Monthly Archives: November 2015

Sermon 29 November 2015: “Our Advent observances & King Josiah”

Text: 2 Kings 22:1-13; 23:1-3

It’s the First Sunday in Advent, and today also marks the beginning of a new liturgical year in the church. You may have noticed things look a little different around the sanctuary this morning, and I thought in light of that, we’re gonna have a little pop quiz to see how much you all know about Advent.

#1: Why is the color blue used during Advent?  What other color was used and why? Blue signifies hope, expectation, and the Heaven sky.  It is also the color of the Virgin Mary.  Purple was also used in more ancient times; a color to signify royalty and repentance as people awaited and expected Christ’s second coming.

#3: Why do we have an Advent wreath, and what do each of the candles represent on it?  It’s actually a Lutheran practice that started in the 16th century in Germany.  It actually didn’t get observed in America until the 1930s. The 4 candles are lit each Sunday in Advent, the candles represent hope, peace, love, and joy.  The fifth candle, which is White, is lit at the beginning of the Christmas season, which begins sundown on December 24th….Christmas Eve.

#4: What are the themes of Advent?   Besides hope, expectation, joy, peace, and anticipation of Christ’s coming – first or second coming – it’s also observed as a time of preparation in which we ritually prepare to receive Jesus’ humble coming into the world.

#5: Why do we decorate the sanctuary early? Well, I don’t have the answer to that….decorating churches is historically a matter of local tradition….so all of that stuff…..I would have to ask you! 

So, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let me ask you this: Why celebrate Advent?  What is the reason for Advent? 

I suppose the obvious answer is the kids’ version: Jesus.  Jesus is the reason for the season.  You’ve probably heard that more than a few times before, right? It’s not about all the gifts, the lights, the parties. Fight the commercialism, don’t be afraid to say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays, put the Christ back in Christmas, and then there’s those blasphemous blank red coffee cups at Starbucks….the gauntlet has been thrown.  But is that as deep as Advent goes for us?  Is it simply just to get us to change our behavior – be a little more patient and kind, slow down, or be a little more philanthropic. Is Advent simply an opportunity to remind the world once again that Jesus needs to be at the center of their shallow, selfish lives?

We begin Advent with this story of King Josiah – Josiah comes across God’s Word – likely a copy of the Torah, God’s Law, as in the 10 Commandments.  And when Josiah hears it, he tears his clothes, and immediately establishes a covenant before all of Judah, and the people follow suit.  But I think the reason behind Josiah’s response and actions go deeper than simply making “God the reason for the season.”  Rather, Josiah remembers.  He recalls the God who his people has been in relationship with, and has to come to terms with Judah and Israel’s past – a past filled with mistakes, corruption, violence, and above all, sin.  And maybe for us, that’s what this Advent season is about – it’s coming to terms with our past – our past as the church.  Maybe it’s things in the past like Josiah’s that causes us to tear our clothing in anguish and despair when we recall it, or perhaps it’s something from the past in which people turned to God, making a covenant, a rededication, a promise……recommitting ourselves to God just like the people of Judah that day.

So starting today, and over the next 4 Sundays, I’m going to give you some time to remember…..remember things about the churches you’ve been a part of over your life – this church perhaps – and its past.  At the end of each week, you can either leave your sheet here and I’ll keep them safe in my office, or you can take them home and bring them back each week.  Regardless, I’d like each of you to answer the questions, and return your answers to me at the end of Advent.  Here’s the thing: I don’t know these stories, so for one, it’s an opportunity to teach me about your past with the church.  Maybe that’s a refreshing idea for you, since typically you have to sit and listen to pastors like me talk about the church.

One little caveat before I shut up and let you begin: This might be a really difficult process for some of you, because it’s going to push you to go deeper, to be really honest.  And it might surface some rather uncomfortable and painful memories as well.  Such things are indeed part of our past.  But Advent is all about hope and expectation of a God who comes down into our world and enters deeply into it.  My hope and prayer this Advent season is that as each of you goes deeper, as you go deep into your past……you’ll discover anew this God who in Jesus takes on flesh and goes deeper than ever before just to be with us, to show us a future out of our past and present.

