Monthly Archives: October 2014

Sermon 26 October 2014: “Reformation & Divine Love”

Text: 1 Kings 3:1-28

It was the opening round of the Division III NCAA National Wrestling Tournament, and Mike, my 125-pound wrestler and I were standing together on Mat 1, waiting for the National Anthem to play before he wrestled his first match that day.  So as the announcer tells us to get ready for the playing of the National Anthem, Mike grabs my arm and says, “Coach, something missing.”  And I replied, “Well, how important is it?  You’re wrestling in like 2 minutes, right after they sing the Anthem.”  And Mike replied, “Uh, I forgot to put my wrestling singlet on.”

The wrestling singlet is the one-piece uniform they wear when they wrestle the actual match, so it just happens to be really important. He asked me, “What should I do?”  And I said, “Well, you can’t wrestle naked….”  And as the first note of the National Anthem began to play, off he sprinted to the locker room…..

Solomon, King of Israel, hears this dispute between two women – both claiming to be the mother of a child, the only thing to go on was their word against each other.  And in hearing their stories, watching these women as they made their plea before him and the court, I wonder if he noticed something.  Something was missing.  Something important.

Today’s Reformation Sunday.  And for Lutherans, it’s like the Super Bowl, your Birthday, and Winning the Lottery all rolled into one – it’s a big deal.  What we celebrate is a German monk, Martin Luther, who got pissed off at the church and what it was doing and did what all people do when they’re ticked off about stuff in church: they complain about it.  Luther did that in the form of nailing a document on the doors of the church in Wittenberg – 95 Theses, 95 problems he had with the church, things he wanted to talk about, things he hoped might change. Because in the church – its worship, its rituals, its ministry to the people – Luther noticed….something was missing.  Something important.  And little did Luther know there were a lot of people who felt the same way about the church – and what was supposed to simply be a discussion, turned into the birth of the Protestant church – a complete reformation.

What was missing….what Solomon noticed, what Luther noticed, what the people of the Reformation period noticed…..what was missing was divine love.

Divine love is different from they way we typically think about love.  It’s weird.  It doesn’t make any sense.  It usually doesn’t benefit us in any way…..if anything, it’s a royal pain in the ass.  It makes us look at that person at work who pisses us off as a child of God.  On the way home, it makes us look at that dirty and sloppy guy on the street as a person – loved by God, worthy of God’s love.  Divine love is what compels a mother to give up her own flesh and blood to another woman because it’s more important that her child live rather than to win a dispute.  Divine love calls such a decision wisdom…the wisdom of God.  Divine love is the kind that compels God to give away God’s only Son…and to hang him on a cross on full display for all to see, so that people might know that God stands with them, and they might know that things like status and race and all the other things we think make us good and righteous and save us don’t do any of that.  Only God’s divine love can do that.

This is what we celebrate on Reformation Day….the gift of God’s divine love in Christ assures us we never have to doubt God’s commitment to us.  We are children of God in our baptism, we are forgiven and loved sinners who dine with Jesus at this Table.  But the Reformation was also about change…..and while we sit here in worship today, with the baptismal font front and center, celebrating holy communion, wearing red to church and coming to a sanctuary decorated in red, and singing the traditional hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God,”…..none of that matters if something is missing.  Something important. Something that stirs in each of us, compelling us to want something different from our church and our world and the powers that be, to want something different for our lives and something that drives us out of our comfort and complacency and compels us to give ourselves away to follow this person called Jesus Christ, and follow him into the depth of life with one another.

That something is Divine love.

On this Reformation Day, may you be reminded that God is always at work, reforming the church, reforming hearts and minds and reforming us through the gift of divine love.  Amen.

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Sermon 19 October 2014: “Songs of Lament”

Text: Psalm 51:1-12

So today was one of those two sermon days – a baptism at St. Andrew & a tough week at Holy Communion. But the text fit for both occasions….sort of. The background story was David & Bathsheba (the presidential sex scandal of the OT) and Nathan’s calling it out publicly. Not really a story when you’re baptizing a little baby or dealing with tragedy. But Psalm 51…..That works. So here’s your two sermons.

