Tag Archives: Pr. Loren

Sunday Sermon – Pr. Loren

1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)Mark 6:14-29

Lectionary 15 B

July 12, 2015

Behind today’s gruesome story of the death of John the Baptist is the story of political and family intrigue that could fill up years of soap opera plots. There are struggles for power and for the patronage of the Roman Emperor that entwine the descendants of Herod the Great in constant conflict. And it’s hard to keep track of all the Herods in the gospels. Herod the Great was the King who ordered the deaths of the children of Bethlehem when Jesus was born. Herodias, is his grand-daughter and her grandmother was a descendant of the royal priestly family that had ruled Judea for a hundred years before Pompeii conquered it and made it a Roman province. As a teenager, Herodias married her uncle, Herod Philip, who was then in line to succeed his father, Herod the Great. (Herodias’s father would have succeeded Herod, but when Herod discovers an assassination plot, he kills those of his sons who have plotted against him.) Just before Herod the Great’s death, her husband Philip also falls out of favor with his father, and the kingdom is divided among four other sons of Herod. This leaves Herodias far from the position of power she had imagined for herself. Herod Antipas—the Herod in our gospel today—is one of the four sons who inherits dominion of the Jewish kingdom. He rules over Galilee and the province that is east of the Jordan River—a territory on the border between the Roman Empire and Arab kingdom of the Nabateans. To secure that border for Rome, Antipas marries the Nabatean princess to form of alliance with the kingdom of her father. But both Herodias and Herod Antipas want more power for themselves. So Herodias divorces her powerless husband in order to offer her unique ancestry to one of the four ruling tetrarchs of Judea. Herod Antipas sees such a marriage as a way to increase his own power.   And so, he divorces his Arabian wife and marries Herodias. For the Nabatean king, this breaks of the treaty and it eventually results in a war on the Roman frontier. This war goes badly and Herod requests assistance from the Roman Emperor, Tiberius. Two years later, Herod falls even farther out of favor when the new Emperor, Calagula, sides with his childhood friend Herod Agrippa (a nephew of Antipas) and exiles Herod Antipas and Herodias to Gaul where they both die within a year. It’s a complicated story and could make quite an extended soap opera.

It is the story of the rise and fall of the politically ambitious – and we still hear these stories today – and they are maybe not all that different. They maybe don’t involve murder, marriage and divorce, but manipulation for power still goes on.

John the Baptist objects to the marriage between Herod and Herodias. On the one hand Herodia’s husband, Philip, is still alive, and there are prohibitions against such a marriage in Jewish Law. But there is more than personal morality at stake in John’s confrontation with the King Herod and his wife. This royal couple is manipulating political power for their own gain, and they are doing so without any regard to the consequences for the people over whom they rule. On his birthday, Herod has a banquet for his courtiers and officers, and for the leaders of Galilee. It is a group that plays the same political games that Herod and Herodias play. And John speaks against the injustices of these power-building alliances. John holds up honest living over against the power-grasping lives of the rulers and the wealthy. During his ministry, when the crowds ask him what they should do, he says, “whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do the same.” He tells tax collectors to “collect no more than the amount prescribed,” and he tells soldiers not “to extort money … by threats or false accusation.” But that focus on honest living and caring for your neighbor, is finally a threat to those who focus so much energy on gaining power and wealth for themselves – those that want to get what they can get by any means necessary.

Mark inserts the story of the death of John the Baptist, into the middle of the story of how Jesus sends out his disciples to proclaim God’s message. The verses before this story are the sending out, the verses following it are the return of the disciples. In between the sending and the return is the story of how, for John, being a faithful messenger of God’s word resulted in his death. The point, in telling the story this way, is so we do not forget that discipleship is not always easy, and that being a faithful disciple sometimes means confronting the injustices of those who are powerful in this world. Amos is sent by God to confront the injustices of politics and religion that trample the needy and bring to ruin the poor of the land. He asks that justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Moses is sent to confront Pharaoh and free those who have been made slaves in Egypt. Esther risks her life to speak on behalf of her people. And down through history, many of the martyrs of the Church are those who spoke out against injustice and confronted those with power. In 12th century England, Thomas Becket confronts the power of King Henry II, and soon after Henry’s henchmen come to Canterbury Cathedral and kill the archbishop. In 20th El Salvador, Oscar Romero is appointed bishop – he is a scholar and it is hoped that he will keep the church out of the revolutionary politics of that country. But as Bishop, he pays attention to what is happening to the people and he confronts the rulers with the injustices they work against the peasants. And soon after the henchmen of the powerful come and assassinate Bishop Romero as he celebrates communion with his people.

The mission of Jesus’ disciples to call people to repent – to call them to turn around and embrace the rule of God’s justice – to call them to live honestly and with compassion for their neighbors – is not without its dangers. And sometimes, when you think you are making progress, things suddenly turn. Herod liked to listen to John, but the powerful often get caught in their own power-games. He takes an oath in the presence of the political-military-business establishment gathered for his birthday. That power system ties his hands, and he does what is evil in spite of himself. Those who invest themselves in political and economic power-games find it hard to turn and embrace to rule of God’s justice. But as disciples, we are sent to confront the powers of injustice in the world, and to envision what God’s justice means for our time.

And the promise for us in the midst of our discipleship is that we are claimed forever through Christ. “Just as God chose us in Christ … and destined us for adoption as God’s own children through Jesus Christ.” And yes, it is Christ who finally accomplishes all things. And he frees us from getting caught up in the deadly power games that only destroy, so that we can experience the loving presence of Christ, holding us in his love. For then, it is no longer out of fear, but with joy that we seek with the prophets and all the martyrs of the church, “to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.” Amen.

Sunday Sermon – Pr. Loren

1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)Mark 6:1-13

Lectionary 14 B

July 5, 2015

“Jesus began to send [his disciples] out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.”

Since the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina last month, over a half a dozen Black churches have been burned.

