Monday, June 23, 2014

2nd Sunday after Pentecost (A)- 7/22/14

Second Sunday after Pentecost-Sermon
6/22/14-Year A

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

There was a name that I remember from my youth that I knew what it denoted, but not the etymology from which it arose.  Growing up with grandparents in the midwest, let me just say there were many such idioms and expressions that boggled my mind. I could use them, and use them correctly, but I had absolutely no idea where they came from and outside of their figurative usage, what they literally meant. For example, whenever something needed to be fixed, Mom or Grandpa would declare themselves to be a regular Patch Adams. Now the name itself hits at the definition and so it didn’t take me long to figure out that a Patch Adams is one who patches things, be they bicycles, lawnmowers and tractors, or even scraped knees healed and mended by a mother’s love. Yet it took me several years, and really not until the Robin Williams’ movie, to realize that Patch Adams wasn’t just an expression like a Johnny-Come-Lately, but rather a real live person. Not only is Patch a real person, but the name is indeed indicative of his vocation, a doctor. 

The movie, by the same name, chronicles in Hollywood fashion (meaning more fiction than fact) the story of his journey through medical school and to becoming a doctor. In one of the more poignant subplots to the movie, Patch, rather courageously and foolishly tries to build a relationship with one of the patients, Bill, who is dying from cancer. Bill is angry and grieving. He is so filled with anger that he routinely yells and screams at the nurses and doctors, gladly hurling his bed pan at them every chance he can get. Patch himself receives such treatment, over and over again. Each time going in hopeful that he will get through to Bill, and release him from the anger and pain that is affecting every relationship around him, even with his family. In one of the more poignant scenes of the movie, Patch enters Bill’s room one last time adorned with angelic robe and wings and says, “Death. To die. To expire. To pass on. To perish. To peg out. To push up daisies. To push up posies. To become extinct. Curtains, deceased, Demised, departed And defunct. Dead as a doornail. Dead as a herring. Dead as a mutton. Dead as nits. The last breath. Paying a debt to nature. The big sleep. God's way of saying, "Slow down.” To which Bill responds, “To check out.  To head for the happy hunting ground. To find oneself without breath. Buy the farm. Cash in your chips.” In naming death, in speaking of it, even in a humorous way, Patch is able to release Bill from the pain, anger, and fear that until that moment held him captive. From the moment of his diagnosis to that moment, he though still alive was dead, after that moment though dying he was filled again with laughter, life, and peace. 

It seems to me that is the same thing that is going on in our second lesson from Romans this morning and the Apostle Paul. This passage is a foundational one for us Lutherans as it helps to comprise our baptismal theology and also our funeral rite. If you were listening carefully you would have heard in 11 verses, St. Paul speak of death, died, dying, or dead 13 times! Over and over St. Paul in repetitive refrain speaks of the reality of baptism in the life of the Christian. It is death. It is the death of death, the death of sin, the death of the devil, the death of the powers of this world. But why speak of these things on this Sunday, the 2nd after Pentecost? For on the Day of Pentecost a few weeks ago we spoke of the power of the endless life of God, through the Holy Spirit, pouring out upon the disciples and upon us. Last week on Trinity Sunday we spoke of our life being lived in the life of God. This Sunday, we seem to be going backwards a bit in hearing from St. Paul about death. Yet it seems to me the reason that we hear from Romans 6 this morning is found in its paring with the Gospel Lesson. 

At the end of Chapter 9, Jesus is there standing with his disciples and he asks of them what will be a rather ironic thing. He tells them, The harvest is truly plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. In rather rapid fashion, in the very first verses of chapter 10, the Lord of the Harvest responds by calling His laborers to His side to work in His field, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite, and Judas Iscariot. The irony is found in that those disciples that were praying for laborers, turn out to be the very laborers for which they were praying. For Jesus sends them out with the word of His power, “As you go, preach, saying, ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons.” Our Lord sends out His disciples with the power and gift of faith to do His work in the world, to be harvesters of His field bringing life to death. His words this morning from Matthew are the continuation of that instruction to His disciples, warning them of the fate that will likely befall them for being associated with Him. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they call those of his household. They are words of loving warning from Jesus to the reality of the Gospel in the world. It will be rejected, mocked, spit upon, denied, crucified and pierced. Just as the world will do to Christ himself. So will His disciples too find themselves mocked, derided, spat upon, crucified and pierced either by the instruments of persecution or by the words and looks of their peers or even their own family. 

