For All the Saints. Especially one named Aileen.

Sermon given on All Saint’s Day, November 3rd, 2019.

Grace Mercy and Peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ, the one who was, how is and who is to come.  Amen.

One afternoon I found myself sitting in the waiting room with Charlotte, who’s husband was laying in a hospital bed across the hall.  It had been a long journey of in and out of the hospital and these were determined by the physicians to be his last hours on this earth.  Charlotte looked down and said, “I don’t know how people get through this sort of thing without Jesus – without believing in the promise of the resurrection. It’s what gives me hope and keeps me going. I know I’ll see John again, and next time it won’t be like this.”

We believe in this promise because of these words Jesus says to Martha when her brother Lazarus had died: “I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”  And then Jesus asked Martha: “Do you believe this?”  Martha replied, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

So – Do you believe it?  Surrounded by such mystery, Do you believe these words of Jesus? This, I believe, is the greatest mystery of all, and therefore demands the greatest faith of all.  If you could, wouldn’t you like a glimpse into this great mystery? As many of you sitting in these pews today have experienced similar moments, I sat alongside my mother and sang hymns and prayed with her and held her hand as she eventually slipped from this world on the the next.  I knew what was going on with her body.  Hospice had well prepared me as I watched her body enter into its last phase of slowly shutting down.  It was almost textbook.  But as she lay there now void of breath, I pondered the mystery of her heavenly entrance. I had so many questions!   It would be nearly 7 months later over labor day weekend that we placed her ashes in their final “resting place” next to my dad’s ashes.  Once again, I found myself pondering the mystery. .. If we could talk with our loved ones after their passing from this earth, to get a glimpse of the mystery unfolding, perhaps it would go like this:

O glorious one: As clumps of earth are tossed upon your urn, those of us standing around this vast hole in the ground hear these apocalyptic words read from St. Paul crying out to the Corinthians,

“Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15: 51-57)

You have had your day Oh loved one– the day you’ve been waiting for!  The day when heaven and earth come together and celebrate your life.  The day when Jesus meets you and greets you, the day when you are changed from death to new life – for this is the day of your resurrection.

So tell me, how is it?  The resurrection, I mean?  Did it all happen in a twinkling of an eye?  Did you hear the trumpet sound?  As Paul says, it’s all a mystery!  But I’m dying to know! We’ve all done our homework.  We’ve gone to Sunday School faithfully –  some of us have been confirmed by the affirmation of our Baptism, some have faithfully studied this historical event of the resurrection of Jesus, and we’ve all formulated a theological understanding based on Scripture; we have come to the conclusion that central to our Christian faith, is the creedal belief in the real bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And so we believe that through God’s action of raising God’s son Jesus from death to life, those who believe will also be raised from death to new life, being transformed bodily and spiritually for eternity.

That’s you! You now have a new life because Jesus who was fully human and fully divine, died in the flesh and was raised in the flesh, paying for our sins in full – wiping them away! And that’s not all!  Paul tells us we will all be changed!  That “the perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15: 53).  Is that what happened? What does that look like?  Your new body, I mean. Are you finally made whole again?  No more pain, or illness – no covering up the old with the new, but truly transformed? How incredibly glorious is that!   I can hear you, along with Paul nearly laughing in the face of death saying, “O death, where is your victory?  O Death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:.55)   Victory over death!  No more living under the law, but rather the bodily death and resurrection of Jesus Christ sets us free to live forever with Jesus! To God be the glory!  You must be dancing with the Saints in joy!

But what about those of us on this side of heaven who have yet to realize the mystery?  What can you say?

Oh yes – I can hear Jesus’ words echoing in my heart when he appeared to (Thomas), “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Yes, I suppose, we’re back to it all being a mystery again – but just like you, there’s hope in the promise for us who await our Resurrection. And while we wait, we wait with a hope, that through the Holy Spirit, propels us to live our lives NOW reflecting a resurrection hope that transforms the world now and through eternity; It’s living the resurrection now with a hope that moves us in such a way that we can do no other than to love God and share this resurrection joy with all the world, as it is intended to be shared, until our own Resurrection day!