In the 1950s and 60s the confederate flag became a symbol of protest against the civil rights movement and it was raised over capital buildings in many southern states. That flag has become a symbol of racism and white supremacy much like the Nazi swastika is a symbol of anti-Semitism. While flags have been removed from state capitals in the last two weeks, Amazon reports that sales of confederate flags increased by over 200% in the week following the shooting in Charleston.

And racism is not only an issue for people in the South. The disparity in test scores along racial lines in Minnesota indicates our failure to provide education that overcomes the racial divisions of our society. And unemployment among racial minorities is two to three times that of the white population. Even the infant mortality in Minnesota is significantly higher for non-white populations in the state. Those statistics are signs of the more subtle forms of racism that infect our nation.

All the judgments we make about groups of people, based on isolated incidents or comments we’ve heard and accepted as true without thinking, feed into the racism that infects our nation and world. And all of us know the times we have been guilty of letting our own thoughts, attitudes, and behavior be influences by the subtle an the overt racism around us.

But Jesus sent out his disciples and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.

Racism is one of those unclean spirits over which Jesus gave his disciples authority. One way to think about spirits – unclean or holy – is to think of them as the attitudes that are reflected in the lives of people. The fruits of the Holy Spirit according to Paul’s list in Galatians, are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are signs of the kind of spirits that shape our lives. But when hatred, violence, division, anger, self-righteousness, bigotry, and similar behaviors and attitudes take control of people’s lives, it is the work of an unclean spirit. Dylann Roof may have been an unstable individual with a gun, but he was also acting out the racism of people around him, and the church burnings, which were a terrorist tactic of the KKK in the 1960s, also grow out of that unclean spirit of racism.

But Jesus still sends out his disciples and gives them authority over the unclean spirits.

But how do we make a difference? We must begin, I believe, with prayer and self-examination. How have we allowed ourselves to come under the influence of this unclean spirit? Only prayer will reveal that to us, and only through prayer can we open ourselves to the healing that Jesus seeks to work in our lives. And this is day by day work, because this unclean spirit slips in through the cracks and corners of our lives, and only through daily repentance and daily returning to the new self God has made us in baptism can we hope to keep this unclean spirit cast out of our lives. And Jesus send his disciples out with authority; which means we have authority to challenge and correct the comments around us that are infected with this unclean spirit of racism. And this is important work for us to do as people of this church – we have authority to hold one another accountable. The shooter in Charleston grew up in an ELCA congregation, and while the church cannot be held responsible for the actions of all its members, perhaps there is more that we can do to name and to cast out the unclean spirits that produce hatred and violence in our society.

In her statement following the shooting in Charleston, ELCA presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, calls the church to a time of self-reflection and repentance. She writes:

It has been a long season of disquiet in our country. From Ferguson to Baltimore, simmering racial tensions have boiled over into violence. But this … the fatal shooting of nine African Americans in a church is a stark, raw manifestation of the sin that is racism. The church was desecrated. The people of that congregation were desecrated. The aspiration voiced in the Pledge of Allegiance that we are “one nation under God” was desecrated.

Mother Emanuel AME’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, as was the Rev. Daniel Simmons, associate pastor at Mother Emanuel. The suspected shooter is a member of an ELCA congregation. All of a sudden and for all of us, this is an intensely personal tragedy. One of our own is alleged to have shot and killed two who adopted us as their own.

We might say that this was an isolated act by a deeply disturbed man. But we know that is not the whole truth. It is not an isolated event. And even if the shooter was unstable, the framework upon which he built his vision of race is not. Racism is a fact in American culture. Denial and avoidance of this fact are deadly. The Rev. Mr. Pinckney leaves a wife and children. The other eight victims leave grieving families. The family of the suspected killer and two congregations are broken. When will this end?

The nine dead in Charleston are not the first innocent victims killed by violence. Our only hope rests in the innocent One, who was violently executed on Good Friday. Emmanuel, God with us, carried our grief and sorrow – the grief and sorrow of Mother Emanuel AME church – and he was wounded for our transgressions – the deadly sin of racism.

I urge all of us to spend a day in repentance and mourning. And then we need to get to work. Each of us and all of us need to examine ourselves, our church and our communities. We need to be honest about the reality of racism within us and around us. We need to talk and we need to listen, but we also need to act. No stereotype or racial slur is justified. Speak out against inequity. Look with newly opened eyes at the many subtle and overt ways that we and our communities see people of color as being of less worth. Above all pray – for insight, for forgiveness, for courage.

Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have mercy).

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

On this Independence Day weekend it is good to reflect on how the American Spirit draws us to live out our higher ideals. The Spirit of America inspires us to welcome and value the diversity of people and cultures that come together in this great country. That is the spirit that Abraham Lincoln referred to as “the better angels of our nature.” Such spirits, I believe, work in service to the Holy Spirit, so that the fruit of the spirit can flourish in our lives and drive out every unclean spirit – for you are sent by Jesus with authority over the unclean spirits that infect our lives and our world. AMEN.

Sunday Sermon – Pr. Loren

1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)Mark 4:35-41

Lectionary 12 B

June 21, 2015

 Water is filling up the boat – the sea is rushing in. “Save us, Jesus,” cry his disciples – “do you not care that we are perishing?” Job also, who has lost everything, wants to know why the terrible chances of life have fallen so heavily upon him. And while, in the end, Job’s fortunes are restored, his children have all died; and while Jesus calms the storm and the disciples make this crossing, other storms will come for them that they will not survive.

We want Jesus to calm the storms that surround our little boats – we want protection so that we can go about our lives peacefully. But the changes and chances of life sometimes come down hard upon us, and they do not spare us any of their pain. Yet, even in the darkest pain, Jesus crosses the water with us. And though the crossing may be costly, Jesus promises us the peace of knowing that we are not abandoned, and that he is able to transform all our pain into joy – and not only for the life to come, but for the lifting up of grace and hope in the here and now. And it is not that God orchestrates storms and other troubles for our lives. These just happen because life in the here and now is full of many changes and chances. And sin infects our world causing pain and troubles in so many ways. And we get caught in the middle of the storms that rumble through our world. But Jesus promises, that no matter what, he is present in the terrible storms of our lives and though the storms may do terrible damage, he can even use such trouble to transform us into more faithful instruments of His peace and he works in ways we cannot always see to bring grace and hope to the world.

