Extraordianary

First Sunday of Advent

November 27, 2016                                                                                                           Extraordinary

 

O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

 

1.

Last Sunday a few of us at Prince of Peace attended the Interfaith Luncheon sponsored by our neighbors at the Institute of Islamic Studies.  Over three hundred people filled the banquet hall at St. David the King Roman Catholic Church.

It was a diverse gathering.  Our Muslim hosts welcomed Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and Hindus.  I think every religious body in our community was there.  In addition there were politicians, business leaders, police, and school administrators.   Our local mosque was able to gather our community like no other event I know of.

It was extraordinary.

 

2.

The theme of the luncheon was: “Celebrate Mercy, Compassion, and Love.”  Under that theme tables were asked to engage in conversation.  Faith communities were intentionally assigned to different tables to encourage fellowship with those of a different creed.  Our table had Lutherans, Presbyterians, Muslims, and Hindus.  How often does this happen in our world?

I was the facilitator.  At first conversation was awkward.  Though neighbors, we were still strangers.  But as we grew comfortable, our conversation became honest.

Two of the couples at our table lived in Skillman.  One was Muslim.  The other Hindu.  They both expressed their fear of the last two weeks, and the response of some to the results of the presidential election.  Both couple’s children had been harassed at school.  Though the children were born in this country, though the families were American citizens,  and though they had been attending their school for years; since the election, some of their classmates were embolden to tell these children to “go back to where they came from.”

Samira, the Muslim mother, is surprised by all of this.  They had never experienced any discrimination or harassment until last week.  She told us, “I was always proud how our community seemed to respect and honor the diversity.”

But now they are afraid.  She wonders what it means to now be a Muslim in this country.

 

3.

As the one wearing the clerical collar, I sensed the table looked to me to respond.  I felt somewhat inadequate.  I also was surprised and disturbed that these incidents happened so close to home.   I emphasized the importance of the luncheon and the support these families received from us.  I promised to take this story back to our Ministerium where we would seek a unified voice in condemning such acts.

The families appreciated my words, but I don’t think it made them feel any safer.  Though I was heartened after lunch when Samira thanked me and offered her contact information, inviting me and our congregation to grow the seeds of friendship that had been sown.

I was so grateful for this gesture, that in light of everything swirling around us on the national stage; locally, those of us around that table can still seek common ground and support those feeling most vulnerable in these days.

These are extraordinary times.

 

4.

Appropriate, I think, that today is the first Sunday of Advent; because this is a season that breaks the ordinary.

We share the Revised Common Lectionary with the Roman Catholic Church, but we name the Sundays differently.  While Lutherans call the Sundays of summer and fall the “Sundays after Pentecost,” the Roman Catholic Church calls them the “Sundays of Ordinary Time.”

After incarnation, after resurrection; the Sundays in July through November become ordinary.

But this morning Lutherans and the Catholics agree that today is the “First Sunday of Advent.”  Once again the church calendar points us in the direction of the incarnation; of God again breaking into our world and becoming one of us.

Maybe we all should name this Sunday the “1st Sunday of Extraordinary Time.”

 

5.

Our Isaiah text this morning is extraordinary.

The prophet says:

In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.

And from that mountain comes the instruction:

God shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares; and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

 

These words of Isaiah inspired great works of art, but the problem is that we can’t take him seriously.  It’s because most of us most of the time are still living in ordinary time.  Ordinary time is real time, actual time.  It is the time we experience now.  And in this time, hate and aggression towards those who are different, has bubbled to the surface.  It is the time of what I heard at the Interfaith Luncheon.  It is the time of fear.

In ordinary time we might wonder how peace stands a chance?  It is all too clear how swords and spears continue to proliferate.  In ordinary time these words of Isaiah seem almost absurd.  Experience teaches us, “this will never happen.”

 

6.

But this is why we come to church today.

On this first Sunday of Advent ordinary time has been taken over by God’s time, and the words of the prophet call people of faith to live it’s vision.