Martin Luther would say that it all comes down to the article of faith in the word of God.  “If you will not let the Word mean more to you than all your feeling, eyes, senses, and heart, you must be lost, and there is no further help for you….but the Word speaks differently to me.  It tells me that I have a gracious God through Christ, who is my Lord over the devil and all creatures.  I feel and see plainly enough that I and all humans must sink into the grave and there decay.  But the Word speaks differently to me.  It tells me that I shall rise in great glory and live forever.”[1]

Amen, Amen, Amen.  Let us together with Mary and Martha and Martin; with Ellen and Jean, and Jim and Helen, and Fred, and Aileen, and Bill and Dale, and all the Saints who have gone before us, proclaim with confidence from heaven and from earth, “I believe in the Resurrection!” and “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15: 57).

And to you, O glorious one, Bless you for blessing me. Thank you, for showing me the way to glory, O Saint of God.  When the trumpet blows, in a twinkling of an eye I shall see God, and I shall be united with you and all the Saints in glory!

A relevant church is always reforming in order to be relevant.

A Reformation Sermon given on October 27, 2019.

A young monk named Martin Luther was tormented and in bondage to his own understanding and knowledge of human existence and sin and God as it was characterized by the church of his time.

His heart and head lived in constant turmoil, contradicting each other sending Luther into a whirlwind of doubt.  Coached by the church, Luther’s head told him that he was a wretched sinner – doomed to damnation and hell.  There was no room for grace, only a judging God. The hierarchy of the church drew a line between the privileged priests and bishops and princes, and the ordinary worshipers.  The only path to God was through the clergy, a corrupt group that used the church and their ambitions to oppress the already poor to make them and the church greater.  Indulgences were created to fund their dreams of creating a far superior cathedral and put money in their pockets, while impressing upon the people that they could improve their status before God in the next life by paying their way to heaven.

But his heart, rooted in the Word, told Luther of a God of love who forgave him and took care of his sin once and for all – a God who loved him and all creation no matter what!  A God who required nothing of God’s people but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.  A God’s whose final act on the cross and victory over death and the grave, was exactly that – FINAL!  We were not doomed to damnation and hell.  Jesus the Christ took care of everything!

Through all this chaos and doubt, this young tormented monk experienced God’s grace as he continued to pour through the scripture.  And here is where he hung his heart:

Ephesians 2: But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ …For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

This is the Truth that set Martin Luther free!

In Luther and others, God paved a way, building up courage and conviction to stand up and say that the church needed to be reformed: to be a place where the Truth was set free for all people to experience the grace of God.  Ushered in were dramatic changes in the church and the world.

502 years later, we find ourselves in the midst of another profound shift. As the world has continued to change through time, so my friends must the church continue to be reformed.  While many of us yearn to cling on to the church of our youth, many of our youth show up (or don’t) yearning for a church of today. A relevant church.  A message that speaks to the struggles of their world today.  And I dare say, it’s not only our youth.  Look around you.  See who’s here…..  Now see who’s not.  There are those who are a part of our faith community but who have been absent from this sacred space.  Where are they?  Or maybe the question is better stated plainly, why are they not here?  Do we know?

Then think about your friends and families – how many of them show up in a place of worship on a regular basis?  Where are they on a Sunday morning?

Then look out into the neighborhood around us.  Is this church relevant to our neighbors? Do we know our neighbors?:  Where they come from? What they do? By the looks of the many strollers and dogs that stroll by our doors, we can guess that there are a number of young families with pets around. But do we know them?  Do we know their needs? Do they have a place to belong? Do they know they are welcome here?

I’ve been asking these questions of folk who are a part of a faith community, perhaps ours, and others who do not belong to a community of faith.  While there are different reasons why folks don’t adorn the doors of this church or other churches, I am wondering if the most prevalent reason (if there is one) is that church doesn’t make a difference in this hard world in which we live.  In fact, while we’ve always thought (or wanted to think) of the church as that source of refuge (a Mighty fortress is our God), for some, the church can serve as a trigger of unrest and dis-ease. In a world that already manifests great unrest and dis-ease – should the church not be a place of solace – a place of comfort – a place of peace that practices justice? A place of relevance?

Decline in attendance, giving, and affiliation is not news to those of us in church circles.

Yet today, I believe in a certain hope that we can cling to – perhaps the same hope that energized the first reformers.  That hope is rooted in the belief that God is at work, ever forming faith by the power of the HS, and transforming the world through the gospel of JC. But this hope needs flesh and blood. It needs us.

 

Our council has adopted an Adaptive goal

To embrace our small family-sized church community, and be overtly inviting of our neighborhood and welcoming to all who step through our doors. We will do this by moving away from calculated numbers and focusing on relationships in our daily lives – relationships with God, each other, and with our neighbors.