For this week, I want you to consider the questions for week 1:  What in the church’s past has broken your heart?  And in reflecting today, do you feel that event or thing has ultimately drawn this church closer to God, or further away?

So now, let’s take 5 minutes to respond and reflect.

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Sermon on 15 November 2015 on Hosea & God’s Pathos

Text: Hosea 11:1-9

“Let the little children come to me, for such as these the Kingdom of God belongs.”  

Many of you probably have seen a picture or painting depicting this scene. Jesus is peacefully sitting on top of a hill, smiling and arms open, and all these cherub-like, innocent looking children coming to him.  Maybe you can picture it in your mind right now.  The children look like they’re coming, happy and carefree, not a care in the world, and Jesus just embraces them and makes their worries go away.

It was two months into my junior officer tour on USS JACKSONVILLE, and things were pretty rough. I was adjusting not only to the busy and stressful life of being submariner and obtaining my nuclear engineering qualifications, but the morale on the boat was pretty low and frankly, it was a tough place to be.  I went home for Christmas, and I would tell my dad how I was feeling and he’d reply like he usually did when I was stressed by life, “Well, it’ll get better. It can’t be that bad. Keep your head up and stay positive.”  But I was just feeling so overwhelmed by things, and when I returned after Christmas break, I stopped answering my phone.  Friends, family, even co-workers at times.  I didn’t answer my phone.  My dad would call, leaving his typical voicemail, “Hey, you must be busy; call me back.”  This went on for about four weeks….and I just felt more and more overwhelmed and my dad began to call more frequently.  I would check my voicemail after he called, and they were still the same, until one day, my dad left this voicemail message: “Aaron, this is dad…..I know you’re busy, but I haven’t heard anything at all…..” his voice cracked, and he finished, “I’m starting to worry.  Call me back.”

I called my dad back right then.

It’s been one of those weeks……tragedy striking our world again: a massive terrorist act in Paris that’s left about 150 dead, and even more seriously injured.  All of France is on lockdown, people gripped in sorrow and fear.  But I have to admit, when I heard the news on Friday, my reaction was that I really didn’t care too much. Earlier this week, a student at Churchland High School took his own life.  And on Wednesday, 80-year old Stan Morrison – a member at St. Andrew – his car crossed the median on Highway 17 and was killed instantly in a head-on collision with a truck.  Yet those are not the only things going on….there was also terrorist bombings in Beirut, Lebanon and Baghdad, Iraq this past week too that went unnoticed in our country.  And there’s all the things in your lives – mourning deaths, struggling with illness, uncertainty – that some of you have shared with me this past week that seems to go unnoticed too.  And we still are plagued in this country by persistent issues of race, socio-economic equality and justice and violence.  To be honest with you, it all weighs heavily on my mind.  I guess I feel so overwhelmed, so burdened by it all.  Why do some go unnoticed and some get all the attention? Which ones do I pick, which ones are more important?  I mean, isn’t what’s happening in Beirut and Baghdad just as important and France?  And what about what goes on daily in Palestine?  I sit here and believe with my heart that #alllivesmatter, but shouldn’t that also mean that I should care just as much about #blacklivesmatter too?

Now I realize that there are probably many of you who came here this morning, hoping to get away from things like this – getting away from the horrible things happening in the world and the struggles in our lives.  We’d much rather be like those innocent, carefree children in the picture of Jesus I described at the beginning of this sermon this morning.  And we’d like a calm, peaceful Jesus who seems to make all those things disappear.

But after a week like this, I’m not so sure that’s the God we need.

