Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sermon for Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13
Year C
August 4, 2013
                                          Hosea 11:1-11                            Psalm 107:1-9, 43
                                    Colossians 3:13-21                          St. Luke 12:13-21

To continue our discussion somewhat from the last time I preached, we again see in the Gospel, Jesus preferential option for the poor in his warning to those with wealth. In the parable, the rich man was worried about how to care for all his wealth, and he learned as we all know, that you can't take it with you.

The story today begins with someone calling out to Jesus for financial justice and yet Jesus dismissed him and his claim. In fact, Jesus warned him that his attention was in the wrong place. He was focused on his wants and his needs. His focus was inward directed.

Where is our attention placed? I fear that it can too often be in the wrong place as well. One lesson to be taken from the Gospel today is a lesson concerning where we should be paying attention. Are we focused inward on ourselves, or outward on the world around us?

An inward focus is a selfish and self centered view. An outward focus is a godly and god centered outlook. Outward views are healthy and life giving, inward views are not.

There can be several reasons for not wanting to look outward. It may be too painful. We may think we have too much on our own plate to deal with. And there are seeming rewards for looking inward, but this is actually a lie.

An inward focus is the worst thing possible for our spiritual health.

And while our gospel lesson today is focused on an individual, the application can be much greater. Now don't get me wrong, there are good reasons to look inward, when we are examining ourselves and working on improving ourselves. The the inward looking in the Gospel today was not focused on self improvement, it was focused on self enrichment. Not that we should not be looking at things inwardly as individually. We should! We should be examining our lives to see where our focus should be for self improvement.

But when we focus on selfish things, we are looking the wrong direction.

The same is true for organizations. Churches can either focus inward or they can focus outward. There is tremendous pressure for churches to focus inward. There are many difficulties. Dwindling numbers and finances will inevitably draw the focus of those remaining inward. And this is a terrible mistake. It is the start of the end. It may seem counter-intuitive, but an inward focus draws our attention away from God and the blessings that God is providing and causes us to focus on what is lacking.

Rather than being focused on what God has called us to do, we become focused on what we need to survive. It is one of the reasons that I'm so opposed to churches that post financial information every week. It drives an inward focus and rarely solves the problem of the downward spiral. In fact, it can have the opposite approach in the end by driving away potential new members of the church.

So, as much as I might sound like a polly-anna, the answer for ourselves and our church is to remain focused outward. Asking how can we spread the good news of what is happening in our church. Asking how we can be Jesus to those in need around us. None of this makes sense to the world. In the world, we are supposed to look inward, analyze problems, and develop solutions.

However that is not the way God works. And it is not the way churches work. If you want to be successful, continue to focus on gratitude. Continue to focus on what God is doing in your life and in the life of your church community. Continue to focus on what it is you believe what God is calling you to do.

That is the pathway to success and growth in terms of God's kingdom.

You can find the podcast of this sermon in ITunes by searching in the ITunes store for

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sermon for Sunday, July 21, 2013

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11
Year C
July 21, 2013
                                               Amos 8:1-12                                                       Psalm 52
                                          Colossians 1:15-28                                         St. Luke 10:38-42 

Hymns: 618, 657, 686, 662 

If anyone wonders where I get to get my rather universalist views from, the author of Colossians must surely bear some of the responsibility. In the passage for today we are told that “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things” through Christ.

There are no limits in that statement. There is no holding back. All things have been reconciled to God through Christ. It includes you. It includes me. It includes the world.

This is one of the reasons I have a hard time with the concept of hell. Certainly the jewish tradition had no hell. And I'm not sure that there is a lot of biblical support for it.

Of course that leaves many of us struggling with things like Hitler and other monsters in the world. What happens to them if there is no hell? I think there are two possible answers. One is that like the rest of us they are reconciled to God and end up in heaven. Which might actually be a form of hell to have to live up to the enormity of the evil the perpetrated against others through all eternity. Or perhaps they are just snuffed out of existence. Who knows? And really, at this point in our faith walk, who cares? We should all be focused on what God calls us to do and worry less about how others responded to God's call in their lives.

God didn't choose just a select group to be reconciled with as some would like to believe. That, in my mind is way too limiting of the love of God. And as heretical as some might find this rather simple view of mine, there is a message in from the prophet Amos that I feel is even more earth shattering.