I had planed today to tell the story of Horatio and Anna Spafford and how, out of the storms of their lives God brought hope in surprising ways. And I do want to tell their story in brief. They and their four daughters lived in Chicago at the time of the great fire that destroyed much of that city in 1871. Following the fire, Anna dedicated herself to the social work of helping the 100,000 people who had been left homeless by the fire. After two years she was exhausted, and their family doctor suggested a vacation. The family made plans for a vacation in Europe, but as they were ready to leave, Horatio, who was a prominent lawyer, needed to stay behind. Anna and the girls went on ahead. But in an accident in the middle of the Atlantic, the ship on which they sailed sank and of the family, only Anna survived. When Horatio sailed to join his wife in France, the captain of the ship pointed out where the other ship had sunk. In his grief and his own struggle to keep his faith, Horatio wrote the words of a hymn as he sailed across the waters where his children had drowned.

When peace like a river attendeth my way,                                                      When sorrows like sea billows roll,                                                                    Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say:                                                       “It is well, it is well with my soul.”

The Spaffords faced more storms when their son, born a few years after the tragedy at sea, died of scarlet fever.

But that is not the end of the story. Horatio’s hymn, “It is Well with My Soul,” has been an inspiration for many people in times of grief and despair; but in East Jerusalem today, the Spafford Children’s Center provides medical and other social services to children of poor families from, mostly Palestinian, East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Here’s what happened. Hoping for a renewal of faith and hope in their lives, the Spaffords took a kind of pilgrimage with friends from Chicago to Jerusalem. The story has many turns. This group, known as the “American Colony” quickly made friends with their Palestinian neighbors and their home became a place of hospitality for travelers and a center of ministry to the poor. Then, after both Horatio and Anna had died in Jerusalem, their daughter Bertha in 1925 established an orphanage at the place the Spaffords had lived in Jerusalem. It later became a children’s hospital and finally the Spafford Children’s Center. And the Spafford story is an example of how God works in the storms of our lives to bring hope healing and peace beyond what we can ever see.

I could have told their story in more detail, but the events in South Carolina last Wednesday are another kind of storm, and though it did not happen in northeast Minnesota, we are still connected to that storm. Jesus crosses the sea with his disciples, and that means crossing over to Gentile territory. The great storm in the early church centered around the question of whether the gospel was only for the Jews or whether God’s love through Jesus extended to people outside the Jewish faith – whether the church could include people that Jews had learned to hate. And the short and the long of that debate is that God’s love is for everyone, no matter what, and that hatred for another person has no place among the followers of Jesus. So how do we respond when a young man acts out the hatred that bubbles up around him? Racism did not come to an end in this country in either the 1860s or the 1960s. We get caught in dividing the world into two groups: my- people and not-my-people – and then we give ourselves permission to hate the one’s who are not-my-people. Three years ago, the shooting that happened was in Wisconsin – six dead of those who were worshiping at that Sikh temple. And then we didn’t call it terrorism either, but the work of an unstable individual. But isn’t it terrorism when an individual acts out the racism and hatred of the community around him. I remember a short surrealistic play I was in in high school. A group of people find themselves together in a strange place with some building materials around them. They can hear that there are other people some distance from them. They begin their time together in a bit of conflict, but then they decide that the building materials are there for them to build a wall of protection, to keep them safe from the “others-out-there.” Fear of the other turns to suspicion, if not outright hatred. Then the builder comes with a blueprint. He says the building materials were not intended for a wall, but to create a bridge between the groups of people in this surrealistic world. But the people like their wall, and they crucify the builder.

Jesus directs us to the other side, he directs us to put aside our fears and prejudices and hatreds. Whenever we make assumptions about a group of people based on some brief experience, or hear-say that keeps circling around our community, we fall into the traps of prejudice and racism from which God means to free us. Every single person God has made is sacred, and though we are all wounded and infected by sin, it does not take away the sacredness of our lives. As followers of Jesus we are called to see that sacredness in the lives of everyone we meet and everyone we hear about. And when we allow Jesus to get inside our hearts, so that we can see there are no others-out-there, but that we are all one family, because we are all included in the great circle of God’s love – when Jesus gets inside of us, his love overpowers hate and the racism it breeds.

We are baptized into Christ so that he can guide us, and work through us to bring hope and peace into our world. May Christ work through your lives so that hatred and violence no longer have a place of accommodation, and may you become, like Horatio and Anna Spafford, people through whom God’s peace and hope and grace flow like a river. AMEN

Sunday Sermon – Pr. Loren

  1. Truffula Seeds1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)

So …

Catch!” calls the once-ler

He lets something fall.

“It’s a Truffula Seed.

It’s the last one of all!

Your in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.

And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.

Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.

Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.

Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.

Then the Lorax

and all of his friends

may come back”

 