Hosea is one of the books of the minor prophets in the Old Testament.  It often goes unnoticed…how many of you have read Hosea?  But there’s something about the prophet’s words here, words that are really God’s.  That’s what prophets do – they convey God’s Word to God’s people.  I want to read our text for today one more time.  I just want you to listen….what do you hear?

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more I called them,
the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
and offering incense to idols.

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.

They shall return to the land of Egypt,
and Assyria shall be their king,
because they have refused to return to me.
The sword rages in their cities,
it consumes their oracle-priests,
and devours because of their schemes.
My people are bent on turning away from me.
To the Most High they call,
but he does not raise them up at all.

How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my fierce anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.

The nation of Israel in Hosea’s time was in the midst of their own struggles and tragedy: lousy king after king; crumbling kingdom; outside nations threatening to conquer them. And some of it was their own fault as they turned to a false god and worshipped Baal.  But for these children of God, while they needed God’s Word  a word of judgment and call to repentance – God knew that they needed to know more how God felt about it all…..and that God cared.

As God’s children today, I wonder if we know we’re not the innocent, playful cherubs of the Jesus sitting on the hill picture.  I think we know perhaps, we’re more like prodigals….prodigal girls and boys living in a broken, suffering world, full of sorrow and overwhelmed and burdened by it all.

The fact of the matter is, my soul is just as burdened by the act of terror in France as it is for an 80-year old man who died in a car accident and a teenager who committed suicide this week. And that goes for every issue of violence, race, politics – you name it – under the sun. One isn’t greater than another, nor is one lesser than another. But perhaps it should be that our souls are so burdened that we feel overwhelmed by it all. For today, we simply are honest about that…..and it’s in feeling all of this so deeply, we turn and find a God who is feeling all these things just as deeply alongside us. God, who cares for a broken world and humanity that’s filled with so much suffering and sorrow right now.

Certainly we wait expectantly for what God might do in the days to come to bring healing, reconciliation, and hope in the days to come after such week…..but to know of a God who feels just as deeply as we feel, and cares so much to never let us go…….maybe that’s exactly the God we need RIGHT NOW.  Amen.

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Remembering Veterans’ Day: An Old Story

 I wrote this reflection back in 2007, while I was still on Active Duty in the Navy. It was something I didn’t share publicly, but needed to write anyway, for me. I wrote this during pre-seminary education/pastor phase of my life, and I’ve left it unchanged over the years.  So forgive any heresy, mistakes, lack of gender-inclusive language, and incoherence.  But I wanted to share with you all because Veteran’s Day is so important to me……

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Passage: Romans 8:18-25

“The whole world groans.”  Just that statement by Paul in Romans pretty much sums up what we see around us everyday:  whether it’s in the news, in our workplace, communities, or our homes, “the whole world groans.”  And we hear it loud and clear.  This coming week, Veteran’s Day will be upon us.  It marks the remembrance of those who have served this country as members in our Armed Forces.  And for a lot of people, it’s the reminder that we live in a world where war is present.  And the reality that goes with war is that those who serve are killed.  We don’t really see it; we hear the numbers, but when it hits close to home, when we open the newspaper and read about some person from our hometown has been killed as a result of war, our grief and sorrow turns to anguish.  We’re moved to question, “why?”  “What’s the point?”  “What a senseless death?”

The problem with wars are that they are complex.  There are forces and motives and agendas that work behind the reality of the death and destruction that goes on.  We ask “why?” and then turn to those forces and agendas, and the people who make them, and try to make sense of the death that’s come so close to us by blaming them.  And what I’m not saying is that we shouldn’t question those forces and agendas or the people who make them, but in our blame, we don’t get any answers, we don’t find any comfort.  We’re left with our sorrow, and it turns to bitterness.

