Dec 6, 2015
Advent Preparation
Series: (All)
Pastor Keith, December 6, 2015
  • Dec 6, 2015Advent Preparation
    Dec 6, 2015
    Advent Preparation
    Series: (All)
    Pastor Keith, December 6, 2015
  • Nov 11, 2015What is the World Coming To?
    Nov 11, 2015
    What is the World Coming To?
    Series: (All)
    November 11, 2015. What is the world coming to? With the tragedy in Paris and the events at the University of Missouri, we are reminded that the world is a volatile place. It has been suggested that Western civilization runs in 500-year cycles. Martin Luther's world of 500 years ago was in a great upheaval too. He had deep questions about his life, but he began each day by remembering that he was a baptized child of God. He remembered to whom he belonged. What is our world coming to? Pastor Keith preaches that maybe that isn't as important for us as remembering who we are, and whose we are. *** [Keywords: 500-year cycles 9/11 Andrew Babylon Bible writers Book of Daniel Egyptians Gospel of Mark Great Depression Greeks Herod's court I have called you by name you are mine Israel James Jerusalem Jesus Jews John Martin Luther Mount Calvary Mount of Olives Old Testament Pastor Keith Holste Pentagon Peter Phyllis Tickle Romans September 11 Syria Syrians University of Missouri Veterans Day Wailing Wall Western civilization World Trade Center apocalyptic literature assassinations baptized child of God birth pangs birthing process bonds bust of emperor Caligula captive captors children of Israel code language country boy disciples electronic communications enemies famines financial market collapse government great upheaval human genome investments killings in Paris mosque painful peasant revolts permanent printing press property rebellious regime science security stable stocks storms symbols temple temple stones theological to whom he belonged toppled tragedy universe unrest volatile wars weak nation what is the world coming to whose we are]
  • Oct 25, 2015We Are Free Indeed
    Oct 25, 2015
    We Are Free Indeed
    Series: (All)
    Oct. 25, 2015. On this Confirmation Sunday, Pastor Keith reminds the confirmands and us of the upward mobility we receive through Jesus. He sets us totally free, from fear and anxiety, to be received into the household of God. *** [Keywords: Confirmation Sunday Europe India Jesus Jewish people Martin Luther Old Testament Pastor Keith We Are Free Indeed adultery anxiety birth order bootstraps caste system child of God confirmands covenant dare descendants of Abraham difficulties doubt dream fail failures faith family rules fear fear of wondering first born first will be last freeing words of Jesus guaranteed high school hope household of God husband inheritance iniquity last will be first live love misdeeds mistakes radically new status repay risks sacrifice sinful past slave society status struggle take it for granted totally free ultimate outcome upward mobility]
  • Sep 27, 2015Be the Salt of the Earth
    Sep 27, 2015
    Be the Salt of the Earth
    Series: (All)
    Pastor Keith, September 27, 2015
  • Aug 30, 2015The Law
    Aug 30, 2015
    The Law
    Series: (All)
    Pastor Keith, August 30, 2015
  • May 3, 2015Isn’t God’s Vineyard Beautiful?
    May 3, 2015
    Isn’t God’s Vineyard Beautiful?
    Series: (All)
    May 3, 2015. Pastor Keith preaches on John 15. Jesus is the vine, we're the branches, and God is the gardener.
    *** Transcript ***
    We further reflect on this passage in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
    It's sometimes difficult, when reading the New Testament in English, to know what is meant by the word "you." We don't have a good way in English to describe a singular "you" from a plural "you," and so sometimes we don't know if we mean a group or one person. A friend of mine has suggested maybe we should always use the word "y'all" for whenever we mean "you" for "bunch of people." Well, today's gospel has one of those "y'all" kinds of meanings when it says "you." When Jesus says, "Abide in me as I abide in you," he means, "You all abide in me."
    Well when Jesus spoke these words, it wasn't a happy time. It was a meaningful time and a serious time, because he was at the Last Supper with his disciples. It happens early enough in John that Jesus is preparing his disciples for what will happen the next couple of days. He has a long talk, before they break from this Last Supper, go to the Garden of Gethsemane, and he goes on trial. But this speech, including these words "abide in me," is at the heart of it. He's saying as a group they need to remain together. He will remain or abide with them, even as he parts from them, and they are to abide or remain with him. It works both ways. But they are to be close together. And he knows it's going to be a hard time for them, and they will need each other and they will need him. It was hard for them to do right away. Jesus knew how hard it is to keep up this kind of spirit of love and abiding in him. Right away he was betrayed, and right away he was denied. So right after he gave the speech, they were in this risky time and they failed to do that. And so it points out, even for us, how difficult this is to do — to stay close to Jesus and to stay close to one another — given the hardships, the temptations of life, whether we're in a very tense situation, whether we're in a life-threatening situation, or whether we're just in a matter of convenience or public reputation. Maybe it's hard to pronounce, be bold with our Christianity. It can be hard to be a follower of Jesus. He knows we will need his life to support us. We need him. But we are the ones he depends on to get his spirit into the world.
    When John writes this, some 50 years after this, the issue is before them as much as ever. The question is of tense. There is no Jesus present with them then to ask about it. So they have to remember these words of John and Jesus. What does it mean to be a community of the Christian faith? What does it mean to be a person of the Way, as they called the church in the early days? John is saying that it means being together as a community, and it means being connected to Jesus. They as a group are like a bunch of branches on a grapevine: they have a common source of nourishment, and they're all subject to the vinegrower — the one whose vineyard it is. They produce for the vinegrower, but their branches are so intertwined when they're on the trellis, when they're on the fence, that it's hard to tell them apart, because all the branches get intertwined when you get out to the ends of it where the grapes are. You think about when you have a grapevine you have the basic trunk that comes out of the soil. Then you have the larger branches that come from that. Then you have these vines that go out further and then drop the drapes down. And as it goes out they become smaller and smaller, but the bunches of grapes are large. They're all pretty similar. There's not one that's bigger than another. They all kind of look alike. They are intertwined and it's hard to tell one from another. The clusters of grapes hang down from the various branches, but they're all kind of mixed up together on the vine. The grape picker comes to the vine and picks the one that's closest. He can't stand there a long time and say well, this is the one I want to pick. They just pick them all and put them in the baskets and go on. They're all together there. No one is greater than another.