What sin, death, and the devil do to the very Son of God, the Father himself will undue. For the Father knows the very number of the hairs on the head of His beloved Son and he will not let Him go un-vindicated or without justice. He will raise Him from the dead. He will clothe Him with life. This the Father does for all those who confess Him before the world. This He does for all the disciples of His Son, those who by faith cling to the mercy and grace of the cross. In this both Jesus and St. Paul reiterate that the final word for the Christian is a word of resurrected life. Thus St. Paul writes, consider yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Thus Jesus repeats in three-fold refrain, Do not fear. For though the world will reject your message and though your family might reject you for your faith, the Father will never let you out of His grasp. Being dead to sin, death, and the devil, you are forever God’s, a child in his kingdom and a laborer in his field. 

This is why these words come to us on the second Sunday after Pentecost, as the focus of the Church’s calendar and year has now switched, from following closely the events of our Lord’s life to the life of the Church. It is why the color has changed from white to green, the color of the growing branches in the vine of Christ, the color of the verdant work of the Holy Spirit among the life of the faithful. The time after Pentecost, follows naturally having celebrated the Victory of our Lord’s defeat of death during Eastertide and having celebrated the church’s clothing with power and life from the Holy Spirit, to the work of the disciples in the harvest of the Lord, preaching the kingdom, healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, and raising the dead. This is the mission, the commission of the Church from Jesus himself as we heard last week. It is the natural praise of Christ and the sharing of his word that follows naturally from having received everything from Him. It is the gift and work of every disciple. 

I know many of us having been praying for Reformation, for her growth and outreach, for her ministries to continue to thrive and be faithful, yet I have a sneaking suspicion that we are like those 12 men caught unawares of who they were truly praying for. For in praying for the work of our congregation, for people come and join our congregation and work in the kingdom, in Christ we find that we are praying for no one else, but ourselves. It is not someone else’s calling, it is our calling. It is not someone else’s job, it is our job. It is not someone outside to help grow our congregation, but rather it is our own names that Jesus himself calls to His side and calls to his work of laboring in His field, working in his harvest. Thus the Gospel of the Lord is read this morning and proclaimed to us all, Do not fear….you are alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. For though we may find His word a fearful thing, there is nothing to fear for God in Christ has defeated every enemy. Though we may find His word to go out into all nations, even out into our own homes to share His Gospel hard difficult and painful, it is the only true and everlasting joy we will ever know. Though we may even die, push up daisies, buy the farm, and kick the bucket for His sake and the sake of His gospel, we will nevertheless find our life with His, died, buried, resurrected and ascended to be with Him and the Father and Holy Spirit forever and ever.  Amen.     

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pentecost Sunday Homily- 6/8/14

Pentecost Sunday- Sermon
6/8/14-Year A

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life. Some of you may remember a handful of months ago Bishop Bradosky came and spoke to our congregation. I don’t remember whether it was in his homily or in one of his addresses where he spoke a poignant word about our Christian life. He said, "apart from the Holy Spirit there is not one thing that a Christian can do in the life of faith." Again, I don’t remember specifically whether or not he referenced the Apostle Paul’s words, but the sentiment is the same, “No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” There is nothing in our lives of faith that does not include the work or movement of the Holy Spirit. The Bishop is right and St. Paul is right, yet for some reason or another we seem to diminish and underplay the life of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We Lutherans are known for being 2nd Article people, that is Christ focused and centered people when it comes to our theology and worship. It is even one of our four values of the NALC, Mission Driven, Congregationally Focused, Traditionally Grounded, and Christ Centered. Our great gift to the whole Church catholic, as Lutherans, is our theology of the Cross. That everything we talk about theologically, biblically, and pastorally finds itself interpreted and understood by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We Lutherans take St. Paul seriously, “we preach Christ crucified.” Yet all of that has been stirred in our preaching and teaching, and blown into our tradition, by the Holy Spirit, the Lord the giver of Life. 