A relevant church is always reforming in order to be relevant.

A relevant church – a reforming church – is only as relevant as the people inside.  And the only way to be relevant is to be in relationship:  With God, each other, and our neighbors. When we cease to be in relationship with God, each other, and our neighbors, we cease to be church. Through relationship we learn from each other. Through relationship we hold one another accountable.  Through relationship we bear each other’s and others burdens and joys.  Through relationship we offer support.  Through relationship we care.  Through relationship we listen.  Through relationship we find a place to belong. Through relationship we learn to be relevant.

A story of the church reforming and becoming relevant:

This week I attended the annual meeting of Together Colorado – an interfaith organization that works for justice in our communities. Mission Statement: Many Traditions. One Vision, Engaging our Faith-driven Passion for Justice.  I am still processing the day of conversations, testimonials, and presentations about how we work together for justice.  I learned much from my Christian leaders, Jewish Rabbi and Islamic Priest friends.  We talked about what it means to belong.  When we share our stories, and we listen each other into presence, we are building relationships – with God, each other, and our neighbors. And in so doing, we become relevant in the world that is hurting and broken.  And as one of our keynote speakers from the national organization Faith in Action said, when we build relationships, we “create a world as it should be, where you are the other me, and I am the other you.”

ML said: We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it.  The process is not yet finished, but it is going on.  This is not the end, but it is the road.  All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.”

May we friends, be always reforming, listening to our world, sharing in its brokenness and suffering, and engaging in relationship that brings healing and wholeness – that brings grace – Just as those a half a millennium ago bravely led the church.

Do Something.

I have written this post in my heart and mind every day this week, since the horrific events of El Paso and Dayton have become the most recent events of violence and senseless death in our country; as well as seeing children who’s parents have been snatched from them as they went to their first day of school.  And quite frankly, I have had difficulty coming up with the right words that would somehow address what each of us may be feeling. I myself have been torn inside with a multitude of emotions and thoughts, trying to come to some place that gives me peace.
But I’m not sure that’s what God’s asking of us or providing.  Peace, that is, where God takes care of it and I just wait.  It would be easy and most welcoming to me if I could explain it away, and park myself where I think the righteous thing to do and believe is, find my peeps who feel the same way as I do, and then find inner peace until it all blows over.
But here’s the thing – I believe God is calling me – us – to something much more difficult, and just plain hard.  And admittedly – something I do not want to do. But we are not called to be silent in the midst of oppression, we are not called to stand aside and point fingers at the other, when we fail first to look into ourselves.  Instead, we are called to step out of our shoes and as horrific as it may be, step into the shoes of the ones we point to, who perpetuate the hate we call out.  This I believe is God’s path to peace.
And so that’s why I’m struggling today.  That the road to peace is through struggle and vulnerability.  But God is calling us to do something. To act. And not on our behalf that we might “win,” but on behalf of the other. The oppressed. The violated. To dehumanized. God is calling us to be the peacemakers.  May God show us the way and walk the path to peace with us, however difficult it may be.
Here, my friends, is also RMS Bishop Gonia’s response this week.   http://bishopgonia.blogspot.com/2019/08/horrific-violence-in-el-paso-where-all.html

I pray for all of us, our children and families who may live in fear.  And I especially pray for those victims of violence and families who have lost loved ones, that God bring comfort and hope.
peace.hope.love.joy. be yours. prL

Remember you are God’s beloved dirt.

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.  

“What does that mean?” A woman asked me this morning as I traced a cross of ashes on her friend’s forehead.

 It was not the appropriate time to tell her that in Ancient biblical times, ashes, or stripping down to sack cloths, or fasting were used to express a time of mourning and repentance.

It was probably not the right time to go into the Christian Church calendar, and tell her that we Christians ritualize this spiritual practice by tracing a cross with ashes on our foreheads on this day we call Ash Wednesday.

It was also not the time to say that in this act of “ashing” that we acknowledge our humanness and thus our own mortality and frailty. But that we also acknowledge that the cross has redeemed our humanness, and through our baptism God claims us as God’s own beloved dirt. 

So instead, I said: “It means that God created us and wants us back.”

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.   

While Ash Wednesday is a time when we are invited to stay with the betrayals of our hopes and the messiness of our broken selves – it is also a moment to remember that God created us out of the dust of the earth, and God redeems our messiness; God redeems our brokenness; God redeems our sins. God wants us back…because we are God’s.

