Oct 28, 2018
Saved By Grace Through Faith
Series: (All)
October 28, 2018. Pastor Stephanie considers different ways to relate the story of Bartimaeus to the Reformation, in her sermon today.
 
*** Transcript ***
 
So as we've said, it's Reformation Sunday. And that should mean something, shouldn't it? I know those of you who were here last year commemorated this in nearly every conceivable way, according to the reports I got, as the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses on the door at Wittenberg Castle was observed. My husband Phil and I joined in with several friends at the worship service that was held in the Basilica as part of that commemoration. So, even though we're operating on a little smaller scale this year in 501, it seems that we should be remembering what prompted the Reformation in the first place.
 
The appointed gospel reading is of course the story of Bartimaeus receiving his sight. I guess we might look at this interesting story of the blind man, Bartimaeus, who calls out to Jesus, for some way to see how that might be attached to Reformation Sunday. Just like when we read any gospel story, we can get hooked on one aspect or another and wonder what it is about that aspect that calls to us. This is a short reading, and yet I saw several things that might be good food for thought.
 
We could look at the name "Bartimaeus," for example. You know that "bar" in Hebrew means son, and "mitzvah" means commandment. So if you're invited to someone's bar mitzvah, that means it's about son of commandment and bat mitzvah means daughter of commandment. So Bartimaeus the son of Timaeus is spelled out in that way. Here's where it gets interesting: "Timaeus" can be interpreted in a couple of different ways. In Aramaic, one of the languages in the New Testament, it means defilement or dishonor. The listeners who heard this story originally would have also realized that in Greek the word means honor. So Bartimaeus could then mean son of honor. This guy is simultaneously a son of honor and a son of dishonor. Isn't that the story of all humankind, really though, the state in which each one of us find ourselves some parts worthy of honor, some parts not so much? When we are honest with ourselves, it's the mixture that we all have within ourselves. But that's not the primary theme of the sermon.
 
We could look more carefully at the response of the crowd, including the disciples, to the cries of this blind man. There was not much compassion given. They tell him to be quiet. If you've been on this journey with us through the Gospel of Mark, you've already seen plenty of instances where the disciples are just not getting it. They don't know what Jesus is about yet. So they've been telling people not to bring children up to Jesus, and now they want to keep a blind man away from Jesus. Well, we've had enough on this topic too, so that's not the theme of the sermon either.
 
Here's another aspect we could consider. Maybe we could consider the part about Bartimaeus throwing off his cloak. He springs up and he goes to Jesus, leaving his cloak behind. Now, that detail must be there for a reason. What does this cloak signify? Could it be that he is leaving behind the only security as a beggar that he has known? He's probably spread out his cloak in front of him at the roadside, receiving gifts and alms that people have dropped on his cloak over and over again. So is this his act of faith that he isn't going to need his cloak anymore, since he's so sure Jesus will help him? Interesting to consider, but still not the main subject of this sermon.
 
Because as I've said, this is Reformation Sunday, and I hope you take away from this service another point. It's something that transformed the way Martin Luther viewed his relationship with God and wanted everyone to focus on, more than the outward rituals of religion. And that is that it's God's desire to lavish grace and mercy on us, not because we deserve it, but because God is love and wants so deeply to have a vibrant relationship with us through faith.
 
Our faith is predicated on God's love for us while we were yet sinners, as we said in the prayer of confession today. Christ died for us before we had a clue that we needed someone to demonstrate love for us in such a self-giving, redemptive way. Before we ever became aware of our need for forgiveness and restoration, salvation even, God was reaching out to us to bring us to a place of recognition and receptivity in order to gain this glorious gift of salvation. As Ephesians 2 says, we were dead in our trespasses. But God, who is rich in mercy (one of my favorite phrases in there) did not leave us there but instead made us together alive in Christ.
 
So because this Sunday reminds us of the pillars of our theology, I'd like to take you through a little theological reflection on the gospel reading. This section in Mark 10 is an excellent illustration of the belief that we are saved by grace through faith. The blind man Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, who may or may not have been honorable, doesn't really matter to this story because God loves all people. Anyway, Bartimaeus is sitting by the roadside near Jericho. He's heard of the reputation of Jesus as a compassionate healer. But the story doesn't really start with Bartimaeus, just as our own stories don't really start with us. God is the first mover. That's a concept familiar to those of you who love philosophy and theology. It means that everything starts with the nature and character of God. Your story, my story, Bartimaeus' story, all start with God.
 
How do we see this in Mark 10? Well as reports of Jesus circulated, especially of his ability to give life to a little girl who had died, to heal the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years, to heal lame people and to calm storms (to recapitulate a little bit of where we've been in the Gospel of Mark) Bartimaeus wants to experience this Jesus for himself. Yes, he was motivated by wanting to receive his sight again, but also even the fact that Bartimaeus can recognize who Jesus is tells us something of God's initial action in Bartimaeus' life. When he was told that Jesus from Nazareth was passing by, it is said, he cried out. They called him Jesus of Nazareth. What does he cry out when he calls him? "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me." Voices in the crowd knew Jesus as being from Nazareth. Bartimaeus recognizes that there's more to Jesus than just being identified as from this town or that town.
 
Now, that means something to people in St. Louis, as you know. To know that someone came from Chesterfield, or Hazelwood, or Affton is a source of conversation. But identifying Jesus from where he'd come from didn't mean anything to Bartimaeus. He calls out to Jesus, identifying him as "son of David." That's a recognition of Jesus being the promised one that he and his people, the people he knew, were longing for, for the one who was going to set everything right arising from the line of David. This too is a gift from God: that Bartimaeus, in his physical blindness, would have insight into the uniqueness of Jesus. So, God moves first in this story, acting in ways of pure grace, giving Bartimaeus even the smallest kernel of faith. Spiritual insight, if not physical sight, to start with.
 
I wonder, do you ever stop to think about what you know about God, even if it doesn't seem that much to you, that even any of it is there because God has already done something in your life to draw you nearer to God? It's there because God has prepared a way for you and me to know and to experience more fully.
 
Well next, we see Bartimaeus calling out to Jesus for mercy. In faith, Bartimaeus calls on Jesus to provide for him what he most desires. He is, at this point, utterly relying on the mercy of God, and not on anything that he can offer by way of earning God's favor. People who like to check out all the ways that Greek or Aramaic words are used in the New Testament provide a lot of help to people like me, who like to know but lack the patience to spend hours poring over comparing where this verb shows up and that verb shows up. Of course, it's much easier now with computers. But it used to be that people had to look and notice and write it down and then compare, so I'm thankful for lots of helps in this regard too, because I think these words are very important. I also appreciate learning from the people in our Tuesday text study, including Pastor Roger, who are really up on these things. They can always shed some light on the significance of the various words that are actually used. In this case, it is noteworthy that the verb used for Bartimaeus calling to Jesus is a strong, strong word telling us that Bartimaeus is begging for mercy. He is crying out. He is intensely calling to Jesus. He's putting all of his hopes on what Jesus can do for him, because he has the faith that Jesus can and will do something for him.
 
"Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me." And, Jesus does show him mercy. He restores Bartimaeus' sight. How he restores Bartimaeus' sight we are not told in this story. All we have is Jesus saying, "Your faith has made you well." Or whole. The word is "sozo." This is one Greek word I really know. And it's an important one because it's the word for salvation. It means salvation, wellness, wholeness, peace, shalom, any manner of well-being, of wholeness. And then we are told that Bartimaeus regained his sight and followed Jesus on his way. I think that's an important addendum. It's an illustration of what Reformation leaders call salvation by grace through faith -- God's grace, prompting us to see and to receive grace through eyes of faith also given to us by God. It all comes from, and all cycles back to, God's goodness and mercy for God's glory. So, you may wonder, what's our part in this? I guess it could be summed up in one thought: we get to respond to God's grace.
 
For one thing, we celebrate and praise God for the salvation that has come to us as God's gracious gift in Jesus Christ. We do this each week in worshipping together, and throughout the week as we reflect on the goodness that God has given to us.
 
Sometimes when we think about these big, sweeping, theological concepts of salvation coming to us by grace through faith, we can forget that this is an ongoing thing. Bartimaeus didn't just thank God and then go back to his old life. Even though he could now see and didn't have to be a beggar, he probably had other relationships, other things he might have done with his time. But he became a follower of Jesus regardless of how those other connections were kept up. Some of what is troubling in the larger church today, and I don't mean here but I mean in the larger scope of the church, is that people can talk so much about salvation as a commodity as though "Will I have my salvation?" And then, "Now that's all I need. And so we can go on our merry ways" If that's their belief. But there seems to be no sense of continuing into the path and recognizing that there's always more. There's always more mercy. There's always more grace. There's always more that we will see and experience with Christ, as we continue to follow him. And God's set up that way because God likes being in relationship with us. So as we follow we are continually in the process of realizing more and more of what God is willing and able to do, in and through and for us.
 
Like Bartimaeus, we have lots of occasions in which we want to call out for mercy in our own lives and for the lives of others. And like Bartimaeus, we are exercising the gift of faith that God gives us as we do. At least one part of exercising faith through prayer is asking for help, or grace, from the holy one in faith. It is calling to the one who is more willing to respond than we can ever imagine, and more capable of response than we dared to hope.
 
The prayer of faith we get from Bartimaeus has been simply called the Jesus Prayer. It is practiced by people around the world. It originates in the pleas for mercy in the psalms, and also throughout the ministry of Jesus by those who called on him in various ways, including this call or cry from Bartimaeus. It simply goes like this -- and you cannot forget it, once you've got in your head -- Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me (or on us, as the occasion warrants). You can pray it as a meditation as you breathe in and breathe out. Some people find that a very helpful practice, as do I, to breathe in the words "Jesus Christ," breathe out "Son of God," breathe in "Have mercy on us." I find this especially valuable when I don't have any other words because feelings can be so intense.
 
When you have a personal need or concern for another that is so great, or circumstances that seem so overpowering, you can simply express your faith in the one who gives grace. It's the kind of prayer I find myself repeating when news such as we received yesterday showed up in news sources of every kind -- that a shooter had entered a synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing and injuring many Jewish worshippers. At times like this our words seem so inadequate. It is difficult to give voice to the anger, sadness, lament, anguish, and sorrow that we feel for the people most directly impacted, as well as for ourselves and our surroundings, our corporate sense of security, our trust, that some places at least are havens from violence and strife, gets shaken to the core. Whether these prayers for mercy are for these intense needs for healing and comfort for others, or of mercy for ourselves and our failures and our remorse, God hears these requests for mercy. Those who know of their need for mercy and of whom they need to ask it, do find mercy, and wholeness and peace.
 
This is faith. It is the faith which knows that grace and mercy are the gifts of God. It is faith that experiences grace as the gift of utmost importance and returns thanks to the giver of all good gifts. In the words of the Apostle Paul, which so moved Martin Luther to take his stand, it is by grace that we are saved through faith. This is not our own doing. It is the gift of God, not the results of works, so that no one may boast.
 