His name was Travis Manion.  He was a teammate of mine on the wrestling team at the Naval Academy.  We were a couple years apart, so I admit, I didn’t know him that well.  But, when the news hits and it’s one of your own, it affects you.  Travis was killed in a fire fight in Iraq April 27th of this year.  Another Academy brother killed.  Now, being in the service, I understand the cost of what we do; I understand what the military is about: our profession is fighting wars.  Fighting and dying is part of it.  But Travis’ death hit me a bit harder than most.  And I really don’t know why.  I think it was the fact for the first time, I found his death senseless.  It wasn’t a good death.  No one noticed, except for family and some of us who knew him; it wasn’t because he was involved in a major campaign, fighting to free a nation.

I read Travis’ Citation for his Silver Star, a pretty prestigious award.  It reads:

 “The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star medal posthumously to First Lieutenant Travis L. Manion, USMC

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action as Company Advisor, 3rd battalion, 2nd Brigade, 1st Army Division Military Transition Team, regimental Combat Team 6, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), in support of operation IRAQI FREEDOM on 27 April 2007.

As First Lieutenant Manion’s patrol concluded a search of a suspected insurgent house, it came under precision small arms fire attack. With the corpsman grievously wounded by enemy fire and the attack developing into a full-scale ambush, First Lieutenant Manion and a fellow Marine exposed themselves to the increasing fire to pull the corpsman out of the kill zone. After recovering the corpsman and administering first aid, First Lieutenant Manion led his patrol in a counter attack personally eliminating an enemy position with his M4 carbine and M2303 grenade launcher. As he continued to direct the patrol another Marine was wounded by the enemy’s accurate fire. He again moved across the kill zone, under fire by five insurgents, to recover the wounded Marine. Iraqi Army reinforcements, halted by an improvised explosive device, were unable to advance on the flank of the insurgents, and First Lieutenant Manion and his patrol found themselves taking fire from three sides. While fearlessly exposing himself to gain a more advantageous firing position and drawing enemy fire away from wounded Marines, First Lieutenant Manion was fatally wounded by an enemy sniper. His courageous and deliberate actions inspired the eventual counter attack and ultimately saved the lives of every member of his patrol. By his outstanding display of decisive leadership, unlimited courage in the face of heavy enemy fire, and utmost devotion to duty, First Lieutenant Manion reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”

As I read this, it dawned on me: Travis put himself in harm’s way for something well beyond a set of values or loyalty to country.  It went way beyond honor, courage, duty, integrity.  Travis put himself in harm’s way, at the expense of his life because of love.  In the midst of chaos and bullets flying everywhere, with members of his team being hit with enemy fire, Travis acted because of the love he had for those people.  It was to defend those around him who meant so much to him.  On a larger scale, it was out of love that Travis continued to serve.  Defending others in a place where freedoms and safety we take for granted are not daily realities for people, Travis understood the call to stand for those who had no voice.  One day, while back in the States, his brother joked if Travis broke his leg, he wouldn’t have to go back.  Travis replied by saying, “If not me, then who?” 

I’m not trying to glorify war, or what Sailors, Soldiers, and Marines do.  It’s a bloody, dirty, sobering experience.  Knowing that the things you do can ultimately end the lives of others, I find no glory in that.  But acting out of love for the neighbor, that is the call of the gospel.  God acted for us out of love at great cost, through the offering of his Son, Jesus Christ.  Christ died for the world out of God’s love for us.  Jesus’ words in John 15 assure us, “There is no greater love than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”  This is the proclamation of the gospel, that the depth of God’s love goes to such lengths, that he bore such a high cost in the humiliating and inglorious death of his Son on the Cross.

Paul’s words in Romans 8:18 comfort me.  “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”  I think in Travis’ death, one I felt was so senseless, so empty, that something is revealed in it.  The suffering his family, his close friends, myself, and perhaps even this nation and yourselves have felt or are feeling are nothing in comparison to what is revealed in Travis’ death.  The glory revealed in such a death is that sacrificial love makes no regard for the self, it is purely out of the love we have for our neighbors.  It points directly to a God who loves us to the extent he has little regard for himself – he bears death.  If that is the case, than I think we can find hope in the realities of war, the reality of the deaths and sacrifices are military men and women make each day.  It’s the hope that people are acting not for the motives and agendas of politics and men, but it’s that people are acting out of love for others who cannot stand for themselves; for those who the reality of suffering and oppression are something we can’t even imagine here in our lives.