  1. VBS – Called to Care – with stories by Dr. Seuss

For creation, for the outcast, for ourselves, for our neighbor, for the world

  1. Truffula trees – provide home for the Swomee-Swans, Brown Bar-ba-loots and Humming-Fish
  2. Once-ler represents Greed which blinds us to the goodness of nature as it is. We only see how we can use it for a profit. And only when it is too late do we recognize the value of creation.
  3. Seuss ends the story with hope: the last of the Truffula seeds. But it takes attention to grow again a forest of Truffula Trees, but if we pay attention the goodness that surrounded the Truffula Trees to begin with may return.
  1. Jesus: “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed”
    1. A tiny seed that grows big enough for birds to nest in its shade.
    2. Farmers consider mustard a noxious weed
      1. Patches of yellow flowers in the middle of the oats. It would choke out the grain and we would leave it standing.
      2. Walking the beans – bulling out volunteer corn and mustard (broad leaf like corn & beans)
      3. But it always comes back the next year
    3. The kingdom of God will just keep spreading – and nothing can stop it.
  2. But there is a danger with weeds – especially when they grow in the church and try to choke out the sincere efforts of people doing their best to follow Jesus and do the ministry to which he call the church
    1. Criticism, negative thinking, nit-picking, spreading rumors, bullying, self-centeredness
    2. Among the works of the flesh from Galatians: enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, and envy
    3. These weed grow when we focus on ourselves – when church is about gaining benefits for ourselves rather than opening ourselves to God to become channels for God’s grace and love for others.
    4. These kind of weeds can kill
  3. But what Jesus says is a word of promise for the church
    1. Fearful picture of the church’s future
      1. Killing weeds are too prevalent
      2. Fewer people at worship
      3. 34% of those under thirty answer “none”
    2. We think that it’s up to us, and we see our work as keeping up the institution of the church, the way we think it should be, and when it doesn’t happen as we think it should, we fall into despair.
    3. The church of the future may look very different – and we may hardly recognize it as the church.
      1. Not tied to a building or being a member of a congregation
      2. But responding to the call of God to care for creation and the neighbor in need and for peace and justice in the world
      3. Small groups where people nurture one another – over a shared meal, in a circle of prayer,
    4. Not building up an institution but spreading the news of God’s love, and drawing people into living so that God grace and the abundant life God wants for all creation happens.
    5. Jesus’ promise is that the church will survive, though the human institutions we think of as the ‘church’ may change radically.
    6. Maybe the kingdom of God is like a weed you can’t get rid of – like dandelions

Poem by Joseph Langland

[He describes the effort of the whole community to keep lawns clear of dandelions, and then concludes:]

When the view from the porch was purely our own,

Not a yellow head on the verdant sheen,

We gathered praises from houses and barns,

Being godly and clean.

Yet out in the pastures and barley fields

They gleamed in a thousand beds of gold,

And after a week rose up in a cloud

. . .

and sailed into silvery mats on our lawn.

Thing is: you just can’t stop the kingdom of God from growing in ways that are way beyond our control

  1. As British writer G K Chesterton once wrote: “Christianity has died many times and risen again, for it has a god who knows the way out of the grave.”

So, scatter the seeds, commit random acts of love and grace, and see what God can do through you, so that the kingdom of God – not the church as we imagine it – but the kingdom of God can take root and grow and reach out with grace and love for the whole world. AMEN.

Sunday Sermon – Pr. Loren

1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)Mark 3:20-35

Lectionary 10 B

June 7, 2015

Most of Jesus’ ministry took place in rural places – the fishing villages, small towns, and open country and wilderness places of Galilee. Yet the growth of the early church was mostly in urban areas. To begin with, the church is centered in Jerusalem and Paul goes to places like Antioch, Ephesus, Philippi, Athens, Corinth, and finally Rome. But Christianity came to Rome long before Paul or Peter ever got there. Paul meets Aquila and Priscilla, Christians who have come from Rome, while he is in Corinth. But that very early mission work that brought Christianity all the way to Rome is not recorded for us. We just know that it happened and that it happened very early.

And why should this new faith spread so quickly in the cities of the Roman Empire? Three years ago I went on a pilgrimage to Turkey, and I got to see some of the remains of those Roman cities. We saw the lovely marble public building – theatres, stadiums, libraries, baths and city halls. What we didn’t see – what we couldn’t see – were the places most people lived in those first century Roman cities. And there were many, many people in those cities. Roman conquest meant that much of the land in conquered territories was used to grow food that was sent back to Rome or to the many other urban centers of the empire. Local farmers mostly lost their land to foreign aristocrats. Some of those farmers became the day laborers working the harvest on land they had once owned. Most migrated to the cities and became the growing underclass of Roman urban society. The Pax Romana, enforced by the Roman legions stationed in conquered territories, was a system of harsh inequalities with aristocrats living comfortable lives in their protected villas while the poor crowded into the Roman urban centers. And conditions in those first century cities were horrendous. Population density exceeded that of places like modern-day Calcutta. And buildings were never higher than four or five stories. The buildings were poorly constructed, with the top floor having the lowest rent and extended families crowding into these apartments. Such crowding meant that perhaps weekly in any given city, one of those buildings would collapse from too much weight, killing everyone who was inside. Besides such unsafe buildings, sewers were primitive at best, and in many cities the streets were simply open sewers with human and animal waste together with rotting food simply thrown into the street. With all this, disease and death were commonplace. To maintain their populations, Roman cities needed a study influx of people from the country and conquered territories.

In that society, extended families lived together and took care of each other. It was the only effective safety net for the poor. But in those urban centers, life was always so uncertain – disease could nearly wipe out an entire extended family in a matter of days or weeks. And without that extended family, life in the city was even more precarious. Estimates are that your life expectancy after you became the sole surviving member of your family was about one year. A person with no family for support in those Roman cities would have had trouble finding work or a place to live or food to eat or protection from bandits.

And that brings us to our gospel. Think of what it meant for those without any family to be called brothers or sisters or mothers by Jesus or by members of the early church. We don’t find that “family” language in the Old Testament, but when you read Paul’s letters, the family imagery is all over. And the early Christian communities were very small – 20 to 25 people would be a large gathering. Within a city there would have been quite a number of “house churches.” And these churches became a kind of new family for early Christians, and for those who had been left without any other family, this new family was the “safety net” and support necessary for survival in that world. Sociologist Rodney Stark writes, “To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services.” Christianity made survival possible, because following the way of Jesus always meant caring for the needs of the neighbor – think of the Good Samaritan – think of Zacchaeus – think of the parable of the sheep and the goats – think of the Rich man and Lazarus – again and again Jesus instructs his disciples to care for the needs of others, and again and again Jesus welcomes the outsiders into the community that is being created around him. And he calls them all sisters and brothers. Creating families for people with no family was one of the pieces of very good news that helped spread Christianity through the urban centers of first century Rome.