We have received mercy through what Christ has done for us, friends. Now we can live in continual relationship with God, who is always rich in mercy toward us. God does have mercy on us. Thanks be to God.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot
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  • Oct 28, 2018Saved By Grace Through Faith
    Oct 28, 2018
    Saved By Grace Through Faith
    Series: (All)
    October 28, 2018. Pastor Stephanie considers different ways to relate the story of Bartimaeus to the Reformation, in her sermon today.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    So as we've said, it's Reformation Sunday. And that should mean something, shouldn't it? I know those of you who were here last year commemorated this in nearly every conceivable way, according to the reports I got, as the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses on the door at Wittenberg Castle was observed. My husband Phil and I joined in with several friends at the worship service that was held in the Basilica as part of that commemoration. So, even though we're operating on a little smaller scale this year in 501, it seems that we should be remembering what prompted the Reformation in the first place.
     
    The appointed gospel reading is of course the story of Bartimaeus receiving his sight. I guess we might look at this interesting story of the blind man, Bartimaeus, who calls out to Jesus, for some way to see how that might be attached to Reformation Sunday. Just like when we read any gospel story, we can get hooked on one aspect or another and wonder what it is about that aspect that calls to us. This is a short reading, and yet I saw several things that might be good food for thought.
     
    We could look at the name "Bartimaeus," for example. You know that "bar" in Hebrew means son, and "mitzvah" means commandment. So if you're invited to someone's bar mitzvah, that means it's about son of commandment and bat mitzvah means daughter of commandment. So Bartimaeus the son of Timaeus is spelled out in that way. Here's where it gets interesting: "Timaeus" can be interpreted in a couple of different ways. In Aramaic, one of the languages in the New Testament, it means defilement or dishonor. The listeners who heard this story originally would have also realized that in Greek the word means honor. So Bartimaeus could then mean son of honor. This guy is simultaneously a son of honor and a son of dishonor. Isn't that the story of all humankind, really though, the state in which each one of us find ourselves some parts worthy of honor, some parts not so much? When we are honest with ourselves, it's the mixture that we all have within ourselves. But that's not the primary theme of the sermon.
     
    We could look more carefully at the response of the crowd, including the disciples, to the cries of this blind man. There was not much compassion given. They tell him to be quiet. If you've been on this journey with us through the Gospel of Mark, you've already seen plenty of instances where the disciples are just not getting it. They don't know what Jesus is about yet. So they've been telling people not to bring children up to Jesus, and now they want to keep a blind man away from Jesus. Well, we've had enough on this topic too, so that's not the theme of the sermon either.
     
    Here's another aspect we could consider. Maybe we could consider the part about Bartimaeus throwing off his cloak. He springs up and he goes to Jesus, leaving his cloak behind. Now, that detail must be there for a reason. What does this cloak signify? Could it be that he is leaving behind the only security as a beggar that he has known? He's probably spread out his cloak in front of him at the roadside, receiving gifts and alms that people have dropped on his cloak over and over again. So is this his act of faith that he isn't going to need his cloak anymore, since he's so sure Jesus will help him? Interesting to consider, but still not the main subject of this sermon.
     
    Because as I've said, this is Reformation Sunday, and I hope you take away from this service another point. It's something that transformed the way Martin Luther viewed his relationship with God and wanted everyone to focus on, more than the outward rituals of religion. And that is that it's God's desire to lavish grace and mercy on us, not because we deserve it, but because God is love and wants so deeply to have a vibrant relationship with us through faith.
     
    Our faith is predicated on God's love for us while we were yet sinners, as we said in the prayer of confession today. Christ died for us before we had a clue that we needed someone to demonstrate love for us in such a self-giving, redemptive way. Before we ever became aware of our need for forgiveness and restoration, salvation even, God was reaching out to us to bring us to a place of recognition and receptivity in order to gain this glorious gift of salvation. As Ephesians 2 says, we were dead in our trespasses. But God, who is rich in mercy (one of my favorite phrases in there) did not leave us there but instead made us together alive in Christ.
     
    So because this Sunday reminds us of the pillars of our theology, I'd like to take you through a little theological reflection on the gospel reading. This section in Mark 10 is an excellent illustration of the belief that we are saved by grace through faith. The blind man Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, who may or may not have been honorable, doesn't really matter to this story because God loves all people. Anyway, Bartimaeus is sitting by the roadside near Jericho. He's heard of the reputation of Jesus as a compassionate healer. But the story doesn't really start with Bartimaeus, just as our own stories don't really start with us. God is the first mover. That's a concept familiar to those of you who love philosophy and theology. It means that everything starts with the nature and character of God. Your story, my story, Bartimaeus' story, all start with God.
     
    How do we see this in Mark 10? Well as reports of Jesus circulated, especially of his ability to give life to a little girl who had died, to heal the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years, to heal lame people and to calm storms (to recapitulate a little bit of where we've been in the Gospel of Mark) Bartimaeus wants to experience this Jesus for himself. Yes, he was motivated by wanting to receive his sight again, but also even the fact that Bartimaeus can recognize who Jesus is tells us something of God's initial action in Bartimaeus' life. When he was told that Jesus from Nazareth was passing by, it is said, he cried out. They called him Jesus of Nazareth. What does he cry out when he calls him? "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me." Voices in the crowd knew Jesus as being from Nazareth. Bartimaeus recognizes that there's more to Jesus than just being identified as from this town or that town.
     
    Now, that means something to people in St. Louis, as you know. To know that someone came from Chesterfield, or Hazelwood, or Affton is a source of conversation. But identifying Jesus from where he'd come from didn't mean anything to Bartimaeus. He calls out to Jesus, identifying him as "son of David." That's a recognition of Jesus being the promised one that he and his people, the people he knew, were longing for, for the one who was going to set everything right arising from the line of David. This too is a gift from God: that Bartimaeus, in his physical blindness, would have insight into the uniqueness of Jesus. So, God moves first in this story, acting in ways of pure grace, giving Bartimaeus even the smallest kernel of faith. Spiritual insight, if not physical sight, to start with.
     
    I wonder, do you ever stop to think about what you know about God, even if it doesn't seem that much to you, that even any of it is there because God has already done something in your life to draw you nearer to God? It's there because God has prepared a way for you and me to know and to experience more fully.
     
    Well next, we see Bartimaeus calling out to Jesus for mercy. In faith, Bartimaeus calls on Jesus to provide for him what he most desires. He is, at this point, utterly relying on the mercy of God, and not on anything that he can offer by way of earning God's favor. People who like to check out all the ways that Greek or Aramaic words are used in the New Testament provide a lot of help to people like me, who like to know but lack the patience to spend hours poring over comparing where this verb shows up and that verb shows up. Of course, it's much easier now with computers. But it used to be that people had to look and notice and write it down and then compare, so I'm thankful for lots of helps in this regard too, because I think these words are very important. I also appreciate learning from the people in our Tuesday text study, including Pastor Roger, who are really up on these things. They can always shed some light on the significance of the various words that are actually used. In this case, it is noteworthy that the verb used for Bartimaeus calling to Jesus is a strong, strong word telling us that Bartimaeus is begging for mercy. He is crying out. He is intensely calling to Jesus. He's putting all of his hopes on what Jesus can do for him, because he has the faith that Jesus can and will do something for him.
     
    "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me." And, Jesus does show him mercy. He restores Bartimaeus' sight. How he restores Bartimaeus' sight we are not told in this story. All we have is Jesus saying, "Your faith has made you well." Or whole. The word is "sozo." This is one Greek word I really know. And it's an important one because it's the word for salvation. It means salvation, wellness, wholeness, peace, shalom, any manner of well-being, of wholeness. And then we are told that Bartimaeus regained his sight and followed Jesus on his way. I think that's an important addendum. It's an illustration of what Reformation leaders call salvation by grace through faith -- God's grace, prompting us to see and to receive grace through eyes of faith also given to us by God. It all comes from, and all cycles back to, God's goodness and mercy for God's glory. So, you may wonder, what's our part in this? I guess it could be summed up in one thought: we get to respond to God's grace.
     
    For one thing, we celebrate and praise God for the salvation that has come to us as God's gracious gift in Jesus Christ. We do this each week in worshipping together, and throughout the week as we reflect on the goodness that God has given to us.
     
    Sometimes when we think about these big, sweeping, theological concepts of salvation coming to us by grace through faith, we can forget that this is an ongoing thing. Bartimaeus didn't just thank God and then go back to his old life. Even though he could now see and didn't have to be a beggar, he probably had other relationships, other things he might have done with his time. But he became a follower of Jesus regardless of how those other connections were kept up. Some of what is troubling in the larger church today, and I don't mean here but I mean in the larger scope of the church, is that people can talk so much about salvation as a commodity as though "Will I have my salvation?" And then, "Now that's all I need. And so we can go on our merry ways" If that's their belief. But there seems to be no sense of continuing into the path and recognizing that there's always more. There's always more mercy. There's always more grace. There's always more that we will see and experience with Christ, as we continue to follow him. And God's set up that way because God likes being in relationship with us. So as we follow we are continually in the process of realizing more and more of what God is willing and able to do, in and through and for us.
     
    Like Bartimaeus, we have lots of occasions in which we want to call out for mercy in our own lives and for the lives of others. And like Bartimaeus, we are exercising the gift of faith that God gives us as we do. At least one part of exercising faith through prayer is asking for help, or grace, from the holy one in faith. It is calling to the one who is more willing to respond than we can ever imagine, and more capable of response than we dared to hope.
     
    The prayer of faith we get from Bartimaeus has been simply called the Jesus Prayer. It is practiced by people around the world. It originates in the pleas for mercy in the psalms, and also throughout the ministry of Jesus by those who called on him in various ways, including this call or cry from Bartimaeus. It simply goes like this -- and you cannot forget it, once you've got in your head -- Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me (or on us, as the occasion warrants). You can pray it as a meditation as you breathe in and breathe out. Some people find that a very helpful practice, as do I, to breathe in the words "Jesus Christ," breathe out "Son of God," breathe in "Have mercy on us." I find this especially valuable when I don't have any other words because feelings can be so intense.
     
    When you have a personal need or concern for another that is so great, or circumstances that seem so overpowering, you can simply express your faith in the one who gives grace. It's the kind of prayer I find myself repeating when news such as we received yesterday showed up in news sources of every kind -- that a shooter had entered a synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing and injuring many Jewish worshippers. At times like this our words seem so inadequate. It is difficult to give voice to the anger, sadness, lament, anguish, and sorrow that we feel for the people most directly impacted, as well as for ourselves and our surroundings, our corporate sense of security, our trust, that some places at least are havens from violence and strife, gets shaken to the core. Whether these prayers for mercy are for these intense needs for healing and comfort for others, or of mercy for ourselves and our failures and our remorse, God hears these requests for mercy. Those who know of their need for mercy and of whom they need to ask it, do find mercy, and wholeness and peace.
     
    This is faith. It is the faith which knows that grace and mercy are the gifts of God. It is faith that experiences grace as the gift of utmost importance and returns thanks to the giver of all good gifts. In the words of the Apostle Paul, which so moved Martin Luther to take his stand, it is by grace that we are saved through faith. This is not our own doing. It is the gift of God, not the results of works, so that no one may boast.
     
    We have received mercy through what Christ has done for us, friends. Now we can live in continual relationship with God, who is always rich in mercy toward us. God does have mercy on us. Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot
  • Oct 21, 2018The Path to True Greatness
    Oct 21, 2018
    The Path to True Greatness
    Series: (All)
    October 21, 2018. Pastor Stephanie talks about her recent trip to Georgia, and reminds us that the path to true greatness is not having the places of honor, but rather living lives of service in gratitude to God. And that we are also invited to take that path.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I'm really, really happy to be back with you this morning after a rather busy week of travel. It was certainly eventful, and I'd love to tell you more about it as time goes on. In fact, I could pretty much guarantee you'll be hearing some illustrations and examples of some of the experiences that we had, over time.
     