    That's the kind of image that John and Jesus want us to have of the church. It's about thinking of the fruit we produce as a community in Christ. But it's not so much about what I produce or you produce. It's what we do together as we live close to the one who gives us life. It's not that I produce fruit for the church or you produce fruit for the church, but we do this together as a community.
    In the early church there was a lot of duress. Christians weren't normally welcome with the Jews. Nor were they welcome with the Romans. And it's commonly thought that John was in exile as he was writing this. The best way for Christians to make it and to have an impact was to be in community together, and that way they could not just survive but often thrive. They belonged to an organized community shaped by the love of Jesus. What they did as a community was more important than what they did as individuals. As a Christian community, the members were known for the acts of love they did in common with the other members. In those early days they lived together, and then they acted together. They were one community in Christ.
    When a vine grower looks at the vineyard and the grapevines within it, the target that the vine grower has in mind is a whole target. What will my harvest be this year? How many gallons of grape juice or how many pounds of grapes will I get from this vineyard that I have? The crop will be measured by the overall yield, not by what this plant did or by what that plant did. All of it is together. The gardener will pay attention to each plant during the year so that it's tended to and it's pruned, for the sake of the whole vineyard, so the whole overall yield is good. But the primary concern is the whole crop. And so with the church, each person is tended to by the Lord, and all are equal before the Lord, each producing the fruit. Each has a place in the faith community as a whole, all living with this common goal of living in the style of Jesus, the style of love. All are accountable to the standard of love set by Jesus, making decisions together based on the love that Jesus taught. Jesus paints here a picture of a community of faith, embodying the love of Jesus, acting as a community, producing the fruit of love. The mark of this community lives faithfully and loves the name of Jesus, rather than identifying itself by the individual member saying, well we have this member, we have that member. No, it's about how the church acts together. It's so tempting, so often we hear this passage and think of it in individual terms. We think of it as kind of a motivational shot to get me or you to do more good works, to produce more fruit individually. It's helpful to remember that we are in a vineyard together. God looks at us as a whole vineyard tied together in Jesus. As a whole we produce the fruits of the spirit. We do some individually, and individually we act on behalf of the community of faith. But it's good to step back and take stock of how we are doing together as the vineyard of the Lord. Are we together as a community in Christ doing well at producing the fruit of the spirit in love?
    Each one of us of course has a place in this vineyard. There are different gifts. There are different circumstances we each have which make a difference on how the love of Jesus is lived out. Some of it is done as members of the church in various life circumstances, with one's family or at work or in the community. Some of it's done though acting in community with others of the congregation, to live out the love of Jesus, doing things like going down to Humanitree or whatever, doing these things together. Just as the vinedresser pays attention to each plant and the vines of the plant, nurtures and prunes that plant as appropriate, so each of us has a responsibility for the good of all to live and act in ways that work for growing the love of Jesus.
    Well this love of Jesus that we live with and by shows itself in two ways in the congregation, the community of the beloved, as John's community was often called. It's a love that's lived out inside the congregation and outside of the congregation. And it's kind of encapsulated in the vision statement that has been discerned over the last couple years and been adopted by this congregation. And part of that vision statement is to live well within the community of this congregation, to develop meaningful relationships, and to care for one another as a community of people loved by Jesus. But this vision also looks to take this love out and to share the love of Jesus with the surrounding community and reach out to bear fruit in love. When we do this it brings meaning to life, life as it was intended by God, fulfilling our purpose and our need for meaning by producing the fruit of love in the vineyard of God.
    A news story, I think it was last weekend, of local interest caught my attention. It was about the Magdalene House. Some of you have an association with it, I think have done some work with Magdalene House and know maybe more about its operation than I do. But it is a Christian-based organization which helps young women who are victims of human trafficking to find refuge, and to get out of it and to learn a new way of life. A new shelter is being constructed for this organization in St. Louis. And the topic of the news story was that this new shelter being built had been robbed, and that thieves had come and stole many of the building materials so that the project was hampered in being finished. They couldn't go on. And the young men were apprehended who had taken the stuff, and the normal conclusion was, you would think as the story progressed, that they would be arrested and dealt with by the justice system.
    But I think the key part of the story was that Magdalene House took a different approach. The thieves were young men of the neighborhood, and the leadership of the house reckoned that the young men were victims too in a sense. Just as they cared for young women who were victims, these were young men, victims of the poverty and the tough life circumstances of their neighborhood. And the house said they need help too and declined to press charges, demonstrating to the young men the same kind of grace and love that they hoped to give to the young women, which is the work that Magdalene House stands for: caring for, helping young people — women normally, in this case men as well. But it was a demonstration of a Christian-based organization, a whole community making a stand, instead of one or two people saying this is what we'll do, acting as a group to say, this is how we are discerning the love of Jesus for us at this place. They acted together. In a way that's what we're talking about this morning. How do we as a congregation, as a group, make decisions that reflect the love of God?
    There's a yard on the opposite end of the block where we live which I like very much. It has kind of an oriental theme in its landscaping. Both by tree selection and by pruning I would say it's in Japanese style. I've been by it many times and seen it but never noticed before this season how beautiful the redbud tree is in that yard. And it's not just that it's a great burst of lavender and purple and just has lots of flowering buds. But it's pruned in such a way that the shape of the tree is beautiful in itself, with the tree branches very visible themselves. And they in turn enhance the beauty of the redbud blossoms. It's a beautiful sight. The pruning makes the tree's shape nice as it displays the redbuds of this season. Well I think in a way, that tree can kind of capture or symbolize what our gospel's about today. It's a thing of God's beauty to see a congregation live out what it's called to be in Jesus. It has many parts, many people who blossom in different kinds of ways. But the shaping of these people, to serve an overall goal of being beautiful and producing fruit in the eyes of God, requires thoughtful and loving attention. We can be people who come together. We receive the Lord, and then return to blossom in our individual ways. But when Jesus calls us we are really vine together. How do we shape things together as a group? As our community is shaped together, we are that much more effective as ones who inspire others to think: isn't God's vineyard beautiful? I want to be a part of it too. We can do even more together than we do individually.
