Monthly Archives: March 2014

Sermon 4th Sunday of Lent: Blind Bartimaeus

            I think about this text, and there are two stories with the same tagline: Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” He asks the disciples this, and he asks this blind man, Bartimaeus the same. “What do you want me to do for you?”

            Now the similarity is that the disciples, James and John, and Bartimaeus; they both make requests to Jesus. They make their desires known, BELIEVING that Jesus has the power, the ability to make them happen. But there’s a difference – James and John don’t really understand how Jesus’ power works. Jesus responds that their request “isn’t mine to grant,” and it causes conflict among the rest of the disciples. Bartimaeus though…not only is his sight restored, he immediately follows Jesus “along the way.”

            I find it interesting that James and John and the rest of the disciples, who have been with Jesus the whole time, who have followed him, seen his miracles, heard his teachings, and who CAN SEE……end up not “getting it.”

And the one who “gets it” is the one sitting alongside the road, a blind beggar.

I wonder….perhaps being able to “see” is such a good thing after all.

            At one of my wrestling tournaments when I was in high school, one of my buddies had to wrestle a blind kid. We kind of joked around, talking about how bad my buddy was going to beat this kid and that it really wasn’t fair and a “real win” because the other kid couldn’t see. Because he was at a so-called disadvantage, the sport had a rule: if you wrestle a blind person, you have to maintain contact the whole time, touching fingers. The match began, they lined up and the ref started them properly, and about 15 seconds into the match, my buddy…..got taken down. And what was even crazier is that the other kid let him up – and took him down again. And again. And again. This went on pretty much the whole match, and my buddy lost pretty badly. They shook hands….the blind kid being helped off the mat with by his coach, and my buddy walking back to the bench to be made fun of by his teammates, and wondering how in the world a blind kid could beat him so badly.

            And I wonder if seeing is a disadvantage in this way – we look at things in front of us, and we immediately write them off. Or, possibility only exists within the limits of what we see, what we know to think to be true or real, or what we think we can or can’t do.

            SIGHT in this way is a disadvantage, because like the disciples, we don’t truly understand how Jesus’ works in our lives. And even more than that, we actually LIMIT the very power of God to do miraculous things in our lives.

            Blind Bartimaeus calls out, and calls out of his need – a need that he can’t fill on his own, a need that leaves him helpless and vulnerable. And it’s from this place he cries out to Jesus, “Have mercy on me Son of David!”

            Bartimaeus cries out….in faith. He cries out to Jesus because be hopes and believes that this Jesus might just be who he says he is, and he might just be the one who can do something he can’t do for himself, something so far outside the realm of possibility, something that exists in his wildest dreams…….make him see again.

            His blindness is an advantage, just like that blind wrestler’s…..because it leads them to consider something completely outside the normal realm of possibility. It leads them to think and act “outside the box.” It leads them to exhibit faith.

            Faith….as the apostle Paul writes in the Book of Hebrews….is the “conviction of things unseen.” Faith is trusting that those deep needs that we cannot do for ourselves, those things we long to see happen that seem so far outside the realm of possibility – God hears them, and God is actually powerful enough to act, and that trusting in such a God actually transforms our lives.

            A few weeks ago during their retreat, I asked the [St. Andrew] council to “dream:” if resources weren’t an issue – money, space, people, etc. What would your ideal church be like? What would it look, feel, sound, smell, and even taste, like? I asked them to dream….and I asked them to be specific about those dreams. And I think about that, perhaps it’d be a good thing to do that today. I am handing you a notecard – yes, me and my notecards again – I want you to just dream. What’s ONE THING that your ideal church would be like? If Jesus asked you “what do you want for this church?” What would you respond with?

            I want you to write that one thing down on the notecard. A couple things as you do that:

            – Don’t worry about how it’ll get done, if there’s enough resources, if anyone will show up, etc. Think instead: there’s no limit.
            – Be specific. Just don’t say “I want this church to be welcoming” or “I want our church to have more people.” But rather: Is there something specific your ideal church would have? A particular ministry or regular event or gathering? A connection with the larger community? Or maybe some dream you’ve always had for a church?

            So go ahead and take some time to write that one thing down. And then pass them to the front, and for our prayers today, I’m going to read each card aloud……because perhaps the other part that makes seeing a disadvantage is that we only see what we want to see. We don’t ask others, and we don’t listen to others….people who might be able to see things we can’t, making us aware of our blindspots.

