Pastor Roy's Sermons

October 2018

October 28 -A Reforming Church

Today is reformation Sunday and on this Sunday every year we recall that the church is constantly reforming. There has never been a time nor will there ever be a time when the church does not need to listen for the Spirit inviting it to humble itself and open itself to listen for God’s call in new faithful directions. We as congregations and denominations repent of our failure to love those who seem just too different, too needy, too untrustworthy, or too sinful to welcome. Jesus welcomed all who were hungry for the love of God. He made the respectable people feel very uncomfortable even as he made the hungry people feel loved, noticed for perhaps the first time in their lives. This is the good news. Those who are hungry are fed by the mercy of God, day by day. True confession, whatever we have to confess, gets us in touch with the love of Jesus.
Martin Luther, imperfect child of God that he was, welcomed peasants who had felt valued only for their meager contributions to the Church. He welcomed them by giving them the Bible in their own language. He welcomed them by teaching them about the grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Pure love. Pure grace. Pure freedom. As he renewed the church with a fresh welcome, many respectable church leaders felt very uncomfortable. They worried that welcoming the masses would defile the church. They had forgotten that Jesus loved those who felt worthless, those who had given up on their own self value. They were trapped because they were out of touch with Jesus’ love—their complicated rules and traditions made love just beyond anyone’s reach.
Two thousand years before Luther, Jeremiah, the Jewish prophet, is calling the Jews back to God. Jeremiah dreams of a time when everyone will personally know God. The people of Jeremiah and Luther’s day are pretty much the same. Peasants felt hopelessly removed from God and were not welcomed in synagogue or church, those with land and wealth felt nothing but a social concern for the abundant love of God. It’s hard to trust God deeply when one’s trust is in other things.
Perhaps this is why the Psalmist invites all to find God both as refuge and strength. To find God in rest and stillness. The Good News is that all people can know God because God is present to be known to those who still themselves and listen. It’s quite simple. Sometimes our theology makes stillness complicated. Regardless, Jesus is still calling us, as Jeremiah, as Luther—to be still and rest in God’s abundant, unconditional love.
Paul preaches Jesus as the ultimate message of God’s grace and mercy. Nothing else matters for Paul. He believes in forgiveness of sins and the love of God because he has found these in Jesus like he never found them in the law and traditions. The meaning of his life is summed up in following Jesus and serving as Jesus served and loved.
Then John comes along after Paul and reminds his congregation that Jesus’ word, Jesus’ Way reveals the truth which sets us free. To know the love and life of Jesus is to be set free. You will know the truth and the truth will set you free. The truth is the unconditional love of God and invitation to live in that love. For Christians our savior in love is Jesus Christ.
Where is Jesus today? How is Jesus calling the church to l love with abandon, to welcome those who despair? How is Jesus calling us to give up our mad attempts to be respectable in our own eyes, to be comfortable, to follow the shortcuts others have paved to God?
Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.
Thanks be to God for this unending love which gives us life and sets us free. Amen.

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October 21- Leadership by service

What makes a good leader? Does it matter how a leader gets things done? Does process affect outcome? Have you ever worked for someone who used intimidation and manipulation to get things done? Does that kind of leadership inspire us? Or is it a cheap short cut? As desired as immediate results might be, what are the side-affects of anxiety, fear-prone people? And on the other hand, what is the benefit of compassion and concern for another beyond whether or not I get exactly what I want and when I want it?
Jesus took his leadership cues from Isaiah’s servant Psalms. That is likely the reason we see so much of Jesus in Isaiah 53. It was part of his playbook for ministry. We might think of Jesus receiving his call from God right after he was baptized in the Jordan by John, but I believe he received his call as he listened to the scrolls read in nearby synagogues. Jesus went into ministry with his eyes open. He was not expecting to be taken care of, but to take care of those before him. He was not expecting to be served but to serve. And he was expecting to suffer under the weight of the needs of his people. He came to discover the freedom of consecration to God in service to God’s people. Difficulty was no surprise.
All of us probably at some point are tempted to take advantage of any power we have, to trust in power. Sometimes we even think of God mainly in terms of power rather than in terms of the One who provides, loves, supports, and is present without exception or limitation.
Jesus did not live and die a life of sacrifice and consecration because he knew he was on the winning team in the end. He so lived and died because he knew that was the nature of God. He forsook the greedy power mongers of his day and embraced those they rejected and despised—the sick, women, traditional sinners, and the poor in general. He was deeply in touch with God and knew that no other life was worth living or dying for. Listen to Isaiah 53:4-10: Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the LORD shall prosper. Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53 does not speak exclusively of Jesus. This and the other servant Psalms in Isaiah speak of all good leaders among God’s children. If we make Isaiah 53 a prophesy of Jesus alone, then we may lose sight of the fact that this passage also tells us about the nature of God who calls the prophet, the leader, the servant. We also might miss that this chapter is an important playbook for every servant in the church.
Also, when we feel the things that Jesus felt in his life and in his death we might feel like failures, but the opposite is true, to serve in love is to suffer, to be uncertain; but faith is listening for God’s presence to lead and guide into peace.
Serving is a tricky thing. Faith does not assure us that we will never err. Quite the opposite, faith gives us courage to err, to take chances for God’s love and mercy. To occasionally or maybe quite often look like a fool. To fall down and to rise up. To be uncertain, but to continue on, led by the Spirit of Love, not power, not might; but compassionate love. Beginning with prayer God has us by the hand, and ultimately the results are in God’s hands, not ours. May we rediscover the freedom and joy of serving as Christ served, with the Spirit of Christ’s love leading us today. Amen.

