Monthly Archives: February 2014

Thinking Differently about “Bi-vocational” Pastors & Ministry

First off, I’m a big proponent of bi-vocational ministry.  Actually, I like to call it multi-vocational ministry.  For me, my understanding of ministry comes from the notion that none of us as persons are constructed out of a single role, type of work, or thing.  Our identities are shaped and varied by all sorts of forces, vocations, if you will.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about multi/bi-vocational ministry.  And a while back, I came across a conversation about the “issue” of bi-vocational ministry….primarily the theological problems it presents.  If you want to go into it in detail, you can check it out here.  Additionally, there are other perspectives as well, like this and this.  But here’s my take on their conversation:

  • Bi-vocational ministry is narrowly defined as having another job to supplement your pastoral salary (or lack thereof).  Vocation=work you get paid for.
  • The primary theological justification for bi-vocational ministry is evangelism – both as the pastor and modeling it for those in the congregation.
  • Other justifications for bi-vocational ministry: economic sustainability, church-planting, missional development, more “authentic” than full-time professional ministry.

And that’s where I find these and other definitions and reasoning both narrow and problematic.  Because as someone who is multi-vocational in their ministry….the model works for me much differently.  Because what they’re describing…..I’m not doing it, and I’m not thinking it.  

1.  Vocation is the space in which persons negotiate theological tension in their lives.  There are lots of roles I have to fulfill in my life – pastor, husband, brother, wrestling coach, Navy Chaplain, friend.  Some of these roles pay the bills, some don’t.  All are relational roles though.   And in relationship we’re negotiating theological tension: law and gospel, sin and grace, sinner and saint.  (Having read what I just wrote, I just might be Lutheran!)

In all these roles I bring my person into them – my whole self – which means spiritual gifts, acquired skills, passion, and learned information and knowledge.  It also means I bring my brokenness, insecurities, issues of trust and power, and bias into them as well.  Vocation makes space to work all this out in relationships, and in doing so, it’s the space we seek for God’s presence and action in the world, in our lives, and in our relationships.  Thus, vocation is missional – it’s cooperation and witness in God’s ongoing and eschatological work towards a new creation.

2.  Ontologically, we’re multi-vocational beings.  As I mentioned above, I serve in many different roles.  None of them on their own make up my whole being; they all shape who I am ontologically.  Additionally, they are not mutually exclusive in that process either.  For example, my role as a pastor also shapes who I am as a husband.  

Additionally, my being to others will shift in focus in fluid ways.  For instance, at this point in the year I’m more of a wrestling coach because my athletes need a bit more attention at the end of the season.  I communicate and negotiate that with my pastoral roles, and my wife makes space to allow me to live into that (knowing she gets my full attention after the season!).  This process is true for most, if not every person who lives in the world today.  Being is shaped by our many vocations being lived out together.

3.  Multi-vocational models of pastors seek to be more authentic and vulnerable persons to the people they witness and minister to.  I agree with the authors of the synchropost; bi-vocational ministry has been romanticized as “better” than full-time, conventional models of pastoral ministry. But it is wrong to write them off completely.  If we as pastors live more publicly as authentic, vulnerable, multi-vocational persons, negotiating the theological and ontological tensions with openness, we draw others into a similar experience.  We invite them to partake on a similar journey through life, asking deep questions and experiencing God in places and spaces well outside the church walls.  It is about modeling….but modeling life in the world as an authentic person of faith; not one assimilated into and loyal to the culture of the church.

4.  Bi/multi-vocational ministry is about economy…but it doesn’t have to be.  I’ll be honest: bi/multi-vocational ministry IS about economics.  When your pastor isn’t eating up 30% or more of your church’s budget, especially when that church is just getting started or is struggling, there’s a benefit to a pastor who can meet the same needs at a fraction of the cost.  In church-planting, this becomes essential because more resources are needed for evangelism, outreach…establishing a presence publicly.

But it’s not just about the money, and ministry can’t ever be.  Likewise, vocation can never be about the money.  It’s about calling and witness; participation and discipleship; encounter and worship with God.  This model of ministry isn’t a useful strategy in growing the institutional church; it’s about living in such a way that bends your life towards the life of God.  It’s about living in a way that invites others into a similar life.

Now all that said, I realize that not everyone wants to live into this way of doing ministry.  And I’m totally ok with that.  But bi/multi-vocational ministry is not about leading them into a “better” way of Christian living, nor is it inherently the way to go in church leadership. But I believe it’s a more authentic way.