            And so, we’ll pray today, listening to the dreams and visions of each other…..and we’ll pray faithfully together, asking for God to guide our seeing, for Christ to be our vision. Amen.

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A Tale of Two “Cities”: Issues of Power, Diversity, & Farm Markets

Yesterday, I was invited by The Director of Church Relations at Regent University to a mayoral forum in which all 5 mayors of the Hampton Roads (or Coastal Virginia, or Tidewater, or Greater Norfolk….whatever you want to call it) addressed current issues facing the region and what plans and steps will be necessary to address them.  The local paper summarized it with this story, but I’ll admit – and this is true of our paper here – the article didn’t really say much, and it didn’t capture the substance of what was said….or wasn’t said.

Anyway, as all the mayors went on about issues like lightrails, tolls, & transportation; military, tourism, and building stadiums, City of Portsmouth Mayor Kenny Wright said this: “We need to embrace the diversity of our area…51% of Hampton Roads’ population are women, 40% are minorities….with 32% of the minority population being African-American…..Diversity is a strength to economic prosperity in our region, and we need to embrace it.”

I appreciate Mayor Wright’s words, and he continued on to highlight the advantages and necessity of promoting diversity in the area’s economy, as highlighted by James Koch’s economic study of the region.  But as I looked around the room as Mayor Wright spoke, I noticed two things:

One, the majority of the room had checked out.  Two, the gender and ethnic makeup of the room didn’t even come close to the picture of diversity in the region.

Now, this is where I screwed up: I should have stood up during the Q & A time and asked this question to the panel: I heard Mayor Wright speak about embracing diversity in the region, and I’m certainly for that.  But I notice the makeup of this room….a  lot of influential people, powerful people, and not representative of the diverse demographic of the region.  I ask, what are your ideas and what if your commitment in addressing the lack of access and power that these populations have, and do you feel that such an effort is even worthwhile in your eyes?”

And that is the question: if you’re going to embrace diversity, space has to be made at the table for those people; opportunity has to be created.  The issue of power that cuts off certain demographics from having place at the economic table of conversation had to be address.  It starts by inviting more than just influential white men and a few women with deep pocketbooks and lots of connections.

However, as the title said, this is a tale of “Two Cities.”  And I want to share with you a “test run” initiative that both of our churches are venturing out on: A Farm Market.

What is that, you ask?  It differs from a Farmer’s Market in that rather than the farmers planting, growing, harvesting, transporting and selling their product, other organizations take on the task of transporting and selling for the farmers.  The average age of a farmer in Virginia is 59.5 years old, and 36% of those farmers are over the age of 65.  In short, farmers in Virginia are old…and transporting and selling takes a lot of effort and energy that older folks well, just don’t have.

So rather than contract out people to sell and increase overhead costs, organizations are purchasing produce from the farmers and taking care of those last two steps in the process through a concept called a “farm market.”  You can read more about it here, but the aim is simple: support of local agriculture and providing access to healthier food and eating.

And this is ministry for our churches, because we don’t have a farmer’s market of any kind in our neighborhoods.  And so we’re going to try it out and see if that’s something that’s needed….

– Providing access to food that is healthier for our bodies.
– Our nurses and healthcare folks in our congregations are committed to providing resources to help people live a healthier lifestyle.
– We’ll provide a safe community meeting spot where neighbors can gather and get to know each other.
– We’ll be supporting local farmers who tend to God’s creation.
– And our proceeds will go directly back to ministry that will allow people who cannot shop at a farm market to have the opportunity to do so using distributed “farm dollars” that can be spent at the Farm Market.

Like I mentioned, this is a “trial run…” so we need people to come out and support this if it’s something they want to see!  And, we’re always looking for partners in this venture as well, so spread the word to those you know who are interested and passionate about this sort of thing!  So in April, look for “test run” Farm Markets at our churches:

April 5th: Holy Communion Lutheran Spring Spree Vendor and Bazaar
10am-2pm
6220 Portsmouth Blvd
Website Link

April 12th: St. Andrew Lutheran Easter Egg Hunt
2pm-4pm
4811 High Street West
Website Link

Hope to see you at either event!

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Sermon, 3rd Week in Lent: “Expectations” Mark 7

The text is Mark 7:1-8; 24-30.  Jesus’ challenging the Pharisees & scribes and his encounter with the Syrophoenician woman.  You can read a bit more in depth about the story I refer to in my sermon – a true story – here.  It’s a good one!