So for us, though we’ve failed to hold to our commitment to Christ, it is Christ and the cross who remains faithful to us and walks ahead of us on this repentant journey.

And for that we do not wallow or take up permanent residence in our sorrows. For while the journey takes us to the cross, it is not the end of the journey, but takes us to the empty tomb and the beginning of new life in Christ.

So these ashes in the shape of a cross claim victory through death.  God’s victory over our death.

Though we are mortal, we live eternal – forgiven and free. ……

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

 

GO DEEP.

GO DEEP.

MATTHEW 5: 1-11

(Sermon delivered at Epiphany Lutheran Church on Sunday, February 10th, 2019.)

This text is about many things:  it’s about the start of Jesus’ ministry and crowds beginning to gather to hear “the word of God”, it’s a fishing tale, it’s a fishing tale for people, it’s a fishing tale FOR Jesus’ first disciples.  But mostly, it’s a fishing tale about GOING DEEP.

Go Deep Jesus says.  A carpenter telling a professional fisherman –  Go deep!  And what happens?  It’s a net-breaking catch! So much so that the boat is about to sink and aid is called in! And when the help arrives, then two boats are about to sink!  What’s going on here?  What’s God up to? What’s God doing?

It’s all about going deep.

In the game of football “going deep” means to run deep down the field as the quarterback throws up – OFTEN AND IRONICALLY – a “hail Mary” of sorts in hopes that that the ball will be caught for a touchdown.  It means to go further and farther. It means taking a risk for a greater outcome.  Going deep means doing something more  – greater – than you’ve ever done before.

Go deep Jesus says.

Which is exactly what Simon Peter does as the master tells him to go deep  – to go back to the place they had spent the last evening fishing to no avail. Try it again – go deeper. While Simon goes under some protest, he ultimately obeys the master, and what happens –  fish galore! And what then does Simon do in response to this amazing catch of fish? He falls to his knees not only realizing his lack of faith and trust, but mostly his sinful self, crying out for Jesus to leave him for he is not worthy.

Are you struck by the results? When it didn’t seem possible, here is an enormous catch of fish!  What’s Jesus up to here?  To prove he’s a better fishermen?

Here’s what I think:   Jesus is going deep!  You see, He takes this sinful, humble in faith human, Simon Peter, who in spite of his lack of trust, obeys the master, and then this Jesus picks him up FROM THE DEPTHS and says to him – “don’t be afraid – don’t be afraid of my power, don’t be afraid that you are not worthy, don’t be afraid to go deep. DON’T BE AFRAID TO RISK.  For I choose you to go deep in my name for the sake of others. “

To go deep means to give up self gain or self doubt for the sake of sharing the good news with another.  It means to take a risk.

AND IT STARTS HERE. WHEN WE GO DEEP- DEEP IN THE WORD, WE MEET JESUS. AND ITS HERE THAT JESUS CHALLENGES US TO BE THE CHURCH THAT LOVES RADICALLY AND ACTS RADICALLY IN THE NAME OF JESUS.

COMING HERE ON A SUNDAY MORNING ISN’T SO MUCH ABOUT YOU – IT’S ABOUT THE WORD STRIRRING IN YOU, IT’S ABOUT ACCEPTING THIS MANTLE OF RADICAL LOVE , GETTING OUT OF THIS BOAT, SO THAT WE CAN cast our nets AND GO DEEP – NOT FOR YOU OR ME BUT FOR THE SAKE OF THE WORLD – SO THAT OTHERS MIGHT KNOW THIS AMAZING LOVE. AND THAT’S RISKY.  Pulitzer prize winning author, Annie Dillard, writes about THIS encounter with God.  ‘When we go to church we should wear crash helmets, receive life preserves and be latched to the pews in case God shows up!”

You know why?  Because when we encounter God, when we go deep, we should expect that God will show up and show up in magnitude!  AND WHEN GOD SHOWS UP –  God CALLS us to plunge into the WORLD, NEAR AND FAR – to go deep into the lives of those around us, in a way that brings OTHERS WHO MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE HEARD THE GOOD NEWS  to an encounter with God.  And I’m sure when we go deep, we will be amazed and may need to hold on to our fishing poles when we see what happens when God shows up!  Go deep Jesus says.