I believe that if we’re really honest, our lives are multi-vocational.  Our very being is comprised of many different roles and vocations, and we’d do well to understand that as pastors and leaders in ministry. 

It’s about living out publicly who God has created us to be, and I think, calls us to be: multi-vocational beings.

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“Stereotypes Suck:” What’s good about P-Town

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I came across this meme a couple weeks ago.

So, if you live in Portsmouth, how does this make you feel?  And if you don’t live in Portsmouth, I’d ask you the same thing.

Bottom line is, “stereotypes suck.”

Case in point: My wife went to a comedy show this past weekend, and there was a skit that poked fun at the various neighborhoods and cities in the Hampton Roads region.  It poked fun at the people who live there.  People from Ghent in Norfolk were portrayed as “yuppies, well-to-do;” people from Virginia Beach were portrayed as”self absorbed beach bums;” and people from Portsmouth were portrayed as “white trash.”

I’m sure it was funny…because anything that funny hits a bit too close to home.  It’s funny because stereotypes do have a tinge of truth to them….and a whole lot of misrepresentation as well.

Another example: I was talking to my wrestlers a couple weeks ago about fairness and affirmative action (yes, high school wrestlers) and one of them made an offhanded comment that crime originates with African-Americans.  As we discussed, and I challenged their stereotypes.

“So, when you think of Portsmouth, what comes to your mind?”

They replied, “Black people, crime, drugs and shootings.”

And I replied back, “Do you think that’s actually what happens there all the time?  Is that what people are like there?”

And they replied, “Probably not.”

Here’s the things about stereotypes: they mask was is really true about a place and the people that live there.  They tell a different story, one based in incidents that originate from a small percentage of the population.  Stereotypes mask reality….and the stories of the people who live there.  They mask what is good about cities and the people who live there.

Portsmouth is no different.  Like the picture above, it gets a bad rap, and all because of stereotypes.  But there’s lots of good in Portsmouth: good people, good restaurants, good communities, good organizations doing good things.  And perhaps we’d do well to highlight those, especially since these tunnel tolls that are now in place are discouraging even more people to come see the good in P-Town.

On that note, for those of you reading out there: What’s good about P-Town in your mind?  What restaurant, what neighborhoods, what organizations are awesome in your mind?  What should people go check out in Portsmouth?  And, what makes you proud to live in Portsmouth?

We’d love to have you share…….because like I said, “stereotypes suck.”

 

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Sermon 23 Feb: “Don’t love Your enemies.” A Lesson in Perfection & Holiness

Readings: Leviticus 19:1-2; 9-18. Matthew 5:38-48

“You shall be holy, For I the Lord your God am holy.”
“Be perfect, therefore, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”

These two lines for our readings this morning – from Leviticus and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – this past week, I thought: What exactly does it mean to be holy? To be perfect as God is?

I came to this conclusion: if we think about holiness and perfection as some sort of personal moral standard we need to be working towards, dedicating our time to a life of trying to attain it….there’s a tendency to compare ourselves to others. It’s like my wrestlers, they compare themselves to other wrestlers to see how well they’re performing, what they’re better at and what they need to improve on.

And holiness and perfection thought of this way…..there’s a tendency to set ourselves apart from others, a tendency to separate ourselves from those who don’t fit into our process of perfection, our standard of holiness.

In other words, we have a tendency to make enemies out of each other.

This past week, I came across an article in USA Today, in which a new poll shows that China has replaced Iran as America’s #1 enemy in the world. And, North Korea is #3 on the list, rapidly closing the gap on both Iran and China at the top of the list.

Now I understand that countries have competing interests and different notions on what is acceptable, right, and good…..but, why in the world is there a poll that keeps tabs on what countries are our greatest enemies in the first place? Doesn’t it seem kind of ridiculous?

But, the more I think about it and what we “Christians” and “the church” tend to do….how different are we? We present standards of holiness and perfection in such a way that sets ourselves and the church apart from others. And in doing that, whether we’re thinking that way or not, we make the world our adversary. We make others who don’t believe or behave as we do, as “Christian,” our enemies.

And such notions of holiness and perfection, we not only make people our enemies, but even loving them becomes self-serving. Jesus’ mandate to “Love our enemies,” and “turn the other cheek” becomes about increasing our standing with God, and in front of others, frankly. But all those people we’re attempting to “love”…..they still remain our enemies. Enemies who threaten us……our beliefs, our values, our traditions, our way of life…….or so we think.