    I don't expect you to know all the details of the arrangements that were made when I accepted your council's invitation to serve as your resident interim pastor, but there were already several items on my calendar for my previous church calling. And the last one was checked off this week. You provided me the time off to do this, but the finances were paid by Christ's Church in St. Peter's for Phil and me to use our remaining continuing education monies from our time at that church. You see, several months ago we became aware of a retreat that was only going to be held this past week. And so we applied those monies toward that, as we had planned to do a deep dive into some civil rights sites and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. Along with 28 others, we participated in a retreat process that took place from Sunday through Wednesday. It was a very, very moving experience.
     
    So naturally, we were exposed to many of the writings and speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The very last sermon he delivered at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia on February 4th, 1968 -- two months before he was killed in Memphis, I noticed -- was on the same gospel passage we have today. And the message as he entitled it was "The Drum Major Instinct." In it, he described the desire that each of us has to be significant, which often means we want to stand out. We want to be in front. We want to be noticed and recognized for our achievements. You know, like the drum major of your high school band or college marching band. Apologies to any one of you who might have been a drum major or majorette, because I'm not putting them down. Just saying that that is a role in which a person stands out. That person has a responsible position and gets noticed by all. But we all have a natural instinct to want to be a standout. What child does not have a big dream of being someone special? A tremendously talented singer perhaps, or a world-class athlete, or maybe a leader throughout the country or world who is going to make peace and harmony for people. Even as we grow older, we realize that we probably aren't going to be quite as outstanding as our youthful ambitions would have told us. But we still want to see ourselves as being great at something or another.
     
    That is the drum major instinct. And that is how Dr. Martin Luther King depicted this very gospel reading we have before us today. Jesus' disciples James and John, the sons of Zebedee, had some pretty strong drum major instincts too. At least one brother didn't try in this place to outdo the other. That undoubtedly, in my experience, probably showed up somewhere else in their lives. After all, I have four siblings myself. I helped to raise three sons and usually there's some jockeying for position among siblings as to which one will be a little bit ahead of another. Perhaps you don't know anything about that, but many of us do. But here, James and John approached Jesus for a favor. They each want to be in positions of honor next to Jesus -- one on each side, equal really -- but each side of Jesus when he is glorified.
     
    Now, the desire to be great isn't really bad in and of itself. We just don't always know what it means to be great until we spend some time, a lot of it in fact, in the school of Jesus' teaching. Notice how Jesus does not chastise them for their request. Instead, he merely tells them that they don't know what they're asking for. They think, since they put in all this time of walking down the dusty roads and interacting with people with all kinds of needs, that they're now ready for positions of authority. But Jesus redirects the entire conversation. "No," he tells them, and the rest of the disciples who are now indignant that they've heard what James and John have requested. Perhaps they wish they had asked first so they might be considered for these places of honor. But Jesus is really saying let's have a little lesson here on what it means to be great. I'll quote again from the gospel. "You know that among the Gentiles, those whom they recognized as their rulers Lord it over them and their great ones are tyrants. But it is not so among you. But whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all."
     
    If this sounds like a radical reorientation, imagine what it sounded like to James and John and the other disciples. They have already identified Jesus as the Messiah. They know he has power and authority like no one they have ever experienced. This talk of being a servant makes absolutely no sense to them. Think about it. It's about as counterintuitive as we experience when we've been playing basketball, if you will, and we know we're doing great because we're racking up lots of points with our superior shots that we are making. And then suddenly we find out that this game of life that we're supposed to be playing is more like another game. It's more like golf, where the object is to get the lowest score possible. Or, it's probably more like playing card games with people who decide to switch games halfway through the evening, from one where you needed to accumulate points to win, to another game where you'd better try ways to give away your high value cards, because now you're going for the lowest score. It is a little disconcerting at first. You can imagine the disciples' thoughts. "What, Jesus? How can this be greatest? Being the lowest, the servant, the slave? That's not winning." And you don't have any leverage in order to do something really great from bottom up.
     
    Last week's gospel reading included a scene with Jesus looking with sadness at the rich young ruler who thought he was playing the game well, according to God's values. (And he was, as far as keeping the commandments went.) He was doing well in terms of society's values too, accumulating wealth and possessions and security for himself. But when Jesus told him that the object was to offload all of that stuff so he could gain what was really important, he just could not adjust to that way of thinking. At least at that point in his life, we are told he walked away.
     
    Well, we have heard more than we can bear these past few years about Making America Great Again. I have heard the laments of so many of you as you reflect on that rhetoric and the ramifications of it, and I share those with you. That phrase and ideology is anything but great for the least, the oppressed, the less abled, the poor, the refugee. Whatever measures have been promoted that this brand of so-called greatness values has actually degraded an experience of seeking the common good, and has made things worse for most people. Instead it's pomposity and glee at taking from the poor and giving to the rich. Well, there is nothing new under the sun. Jesus was well acquainted with such ruthlessness and lack of concern for the poor, the orphans, the widows, the marginalized, and the social outcast. "It is not to be so among you," he says. "These are the very ones to whom we will give ourselves in service."
     
    "Sorry, James and John," we can imagine him saying. "I don't need people to sit in the honored seats, but I do need people to come and to bend down low enough to see what I see, to hear the cries that I hear, to touch the wounds that I notice, to listen to the lonely to whom I want to be near. It's hard to become aware of these things from high and lofty positions, but you will see what I will show you. You will touch and heal and bless people along with me." No one really wants to hear that the path to true greatness goes right to the heart of going the opposite direction of building oneself up as great. It's about seeing where one can lift one another in actuality. It is about focusing so strongly on service to others that caring for needs beyond ourselves becomes more important to us.
     
    I said last week was an eventful one for us. Last Sunday at this time, we were sitting in the Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia listening to a 93-year-old man teaching Sunday School, as he does about twice a month. This man is a person who has negotiated peace in the Middle East (at least partial), who has worked to enable people to have access to fair elections in various countries, who has worked tirelessly to eradicate Guinea worms to relieve suffering for thousands and thousands of people, who has helped to build only God knows how many Habitat for Humanity homes over the years, and oh yes, he did get to live in the White House and serve as the leader of the free world from 1977 to 1981. Former President Jimmy Carter now lives in the same home that he and Rosalynn built in Plains in the 1970s. Somewhere along the way, in the school of Jesus' teaching, Jimmy and Rosalynn have discovered that the path to true greatness is not having the places of honor, but rather living lives of service in gratitude to God.
     
    We are also invited to take that path. I see many of you traveling that path so very well. But we all need reminders that, contrary to the messages our culture sends us, it is the only path that leads to greatness in God's eyes. Thanks be to God for these reminders. And let us sing a song that will also remind us about the importance of serving one another.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, MAGA, National Lynching Memorial
  • Sep 30, 2018Stumbling Blocks
    Sep 30, 2018
    Stumbling Blocks
    Series: (All)
    September 30, 2018. Jon Heerboth preaches on Philippians 1:18. We may have many points of view about our best way forward here at Christ Lutheran. Our agreement though should be just like Paul said. "What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true, and in that I rejoice."
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    If I were in a classroom instead of in a church today, I would say that we're going to have a brief review here before we start the lesson for today. Last week we heard Jesus explain that he would be put to death, and three days later he would rise again. But the disciples didn't know what he was talking about. They didn't understand him and they were afraid to ask, so instead they were arguing about who of them was the greatest. Jesus sat them down and explained that whoever wanted to be first must be last of all and servant of all, and then he picked up a small child and held the child in his arms and said that whoever welcomed the child welcomed Jesus, and the one who sent Jesus.
     
    Now, in today's gospel Jesus is still holding the child. He still has the child in his arms while he's talking with his disciples. But John interrupted Jesus to report that some other healer had been casting out demons in the name of Jesus. The disciples went and told him to stop it because he was not one of them. "You can't use Jesus' name unless you're one of us," they said. Now you can imagine the disciples gathering around Jesus closely to hear what he had to say about this. Jesus began to speak, but he could see that they weren't getting it. He had to make his point three times. "Do not stop him, for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able to soon afterwards speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward." Jesus had to work hard to make that point to the disciples, but it's a point that we need to hear as well.
     
    We are used to hearing phrases like, "If you're not for me you're against me." Pro or con. X or not x. No middle ground. The problem is that this kind of thinking excludes so many people, and Jesus turns it on its head: "Whoever is not against us is for us." Just the opposite of the way we often think. With these words, Jesus moves us from excluding people to being inclusive, from suspicion to welcome, from left out to invited in. The love of Jesus and the power of God can cut through this "friend or foe" thinking, so that we can welcome almost everyone into our fold.
     
    My dad related his experience years ago, before Lutherans were talking about working together as church bodies. It was 1949, just four years after the end of World War II, when my parents arrived in Sapporo, Japan to begin their careers as missionaries. Shortly after they arrived, Dad and his good friend Paul were invited to a prayer group of Japanese Christians. Dad said they really wanted to attend the meeting, but they were troubled and a little worried because none of the attendees was Lutheran, and they were not permitted to pray with people of other denominations. Dad and Paul decided that they would attend the prayer meeting, but they were worried that a very strict colleague might create a problem for them by reporting to the mission board in St. Louis. So, Dad and Paul went and they were introduced to a group of Japanese Christians. Dad said that each one introduced himself with a name and his former Christian denomination. "I am of Baptist antecedent." "I am of Methodist antecedent." "I am of Roman Catholic antecedent," and so forth. Before World War II these Japanese Christians stayed with their denominational groups, but when the war started it turned out the secret police didn't ask their denomination. They all got locked up together for the duration of the war. "When they came for us, they came because we were Christian." Denomination became irrelevant to them. What mattered was that they all followed Jesus. The two missionaries learned what mattered and what didn't.
     
    Now, we worship here among like-minded Christians for the most part. We know we have a lot of work here to do at Christ and in the world at large. We would like to grow as a congregation. Our congregational leaders and our members have been looking at this growth from several directions. The monthly newsletters and weekly announcements remind us of how often we tie in with other Christians in our area and throughout the world. There are many opportunities here to work together for others and to bring others to Christ. Our doors are open and we hope they are welcoming. In addition, we have been thinking about how to improve our outreach by maintaining and improving our facilities.
     
    Now the last thing we want to do is what Jesus warned us against in today's gospel. We want to be open to all, and we do not want to place any stumbling blocks in the path of one of these little ones who believe. Now Jesus was speaking directly of a young child he was still holding in his arms during all of this, but you could substitute the child with anyone who feels like he doesn't quite belong, any one of low social standing, anyone who's felt like an outsider instead of an insider, anyone who is different and feels different and feels like they don't belong with the rest of us. Jesus is talking about doing things that make other people feel unworthy, like somehow they are not good enough or their differences are somehow too great to receive salvation through their faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus has harsh words for them: a millstone, a big one, pulled by a donkey, tied around the neck, tossed into the sea for those who leave stumbling blocks.
     
    Now it's really easy to read through this and skip over those passages about millstones cutting off hands, feet, tearing out eyes, and just say that Jesus was exaggerating and move on. But if we do that we, miss the central point, that we don't want to be the cause of anyone stumbling in faith. Jesus was still holding that small child. He was absolutely serious about stumbling blocks and coming judgment.
     