This Veteran’s Day, let our groans be joined with the groaning of others in this world, especially as we remember those we’ve lost due to war or other senseless acts.  But also, let us be reminded of what God has done for us, at great cost, out of love for us.  Let us honor those who have dedicated their lives in acting out of love and defense for their families, neighbors, and those who cannot fend for themselves.  In the midst of our groaning, let us hear of God’s great love for us, embodied in those who serve in our Armed Forces.  Amen.

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Revisiting “Bi-vocational” Ministry

I recently read the book, BiVo, by Hugh Halter. Halter shares what he’s learned through creating a church community lead by bi-vocational pastors whose role is to train and equip Christian disciples for mission.

bivo-machup

To be honest, the book got me thinking about Bi-vocational pastors and ministry, especially since I identify myself as one.  While I don’t share most of Halter’s theological commitments, the book is worth a read when considering declining resources available to churches today, and the continued desire to be church in the world.  Halter’s church is an interesting one.

I do have one problem with Halter and most writers on the subject of bi-vocational ministry, and that is the insistence that the basis of this model of ministry boils down to a lesson in economics – money. To borrow Halter’s phrase, “church should be cheap.” It shouldn’t cost that much to do ministry and share God’s love and grace with the world.  Halter’s negative bias towards full-time pastors and ministry isn’t hidden in his book.  While he tries to come across as sympathetic, he takes his shots at those who choose full-time ministry and asserts that what he does is inherently better….on the basis of biblical authority. (Which then becomes another boring discussion about scriptural authority) Halter’s basis for bi-vocational as “cheap church” that “builds better disciples for the Kingdom” is one echoed by most who identify as and advocate for bi-vocational pastors.

I think such a narrow view is problematic. When we constrict bi-vocational ministry to economy, we make vocation and our discernment of it primarily about management of work (what we do) rather than identity (who we are).  God’s calling is not based on doing the right thing, but rather identification of spirit-given gifts that can be used in a variety of ways in the world. Bi-vocational ministry is about who we are (people who use their whole selves in a variety of stations in life) vice what we do (fitting ourselves to a correct type of work that is divinely-inspired).

I share that to give you a working thesis in the weeks ahead as I write more about bi-vocational ministry, just so you have a basis of understanding for where I’m coming from. (Note: Because it’s a whole lot better than me posting my 22-page seminary thesis, currently collecting dust in a box I didn’t unpack two years ago) I began an intentional interim ministry course last week, and it’s got me thinking more about the need for varied and diverse models of pastoral leadership for the church in a rapidly-changing world.  So I’ll be sharing my thoughts about that, both ideas and practical points.  Just a preview of what I’ll be sharing the next couple weeks:

– The church is NOT your vocation.
– Bi-Vocational ministry for full-time pastors: Changing the model of leadership & church.
– The Top 4 Positions you need on your church staff – and it’ll attract Millennials (because everyone wants to these days.)
– The Diversity you need…and Bi-Vocational staff can help.

– The people you serve: honoring their multi-vocational life through modeling.

– Bi-vocational ministry & economics: it does play a part, but not as “cheap church.”

I hope you’ll take the time to read and interact in the weeks ahead.  Thanks for reading!

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Weekend Word 11/6

Blessed be the LORD, my rock,
who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle;
my rock and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield, in whom I take refuge,
who subdues the peoples under me.
O LORD, what are human beings that you regard them,
or mortals that you think of them?
They are like a breath; their days are like a passing shadow.
~ Psalm 144:1-4

I found this Psalm my sophomore year of college. At the time I had a whole lot of anxiety over the fact that I felt like I was never really prepared for tournaments and competition: I was injured and hadn’t been able to train enough. My shot defense was weak. I hadn’t been able to get out from bottom the whole week of practice. I wasn’t the #1 guy on the depth chart.