And I wonder if what Jesus is saying in our text today isn’t so much attempt to “love your enemies” but rather – why do you even have enemies in the first place?

A couple years ago, I came across an article in the newspaper. It was a court case in which a 17-year old kid had stolen and trashed 76 year old Sally Packard’s car. Her car was her only mode of transportation…..which she used to go to two places: to her church and to get to her doctor’s appointments. And the car, while an old clunker, worth about $500, was not something she could replace on her present meager income.

On that day in court, Sally had the opportunity to meet this 17-year old kid – who in all ways could be considered HER ENEMY. And as the case was about to start, Sally was allowed to speak to this boy, her enemy, first.

“When we forgive, we don’t deny the hurt that we have received. We don’t deny that it was wrong, but we acknowledge that there is more to the offender than the offense.”

Then Sally talked about being a foster mom for about 50 kids, many of them who had been abused and neglected, and how much she empathized with the young man standing before her in court.

“I personally know most of these kids have not been parented, and maybe their parents haven’t either, or maybe they got into the wrong crowd, or got into drugs,” she said. “I would like him to know that I pray for him and the other two boys who were with him daily, and that it is not too late for them,” she continued. “I would also like these boys to think of their own families. Would they want their families to experience what I have?” “Again, please let him know that I sincerely care about him, and I am praying for his redirection and rehabilitation,” she said. “A good life awaits him, if he will just choose a new path. God bless.”

Sally then asked the judge if she could give the young man two stones. One said “Hope,” the other said, “A special prayer for you.” The young man took the stones, and began to sob. “The hurt, I never thought of that,” said the teen. “I’m really sorry. I regret this decision. I’m sorry for all of the hurt that I caused you.”

“I care. Lots of people care about you,” said Sally. Then Sally hugged the boy – who everyone thought was her enemy. The boy squeezed her hard and sobbed.
Everyone in the court were blown away at what they witnessed. And Sally asked if the judge would waive the charges, including the $500 restitution for her car, because she had heard the kid has lost his job and she was fearful he wouldn’t be able to afford it.

After court, the judge was was so moved, she sent an email to the newspaper reporter who then covered the story and noted: “It was the genuine concern and love for this kid who stole her car that blew us all away,” she wrote. “It was a miracle.”

I wonder: why this is such a “miracle?” Is it such a miracle that Sally could extend the hand of grace and love to someone who wronged her – her enemy? Or perhaps the “miracle” is that Sally didn’t see him as an enemy in the first place. Rather, she saw a human being in front of her – and embraced him in love.

It’s this humanity – even in its sin and brokenness – that God loves. In Christ God chooses to see humanity not as God’s enemy, something to be at odds with, but rather…..something to embrace. Something to forgive. Something to love.

And I think if we’re to be holy and perfect as God is, then it’s not so much about attempting to love our enemies….it’s about embracing others in love as God does. That love of course sees the differences we have in each other, and it acknowledges the ways we’re broken and how we hurt each other. But love also looks through those things and sees not an enemy to be at odds with…..but a person. A human being. A child of God.

And maybe we’d do well, both as people and as the church, to embrace people in love rather than see them as enemies who threaten us. If we embraced the world – one that God loves deeply – a bit more, rather than be at odds with it, those looking in at us might see a “miracle” as well…..they’d see through us a God who embraces the world perfectly in love through Christ. And we’d see the same. And I would have a tendency to think…..that having one less enemy these days would be a good thing…….A holy thing. A perfect thing. Amen.

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Worship & Follow-on Conversations: Being honest about who we are

As I mentioned in my post about my sermon, I had lots of great follow-on conversations after worship yesterday.  Deep, thoughtful conversations; conversations about hard and difficult things.  Here’s a recap:

  • Numerous conversations about the futures of both churches (St. Andrew & Holy Communion), concerns and dreams alike.
  • Conversations about understanding, not fixing each other….finding ways to be empathetic towards each other, to love through conflict, disagreement, hurt, & pain.
  • Conversation about guns: both laws and what’s in the human heart.
  • And conversations with newcomers, those “checking us out” for the first (or second) time.