So, what did you expect when you showed up to worship this morning?  Are you hoping to learn something about God and Jesus, maybe gain a deeper understanding of faith or theology?  Or perhaps you came, expecting a good hour of Lutheran worship, celebrated in word and sacrament.  Or maybe you came, expecting to see familiar faces, friends…..your church “family?”

Last summer, Willie Lyle, a United Methodist pastor in Clarksville, Tennessee had, in his words, “a visit from God” in a dream in which God told him to live as a homeless man for a week.  The Willie wrestled with the dream for awhile – he just started serving as pastor to the congregation, and was unsure of how this would come across – but he came to the conclusion that he had to follow through with it. And so, starting on a Monday, he had his wife drop him off downtown and he lived as a homeless person for 4 days.  He described the experience as “uncomfortable.”  The realities of trying to find both food and shelter was difficult and challenging.

But Pastor Willie found something even more “uncomfortable” in his experience of being homeless.  “Generally speaking, people are not kind to the homeless.”  

Friday, his wife picked him up from downtown – unclean and scraggly looking – like a homeless man.  But it’s what happened on Sunday….was unexpected.

Pastor Lyle got to church extra early that Sunday morning….and he went and laid next to a big tree in the front yard of the church, and covered himself up with a big coat.  Of the couple hundred people who come to worship each week, only about 20 came and spoke to him or offered any assistance. During worship, completely unexpected to all but 4 people who he informed beforehand, Pastor Willie delivered a sermon, still scraggly and dirty.  While he preached, his daughter-in-law cut off his beard.  He took off his “homeless” clothes….revealing underneath his “Sunday clothes.”  He put on his suit and tie, and there he stood – the new pastor of this congregation.  He said, “Too many of us only want to serve God one hour a week.  That doesn’t cut it.  That’s not God’s plan.”

Needless to say, this unexpected twist got the attention of the congregation.  And it made some uncomfortable.

Today’s text is an interesting one.  It’s interesting because in the first part of the text, Jesus debates with the scribes and Pharisees, calling them hypocrites, because their actions didn’t match what was really in their hearts.  Jesus calls them out…because their insistence on following the laws and traditions had less to do with loving God and neighbor and more about their own self-righteousness.

But then, this Syrophonenician woman, a Gentile, comes to Jesus…and the scripture says, “she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.”  And Jesus’ response?  He calls her a dog, and initially, rejects her request.    And while he eventually fulfills her request and heals her daughter, his final response is less than caring or compassionate – “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.”

Not “Go, your faith has saved your daughter.” Not “You have answered rightly…..your faith has saved your daughter.”  Jesus dismisses her and rewards her for her response – sort of how you might treat your dog if you’re trying to teach it obedience.

In Mark’s gospel, more than any other, we see a very HUMAN Jesus.  A Jesus who suffers, who is anxious, who doesn’t seem to know that the cross is in his future. And here we see a Jesus who is all for engaging in debates about the law and theology, but when it comes right down to responding to this woman’s need, her begging – when it comes to ministering compassionately to this woman – there’s a lot of room for improvement.

That brings me back to the question of expectation. I identify with Pastor Lyle, and I identify with both Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman in this story today.  It’s been about 6 months with you all, and I’ve learned a lot and seen a lot in the way you understand what it means to be church.

And I feel like Pastor Lyle because there are things about your notions that make me uncomfortable.  I think about this gospel of Jesus Christ and God’s call to love God and love and serve our neighbor and in some ways, I’m uncomfortable with some of the attitudes and ways that’s it is and is not being lived out in our congregation.  When I see folks in the neighborhoods around our churches, I think…..we could do better.  We need to do better.  And as uncomfortable as it is, I feel I need to push you on that.

And I feel like Jesus, because I question my expectations for you all – do they come out of a sense of pushing you past your comfort zones to live more fully into this call to be church, or am I doing it out of my own expectations for what I think  you should be?  Like Jesus, am I the hypocrite?  Am I serving the congregation but with little compassion for your needs?

And I feel like this Gentile, Syrophoenician woman too.  I’ve come to you as a new pastor and I’ve heard what matters to you about being church, why this church matters TO YOU, and I’ve listened to your dreams and opinions on what this church should be.  I’ve come to you as pastor….because I come seeking for Jesus myself.  I come expecting to encounter the crucified and risen Christ who transforms lives AMONG YOU.