    Do we want to hear the truth, that we could be the cause of someone tripping up in their discipleship, that we could be the cause of someone stumbling in his or her faith, that we could be the cause of someone questioning whether or not he or she is truly a critical and viable member of God's kingdom. And we would rather blame someone else, or just conduct safe and secure demonstrations of faith, than take accountability for the ways in which we might have prevented others from living into their fullness as disciples, their fullness as children of God. We would like to assume that putting stumbling blocks in the ways of others is just a temporary misstep in their lives. We think they'll quickly get back up on their feet and get over it. A nondescript, almost unnoticeable trip up along the way couldn't lead to a lifelong trajectory, could it? Maybe we could convince ourselves of that. But yet, if we're honest, we know that tripping over something, a little stumble can lead to a major fall, a fall from which it takes a very long time to recuperate, if ever. We learned that this week from watching the news, didn't we? When we place stumbling blocks in the paths of those trying to answer God's call, as they and only they can hear it and live it, we are essentially silencing them. "No," said Jesus. "Don't you dare."
     
    We do not want to feel that unquenchable fire. Now we will have many points of view here and differing opinions about our best way forward here at Christ. Our agreement though should be just like Paul said in Philippians, chapter 1. "What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true, and in that I rejoice."
     
    We Christians here at Christ, and wherever our brothers or sisters gather on Sunday morning, are united in our desire to hear the word, pray together, and to gather at the Lord's table. We don't want to be salt that has lost its flavor, and we sure don't want to be salted with fire. Our salt is from God. So let us all be at peace with one another.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Jon Heerboth, Philippians 1:18
  • Sep 23, 2018Radical Hospitality, Jesus Style
    Sep 23, 2018
    Radical Hospitality, Jesus Style
    Series: (All)
    September 23, 2018. Hospitality toward others is the way to welcoming God more fully into our lives. When Jesus' disciples argued about which of them would be greatest, he showed them what greatness meant by welcoming a child. Pastor Stephanie preaches on just how radical a thought this would have been for the disciples, and invites us to break down walls to welcome others into our lives.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I imagine that many of you are familiar with the side of Jesus that wasn't what we'd call "meek and mild," right? Like for instance, the time that we read that he came into the temple and looked around, didn't like what he saw, so he started tossing some tables upside down. Yeah, he didn't much like how people were being exploited, so he made a rather dramatic show of his displeasure. Admit it, you love that, don't you? You love Jesus going and getting 'em and telling 'em what's right and what's wrong, as long as those aren't our tables. We love it that Jesus stands up for the little people against authorities that are taking advantage of them. I would also love to read a story about Jesus knocking down some walls. I mean, walls divide people all the time. And we like to talk about building bridges rather than building walls. So, walls that divide have to go. Wouldn't it be cool for Jesus to tear down a few? You who love action films have to be with me on this one: Jesus takes a karate chop or two and demolishes a barrier that the big shots have constructed to keep their own kind in and everyone else out. I'm sure you have an idea or two yourself how you'd like to see Jesus go about this.
     
    Well, I might invite you then to sit down for an hour or two some time and read through the entire Gospel of Mark, and look for the many ways that Jesus does at least three things. He turns things upside down. He knocks down preconceptions. And he challenges conventional thinking. If you do that, I'm guaranteeing that you will find a pretty good-sized list of his words that do just that. These stories may not show a literal turning of objects upside down like tables, but they do an effective job of causing people to go, "What's that again, Jesus? You might have to run that past me again, because that isn't how things really go in this world."
     
    Jesus was a master of knocking down walls that we build to keep our own ways of thinking and operating in, and his ways of operating out. That is pretty much the case when his disciples are walking along with him while he is talking about the suffering, dying, and rising again that he will be doing in the near future. Apparently, all they are hearing is the "wah wah." That happens sometimes, because this is not something that they want to hear about. Instead, they've been having their own little discussion walking behind him. Knowing this but calling them out on it, when they get to the house in Capernaum where they'll be staying, Jesus asked, "What was that that you were arguing about while you were walking behind me?"
     
    We aren't told that anyone admitted to what they've been arguing over and that it was about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom that they just knew that Jesus was ushering in. In fact, the gospel writer Mark says they were silent because they did not want to own up to their aspirations for greatness. So can't you just imagine Jesus sighing once again and sitting them down to have a little lesson? This is how I imagine the conversation going based on the parts that we do have recorded before us:
     
    "Okay, now as you know," Jesus says, "I've been teaching you about how different God's ways are than human ways. You think you know what greatness is, but..." (And I insert my own comment here. This could be easily addressed to our own contemporary culture, couldn't it? How little our society has learned over the years. It's hard now to even use the word "greatness" for things that actually are great, since "Make America Great Again" has become a thing -- and a thing that demonstrates anything but greatness.)
     
    But back to Jesus' conversation. As he tells them, "You people think you know what greatness is, but you do not. You think that power, prestige, status, wealth, and social position are the great things. Not true at all. Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." That was probably met with silence again from the disciples. After all, Jesus just knocked down an invisible wall that they were leaning on.
     
    "What?" They must be thinking. "Nobody, but nobody, gets ahead by going for last place or by doing menial jobs." Jesus goes on, "Here, let me show you." He took a little child into his arms and said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me."
     
    So now he really has their attention. All they see is a child, whom they cannot imagine playing any kind of important role in this kingdom of love that Jesus keeps talking about. From our vantage point this act seems cute. "Aw, Jesus picks up and hugs a child." But it was likely not so cute to Jesus' disciples. In his day children were definitely seen but not heard. They had little to no inherent worth, in and of themselves. John Pilch, in his work The Cultural World of Jesus, sheds light on the customs and culture reflected in Jesus' actions and words. A child in our culture is deeply valued and put high on our priorities. At least we insist this is so, in spite of the number of children in poverty and other difficult circumstances. But for the most part, most people would agree that children are our treasures. However, in the time of Jesus, a child was lowest on the priority list. Children weren't worth much until they grew up and proved themselves. They were actually considered nobodies. Their worth was tied up in their potential to maybe someday becoming productive adults, who could support their families in their old age. Even in medieval times, I was surprised to learn, Mediterranean cultures put a low value on children. Thomas Aquinas himself taught that in a raging fire, a husband was obliged to save his father first, then his mother, next his wife, and last his young child. That kind of thinking is so hard for us to fathom.
     
    But it helps to know that, to see just how radical Jesus' words were to his disciples. He's essentially saying this: you are worried about your greatness? I'll tell you what's great to me, and to the one who sent me. It's welcoming others, like this little child who has value to me far beyond what you can see. In fact, I want you to knock down all your preconceptions about who is important to me. Everyone is important to me, regardless of social status, or ability to be productive, or pedigree, or anything else. And I will demonstrate that every time. I welcome them all. To the extent that you welcome those like these little ones, you welcome me and my father who sent me. In fact, the way you show hospitality by welcoming others, that is what's greatness to me.
     
    As preacher theologian Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, Jesus didn't just tell them, but showed them who was greatest by calling their attention to a little child. It's as if Jesus were creating a business card or a LinkedIn profile for a child bearing this message under the child's name: 26 inches tall. Limited vocabulary. Unemployed. Zero net worth. Nobody in the eyes of many. And then, in all capital letters, GOD'S BELOVED.
     
    I hope not many of you can personally relate to being the most insignificant. Yet each of us often has something going on inside our heads that says that we really don't have any place getting too close to Jesus. We rule ourselves out from being someone whom he would like to have near him yet. Nothing could be further from the truth. The stories of Jesus' intentional actions, of going to dinner with a social outcast like a tax collector, of going to parties with people who are considered disgraceful by others, means that all of us, no matter our personal history or feelings of not being good enough, can find a place of welcome near Jesus.
     
    We are all welcome: the little people and the big people who will make themselves little enough or humble enough to sit on the lap of Jesus, so to speak. And what's more, we are all invited to be God's agents in welcoming others. All of us who know we've been welcomed, not because we've had anything special to offer, but just because we've come to know that God loves us anyway. Well, we all have a special job. We get to invite others to come and to know the same for themselves. We get to knock down a few walls ourselves. We are commissioned to let people know there are no barriers to being welcomed by God. That puts us all on God's hospitality team now. We get to let others know that they are welcome just as they are, too. No special requirements need to be met. Just come and symbolically sit on the lap of Jesus. There's a lot of room there. It's a very big and welcoming lap. There aren't many places where you can find hospitality or welcome like that. In fact, there's nothing anywhere that can compare.
     
    So Christ Lutheran Church, as all churches do, has a special job description. It's to exhibit radical hospitality, Jesus style.
     
    I'll admit there is even something in it for us. Whenever we start with, as the disciples were doing here, "What's in it for us?" well we don't get much in God's operation. But when we do what God wants us to do there's always something in it for us as a side benefit. When we welcome others, Jesus says we welcome him and the one who sent him. Somehow God makes it fulfilling and joyful to welcome others, because we get to see God in action in that as they respond, and know God. The way we show hospitality by welcoming others is what is greatness to God.
     
    Hospitality toward others is the way to welcoming God more fully into our lives. After all, we're told some have entertained angels unaware as they have knocked down walls to welcome others into their lives. Because where love and graciousness to others is present, there is God in the midst of our gatherings. It's exactly what the song we opened with envisions.
     
    Let us build a house where all are named Their songs and visions heard And loved and treasured, taught and claimed As words within the word Built of tears and cries and laughter Prayers of faith and songs of grace Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter All are welcome, all are welcome All are welcome in this place
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot
  • Sep 2, 2018Be Doers of the Word
    Sep 2, 2018
    Be Doers of the Word
    Series: (All)
    September 2, 2018. The essence of hypocrisy is when people's words and actions may appear to honor God, but their hearts are steeped in pride and sin and judgment of others. Pastor Stephanie discusses this in the context of the Mosaic Law as well as how this happens today. Do we have some adjusting to do when we look in the mirror?
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Did you find it a bit odd that it appears in the gospel reading that Jesus' disciples are accused of eating with unwashed hands, and that's just okay with Jesus? After all, that seems like something over which there should be no dispute. Washing hands before eating is just common sense, isn't it? Our moms told us that, and nearly every bathroom has a sign reminding us, at least the employees, to do so before they go back to handling food. Because it's just a matter of good hygiene to get rid of the germs. So this must be about something else. The interaction between Jesus and these strict religious leaders has nothing whatsoever to do with germs and hygiene, just to put your mind at rest on that. But it is all about religious behaviors and expectations. So, a little context for that is an order.
     
    The law of Moses, which we call the first five books of the Bible, devoted a lot of attention to the matter of ritual purity. That means performing rituals in order to be considered pure. There were lots of things specified, from touching a dead body, to the mixing of meat and milk, and other things that we consider very peculiar now, that could make one ritually unclean and therefore barred from temple worship. But it's important to note that the state of uncleanness was not the same thing as sinfulness. One could be ritually unclean just in the normal course of life by having done nothing wrong. And the prescriptions for that were not repentance, but ritual cleansing.
     