It’s that last one that I want to spend some time on.  As pastor, most of the time I try to “stay out of the way,” especially when folks in the congregations are making good, honest attempts to get to know neighbors and talk about the church community.  Too often, those relationships are formed through the pastor instead of with the people.  It’s a good thing when people show their passion for their church “family,” show interest and curiosity at newcomers, and do their best to include, but not overwhelm, those people.

As pastor, I’m no different than the folks in the congregation I serve; I’m genuinely interested in those folks who come through the doors, and like bragging about the people in my congregations, what they do, and how much I enjoy being their pastor.

But there’s that part of me that has to be really honest with them too.  I’m honest about where we’re at….that both congregations I serve are at crucial points in their communal life; that there’s been some conflict and hurt in the not too distant past; and that they’re aging and not very diverse, which is true of our church nationwide too.

I tell them the people here aren’t perfect – but they do their best to love each other the best they can.  And I tell them, if they’re looking for particular things – like youth ministry, or programs – then this might not be the place for them.

But I tell them who we are, and what we’re striving to be in a changing world.  In a multi-cultural, multi-racial, diverse social-economic, pluralistic, technology-driven, and busy world…..the church has a new role in articulating the gospel to the world.  The message is the same, but context is not.

I told folks yesterday that our churches don’t try to compete with everything else pulling and demanding your time.  What we do is in our congregational life, articulate the gospel through our theological tradition so that people may see God present in their lives outside the walls.  Our worship, our study, our relationships – especially our relationships – are places we encounter this God in Jesus Christ.

We ask tough questions and figure them out together.  We laugh, we mourn, we eat, we sing, we pray, we commune around the Table for communion….together.

We realize you won’t be here all the time.  Because you have a life to live…a vocation of using your gifts and self to witness to God’s presence in a world God loves.  But we hope you’re around as much as you can be….because it makes us better, and we think it makes you better.  And together, listening to our diverse, distinct voices, we’ll encounter this God who reveals himself in Jesus Christ that we’re all seeking for.

And if this isn’t the place for you….then we’ll do our best to help you find another place to connect to.

I suppose honesty scares people away….that’s a given.  But I think in the world we live in today, honesty attracts a lot of people too.  It’s not easy all the time, but in the end it’s worth it.  Because out of honesty comes reconciliation and possibility; out of death comes new life; and out of the cross comes resurrection.

Besides, isn’t honesty always the best policy? (At least that’s what my grandma told me)

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Lessons in changing your sermon mid-delivery: Sermon for 2/16/2014

Text: Matthew 5:21-37
A couple notes about today’s sermon: I decided to change my sermon…..while I was giving it. I had a conversation about the Michael Dunn case in Florida with a few folks before Sunday morning worship. And while delivering my sermon, talking about our actions and our motivations behind him, something compelled me to speak about that story. I’m sure that what came out of my mouth at both services wasn’t as polished as what’s written here.
But the cool thing is that somehow, people got it. And it sparked some good conversations….conversations about the benefits and shortcomings of gun control, about striving to understand each other better, to be more empathetic towards each other, and our motivation for being church, just to name a few.
I’m grateful for a congregation that’s a lot smarter than their pastor, and deals with all his strangeness…..like changing his sermon mid-delivery.

When I was in the 3rd grade, there was this kid named Ryan in our class. Ryan was pretty well-known, got a lot of attention in our grade and in our school. Everyone seemed to like him, and went out of their way to talk to him and play with him and include him…when he was in school. I remember him not being in school all the time, missing school for stretches – days, weeks – at a time. And like most of my classmates, I went along with this, including Ryan and treating him like everyone else did.
But, Ryan bothered me. He kinda let all that attention go to his head – he seemed to enjoy it a little too much. Honestly, probably just like any 3rd grader, he could be pretty mean at times. But anyway, I hated him & I hated being nice to him….I thought it was stupid that one kid go so much more attention than any other kid, just because he showed up. Besides, the kid wasn’t the smartest kid in class….he had little to no hair; he was this skinny, pale, weak kid who would wheeze and cough & couldn’t keep up during playground games.

Anyway, I remember one day on the playground…during the winter…..we had these huge snow piles that the groundskeepers would make and we’d play “king of the hill,” – you know, the game where you climb to the top and try to stay there by shoving everyone else off – and as I was reaching the top, there he was: Ryan. Ryan, struggling to get to the top, wheezing, not really having any challengers on his climb there. And, in that moment, for so unknown and I’m sure ridiculous reason, I shoved Ryan – I mean, really shoved him, hard – off that snow pile.

