temptations are that people face in their daily lives? Well, according to a couple surveys out there, the number one temptation that over 60% of people face on a regular basis is worrying or being anxious. The number two temptation is procrastination. Number three is overeating. Number four (some of you are going to love this) is the overuse of electronics or social media. And number five is laziness. But I actually think the biggest temptation we face is the same one that Jesus faced: to let other voices, other sources of authority, define who we are, rather than God. Are we defined, do we believe we have value only based on how much money we make, how big our houses, how nice our car? Is our identity determined by how popular we are, how much power over others we have? Is it our belief system, what we decide is right (because of course, we have it all figured out) that defines who we are? Or is it God -- God, who gives us our identity, our value, our purpose, our place?
     
    My friends, regardless of those other voices that you hear, regardless of those temptations that you encounter, it is God who declares that we are beloved children, that we are anointed with God's spirit. Whether we are in the wilderness and feeling vulnerable and all alone, we are God's children. Whether we are on a paradise island and our lives are full, and everything's going well and we can indulge in everything, feeling pretty entitled and self-absorbed, we are still a child of God. So the next question is: how will we journey, not just through these 40 days, but through each day as children of God? What will we give? Not just the 10% that goes to charity, but what will we give of the remaining 90% of our lives, our resources, our time, our skills, our abilities to live this identity?
     
    This past week I participated in an advocacy day at the state capitol in Topeka. You heard that the Central States Synod is all of Missouri and Kansas. There's an organization called Kansas Interfaith Action, which is a multi-faith issue advocacy organization that puts faith into action by educating, engaging, and advocating on behalf of people of faith, regarding critical social, economic, and climate justice issues. On their brochure, they quote the Dalai Lama, who said it is not enough to be compassionate. One must act compassionate.
     
    I know that there are times in our churches that people struggle with what they perceive to be the mix of politics and religion. I've heard we shouldn't be preaching politics from the pulpit, but I have to tell you that sitting down with legislators and with the governor to express concern about people who fall through the cracks of Medicare, to talk about the lack of resources to care for foster children who are the most vulnerable, to advocate for ways in which we care for God's creation, for me was a way to not only live out my identity as a child of God, but also recognizing that all these other people that I'm advocating for are also children of God. And in fact, the whole earth belongs to God. Now, your identity as a child of God may take you in some different directions, having some different actions on behalf of others, but I'm convinced that if we get this identity question right, then we can indeed move out into the world to do the ministry that God calls us to do: to be followers of Jesus, who transform the world around us.
     
    Jesus faced his temptations. He got it right. He trusted and relied on his identity as Son of God. Then he was ready to move out to preach and teach, heal and challenge systems that oppressed and excluded people. That is the same journey you and I are invited to in our faith lives, and I'm also convinced that when we face this temptation to really be clear about who we are and whose we are, relying on the Spirit, then it is actually easier to face all those other temptations. Especially the one about being worried and anxious. That's my number one biggie. Why do I worry so much? I belong to God. And why do I procrastinate and am lazy? God's spirit is within me, and there are people of God who need my compassion and help. And why do I overeat or not do all those healthy things for my body? Because this too belongs to God. There are always going to be temptations. You don't have to go to some paradise island to find them.
     
    But there is always and ultimately going to be the voice of God, who keeps reminding us we are children of God. We belong to God. Secure in that identity, we can face what comes our way. We can create loving, respectful relationships. We can reach out with care and compassion. We can even take risks. And that, my friends, that is a kind of reality I do want to see in my life, and in the life of this whole church.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Susan Candea, Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Luke 4:1-13, KIFA
  • Mar 6, 2019Ring Around the Rosie
    Mar 6, 2019
    Ring Around the Rosie
    Series: (All)
    March 6, 2019. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. This Ash Wednesday evening, Pastor Stephanie preaches on the meaning of the sign of the cross of ash on our foreheads, of Jesus calling us forth to honesty, and on what we do in Lent.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I wonder if you remember the nursery rhyme "Ring around the rosie / A pocket full of posies / Ashes, ashes / We all fall down." Anybody remember that one? Yes? One explanation of the origin of this nursery rhyme connects it with the Bubonic plague, a deadly plague that happened during the Elizabethan era in England. People were succumbing to that plague left and right, by the thousands everyday. Drawings from that era include pictures of bodies being loaded up in carts or wagons. The art portrayed the reality of grimness during that plague. The rationale for connecting that nursery rhyme with the plague stems from the fact that one of the symptoms of the plague was a red rash, which is often found in circles on the body. That was thought to be the ring around the rosie. I certainly never knew that. There was widespread thought that the plague came from bad smell that existed everywhere. And so, people would carry packets of nice-smelling posies to ward off the smell. "Ring around the rosie / A pocket full of posies / Ashes, ashes / We all fall down," was simply a description of what was happening every day, all the time, for these people. If that is truly the origin of this schoolyard chant, it's a far, far cry from the way I remember singing it, and saying it with laughter with my friends on the schoolyard playground. This may or may not be the true origin of the rhyme. Sometimes we don't know about these things. But regardless, there is truth in the last sentence: ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
     