    Each one of us as individuals have done personal pruning in our lives. We have habits. We have attitudes that we've let go of so that we can embrace better ones. And we're usually glad about that. We say: I'm glad I left that behind so I can live my life more richly now. We also look at ourselves today and we say: what changes do I need to make even now to make myself a better person, to be a better branch in the vineyard of Jesus?
    We can do that same kind of pruning as an assessment of our community of faith, too. Are there habits, are there behaviors, attitudes our congregation has let go of that we feel good about, that we've moved to a new place? But in the present we ask what are the habits? What are the behaviors? What are the attitudes now that need to be pruned away, so that we can produce more fruit for the good of God's vineyard? It's never easy to do this. It's always been a challenge for the church. And so often the decisions we make, the decisions that reflect the love of Christ are resisted, because usually it means reaching out to people who aren't popular in other places. The disciples got to know this very well. But it was the resurrected Lord who gave them the promise and the faith and the hope to go forward. In this Easter season, we're reminded of the same Easter promise of the resurrected Lord, who gives us the promise, gives us the hope and the faith so that we can remain in Christ as he remains in us in love, and we can go forward as well. In Jesus' name we pray this will happen. Amen.
    *** Keywords ***
    2015, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, John 15:1-8
  • Mar 8, 2015Jesus is in the Bread
    Mar 8, 2015
    Jesus is in the Bread
    Series: (All)
    March 8, 2015. We're tempted to fall into thinking that our relationship with God is something that we earn. But we know better. We know that God has come to us and given us not only the wonderful gifts of creation, but also the great gift of Jesus. Pastor Keith preaches today on the story of Jesus cleansing the temple. Jesus' body is the new temple, he is with us, and we receive him in the bread.
    *** Transcript ***
    On this weekend if we note the 50th anniversary of the march in Selma, Alabama, we know that that first march was met with high resistance — and that further attempts led finally to the completion of the march to Montgomery, and that changes eventually came in the voter rights that the people were seeking. But even though that march was 50 years ago, we hear from today's lesson how prophetic protests in public places are not very new.
    We know from the Old Testament that prophets like Jeremiah did public actions to bring attention to the waywardness of the people of Israel. And today we hear of Jesus as a protester. Jesus comes to the most visible place in the country — the temple grounds in Jerusalem at the season of high festival — and overturns the tables of the money changers, and drives out all the animals that they had there. And he speaks about this too. At Passover time, these are very critical things to have going on: you needed to have the sheep there to have the proper sacrifices for Passover. And the rule was that you needed to change your money from impure Roman money to the right kind of money to be acceptable in the temple, to make the exchange, so you could buy your sheep, so you could have your sacrifice. So, both these things that were going on were important to keep the Jewish festival in this holiest of Jewish places.
    Yet Jesus disrupts both of these things at the highest time of the year. He criticizes deeply what's going on and what they're doing, and announces that he is the key to a new way of relating to God, a new way of worship, and a new way of community. To make the point about Jesus is about new beginnings, the gospel writer John puts this at the beginning of his gospel. It's already in Chapter 2 of the Gospel of John. Jesus has only done one miracle before this: changing the water to wine at a wedding. In the other gospels this incident is at the end pretty much of Jesus' life, as it's the thing that really gets people angry so that they want to kill him and crucify him. John wants his readers to know from the beginning that Jesus is about new things, doing things in a new way. The changing of water to wine right before this shows that Jesus can do greater things. They were using ordinary water, but he changes that water into wine, showing the extravagance of God's love, and how he brings better quality to things. And the water that they're using for purification at this point, he says we can do better than that. He says, there's something greater than their purification rite. It has to do with the wine. And the criticism and the challenging the ways of the temple, along with his statements about who he is as the new temple himself, moves all this ahead dramatically. Times were changing. It's a new beginning. Everything is new with Jesus.
    Well, to look at the challenges and then the replacements that Jesus offers, let's kind of divide this into three things. First, it is the trading that's going on in the temple grounds. Here in John's gospel, Jesus doesn't criticize the morality of the people saying that they're cheaters or anything like that. What he's objecting to is the religious system and the temple system that reduces the high holy days to matters of doing the right things with money and animals to satisfy God. This turns a relationship with God into kind of a bartering process. It's something that you do to try to stay on God's good side, rather than to be in a loving relationship with God, realizing that all good things come from God and that God is extravagant in giving good things. It's about responding. It's supposed to be about responding and thanksgiving and gratefulness, rather than being a time to try to earn favor with God. Well, this tendency is something that has continued through the ages and continues even into our time. We're so tempted always to fall into this thinking that our relationship with God is something that we earn, it's about earning a place, being good enough so that God will regard us well. We know better. We know that God has come to us and given us not only the wonderful gifts of creation, but also the great gift of Jesus. As Jesus says, Jesus is the new temple. And he brings with that the new way of doing things, the gift to us of his raised body and the promise of life with God is a most wonderful thing that is promised to us. All this comes with Jesus. And just like the wine is way better than the water, so Jesus is way better than the temple system that was there before.
    But we know how tempting it is to fall back into this kind of bartering system with God, this marketplace idea. And it's tempting for us and it was tempting in Luther's day too. We know that Luther began to see that the church in his day was kind of in this barter relationship with God. He saw people around him literally paying money to the church to be given the promise of the forgiveness of sins. So he wrote and put up a written protest on (we might call the Facebook of the day) the church door, to tell people this wasn't right. He'd seen enough of this bartering. He lived through it, you might say in himself and the monastery, where he would punish his body at night. He did excruciating things to his body to try to earn favor with God, because that was the prevailing theology of the day. But then he realized in his studies that the Bible was telling of a different way, the way of grace and God's love and God's receiving people to himself. But we know how easy it is to bring that marketplace economy into our own thinking too. And sometimes in this Lenten season, we're most prone to that. We think in terms of giving things up so that God will like us more. We know that there are ways, good ways, to think about that, to give things up, and to be more disciplined in this season so that we can think more about God's goodness to us. Or somehow have a deeper relationship with God. Or maybe strengthen our relationships with other people in the world. They're all good things we can do in Lent as we give things up. But it's part of our human nature, to think that if I'm doing these good things, or if I'm giving this thing up, God likes me more.