And as I stood at the top of the snow pile in triumph and satisfaction – and as he lay there, in visible pain, unable to move – the rest of my classmates rushed to his side to help, and I remember very clearly one of them looking up at me and saying, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you know he’s sick?”

In case you were wondering, Ryan had leukemia….and he passed away that spring. Now I suppose we could simply write off my behavior to the ignorance and stupidity of childhood, things that kids are simply prone to do as they grow up in this world….because they don’t know any better.

But when I think of that story today, as an adult, I wonder: what’s changed? While we might be better at acting more civil towards each other and doing and saying the right things, there’s the piece of us that secretly resents it at times. There’s still a part of us that would rather push that other person off the top of the snow pile than allow them to enjoy it too. Our actions and words might be honorable, but our motivations for doing so fall well short of honorable.

And I have to ask you, as I’ve asked myself time and time again: when I think of those motivations, who do they serve: my neighbor? God? Christ? Or myself?

Today we hear more of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – he just called the crowds live a “higher righteousness,” one greater than even the Pharisees and scribes, those who believed that such laws – laws from God – were a good thing for life.

And Jesus doesn’t disagree….he says as much. If you can recall last week’s part of the text, Jesus says he’s come to fulfill the Law, not abolish it. It’s a good thing not to kill, to not judge others, to make nice with your enemies….it’s generally not a good thing to cheat on your spouse or dispose of them like objects when they no longer meet your interests….which is what divorce amounted to in Jesus’ time.

But Jesus raises a different set of questions. Because in defining this call to a “higher righteousness” he’s asking the people and us today about our motivations for living and acting the way we do and who they serve. It’s one thing to follow and keep all the laws and commandments. It’s another thing when your actions are self-serving rather than serving others. It’s another thing when you view people as objects to meet your interests or anything less than as human beings with value and worth….created and loved by God.

I think it’s important for us to think about our motivations….because they indeed guide how and why we act and live. And here’s the thing: while we might be able to fool folks outwardly for awhile, those motivations start showing through….and while sometimes the consequences are relatively mild, like shoving a kid off a snowpile, they can have disastrous results.

If you’ve been following the news, the name Michael Dunn might ring a bell. If not, here’s a recap: Down in Florida, a man named Michael Dunn, who is white, got into an altercation with a group of teenage boys – who were black – about their music being played too loud. Things escalated on both sides, to the point where Michael Dunn thought it was necessary to pull a handgun out of his pocket and unload 10 rounds into the kids’ SUV, killing 17-year old Jordan Davis, who was in the car.

And I’m not here to debate gun control laws, to debate whether Dunn’s actions were justified or not, but I’m just wondering….how does an argument about music being too loud get to the point where a man pulls a gun from his pocket and fires 10 rounds into an SUV? What motivates someone to the point where emptying a whole clip of bullets becomes a solution to a disagreement?

Jesus’ message to the crowds, to us, is that when our motivations are based in fear, hurt, anger; when issues of diversity like race motivate us to dehumanize people, when our motivations cause us to fail to see people through the lens of love and grace…..then things get complicated. Life gets exhausting….and it takes tragic turns where relationships and lives are forever hurt and broken.

But when our motivation stems from God’s love and grace, from the motivation to love God and love another, things are simplified, and Jesus says as much. When motivated by grace and love, our answer ought to be simply “yes, yes” or “no, no.” Can I forgive this person? Can I love them even though they’re a pain in the ass, and knowing I can’t and won’t be able to change that in them? Can I see them fully as a human being – both tragically broken and sinful and wonderfully made and loved by God?

That doesn’t mean that loving and forgiving are easy. Sometimes, no is appropriate because the hurt and pain is such that to forgive quickly denies the need for time when it comes to healing….when we don’t take that time, we don’t actually heal, we don’t actually forgive, and we don’t actually end up loving….and that falls short of God’s vision of life for us. But, the commitment to love and forgive in the midst of conflict and hurt is a simple “yes” or “no”: it tends to be an all or nothing thing: you’re all in, or walk away from the table completely.

And I think that simplifies being church for us too. Because if we’re motivated by God’s love and grace, then the answer is simply “yes, yes:” the church is a community that embraces all people in their diversity – race, lifestyle, age, and belief – just as God in Jesus Christ has embraced all of us. The answer is simply “no, no:” the church can never be a culture we preserve so that it satisfies our own want and desire for comfort, and closes itself off from anything different that threatens it. Again, it’s not always easy, but the motivation is simple – you’re all in, or you’re not.