    For here we are on the Wednesday that signals the beginning of the season of Lent, the day we call Ash Wednesday. At the lunch meeting that Katie Ciorba and I had with our recent confirmands, we shared around the table our favorite church holidays, as an icebreaker while we ate lunch. Not surprisingly, Ash Wednesday was not mentioned by a single person, although Lent did get a favorable comment at one point. And yet it's such an important day in the life of the church, because it calls us to honest assessment, something rarely asked of us anywhere else. Ashes, ashes. We also come to death at some point. We prefer to dance around the roses. We prefer to ward off anything that confronts us with our own mortality, don't we? Our society supports that, in doing everything we can to avoid thinking about or preparing for our own deaths. So, we have our own ways of carrying around pockets full of posies to ward off the reality of death. Now, there's certainly nothing at all wrong with seeking the greatest health we can enjoy. We should do that. But at times, we are unrealistic about the effects of aging and frailty that our bodies will eventually display. That unrealistic bent leads us to denial of the truth of the matter because the truth is, in the end, each one of us will succumb. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
     
    Tonight you'll be invited to come forward to receive the sign of ashes on your forehead, a sign that will be made with ashes that were made (as I told the children) from the burning of Palm Sunday palms. The words you hear as you receive the ashes, if you choose to come forward, will be, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Ashes in the form of a cross will be placed on your forehead with this reminder of mortality. Some would say this is depressing. It can be. But the words are meant to remind us of the temporary nature of life. The words are meant to sound the trumpet for us, the loud alarm, that announcement that our lives do not last forever. We are formed from dust and one day we will all return to dust. To remember that our lives are temporary, is to remember to use them well.
     
    Prayers at the end stages of life often ask God to help us to live as those prepared to die, so that in our living and in our dying, our life may be in Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord. The words from Joel speak about fasting and mourning and returning to God. All of these are called forth from God. But Joel is quick to remind us that it is the intentionality of our hearts that needs assessment. Otherwise our outer exhibitions of mourning can belie a mockery of what God wants to see, as an inner commitment of hearts tenderized, opened up, rent apart by the truth of our need for God.
     
    Matthew says the same thing in different ways: get integrated, bring the disparate parts of yourself together. The words in Matthew's gospel call us out on our tendency toward hypocrisy. Jesus' instruction about prayer, like so much of what Jesus says, is a bit hyperbolic, exaggerated simply to make a point. His point is not to put down the act of praying in public, but to correct those who use prayer to pretend that they are religious, and to help themselves bolster up the idea that they are among the most faithful of all. And so Jesus says you might be better off giving up the showmanship and becoming humble, and doing the very hard work of prayer -- the hard work of daily prayer in a closet, if that's what it needs to be. He is speaking like Joel to the issue of hypocrisy and superficiality.
     
    I suspect that each one of us has come to this Ash Wednesday service for different reasons, but all of us are looking for something. Perhaps for a definite start to the Lenten season, a way to set the season apart. Others, perhaps, have come for inspiration and ideas. Some of you might be seeking a chance to think, to get centered, to decide will you give up something, or will you take on a new habit? Others come to services like this to try to get closer to Jesus, to try to identify with what he experienced. My hope for all of us is that no matter what we do this Lenten season, we will try to get honest -- honest with ourselves, honest with God, and honest with one another. It's honesty, shedding our pretenses in the ways in which we fool even ourselves, that will be an antidote to our individual and collective hypocrisy that creeps up at times.
     
    Say what you will about the vast sins of David that preceded his prayer of confession that we read responsively from Psalm 51. His sins were indeed grievous. But this prayer speaks of the great truth proclaimed by David that relates to us all -- that his offense is primarily against God, and so it is to God that he appeals in his recognition of his frailty. To the best of David's ability his confession is honest. He admits his brokenness. He allows himself to be humbled. He is ready for a journey like one he's never really taken before -- one where God is now the primary leader of his life. His own pride in what he had accomplished, up to this point, is seen for what it was: a disaster that led to sin and heartache. He is ready to throw himself on the mercy of God to begin anew. And that is what we do in Lent. We are beginning the journey of Lent together, and it's always wise to start out with honesty. We are told in Luke's gospel that Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. He knew that he was heading toward the week we now call Holy. Along the way, on that journey, his disciples had many reality checks. Jesus loved them too much to allow them to continue in their own self-deceptions. He called forth honesty and he spoke the truth to them with love, for their benefit. And he does the same for us.
     
    The ashes we will receive on our foreheads can be a reminder of his call to exhibit honesty. They can remind us that we are human, and in the end our struggles and sins and accomplishments and skills all turn to dust. We are mortal, and we easily sin. The shape of the cross that we made from the ashes will also be imperfect. A nice, even cross of ash is hard to make with fumbling thumbs and fingers. So the crosses will be imperfect too, because we are human. But the crosses will remind us that despite our sin, despite our humanness, we are sons and daughters of God, forgiven and freed from the weight of our failings, forgiven and loved in our mortality, invited into a journey of walking more closely with God toward the deeper life.
     
    Thanks be to God for his good word to us.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Ash Wednesday, Joel 2:1-2,12-17, Psalm 51:1-17, cleansing, pardon, Matthew 6:1-6,16-21, almsgiving, prayer, fasting, treasures, Luke 9:51