    Some of you may know a friend of mine Steve Albertin, who is a pastor in metro Indianapolis and has some relationships with this congregation, and happens to be serving a congregation in Zionsville (but in the Indianapolis area) called Christ Lutheran Church too. I've never seen them, but he tells me in this congregation that they have T-shirts for their Christ Lutheran Church that say, "Christ Lutheran, where you get to..." They are adamant in making the point that our good deeds are not what we do to earn God's favor, but what we do in our joy because God has favored us with the love of Jesus. So we get to do all kinds of things. And it's interesting, on his Church website you can get to a whole sheet of about 10 or 12 things — things we get to do at Christ Lutheran in Zionsville. It's much more of a joy and privilege to serve the Lord than it is to see it as a duty that we do for God's favor.
    The second thing we learn from Jesus' protest of what was going on in the temple is that what is central is he, not the temple. It's widely thought that when John wrote these words, the temple had already been destroyed by the Romans. So the first hearers of the Gospel of John probably would have said yeah, the temple is gone and now Jesus, the new temple, has risen — and what is important is to worship him. And that's probably part of the reason why John writes these words the way he does. As I said to the children, Jesus is everywhere and not localized at any one place. And so the Christian church needed to hear this word. They could be okay without the temple. Because wherever Jesus was, wherever they were together in Jesus' name, there God was. On Ascension day, that's the main thing that we celebrate: that Jesus has ascended to heaven so that he can be everywhere, with everyone in the world. And he says wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them. So, our presence around him is what makes us be in worship — not to be in any certain building. Churches can be handy. They can even be inspiring (church buildings that is) but they aren't the main thing about our relationship with God. Jesus says that as the one in Jerusalem will be demolished, what raises in its place is his body. And that's what's important.
    The third thing we learn from this protest of Jesus about the temple is that even as the temple was the main place for the Jews to gather, to come together on holy days, Jesus now says we gather about him. We call ourselves as a church. We say we're the body of Christ. His body is risen, and we are his body as well, as we call ourselves the body of Christ. As we are gathered about his word, as we receive his meal together, as we are baptized in his name, we're in union with him. We're one with him and with one another. We can hold hands with one another, saying we're all together in him.
    It's widely thought that many Jewish groups in older days would all face the direction of Jerusalem when they worshipped together, much like the Muslims do today when they face Mecca when they pray together. But for Jesus there is no one holy place. He is the Holy One, and where people gather in his name, that's a holy place for those people. Because he is there. The community of people gathered about him is the important thing — not the place, not the building where that occurs.
    You may have seen in yesterday's Post Dispatch a front-page article about Sister Antona Ebo. Fifty years ago she was working as a nun at St. Mary's Infirmary for the African Americans in St. Louis, and she was asked to be part of a delegation from St. Louis that would go down to Selma, Alabama to the second march, following the Bloody Sunday march. And she did so. She went with them. She's now 90 years old, and she was telling about that experience in the article. But she also tells in the article about her childhood growing up in Bloomington, Illinois. Her mother died when she was very young, so she was placed in the McLean County Home For Colored Children in Bloomington, along with her brother and her sister, at a very young age. Her family had been raised Baptist, and that was her religion. But she met a boy who was Roman Catholic in this children's home. But he couldn't exercise his Catholicism because they forbade him from going to the Catholic Church. But one day she and he were out and there was a Catholic church open. So they snuck into the Catholic Church themselves, and she listened as this boy told her the Catholic faith and doctrine, including the phrase that she remembered: Jesus is in the bread. She was taken by this and became a Catholic herself, she says because of this theology of the Eucharist. When she was 18 she converted to Catholicism. In the 1950s she became one of the Franciscan sisters of St. Mary. She continues to be active and will be leading a vigil on Tuesday sometime in Ferguson. But what I want to highlight from this very short biography is the life-changing lesson she learned from that boy who was with her: Jesus is in the bread.
    Jesus says in our text that his body is the new temple. We also know that he gives us his body, in the bread of the Eucharist. When we receive him in our communities of faith, we're with him in a new temple. He's with us, and we receive him in the bread. We're all together in him. He is in our midst as we're gathered around his word, and sometimes we highlight that — on Easter and other special Sundays, when we read the word out in the middle of the congregation, to say we're all gathered about him. He is the center. Wood and masonry are nice, but gathered around him is the important thing. Jesus said the temple had become the marketplace. In his body religion is restored. It becomes a gathering of people, gathered about him in thanksgiving, receiving him with joy in the bread, and going forth then to share the word about him and to share him in deeds with other people. Amen.
    Now, may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
    *** Keywords ***
    2015, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, John 2:13-22
  • Feb 1, 2015Leaving False Promises Behind
    Feb 1, 2015
    Leaving False Promises Behind
    Series: (All)
    February 1, 2015. Each of the gospels presents a slightly different aspect of Jesus. In Mark, Jesus speaks and acts with authority and has come to make a difference in the world. Pastor Keith's sermon today is about Jesus' first public appearance in Mark 1, casting out the demon from the man with an unclean spirit, and how his forgiveness also breaks into our lives and lets us have a new start.
    *** Transcript ***
    We hear our text this morning as we begin in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
    We hear of Jesus in one of my favorite towns, Capernaum, in the Holy Land. These days it's a peaceful town. It's on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. The hills rise up above it to the north and to the east and to the west, and it's surrounded by very few trees but lots of nice grassland. You can imagine the hills above it where Jesus did a lot of his preaching, and the lake nearby where the disciples did their fishing. You can see the foundations of the house where Peter's mother-in-law was at, where her house was. You can go to the ruins of the synagogue pictured on our bulletin today, probably where Jesus actually was -- if not on that level, just slightly below it. But you can be in the place and see what he would have seen. In those days it wasn't, though, a very sleepy town. It was a major center in the day of Jesus. It was on the major caravan route between Egypt and the East. It was a governmental center and it was a place of taxation. Matthew likely hung out there collecting his taxes. You can still visit the olive presses there where they would crush the olives for the oil, and end up growing commerce and growing agriculture in the area. And it's not far from Nazareth, and so it's easy to think how Jesus would have left his more remote home in Nazareth, came to the center of activity in Capernaum, and begun his ministry there.