Now I’ve thrown a lot at you this morning…..and for sure, taking a hard look at your motivations is difficult and challenging work. Yet, as we consider all this, let us be reminded that God, motivated by love, Answers “yes” to us: God simply loves enough to share the top of the snow pile with us….and the top of the snow pile is not just for us, but for all people to share together with God……and in Jesus Christ God shows us that it isn’t so much that all are invited to climb ourselves up to the top of the pile, but that if we might just believe and trust, if we might just have faith….God shows us all, in our diversity…..we’re already there.

And that’s good news…..the kind that motivates us to love perhaps, not to serve our own interests, but to pursue a life of “higher righteousness,” a life of loving others and loving God deeply. Because when we strive to love each other, especially when it’s hard and difficult to, when we seek for God together in those moments….that is where God comes in and blesses us with the gift of life – joy and peace found in relationship with each other and with God.

And that life begins here anew in our worship together. It begins in our singing and our praying together, and it begins in gathering around this Table to share in Christ’s body and blood……on our knees, together. Amen.

I also weaved in the service somewhere (passing of the peace? children’s message?) the origins of handshakes…that they used to be a sign that one didn’t have a weapon on them, and that they intended to do no harm to them. Handshakes as a sign of peace in our worship today symbolizes the same: our intention, our motivation to offer peace, safety, and hospitality. A handshake today in our worship is a sign of motive – the motive of love and reconciliation.

Again, I’m sure I didn’t say it so well…..but again, the illustration worked for people! God works in the best of ways through the weirdest (ie. me) of people.

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Sermon: “Salt of the earth people” Matthew 5:13-20

some background: our churches came together for an event called “Brat Bowl,” where we cook a lot of tailgate food, divide teams up, and play a backyard football game. We change “admission” – proceeded that go towards the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia, are matched by Thrivent Financial, and help restock the foodshelf at St. Andrew to feed hungry folk in Portsmouth. This year, they took a step further – they made the decision to come together to do one worship service together – something they did with some reservations, but in faith……trusting what they got back was something greater than what they gave up.

Ok, before I say anything else, take a look around. I think we have to take a minute and give thanks and celebrate that TWO CHURCHES are worshipping together today, in a Sunday. Two communities of faith have come together as ONE BODY OF CHRIST to worship God today, to seek the Kingdom of God together and celebrate Christ’s presence among us around this table, the sacrament of Holy Communion. Maybe this seems like not a big deal to you….but to me, it’s a big deal.

It’s a big deal because you are being the church – the community of Christ, people who WITNESS to the good news of Jesus Christ, that in Christ’s death and resurrection God has shown us the extent of his grace and love…..that this grace and love is for all people and UNCONDITIONAL, and that such grace and love SHAPES how we LIVE and ACT in the world – towards each other, towards all people, and how we live for God.

Worshipping together today is a big deal because you’re proclaiming to people that the church isn’t a building, a place, a set pattern and routine that can never change – the church is the Holy Spirit moving among people and joining them together in relationships where we share our joys and sorrows, our struggles and hopes, and our deep questions as we seek for God in this world and in this life.

And as the church, we are people – not perfect, but with our own flaws, failures, and brokenness….affected by sin. We’ve still got a long way to go in fully living into God’s vision of life in the Kingdom of God here on earth. But we are people who are loved by God nonetheless.

You are the church. We are the church.

And so, today is a really big deal. I hope you know that. Because it’s never easy to share. It’s never easy to risk people not being happy or not showing up, or showing up early because worship time changed or not putting money in the offering plate. It’s never easy to risk giving up some of the ways you have done church for so long. Sharing is never easy – it takes faith….faith that God is always faithful in our sharing.

And where I guess this all leads for me today is that YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH. Simple, ordinary people….doing extraordinary things by faith. You’re “salt of the earth” kind of people – people who for the most part don’t think of themselves as a “big deal,” but are doing things that are a “big deal”…..being church, living out lives as an extension of God’s grace and love. When I think of “salt of the earth people,” I think of you. I think of things like:

Caring for one another and for Elsie Wright and her family at the passing of her husband Woody…..a funeral service held at Holy Communion and reception here at St. Andrew when Holy Communion’s renovations were going on.