St. Andrew:
So today’s text was supposed to be the story of David and Bathsheba. But I decided against that because I didn’t think a story about a sex scandal was appropriate on a day we’re baptizing a sweet little baby. Psalm 51 probably works better, right? Nothing really scandalous or inappropriate in it at all….but if you listen to the words carefully…there’s just something about them. Listen again: “Have mercy on me…wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, cleanse me from my sin. Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” There’s just something about those words. Something…raw, brutally honest. Both plea and prayer. Both shame and longing. Both brokenness and hope.

Now maybe you don’t hear that….words don’t always carry emotion with them. Sometimes words need something else….like music.

I sung the Enter the Worship song, “Pieces,” which was written in the spirit of Psalm 51. You can listen to it here.

The Psalms were the “music” of the times….and Psalm 51 is one of those songs, known as a song of lament. Lament also means mourning, sorrow, grief. I hope perhaps singing for you this morning conveyed that sentiment. The writer of Psalm 51 is talking about those moments….times where reality crashes down hard, and they almost break us, and we wonder if there will be ever be a time we’ll experience anything good again.

Jane*, John*…..I think about your story….how Grace* came to be in your life through the process of adoption. And being adopted myself, I know that the road to adoption for so many parents that choose to do so is often a hard one, filled with a lot of tough moments, moments of sorrow, of grief, of lament…moments where you wonder, if there is a way forward….any way you’ll experience the wonder and joy of being a parent at all. But Grace is in your life….a precious gift, a gift you didn’t earn, a gift that did not come solely by your own efforts. And it’s why adoption is such a wonderful image of baptism. Baptism is a gift….a precious gift from God, a gift none of us earn, a gift that does not come solely by our own efforts. This gift of eternal life in Christ comes to us a gift of grace….God claims us as his own. And today, God claims Grace as his own….as a child of God.

And that’s going to be significant for her in her life…..because as hard as you might try as parents, Grace is going to experience hard realities of life. Difficult ones. Moments where she’ll wonder if there’s any way forward….if she’ll experience joy and hope in her life again. Try as you might to protect her, there will be songs of lament in her life as well. And it’s in these moments, there will be a story to tell her. It’ll be the story of her baptism day, the day God adopted her, and in Jesus Christ, in each day forward, God will renew her life, make things new, offer a new way forward….forged not in failure or shame, but in the assurance that she is a beloved child of God.

And you as parents are not alone to tell her that story….because the story of her baptism is also the confession of each and every baptized person….it is the confession of the church universal. The church, the community of faith, the Body of Christ…..it will tell her this powerful story of Jesus and his love…that transforms us. Washes us clean. Makes us new. And even when the story of God’s love is too hard for Grace to believe….the church will be here to tell it, and to embrace her and you as parents and really, all of us so that our faith might be strengthened. And words like Psalm 51, songs like the ones I’ve sung today….Grace, you, me…all of us….we don’t stay there. That isn’t our song.

A new song is written. Written in the waters of our baptism, in the love and grace of Jesus Christ, in our identity as Children of God. Alleluia. Amen.

*names changed to protect privacy.

And at Holy Communion:
Psalm 51 beings with a title: “To the leader: A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone into Bathsheba.” The writer of this Psalm is trying to capture David’s sorrow and repentance, after the prophet Nathan calls out his sin – taking the wife of another man as his own and sleeping with her, and having that man killed to cover it up. But Psalm 51 is also a song…as all the Psalms are. It is a Psalm of lament, meant to convey great sorrow and mourning; of grief. Maybe we don’t get that when we just simply read the Psalms. So I thought I’d offer a little something to help us really understand what a Psalm, a song of lament, is about.

I sang the Enter the Worship song, “Please Don’t Forget.” You can listen to it here.

I guess I’m having a hard time today…..because the story of David’s moral failure, his sin…..this isn’t the sermon or message that we need to hear in light of all that’s happening in our little family of faith. In the past 3 weeks, we’ve had one death each week. Jack*, youngest son of Jane Smith* passed away after a heart attack. Mike*, Jan Davis’* father, passed away in declining health that comes with age. And this past week, Mason’s* oldest son passed away, suddenly, without warning. And I know also that we’re coming up on anniversaries of lost loved ones. All I can say is this: I know people are hurting in our little family. They are hurting. We are hurting. And such loss often leaves us empty, suffering, joyless, alone.