Ralph Klein, professor of Old Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, says that God’s time is not linear.  We are not progressing towards to some future ideal, where if we just give it another generation or two, all will be well.  Ordinary time we will never arrive to the vision Isaiah offers.  Instead, Klein says, God’s time breaks ordinary time, where Isaiah’s vision rushes in, to transform us, and invites us to live, today in Isaiah’s vision.

We can’t prevent the racism and Islamaphobia being unleashed within our community.  It is the reality of living in ordinary time.

But as people of faith we can allow God’s future to rush in and transform our life today; where at least we as people of faith can seek to beat our swords into plowshares, and our spears into pruning hooks.

 

Barbara Lundblat, retired professor from Union Seminary in New York, speaks about reading this biblical vision backwards.  She says Isaiah is not a Pollyanna prophet, reciting poetry that doesn’t deal with reality.  No, Isaiah proclaims the truth of God’s intent.  And while we are still burdened by aggression and violence, the readers of Isaiah are invited to embrace his vision, to take the instruction that comes from the mountain of the Lord, and to shape our weapons of destruction into instruments of agriculture that contribute to the abundant harvest.

O house of Jacob come, let us walk in the light of the Lord, today!

 

7.

I am challenged to walk in this light, as I seek to respond to my neighbors who sat around the table last Sunday afternoon.

There are dark forces unleashed in this world that I can’t push back into a bottle.  But I can promise as a person of faith in Jesus Christ, to embrace the vision Isaiah sets forth, and to commit walking in that path.

On this first Sunday of Advent the cycle of ordinary time is broken.  Now we are living in extraordinary times.  God’s future is rushing in.  The Christ Child is transforming how we live.

Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

 

 

Amen

Thanksgiving Message

Thanksgiving Service                                                                                                               

November 20, 2016

 

So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.

Dear friends, grace, mercy, and peace be with you all.  Amen

 

1.

I do not take for granted where I stand tonight.

A Lutheran pastor,  in the pulpit of our neighboring Jewish congregation.

I’ve been invited,  welcomed, and honored to preach among this diverse gathering.

Picture those places around the world where such an event would be prohibited, perhaps even threatening.

I give God thanks for this community  that respects diversity and welcomes me and all of us to this house of prayer.

 

I do not take for granted the luncheon  that I, and some of you, attended earlier today.

A luncheon hosted by our neighbors at the Institute of Islamic Studies.

I stand in awe that the faith communities in our home, can gather in a Roman Catholic parish, break bread, seek common ground,  and honor what we all bring to the table.

Picture those places not far from here, where people of religious faith seek no understanding of those who are different, and at times even feel emboldened to spout hate and fear against those of a different creed.

I give God thanks for the Institute of Islamic Studies, for their invitation,  and for all who gathered this afternoon, to seek our common heritage as the children of Abraham.

 

Finally I do not take for granted our country  that grants us the privilege to vote, though I needed to be reminded of this on election day.

I woke that morning concerned about the contentious election cycle.  But I had little concern about casting my ballot.

I only wondered if there would be a line at the polls.

Later that day I was reminded of the privilege we hold as Americans.

Prince of Peace is a polling station.

People flowed in and out of our church all day.

But I was struck by one family.

After their vote, they gathered outside the door,  by the “Vote Here” sign,  and together in front of the American flag, they took a selfie.

I saw the exact same scene outside the municipal building  as I drove to the post office later that afternoon.

By the look of these families,  I’d say they were first generation citizens.

And by the smiles on their faces,  I’d say this election was less about the candidates,  and more about their privilege to vote.

I hold on to these two scenes post election.

While I’ve heard a few voices say that they are ashamed to be an American,  we need to remember that whatever the rancor of the campaign, or the result of the election  we still must be thankful for our privilege to vote.

 

2.

As we turn to the Deuteronomy text this evening,  it is clear that thankfulness  involves more than just a verbal acknowledgement,  some action is called for.

For Moses it is first fruit giving.

He reminds the people that as they inherit the land,  and enjoy the abundance of the harvest;  the people are to take the first fruit of that harvest,  and offer it back to God.

Moses instructs the people to say:

So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.

Thankfulness involves an offering.