But I also feel like a dog as well…..and I have to be honest with you:  those things, those dreams and opinions of what you want….they are not always going to come in the ways you expect.  You want younger families and newcomers….but they’re not going to be engaged in the church in the ways you did.  You hope for your congregation to be vibrant like you remember it….it will likely be vibrant in ways that seem completely outside the realm of your possibility.  You long to feel good about coming to this church….but that feeling is going to come out of ministry to the world that requires us to sacrifice and be uncomfortable.

I’m feeling like a dog, because I guess….begging you to be the church – to be an extension of Jesus who shares God’s love and grace with the world in his ministry of healing and compassion, in his death, and in his resurrection.  Maybe I’m just as annoying as this woman in my insistence of that.  Maybe I’m just as uncaring and hypocritical as Jesus in challenging you to do that.  

But maybe like Pastor Lyle, I’m doing it because I have my own vision….a vision of what you could be as a congregation.  I can see you being so much more than just a church that meets once a week on Sundays and occasionally during the week.  I see you partnering with another church that goes beyond doing a couple fellowship events or Wednesday worships.  I see you as more than just a group of people who meet in a building that’s been around for 50, 50-plus years.

I see you being the church – the Body of Christ witnesses to God’s deep love for the world, his presence in it, and his desire to completely change our lives.  I see you as a group of people who experience that so fully and deeply that you faithfully invite others to experience it with you just as fully and deeply.  And I see you as a “family” with a great desire to be that church…..but open to the unexpected, new ways that God might bring that to reality.

And as we think about this today, together, all of us – part Pastor Lyle, part Jesus, and part this Syrophoenician woman…….let us not just trust each other, but first and foremost trust in Jesus Christ, the one who breaks through all our expectations, and opens us to something completely and utterly and wonderfully new….and better than we could ever expect or imagine.  Amen.
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Sermon for 2nd Sunday in Lent: Ruth, Rahab, & God’s “family.”

Readings: Ruth, especially chapters 1, 3 & 4; Joshua 2 & 6.  Mainly, the stories of Ruth and Rahab.

Paul Harvey was a conservative radio figure on the air, popular the last 25 years of the 1900’s.  Some of you may have heard him report the news, signing off with his popular tagline, “that’s the news. Goodday.”

I used to listen to him as a kid…but my favorite program he did was a segment called, “The Rest of the Story.”  Every day at 4:45pm, I’d make sure the radio was tuned to the local AM station, KWAD…whether I was in the barn, in the house, or on the tractor.  Harvey would tell remarkable, little known stories about popular, well-known people, not revealing who the person was – usually some famous person – until the end of the story.  And he’s always end the segment with “and….that’s the rest of the story.”

Today we have two separate stories about two women: Ruth and Rahab.  I’m not sure if you were familiar with their stories before hearing them today, but they’re heroines – faithful in the midst of difficult situations. Ruth, deciding to stay with her mother-in-law Naomi, who was without a husband or son to care for her, which in that time was a sentence to a life of poverty and exposure to being exploited.  Women in that time had no rights to property, and were often property themselves….and so they were dependent on a man for protection and livelihood.  But Ruth marries Boaz, and he in turn takes both her and Naomi in, and the story ends well!  And the same is true of Rahab…she protects Israel’s spies from the Canaanites, because she “fears the Lord,” and this in turn ensures, along with God’s will, Israel’s victory and conquest of the city of Jericho.  Rahab and her family are rewarded for their faithfulness.

But that isn’t “the rest of the story.”  What if I told you Rahab was a prostitute, and her motivations weren’t so much out of a belief or fear of God, but to save her and her family’s skin from being slaughtered like the rest of the Canaanites in Jericho.  And what if I told you Ruth, to save her and her mother-in-law’s skin, essentially goes to seduce Boaz, waits until he’s drunk, and then commits the equivalent of date rape so that he’ll have to take her in as a wife?

Because that’s what happens….Rahab says to the spies, “now that I have done this for you, promise me you’ll spare me and my family.”  And Ruth… “Then she came stealthily and uncovered his feet, and lay down.”  Let me translate that for you.  In Hebrew, “feet” also means “genitals;” “lay down” in this sense means, “had sex.”

Now, knowing that about Ruth and Rahab, how do you feel about them now?