It is a message for us true enough, but I feel it is even a more important message to politicians and those in power. What has shocked me in recent years is the apparent ability of people to separate their responsibilities to their creator from their life in the world. The message from Amos is a powerful warning to those in power. This should not be particularly surprising as God tends to always speak powerful messages to those in positions of power.

Amos warns that those who “trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land” are going to be called to account for their actions. Amos was apparently one of the earlier liberation theologians. Actually when you look at the words of the prophets, they were all liberation theologians. This understanding has often been expressed as God's preferential option for the poor. In the words of Gustavo Gutierrez, “God demonstrates a special predilection toward those who have been excluded from the banquet of life.”

Too often our political leaders in this day and age clearly have a preferential option for the rich and what to ignore the poor, I guess in the futile hope that they will go away.

God wants each and every one of us to live into that special predilection to those who have been excluded. There may have been many reasons for the exclusion. But not one of those reasons will represent God to those who are excluded.

We are called to step out and take risks. It is not easy. And it certainly is not safe.  

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8, June 30, 2013

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8
Year C
June 30, 2013
I Kings 2:1-2, 6-14              Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20

Galatians 5:1, 13-21                     St. Luke 9:51-62  

The words form the first part of the lesson on Galatians today has significant power for me as I though about them and the church in general, and about St. Peter’s in particular. They speak to us in a time when our current society seems to judge that individual needs and concerns are overriding factors in living life.

And Paul points out quite openly that we are set free in Christ. And that freedom is absolute. However Paul also warns against embracing that freedom and using it as an excuse for self indulgence. And that is what separates our freedom in Christ from the more self centered, individualized freedom that the world would so easily call us to.

Paul calls us on the one hand to not submit to the yoke of slavery, but at the same times calls us to become slaves for one another. And I think that is the key message for us to take home today. We are called to be slaves to one another.

That is not an easy call to live out. All of us have the desire to want our own ways. And yet being a slave to others calls for us to put others ahead of us. It calls on us to see the best of others in all circumstances. It calls for each one of us to give up battling to be right.

As a slave to others, god calls us to let go of self and ego and to embrace the call to seek to severe Christ in each of those around us. All of you who have been in relationships with others know what this is like. It can be frustrating. It can be challenging. Sometimes it can seem like an impossible burden.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 6 Year C

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 6
Year C
June 16, 2013
                     I Kings 21:1-21a                                              Psalm 5:1-8

                     Galatians 2:15-21                                         St. Luke 7:36—8:      onnday of 3   

Who is in and who is out?  Often we categorize people by whether they are in or out.  Are they part of the cool, acceptable crowd?  Or are they out? 

The Gospel today deals with those in and those out.  Those who are in are often very comfortable with their status.   They have no fears.  The Pharisee’s were part of the in crowd in the Jewish world that Jesus lived in.  Women who were sinners on the other hand were definitely on the outside.  They were looked down on.  They were unappreciated.  They had nothing worthwhile to offer society or those around them.  

It seems like in our society today everyone needs to be a part of the in crowd.  No one wants to be in the out crowd.  But of course, who could blame them?  Jesus was being invited to be a part of the in crowd in.  But as usual Jesus was not very accommodating.  And Jesus had his own agenda.  And very often that agenda never agreed with what the in crowd wanted.

Now the in crowd is easily upset with what Jesus had to do or say.  The Pharisee is scandalized to the seas as is letting this sooner or woman to Sonoma.  Wisely the Pharisee observes that if Jesus was really a prophet he would’ve known what type of woman this was, that she was a terrible sinner.

The in crowd always wants to judge the out crowd.  That seems to be the nature of things.  And the problem with Jesus was that he refused to judge people.  Jesus wanted to accept everyone as they were.  Jesus wanted to touch every one right were they were in their life.  The out crowd is always about changing people to make them fit in.  Jesus was about accepting people the way they are.  And the in crowd finds that point of view just a little bit frightening. 

The challenge for us is how do we make St. Peter’s more like Jesus response and less like the Pharisee’s?  Sadly too many outside of the church see a place filled with Pharisee’s only too happy to judge them and condemn them, rather than seeing a place filled with Jesus like people who want to embrace them with open arms of love and acceptance.  