 

Our Lutheran stewardship emphasizes that we do not give God only our leftovers.

No, we give God the first harvest.   And believe that God will provide enough to live on with the second.

Thanksgiving is an act of faith.   The faith of first fruits giving.

 

3.

In Deuteronomy these first fruits  are just that,  fruit and vegetables.

In our faith communities,  these first fruits are dollars.

Our offerings come from our financial resources.

But I wonder tonight if I can expand our understanding of first fruits giving.

 

Our Christian tradition speaks of the fruit of the spirit.

From Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

Whatever our faith tradition,  I wonder if the fruit of the spirit can be our offering tonight.

Blessed by our diversity,  blessed by our ecumenical spirit,  and blessed by our democracy;  we can take this abundance,  and offer to God the first fruits.

Where there is hate, we offer love.  Where there is despair, we offer joy.   Where there is violence, peace.    Where there is anxiety, patience.   When people are mean, we are kind.   When people are harsh,  we are gentle.   When resources are scarce,  w are generous.   here there is a lack of faith,  we offer faithfulness.   And when there is a lack of basic civility, we offer self control.

We come tonight as thankful people.

But as we thank,  we act,  offering not just the leftovers of our blessings.

We offer our first fruits, for the sake of the world.

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

Bold Inviting

22nd Sunday after Pentecost
October 16, 2016
GO

I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.

1.
In Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town, a young woman, Emily, died during childbirth. In one scene, town folk gather in the local cemetery for her funeral, but Emily is not quite ready to depart this world. She convinces the Stage Manager, who is a kind of Godlike figure, to go back to her life for one last earthly experience.
She chooses her 12th birthday party. Expecting joy, Emily feels only pain, because she now sees life from the perspective of her death. She can’t understand how everyone at that birthday party seems to take life for granted. At the close of the scene Emily laments:
“Oh earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you! Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?”
With that the Stage Manager answers:
“No.” He then pauses and adds: “The saints and the poets, maybe they do, some.”

2.
Tom Long in his commentary on 2 Timothy writes: “When we look at life from the end, what counts changes. The town folk in Our Town, caught in the swirl of life, could not appreciate what really counts.”
But as the Stage Manager comments, “maybe the saints do.”
Why would that be? Why would people of faith understand what really counts? It’s because we have a story. We have a story that matters. We have a story that touches heaven with earth.

If you back up in 2 Timothy from our lesson this morning, the writer of this letter shares with Timothy other stories that are being told in Timothy’s day. In 2 Timothy 3 Paul writes about people who have become lovers of themselves and lovers of money. He talks about the all of the boasters in the world, the arrogant, the abusive, the disobedient. He talks of those who are lovers of pleasure as opposed to those who are lovers of God.
This is what happens when we let the stories of this world dominate, and drown out the story of Jesus. Now in our lesson this morning the writer of 2 Timothy warns his student:
For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.

3.
So many stories of our day tempt us to turn away from the truth and wander away into myths.
One dominant story being told today is that our identity is revealed through brand loyalty. We are what we buy.
Listen to car commercials. They no longer tell us how well the car is manufactured. Instead, they tell us what kind of person we will be when we buy their car.
I’m struck by Subaru commercials because I drive a Subaru. These commercials tell me that I am an outdoors person, a progressive, someone concerned for others and the world.
Maybe these ads work. I’m struck every time I drive Hannah to adoption camp. All the parents dropping their children off have something in common. Despite the obvious. I’m struck by how many Subaru’s. I never see that many Subaru’s in one place.
It’s a part of our story. My car tells me who I am, never mind that I had to stick $1100 into my Subaru this week.

The writer to Timothy speaks about people having “itching ears.” “Itching ears” listen to stories that we want to hear. Stories that suit our own desires. Stories that often come into direct conflict with the story of Jesus.
We listen to the dominant stories of our world that tell us:
“you are not enough” “you should be afraid”
“winning is everything”
But the questions that needs to be asked is, are these stories sufficient? Do these stories speak to our deepest needs and concerns? Or do they leave us searching?
Like the town folk in Our Town, do we fail to see the wonder of the earth? Do we fail to see what truly matters? Do we take life for granted?