    Today we hear how he made his entry there. He was a visitor, having been actually someone from Nazareth. But he comes to the synagogue in Capernaum on the day of worship. That wasn't necessarily such a big deal itself. Any male is eligible to get up and speak in the synagogue and address the group. But what Jesus said and what Jesus did created a big stir. The speech was not ordinary. He captured the attention of the people. They said he spoke with authority. He wasn't like the other speakers they had. As I understand it, the Jewish tradition for speaking in worship is to build the kind of theological case based on those who have gone before. By quoting one and another respected rabbis from the past, they would build their speeches. But Jesus was different. He spoke on his own, not quoting the others. He knew the past, and often he would speak of the prophets of the past, but he usually took them to show that he was one with them and that their mission was his mission. Their words of promise and judgment were coming true in him.
    I think it's helpful here to know that the Greek word for "authority" -- which the people said he spoke with: authority -- is "exousia," which means "out of one's being." "Exo" is "out of," and "usia" is "who you are," or "what one's being is." So to speak with authority is to come out of oneself from the authority that lies within. I think we all know people who have that kind of authority. It comes from within them, and people respect these people and look up to them because of the quality that comes through that person. It's different than just holding an office or a position and because of your authority that someone else gave you to make some pronouncement. Sometimes that authority comes from within, and that's what Jesus had. We've all known people who have, by their nature, inspired our trust and our respect. When they speak, their wisdom isn't something quoted from the past. It comes from within them. Jesus was special. He didn't just quote, he spoke the truth.
    This was the first time in Mark that we hear Jesus speak in public. He had been baptized, he had been tempted in the wilderness, and he had chosen some disciples who were fishermen. But this is the first public appearance that he makes. It's sometimes said that you can tell how a gospel is going to end, what kind of quality the gospel will have, by the first public thing that Jesus does in the book. And it's kind of a tip-off by the author, by the writer, of what that book is going to be about. In Matthew, Jesus very early on teaches the Sermon on the Mount. And the teachings of Jesus are very important in Matthew. In Luke, Jesus has a very nice sermon in his hometown, but he talks about helping people who are poor. And this makes the townspeople nervous. He says he has this power within him, and they decide they want to go kill him -- which is what happens to him in the end. In John, his first public appearance is changing water into a whole lot of wine, showing the abundant love and care of God. And that theme follows through the book of John. But the main thing Jesus does in this first appearance in Mark is to perform an exorcism. Jesus not only speaks with authority, but he uses his authority to cast demons out of a person. This was very different than a usual Sabbath day speech. This was new power being shown. So early on in Jesus' ministry we see how he comes to the world to make a difference. It won't be like it was before. The old, the evil is being cast out and cast aside, and he brings in the new.
    A few weeks ago we heard of his baptism. We heard mentioned how the heavens were torn or ripped apart. We tore a curtain up here with the kids to show them. So things were being torn apart in a new way. Something new is breaking into the world. The very first words of Mark's gospel are the beginning of the good news. Mark is doing all he can here to let us know that Jesus is breaking into the world in a powerful new way, to make a big difference. Things shouldn't be the same with Jesus in the picture. He comes to get rid of evil and to bring good news instead. He comes to say that we're not bound by the demons that possess us and they may be thrown off.
    Years ago at a confirmation camp in Iowa, Penny and I would sit at the noon hour with other pastors who were there. And one of the pastors had gotten back from doing time as a missionary in Malagasy. He told how on his circuits, when he'd go around to the churches there, new people would show up. At some of the gatherings people would stand up from the group who were possessed with demons, like the man we heard about in our gospel today. And it was no surprise really to have this happen; sometimes more than one. And it reminded us that in the presence of the gospel, it seems like those who are possessed by demons can't stay seated. They have to react to it in some way. They know there's a higher power there. They must either leave or submit to this power. They react to this power of the goodness of Jesus Christ, the good news of Jesus Christ being preached to them. Culturally, we don't have that happen too much here anymore. We don't let that spirit come out and speak in opposition to Jesus. We don't have people doing that this morning and most mornings, thank goodness. But we do know the power of evil and the temptation that comes with it, and how it leads us in a way that counters the way of Jesus. And that's so even though we may not have people standing up and saying they have demons within them, we all have demons within us. We all have the devil within us. We have temptation within us, and we would like to have it exorcised from us. But it doesn't come out automatically just by a word from Jesus. We need to name it. We need to confess it. And then it can be forgiven as we bring it to Jesus and we hear Jesus' words of forgiveness to us.
    Two weeks ago at the Youthquake, the main speaker was Jonathan Swenson. He acted out little plays or vignettes of Bible scenes. One of the stories was about a man who was demon-possessed (it wasn't our particular story today, but a different man who had a multitude of spirits in him) and had them exorcised by Jesus. The main prop that Swenson used in his dramatic presentation was a chain. He had a five or six foot, fairly heavy kind of long chain. And he used it to good effect. His main point to the kids was: what are the things that keep you chained up? What are the things that bind you, as though you had a chain wrapped around you and keep you in yourself? That is, what kind of things do you let possess you and keep you chained up, which are not healthy and would counter the way that God would have you live? We know how many things seem to possess us and keep us chained up. Our diseases, our addictions, our anxieties, our losses, our sorrows, our attractions to other gods that we make up ourselves and we get attracted to them. Both the powers that keep us chained in, and the things we voluntarily allow to possess us, are encountered by Jesus. Some things like the pressures of work, or financial burden, or home life, or caring for another person which maybe seems endless, can feel like they possess us. They get us down. Others of us, we often allow other things to possess us. We find it hard to let go of these chains, the things that we voluntarily seem to be tempted by. They end up having a hold on us that we would like to get rid of. So we're stuck with things that bind us like chains.