I WANT US TO GO DEEP.  WHEN YOU INTERVIEWED ME, YOU ASKED ME HOW I WAS GOING TO GROW THE CHURCH – HOW WAS I GOING TO CATCH FISH.  AND MY RESPONSE WAS, FIRST – I DON’T GROW THE CHURCH, BUT THE HS GROWS THE CHURCH.  BUT REALLY – WHAT DO WE MEAN WHEN WE SAY “GROW THE CHURCH?”  – MORE BUTTS IN THE PEWS? MORE MONEY TO FUND OUR BUDGET? WHAT I SAID TO YOU WAS THAT MY DESIRE WAS THAT WE GROW DEEP IN OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD, ONE ANOTHER AND THE WORLD, AND IN SO DOING – GO WIDE – TO SPREAD GOD’S LOVE IN THE WORLD FOR THE SAKE OF THE WORLD.

Last week I attended an ELCA CONFERENCE ON VITALITY TRAINING in Las Vegas – WAS ASKED BY the Rocky Mountain SYNOD TO BE ON A TEAM THAT ADDRESSES THE VITALITY OF OUR CHURCHES IN OUR SYNOD.  AND HERE’S WHAT I HEARD: ELCA CHOOSES NO LONGER TO MEASURE OUR “SUCCESS” OR IMPACT IN THE WORLD BY NUMBERS IN THE PEW OR BUDGETS WITH HIGH % OF BENEVOLENCE.  OUR CHURCH NO LONGER WANT US TO KEEP DOING WHAT WE’VE ALWAYS DONE BEFORE, OUR CHURCH WANTS US TO TAKE A RISK.  TO GO DEEP. TO

Do Church differently… NOT FOR THE SAKE OF BEING DIFFERENT – BUT FOR THE SAKE OF A WORLD THAT NEEDS TO HEAR THE SAME MESSAGE OF GRACE IN A NEW AND LIFEGIVING WAY.  20 YEARS AGO WHEN I GOT INTO THE MINSITRY IT WAS BECAUSE OF THE CALL TO BE AND DO JESUS DIFFERENTLY.  I CANNOT BE COMPLACENT.

WHY AREN’T PEOPLE COMING TO PLACES OF FAITH?  BECAUSE MORE TIMES THAN NOT, WHAT HAPPENS THERE, THE PEOPLE THEY ENCOUNTER, THE MESSAGE THAT THEY HEAR, IS NOT AN EMBRACING WORD – NOT ONE THAT IS RELEVANT. THE CHURCH DOES NOT OFTEN SPEAK TO THEIR LIVES.  IT DOES NOT SPEAK TO THE ISSUES TO WHICH THEY ENCOUNTER IN A WORLD THAT SPREADS HATE AND BROKENESS. THE CHURCH DOESN’T HELP NAVIGATE THE CHOPPY WATERS. INSTEAD OF CASTING NETS OF INCLUSIVITY AND ACCEPTANCE, THE CHURCH CASTS NETS OF JUDGEMENT.

DO WE DARE TO GO DEEP AND WIDE? DO WE DARE TO DO CHURCH DIFFERENTLY. DO WE DARE TO BE RELEVANT?  I say – what do we have to lose?

OUR CHURCH BODY IS DOING AMAZING THINGS.  AS OUR WORLD BECOMES MORE DIFFICULT TO NAVIGATE, MANY OF OUR POPULATION ARE FINDING THEMSELVES HOMELESS.  THE ELCA IS RESPONDING.  I MET SEVERAL PASTORS WORKING WITH THE HOMELESS: ONE WHO HAS BEEN SHOWING UP AT THE FLYING J WITH MEMBERS OF HIS CONGREGATION AND LISTENING TO THE FOLKS HE MEETS THERE.  THAT HAS LED THEM TO LOOK FOR LAND TO BUILD TINY HOUSES AND CREATE A COMMUNITY, A SECOND -THIRD- FOURTH CHANCE FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NO PLACE TO GO.

I MET A PASTOR WHO HAS A “LAUNDRAMAT CHURCH,” POSTING AND GETTING THE WORD OUT EACH WEEK WHERE SHE’LL BE AND OFFERS FREE LAUNDRY SERVICES.  WHILE THERE THEY ENGAGE IN WORSIP.

I KNOW OF A CHURCH IN OUR SYNOD THAT BOUGHT A VAN TO DRIVE DIABETES PATIENTS ACROSS THE STATE FOR DIALYSIS TREATMENTS ONCE A WEEK.

AND I HEARD OF BREW PUBS AND COFFEE HOUSES LIKE WHERE I SERVED PRECIOUSLY WHO ENGAGE IN REALTIONSHIP BUILDING AND FAITH-FILLED TALK – BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, THE CHURCH GOES TO WHERE THE PEOPLE ARE.