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C, April 21, 2013

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Year C
April 21, 2013
                        Acts 9:36-43                                              Psalm 23
                     Revelation 7:9-17                                    St. John 10:22-3      onnday of 0   
Hymns:  371, 410, 314, 388 

“My sheep hear my voice … no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

The early church was a much different church from the church today.  The Gospels were written as the church was struggling against many forces in society.  So you might wonder what the lessons of the Gospels can hold for us today, in such a different place and in such a different time. 

But often the messages of the Gospel are timeless.  The church has used and reinterpreted the lessons of the scriptures though out history.  The church wants to make the lessons practical and applicable in every time and in constantly changing circumstances. 

The early church faced a lot of struggles.  And so do we today.  Admittedly much different struggles today, but struggles nevertheless.   And so we look to the scriptures for comfort and guidance. 

We hear the voice of Jesus and are comforted in that voice.  Jesus provides a familiar voice in the struggles and challenges we face in the world and in the struggles and challenges we face as a congregation. 

Congregational live can be a challenge.  Learning to live together in a faith community.  Living to live as a faith community as we struggle with differences. 

It is amazing the things that parishes can find challenging.    I was reading this week about a sculpture entitled “Jesus the Homeless”.  It is a power presentation of Jesus depicted as a homeless person, sleeping on a park bench.  The only way you can tell it is Jesus is by the nail marks in the feet.  Sadly two cathedrals turned it down.  Jesus was homeless once again.  This could have been a powerful message speaking to the poor and homeless in the community, giving them a chance to hear the voice of the shepherd.  But the chance was missed. 

Sadly those in power could not hear the voice of Jesus in that situation.  I think for most of us it is hard to hear the voice of Jesus unless we hear a voice very much like our own.   All too often we can only see Jesus when we see someone like ourselves.  The idea of a homeless Jesus is a scary thing for many people. 

We covet the familiar in our lives and in our parish.   And that presents a challenge for any parish in transition as St. Peter’s is right now.  It is only in being willing to try the change will we have the opportunity to grow and develop.  And yet in the midst of it, we can rely on the familiar voice of God in our life in the face of change. 

St. Peter’s needs to be open to new things and change.  When you call a new parish priest there will be lots of change and transition.  It will be a challenge to every one.  The next priest will bring talents, skills, and abilities which may be different.   She or he will have different strengths and weaknesses.  But you can count on the familiar voice of Jesus to be in your midst as you go through the challenge of change.  

You may be challenged with new ways of doing things.  You may be challenged with different attitudes and ideas.  But the familiar voice of Jesus will be there with you, guiding, building, and strengthening.  

The key is to be open to new ideas and the opportunity to experience life in a community of faith in a new and different way.   And yet, each of us will still have the familiar voice of Jesus with us in this journey. 

Will we be willing to trust in God as we go through the next change, or will we, like those rejecting the sculpture of Jesus the Homeless, reject, fight and fear the new and different and challenging.  I pray that God will give us all the strength to embrace the change, relying on the familiar voice of Jesus speaking to us, kindly, gently, lovingly, and encouragingly as we move forward.   

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Second Sunday of Easter
Year C
April 7, 2013
                        Acts 5:27-32                                              Psalm 118:14-29
                     Revelation 1:4-8                                            St. John 20:19-3      onnday of 1   
Hymns:  199, 7, 208, 469

Today is known as Low Sunday.   Churches tend to be packed on Easter Sunday, but now we are back to the normal, and many just take a Sunday off.  So we few are here!  

And of course today is St. Thomas Sunday.  Poor St. Thomas, you have to feel for him.  He is always held up as the skeptic against the example of the other disciples.  And yet, this is not quite fair as a comparison.  After all, the disciples had already experienced what Thomas himself asked to experience.  Thomas was not asking for anything other than that which they had already experienced.  He wanted to see Jesus in person just as the other disciples had.  It seems a perfectly reasonable request to me. 

Those others disciples were not a shining example of blind faith.  They had been able to see Jesus and believed and that is the same experience that Thomas wanted to have as well. 

To tell the truth, I actually think Thomas is a pretty good example for all of us in the Christian church today anyway.  I believe that a little bit of disbelief and skepticism can be quite healthy and good for us both as individuals and as the church.  Disbelief allows us the opportunity to ask question and opens up the possibility of deepening and exploring our faith. 