    Both powers of Jesus that amazed the people that day in Capernaum continue with him. The more Jesus displays his power of speech and the power of exorcising demons, more peoples raise up the question: what authority does he have to do these things? The first remark that day was, "What authority he has," but the longer he did it, the more they wondered, "Where does this authority come from?" And the more he does it, the worldly authorities get more and more upset with him. Finally, they say he's exceeded his authority. He's claimed too much power for himself and he's blasphemed God by doing this. And so they bind him -- not with a chain, but with other things -- to a piece of wood in the shape of a cross, and think that they had gotten rid of him. They think that they are exorcising him from their presence, just as he had gotten rid of so many evil spirits.
    But once again, the spirit of God broke through from the heavens, made a new start in the world. It raised Jesus from the dead and raised the number of followers of his who heard the good news that Jesus was alive. Just as a tomb could not keep Jesus in, he breaks the chains of those who are possessed by various demons in their lives. He gives a reminder that he loves all, no matter who they are or where they have been. He promises a healthy way of life and a relief from depending upon false hopes in the world. Just as he exorcised demons, he forgives sins. His forgiveness breaks into our lives and lets us have new starts in our lives. He gives powers and abilities to ministries, so that those who are dealing with dependencies and losses or troubles may find those who have the ability to treat those who are living in a troubled world. They find counselors and others, who are able to speak with them so that they're able to leave these things that trap them behind and come to new life. This is the Jesus of Mark breaking into our world, giving us new ways to live. He gives us a sense of health, a sense of worth by his enfolding love. It comes and captures us and releases us from what we've been doing before. We can see what we've been trapped by: our own conceptions about race, or about gender, or about age, or self authority, or ethnicity -- areas where we haven't been fully open. A new age can break in for us. We can lay aside the chains. We can decide what's best for our health, and leave the false promises behind. As Jesus breaks in to make a new world, he breaks in for you and he breaks in for me, so that we might live anew as his disciples in the world. Amen.
    Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
    *** Keywords ***
    2015, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, Mark 1:21-28
  • Jan 11, 2015We Are Baptized
    Jan 11, 2015
    We Are Baptized
    Series: (All)
    January 11, 2015. With baptism, we rely upon what God has done, rather than on what we think we have to do ourselves. Pastor Keith's message today is on the baptism of Jesus and what it means for us.
    *** Transcript ***
    If you do Facebook or Instagram or any of those kind of social media, you're always given the chance to "like" something, something that someone else has posted. Maybe it's what they say, or a situation they describe, or a picture that they put up and share. All these may lead you to "like" what they have done. You, of course, may be led to comment on the post as well. But the easiest way to let a person know that you've seen it and you appreciate it and find the image of what they say appealing is to "like" it.
    In today's gospel, we hear God "like" something. After Jesus is baptized by John, God weighs in on the event and on Jesus. The Spirit comes down like a dove, the voice of God comes down and says, "You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased." God likes this person. God likes this situation. But this is a little more than just a tap on a screen. This is not just to be liked, either. It is to be loved. Jesus is the Beloved. With him God is pleased. To be liked is something we normally all seek ourselves. When we're in grade school we like to be liked by the other kids. We whine when we're lonely and it seems like nobody cares about us, and we say, "Nobody likes me." We're pleased when we're liked by the other children. As adults we don't mind it either. We like to be liked by others. Maybe being popular isn't quite as important to us as it is in high school, when we're an adult. But we still like to be liked by others. When Sally Field won an Oscar a few years ago she said, "You like me! You really like me!" Desire to be liked by others is something that's powerful and deep with us. We want to be received by others.
    At the baptism of Jesus, God testifies to how he loves Jesus, and is pleased with him. That's the grace that we find in our baptisms also. When that word is spoken over us, it is God saying to us, "You are my Beloved. With you I am well pleased." We may be surprised at that. We know that we don't always do what God wants us to do. We don't always say what God wants us to say. We don't always think what God wants us to think. How can it be that God would love us and be pleased with us? Well that's the promise that becomes ours, because Jesus went into the water himself. And because he was baptized just as we are (though he didn't need it for the washing away of his sins) because of what he did for us he said, I want to be human along with these other humans. He said, I am one of you. What will happen to me, Jesus said, will happen to you. Because he dies, we die to sin with him. Because he rises, we have the promise of new life too. God is pleased with us, because when God sees us, his love lets us see Jesus in us.
    Well, if God hadn't wanted it this way God, would not have done it. But God liked us and loved us from the beginning and wants us to be friends with him. And as God liked us and loved us, so that as soon as we were created he made sure that there was a way we would find ourselves pleasing to him. So there's an assurance here that even though we may not always live as God's people, God wants us to be his. And he's provided this way so that we can be his, based on our faith in him. There's an assurance here. Otherwise, we'd worry all the time that it depends on me, and I need to be likable to God. You would worry that we have to have so much faith to make this thing happen. We would feel like we need to rely on our own faith in God. Do we have enough faith to believe, to satisfy God? But at baptism the direction is reversed. Instead of us trying to go up to God, God comes down to us. The Spirit comes to us as the Spirit came to Jesus and works faith in us, so we don't have to rely on our own. God creates the faith. God gives the faith to us. It's a wonderful gift of God.
    Martin Luther said that when he doubted, he would say to himself, "I'm baptized." He wouldn't say so much, "Well, I need to believe" or "I'm a Christian, so I oughta believe." He just said, "I'm baptized," because the strength of his faith was in his baptism. Because he knew God put God's claim on him when he was baptized. With baptism we rely upon what God has done, rather than on what we think we have to do ourselves. Baptism is relying on what God has done for us. We have the assurance therefore, through baptism, that we are the children of God and that we are filled with the Holy Spirit, even when it seems like so many signals are around us saying we're not really. So many signals come to us saying "you're a nobody." Baptism says to us, quoting God, "I am pleased with you."