But for some reason or another we seem to be bad about speaking of the Holy Spirit. In fact one of the worst Pentecost sermons I’ve ever heard, and as pastor trust me we know we preach bad sermons, but it came from a Lutheran pastor in a Lutheran congregation. At each and every time this pastor wanted to use a pronoun for the Holy Spirit in his sermon, he chose “it.” As if the Holy Spirit were a thing, an object, or some mystical force akin to the power of the Jedi. This is not what we believe and confess regarding the Holy Spirit, although the lightsabers would come in handy from time to time. The Holy Spirit is person, a person of the Godhead, three-in-one and one-in-three, proceeding from the Father and the Son. He is worshiped and glorified. He is God, the witness of the love between Father and Son. The witness of the love of Father and Son to us.  He is Lord. He is the giver of life and that is from the biblical witness, from Genesis to the end. The Holy Spirit is there at work bring life. We remember the creation, where the Spirit of God hovered about the waters. We see in Genesis 2 as God breathes the breath of His life, the Ruach Adonai, the Spirit of the Lord into the clay man, Adam. We see Him again in the Exodus as He fills the various artists and builders with the gifts they need to see that the tabernacle, the altar, the ark, the lampstand, the table of the bread of the presence, the vestments, and all the other things used in the worship are completed and used in communion with God. He is there breathing into the lives of David the King, Solomon the Wise, inspiring their psalms and wisdom.  He is there breathing into the Prophets, His prophetic word for the people, the judgment and salvation, the Law and the Gospel of God. He breathes words of life and hope for a hopeless Israel. He brings them the comfort of God and the assurance of the Lord’s redemption. As Isaiah speaks, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Words that will find their fulfillment in Christ, upon whom the Holy Spirit will descend to do this very thing. To heal, to proclaim liberty, to give sight, and preach the gospel. He, the Lord and Give of life abides and remains with Christ throughout His ministry, the Son and Spirit joined in the one work and will of God. Giving life to creation. 

In our Gospel lesson we see Him again do that very same thing, in almost the same fashion as Genesis. Where God in Jesus Christ takes men, lifeless men in their fear and guilt and self-imprisonment, and does what He did to Adam of old, He breathes the breath of life, the breath of God, the Ruach Adonai into them and giving them peace and the power of His life. He did it to the ten in that locked room. He did it to the rest of the church on Pentecost, all 120 who had gathered in the upper room and out the windows and around the house in flames of fire, with the sound of a might and rushing wind, the Sound of the breath of Almighty God. He breathes His breath of life into you. At Holy Baptism the Holy Spirit, the Lord the giver of life, gave life to you. Filling you with His gifts, drawing you into the waters of the font, and clothing you with faith. The Holy Spirit breathed into you the life of God, drawing you further into God’s life by point you to Jesus Christ and the free gift of salvation, hung upon the cross and bursting forth from the tomb. He fills you with His gifts for the building up of the whole Church in service to the Kingdom of God. God Has clothed you with the Holy Spirit and with His power made you a priest in His kingdom. On this day the Church celebrates the Spirit giving life to her, but today we also celebrate that through her He, the Lord, has breathed and given life to you.  

Today is not only a celebration of the Church’s birthday, but of yours and of your faith. For even at this moment God continues to bless you with His presence in the Holy Spirit, of whom the apostle writes, you are a temple. You carry within you the Spirit of God who intercedes on us with God. Who brings us to faith each day to Christ Jesus and who continues to speak His same words that he spoke to the prophets in you, of Law and of Gospel, of joy and liberty, of sight and healing, of peace and everlasting hope. For the Holy Spirit has called you through the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all your sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to you and to all believers in Christ.  This is most certainly true.  

Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.   


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Seventh Sunday of Easter (A)-Sermon

Seventh Sunday of Easter-Sermon
6/1/14-Year A

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

This past week I had the opportunity to sit in on a theology class at Crean Lutheran High School in Irvine, where our own Wes Bareford teaches and field questions from high school juniors. I would ask you to continue to pray for these kids and their school community as they mourn the loss of one of their own. The subject of the class was on the “last things” or “end times.” Now I confessed to them, as I confess to you, that I am not a scholar about these things, but being relatively familiar with the book of Revelation and other apocalyptic literature in the Bible, I fielded their questions and answered what I could. Of course the first and most asked question amongst them was “when?” When will the end be? When will all those things we read of take place? I fear I may have let them down when I answered, IDK. I don’t know. I truly don’t know other than that the end times are lived each day as the Church waits for Jesus Christ to return. We live amongst wars and rumors of wars. We see creation in turmoil and the Church continues to go through tribulation and persecution.

Next in popularity to the question of “when” was “what?” What will it look like? What will happen? What will heaven be like? What about the new heaven and the New earth? Going through the symbolical language of Revelation, we see and hear fantastic images of heaven, the four beasts, the angels and elders, the streets of pure gold clear as crystal, and the pearly gates. It is wonderful imagery that our minds simply cannot comprehend.  Yet, we are regularly in the pursuit of wanting to know more about this heaven. Thus the kids continued to ask about their bodies in heaven and what the resurrected flesh will look like. They asked about what they will do in heaven; will there be work or will they have jobs? Unfortunately to most of those questions again I could only respond, IDK. For they are yet to be revealed and we will know once we get there. Their curiosity about heaven though, I think is one that is mirrored not only by us adults, but by even the culture. We as people are fascinated by this place. 