I SAW A BIN OF “MATTHEW KITS,”  LARGE ZIPLOC BAGS FILLED WITH ESSENTIALS FOR THOSE LIVING ON THE STREETS, PUT TOGETHER BY THE YOUTH OF THE CONGREGATION AND TAKEN OUT TO THOSE IN NEED.  OVER 2000 WERE PASSED OUT IN THE PREVIOUS CALENDAR YEAR.

I TALKED TO A PASTOR WHO TOOK A NEW CALL WHERE THERE WAS A LARGE MAGNIFICENT FULL KITCHEN (NOT UNLIKE OURS) THAT WAS BASICALLY UNUSED.  FOR SOME DAYS HE STOOD IN THE MIDDLE OF THE KITCHEN AND PRAYED ABOUT HOW GOD MIGHT USE THIS SPEACE FOR  KINGDOM WORK.  A WEEK LATER LUTHERAN SENIOR SERVICES CALLED WITH A NEED TO FIND A PLACE THAT COULD FEED LUNCH TO SENIOR CITIZENS.  THEY SERVICE OVER 1000 LUNCHES A MONTH.

FOLKS – I WANT US TO BE THE CHURCH THAT RISKS FOR THE SAKE OF THE GOSPEL. IT’S NO LONGER AN OPTION FOR US TO BE WARM AND COZY, HAPPY IN OUR PEWS. BECAUSE THE LIFE OF THE WORLD IS AT STAKE. AND THE WORLD IS AS CLOSE AS RIGHT OUTSIDE OUR FRONT DOOR.

I WANT US TO BE THE CHURCH THAT PULLS OUT ALL THE STOPS AND ISN’T AFRAID TO LET GO OF SOME OF IT’S OLD CONSTUCTS TO BE RELEVANT IN THE WORLD TODAY.  I WANT US TO GO DEEP. I WANT US TO LOOK AROUND AT WHO’S NOT HERE AND GO TO WHERE THEY ARE.  I WANT US TO NOT BE AFRAID TO EMBRACE INNOVATION WHEN IT COMES TO DOING CHURCH DIFFERENTLY, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME HOLD ON TO THAT TRADITION THAT MAKES US WHO WE ARE – A PEOPLE with a message OF GRACE for the world.

WE PLAY IT SAFE – WE STAY ON THE SURFACE OF THE WATER – WHEN WE STAY INSIDE THESE FOUR WALLS.  SO WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE FOR US TO GO DEEP?  I WANT US TO RALLY AROUND THE QUESTION OF WHAT GOD IS CALLING US TO BE AND DO IN THE WOLRD FOR THE SAKE OF THE WORLD.  AND I WANT US TO WRESTLE WITH HOW DEEP GOD IS CALLING US AND I WANT US TO EMBRACE THE RISKYNESS, THE SCARYNESS, THE UNPREDICTABILITY, THE UNCOMFORTABILITY,THE UNKNOWN.  BECAUSE I AM CONVINCED THAT GOD DIDN’T CALL US TO WADE IN THE WATERS.  GOD CALLS US TO GO DEEP.

But listen to this: when Jesus says “Go deep” he also says “Don’t be afraid!”

You see, in the depths of life, God is in control.  In the depths of life God is in control AND WILL PROVIDE… in the depths of life, God is in control and will provide in ABUNDANCE.  For there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  God’s love is endless  AND BOUNDLESS –

WE CANNOT GO TOO DEEP FOR GOD.

WE CANNOT GO TOO DEEP FROM GOD.

 

MY FRIENDS, LET’S Go deep TOGETHER.  Amen.

Yes, We Love Everybody!

I recently received a letter in the mail from an individual condemning our church’s acceptance of all people and challenging my Christianity. After reading it, I threw it in the recycle bin, but then took it back out. Too many times, maybe because we feel disgusted when we receive opposing and criticizing words from others -whether we know them or not – we discard them, not wanting to give them the time of day.  But maybe because its a new year and we challenge ourselves to do new things, I decided my – our voice needed to be heard.  So, instead of responding individually, I chose to speak up and out, on behalf of the church I represent, and the people who grace our presence and make us the body of Christ together.  It is my fervent hope that we can bring together, that which divides us.  Here is my response:

Dear Sir –

I recently received your letter on behalf of Epiphany Lutheran Church, addressing your beliefs regarding the “LGBTQ” community and specifically opposing our “LGBTQ” affirmation, and I might add “IA.” You are correct that we love all people.  This is our welcoming statement in our bulletin each week and on our website:

We Are A Reconciling In Christ Congregation. Epiphany Lutheran Church recognizes the wonderful diversity of God’s creation and the way that diversity enriches and challenges our lives as members of the body of Christ. We also recognize that actions and attitudes throughout the Church may have inhibited or prevented access to Word and Sacrament and therefore we invite people of all ages, races, socioeconomic or marital status, physical or mental capacities, sexual orientation, nationalities and citizenship to join us in worship and/or membership.