    When Jesus was baptized, God gave him the verbal assurance that he was indeed God's son. He could always know that the Spirit was with him. And Jesus would need these assurances, as he was tempted, while he was doing his ministry, and when he suffered and died. From his baptism, the next thing he did was go to the wilderness for 40 days where he was tempted. And he was sorely tempted not to follow through with God's Mission, and to take a more comfortable route. His baptism and God's words of assurance gave him the strength of faith to counter the devil and do what he needed to do.
    The first thing Jesus did in his ministry after he called the disciples was to encounter a man possessed by demons. When he exorcised the demons from the man, then some of the people thought Jesus must be of the devil himself, if he did that. And that was just the start of all the naysayers, all the people who were against Jesus in his ministry -- always either out to get him, to dissuade him from doing things, always saying he must not be real, there's some other reasons these things are happening. So he needed the assurance during his ministry that he'd been baptized and endowed by the Spirit so that he indeed could carry on his own ministry. And when Jesus suffered on the cross, he was tempted yet again. By words of the people around him, the devil was tempting him to come down from the cross and prove himself, that he could do miracles. He didn't need to die. But yet even on the cross Jesus reached for the words of God and remembered the assurances that God had given him, going all the way back to his baptism so that he could withstand.
    We may not have such dramatic encounters with those who would like to peel us away from our relationship with Jesus. But the difficulties of our lives can be temptations, to make us wonder. Doubts creep into our minds. Did Jesus really mean that he was the Son of God? Is that really who he was? Is he really connected to me? Could some person who lived back then have some connection to me? All kinds of doubts can come into our minds. Temptations can be there for us not to follow through when we know it's the right thing to do. We may have good intentions, but it gets really hard to do what we intend to do. Do we have enough sacrifice to do that? Maybe it is to help someone or to stand up for someone. We say, "Well, I don't know. Can I really do that?" It's a temptation not to do what we know we ought to do.
    Hard times make us wonder too. Our own forms of death -- illnesses, loneliness, embarrassment -- all kinds of ways that we die little deaths make us wonder if we will live well. Is God there to help me through my hard time? Like Luther, we remember that we are baptized. The assurance is there, just as it was for Jesus. God says, you are my child, with whom I am well pleased. With the water of baptism, the Spirit has come down upon you. You have me with you in your doubt, in your temptations, and in your hard times. Trust me, God says. I've come down. I will stay with you. And it is the Spirit with a capital 's' that comes to us in baptism as it did to Jesus. Just as the Spirit was sweeping over the waters at creation, as our first lesson talked about today, the Spirit comes through the water of baptism for us. It comes to give us new life. The Spirit came with such power at the baptism of Jesus that it was like tearing the heavens open, we mentioned. It was a new creation. New things were beginning. It was the beginning of a new world with Jesus in it. So it is a new life that comes to us at baptism. We are a new creation. It's our second birth. We are revived from the sin we are born into, and given a new life with God.
    With that new life, we create a new world around us, just as Jesus did. You live a new way, not captive to the standards and goals the world puts up around us, but responding to the kind of life that Jesus taught us that we should have. It's the life where we're ready to forgive. We're ready to help another person. We're ready to put ambition aside for the sake of being of service. We live the new life of Jesus as we are empowered and given this new life by the spirit of God.
    So, we are liked and loved by God. We are assured by God. We are revived by God's spirit to live a new life. All of this comes through our baptism. It is a wonderful gift. A great thing happened on the day we were baptized. We began anew with God. We were given a pattern to go by, to live out this sometimes difficult way of life. But with the Spirit we are able to do it, knowing that we are ones who are liked by God. Amen.
    And now may the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
    *** Keywords ***
    2015, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, Genesis 1:1-5, Mark 1:4-11
  • Apr 6, 2014Lessons From Lazarus
    Apr 6, 2014
    Lessons From Lazarus
    Series: (All)
    April 6, 2014. Pastor Keith preaches on the lessons of faith we can learn from the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.
    *** Transcript ***
    Near the very end of his gospel, the writer John says, "Now these things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name." And this story about Jesus and Lazarus, and the other people involved, is a story that tells us what this believing for the sake of having life is like. It shows us what some of the dimensions of this faith are like, and what life with faith can look like. As we think of different characters we've heard about in this story we have read, we've seen faith at work in at least five different ways.
    For one thing, we hear Mary and Martha react to Jesus when he finally gets to them. We hear how faith has a basic trust, but how it leaves room to grow. Their faith grew from where they were before Jesus came that time. When both Martha and Mary approached Jesus, each one demonstrated that Jesus had the ability to heal Lazarus. They said, "If you'd been here Lord, you could have healed him. He would not have died." So they had this basic belief that Jesus was good and Jesus had this power to heal someone. It was a good faith, and likely more faith than most of the people around them had — who were still very doubtful about Jesus, and sometimes against Jesus. Yet we know that all along, there was even more in store for them to know about, and more for them to grow in faith. Jesus had more in mind than to simply heal Lazarus from an illness. Jesus had something more he was going to use. He had an intention for this time. So Jesus timed his arrival especially late, so that their faith could be stretched. Not only would Jesus heal Lazarus, he would bring him back to life from death. Jesus gives the sign here that he's about more than just sustaining physical life. He's about having life itself. Jesus structured his visit so that this would be apparent. He intentionally waited those extra days after the call for help came to him, so that Lazarus would be thoroughly dead, so there could be no thought that he just kind of passed out for a while and was coming back to life. He was officially dead after four days. Jesus wanted the faith in Mary and Martha to grow. They had that basic belief that he could heal. Jesus shows their faith has room to grow. It can grow to believe that Jesus brings life from death.
    There's a good reminder for us in this lesson. How often does God do more for us than we even expected God would do? There are those times when we'd be happy if this or that came out of a certain situation, but maybe even more goodness comes out of it than we thought would come from it. Maybe there's not just a healed body, but a healed relationship that comes out of some medical thing. Maybe we believe in such a way that we'll be happy if only one good thing comes out of it, and many more good things come out of it. Or faith is shown that we believe so much, but even more God is capable to give to us. Faith has room to grow.