And yet some people and church leaders show what I feel is an unhealthy fear of a little or like in my case, a lot of, disbelief.   In some churches the honest questioning about faith and what we believe is quite threatening.  People never speak of it because they fear they will be judged as either very weak in their faith, or worse as no longer Christians. 

People are afraid to even express any doubt or concerns for fear about what others – or God will think about us. 

This quite frankly is not good for our own spiritual development or for the development of the church as a whole.  To be fearful of growing, developing, and questioning is extremely unhealthy.  Thomas was not afraid to speak his own truth, that he needed more in order to belief.  He was not afraid to speak out his concerns regarding his faith to those around him. 

We need to feel that it is safe to express our doubts, our understandings, perhaps even our fears about our faith walk in our lives.  

Only when we feel safe to do this can we truly grow, develop, and challenge ourselves and our faith. 

I pray that God will grant all of us the strength of heart to not fear to express ourselves.  I pray that God will grant all of us the strength of character and charity to be open to listening to people expressing their doubts and struggles.  That will make St. Peter’s a healthy place to learn and love.  

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sermon for Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Day
Year C
March 31, 2013
                        Acts 10:34-43                                              Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
                     I Corinthians 15:19-26                                     St. John 20:1-18   
Hymns:  180, 371, 207, 208

“I truly understand that God shows no partiality…”  That is what Peter said.  Sadly many people who claim to be Christians believe that God show partiality and a lot it. 

People who believe that only if you believe like them you will go to heaven.  People who believe that only if you belong to their particular denomination, will you go to heaven.  Probably the most extreme example is the Westboro Baptist Church.   But there are those even in our own community who also believe this.  They believe in a god of partiality and I find this extremely sad. 

I want to do something rather unusual this Easter Day.  You see, today I’m not going to talk about the resurrection.  Instead I want to talk about Peter’s revelation in today’s first reading.  Of course this reading from Acts comes after the resurrection.  It deals with the early history of the church and the church leaders, in particular Peter. 

You see, in spite of the experience of the apostles in living with Christ and living through the experience of the resurrection, they still had their pre-conceived notions of how God was acting in the world around them.  The resurrection experience had not yet transformed them or Peter.  There was still work to be done in his life.  The resurrection experience merely prepared him for changes he could not even imagine. 

Too often I feel that in the Christian community we look at the resurrection or conversion experience as a one time event in which we are somehow magically transformed by God and that is it.  But there is usually always much more head of us in that experience.  It is merely the first step when God begins to work in our lives. 

In this particular instance Peter was struggling with the issue God’s partiality.  Yes, Peter and the apostles believed that God was indeed partial to some.  That God had a preference for some people over others.  It was a deeply ingrained believe and not an easy one for Peter to overcome.  In fact, in a dream he had to get the message repeated three times from God before it sunk in. 

What brought Peter to this point was a dream.  In the dream, all sorts of unclean animals are placed before Peter and he is told to kill and eat them.  He had been raised all his life to not eat certain things because God did not what him to. 

It was a life long, and scripturally based belief that Peter was struggling with.  So there were very good reasons in Peter’s mind for not wanting to accept this change from God.  And yet, once the light dawns on Peter, he embraces is whole-heartedly.    

Not only that, but in the stories culmination today, Peter actually expands this dream to include something completely different from what was in the dream.  Rather that restrict his dream to a literal interpretation of exactly what he had seen, that is that God had done away with dietary restrictions, Peter greatly expanded the interpretation of this dream to include the understanding that the good news of the resurrection and power of Jesus was open not to just those of the Jewish heritage, but to everyone. 

Peter issues that powerful statement we hear in the first reading:  “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”  There is something very important in this simple sentence that is important for the Christian church.  

You see, many in the church say, yes that is true, BUT we “have to do what is right” to be acceptable and you are not doing what is right.  But remember, Peter originally believed that the preconceived notions that God was overturning were WRONG.  Not only that, but peter went to far as to expand it to include more that was just in his dream. 

So it is not just say, ok, sure as long as you do what I think God wants you to do, you are good to go.   Rather it is understanding the potential that God is trying to correct something that is wrong. 