And I’ve wondered this week: how does this story of David and Bathsheba, and Psalm 51 fit in light of what we’re all feeling? Is there a message, a Word from God for us? Does it even fit at all? And then I thought:

What does it mean to have faith in such moments?

For David and his situation, faith looks like a lament. It looks like a plea to God in the midst of his sorrow, his mourning, his grief. And while David’s situation is nothing like ours – David was the cause of his suffering – we can identify with those feelings, feelings that come when we experience the tragedy of death in our lives.

Faith is a cry to God in our sorrow, our mourning, our grief. It’s a plea for God to do what we cannot do for ourselves. Faith is asking God to wash us; to make us whole. We ask God to restore and renew our spirits, to bring joy and hope and gladness into our lives again. And in the midst of tragedy, that kind of faith – a shaken faith – is perhaps enough, because it is still faith just the same.

And for God, that’s more than enough.

Because the God who hears David’s lament, who hears our lament is the God of the covenant. It’s the God who frees, who protects, who provides, who delivers. It’s the God who transforms, who heals, who makes things new. It’s the God who came down into our lives in Jesus Christ so that we might not be held captive by things such as death and the tragedy of it. It is the God who in Christ Jesus washes us each day in baptismal waters, renews our spirit, and restores the joy of salvation to our lives through the Holy Spirit.

And that takes time. It took the Israelites 80 years to realize. It took the disciples 3 years to realize the gift of Jesus that came in the resurrection. And in mourning the death of loved ones, in my own experience, I know that takes time…more than we care for some days. But we don’t spend that time alone. God assures us of his everlasting presence, and God gives us the gift of the church – the family of God. As we spend that precious time lamenting, pleading, searching, and healing……the church is where we do that. The church is the community that surrounds us, supports us, consoles us, and is faithful for us in those times we feel we have no faith….it is the community that tells us the story of Jesus and his love, so that we might know nothing can separate us from the love of God. And it’s in telling this story…..and in our embrace around those that are hurting, something happens to those songs of lament. God changes us, transforms us, washes us clean, makes our spirits new…and those songs of lament turn into songs of grace, of hope, of thanksgiving….those songs begin to be songs of life again.

But for today, we simply sing our songs of lament, our songs of faith. And faith, no matter how thin or shaken it may be, is all that God requires. In Christ we have a promise….and so indeed, we mourn. We grieve. We lament as a sign of faith, knowing that God is with us, and hears our cries….and in Christ, God will bring a new day, a day “when all things will be made new,” a day “where there are no more tears.” Amen.

*names changed to protect privacy

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What Birthdays Teach Us

Well, it’s my birthday today.  36 years old.  It’s hard to believe I’m actually THAT OLD.  Thankfully, the “Asian gene” is alive and well in me, so I look like I’m 25…..perks of winning the ethnic lottery!

Anyway, per the usual these days, Facebook announces to the world (should you choose to include your birthday) the big day.  For one, I hate birthdays….not a big celebrator of them.  But the posts on my Facebook wall, the text messages, and even a few phone calls today have been a nice reminder of this simple truth:

You don’t get through this life on your own.

That’s the gift that each birthday brings for me: the gift of wisdom.  That as much as I’d like to think I’ve worked my ass off and earned every single thing in my life, the truth is, I’ve gotten there with the support, care, challenges, and lessons that come from others.  I wouldn’t be where I’m at because of people…and as I sit here and stare at everyone who’s posted on my wall to this point, that fact is evident.  So evident in fact, that I feel obligated to say thanks in the Facebook comments.  And even in this blog, as a count back, I want to say thanks as well.  Disclaimer: I’m not going to get everyone….but know each and every person who can honestly say they “know” me….know you’ve had an impact on my life and without you, I wouldn’t have gotten through this life on my own.

Here goes:

All those folks who I’ve had one-to-one conversations with about faith…..reminds me why the gospel matters and why being church matters – it’s worth the struggle.

My congregations, St. Andrew Lutheran & Holy Communion Lutheran, who have given me the space to be the pastor God’s called me to be, and who struggle alongside me in this task of being church.