And how does that good news translate for us today? How does the good news that we are family – brothers and sisters of one another – make our lives different? How are we “saved” in the here and now, because we are sisters and brothers of one another? In the first century, having a new family for support probably drew some of the poor and some of those who had lost their families into those early churches; but people like Lydia, Philemon, and many others were well off and even wealthy; yet they were drawn to Jesus because he opened a way of life for them that went counter to the terrible injustices of Roman society – he opened a way for them to live, not out of selfish or self-serving motives, but in way that carried forward God’s will in their daily lives. And I believe that is part of what draws us today as well. In following Jesus we are released from always being caught up in the unjust patterns of our world that bring suffering and struggle to those around us, and we are released from looking only to our own Interests, and we are drawn to pay attention to the struggles and concerns of others. In following Jesus, we are brothers and sisters for one another, and with our brother Jesus we can become the means God uses to make God’s justice, peace and compassion happen in this world. In following Jesus we can become the instruments of joy and hope and love and grace and justice and peace and compassion, so that God’s will might flourish for all our sisters and brothers, here and throughout the whole world. AMEN.

Sunday Sermon – Pr. Loren

20150413_104923John 17:6-19                                                                       7 Easter B                                                                                May 17, 2015

Margaret agonized over the faith of her grandchildren. She was concerned, because it didn’t seem that her children were as deeply connected to the church as she would have liked them to be. And they lived so far away. One of her sons lived in Pennsylvania and the other in Germany. Her three daughters were spread across the country, one in Washington, one in Colorado, and one in Florida. And Margaret lived in Arizona. How could she do anything to enrich the faith of her children and her grandchildren? She’d done what she could in raising her own children. Oh, there were mistakes, but faith had been important, if not central to the way she had raised her children. And not in a restrictive and confining way, but a freeing and open way so that faith might be a center for them wherever their path in life led them.

But as Margaret watched her children begin careers and raising families, she wasn’t certain that faith was as deeply rooted in them as she would have liked it to be. She wasn’t certain that her grandchildren were being surrounded and nurtured by faith in the way she would have likes. And she knew how terribly busy here children’s lives were – their careers included doctor, lawyer, research scientist, college professor and corporate manager. She was proud of them. They were all successful in their careers, and their children were involved in all kinds of enriching activities. But this grandmother worried that faith was being boxed off into a tiny corner of their lives. And she wanted to do something —for her children, but especially for her grandchildren.

Jesus is nearing the end of his earthly ministry in our gospel lesson today. And He is concerned about his disciples. He knows the difficulties they face—how the world will be against them and against the faith in God they have learned from him. He wants them to be as connected to God in their faith as he is one with the Father. And so, he prays for his disciples. He acknowledges that they belong to God, and were given to his care, and that he has taught them. He does not pray here for the whole world, but for these followers whom the Father has given to his care. But he is not going to be with them in the same way any more – they will be on their own – and so he asks the Father to protect them and guard them from the evil one. And then he asks God to sanctify them – to make them holy – or (as one translation puts it) “make them completely your own.”

Margaret is very much in the place that Jesus was with his disciples when he prayed this prayer. She has been given children – God gave them to her – they did not belong to her – they belonged to God, and God placed them in her care. She prays that the world might be a safe place for her children and grandchildren; but she also prays for her family because they are the ones God has placed in her care. But she is not with them – not with her children any more – and not with her grandchildren as they grow. So, this grandmother does what she can. She prays.

But Margaret does more than pray. She struggles to find way to accompany her grandchildren in their life and on their faith journey. But how can she? She lives so far away from them. Visits are not frequent enough to amount to any kind of accompaniment. But Margaret has found a way—she found a way to accompany her grandchildren in their journey in faith. Every week Margaret’s grandchildren can count on a phone call from their grandmother. (She has also learned how to use social media to connect with her grandchildren.) Mostly she spends the time listening – listening to all that her grandchildren are doing – listening to the struggles in their lives – listening to all the ups and downs they are going through. And her grandchildren have learned that their grandmother is a person who truly listens to what they say, because she will ask how things went with a test or a game or a relationship that had been a part of last week’s conversation. These grandchildren know that when their grandmother calls, that she has turned her attention completely to them, and that is perhaps the most important thing they need – the undivided attention of a caring adult. They also know that their grandmother will not lecture or criticize, but will always be there with her loving support. She wants her grandchildren to grow in faith, but she knows it does no good to push her own version of faith on them with demands or with guilt. Instead, she shares her faith in a simple, prayerful, and supportive way. At the end of her conversation each week, she asks her grandchildren a question. “How would you like me to pray for you this week?” It’s a question that does not push her own faith on them, but which invites her grandchildren to enter into their grandmother’s faith and participate in it.

I heard Margaret’s story from one of my seminary professors, Rollie Martinson, at a workshop he was leading a few years ago. He said that when he met Margaret, some of her grandchildren were then entering college. He asked permission to talk to some of them. He wanted to know what kind of difference it made for these grandchildren to have a grandmother committed to such a deep prayer life for them. One of the grandchildren told Rollie about how hard the past fall had been for her – she had broken up with her boyfriend, had a terrible volleyball season, and had a science teacher who was just impossible to deal with. And she said she didn’t know how she could have gotten through it all without her grandmother.

It often seems that there are more grandparents than there are grandchildren in our churches at worship. And many of those grandparents are worried about their grandchildren and how their faith is being nurtured. And many don’t know what to do. But here are some things that can be done. Be a companion – someone who is consistently present and can be counted on to be there (even if by long distance phone or social media). Be a listener – give your undivided attention to the conversation at hand. And pray – inviting those you pray for to shape the way you will pray for them.

Jesus prayed for the ones God gave to his care, and his prayer is a model for us, to pray for our children and for our grandchildren that they might be sanctified, whole, and completely God’s own. Amen.