But that’s not “the rest of the story” either.  If you recall the end of both stories, Ruth bears a son, who is an ancestor of David – as in King David, the one Jesus decended from.  Rahab’s family has “lived in Israel ever since” the day Jericho fell.  Rahab and her family are a part of God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel.  And if you fast forward a bit to the first chapter of the gospel of Matthew, you’ll see their names….in the genealogy of Jesus.  In other words, Ruth and Rahab…..they’re part of Jesus’ family.

They’re part of the family of God.

The point here is that God’s vision of what it means to be a part of God’s family is much more expansive, more inclusive, and wider than anything we could ever imagine.  It includes some very faithful people, but it also includes some “questionable” characters  as well. And, God’s wide vision for God’s family…that IS the rest of the story, it’s the WHOLE story…..but how often do WE narrow that vision?

I’ve heard you define church as a FAMILY…..and I think it’s a good definition.  But when you think of who you INCLUDE in that family, who you consider your “church family?” Does it exclude certain types of people – people of different race, social class, lifestyles from being a part of it in the first place?

And, it’s not just that we exclude people right way, but also we exclude people because once you get to know “the rest of their stories,” you realize you might not want much to do with them.  They look like good people on the surface, but as you get to know them, you realize they aren’t as “good” as you thought.  They don’t seem as interested in your way of doing things…in our ways of being church.  They just don’t seem to fit in our family.

Or, perhaps you exclude yourself….because you hold this feeling, that you no longer offer anything to the family as well.

But the message of Ruth & Rahab’s stories is that God’s vision of family is wider than we could ever imagine – it includes ALL PEOPLE – and the challenge is trusting that vision….that’s faith.

And the call of the “church family” is to live into God’s wide vision – in our life within this community, and in our ministry to the community around us.  We not only include all people, but as we listen to each other’s stories, we imagine together new ways God might be calling us to be his disciples.

And the place to start, I think is hearing “the rest…of each other’s stories.”    After our hymn is our usual time for prayer.  But we’re going to try something different – we’re going to try a version of prayer called “holy conversation.”  After the hymn I’ll ask you to get in a group of 2-3 – and I encourage you to move around and talk to someone you haven’t talked to much – and do this:

  • Share a couple “hi’s” of your week: joys, successes, moments of peace.
  • Than share a couple “low’s” of your week: difficulties, struggles, concerns, moments of frustration.
  • They can be personal, or they can be things happening in the community, nation, or world.
  • Then together, share ideas and thoughts of what you think God is doing, what God is up to in those hi’s and low’s.

As you do this, just pay attention to people’s comfort level….if someone isn’t comfortable sharing or comfortable with what you’re sharing, just be mindful of that – because our prayer together, especially in this church, should always be a safe place.

Jesus said in Matthew’s gospel, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there also.”  Christ is present in this exercise of prayer as “holy conversation.”  And that being true, prayer in this way is a way we live more fully into God’s vision of family…..a vision of God’s wide mercy and love in Jesus Christ.  A vision and a call that includes ALL PEOPLE and is great than anything we could imagine on our own.  Amen.

My “alternate” ending given at the other church….we had a St. Patrick’s Day Dinner after worship….corned beef and cabbage.  Thankfully, a lot of our newcomers stuck around, despite not being cabbage fans.  Must’ve been those chicken nuggets! : )

And perhaps that is exactly what we’re called to do today…..as I was preparing this sermon, I made a list of people I consider my “family” – my sisters, my wife Kelly, my aunts and uncles. And I included all of you as well as my “church family.”

But then I realized, names were missing.  There are those I don’t know so well.  There are those who are part of God’s family….those I think in some ways God has placed on my heart to go talk to.  To hear maybe not just the superficial beginning of their stories, but to hear in the “rest of their stories,” because that is what God is calling me to do.

And perhaps God is calling you to do that too.  During our dinner after worship, I challenge you to find someone, someone you don’t know so well, and get to know them better.  Hear their story.  Invite them to tell it, and invite them to know a bit more about yours as well.

And perhaps in doing that, we too get a glimpse, a vision of God’s family…..a vision wider than anything we could imagine, a vision of God’s wide mercy, grace, and love shown in Jesus Christ.  We see, perhaps….just exactly what God is calling this church family to be.  Amen.