We individually and the church as a whole needs to be open to the possibility that our understanding of what is right and what is wrong from God’s perspective may actually be the wrong thing that needs to be change!   This is pretty frightening stuff both from an individual and a organizational perspective. 

But like Peter, we need to be open to seeing things in a new light.  And the church as an organization needs to be open to seeing things in a new light as well.  That is probably the greater obstacle.  Churches are like glaciers when it comes to change.  They move very slowly, if they move at all.  And yet, by our failure to be open to seeing what God may be doing or how God may be trying to change us, we lose out on opportunities to grow and open our community to becoming more and more inclusive. 

Just imagine what the church would look like had Peter not boldly embraced this change.   It would not be what it is today. 

Just imagine what the church would look like had brave people not fought against slavery.  It would not be what it is today. 

Just imagine what the church would look like had brave people not fought against racial inequality even after the battle against slavery had been won. 

And imagine for a moment how people felt when those in power in the church argued in favor of slavery and racial inequality.  Imagine the damage that did to the cause of the gospel message.  Imagine what it did to the message of Easter. 

I believe we are each called to be in the forefront of expanding the meaning of the gospel to all.  St. Peter’s is called to be a beacon of light and hope in Seward.   And I believe it is! 

I don't think there is any danger that God will ever judge us for being too easy on our fellow human beings or for loving them too much. 

So this Easter, as we celebrate the joyous event of Christ risen.  Let us all commit ourselves to a church that is in the forefront of the spreading the gospel message.  Let us be in the forefront of speaking out for those who others would denigrate and despise.  That is what Jesus did.  That is what Christians do. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C, March 17, 2013

Fifth Sunday in Lent
Year C
March 17, 2013
                        Isaiah 43:16-21                                              Psalm 126
                     Philippians 3:4b-14                                     St. John 12:1-8   
Hymns:  456, 495, 304, 473

Today is the final Sunday in Lent.  Next week the church will observer Palm Sunday and then the following Sunday, Easter Day. 

In my last sermon just before the start of Lent, I challenged you to consider a path of gratitude and thankfulness during Lent.  I hope you have.  But today I want to talk about change.  It is something we are, I fear, all too unwilling to be thankful for. 

We find in the reading today from Isaiah a warning from God that new things are about to be done.  Warning about new things coming is probably a good idea.  No one seems to particularly like new things.  We all love the old things.  And yet we are warned in this same passage to “not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.”  This is a hard teaching for Episcopalians!  In fact, even with lots of warning, change is still hard to deal with. 

I’m reminded of this struggle we all have with change in a story line from the series “The Vicar of Dibley”.  In the first episode a “woman” priest is sent to the parish as their new vicar.  The initial shock left everyone silent.  As some of the parishioners began talk about change they observed that there is good change and bad change and that is true in the world today.  But what makes it so difficult is our inability to come to agreement on which changes are good and which are bad.  This is reflected locally and in the wider world.  It effects everything from what you do here at St. Peter’s when you make changes to what is going on today in the world wide Anglican Communion. 

Make a river in a desert as it says in Isaiah and you are sure to find some who would find reason to complain.  The river is not in the right place.  There are too many people or animals around now.  The environmental balance has been changed.  There is now too much traffic.  It used to be nice and peaceful and quiet here and now it is so loud and disruptive.  And you have to deal with the mud. 

Look at the Israelites, they were freed from slavery and provided manna from heaven and yet still managed to complain about it.  The old times were better they said.  We are sick and tired of this manna they complained.  The very food sent down from heaven by God was becoming tiring to them.  The grass always is greener on the other side!  And I’m sure if we look in our own lives we will find plenty of times when we complained and perhaps the complaint was not really all that justifiable. 

Why do people complain about change so much?  I think it is because we mourn the loss of the familiar.  The familiar is comfortable and easy to go along with.  It doesn’t cause stress or anxiety.  People also don’t like change because of the fear of the unknown.  Change puts us face to face with something new.  Something that may be unpalatable or undesirable.  Or maybe just something that is different.  Like a river in a dry place. 

But there is something even more important in this passage today.  God says that she is about to do a new thing and yet we do not see it.  There are two things here particularly important.  First that God is doing a new thing.  There are some who would prefer, who pray for and who fight for God to only do the old things.  There is no understanding or comprehension that God may indeed be doing a new thing in their life or in the life of the Church.  Those who would paint God in a nice neat corner are only bound to be disappointed.  \

The second part of that verse “do you not perceive it?” should be a warning to us.  A warning to not try and fight against the new things God is doing.  But this can be painfully difficult.