The people of Epiphany are humbly trying to follow Jesus’ profound example to love all our neighbors. Nothing more, and nothing less is expected of us.  I pray that in this time of great division, we might be bold to publicly heed Jesus’ call  to overcome division and show our love for all God’s people, for no one is unworthy of God’s amazing grace.

My hope and prayer is that you also know God’s unfailing love for you.

In Peace, Pastor Libbie

ryb.always

Jesus said, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Luke 12:15

I live a privileged life.  Plain and simple.  And my tendency when I read texts like this is to justify the “stuff” I have.  That I don’t have that much.  That the stuff I have is necessary.  That I don’t over-indulge….. that much.  The truth is I like nice things.  I like a kept home, and I like decorating it. I like conveniences  and efficiency, things that aren’t broken or run down.  I like new clothes and I like giving others nice and meaningful things.  I like going places and eating good food and experiencing new and different things. And I guess you could say, I have an abundance of possessions.  Yes, I have more than most of the world’s population.

And there are times in my life, sometimes daily, that I think that I am defined by these things. Case in point: I drive a Subaru – I’m part of the Subaru “LOVE” family – I do cool things, I’m adventurous, I must be cool. But the truth is, that my stuff doesn’t define who I am and certainly not WHOSE I am (which is why I think Jesus tells us to “Take Care!” Be aware! of our greed for all kinds of things).  On the contrary, I have been splashed with the waters of Baptism and am daily reminded that I am a child of God – I might be known as other things; a wife, mother, daughter, sister, a Subaru driver (!) – but I am only those things by the grace of God who entered into my life and loves me for who I am.

Growing up my parents used to say to my brother and me often, “Remember your Baptism.” Now I was baptized as an infant, so when I was young I thought that was a bit odd – how was I supposed to remember when I was 2 weeks old?  But as I grew and they continued to tell me to remember my baptism, I realized that what they meant was that I needed tok remember that I was a child of God.  It didn’t matter what I was wearing, who I was hanging with, the “stuff” that I possessed; rather, what mattered and matters is where my heart dwells as a child of God.  Martin Luther says that where your treasure is, there also will be your heart.  God wants my life; God wants to inhabit my heart, and not let other “stuff” become my treasure. So daily, I am called to RYB, remember my baptism.  Remember that even though I like nice things (and that’s ok, btw), God is my true  treasure, giving me new life each day – a day I’m privileged to share my stuff with others and give God glory for the many blessings that I have.

To God be the glory!  Join me today and RYB. peace. prL

early in the morning…

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Early in the morning, Moses rose and built an altar at the foot of the mountain… Exodus 24: 4.

In the old testament alone, in certain translations, there are more than 20 instances when something was going on early in the morning. Now, if you know me at all, early in the morning is rarely a part of my routine.  While I have always wished that I could rise early in the day to “make the most of my day,” I am, what some call, a night owl.  It is not uncommon to receive an email from me at 1 or 2 in the morning,  Now, I guess that is technically early in the morning, but for me, that’s the end of my day.

But things have recently changed in the Reinking household.  We have a new golden retriever puppy…. who rises early in the morning. My husband and I have been at this two weeks, trying to figure out a schedule that accommodates everyone. He exercises early in the morning, so I have decided that I will rise early in the morning and tend to the pup so he can keep his early in the morning routine.  In theory, I thought that this would be a good way to jump start my return to this blog. In theory.

But here I sit, early in the morning, and all I can think of is that it’s early in the morning!

But I’m not alone.  God is indeed at work early in the morning (early one morning… on the third day..).  Scripture tells us that early in the morning the Lord draws people into worship and calls people into action in the name of the Lord.  Listening for God’s voice early in the morning, gives us the opportunity to rise up and follow God’s call in our hearts as a guide into the day.  Yet in my case, the flesh is often weak.  So on this morning, one morning at a time, with God’s help, I choose to rise early, build an altar at the foot of the mountains, and call upon the name of the Lord, for strength, for focus, and for the willingness to see God at work in my life, and in the world around me.  And I ask God to simply use me as a instrument of God’s peace, one early morning at a time.

