Sunday, May 29, 2005

all other ground is sinking sand

In the name of Jesus; amen.

Many of you know that the church I served before coming here was at the Jersey Shore. The church building was located 1 ½ blocks from the beach so sometimes, when I had a chance to take a break, and the weather was nice I would kick off my shoes and take a walk to stick my toes in the ocean. It was certainly a perk of the job. I would stand just where the waves would gently lap my feet and enjoy the view.

The thing about standing in the surf is that no matter how firmly you plant your feet you eventually start to sink into the sand.

Jesus said: 7:21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?' 23 Then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.' 24 "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell--and great was its fall!"
While I loved living so close to the ocean I missed the lack of history at the shore. Nothing was permanent. Few buildings at the shore were over 20 years old because they just didn’t last. The sea air corroded everything and heavy winds and rains eroded everything away. There were no cemeteries at the shore; one either had to go far inland to burry their dead or scatter their ashes at sea.

And the crazy thing is that every year more and more people built homes worth millions of dollars as close as they could to the water’s edge, right on the sand.

Sometimes people build their lives on the sand in hopes of being close to the beauty of the ocean and in the process the beauty they hope to get close to eventually destroys them instead.

The question we have to ask is how firm is our foundation? What materials have we used to build our lives and our community of faith?

Jesus says a very serious thing. He says that not everyone who calls him Lord will be saved. He tells us that only those who do the will of the Father will go to heaven.

It goes against most universalistic sensibilities. In a world of pluralism where we are surrounded by all different kinds of people who worship and believe all different kinds of things most of us only half believe this statement. And as Lutherans, we don’t like the whole “You gotta do something in order to be saved.”

So, at first glance, this text seems troubling and I’ll be honest: Matthew is my least favorite Gospel for just this reason. He will push us, until sometime in November, to examine just what it means to be a believer. For Matthew, faith is active; it requires action, not just some esoteric belief. Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew wants us to do something.

And I think it has to do with history. Now I know that, of the four Gospel writers, Luke is considered the historian. But Matthew was writing his gospel to a Jewish audience and the Jewish people have an appreciation for history. They are constantly reminded in scripture of where they came from; that they were slaves in Egypt and that it was God who rescued them and took them to the Promised Land.

Our first reading begins: “You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.”

The words that God gave them were all about their history of the Exodus out of Egypt and why they should therefore “Love the Lord your God.”

What God had done for them was to be their reason for “loving God, keeping his charge, his decrees, his ordinances, and his commandments always.”

God had built their faith on solid rock, and they were not to forget it.

So what has our faith been built upon? Jesus’ message for us is not much different than the message from Deuteronomy: our faith must be built upon the saving acts of God and acted upon. We can’t just use Jesus’ name and think that’s enough because anyone can say the name of Jesus. It’s like building a home at the shore, right on top of the surf and expecting it to stand forever; it just doesn’t.

Believing in Jesus requires doing more than getting close to the view. Belief in Jesus means knowing about our history of salvation, it means knowing that Jesus came to save us, died to save us, and was resurrected to save us and then living our lives based upon that history.

Matthew is a cautionary gospel. His Jesus denies people without faith; his Jesus sees right into the heart of people and knows if they are striving for the ocean view or if they are striving to love and honor God who saved them.
Some could argue that means that salvation requires more than faith, but loving God and honoring God’s desires for us is faith. We can’t just be Christians by saying that we are Christians. Being a Christian is an action, not an adjective. It’s not a word that describes us like redhead or short and it’s not just a word that describes our character like: nice or helpful. Christian is a word that describes our beliefs and how we act them out.

Christian is a word like Mommy; it requires more than just a biological happenstance. (And those of you who are parents know just what I’m talking about.)

The Good News in Matthew is that God has laid the foundation for us to build upon. God has given us the solid rock on which to be Christians and that is Jesus Christ our Lord.

We may not always get the nicest view, in fact sometimes our rock gets planted in the worst of places, but if we build on it, where God has placed it, nothing will be able to break down our house of faith.

Rains will fall, floods will come, and winds will blow and beat upon us, but upon the solid rock of Christ we will not fall.