How do we know that all the new things going on now are from God?  That is the critical question.  Those against the new things clearly see the answer as no, they are most definitely not from God.  Those in support of the new things clearly see the answer as yes, God is working powerfully among us.  Personally I think that the Christian community would be in much better condition if everyone kept in mind that they just might be wrong.  This sort of humility seems to be sadly lacking in many of the conversations in the Church today.  An embrace of the idea of the possibility of error in my own thoughts would allow greater charity towards those we disagree with.  It would also lower the level of strife for those fighting so hard for what they feel is right. 

There is one thing that is very good about change, whether you are in favor of it or not.  Change forces us to re-evaluate what is going on in our lives.  And that is a good thing.  It is healthy and an opportunity for spiritual growth.  It can cause us either to strengthen the views we already held or be an opportunity for the possibility of changing them.  Whether in the end the change was necessary or perhaps quietly done away with, self examination of our own lives and of our own, sometimes closely held beliefs is good.   

Change forces us to wake up from the lethargy of the usual, of the common, and to look at things in a new light.  That may feel like a dangerous thing.  But it is life giving. 

As Christians we are called to face change with expectation and hope.  We need to view change with the expectation and hope that God just might be doing a new thing in our lives.  So when we are faced with changes, we should not react with a gut level reaction to immediately reject it.  Instead we need to think about it.  We need to test it out. 

Perhaps, just perhaps it can help us grow.  

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sermon for Epiphany Two, Year C, 20 Jan 2013

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Year C
January 20, 2013

Isaiah 62:1-5                                            Psalm 96
I Corinthians 12:1-11                          St. John 2:1-11  

Hymns:  410, 423, 304, 433

 The reading from First Corinthians today focused on the gifts God gives to the church and to individuals.  And we all know that God blesses us with many gifts in our lives.  In the Gospel of John for today we hear the story of the first of the signs or miracles of Jesus, turning the water into wine.  The passage ends with the statement that “his disciples believed in him.”  

I have always found this rather interesting.  We are told that after his sign they believed in him.  What exactly does the author mean by this?  After all, they had already left everything, family, jobs, friends to follow this itinerant preacher.  They must have already believed in him at some level already.  They had made sacrifices already just to follow him. 
Honestly, would any of us given up our lives, our livelihoods, and our family to follow someone we didn’t believe in? 

But I think as we look at the development of the followers of Jesus, as we continue to watch them in the Gospel stories, we see that their faith continually deepens as they live with and follow Jesus.  As they see him at work in the world, their faith is strengthened at every turn.  So they obviously had an advantage we certainly don’t, they got to see Jesus at work, they had the opportunity to know him.  They could see him touching the lives of those around Him, they could see him performing signs, and they could see him living out a life which they experienced every day. 

It is true that if we look we can indeed see Jesus at work in the world around us too, but perhaps it takes us a little more effort to see it.  We hopefully see Jesus in different ways and in different places in the world.  We hopefully see Jesus in our actions and in the actions of our fellow believers.  But in order to do this our eyes must be attuned to different things. 

Hopefully we see Jesus in the life and work of the church, although since it is filled with humans like each one of us there is always the potential for failure.   We may see Jesus just by observing the miracles of nature around us, particularly in a beautiful place like Alaska.  We see Jesus in the work of our community food back.  We see Jesus in others around us as we see them living a life of faith seeking to serve and help others. 

But I think the most important way to see Jesus in the world around us it by becoming more sensitive to what Jesus is doing in each of our own lives.  Unfortunately, it is far too easy to overlook.  We can so easily get caught up in all the activities and events in our lives that we actually miss seeing Jesus at work in our lives. 

How do we tune ourselves in to seeing Jesus at work in our life?   While there are probably many answers to that question, I’m convinced of the power of a very simple practice.  That is the practice of gratitude. 

As we get in the habit of being attentive to the things we have to be grateful for in life, we become more and more attuned to what is occurring our own lives and how God is at work in our lives. 