About 3 weeks ago, coming together as church and assembling over 75 kits for adults with intellectual disabilities – a Day of Service with Lutheran Family Services & the Synod.

Supporting each other’s respective ministries & supporting each other – Feeding the homeless at St. Therese this past week; the preschool at Holy Communion; attending funerals & memorials; Christmas caroling together; Advent and Thanksgiving Eve worship services together.

And I think that’s what it means to be “salt of the earth” people. Perhaps we don’t think of what we do as “that big of a deal.” But it is.

And in our gospel today, that’s what Jesus is preaching in the second part of the Sermon on the Mount. He’s preaching in Galilee – to Gentiles, ordinary people who are living outside of Jerusalem, living outside the place where all the religious people and things and places are. And Jesus affirms them, he is telling them – YOU are the salt of the earth; YOU are the light of the world….YOU are the community of God – YOU are the church. These are people who are definitely not a big deal….they’re not Pharisees or scribes.

But Jesus calls them to a “greater righteousness” – one that exceeds the Pharisees and scribes. One that fulfills the INTENT behind the law – not just practicing it word for word. Jesus calls them to live and act with the intent to LOVE – both God and neighbor.

This text reminds and affirms us today of who we are, and it also challenges us to live into this call to “higher righteousness.” Definitely not to earn God’s favor, but because God wants to bless others. God wants others who haven’t heard to know that they are blessed – that they are the salt of the earth.

The fact of the matter is, there’s all sorts of “salt of the earth” folk out there….but they don’t know, they don’t believe what they do is a “big deal” – that the work and roles they live out in their lives are “big deals” in God’s eyes – caring for elderly and sick, teaching children, engineers who keep things safe, honest businesspersons and accountants…mothers, fathers, grandparents, brother, sister, friend, son, daughter. I could go on and on.

And I think that is our challenge today….. INVITING those other “salt of the earth” people to SEE and ENCOUNTER God as we have – to be affirmed in who they are and what they do, and to see what they do is a “big deal” – because through them, God is communicating and extends his grace and love to the world – a grace and love made known in Jesus Christ.

And we do that by being the church like we are today. But because we’ve also got a long way to go to live into God’s vision of new life, that’s also going to require some seeing and dreaming on our part.

It’s going to require that we start seeing those other “salt of the earth” people like ourselves. It’s going to require us to start dreaming of ways that we can make space for those people to not just take part in what we’re already doing…..but to dream of new ways and spaces where they can make this community theirs as well. It’s going to require us to share this great call from a God to be church with those who say “yes” to the invitation to be SALT AND LIGHT, and to seek a higher righteousness themselves.

So that’s what I want you to start doing. Start seeing, and start dreaming.

In fact, while we’re sitting around eating at brat and watching old men re-live their glory days, it might be a good time to start dreaming together…..imagining new ways we can be church together, and to start seeing those other “salt of the earth” folks who might just well be signs of God doing new things among us.

And I’d love to hear more about what you think as well…..in fact, that means a cup of coffee, lunch, or shooting me an email. Because in the 4 months I’ve been here, you know this about me: I love to see, and I love to dream……because God’s got a lot of big things planned, for you, for me, for us, for the church and the world…….and for salt of the earth folks like us, that IS a “big deal.” Amen.

All in all we had a great day: good weather, good fun, good food, and lots of fun and laughs. And those conversations were happenening – folks were talking to each other. Getting to know each other. Getting a better understanding of each other. It was a glimpse…..of God’s Kingdom breaking through a bunch of “salt of the earth” folk being willing to share a whole lot of things with each other, and being church!

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Sermon Feb. 2nd: “Be careful what you wish for.” Micah 6:1-8

I focused on the Old Testament reading, Micah 6:1-8.  The gospel text was Matthew 5:1-12.

Today is February 2nd, which means it’s Groundhog’s Day: the day when a furry little rodent comes out of his hole in the ground and forecasts the future.  If he sees his shadow, BAM! 6 more weeks of winter.  If he doesn’t see his shadow, then winter will end early and there is much rejoicing in the world.

As a kid, I remember believing in the Groundhog’s prophesy.   I thought it was a pretty darn good idea, spring coming early.  About this time in Minnesota, you are sick of winter snow and cold weather, and want spring to arrive.   I would watch TV or listen to the radio and hope beyond hope that the groundhog would NOT see his shadow, and spring would come early.