Then I started to realize that the truth was, on my own I would never truly be prepared. I’ve found that to be true in life as well: there’s just not enough time, even if I did everything 100% right all of the time. That’s an unattainable standard.

However, reading this Psalm reminds us that it is God who has prepared us, and continues to prepare us for each new challenge of competition.  God has given us the gifts, abilities, and the grace to use them with confidence. On our own efforts, we are nothing, as the Psalmist says, we are like a breath; a passing shadow.  But with God, we are reminded we have the capacity to do amazing things, if we can find the courage to trust that God has prepared us sufficiently for each moment set before us – like the weekend of competition before you.

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Thoughts from the Bi-Vocational Pastor: “The church is NOT your vocation.”

While I’ve allowed a bit more time to go by than I wanted to between posts, Bi-Vocational Ministry is still on my mind. To review, vocation is more about identity and being than economy and task.  If you want to get the “full version” you can read back to my original post.

Let’s move on to the subject of this post. The New York Times published an article stating that families today are more “stressed, tired, and rushed” in their lives than ever.  The writer offers a lot of conclusions from recent Pew Center research: both parents working, pressures of traditional gender roles, and increased activities for children are just some of the many things filling and competing for people’s lives today .  Maybe it’s too obvious to state this, but people’s lives are busy. Now I suppose we could enter into a moral/ethical critique of “busy,” but I don’t see that as very helpful, because “busy” isn’t a problem so much as it is a reality.

The question I’ve heard most church workers and leaders asking isn’t “What does this mean?” But rather “What should we do?”  Is the church part of the problem? How can the church help?

Is the church part of the problem?  My response is yes, but not intentionally.  Most are well aware of shifts in American life in the past 50 years and how that is affecting churches across America today.  There’s much research that’s been done to say that ways of doing church simply aren’t in rhythm with the schedule and pulse of people’s lives.  In short, church simply becomes one more thing on the plate, another item on the weekly and monthly calendar. Churches create programs (ministry), initiate marketing strategies (evangelism), offer education and training programs (discipleship), and offer events and opportunities to gather (fellowship) in an attempt to increase participation in church life.

Let me say that I think churches do this out of the belief and commitment that a life of faith in relationship with God is vital and beneficial for the world today.  That isn’t the problem; that’s a good thing! The problem is that by creating and offering more things to do, the church communicates that for a Christian – “the church IS your vocation.”  Not only should church be THE priority in a Christian’s life, but it is fundamentally the image of who a Christian is: a frequent and regular churchgoer.  The question has to be asked, “Are we as people of God more than that?”  I think so; and that leads church workers and leaders into reflecting on the idea that people are multi-vocational beings, i.e. “The church is not your vocation.”

How can church help? The starting point is asking the fundamental human question: “Who are we?”  For Christians, we look to the One in whom our identity is formed: Jesus Christ.  For congregations, ministry to the people they serve invites them into reflection on this identity, or vocational reflection.  What does it mean that Christ is at the center of who I am as a parent? Spouse? Employee?  Supervisor? What does it mean that God created me with the gifts and passions that drive and fulfill me, that give me life? How do I see my very life as a God-given gift?  The identity of congregations then, should be communities of vocational reflection.

Of course, these questions to lead to the logical question of “what then do these communities do?”  That answer varies with context and dynamics of the congregation’s history, size, and structure.  However, I do think congregations would do best by taking a “coaching” posture – accompanying people along life’s journey, affirming and challenging the ways they live faithfully to Christ in love and service toward God and neighbor. I would advocate for a return to more “traditional” practices and away from intricately organized programs.  Provide devotionals via email or social media. Hold an early morning breakfast/devotional group before the work day.  Provide opportunities for people to discover their spirit-given gifts through Strengthsfinder 2.0, MBTI, or similar inventories. Connect young people with particular work interests with adults in the congregation who work in those areas to do mutual vocational reflection through questions and learning.  Even worship (particularly preaching) should disciple people in the task of vocational reflection as a response to the Gospel.