This practice has transformed how I look at things in my life and my ability to see God at work in my life.  I encourage you to undertake this gratitude challenge.  With Lent approaching, perhaps you can adopt it as your Lenten challenge to list the things you are thankful for every day.  And don’t forget the “small” things to be grateful for.  I think that is where we really tend to miss the boat in remembering thankfulness. 

A thankful person is a transformed person and a thankful church is a transformed church.  Let us work together to transform ourselves and St. Peter’s.  We can turn St. Peter’s into an oasis of gratitude and recognition of God’s work in our life and in our midst. 


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent, December 14, 2008

Third Sunday of Advent
Year B
December 14, 2008
Resurrection Lutheran Church
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 Psalm 126
I Thessalonians 5:16-24 St. John 1:6-8, 19-28

In the name of the triune God who created us, who loves us, who redeemed us, and who cares for us.
One of my favorite Advent hymns is "On Jordan's Bank." It is found on page 63 of your LBW. The words go like this:

1. On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry
Announces that the Lord is nigh;
Come, then, and hearken, for he brings
Glad tidings from the King of kings.
2. Then cleansed by every Christian breast
And furnished for so great a Guest.
Yea, let us each our hearts prepare
For Christ to come and enter there.
3. For Thou art our Salvation, Lord,
Our Refuge, and our great Reward.
Without Thy grace our souls must fade
And wither like a flower decayed.
4. Lay on the sick Thy healing hand
And make the fallen strong to stand;
Show us the glory of Thy face
Till beauty springs in every place.
5. All praise, eternal Son, to Thee
Who advent sets Thy people free,
Whom, with the Father, we adore
And Holy Ghost forevermore.
Today we hear the story of John the Baptist, a particularly appropriate lesson for Advent. The lesson starts out with the words "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him." Being sent from God is not always a great thing by our standards. While John had some followers, those in power were really threatened by him. In fact, his words became so threatening that they eventually lead to his imprisonment and finally his death. He never gained worldly good or significant recognition in his life time. The life of a prophet is usually lonely.

Today I want you to pull out your insert and follow those two lines with me again. But I’m going to change a few words this time. "There was a person sent from God, whose name was Lucy. She came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through her." I figured I would use Lucy as an example since she is such a new addition to the church family and can’t really speak for herself yet.
This time I want you to read it with your name. Try it out. Go ahead.

How did it feel? I want to take a short moment now and let you just think about what it would mean if that verse was speaking about you. Did you believe it in your heart when you read it? I hope so because it is absolutely true. There is a person sent by God and guess what? That person is you. And you. And you. And little Lucy. And me.
To me it can be pretty overwhelming. You are that person sent by God. I am that person sent by God. You are that person called as a witness to testify to the light. It can be pretty overwhelming. We think of our personal failures and wonder how in the world we can be a witness to the light of God.
I have to wonder if John felt exactly that same way I suspect he might have been a reluctant witness for God. How much better to live your comfortable life without these annoying interruptions from God.

How are you and I going to respond? Some of us may be tempted to argue with God. Something along the lines of “Lord can’t I just go to church and support the church? Isn’t that enough God?” Perhaps our response will be that of Moses or Jonah. Basically a "not me Lord! Are you crazy God?" No one will listen to me Lord. Moses thought he didn’t speak well enough. Any excuse. How many excuses do we have for God?
Our initial desire to say no to the call of God in our life needs to be changed to a yes. We need to decide to respond like Samuel, saying "speak lord, for your servant is listening", then what?

How do we fulfill our commission to be a witness to testifying about Jesus? I think many peoples greatest fear is that we will have to go door to door to strangers like the Mormon's or the Jehovah Witnesses. Or do we have to pay an annual Temple assessment as in the Jewish tradition? Or do we try and keep it a secret like the Episcopal tradition?

Well we don't have to do it any particular way. One approach will not fit every circumstance and every need. Fortunately we don't even have to dress up in uncomfortable clothing and eat grass hoppers like John. But we do need to overcome our fears and anxiety to say yes to God. Sometimes not even really knowing what that yes to God will mean. We need to realize that God chooses us and that God will be with us. In our weakness God’s power is made even more manifest. Paul believed that he could do all things through the power of the strength of God in his life. Do we really believe that?

But one thing we absolutely do have to do is be a witness for God. There is no getting around that call of God in our lives. Each in our own unique way. Each of us as God has called is. It will not be the same. But that way God reaches out to so many other people.