    And over time, those cleansing rituals became of utmost importance and there were more and more of them. When visiting Israel these days, it's quite amazing how frequently you will see baths for ritual cleansing -- they're called mikvahs -- in nearly every archaeological excavation. They were ubiquitous as we traveled around the country, obviously revealing how valued they were as part of the religious culture into which Jesus arrived. I would certainly not want to give the impression that Jesus was against people being cleansed from impurities. That would be far from the truth. But the confrontation of Jesus with the Pharisees from Jerusalem, as recorded in Mark 7, is not really about the whole issue of purity or of being cleansed from sin. It's about how these Pharisees were using laws to construct a system of ritual purity, more or less to define who was in and who was out.
     
    After describing the Pharisees' complaint to Jesus, Mark steps back a bit from telling the story to do some explaining to the folks in Rome, for whom this gospel was written. He might as well be explaining to us, because we don't observe these rituals either. They knew little or nothing about Jewish interpretations of the Mosaic law at that time. Mark correctly points out that the law did specify that priests needed to wash before performing sacrifices on the altar, but the law handed down from Moses had nothing to say about everyone else washing their hands in a certain way before eating bread. As frequently happens in religious circles however, more details get added that detract from original intentions over time. So the Pharisees, the ultra religious leaders, amplified the original teaching to include the expectation that every God-honoring person should wash their hands before eating, but it had to be done in a prescribed way. The practice was to take a specifically designed pitcher of water and pour it twice from the right hand over the left hand, and then from the left hand over the right hand (unless you were left-handed and then you could reverse the process). But this had not been taught by Moses. It was simply added on over time. But this was all-important to the religious leaders, so they asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples wash their hands in the same manner as we do before eating bread?"
     
    Have you ever really looked at the way Jesus responds to those who claim to know God better than he does? It's quite ridiculous from our point of view, since we know who they are addressing but they clearly do not at this point. But, if you do look at Jesus' responses in these situations, you'll see that 9 times out of 10, Jesus will quote their scriptures back to them. So here, Jesus quotes from Isaiah, going right to the heart of the matter saying, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites. As it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. In vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.' " He is saying that people's words and actions may appear to honor God, but their hearts may be very steeped in pride and sin and judgment of others. That's the essence of hypocrisy. And Isaiah adds, apropos to Jesus' situation, that the laws they promote in order to demonstrate their holiness aren't even from God. These are human constructs. So Jesus' punchline is essentially this: you have let go of the commands of God and are holding onto human traditions.
     
    Well, it gets deeper. Since they brought up the topic of how to act in order to honor God, Jesus sharpens the discussion by giving another example of the same sort of manipulation of the law through human traditions. He brings up something that they practiced called corban. He saw that as clearly conflicting with the word of God. The word "corban" means the declaration that something is dedicated as an offering to God. But through some crafty juxtaposition of this law, these leaders had figured out a way to circumvent other obligations of God's law, such as the clear commandment to honor your father and your mother. In their teaching, if a person was afraid of losing too much of their wealth by having to care for parents in old age, they could declare some of their assets as corban, set aside only for God. That was a religiously contrived word, to mean assets that could be declared as only dedicated for God.
     
    Now, in and of itself that sounds like a good stewardship practice. After all, setting aside resources to give to God is an important practice of honoring God. However, this practice came to be grossly misused. Many times, people would make from this a religious loophole from having to give the money away at all. Jesus is saying that some of them have avoided both the care of their parents, and withheld their giving for the good of others. Their hypocrisy was that they claimed to do something altruistic, yet in reality they were being self-serving.
     
    In today's world, a person might declare that their entire life savings is dedicated to some mission endeavor in order to avoid having to pay for parents' nursing care. They actually use it for themselves. It would be the same pious thievery that Jesus addresses, rather than real religious zeal. Jesus says that they are actually nullifying God's law rather than honoring it, and he says you do many things like this. Essentially, Jesus is attacking forms of outward piety and good works that are actually selfish and have nothing to do with honoring God.
     
    It's not too difficult for us to see how this happens today, either. Generous public gifts may also serve as timely and money-saving tax write-offs. Politicians who make a point of their love for Jesus may also find that it helps them in the polls. Some religious leaders in our time use the ecclesiastical authority of their office to groom young men and women for sexual exploitation. A person can be scrupulous about bowing in prayer before meals in a public place as a good Christian practice, or to make a show of one's piety. And when the conversation over lunch turns to gossip, the depth of that piety is revealed for what it truly is. To all these things, Jesus says, it's a matter of where our hearts are.
     
    Which leads us to some self-examination. If nothing else happens during this worship service, I hope that we each find ourselves wondering about the quality of our own hearts. Are we inclined toward listening to the good news of the word of God and letting it transform our words, our thoughts, our actions, our policies? Or do we have some cleanup to do in our own ways of justifying or bending the Commandments to fit how we went to operate? I find the lesson in James helpful here. "Be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror. For they look at themselves and on going away immediately forget what they were like. But," always the good news, "Those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers but doers who act, they will be blessed in their doing." God's word does function as a mirror. When we let it reveal who we are at the depths, at our heart level, we can respond in two ways. We can see ourselves and deny what is revealed and go on our way. Or we can take in the truth of what is revealed and bring into alignment what we hear, and then act on it with God's help.
     
    Why is this really important? What's at stake here? Certainly, the clarity of our witness. There is no way to completely root out the hypocrisy which shows up regularly in our human condition. But, there is a noticeable difference when people claim the truth and beauty of God's word, and humbly try to be continually reshaped and molded by the Holy Spirit to exemplify it. That's when the quality of the heart is revealed.
     
    The impact on others who observe us, and what we're about, is important. This is of grave concern when one considers the view the average non-church involved American has of our corporate witness today. I was just speaking about this with one of our professors here who said that so many students see the hypocrisy of people who call themselves Christian, but do all manner of unloving things. And they want nothing to do with that. As you know, recently a number of religious leaders were pictured as being at a meeting with the current president. We don't have time to go into the sordid details of the meeting, some of which I would label blasphemous and certainly heretical. So I'll let the synopsis of Jennifer Rubin, writer for the Washington Post, speak. She writes this: "The degree to which these religious leaders throw themselves at Trump's feet, ignoring all manner of immoral and un-Christian conduct for the sake of political power, has hurt both religion and politics."
     
    I wonder what Jesus would say about all the religious jargon and pious statements made by certain so-called Christian leaders, in light of the way that people are treated by this administration's policies. When all the rhetoric is stripped away, it would be difficult to say that the great commandment "Loving God and loving others as ourselves" is being honored.
     
    None of those things seem evident in any of the executive orders or policy changes that we currently see coming out of the White House. How did these policy changes measure up with your understanding of God's word, I might ask, although I think I know from knowing your hearts. It seems that these religious leaders, who eagerly follow and even bless what is currently going on, have done some of their own "adjusting" (if you will) of God's laws to fit their own blindness and pride. Not unlike the people whom Jesus challenges.
     
    But, because the reading of scripture reads "us," we also need to ask what about ourselves? Do we have some adjusting to do when we look in the mirror of God's law of love? I know that since I've been looking into the mirror this week, of the law, of love, of liberty, I have found words that would come into my mind to be spoken. But then when I thought about them more clearly, they seemed rather petty and unhelpful. Perhaps you see that also, when you stop to examine about the words that want to come forth from our mouths. James is helpful there. And I realized that some of my own signs or traditions that I've learned, as being the signs of a good Christian, are not necessarily essential to the faith.
     
    God is very good at changing our hearts. Let us give God the space and time to do that. Let us be examining ourselves as well to see, and then lets altogether be doers of the word, so that the words of life might be manifest in our lives. And by God's grace we will be able to exhibit the love of Christ which is in us and come out in an appropriate way to a greater degree than ever.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot
  • Aug 26, 2018Do We Choose Or Are We Chosen?
    Aug 26, 2018
    Do We Choose Or Are We Chosen?
    Series: (All)
    August 26, 2018. Do we choose or are we chosen? Pastor Stephanie tackles this theological puzzle today, as we as a congregation find ourselves between pastors and the Transition Team is meeting for the first time.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Do we choose or are we chosen? Perennial question. I will admit that right up front this week, I tried to choose another theme out of the lectionary passages for worship today. But where we are landing just kept coming back to me. It seemed too complicated to deal with in such a short time. So I tried to push it off to some other day, and I could never feel really good about choosing something else. So here we go. You see I find myself in that line of theological thought which insists that God chooses us long before we ever give a thought to choosing God.
     
    And yet, in both the words of Joshua today and in the words of Jesus in this week's gospel, we are given the matter of choice. Will we go forward, as Joshua proposes, and serve the Lord who has faithfully brought us this far in safety and care? Or, will we let our wandering hearts give in to other idols that vie for our attention and devotion? Will we follow the crowd that looks at the curious teachings of Jesus and the cost of discipleship and say, "That's too much for me," and back off? Or we will line up with Peter, who sees the cost, yet also sees the incredible value of following Jesus, and choose to line up behind him? Actually, I wish it were easy to choose God's ways once and for all, but really we get to choose over and over again. Or, should I say that we see how we have been chosen already by God, and we see the results of that over and over again throughout our lifetimes? Who is doing the choosing?
     
    Volumes have been written, and centuries of debate have been spent on trying to figure out this theological puzzle. See why I did not want to address this in 10 to 12 minutes? So, when faced with such puzzles, I say use narrative whenever possible.
     
    I have to say that when I look back over my own life as objectively as I can, it appears to me that a whole lot of time, choices that I think I made were pretty clearly mine. But maybe I wasn't really the one choosing. Maybe I was being guided into a choice. Here's an example: a few years ago, I received an invitation to work as the Coordinator for Adult Discipleship for the Reformed Church in America, the partner denomination to the ELCA, in which I was ordained as minister of word and sacrament. I thought I had chosen to accept that call. In that role there was one persistent theme that tugged at me. As I thought about what was the one key piece that holds all of discipleship together, one theme kept appearing: abiding in Christ, and Christ abiding in us.
     
    In our gospel reading today Jesus says, "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them." That is not an unusual phrase in the Gospel of John. In fact, the intimate connection between God and people abiding in each other is all over the place in John's gospel. "Abide," for those of you who don't use that word too often (perhaps we don't daily) means to remain in, to stay deeply connected with one another. Jesus says, "Abide in me, and I in you. Apart from me you can do nothing." Then he explains in John 15, "I am the vine and you are the branches." And throughout the gospel we see these phrases: "Abide in my love," "Abide in my word," "The spirit abides in you," and on and on. So to abide in or dwell in the living bread is what strengthens us to continue to choose whom we will follow. Because when we dwell with someone, we get more deeply acquainted with that one's nature, character, and dependability. So all of those abiding teachings became the lens through which I thought about, and taught about, discipleship from then on.
     
    But was I choosing this as a life and work theme, or was something else at play? Thinking back, it was inevitable. The silent retreats I felt drawn to attend, the people who stretched my view and practice of prayer, the sabbatical Phil and I took that deepened our practices of the inward journey into abiding with God. All of that had come before, and all of it had shaped what was now so obvious to me as the key thing to be emphasized. So I wonder, did I choose this or was it chosen for me?
     
    Well, Christ Lutheran Church, you have entered into a very unique time. You are at a crossroads between settled resident pastors. In this past week, the new Transition Team has met for the first time under the capable leadership of Pastor John Mann. This team will be periodically engaged with as many people as possible in this congregation in a process of discovery. As a church in the coming months, you'll be looking back at what has been shaping your life together. And as you do, certain themes are bound to come into focus. These will help you as you choose some aspects of the future you believe you are called to pursue.
     