And my shocker: shift weekly worship/education from Sunday morning to another time.  (I suggest Thursday evening.  I believe it can be done with some creativity.) I’m not just talking an alternative worship service.  Create an entirely separate worshipping community.  For large churches, this is easier.  For smaller congregations, perhaps the challenge is to shift your entire worshiping community to a different day of the week!

For Christians, the church is NOT your vocation.  But the church can help you live out your vocation, and that might be the best gift to offer people desperately seeking a connection with God and meaning for their lives.

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Sermon for All Saints’ Sunday: “Jerk Kings & Accidental Saints”

Text: 1 Kings 12:1-19; 25-29

I hate today’s text.

It doesn’t fit for what’s going on today.  Today is All Saints’ Day, and we celebrate this long and beautiful tradition of the church, honoring and remembering those saints who have departed from this world and our lives and all they meant to us and to so many.  It is a day to celebrate their memory. It is a day to celebrate their faithfulness to God.

Instead, we get this story about two kings who just plain suck.  Rehoboam and Jeroboam are kings, rulers self-absorbed with their power and their status.  Two kings, one who ignores wise counsel and decides to treat those he rules like crap, and another who might seem a little better, but builds idols for people to worship.  We get this story of two kings who seem completely out of touch with the people and the worlds they rule over, and later on it produces disastrous results.  And what stinks even more is that the writers of the Bible decided to canonize these two.  It’s the names of Rehoboam and Jeroboam that will echo throughout all of eternity…..not all the good people who probably existed during that time.  It is these two jerks who were given the title of sainthood.  And I hate that.  I wonder if maybe God made a mistake making these two kings saints. But then I think of all the other characters in the Bible we’ve talked about so far this year – Adam & Eve; Abraham (a coward); Jacob (a cheater and swindler); Ruth (who uses Boaz’s drunkenness to her advantage); and David (adulterer, murderer, and liar) – and maybe it isn’t a mistake.  And we’ve just scratched the surface – we’re only about halfway through the Old Testament and we’ve got the whole New Testament to go though. It’s almost like God made these people saints by accident. And I hate that because what does it say about all of our loved ones we remember this morning, and what does that say about us?  

Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran Pastor in Denver, CO and author, just recently published a new book titled, “Accidental Saints.”  In her book she writes about all the saints she’s encountered in her life – drunks, drug addicts, drag queens; the stubborn, lazy, and prideful.  She talks about people who for the most part are jerks and screwups.  And she writes, “I have come to realize that all the saints I’ve known have been accidental ones — people who inadvertently stumbled into redemption like they were looking for something else at the time, people who have just a wee bit of a drinking problem and manage to get sober and help others to do the same, people who are as kind as they are hostile.” 

Our celebration of All Saints’ Day – our celebration of our loved ones – isn’t so much a day to celebrate their goodness, or even to honor their memory. What we celebrate is that despite the fact that while we and our loved ones were still sinners, Christ died for us and in God’s infinite love and grace we are made saints.  Nadia Bolz-Weber writes, “Never once did Jesus scan the room for the best example of  holy living and send that person out to tell others about him. He always sent stumblers and sinners. I find that comforting.” 

On this All Saints’ Day, this story makes a little more sense.  This day is about accidental saints – jerk kings and sinners like you and me who by no accident were made saints of God in Jesus Christ.  And just like Nadia….I find that comforting……and on this holy day in the life of the Church, it certainly is cause to light a candle, ring a bell, remember our loved ones, and even baptize babies. It’s a cause to celebrate.  Amen.
FYI, we did a baptism at one of the services today. Made it a pretty awesome day! 


  

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