It is our job to announce to others that the Lord is near. Advent can be a challenging and risky time for us. It calls us to evangelism like no other season in the Church year. So let each of us commit to the work of evangelist in our own lives as we respond to the call of God.

Sermon for Christmas Eve, December 25, 2013

Christmas Eve
Year C
December 24, 2012
                         Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7                                     Psalm 96:1-4, 11-12
                           Titus 2:11-14                                          St. Luke 2:1-20   

The lessons for today start off with the light shining on people who have walked in great darkness, those who have been living in a land of deep darkness.  People throughout history have been living in deep darkness.  Just look at the world around us, at the people around us and it is very easy to see.  There are many people in need of a light shining in the darkness of their lives. 
And then the light shines.  My experience has been that nothing is quite a dramatic of the sudden appearance of light in total darkness.  From something as simple of being in a pitch black room and having the lights suddenly turned on – not the best of experiences sometimes.  To being out in the middle of no where when the moon or stars appear.   Light bring hope.  Light brings the potential for change in our lives. 
This opening statement seems just as applicable today as it was thousands of years ago when it was first spoken.   Darkness seems to be all around us.  And that darkness seems to take so many forms.  The recent school shooting in Connecticut is just one recent example.  And while the loss of innocent lives to crazed murders is one very clear example, there are sadly many of them around us.  
There is also spiritual darkness around us.  And I’m not just talking about people not going to church, or being hostile to the Christian faith (sadly many of them have very good reasons for such hostility).  I’m talking about people who claim to be Christians who pervert and twist the very Good News, the light of God that they are called to be a witness of.  I’m talking about people like James Dobson and Mike Huckabee who proclaim that those innocent children and adults slaughtered in Connecticut were slaughtered because God happens to be very pissed at the United States for all gay rights, for supporting the right of women to make choices about their bodies, and for removing prayer or kicking God out of school. 
I wonder just what kind of God it is they believe in who feels that the only way to strike out at apparent wrongs in the country is to murder innocents.  After all if God was really pissed at the gays, I’m sure God is perfectly capable of targeting us directly!  And I don’t even know what to think of people who believe in such a powerless and capricious god.  To me this is totally crazy.  Quite frankly I find these people no better than the crazies from the Westboro Baptist Church.  They are all a stain on Christianity. 
So those of us rather simple people who believe we know something of the true light of God have quite a task set ahead for us.   We need to proclaim the truth of the light of Christ in the world both in word and in our deeds.  As the first words from the reading from Titus state:  “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all…” 
God’s light, the light of the incarnation is available to all.  You don’t have to be born a certain way to receive it.  You don’t have to belong to a particular socio-economic group to receive it.  It is there for all.  It is there for each of us here this evening.  It is there for those absent as well. 
You see, God does not see humanity as many of us tend to see it.  We judge by external factors, those factors primarily being how close others are to what we might be.  Roman catholic scholars have coined the phrase “God’s preferential option for the poor.”  The phrase was developed in response to the obvious demonstration of God’s preference to the power and powerless and disadvantaged. 
The difficult part of our work in spreading the light of God in the world when so many have been driven from any consideration that God might have or even want to be a part of their life.  We have to fight against the evil and unchristian message of people like James Dobson who sadly get coverage of their misguided and wrong ideas of God. 
Quite frankly, I don’t blame people who are not the least interested in what Christianity is about based on the things they hear on the news portraying a most unchristian view of Christianity.  I cringe from some of the things I hear.    It makes our call doubly difficult. 
So what are we to do?   We are celebrating the great event of the incarnation of God in the world.  We are celebrating the coming of the light into the darkness.  We need to share this light to our friend and neighbors.  And it can be done in the simplest of ways.  We do not need a public platform or crowds.  The light of Christ can be shown in everything we do as we live our lives. 
We show it by a simple act of kindness, or a kind word.  We show it every time we look out for and protect those less fortunate than ourselves.  We show it each time we speak a word in defense of those unable to defend themselves. 
It is something that needs to become a part of who and what we are.   While speaking the truth of the light of Christ in the world is very important, it is not nearly as important as each and every one of us living the light of Christ in the world.  That is when it shines most brightly for all those around us.