    A second lesson about faith from this story is that faith tolerates what it cannot understand. That is, faith has a growing edge that sometimes is kind of difficult. Just as growth in many things happens only with growing pains, so growth in faith comes with a measure of difficulty. Faith understands this, and faith accepts difficult times as times to grow. In this story both Martha and Mary blame Jesus. Their anger shows. While they're glad to see Jesus, because their faith had expectations of Jesus they were upset that he didn't come sooner. "If you had been here, Lazarus would not have died." The disciples also questioned Jesus. They tried to dissuade him from going near Bethany, which is in Judea where Lazarus lived, because they feared that Jesus would be stoned by the Jews were out to get him, if not they themselves. Their faith had a growing edge here also. For all of them, their faith came to a new and deeper place, but they had to go through a painful time to get there. This wasn't easy for any of them. They all had to go through an experience they would have preferred to avoid. Disciples would have preferred to stay where they were and not go to Judea. Mary and Martha would have preferred for Jesus to come early so that he could heal Lazarus while he was still alive. But they all came to a deeper faith, which received an even greater gift than they first imagined. But it came with difficulty.
    How often doesn't it happen for us — that the way for our faith to grow could not have come by an easier path and we think we'd prefer an easier way, but maybe there's something difficult we need to go through and that grows our faith? Maybe there's an illness we would have happily gone without. Maybe there's some circumstance in life, maybe related to our work or our career or our relationship. Maybe there was a really hard way for us, involving a loss of something or someone. Yet it started and worked with our faith, and our faith was able to have a growing edge, and we came to an even deeper relationship with God than we were before, and a deeper appreciation of the life that God gives.
    A third thing we see about faith in this story is that it cares with feeling. Faith is not something of just one dimension. It's not just something we do with our mind and say we believe. Faith, by its nature, involves other parts of life. Faith cares for others. Along the lines that James says, "Faith without works is dead," we could say that faith involves love. While love is apparent on many levels of this story — there are great relationships between Jesus and Mary and Martha and Lazarus and the disciples — it involves one of the deepest signs of emotions that we hear in any of the gospels. It says, in fact, that Lazarus was one who was loved by Jesus. It says that Jesus weeps on the way to the tomb. We're not exactly sure if he was weeping because of the loss of Lazarus, or because he was weeping in sympathy with all the others who were so sad about the death of Lazarus. But either way, Jesus has lots of empathy here. Jesus, even in his faith, has love for others. We know that Jesus does weep here. And at that time, Jesus shows his faith by speaking to the Father. And he says, "Father I do this. I pray to you now that I will be raising Lazarus," he's saying. "And I do this as a way to show them that I have this faith in you." The faith of Jesus even involves a love that cares deeply. It brings out his full emotions and his deepest love. Faith is like that. Our faith is showing when we care about others, whether family or friends or of others who suffer hardship or discrimination, or Christians who are being persecuted, or others in the world having a hard time. Our faith brings us to feel for them and to care for them, so that we do what we can to ease their situation.
    The fourth lesson about faith in this story is that faith believes unto death. In the early part of the story when Jesus is with his disciples, he comes to this decision to go to Judea. And at first they don't understand. But he says it's for Lazarus' sake, and Lazarus has died. And then Thomas says we too must go, that we may die with him. They'd just been talking about how dangerous it was and how lethal it could be to go there, yet Thomas voices his faith that's ready to go. He has a faith that's ready to die with and for Jesus. This is the same Thomas who, after the resurrection, had a hard time believing it. But his basic faith grows to accept this new reality of Jesus, that Jesus is the resurrected Lord. This Thomas goes through a hard time with the other disciples as the Jewish council, based on what Jesus does with Lazarus, decides Jesus is too dangerous — and they actively start to kill Jesus then, to go after him, to arrest him. Thomas knows about that, and Thomas has a love and a heart that's deep. And as he comes through this very painful time, and is helped along by Jesus, he finally says after the resurrection with a faith deeper than before, "My Lord and my God." From then on and once again, he puts his life on the line. Thomas is able to say: my faith leaves me even to be willing to die. As tradition has it, he went to India for the sake of Jesus and died a martyr's death. Thomas, like his Lord, has a faith unto death and lives it out to the end.
    The faith commitment we make with Jesus is deep. We follow the one who believed the mission all the way to the cross, and we follow him. We need a strong community to do this, other people with us to do this. And we need the marks that we make by baptism and by membership in a community, marks which set us apart and say: I'm with this group and I'm with the Lord too. I also myself say, "My Lord and my God," each one of us says. And we follow where our Lord leads us, no matter how difficult the path may be.
    There's at least one more lesson about faith in this story. It's a joyful end, but there's something undone. We just kind of talked about it with the children here. Lazarus was out of the tomb. He's alive, but he's not free to go. He's all bound up. And so Jesus has to say, "Unbind him and let him go." He can't unbind himself. His hands are all tied up. He needs help to do this. Being people of faith means we are the ones who do the unbinding where God has set people in the world free. God has freed the world. God has given new life. Sometimes people are still bound up where they are and don't know the freedom, and don't know the life that God wants them to have. God's faithful ones are the ones who do the freeing of others. God's faithful ones have seen what God is up to, and have a word to share with others so that they can see what God has done for them. And as Jesus did so often, and touched people's eyes so that they could see, and then he would send them on their way with new life, God's faithful ones today are the unbinders. We are people who are unbound ourselves, and so we help others become unbound from the fetters of their lives. We can help people's eyes become open so that they can see another way to live, what God has in mind for them.
    So there are at least five ways here we can learn about faith in this story. First of all that faith, even though it has a basic trust, still has room to grow. Secondly a faith has growing edges, sometimes difficult, as it gets deeper. We know thirdly that faith cares with feeling and love. We know fourthly that faith believes unto death. And fifthly, faith acts as it responds to the command of Jesus: to unbind those who have been given new life and set free, and to help them in that process. May we all let the means that God gives us — through his word, through baptisms, through communion, and through the good word of one another — find faith that is nourished and that grows in these ways. Amen.
    And now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
    *** Keywords ***
    2014, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Keith Holste, John 11:1-45, James 2:17