P.S. after a several of hours of puppy frolicking, I am now ready to post this!

 

God’s grip.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” Matthew 13: 31-32

Mustard seed was a weed in Jesus’ world – dreaded by farmers like crabgrass or bindweed today. Starts out small, but before long it takes over your field.

You see, the weed has this way of spreading beyond anything we could even imagine – even infiltrating every nook and cranny of the system – and eventually taking over as host.

Why does Jesus compare the kingdom of God to a weed? Maybe it’s not about the weed at all. Maybe it’s about God’s in-breaking reign and reality in our lives – far more potent than we can even fathom and ready to spread into every corner of our lives?

What if we thought about God’s reign in our lives with this kind of hold on us every time we encounter God? Not only in our everyday lives, but all the corners of our lives, even in the routine faith elements of our lives like coming to worship, studying the bible, prayer – I mean do we really expect God to show up, much less surprise us with this kind of magnitude?

Here we have this seed – this ever so tiny of a seed, that is buried deep. But it has this incredible root system that spreads through the rich soil to the very inner depths of the earth. It fingers its way through the earth, and because of its tight grip, it begins to grow up through the soil reaching the surface. And there, even though the surprise – the transformation – may start well below the surface – in the heart of the earth – its surprising strength is manifested in glorious grandeur – spreading its wealth and richness across the landscape.

Does God have a grip on your life like this? Where the seeds of faith are rooted deep within your heart? And do you believe God’s reign can push through the hard and soft surfaces of your heart to reveal to you and the world this amazing love and grace that spreads across the landscape of life?

I believe in a God who is much bigger than I can even fathom or put words to. And so there’s this mystery of this God that I hang on to – believing that even and especially in the midst of earthquakes and life-taking storms and hurricanes, in the tragedies of life and loss of life, in illness and in health, in the midst of nuclear threats, in broken relationships, and threatened deportations, in love and new life – I believe that if this God DOES NOT permeate the very depths of my being, and spread to the four corners of the world, then there is no pathway to hope.

But only by God’s grace, I believe. I believe in the cross and the resurrection and the life. I believe in the promise that spreads beyond anything I can even imagine. I have HOPE.

I believe in this God’s power to overcome the greatest of this life’s challenges and to bring the greatest of blessings – from even the smallest seeds of hope. Do you have HOPE?

May God’s reign grip our lives and continue to surprise us – take our breath away! – at the beauty and depth of God’s promises – not only for our sake but indeed for the sake of the world. Amen?

with the seed in it.

“The earth brought forth vegetation; plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it.” Genesis 1: 13

Why haven’t I every seen that before?  Don’t just bear fruit, but bear fruit WITH THE SEED IN IT!

This week is the 2nd week of our Creation Series in worship at Epiphany Lutheran Church where I serve here in Denver.  We will be celebrating the Land and the Soil, and all that comes from it.  As I was pondering the creation story according to the first chapter of Genesis, I was struck by these words “bear fruit with the seed in it.”  Now maybe that’s not very significant to you, but I realize in this text that it’s not enough to bear fruit, but that fruit must have seeds to produce more fruit.

Crimson-Sweet-WatermelonNow I don’t know how many times I’ve gone to the store and when I’m buying fruit, I look for the seedless version; you know, like watermelon and “seedless grapes,”  because seeds can just be an annoyance!  When you’re cutting up a watermelon it just takes too much time to “seed” the watermelon. And grapes?  Where do you put the tiny little seeds from each and EVERY grape?  Not to mention how strategically you need to eat them! You get my point.

But what’s also true, is that seedless watermelon, at least, just doesn’t have that sweet sugary taste quite like that of watermelons with seeds.  (do your own experiment the next time you’re at the market! It’s true!)

So not only will fruit without seed not produce more fruit, but it also isn’t as flavorful!

Indeed God desires that we be fruit with the seed in it.  So just as the seeds of a watermelon produce a more flavorful sugary, watery watermelon, so we are called to bear juicy fruit…WITH THE SEED, exploding flavor in the world – seeds of God’s love planted in our communities, neighborhoods, families, workplaces – where ever God has planted us.

Today, be the seed that bears fruit that bears more seeds.