Rocco Mansueto, who helped bring a lot of closure to my wrestling career and pushes me in thinking about this life and what’s important.  And we share trauma from Jack Effner beatings on the mat.

Steve Martin, who gave me an opportunity to explore and develop as a coach, and form strong bonds with ODU wrestling and the wrestlers there.

Mark Matzek, maybe one of the strangest guys I know, but also one of the most courageous and character-driven people I know.  Enjoy our friendship and coaching time together.

The rest of the Augsburg Wrestling family.  I may not be an Auggie…..but you guys are like family for me.  The bonds of brotherhood on the mat define me every day.

Mark Morton, who exemplifies what I love about the US Marine Corps and again, a guy of the highest character and faith I’ve met.  And deluded as he is about thinking he can break me, I appreciate the mentality to push limits and never accept mediocrity. : )

Jacqui Thone, pastor and friend who I share a passion for questions with – deep questions of faith.  You are a wrestler Jacqui, whether you care to admit it or not.

Deb Walker…..reminding me to let people take care of me, and not to resist that…ever. : )

Sharon Long & Barb Schulz….both church administrators, both sarcastic, both courageous….and both full of wisdom and empathy when I start ranting.  Truly a gift.

Kelly Chatman & Chip Gunsten, pastors who are really spiritual fathers to me.  Men whose passion for mission and ministry I strive to emulate in my life.

Chris & Cynthia Bowen, and their kids…..proof that the bonds formed in and through Christ matter…because I’m not sure in what life we would’ve been friends otherwise!

Matt & Nichole Bahen….proof that again, I can’t pull youth ministry off on my own, and needed your help every step of the way.

Andy Root, Eric Barreto, Rolf Jacobson, Walter Sundburg, Gracia Grindal, Matthew Skinner, Craig Koester, Alvin Luedke, Hollie Holt-Woehl, Heidi Albers, Terri Elton, Nancy Lee Gauche, Tim Coltvet, Rick Foss, & Rick Bliese….folks in the Luther Seminary community that listened to me, pushed me, and shaped me…even today.

Adam Butler…..I love your rants.  The world needs more passionate men like you.

Matt and Jacinda Shields….two people who are so faithful to God in ways I’m not.  You serve as an inspiration to me.

Josh & Kristina Jabaut….the first couple I married, and I now believe in divine intervention.

Angie Denker….I might not be where I am today if it wasn’t for that walk and talk Spring Semester that first year of Seminary.

Erika Benson…..for reminding me that trusting people again wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

All the folks I served with on Active Duty – Norfolk Naval Shipyard, NROTC Hampton Roads, USS JACKSONVILLE, NPTU Charleston & NNPTC…and my USNA classmates.  I learned Servant Leadership isn’t just a name of a book or a good idea….but it’s a way of life for a leader.

Paul Joyce…how we coached 60 kids in that small gym is beyond me, but I discovered my passion for coaching there.

Lee Pritts…who taught me passion is more important than credentials when it comes to doing what you love in this life.

Willie Stravino….you’re a weird son of a bitch.  But you, Caitlin, and Foster teach me daily that faith in God matters only in how it shapes the way you live….and the rest is bullshit.

Phillip Morrison….who reminds me that bonds of brotherhood sometimes die, but to still be thankful for the time and presence we shared.

All the wrestlers I’ve coached….thanks for allowing me to be part of your lives sharing that passion for wrestling.  Thanks for teaching me it’s not the W’s & L’s, but the character that’s formed that matters. And for your parents who entrusted me to do so.

All the youth and families I’ve ministered to and with over the years. You’ve taught me so much about God, faith, and what it means to struggle with it…and that it matters to do so. You gave me a home in the church when frankly, I had none.

The Wadzitas, The Patricks, the Watrous families for taking me in on my stops along the way….being my family away from home.

Jerry Riewer….my old Cross-Country coach showed me my temper and anger is something to face and overcome rather than let it consume me.

Ron Kurpiers….whose passion for teaching gifted students and pushing learning beyond “reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic” made me smarter and pushed me to pursue places like the Naval Academy, and to become a lifelong learner.