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God’s Welcome: A People’s Sermon (Because the pastor forgot his sermon at home)

This Lent, I decided to do a sermon series. I picked 4 texts that we’ll look at over Lent that highlight primarily what God is doing through the outsider.  This week we looked at the “book” of Philemon, which is comprised of one chapter, 25 verses long.

One little problem: Sunday morning I forgot my iPad at home…which had my sermon on it.  So even if blogged my typed sermon this week, it wouldn’t do a lot of good, because they were probably different. So I’ll just summarize the main point:

We conversed together and shared ideas as a congregation – writing them on a whiteboard – about the notion of “brotherhood” and “sisterhood.”  What does it mean to be a “brother” or “sister” – particularly in the Christian sense?

We then talked about the notion of welcome – specifically Christian welcome.  Paul asks Philemon to welcome back Onesimus just as he would welcome Paul.  Only one thing: Onesimus was Philemon’s slave.  Paul asks Philemon to welcome back his runaway slave as a brother in the faith.

We then thought about Christian welcome as something more than a handshake, brewing some nice coffee, smiling nicely and asking a few things about someone – and stopping there.  Christian welcome binds the outsider, the slave, the one apart to us as brother or sister  – just as God binds us to godself in Jesus Christ on the cross.  God binds us together in love.

And then we listened to a couple songs.  You can find the lyrics of the one song HERE. And you can find the music video to the other song HERE.  And we sang a hymn together.

The sermon went pretty well I think….I appreciated people’s participation.  But I discovered during the course of the rest of the worship services and my day, the sermon continued…..my congregations continued writing the sermon, telling the story of God’s welcome, of Christian brotherhood and sisterhood.

  • One lady – who is not a “member” – helping one of the older members – who doesn’t walk so well – walk down steps from communion.
  • An older lady, a “member,” asking a 6-year old girl who was visiting our congregation for the first time if it was ok if she kneeled next to her at communion.
  • A mom, with child and due in 3 weeks, was trying to deal with her other child who was crying.  And one of the “members” of the church got up and asked if she could help and played with the little girl – all of this in worship.
  • During the sermon, when I asked for responses on brotherhood and sisterhood from the congregation, two little hands shot up first – and as soon as I made eye contact, they shouted out their answers!
  • An answer given by a teenager about brotherhood/sisterhood: “we fight. We don’t always get along. But I guess he’s still my brother.”
  • Later, at confirmation that day, three boys kicking a 4-square ball around outside, totally not following my directions at all for “holy conversation”….laughing and enjoying time playing together.

That last one means a lot to me…..because the other part of that story is that each of those boys are dealing with some major personal and relational issues – and I have to believe, bound together by the kicking of a ball, God was present.  God was bound to them in love in a moment that was safe and that they felt like they belonged.  It was Christian welcome and brotherhood at its finest.

I’m sure there were other moments during yesterday, moments of brotherhood and sisterhood, moments of Christian welcome that I missed.  But judging by the ones I witnessed….God’s people wrote one heck of a sermon yesterday.

And I think, knowing them like I do, they’ll keep writing that sermon…especially for those who have not yet heard about God’s wide welcome, one that binds us together in love.

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The Project: A story I have to share

The Minnesota State Wrestling Tournament was this past weekend.  I have a special affinity for it – I’ve wrestled in it as a kid and attended as an adult.  Simply put: it’s one of the best experiences in the sport of wrestling, and in my life.

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It’s full of great story lines: small towns and big city schools chasing after state championships in a dual team format, whole towns traveling across the state to cheer on the kids.  Everyone hates Apple Valley HS, but admires them for their long-running success.

But then there’s stories like this.

Don’t gloss over this link.  You really should take the 2 minutes to watch this.

Mitchell McKee, sophomore at St. Michael Albertville HS, won a state title this past weekend.  But it wasn’t the title that was so important.  It was that his dad – who has terminal cancer and isn’t expected to live much longer – despite his weakened state was in the stands to witness his son’s accomplishment.

And immediately after winning, you know where Mitchell headed:

5 gal ML satprepwrest ows_139373366131554

 

And the whole arena applauded, because the whole arena was aware of their story.  Probably not a dry eye in the building.

The story tells itself.  And the fact the whole arena stood up and recognized that beyond the state titles there are other stories during that tournament that really embody what the sport of wrestling and the state tournament is really about,

it gives me chills just thinking about it.

And it’s a story worth sharing with you today, because honestly, these are the stories worth telling.

Enjoy.