And you know what?  I remember after what had been an especially nasty winter, tons of snow and cold, the groundhog emerged from his hole and it was reported, that he did NOT see his shadow.  And there was much rejoicing for me –  I would soon be able to play outside in the warm weather.  And spring did arrive soon…..BUT SO DID SPRING FIELDWORK.  Prepping farm equipment, plowing, planting, picking rocks from the fields……and that was not a time of rejoicing.  And during all that fieldwork, I cursed that stupid groundhog for bringing spring so early.

It was a quick lesson for me: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR.

In our reading from the prophet Micah today, things get a little confrontational and heated between God and the people of Israel.  God makes it known he’s not pleased with how the relationship is going, and God wants to know why.  And the people, they sort of throw it all back in God’s face.  They reply back: “With what shall we come before the Lord and bow myself before God on high?”  In other words, “What do you want from us?  What would be acceptable to YOU God?”

Now I don’t know about you, but any time a person or people ask God or Jesus what he wants, what’s required of them, the disclaimer’s there: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR.  Because the people think that what God wants is better worship – a greater sacrifice.  And it gets a bit absurd: offerings of wealth that no one in the ancient world had – 1000 rams, rivers of oil….it’d be like one of you putting $10,000 in the offering plate this morning.  And the most absurd – the sacrifice of their own firstborn child.  And through the prophet Micah God responds: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with God?”

And I think there’s something to take from this: God isn’t interested in our individual sacrifice – our dedication to a religious life and religious things.  It’s not about how many times we worship, the quality our worship….it’s not even about what style or form we worship in.  It’s not about how much time you spend or how active you are at church, or even how good your devotional or prayer life is.

So if it’s not about our individual sacrifice, our dedication to religious life and religious things, than what is it about?

God makes it pretty clear: It’s about relationship – it’s about our attitude towards others – an attitude of care and concern – and our attitude towards God.  What is good?  Justice, mercy, and humility.  And these attitudes extend not only to those within the Christian community, but they extend to those – especially to those  – outside of it.  Those attitudes are extended to those considered the least, the outsiders, the weak, the broken – those that typically go unseen and unnoticed.

The bottom line is this: our attitudes shape and move us in how we act – how we live our lives.  And that means that those attitudes of care and concern turn us from a life of dedication to religious things to a life of care and concern for all people – regardless of race, class, job status, or opinion.  God calls us to a life of service, showing mercy, and love.  A life of faith is not proving to God – or perhaps more honestly, to others around us – how holy and good we are, but simply opening our lives to be shaped and moved by God – to “walk humbly with God.”

Well, it’s Super Bowl Sunday….and I’m sure many of you have made preparations for the big game.  Or have made preparations to avoid the big game.  Either way, you probably made a checklist of those things that need to get accomplished.  The checklist helps you see how you’ve made progress in your preparations….if you’re ready and on the right track.

And I think about these words from Micah today – justice, mercy, and humility – and perhaps they make a really good checklist of how we’re doing as a church and as God’s people.  They raise good questions on how we’re doing and if we’re on the right track…..

…..do we think, act, and serve and even SPEAK in ways that honor people as created and loved by God, worthy of our care and concern?

…..are we quick to show love and mercy to others, or at least strive to move in that direction, when hurt, conflict, and misunderstanding enter into our relationships?

……are we humble enough to open ourselves to God’s vision for our lives and our church, rather than dictate what WE think that vision ought to be?

A hard list to swallow today perhaps…….that’s often the tone of the Old Testament prophets’ message: blunt, direct, and harsh. But I think it’s an important list to adopt.  Because for a myriad of reasons, we tend to look past others.  We look past those different from us, who we don’t know so well, those we fear and those who make us uncomfortable.  And in those we do know well, we don’t often see the struggles going on under the surface.  And honestly, if you think about it, you’ve probably been in those shoes before yourself  – we’re all people longing…wishing, perhaps…. for a BLESSING from God.

And we certainly should wish for a blessing…but be careful what you wish for from God – that blessing might not be exactly what you think or expect. But what a blessing it would be – if it took the form of people and communities showing care and concern for one another, just as God does for us in Christ.

Be careful what you wish for…..because what you get from God is a call to a life of justice, mercy, and humility.  Maybe not what you thought or expected when you came here this morning…..but it might end up being great than anything you or I or we could ever imagine!  Amen.

 

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