Jim, Betty, Steven, and Matthew McManamay….my USNA sponsors, who really taught me everything about being a good Naval Officer on those weekends in your home.

My family…who loves me no matter what, and who reminds me I’m not that big of a deal….I’m just a kid who was raised on a farm in Central MN.

My grandpa…..who taught me about values.

My dad….who I miss every single day and is still the best human being (not perfect) I know.

My mom….who taught me what forgiveness and grace are really about.

And my wife…the one person I know that at the end of the day, doesn’t think I suck.  And that counts for more than she knows.

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Sermon 12 October 2014: “War & Peace”

Text: Joshua 24:1-15

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My dad loved fall….and during the fall, he loved taking us to this place called “Inspiration Peak.” Inspiration Peak is this point about 400 feet above the rest of the surrounding central Minnesota plains…and you can see for about 20 miles in every direction. You’ll see miles and miles of trees covering the Minnesota plains – trees displaying the colors of fall…red, yellow, orange. Just beautiful. And I loved going there too.

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But as much as I remember loving to go each time….it was always a pain getting there. It was a two-hour drive to get to the park….you had to take backroads. And then you had a 20-30 minute hike up to the top…it was a relatively short distance, but it was really steep, and exhausting. During that drive and that hike….I’d kind of forget how beautiful it was at the top….and it would take a pep talk or two from my dad to push me, reminding me just why were doing this, and what waited us at the top…that amazing view.

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Today we’re in the book of Joshua: the Israelites are finally able to reach the peak of life in the Promised Land – a life of peace after years of nothing but being at war with other nations and tribes in the land. That’s exactly what the majority of the book of Joshua is about; the Israelites being at war, and then finally realizing peace.
And the reality is that the Israelites we’re speaking about at the end of Joshua are about 1 or 2 generations removed from those who originally left Egypt. Truth is, somewhere between 65-80 years have passed since the Exodus out of Egypt. These Israelites had no firsthand experience with the Exodus or the wilderness wanderings. All they had known in their lives was a period of war – one after another, series of wars between nations and tribes. And now….all that was coming to an end – the military had drawn down. The 12 Tribes of Israel were established. People were now about to live “normal lives.” A life of civilization. A settled life. A life of peace.
Does any of that sound familiar to you? Think about this: our nation has been at war in Iraq and Afghanistan for 13 years now. 13 years. And now these wars are coming to an end. This past week, I was in a Navy leadership course for Reservists – mobilizations and recalls to active duty are decreasing rapidly as we end our presence and campaign in Afghanistan. People are coming home.
But if you think about it; there is a whole generation of people – primarily our kids – who have known nothing but an America at war. That’s their experience. And in fact, maybe thats our experience as well – all we’ve known and heard about is “The War on Terror.” Terrorism in all forms, both abroad and in America, threats and realities…and all the conspiracy theories too. We could sit here all day and debate all the facts and reasons behind the past 13 years of war but I think that’s not the point at all.
The point is that it’s created an unstable and anxious world. And that’s the world our kids have grown up in; it’s a world we’ve lived in. The events of 9/11 and the threat of Terrorism the past 13 years has affected us – we don’t feel safe; our security and well-being is no longer a sure thing. And I think it’s also made us extremely skeptical and paranoid and mistrustful as well – of our government, organizations and institutions, the economy; people of different race, religion, sexual orientation and social status.
A life….safety and security compromised; where skepticism and paranoia and mistrust and violence of war occupy our thoughts and time. And I wonder if this clouds our hearts and minds so we can’t see or even imagine what the view from the peak looks like – much less live into the reality – of a life of peace, a life of beauty.
The history lesson that Joshua gives the Israelites, that we heard today, is significant. Because it reminds the people WHY they are here – that it’s the covenant with God that shapes this life and time of peace they’re about to enter. And it’s this life that’s normal; not the one of endless war they had lived. The God that promised blessing; that promised freedom; that promised protection and provision…and delivered good on those things, now makes good on the promise of peace in the Promised Land. This is why they are here at this moment; this is what the covenant was all about. There’s no need to live in fear and uncertainty. God brings a time of peace…..a time to live in relationship with God, with each other as a nation, and with all the nations they were at war with in the land of Canaan.
And I think for us today, this history lesson is important. All the fear and mistrust and violence of body and soul is not God’s vision of life; that’s not why we’re here. It’s about living in the anticipation of the beauty that exists in the peaks of relationships and community with God and with each other; it’s about being surrounded by the presence of God and all people without fear and paranoia; it’s about living in an enduring covenant of blessing and and peace with God and all people, no matter who they are.
“Choose the day whom you will serve…but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” This history lesson, makes Joshua’s words not an ultimatum or a demand for our allegiance; but rather, a confession of faith that invites us into this covenantal relationship with God.
In faith, we choose to live in relationship with Almighty God who has been so faithful to us in the blessing of covenant and in Christ. In faith, we choose to see the beauty that exists in our world; we choose to trust and hope in the power of relationships and community. In faith, we choose to serve God…so that through us, others might know this God in Christ who blesses them with beauty and hope and peace too.
That is why “this house” – why we as a church are here. To be A place of safety; a family built on trust. And it is why this church is called…..to serve the Lord. Amen.