Sunday Sermon – Pr. Loren

20150413_104923John 10:11-18

4 Easter B

April 26, 2015

In the spring the sheep are eager for the pasture. The grass is lush and inviting, and the lambs that have not known the freedom of the pasture run and kick their legs for joy. In the spring, the lambs run across the pasture. And on the prairies, where the pasture goes on and on, mile after mile – as it does west of the Missouri River – the lambs can easily become lost. They run over a little hill and find a lush patch of fresh green grass, and then they run and find another. Spring in wonderful for the lambs – but it is also dangerous and deadly. And on the prairies it happens so suddenly. The sky darkens, the thunderheads roll across the prairie, and the lamb that has strayed turns and looks for the safety of the flock. But when he looks, he cannot see what has happened to the flock, and he cannot hear the singing of the shepherd. He is lost, alone, and afraid; he does not know what to do, so he returns to the grass and puts his back to the wind.

It was an October rain that was falling as Paul ran to his car on his way to his apartment from work. Paul had a business degree from college, and now he was starting a career as a department manager at an upscale retail store. It was the kind of work he had wanted and he was seeing possibilities for promotions – room for him to develop his skills and to advance. But the October rain reflected Paul’s spirit more accurately than the promising hopes he had at work. Paul had grown up in a small town, but he had left friends and family behind for four years of college, and then he had left his college friends as they all went their separate directions. Paul did not make friends easily, and he found it hard to keep the ones he made. He felt alone in the city. He was doing work he wanted to do, but he wasn‘t happy. Part of it was just the daily routine; part of it was questioning the real value of the work he was doing. But deeper than that, Paul was just feeling very alone – the few friendships he had seemed so shallow; and he struggled to find any real meaning to his life.

Church had always been part of Paul’s life when he was growing up. His parents were active and involved; and he had participated in all the youth stuff – he even taught Sunday School for a year. But church was something he had left behind when he went away to college. It was something from home, not where he lived now. He went to church when he was home, but it was a kind of nostalgic experience. He never gave much thought about how it connected to his daily life. He went because his parents expected him to go. But the possibility of going to a different church in a different place was not something Paul had seriously considered.

He talked to his mother that night on the phone; she could tell his spirits were down. “Have you been to church lately?” she asked.   Church was always her solution to every problem. Her friends were all at church, and they always came through for her whenever she had any troubles. She wanted her son to have that same experience. But his mother saw life completely different from Paul. Her faith saw so simple: “The lark’s on the wing; The snail’s on the thorn; God’s in His Heaven; All’s right with the world!” But all was not right with the world that Paul lived in; and his sense of church was that it ignored much of the harsh realities of life. Paul’s faith was not as pure and simple as his mother’s. His faith was riddled with all sorts of doubt. At times, he even questioned whether God existed – and there were parts of the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds that he just couldn’t say. Oh, he could go to church at home, because there he was family; but he didn’t think he could honestly go to any other church without being a hypocrite. He just didn’t believe like he thought church people were suppose to believe – he had too many questions and doubts. And he would rather stay away from church than go and pretend that he was just like the other people at church who truly did believe everything they said.

Paul, you see, heard in his mind, not the voice of the shepherd that opens the door of the sheepfold to the lost and lonely, but a voice of judgment and condemnation that keeps the door of the sheepfold closed to all who do not truly and rightly believe. The voice he heard was not the voice of the shepherd, but the voices of the other sheep. It was a voice shaped but the actions and attitudes of faithful church people who got all worked up over what was right and wrong for a Christian to do and believe. And Paul knew that he simply did not measure up to that standard any more. Oh, he tried to hang on to believing in God, but he had so many doubts. He knew his faith surely wasn’t good enough for him to be part of any church except for his parent’s church.

On the prairie, the lamb that has strayed, listens as the wind begins to howl. He things he hears a voice in the wind, and he starts walking toward that voice. But then the voice turns angry and the frightened lamb finds a rock to hide behind. A cold rain is beginning to fall, and the lamb shivers as the cold rain begins to penetrate his thin wool coat.

Paul had not planned to follow his mother’s advice. Church was a place for families. He’d feel too conspicuous going to a strange church all by himself. But then Tim, one of the other store managers, asked Paul to join him and his wife for dinner and a movie on Sunday. Paul hadn’t gotten many invitations like that, and he liked to possibility of developing a closer friendship with Tim. He said he’d be happy to join them. Then, as if it was an afterthought – maybe one that penetrated Paul’s low spirits – or one that was sparked by prayer or some mysterious movement of the spirit – Tim asked if Paul would also want to join them for church before dinner. Tim made some awkward apologies about not knowing whether Paul was Lutheran, or if he had another church that he went to. But Paul said “Yes,” and it made him feel good – his mother, at least, would be happy that he had gone to church, and now he wouldn’t have to go alone.

The church seemed more inviting than Paul had expected; and there were more young people – in their twenties and thirties – than at the church in Paul’s home town. The hymns and liturgy were familiar, but they sounded different – almost more alive. Paul had grown up thinking that church was all about believing and doing what was right. That had been fine for his parents, but it didn’t work for Paul. He didn’t see the world in the same way that his parents did, and he certainly didn’t hold the same picture of God that they held – sometimes he couldn’t hold on to any picture of God at all. He had decided that because of all his doubts, there was no place for him in the church. But this church was different and the voice that Paul was beginning to hear in his mind was a voice of invitation and acceptance. It was a voice that accepted Paul, even with all his doubts. The pastor talked about doubt in her sermon – she said our faith is not so much thinking and doing what is right, as it is turning to God in the midst of our doubts. On that Sunday, Paul realized – for the first time – that he was just like all the others; and that the voice of the shepherd was a voice that opened the door of the sheepfold to people like Paul who struggled to believe. And Paul found that morning that we was truly welcomed and greeted without judgment or reservation. And the darkness that had been penetrating his spirit began to be lifted in the accepting spirit of that gathering of God’s people. For in that church, the accepting and welcoming voice of the shepherd was the voice that was heard in all that was said and done.