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Lent as Invitation: Ash Wednesday Sermon

Text: Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21.

So I find our reading today interesting for what it LEFT OUT.  Notice that the reading is verses 1-6 and then 16-21.  What’s sandwiched in between are 10 verses that make up what we know as the Lord’s Prayer.  So, why does that matter?

I think it matters because without those words of prayer, the text today makes things about what WE DO.  It’s about whether we do “religious life” – praying, charity, and fasting – in the right way, or with the right intentions.  And I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing….the Christian life is a life of questioning motivations and intentions behind our actions.  But this season of Lent we’re entering into is more than that.

And if we include the Lord’s Prayer, I think it helps us see what is at the heart of Lent, and why it matters.

Most of us think of Lent as “giving something up” or “doing something religious related.”  We give up chocolate, TV, maybe a night of eating out a week….remove some unhealthy habit from our lives.  Or we attend one extra worship service during the weekdays, do special Lenten devotions, or give extra money to a food bank or area shelter for the homeless.

I guess what I’m saying is that those things…..they’re not bad.  Those are meaningful ways people have observed Lent throughout generations.  But here’s the thing: those things, they are still things that WE DO.  And last time I checked, this whole good news, this gospel, it’s not about us.  It’s about what God does.  It’s about God’s tremendous love and grace shown to us in Jesus Christ.  It is about a God who comes down to be with us in our suffering and in death and who comes down to be for us in our sin and brokenness.  The Lenten journey is not a journey WE make on our own…but rather, it’s a journey that Jesus makes…..with us and for us.

And so, I think that’s why those 10 verses that make up the Lord’s Prayer are important.  Because the Lord’s Prayer is about inviting God into our lives – “Thy Kingdom come, Your will be done.”  Prayer shows us that Lent is about invitation – making space for God to dwell in our lives and change us.

Lent as invitation….inviting God into those “secret” spaces of our hearts and working in us and through us.  This invitation is about a complete and radical change in your life – in the way you see, the way you hear, the way you think, act, and live….in every aspect of your life.

And when I think about Lent that way…..I’m both hesitant and hopeful at the same time.

I’m hesitant because that might mean some changes in my life.  It might mean I have to admit I’m missing the mark, I’ve fallen short, and I’m too reliant on myself and like being in control a little too much.  It might mean I’m not listening enough, not loving enough, and not empathic enough to others around me….especially the weakest and poorest in our community.

I’m hesitant because then it means I have to admit I’m human after all.  I’m dust, and to dust I will return.

But I’m hopeful too….I’m hopeful because three days later, God raises Jesus to new life out of that same death.  I’m hopeful because with that same dust, we’re marked with the cross of Christ – the same cross where God shows his deep love for humanity, for dust like me…..like you.

As the chorus of a favorite song of mine goes: “You make beautiful things, out of the dust, you make beautiful things….out of us.”

And as I sing that, a thought just came into my head….that line sounds like an invitation, like I’m making space for God to dwell and work within me.  I am dust…we are dust….and God, make something beautiful out of me, out of us.

That invitation….that sounds a lot like a prayer.

“Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done.”  Pray the Lord’s Prayer as invitation.

Or from Psalm 51, what we read responsively at the beginning of worship: “Create in me a clean heart, O God.  And put a new and right spirit within me.”  An Invitation.  Asking, inviting God to create and place in our hearts…a new and right spirit.

Here’s another thought: What if for the next 40 days through Lent we simply just prayed one of those lines, over and over….asking and inviting God into my thoughts, into my heart, into my life?  What might happen?  Do you think God might do something in you?  How would that change how you see, hear, think and act in your life?

Here’s my proposal:  Let’s pray over the next 40 days.  But let’s pray simply.  Let’s just pick a line or two to say, over and over in our heads….”thy kingdom come, or thy will be done,” or “put a new and right spirit within me.”  And just wait.  Wait, but pay attention to what God might be doing within you as you pray that.  Invite God in, make a space for God over the next 40 days and see what happens.

In your trials, in your troubles, in your joys, in your hopes….invite Jesus to walk with you….for you….within you.  Invite Jesus to journey into those secret places of your heart and see what he can do with dust like us.

The best part is, I can’t tell you what will be, because I’m not you.  But I do know this: in this invitation, in making space for God, you just might end up noticing that God has been present the whole time, and doing something – raising up new life in us – all along!  Amen.

 

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