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Sermon 5 October 2014: “10 Commandments: ‘for’ or ‘from’?”

Text: Exodus 19:3-7; 20:1-17

Ok…so I want to see who was paying attention: can you name them all?  All 10 Commandments?  Let’s do a quick pop quiz……no cheating, no looking at your bulletin.  Let’s try to name them now.

(I had folks try to name them off collectively….but here they are for you, in case you need your memory jogged too)

  1. No other Gods/ no idols.
  2. Don’t misuse God’s name.
  3. Remember the Sabbath, keep it holy.
  4. Honor your father & mother.
  5. Don’t murder/kill.
  6. Don’t commit adultery.
  7. Don’t steal.
  8. Don’t lie/bear false witness against your neighbor.
  9. Don’t covet your neighbor’s house.
  10. Don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff (wife, slave, ox, donkey).

The 10 Commandments are “The Law” for Christians.  It’s part of our heritage and tradition.  Jesus said as much in the gospel of Matthew: “Do not think I came to abolish the Law….I have come to fulfill them.” (Matt. 5:17) The 10 Commandments matter; they’re important. In fact, I’d even say it’s a really good idea for us to follow them all the time.  The Israelites understood that through the Law, God was making them holy.  And in keeping the 10 Commandments, God is also making us holy today.

That is what these few short verses in Chapter 19 of our reading are about today.  God reminds the people of Israel how God has freed them from slavery, and draws them into a relationship of trust – the covenant.  God reminds them that he will protect and provide for them….all they need to do is keep up their end of the covenant by simply trusting God.  And in doing so, God will make them a priestly kingdom, a holy nation, just as God did with Abraham: “you will be blessed to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.”

Another way to think of God making us holy is that God is setting us apart.  God does this – God makes us holy, and just as God did with Israel, God does so for us today.

But why are we set apart?  To answer that question: we have to take a look at two little words, but words that make a huge difference – “from” and “for.”  

If we’re set apart “from,” then that means we’re to distance ourselves from the world.  If we’re set apart from, we’re supposed to think and behave and live in a way that rises above all the crap and the mess of the world.  We keep ourselves pure, blameless, innocent, good….or “Christian,” as I heard it a lot since I’ve moved here.  If we’re set apart “from,” then all those people out there who do bad shit and aren’t bothering to show up to church ever – they’re not worth blessing.  And definitely not God’s blessing.

But if we’re set apart “for” then that means something completely different.  It means that God’s set us apart for a special purpose; for a distinct reason.  And if the covenant is true, that God wants to bless “all the families of the earth,” then perhaps God sets us apart so that God might do that through each and every one of you.  We’re set apart, we live and act in faith, trusting in this God of promise so that others might see that God’s promises are in fact, for them too. We love and serve our neighbor, so that they might know the God we love and serve…..the God who through our love and service, is blessing them for a life of faith too.

That takes me back to the 10 Commandments.  If they’re 10 rules for how we set ourselves apart “from” the rest of the world, then they’re simply just that – rules.  Rules that we keep to make ourselves holy.  Rules that as we struggle to keep 100% of the time, much less remember all of the time.