    And as you abide in Christ together, you will wonder, "How much of this did we choose, and how much of this has been divinely chosen for us?" It seems to me this is what Simon Peter found himself struggling with, as Jesus questioned him as to whether he would choose to go away or stay and abide with Jesus. I hear, in Peter's response, a statement that there really is no choice at all for him, even though others have clearly chosen not to follow. "Lord, to whom can we go?" he says. "You have the words of eternal life."
     
    Can you imagine some of Peters thoughts though? "Yes, I did choose to follow you Jesus. But wait, you chose to call me first? But I did say 'No' to my fishing business, where I was a leader, and decided to be a follower instead. Then again, you chose me to be a follower and leader. So it's still been your choice all along." Ah, the nuances of faith issues. I expect in the end, it is perhaps some of both, interplaying. We are both guided by God, who has chosen to love us, and we are asked to choose to respond with commitment and gratitude. Indeed, it goes without saying that out of great love, God has chosen us all. And yet at the same time, I believe that you and I and we as a church are called to choose every day whom we will serve.
     
    For a while, God did choose to abide with us. You and I are still called to choose how we will live in response. When the joy of realizing that God abides with us even more intimately than we know how to abide with God, then every day can be a fresh new discovery of that grace.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, RCA
  • Aug 19, 2018The Real Deal
    Aug 19, 2018
    The Real Deal
    Series: (All)
    August 19, 2018. Pastor Stephanie's message is about the real deal, represented by Wisdom Woman in Proverbs 9, versus the lack of substance of Woman Folly. She illustrates the difference through the telling of a story from the Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Neon signs beckon us. Advertisements beg for our attention. Campaigns warn us of impending doom if we don't follow the way that they propose. Talk show people try to persuade us that their latest discoveries will revolutionize our lives. So many messages, so many invitations to come and eat at the tables of goodness, riches, a better life than ever. Just come, they beckon. Buy or use or try what we have to offer, and you will have the good life. It seems we have many invitations to sort through. Which ones are good and meaningful? Which ones actually deliver on their promises? How does one know where to turn?
     
    The way of wisdom, or learning to walk in wisdom, is a scriptural concept that was meant to help people to recognize that there are directions in our lives that we can take, based on the invitations, and which ones we should accept. And the whole chapter of Proverbs 9 gives us a clear look at the difference between accepting an invitation to the table of Wisdom Woman, or Woman Folly.
     
    Let me give you an example of the type of woman that is Folly, and you would find that by continuing on and reading the rest of Proverbs 9. She calls to us and invites us to eat at her table, just as the previous woman whom we read about does. But what Woman Folly has to offer only looks good on the surface. Everything she invites one to taste crumbles and turns sour, eventually. What she offers cannot satisfy, because it contains no true substance. Her promises are built on lies and fabrications, as she offers cheap imitations of the things which are truly good, pure, just, and kind.
     
    If you are familiar with the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, you may remember a depiction of one of the Pevensie children falling prey to the flattering words and flimsy promises of the White Queen. She is of the same ilk as Woman Folly in Proverbs 9. Now, the four children in this story -- two sisters and two brothers who are on this adventure -- have already met Aslan, who is the Christ figure. He is leading them on a path of wisdom and goodness. But human nature being what it is, the boy Edmund finds the temptation of following another way too much to resist. As this part of the story unfolds, he sneaks off with the White Queen because he can't resist the treat she offers, a delicious confection known as Turkish Delight. The queen offers him something to drink and then says, "It is dull to drink while not eating. What would you like best to eat?" She knows fully well where she can tempt him. "Turkish Delight please, your majesty," said Edmund. The queen let another drop fall from her bottle onto the snow and instantly there appeared a round box tied with green silk which, when opened, turned out to contain several pounds of the best Turkish Delight. Each piece was sweet and light to the very center, and Edmund had never tasted anything so delicious. He was quite warm now, and really comfortable.
     
    While he was eating, the queen kept asking him questions. At first, Edmund tried to remember that it is rude to speak with one's mouth full. But soon he forgot about this and thought only of trying to shovel down as much as possible. The more he ate, the more he wanted to eat, and he never asked himself why the queen should be so inquisitive. She seemed especially interested in the fact that there were four of them, and kept on coming back to it. "You are sure there are just four of you?" she asked, "Two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve, neither more nor less?" "Yes," said Edmund, "Two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve," while he stuffed his mouth more full of Turkish Delight and kept saying, "I told you that before," and forgetting to call her your majesty, but she didn't seem to mind now. At last the Turkish delight was all finished, and Edmund was looking very hard at the empty box and wishing that she would ask him whether he would like some more.
     
    Probably the queen knew quite well what he was thinking, for she knew, though Edmund did not, that this was the enchanted Turkish Delight, and that anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it until they killed themselves. But she did not offer him any more. Instead, she said to him, "Son of Adam, I should so like to see your brother and your two sisters. Will you bring them to me?" "I'll try," said Edmund, still looking at the box. "Because, if you did come, bringing them with you of course, I'd be able to give you more Turkish Delight. I can't do it now. The magic will only work once. In my own house, it would be quite another matter." "Why can't we go to your house now?" said Edmund.
     
    When he had first got on her sleigh, he had been afraid that she might drive away with him to some unknown place, from which he would not be able to get back. But he'd forgotten that fear now. "It's a lovely place, my house," said the queen. "I'm sure you would like it. There are whole rooms full of Turkish Delight, and what's more I have no children of my own. I want a nice boy whom I could bring up as a prince. And he would eventually be king of Narnia when I am gone. While this boy would be prince, he would wear a gold crown and eat Turkish Delights all day long. And you are the cleverest and handsomest young man I've ever met. I think you'd make a fine prince, someday when you bring the others to me." "Why not now?" said Edmund. His face had become very red and his mouth and fingers were sticky. He did not look either clever or handsome, whatever the queen might say.
     
    As the story proceeds, Edmund would discover soon enough that he had left the path of wisdom to follow after a path filled with empty promises, whose intention was only to lead him to the destruction of his siblings and himself. He had fallen prey to the seductive power of folly or foolishness.
     
    Fortunately for Edmund, and for us, there is another invitation also calling to us. It comes from the Woman Wisdom. She is a strong and elegant lady, who invites us to walk in her way and to live in her home. It is a well-built home, stocked with everything needed for a fulfilling life, built on a firm foundation, and girded with seven pillars. Since pillars are only used in a house of substantial size and quality, this is a house to be reckoned with. The number seven is often used, as you may know, in scripture to tell us of something that is complete in and of itself.
     
    What Woman Wisdom has to offer is the real deal.
     
    Woman Wisdom was present when God was laying the foundations of all creation, according to Proverbs 8:22 were it says the Lord created wisdom at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts so long ago. Wisdom herself, wisdom personified, calls out and says to the one who lacks sense, "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live and walk in the way of insight." So it starts with a call to repentance. It's recognizing that on our own, we lack sense. We lack insight. We lack the wisdom we need for our walk throughout this life. True wisdom requires a healthy dose of humility being open to correction. As other Proverbs say, give instruction to the wise and they become wiser still. Teach the righteous, and they will gain understanding. And yet another: get wisdom, though it costs all you have, and gain understanding.
     
    Now following after wisdom begins with Proverbs 9 verse 10, right after our reading today. That's a familiar one. It shows up a couple of times in scripture. It says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is in sight. But what is this business of fearing God? Isn't that kind of hard to reconcile with all the other Bible verses that talk about God as being merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast mercy? We can understand and want to follow one who is merciful and kind, but who wants to follow someone we fear?
     
    Apparently, we have to dig in a bit to see what fearing God really meant when it was written, since words written in ancient times don't always have the same meaning as our current usage of a word or phrase. To get into this a bit better, I decided to have some fun by looking up meanings of other words that formerly meant something else than the way we currently use them. Here are a few examples:
     
    Did you know that the word "artificial" originally meant something artfully or skillfully constructed? Quite the opposite of what we mean by the word when we use it today. The word "awful," you can kind of imagine what that meant. It meant inspiring awe, or full of awe, and now it's defined as something very unpleasant. The word "egregious" caught me most by surprise. It now means shockingly bad, but the archaic meaning in the dictionary is remarkably good. I will now be more careful when describing someone as "pretty" when hanging out with Shakespeare fans, because in that genre, the word meant a person who was tricky and not to be trusted. So be careful who you call pretty. Just one more. "Silly" used to mean worthy of happiness. And now it describes someone or something being frivolous or even foolish.
     
    So does that mean that fearing the Lord could mean something other than cowering and dread before God? Yes, yes it certainly does. The original text of Proverbs was of course in Hebrew, and the word there meant respect, reverence, and awe of God. The fear of the Lord begins with that basic recognition of who God is, but it is more than that. The fear of the Lord means that we take God seriously. The fear of the Lord means that we do not casually dismiss or ignore what the Lord says and does, but we continue to learn from God's word, spend time listening to the Holy Spirit breathing truth into us, and worshipping and conversing with others who are seeking after wisdom.
     
    Walking in wisdom means to follow after truth, justice, kindness, mercy, service, honor of God and others, honesty, humility, peace and love above all else. Unfortunately, we see quite the opposite being valued in the crass elements of our society. It takes solid character and strong commitment to walk in the way of wisdom, when so many messages come at us daily that clearly have their origin in the way of folly or foolishness, leading to destruction.
     
    Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people, but as wise, says the Apostle Paul in the book of Ephesians. Both a reading in Proverbs and the gospel today show us the way to live as the wise. It does involve responding to an invitation to a table, the table where we are fed with that which brings us life. A table of true substance that nourishes us for the journey of life, and to a full and abundant life.
     
    Woman Wisdom says, "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity and live, and walk in the way of insight." And Jesus says in John 6, "I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever."
     
    Unlike the shallow, empty promises of the White Queen, or of Woman Folly, or of any other imposter, Jesus as the living bread demonstrated that his promises are true and that they endure forever. He went to the cross to show the depth of God's love for us. He died and was raised back to life. His invitation, to experience life with him at his table that he's prepared for us, has the most credibility that we can imagine. He has conquered death and now wants us to live fully and freely with him eternally. "Come, follow me," he says. Now that is an invitation to accept.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Proverbs 9, The Chronicles of Narnia
  • Aug 12, 2018Wilderness Experiences
    Aug 12, 2018
    Wilderness Experiences
    Series: (All)
    August 12, 2018. We all have wilderness experiences, times when we feel troubled, scared, and depressed. The Prophet Elijah was no stranger to these feelings. Pastor Stephanie talks about Elijah's journey, the origin of the word "companion," and Jesus the living bread, in today's sermon.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I'm sure many of you have heard of wilderness adventures that have been advertised as being exotic and one-of-a-kind experiences. They get people to shell out serious dollars to get away from it all and to experience time and space, to reconnect with nature and one's selves. I'm sure you've heard of them. They come in many forms. Maybe you've even gone off on one and had the time of your life. Having spent some time in the beautiful Rocky Mountains a month ago and hiking back into some less traveled paths, I can relate to refreshing experiences of enjoying wilderness beauty, and many of you can as well. Hardly anything beats slowing down enough to be refreshed by hanging out in beautiful locations.
     