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October 14-Freedom to truly live

A man with many possessions asks Jesus how he can inherit eternal life. Another way of translating “eternal life” is “life of the ages.” The life of eternity. He is asking, “How can I truly live, and for all time?” Jesus reminds him of the commandments--which he has taken seriously and kept. Jesus then tells him to give his many possessions to the poor and follow him. Mind you, Jesus does not tell him to give his money to Jesus, but to the poor. By doing that he would be giving with perfect freedom and no strings attached—he would gain no advantage over anyone by his generosity. But he just can’t do it.
He walks away sad and weighed down with responsibility. He isn’t a bad person, he is a good person. The Gospels reveal that Jesus loved freely, but this passage comes right out and says that Jesus loved him. It’s as if Jesus knows this man can be a great kingdom person—living in full joy. He knows what would happen if this man were to put all of his energy into following Jesus—to proclaim the good news in word and action. Perhaps he could also tell that this man would truly benefit from letting go of the responsibility of all that stuff. He could do better with his life.
But the man probably felt it would be irresponsible to behave as Jesus asks him to behave. He has this responsibility to mind the stuff that he has inherited. That is his family responsibility. Perhaps he had a wife and children? How could he do that? It was his job. Either way, he doesn’t feel free to give away the wealth passed down from his father and grandfather. In Jesus’ day wealth was either inherited or stolen. That’s why tax collectors were despised, they got rich over and above what they collected for Rome.
It appears Jesus has a different agenda than the man. He and his disciples sacrificed. And we know virtually nothing about their families.
This man will spend the rest of his life taking care of stuff that will outlive him. If we truly listen to this encounter, our lives can be changed. We might think of this passage as a test of the man’s willingness to give up all for God. A test of his highest priority. But Jesus doesn’t seem interested in theoretical tests here or asking everyone to do the same thing.
He wants this man to be free. He wants the very best for him. He is so close. And he walks away. I don’t think today’s gospel is asking us all to take vows of poverty. Jesus holds the door of freedom open for the man with much stuff, he looks down the hallway longingly, to taste this freedom Jesus offers, but he just can’t step through. Such sadness as he walks away. Such potential for freedom and friendship.
I think this lesson is inviting us to also look through the door of freedom and to ask questions. This is prayer. To still ourselves, and listen to the Spirit speaking. What prevents me from being faithfully free? How much energy do I invest in outcomes that I will never control, but live as if do?
How shall I invest my life? What are my gifts and opportunities? What are my assumptions about what is best for myself and my family? What would it feel like to be free of unnecessary burdens and control? The true answers to these questions can only come from prayer. Silence and conversation with God. Listening with faith. Free to make mistakes and find grace along the way. God is calling us to freedom and mercy. Will we step through the door of prayer and follow anew the path of freedom and generosity into which God is calling us?
Thanks be to God.

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October 7 Hard vs. tender hearted faith

Mark contrasts two of Jesus’ teachings in today’s gospel reading. Jesus’ opponents try to stump him with the law on divorce. Jesus does not deny the law but reminds them that one who seeks to abuse and oppress a spouse through divorce is violating the law of God’s peace and justice rather than living in it. Divorce is a tragedy, not an opportunity. Jesus is pointing out that law helps guide us in faithfulness. It appears that some treated the Law in the Old Testament like we do tax law today. The better you know it, the more advantage you have, the less taxes you pay, especially if you have plenty. The religious leaders had turned the law into a point of advantage over others. Jesus’ words about divorce and adultery are quite realistic and reflect the deep pain of divorce. Though Jesus mentions men and women, Jesus’ main focus is on men because in his day, they had the most power and legal advantage over women. It is often still true today.
Jesus invites us to take a long look at the hard heart. Part of repenting and believing in the good news is openness and honesty about ourselves. How is my heart hardened and cynical?
Then he brings in the lesson of the child for contrast. Sure, children are smart, and when they see an opportunity, they can work it to their advantage. But children are open, they are learning, they are listening to and watching everyone around them and still forming opinions. Children tend to be more trusting, not cynical. Meanwhile, adults tend to have very complicated and hard to pin down reasons for liking certain people and disliking others, or any decision that we make. It’s complicated. Children tend to be pretty straightforward when they make judgments. They are also often filled with wonder. They haven’t yet learned to ignore the beauty and amazing details of this planet and universe.
This is one of those teachings that we all should probably sit with for a while. To allow the example of children to lodge in our heads and ferment. How am I like a child? How might I become more open, more listening, more welcoming, less convinced that “the other people” are wrong and I and mine are right? I’m not saying it’s easy, but necessary if we would like to be free with a growing edge as Jesus calls us by these teachings.
Put simply, another way of putting this lesson in contrasts is that Jesus and Mark are showing us a standard of emotional and spiritual health. Are we open or closed to God and life? Have we already decided what needs to happen for us to be satisfied? Are we listening and watching for new revelations, new experiences, new opportunities to live into the love of God?
Change is all around us. But so is opportunity. May we greet change as opportunity. Not with anxious weariness, but with childlike wonder in the ever new promise of the life and eternal presence of God? Amen.

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