But if the 10 Commandments are 10 words from God on how to we set ourselves apart “for” the rest of the world, then they become about acts of love and service to our neighbor…for their sake, rather than ours.  These 10 Commandments become words that shape our lives of faith so that they might know the God of promise we serve – and that God’s blessing is for them as well.

I figure this might be a good time for an example…..and for the sake of time let’s just take one of the commandments.  “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain” or as the text says more accurately, “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God.”

For a long time, I used to think this was about setting myself apart “from” – about not swearing, or saying “Jesus Christ” or “God” when I get pissed off.  I thought it was about maintaining a standard – a rule – of “nice, appropriate” language, and that’s about it.  I’ve found over the years that I’m about 60% successful at that – and that’s on a good day.  I certainly fail…over and over.  In short, it’s pretty hard for me to take on a “holier than thou” attitude, much less think of myself holy before God.

But over time, I’ve come to understand that this commandment is really a word that holds me accountable for what I say about God – especially to others.  It holds me accountable for my words with others when I talk about God, and how God works.  When someone asks me, “What does God think of my….divorce? drug use? doubts about faith?” OR “Where is God in my….miscarriage?  homelessness & poverty? divorce? the suffering and death of my loved one? my chaotic life?”  What I say about God matters, because in those moments, people need to know about the God of promise and covenant.  They need to know the God revealed in Jesus Christ.  They need to know that God wants to bless them.  In this commandment, God is setting me apart “for” others….so that they might know these things – God’s blessing for their lives.

I have a copy of the 10 Commandments here for you this morning…..and I invite you to take one.  And I invite you to think about how these commandments are words that shape your lives, setting you apart for others, so that others may know of the God of promise and covenant, the God of Jesus Christ how frees from sin, saves by grace, and blesses all people.  And if you’re feeling brave, I’d invite you to write some of those thoughts down and email or drop them off at the office for me to read.

But if you don’t feel that brave, I hope at least that you’ll reflect on how these commandments are setting you apart “for” – and in that task, may you know the God that is drawing you to godself…..and making you each and every day, holy.  Amen.

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Something new….Theology Thursdays

We’ve decided to start a new venture as congregations: I call it “Theology Thursdays: Biblical Experience, Exploration, & Reflection.”  Or B.E.E.R. for short.  Things like this…you gotta have a catchy name.

The general idea is this (and it’s nothing new, at least where I came from in the Twin Cities): people come together at a restaurant to discuss matters of faith and life over some appetizers and a beer.  Bring a bible, don’t bring one…..really all you need is yourself.  And the only rule: if you cause a fight that comes to blows or over-the-top shouting, then you owe everyone a round.

Anyway, we had our inaugural meeting last night.  16 people from both congregations, and one from another congregation in the area came together to discuss “gender roles.”  It centered around a recent article about Mark Driscoll, ex-pastor at Mars Hill.  The gist: men’s penises are on loan from God, in search of a “home,” specifically, a woman’s vagina.  Men are to keep their “home” happy….and women are to simply make sure their “home” is somewhere their man wants to be.

The conversation started raunchy, resulting in lots of laughs.  Best quote of the night: “So if I’m a larger woman, does that mean I’m a mansion?”  But then it turned to talk of gender roles.  And then it turned to what the Bible has to say about those gender roles up and against what we believe today….and it turned into a discussion of Biblical authority and interpretation.  And the discussion was serious.  Thoughtful.  Smart.  Interesting.

And we listened to each other…and we got off topic.  (The Vikings were getting their asses handed to them on Thursday Night Football; Baseball playoffs were opening)  And after about 2 hours, we wrapped things up….although some probably would’ve stayed longer.

And people walked away saying things like,

“Gosh, this was really interesting….never done something like this.  But I liked it.”

“Honestly, I was skeptical of this idea….but it was actually pretty interesting.  We have to try new things I guess…we haven’t done that for a long time.”

“I really like this….this is something I’ve been looking for for a long time.”

All great things.  But what I hope more than anything: people see this is being church.  This is THEIR church.  Something they’re proud to be a part of, something they feel a part of, something where they experience the grace and love of God, and come to know more about God.  And it’s something they feel compelled to share with others…..we just about had the waitress join in!

Until next time…..1st and 3rd Thursdays of every month.

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