    I assure you there was nothing too exotic on our itinerary. Just some good hiking, photography, and breathing in the lovely alpine air with our family. But judging from the coming and going of so many of you -- some whom I've met briefly and then you've been gone for a Sunday, or I've been gone for a Sunday -- I know that there have been times in our spaces together in which you have traveled as well as I have traveled, and I hope that you've had some wilderness type experiences that have refreshed your soul and your spirit. Because there is tremendous value in getting away to places that are full of natural beauty and near solitude. It helps our mental health, doesn't it? It refreshes our bodies, and our spirits as well.
     
    But sometimes being in the wilderness takes on an entirely different meaning, one that is not so pleasant, and even one that we would love to avoid at all costs. It can be described metaphorically as times when we feel somewhat lost, or at least less anchored. We might be experiencing challenging circumstances and we are feeling deeply discouraged, or we may be coming off a time period where the demands on our physical and emotional health have been such, but now we feel nearly depleted. It's even possible that we cannot put a finger on what it is that makes us feel out of sorts, but we are troubled, sometimes depressed and scared.
     
    We might call these our wilderness experiences.
     
    Now, parenthetically, depression is a tricky thing. Some of what I'll say today could cause more discouragement if you, or someone you know, is going through serious clinical depression. If that's the case, medical treatment should be sought. I would in no way want to be considered suggesting that a person is not spiritual enough when depressive thoughts are present. That is certainly not the case. There are many complicating factors, and it's best to have it fully examined and treated. Right now, we're going to be talking about things that make us mad or sad, like I was talking about with the children. Feeling depleted and discourage is certainly not an uncommon human condition.
     
    I'm sure many of us could relate a bit to Elijah. Even the likes of Elijah, one of the most well-known and respected of the Old Testament prophets, was engulfed in discouragement during the time of our reading. This reading recounts his discouragement following an extraordinarily high high for him, which indicates that success and feel-good moments can actually be rather short-lived, can't they? We can be high and feeling great one day, and the next day something happens and our feelings plummet.
     
    But Elijah has just challenged the Prophets of Baal to a showdown. And to sum it up, God showed up in a very big way to vindicate what Elijah was claiming that God had the power to do. So here in the next scene, we may be quite surprised that Elijah has run out into the wilderness after threats on his life were made by the wicked Queen Jezebel. After all he, had just faced off bigger odds, but now he is deeply shaken to his core.
     
    Elijah is so upset, he sends his servant away. That may mean he thinks he's done with his work that God had sent him to do. He seems to be quitting. He's had enough. Even more telling regarding his state of mind, he said to God that he would prefer that God take his life now. This is serious discouragement. Elijah is at the lowest point of low.
     
    But then he falls asleep, and we are told of this interesting sequence of events: an angel touches him and says, "Get up and eat." Looking around, Elijah sees a cake baking on the hot stones around him, as well as a jar of water. He eats the cake, kind of a bread-like item, and drinks the water, and decides to lie down again. A second time, the angel of the Lord touches him and says, "Get up and eat. Otherwise, the journey will be too much for you." Again, Elijah gets up and eats and drinks. But this time he gets up from his place of dejection and moves on. Apparently this interaction with the messenger from God, and the food and drink provided, have strengthened him enough, because the text says he sets off on a journey for 40 days and 40 nights. That is a pretty significant turn around.
     
    Incidentally, you may know that 40 days and 40 nights is Biblical talk for a Very Long Time. He's setting off on a very long hike. Some rabbinic traditions say that 40 days and 40 nights is the time period it takes to receive refreshment from impurities. In other words, it may take 40 days and 40 nights, or a very long time, for a complete renewal and full vigor to return. So probably, Elijah was in the process of being renewed through that time period as he reflected on God's caring presence in coming to share food with him. How thoughtful it was, he might have reminded himself, for God to come to him and tenderly feed him and encourage him. The more he dwelled on that thought, perhaps the better he felt. We can handle our toughest situations, can't we, when we know that God is with us.
     
    I learned something interesting this week. Something I'm kind of surprised that I'd never heard before. You're going to think I'm changing the subject or that I have lost my train of thought, which could also happen, but I'm going to ask you what the origin of the word "companion" means. Because really it does relate here. So I ask, does anyone seem to know what the origin of the word "companion" means? Who wants to venture a guess? [Someone answers.] Yes, absolutely. He's got it. It means "to have bread with." The Latin root of the word "com" (you probably know, it shows up in a lot of English words) means "with." But "panion" (or "panis" in Latin) means "one with whom we share bread." So it means it "bread." But when you put it with the "com" it becomes "one with whom we share bread." That is what a true companion is.
     
    I guess we all know that eating with others is something we enjoy, but I wonder if we've ever thought of eating bread as being foundational to strengthening us for life's challenges. Of course, when we think about it, it's what happens at every special event we want to commemorate. We have food. And what do we need daily for health and nourishment and nutrition? Food again. So, mix our food, our need for food, our awareness of food, with an awareness of the presence of God, and you have a winning combination.
     
    Both stories in our readings today have two things in common. First, Elijah and the people in the crowd with Jesus are given food to nourish them. And secondly they are aware, to some degree, of the presence of God caring for them as they eat. Essentially they are nourished by the companionship of God with them. We can all handle a lot, can't we, when we sense that God Is with us in whatever we're facing. And sometimes God makes that presence noticeable through sending friends and sending people who encourage us by the spirit of God.
     
    But it's a real difference maker when we know that God is with us despite the circumstances. That's why when Jesus tells us that he is the living bread, he is letting us know that he is with us, always. His presence with us, his companionship with us, is everlasting. His presence as living bread is continuous, making it very different from the manna that God provided for the people in the wilderness after they had fled Egypt. Manna, if you'll recall, had a very short shelf life. It had to be collected every morning and it would spoil if they kept it too long.
     
    But Jesus as the living bread is with us unendingly. Eternally. He never leaves us, nor forsakes us. He is with us in the joyful times, in our wilderness times, and at all times in between. Life wears us down with its demands, responsibilities, and challenges. But the good news, friends, is this: Jesus, the living bread, endlessly refreshes us as our companion on this journey that we call life, giving us strength for our own journeys.
     
    We will be fed once again today as we commune. As we approach the table of grace and provision today, let us be mindful that we are celebrating the companionship that our Lord offers. We are nourished at the table because of the Lord's presence with us. And as we receive these gifts of God, we receive the strength we need for the journey of life.
     
    Thanks be to God. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, podcast, sermon, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot
  • Aug 5, 2018Maturity of Faith
    Aug 5, 2018
    Maturity of Faith
    Series: (All)
    August 5, 2018. Katie Ciorba preaches (and sings!) on Paul's ideas about a maturity of faith. How do we grow in the body of Christ, with a childlike faith versus a childish faith? How do we grieve the loss of our pastors and of valued families, and still look forward together to the work of the Transition and Call Committees? It may seem overwhelming, but we don't have to do this work alone.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    In 1982, Amy Grant (a singer some of you may be familiar with, maybe for some of her later work which became crossover pop music like the song "Baby Baby") came out with the album Age to Age, which really was her first breakout music. She was a Christian singer. I was seven years old at that time, and I thought that Amy Grant sang and looked like an angel. She still is beautiful. She has some really amazing songs on that album. One is called "El Shaddai." There's another song called "Sing Your Praise to the Lord." I knew every single word on that entire album, and not only that but I forced all of the children in my neighborhood to know every word of that album, and we performed concerts for which we charged money to come watch us perform. At that time I still believed that one of the spiritual gifts God had given me was to be a singer. It's not true. But it was also the last time I sang in church. I sang "El Shaddai." Again, I was probably 10 years old and I believed that I could sing that song. So as I was reading the scripture for this week and thinking about where it brings me, one song from this album came to my mind and it's called "Fat Baby." Obviously it's not politically correct, and probably Amy wouldn't be singing it today. And it was buried in the middle of the album. To be honest, it's not a great song. It's a jazzy song and... okay, I will sing a little bit for you. So, pardon me. Remember, it's not my gift. So she says:
     
    He's just a fat little baby! Wa, wa, waaaaa... He wants his bottle, and he don't mean maybe He sampled solid foods once or twice But he says doctrine leaves him cold as ice He's been baptized, sanctified, redeemed by the blood His daily devotions are stuck in the mud He knows the books of the Bible and John 3:16 He's got the biggest King James you've ever seen!
     
    That's it for my singing. So, as I was thinking about this song a lot, thinking about what Paul had said in our epistle for today, he's saying that folks who really show off their Biblical knowledge without having a mature faith is exactly what Amy Grant was singing about. In our scripture, Paul asks us not to be children, but to be mature in Christ, which really led me to think a lot this week: what does it mean to not be a fat baby in Christ?
     
    I don't think that Paul was referring to things like mowing the lawn or paying the bills. You see often now on facebook or Instagram people doing such mundane tasks, and then saying "Hashtag: Adulting." I don't think that's what Paul was talking about in terms of maturity.
     
    I also actually think it's interesting some of the readings use the word, our face should not be like "infants." In our reading today we read "children," but I think actually probably "infants" is a better word for what we're talking about. I don't think Paul is actually being ageist against children. In other parts of the Bible, in Mark for example, Jesus says that the knowledge of God belongs to children. And we often hear that having a childlike faith is something we should aspire to. To me, what a childlike faith means is fully embracing the mystery that is God, and believing with all of our heart, soul, and mind. But perhaps what Paul is referring to is something that Rusty Osborne posits, that Paul is making the distinction between having a childlike faith and having a childish faith.
     
    Here, Paul seems to be saying that maturity is a firm, steadfast belief in Christ that endures times of questioning. He seems to be saying that being mature in our faith is actually a commitment to faith in and of itself. When Matt and I were getting married, many years ago now, I had grown up with a pastor named Pastor Weinman. In marriage counseling, I'll never forget how he talked to us. He said that the truth about human love is that human love waivers, it goes up and down, and there are times that you'll feel amazing love and compassion and passion toward one another, and other times you won't want to look at each other in the morning. But that what marriage is is a commitment to that relationship, that love goes up and down but commitment can be the steady thing. And I think that's what Paul is saying here, that sometimes our faith itself will go up and down, but to be mature in our faith is to be committed to that faith itself. To turn back when we are in times of questioning. That the commitment to faith itself is what makes us mature.
     
    In our gospel today, Jesus also seems to be thinking of the same committed, mature faith in him. This passage comes shortly after the loaves and fishes where Jesus feeds 5000, and people who had no food all of a sudden have food and the crowd is looking for Jesus. They saw this amazing thing, and now they want more. This amazing food was given to them where there was none. And they're looking for him. But Jesus is concerned that they're looking for him because of the food that he gave them, because of the immature way that they are looking for him. They're seeking him out, they're sated. They've had their food and now they want more. And they keep asking him, "What can we do? What can we do to get more of you? What can we do? How can you give us the signs? What's the easiest way for us to get what you have? We want more of it." And Jesus' answer to them is that their work is to believe in God, to be steady in their belief, to be focused not on feeding themselves daily, but to feast on the bread of God, that God provides, of Jesus himself.
     
    This is moving when I think about my own faith. It's often when I'm best fed that I'm grateful and remember to praise God. I'm sure you have your own memories of these times, but mine often include times when I'm in nature or moments when I'm sitting in this pew with my kids and just feeling so good to be together. Or, honestly, on the first day of school when everyone's out the door and I'm in a quiet home. These are the times that I remember to praise God, to look to him, to thank him. To be immersed in my faith.
     