On the prairies, the shepherd is aware that a lamb has strayed from the flock, and the shepherd knows the danger that the lamb faces in the storm. Already, as the first drops of cold rain begin to fall and as the first streaks of lightning flash across the sky, the shepherd has turned to seek the lamb that has wondered off. The lamb lies shaking beside the rocks; but the shepherd knows the places to look. He sees where the fresh grass has been eaten, and he sees the tracks where the lamb has turned around and lost its direction. The shepherd calls, and this time the voice that the lamb hears is not angry, but kind and caring. The lamb makes a feeble reply, and the shepherd sees the lamb shaking in the cold. And the shepherd comes, and he takes his coat and covers the lamb and picks it up and puts it in his arms. And the shepherd, now soaked to the skin the in cold rain, carries the lamb, home to the safety of the fold. AMEN.

Sunday Sermon – Pr. Loren

20150413_104923Luke 24:36b-48

3 Easter B

April 19, 2015

The risen Jesus is not a ghost. The risen Jesus is a solid physical reality. The disciples touch him and Jesus eats real food with them. In their grief and in the terrible uncertainty of their lives, Jesus is not present in just some spiritual way. We know about the spiritual presence, say, of a loved one who has died. As we remember the care or the advice or the habits or the commitments of a parent or a spouse or a dear friend who has died, it is as though they become spiritually present for us. And we certainly treasure and return to those moments when we can feel the spiritual presence of those we have loved. But that is not the way the risen Jesus was present with his disciples on that first Easter evening. We say in our confession, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” The incarnation – God taking on a real physical presence in our time and place – is as important at Easter as it is at Christmas.

My father was killed in a car accident when I was just starting my second year of ministry as a pastor. I remember getting the call from my sister. My mother was in the hospital, but her injuries were not serious. It took a little bit for the truth of this death to sink in, but when it did there was just that terrible emptiness. I kind of went into auto pilot, focusing on the details that needed to be taken care of. I took task of contacting my oldest brother, who was in the middle of interview for a new job, and since this was way before the days of cell phones, he was hard to locate. I also needed to find someone to take the services of the three-point parish my wife and I were serving in South Dakota. Then there were all the details of funeral planning. All those things to do, just kept my mind occupied so that I mostly ignored the grief that was churning inside me.

It was the presence of people that I had known since childhood that carried me through that time and provided the healing and hope I needed for that time of grief. My aunt and uncle, who my parents were on their way to visit in Wisconsin, brought my mother home. Then, as my siblings gathered, the house in Eitzen was full. But there was an abundance of food that none of us prepared. Once my mother was home, there was a steady stream of neighbors and friends stopping at the house, “to bring over a hot dish or a salad,” they said, but it was the way they surrounded us with words of sympathy and hugs of support. It was God’s people being God’s presence for us with food to eat.

And at the funeral—while I don’t remember what the pastor said, I remember my cousin Tom singing “The King of Love My Shepherd Is,” and I remember when it came time in the service to confess our faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, I stood there silent. I don’t know if the grief just finally hit me with it’s full force, or if at that moment I just couldn’t believe—that the randomness of my father’s death made me doubt that anything pure chance ruled the world, and I just couldn’t say those words of faith. But while I was silent, while I just couldn’t say those words, the whole congregation behind me said the words that I could not say. And I was lifted up by their faith, and I knew that they were carrying me, because that is what the people of God do for one another—sometimes we pray for others when they can no longer pray for themselves, sometimes the faith we hold, holds up others in times of doubt and uncertainty.

And then as we left the church, Elmer Morey stood on the stairs going up to the balcony pulling the rope to toll the church bell as we walked out of the church and across the cemetery to where my father’s grave had been dug. The bell kept tolling until all were gathered at the grave.   I don’t know if Elmer was counting my father’s 74 years or if someone signaled him when people were gathered at the grave. Normally the casket would have been placed in the hearse and driven across the cemetery, but the ground was too soft from heavy September rains, so the pall bearers carried it all the way to the grave. Cyril and Eldon and Norman and Alvin and Karl and Raymond, the farmers whose farms adjoined my father’s farm, carried him to his place of rest. And seeing Raymond carrying the casket was a sign of grace and reconciliation. Ray and my father had let anger and a stubborn spirit infect their friendship – they hadn’t spoken to each other for maybe five years, but Ray took his part as a neighbor and for the sake of the friendship they once had, and it felt that healing happened in that walk across the cemetery. And healing happened, not because of any kind of spiritual presence, but the physical presence of neighbors.

After the ascension Jesus was no longer present with his disciples as he was immediately after the resurrection. But we are made the children of God in baptism and we are the body of Christ in the here and the now. Yes, the risen Jesus uses you and me to become His physical presence. After the ascension, we are Christ’s body. As Theresa of Avila put it:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
Amen.

Palm Sunday Sermon – Pr. Loren

lentMark 15:1-47

Passion of our Lord B

March 29, 2015

                                                                                    Holy Week begins as our worship began today: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” But it ends with the cross and the women, looking on from a distance. This is not what the disciples expected when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Sunday. They somehow expected to see their friend, Jesus, call upon God to make everything right; they expected that somehow he would turn their world around and ascend a royal and divine throne—and that it would all happen very soon. But they did not understand—they did not understand the kind of kingdom Jesus had been talking about. And as the women look out at the terrible scene on the hill called Golgatha, they do not know what to think. This was not what they thought would happen to Jesus.

And it is not the picture of Jesus that we like to imagine either. But look—look at this Jesus—look at this carpenter from Nazareth. Look at him. Look at his crown—a wreath of thorns—see where the thorns pierce through his flesh. See where the drops of blood run down his face. Look at his throne—a cross on which his body hangs—see where the splintered wood gouges his flesh. See how the nails impale his hands and his feet to the executioner’s crossbeams. And look at this body—see how it hangs there helpless. See how his body writhes in agony. Look at his face. See how it turns pale in the face of death. See how he gasps in pain to take another breath of air. And hear the haunting cry he makes from the cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” The disciples have all deserted him – only the women remain, and they watch from a distance.

On that Friday, Mary Magdalene, Salome, and the other Mary, and all the rest who had followed Jesus from Galilee went away confused and numb. Was Jesus not the one they thought he was? Could he not have come down from the cross? And why did he stay there and die? The names they had thought belonged to him—Son of God, Messiah, Christ, Savior, Lord—were none of them true? Was he just a man—a prophet, a teacher—another hero who got himself killed for speaking the truth the way he saw it?