Monday, May 16, 2005

four confirmations and a baptism

In the name of Jesus; amen.
There can be no better illustration of what Pentecost is about than what is about to take place in a few minutes when Alissa Marie is brought to the font to be drown in the waters of baptism and born anew of the Spirit of God. There is no better example of what Pentecost is about than having Billy Gullotta, Zachary Linsley, Matthew San Angelo, and Rachel Stone coming forward to reaffirm the promises of their baptism as they are confirmed.
I could sit down right now… and the Word of God would be proclaimed in those rituals that we are about to enact. My job is easy today because Alissa, Billy, Zach, Matthew, and Rachel are so clearly demonstrating what faith in real life is all about. My job is easy today because the Holy Spirit is speaking through these young people with such clarity that there can be no mistaking the message.
Pentecost, the day when we give thanks to God for sending us the Holy Spirit, is a day of baptism and remembering our baptisms. Pentecost, the day that God put his presence into us like fire, is a day of baptism. Thanks be to God.
And baptism is meant to burn in us like fire; fire that erupts right out of us igniting our whole selves and those around us. Alissa, your family is about to bring you to water that is meant to set you on fire and burn within you your whole life long.
It is the fire of God meant to root you in the Word of God: the Holy Scriptures, the Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer.
It is the fire of God which is meant to blow through you like a mighty violent wind to all the places that you are meant to go.
It is the fire of God which is meant to wash you clean from sin and all that threatens to separate you from the love of God.
Alissa, your baptism is a proclamation of what God does to us; how God gets deep down into us and does not let us go.
Billy, Zach, Matt, and Rachel… this is what you are affirming today. The fire that was lit in you the day you were brought to the waters of your baptism is still burning in you. It is the fire of God that stirs in you a desire to seek wisdom and understanding of the things of God. It is the fire of God which offers you counsel and might as you grow in the world. It is the fire of God which brings you to knowing God, fearing God and finding joy in all of it.
This thing that you are doing today, this reaffirmation of your baptism, this confirmation of your faith in God, is fulfillment of what the prophet Joel wrote:
Acts 2:17 'In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
2:18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
2:19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
2:20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day.
2:21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'
Billy, Zach, Matt, and Rachel what you are doing today is a proclamation of what God does to us; how God gets deep down into us and does not let us go.
These young people, these five souls define our life of faith because the fire of faith is lit through these waters and each time another person is brought to baptism or prompted to affirm their baptism the fire of faith burns brighter in the community of faith.
They are the Word of God today, the message we proclaim, because they remind us all of how God’s grace is active in each one of us. Alissa comes to this font today because her family has brought her here and they want her to know God and to grow in love for him.
And Billy, Zach, Matt, and Rachel are here because their families brought them to the font and encouraged them to grow with love for God.
God’s love and a desire to know God is meant to spread like wild fire through our hearts and into the hearts of others. It is meant to catch, not be contained. It is meant to explode out of us and affect others.
When the day of Pentecost first came the disciples were so filled with God’s love that it shot up out of them. And it made such a noise that a crowd gathered to see what was happening.
The Holy Spirit is not a gentle breeze, but a rush of violent wind that blows us into the world to be a proclamation of God’s grace and God’s love. It is meant to propel us through life with a burning to share what we have received, through baptism, with others.
Do not try to quench this fire in yourself or in others, let it power you like fuel for the life that God has given you.
Alissa, Billy, Zach, Matt, Rachel and all the rest of us gathered here, we should burn with God’s fire and God’s love and let it light up the world.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Ascension and Mother's Day

In the name of Jesus; amen.

There is an African American Spiritual that goes like this:

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Long way from my home
Sometimes I wish I could fly
Like a bird up in the sky
Oh, sometimes I wish I could fly
Fly like a bird up in the sky
Sometimes I wish I could fly
Like a bird up in the sky
Closer to my home

Motherless children have a hard time
Motherless children have-a such a hard time
Motherless children have such a really hard time
A long way from home

Sometimes I feel like freedom is near
Sometimes I feel like freedom is here
Sometimes I feel like freedom is so near
But we're so far from home

As the disciples were watching, Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

My image of this story is a bit humorous. There is Jesus, resurrected, still trying to explain the ways of God to the disciples. But, like children on a long car ride, once again they ask the question: “Are we there yet?” And just as Jesus was telling them, “No, not yet” he is pulled up into the sky by a cloud, leaving them to stare blankly heavenward until two men (angels) come and stand with them.

“What ‘cha looking at?” The men / angels ask.
I picture the angels looking up at the clouds then shaking their heads. “Don’t you get it yet?” they ask, looking at the disciples, “God is, as God is… now go on, go back to work, he’ll be back when it’s time.”

The Ascension is an odd time in the history of the Church. Luke tells us at the very beginning of the Book of Acts that Jesus spent 40 days with the disciples after his resurrection before he is taken up into heaven. For the disciples it is the in-between time of Jesus being lifted up and the Holy Spirit coming down. We celebrated Ascension last Thursday and Pentecost, when we celebrate the coming of the Spirit, is next Sunday. Jesus leaves and 10 days later the Spirit shows up.

Now, just play along with me. Some of you are parents. Some of you are not, but maybe you remember being young yourself. And some of you are young right now.

What parent, in their right mind, leaves their children on their own for 10 whole days?

I remember finally being old enough for my parents to go away over night and leave my brother and me alone to fend for ourselves. And while I never threw any of “those” kinds of parties when my parents went away, I certainly attended some that were at the homes of friends when their parents went away and I can tell you things happened at those parties.

There was such potential for things to fall apart in that in-between time. The disciples were like motherless children left alone to mind themselves. There was no Jesus, no rabbi, no teacher to keep them on the path, explain things to them, remind them of the ways of God. Their faith was only 3 years old… they were barely out of their toddler years.

And the Spirit hadn’t yet arrived. Who would care for this bunch, make sure they ate their vegetables, or went to bed at a decent hour?

My mother would often joke that by the time I was 4 there was nothing left she could do for me. I had become my own person and she just had to trust that she had taught me what was best and that I had been paying attention.
The potential for disaster during that in-between time was great and yet Jesus turned out to be a good mother because the disciples learned and then implemented the lessons that Jesus had taught them because the moment that they were left on their own they turned to prayer.

“Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.”

They devoted themselves to prayer, constantly. In that time in-between, when they were left motherless… they turned to prayer.

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Long way from my home
Sometimes I wish I could fly
Like a bird up in the sky
Oh, sometimes I wish I could fly
Fly like a bird up in the sky
Sometimes I wish I could fly
Like a bird up in the sky
Closer to my home

We live in an in-between time. The Spirit has come to live with us, but we continue to wait for Christ to come again. And in this time of in-between, the potential for stuff we don’t want to happen happens. The potential for us to feel motherless, to yearn for home and safety and security, to wish for freedom that will take us beyond our fears and pains… oh the potential for that is so great.

But Jesus has taught us how to pray, to fold our hands and bow our heads and talk to God, to cry out to him like a child cries out to a parent. We should devote ourselves to this lesson like children devote themselves to their ABC’s and 123’s, not because we are alone, but because God is with us and prayer only makes that more apparent.

God, who is in heaven, is also God with us. We do not need to stare up into the sky and wonder where he has gone or when he is coming back. So, go on now, get back to the work of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. God is as God is and God is love.


"and vivian followed."

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