The Hollywood film, What Dreams May Come, depicts heaven in ways that Christians, unfortunately, might also talk about heaven. In the movie it is a place that is really the creation of the person. The main character of the movie, Chris, played by Robin Williams, is given his own little corner of heaven where he is the creator of his own domain. He is given poetic and creative license to make it whatever he wants, just by the will of his own imagination. Ask a Christian about heaven and more often than not, he or she will tell you a world that is not much different than that movie. It is a world like the one they live in, but only better. Where they will catch that big fish in heaven, that got away on earth. Where they will ride that big harley in the sky, that they couldn’t afford to purchase down here. They will play cards with aunt Bernice, just like they did in the old days, only this time they will win. Heaven and life after death seems to become a place of imagination; the creation of the minds of those who think about it. Life after death seems most of all to be about a place where dreams come true and if that is true then the universalists are right all paths do lead there. 

Unfortunately that is not what our Lord or the Scriptures reveal to us about the life to come. As we said certainly there are wonderful depictions about heaven in the book of Revelation, but relatively speaking they are few in number. For scripture and our Lord life after death has very little to do with a place. So little in fact that true Christian teaching would say that the end of the Christian life is not about a place at all, but rather a person. This is what Jesus reveals to us this morning in His prayer to the Father. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. This is the eternal life, the heaven that we speak about as Christians, we talk not of a place, but of a person: God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The end of the Christian life is Christ through whom we know God. Heaven, depicted in Revelation, though beautiful as it is is simply the space where the saints gather around the throne of God and praise Him, day and night. It is only a place where we know God. 

This knowing of God is not mere academic or head knowledge. “To know” in the Bible is rarely only an exercise of the mind, though it definitely includes the mind. It is rather a sense of intimate knowledge. One of unity of heart, mind and will with another. It is why the word in the Old Testament is used to depict the conception of a child. It is complete intimate knowledge, where two become one: the Lover with his beloved, the Bridegroom with His bride, the Lord with His Church, the Father with His children. The knowledge of God that Jesus prays of is becoming one Him in an eternal bond of love. It is to be one with Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Eternal life is eternal communion (one with) with God. As Christians then to speak of heaven, without primarily speaking about fully knowing and loving God and being completely one with Him, is not to speak about heaven at all. For eternal life has little to do with a place, but everything to do with a Person.    

It is this eternal communion with God that Jesus prays for His Church and for which He gives thanks to the Father. An eternal communion, which they will experience in part as the church continues in this world without Him. A communion, which itself will not be on Mt. Gerazim or in Jerusalem, but in Spirit and in Truth, wherever the Church assembles to hear the Word proclaimed and to celebrate the Sacrament of that very eternal life which is ours here and now: Holy Communion. The meal of the altar is the marriage feast of that Lamb. It is where we are met by the eternal and living God and are made one with him (communion). Bread and wine eaten and drank for forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation is the unveiling of heaven on earth. This is the truer depiction of heaven that we see in the Bible, where the saints gather not primarily in a place, but chiefly around the Lord Jesus Christ, to know Him and be known by Him.

With this eternal communion with God, which we receive and participate in each time we gather around the Lord’s table, there is another communion of which we must also speak. The communion of which our Lord Jesus fervently prayed and continues to pray for His church, I pray for them…Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. Communion with God is communion with His children, we brothers and sisters. It is what we pray for in the Eucharistic Prayer, that by the Holy Spirit we might be one, as we share in the one bread and one cup of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are prayed for by our Lord in heaven to be one with Him and to be one with each other. For we all share as the apostles writes, one Lord, One faith, One baptism, one God and Father of us all. As we discuss and discern our future together as a parish it is this eternal life that will bind and hold us together, the oneness we share in the confession of our faith and the oneness we share in union with God. A unity and a communion that we experience here on earth as heaven opens before us and we know God gathered not in a place, but around a person, the victorious Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The Lamb of God who takes away our sin. The Lamb of God who grants us peace.  

May He grant us peace and increase in us the bonds of fellowship and unity in Him as with one heart and one voice we live our eternal life and cry aloud, “Alleluia Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!”