Perhaps today we are sometimes as confused about this as the women were on that Friday. Sometimes for us, it doesn’t make sense either. Sometimes Easter just doesn’t seem to happen—at least for us. We are too familiar with death, and what we need is resurrection. Sometimes the whole thing is just plain too unbelievable. We want a God who has power and glory and gets things done. But what we get, is a God who becomes a human being and dies. And finally, if we want to understand this God at all, we have to understand why the cross is so important – why Jesus had to die.

The answer, I believe, lies in the contrast between the glory we might expect Jesus to command and the stark barrenness of the cross. Jesus chooses for himself the path of weakness, humility, and vulnerability, rather then power, honor and glory. By dying, and not saving himself, Jesus demonstrates that power and glory, whether divine or human, are not things to be grasped, but they are things for us to let go of. Jesus was in the form of God, but he did not count his equality with God a thing to be grasped. Instead, he emptied himself. He became human and became obediently human, even to the point of dying. And he did all of this trusting himself wholly and completely to God. That finally is the meaning of the cross—and Jesus becomes the Christ, our Lord and King through his death of the cross—in trusting God all the way to death. Jesus leads us on our way —he leads us into life; but the life he gives comes only through death. So often we want Easter without Good Friday—we want the resurrection without the crucifixion —we want life without death. But it cannot be, because finally the only way to true life is through the gates of death.

On Sunday, the women went to the place where Jesus had been buried—to the place of death. He was not there. He had gone before them, first into death, but then into life. And we have their witness, and faith gives us the power to follow where Jesus leads. And that turns us away from the glory and riches of our world—from all the glitter that attracts us—it turns us from these so that we can follow Jesus as his disciples— living as he calls us to live, and trusting that on the way, such living fills us with life that is abundant—now and forever. AMEN.

Sunday Sermon – Pastor Loren

Mark 8:31-38lent

Lent 2B

March 1, 2015

So what does it mean to take up our cross and follow Jesus? We know that the cross is important. At baptism we are marked with the sign of the cross. The cross is at the center of our place of worship. We know that somehow through the cross Jesus claims us, and through the cross we are raised to new life. But the cross is about what Jesus does. He dies on the cross for us. And we are saved by grace through faith and this is not our own doing, it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one can boast. So if the cross is all about what Jesus does for us, what does it mean for us, who are Jesus’ followers, to take up our cross and follow him?

I think it’s important to understand what the cross meant for the people at Jesus’ time.   While we think about the cross as the sign of salvation and eternal hope in Christ, for the people who heard Jesus tell them to take of their cross and follow him, the image it suggested was political prisoners carrying their crosses to the place of their execution. The cross was the Roman instrument of torture and execution for those convicted of crimes against the Empire. Crosses lined the roads leading from Rome with the 6000 slaves who had joined Spartacus in his revolt a hundred years before Jesus was also hung on one outside Jerusalem. Jews who had rebelled a few years after Jesus’ birth were nailed to crosses that lined roads from Galilee to Jerusalem. The cross was not used to execute common criminals – those convicted of robbery or murder. The cross was reserved for crimes of tyranny against the empire. It was used as a demonstration of Roman power against any who would challenge the Empire and its way of ruling the world. So when Jesus talks about carrying a cross, he’s talking about doing something that could get you nailed to one of those Roman crosses – some kind of opposition to Rome’s way of ruling the world. In the gospel of John, chapter 7, Jesus goes to Galilee to avoid those who are seeking to kill him. When he explains why they seek to kill him he says, “[the world] hates me for exposing the wickedness of its ways.” (John 7:7 NEB)

The Way of Jesus, the Way of the Lord, the Way of God is a way opposed to the way of the world. In the book of Acts, the early followers of Jesus referred to the church as the Way. The first confession of the church was simply, “Jesus is Lord.” It seems that those who were brought into the early church radically changed something about how they lived their lives. They looked to Jesus as their Lord and they sought to live in the way that Jesus taught them to live. And something about that put them at risk of crucifixion.

The ways of the world encourage us to get what we can for ourselves, to get the best deal we can, and to use whatever power we have to make things work for our advantage. That’s what Rome did when it conquered and appropriated land for its own benefit. It didn’t matter that peasants were left landless or that condition of poverty multiplied in the lands Rome conquered. The occupying Roman legions ensured the Peace of Rome, and when people resisted or rebelled, crosses served as a reminder of Roman power. But the Christians refused to say, “Caesar is Lord.” Instead, they proclaimed, “Jesus is Lord,” and they gathered so that they could grow in living the Way that Jesus taught. And what Jesus taught went against the ways the world. Jesus’ way is not about getting what you can for yourself, with the best deal possible, and it is definitely not about using whatever power you have to make things work for your advantage. The way of Jesus is perhaps best described in Philippians, Chapter 2:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourself. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death—

even death on a cross.

We are saved by grace through faith – and it is a gift of God, but we are also created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. I believe that when Jesus calls us to take up our cross, he is calling us to take hold of that new life for which he has claimed us through his death and resurrection. He invites us to die to the ways of this world and he draws us out of the death creating ways of this world to live as children of the light. The ways of the world teach us to look to our own interests, but the way of Jesus turns us to care for others. It is when we loose ourselves in following the way of Jesus that we become the children of God we were created to be. It is when we live out care and compassion for others that we truly reflect God’s image in our lives.

And while there may not be crosses of execution waiting for those who seek to follow Jesus, we should expect a certain amount of difficulty when we seek to go against the ways of the world. Following Jesus turns us away from our own interest so that we can see the needs of others and tend to them, and even change the way we live so that there is less suffering in the world. When we open our lives to see and respond to the hurts and hopes of the world, we take up our cross and loose our life for the sake of God’s way. And that is how God gives life, to us when we are caught in the ways of the world, and to the world by transforming us into channels of God’s love for the world. AMEN