    But I wonder about the times when I'm spiritually hangry. When I'm doing taxes, which definitely makes me hungry and angry, "hangry." And when I'm letting somebody down. When I'm embarrassed. When I have health concerns, or people that I love have health concerns that are questions that aren't getting answers. When I have parenting fails, which is not infrequent. When I'm doing things like wasting my time looking at facebook, or making my brain turn off when I should be engaging with humans that are around me. At those times I yell for signs. But Jesus, the living bread, is not what I'm looking for. I want the easy answers. I want it to be easier. I'm being immature in my faith, in my relationship with Jesus. But the miracle of Jesus is that he says the work for us to do is to believe in God. He understands it, this idea of faith is not simple. It's work. We have to continue to be looking back to what Jesus is doing, and no matter where we are, no matter how hangry we are, Jesus is there turned toward us, ready for us to look back toward him.
     
    The other thing that Paul says is that we cannot do this work, we cannot be in faith, without community. And that we together build our faith and grow in community, growing into the body of Christ. That we don't have to do this work of being mature in our faith alone. And members of the body of Christ, which is all of us and all of the people outside of these doors as well, are members that have different gifts to bring, and shine lights on our faith in different ways. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, to be honest. We are all important to the body of Christ, and we all have gifts, and none of us have to do this alone.
     
    I think as a body we've grieved the loss of our pastors. And I know for many of us, we are also now grieving the loss of the McCarty family. And that anytime a family member, a church member leaves our body, it can feel like an amputation. It's a loss. It's painful, and it's good and right to grieve that loss. I know I personally felt a lot of despair about this loss. And if I'm honest with myself, I have sometimes felt overwhelmed with the work of the church right now. Even as Brett was talking today, thinking about the work of the Transition Team and the Call Team. How are we going to educate our kids? Right now we have a vacuum to be honest, and what's going to happen with our high schoolers? Who's gonna pay for the renovations? All of these questions that weigh me down, that I feel like are mine to carry alone. And then I remember what Paul reminds us over and over again, that in Christ, with the body of God, with the body of Jesus, we have everything we need to complete these tasks.
     
    Knowing that we all have important roles in the church, but we don't have to do everything. We have our specialized roles. One of my favorite podcasts is "On Being" with Krista Tippett. I know Pastor Penny referred to it as well, so it must have the thumbs up. But one of the conversations that Krista had was with a nun named Sister Simone Campbell. She's from Nuns on the Bus. You may have heard of them. They go from town to town with activism and try to tell people about different causes. She has a lot of work through activism and contemplation and she was using the same message of Paul, saying that we need to do our part, even if that's just one thing. So she says in this conversation, "You know how in the scripture Paul says we're all one body. Not everybody is an eye. So one day I was meditating and trying to figure out what part of the body of Christ I am. So I came up with this insight. I think I'm the stomach acid."
     
    She goes on to say that the stomach acid sounds like just such a terrible part, but it's so important for metabolizing food and she says if the stomach acid runs amok it's an illness. So we need to keep it in one part of the body, that it generates energy and heat and all kinds of good stuff, but it is a very specific, small piece that depends on the whole system to be healthy and effective to work right.
     
    I think it's important for us to take a moment to just contemplate our own gifts, how our own gifts move the body of Christ forward. Most of us won't be the stomach acid, and I know O'Brien would say that I would probably be the voice, with my loud announcements. But what do we have to bring to this body together? What do we have to bring to this body, but also to the world?
     
    It can feel so overwhelming to do it alone at our church, yes. But also in this time when we see so much agony; kids separated from parents; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender folks who face death and discrimination simply for loving who they love; health and water crises; not enough healthcare; environmental harm; poverty. But we're reminded that we don't have to do it all alone. In fact, we can't.
     
    Another person that's very popular at this pulpit (actually he never stands here) Pastor Tom Schoenherr has a book that's called The Deeper Journey. In this book, he puts the idea of community and Jesus together eloquently. He says, "Jesus, the bread of life, draws us in the community with him and with one another, giving us joy and the promise of new life, sharing God's love."
     
    Sister Simone Campbell, whom I spoke about earlier, wrote a poem that I think is very poignant about this. She says, "I always joked that the miracle of the loaves and fishes was sharing. The women always knew this. But in this moment of need and notoriety, I ache, tremble, almost weep at folks so hungry, malnourished, faced with spiritual famine of epic proportions. My heart aches with their need. Apostle-like I whine, 'What are we among so many?!' The consistent 2,000 year-old ever new response is this: blessed and broken, you are enough. I savor the blessed, cower at the broken, and pray to be enough."
     
    Dear Jesus, help us to see each other and ourselves as enough as we continue to be spiritually fed, feasting on you, the bread of life, and holding each other steady, mature, yet growing in our faith as the body of Christ.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Katie Ciorba, LGBTQ, Transition Committee, Call Committee
  • Jul 29, 2018God’s Love For All
    Jul 29, 2018
    God’s Love For All
    Series: (All)
    July 29, 2018. The focus of Pastor Tom Schoenherr's sermon today comes from Psalm 145: God's love for all. Sometimes in our society we want to withhold God's grace and mercy for only certain people. But God keeps reminding us that it's for everyone.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
     
    I need to confess that the reading of the psalm was my idea, in order that we might be able to see that in those short amount of verses, there are 14 mentions of "all." Fourteen times I think -- you want to count them to make sure? Fourteen times that "all" is used in that psalm. And it just spoke to me as an evidence of God's multitude of his giving of his abundance. [Holding a paper] I know you can't see this. This is the Pickles cartoon for this weekend. They're both sitting on easy chairs in the living room. Earl is reading the paper. You know, the Pickles cartoon? It's an older couple. There, okay. And then you hear the phone ring. It looks like it's in his pocket. This is kind of a negative example. And he's still reading the paper, and the recording is going on in his pocket. It says, "Hi, this is Earl. I can't answer the phone right now, even though it's in my shirt pocket. At the tone, you can leave a message if you'd like. But who are we kidding? We both know you'd probably have better luck putting it in a bottle and tossing it in the ocean. Have a nice day." And then she looks at him and says, "You know you're despicable, don't you?"
     
    As I said, a kind of negative example of what this psalm and this gospel lesson for today are about. Some of you may use a portion of the psalm as your meal prayer. "The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing." What a wonderful prayer. And it is God's love for all that is the focus of that psalm, and is the focus of Jesus' feeding. It is that gift of God's grace and mercy that we so desperately need in our lives and in our world that we receive from God in this special way.
     
    Our world, including you and me, at times is very anxious. We live in an anxious time. People are kind of upset a lot, and into this world, into this anxiety, God gives a message that he has come to bring grace and mercy to all. And we want to withhold it for only certain ones. Or our society and our world do. But God keeps saying no, it's for all. It's for everyone. The words from the psalm are, "The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down."
     
    Dr. Rachel Remen tells a story about a time when she was on an airplane and she was sitting at the bulkhead. She was on the aisle seat, there was an empty seat, and then there was an older man who was sitting next to the window. And he was just looking out the window. She sat down and she put her purse in that empty seat, and then she opened a book. She was going to read as much as she could on this flight. And then the flight attendants came along and they were giving out a snack to people (this is a long time ago) of a bagel and a pint of yogurt. Well, she went back to reading her book, and then she heard her seat mate gasp. She looked down, and he had spilled all of that yogurt on to the carpeting of the floor, onto his shoe, and onto a small carry-on bag that was under the seat. She waited, thinking that he was going to do something to try to clean it up, but nothing happened.
     
    And so she looked and she noticed that he had a brace that was on his left leg. She thought, his left leg is paralyzed. She turned on her light for the flight attendants to come and help, but they were quite busy with the rest of the plane and plane passengers. And so when the flight attendant came, she was really quite upset with Rachel for asking her to do this little favor. But Rachel Remen said, "All I really need is if you would give me a wet towel, and I'll take care of it myself." Soon the wet towel came, and Rachel had it and he talked to her and said, "You know, eight months ago I had a stroke. And I don't have any feeling from my fingertips to my elbows in either arm. And of course, my left leg is paralyzed." And she said, "You know, I wear an ileostomy bag. And I have bad eyesight, and flying is not the easiest thing for me to do." And so he looked and he saw that she had this wet towel. His right leg was tucked underneath the seat, and he brought it out and she said to him, "May I?" And she proceeded to wipe off his shoes and the floor and the carry-on bag. And then he bent down toward her and he said, "You know, I used to play the violin."
     
    This man was suffering. Bowed down. Broken. A person who was in need at that particular time. And she was there to do the simple thing of wiping up the mess, and cleaning up what needed to be done.
     
    We are all suffering. It is suffering that describes us as human beings. It connects us to one another. None of us goes through life without having some suffering or brokenness of some kind in our lives. If we separate ourselves from one another, and separate ourselves from God and God's ways, we may feel very much alone and in the darkness. It's a very difficult thing.
     
    Many believe we are living in a zero-sum game. That when somebody else gets something good, then we don't and we lose something of our own. That's not the way God works. That is not God's way among us. For God's gift is for all, and everything is given. He gives everything he has for all.
     
    When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, the disciples would have heard that story as they heard Jesus speaking. And given the division between Jews and Samaritans, they probably would have expected that Jesus would have said that the Samaritan went through the man's pants pockets and took out his billfold and took out his credit cards and took out his money and his keys and walked away. But that isn't what happened. The Samaritan had pity on this man, put him on his own donkey, and took him to an inn where they were both welcomed.
     
    Isn't that God's way, even with those that we don't feel very comfortable with? Jesus calls us to give all. God says give it all away. And yet we know that there are lots of people, or at least some, who would go through the pants pockets and take out the billfold and take out the credit cards and the cash and the keys and walk away. We know that that's true.
     
    So what do we do? How do we live? Do we want to live in that suspicion of everybody who is anybody apart from me? And those who are immediately around me are always going to be suspected of doing those kinds of things? God says that's not a good way to live. And God continues to give and give and give for all, without suspicion of what the person's motives might be or what they might do.
     
    There's an ancient form of Japanese art called Kintsugi. What it does is to take valuable possessions that are cracked and broken, and mend them with gold leaf. So that you see the big crack in the bowl that you normally might throw away in the garbage. But it's valued and honored by the way in which it is repaired. And so you see all of that gold where those cracks and broken parts were, and it's all put back together.
     
    I wonder if that's what God's way is with us. We are cracked and broken people, whom he invites to the table again this morning. We come with all our cracks, all our our foibles, all of our fallenness, all of our brokenness, all of our bowed-down-ness. We bring it all to Jesus. And he takes it and he returns to us our lives -- where it was cracked and broken, filled with the gold leaf of God's abiding love In Jesus Christ. And that gift of forgiveness and healing is ours to share.
     
    There were twelve baskets left over. Were all of those thrown away, all of that food? We live in a society that wastes so much food. No, it was taken and given to others who might need it, so that all might be satisfied, all might know that abundant love of God that has come for all.
     
    The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord. You give us our food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing. No longer do we need to live with clenched fists, only thinking about ourselves and those around us that we know. But our hands are open, that we might share the abundance of God's grace and mercy and love with all of God's people, as God has so abundantly shared them with you and me.
     
    In Jesus' name, amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Paster Tom Schoenherr, Psalm 145:16-17