4.
As people of faith we have a better story! The Christian story tells us that through our baptism we are told that we are not known by the car we drive, we are known as a beloved child of God. Hence, our story in Jesus Christ tells us that we are more than enough. Our lives are of such value that Jesus was willing to die for us.
And when we truly believe this story, a story that speaks to resurrection, a story that speaks to a power stronger than death, we need not be afraid of losing. In fact, we need not be afraid, period!
Again and again our story tells us in both the Old Testament and the New, “Be not afraid.”

5.
This morning Paul instructs Timothy to draw on his reservoir of faith. It’s the very first verse of the lesson this morning:
Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.
Paul reminds Timothy of his grandmother Lois, and his mother Eunice you have taught him the faith. He calls on Timothy to remember the lessons Paul has taught. He tells Timothy to remember the Christian story, so that in the midst of all the other stories being told, stories that are life draining, Timothy may draw on the reservoir of faith, and invite others into this faith, boldly.
I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.
To be persistent is to be bold.
6.
Bold Inviting
We talk about being a welcoming church. We talk about hospitality. This is important, but if you think about this it’s about being passive. We can be the most welcoming church in the world, but we’re still dependent on others coming to us.
Inviting is bolder, because inviting is active. It entails going out.
I read this week that two thirds of the word God is Go! Perhaps that should entail two thirds of our work as the church. We need to Go. We need to take our story out to where we live and boldly invite others into the Christian story. So that along with Saints we get it. We draw on our reservoirs of faith, and boldly invite others into the story of our Christian faith.

Home Depot, Wawa, or Someplace Else?

7th Sunday after Pentecost                                                                                                             July 3, 2016                                                                                                                                          The Home Depot?  Wawa?  Or someplace else?

The harvest is plentiful , but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

 

1.

The church talks a lot about hospitality; and rightfully so.  We want to make sure we are a welcome place.  We want to be a good host for the stranger.  We see this as our mission.

But the gospel this morning reverses this emphasis on the church  being a good host, to the church being a good guest.

Of course, if you are a guest, you’ve been sent away from home.  If the church is a good guest, we’ve be sent away from our home, our building.

God doesn’t reap the harvest at home, he reaps it out in the fields.

Maybe we emphasize hospitality at the expense of apostleship.  An apostle, is one who is sent out.

 

2.

St. John’s Lutheran Church in Passaic sought to be more inviting to the immigrant community surrounding their church.  On Easter Sunday they made a concentrated effort to welcome this community with an Easter breakfast.

They put all their eggs into one basket.  They posted invitations on Facebook.  They posted flyers all around the neighborhood.  They placed a big sign on their front yard.  They invited neighbors, friends, and family.

They prepared a feast, working hard to be good hosts.

But guess how many neighbors showed up?  One

Obviously the congregation was dejected.

They also had a problem.  What to do with all the food?

But then someone said, why don’t we take it to the Home Depot parking lot, there’s all these day laborers hanging around.

So a group from St. John’s left their church, and took all the food to where the people were.  They were welcomed.  There was no food left.  A relationship was formed.

 

I don’t know if anyone took bread and wine to the Home Depot parking lot on that  Easter Sunday, but they do now.  In fact every Sunday St. John’s holds a worship service in the Home Depot parking lot for the day laborers.  St. John’s Lutheran Church in Passaic has learned what it means to be sent out, and to be a guest.

 

3.

This is a hard lesson to learn.  The pattern for the church has always been, build a building and wait for people to come.

But this certainly is not the instruction we hear in our gospel this morning.  The Christian faith is about being sent out.

It begins in chapter 9 of Luke.  Jesus starts with his disciples.

The Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God.

Jesus and the disciples didn’t hang around the temple waiting for people to come.

Now in our gospel the mission is expanding.  It’s not the 12 sent out but the 70!

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town he intended to go.

As important as it is to be a gracious host, the gospel this morning is more about being a faithful guest.

 

4.

Christians are sent out.  We’re sent out to speak a word of peace.  We’re sent out to cure the sick.  We’re sent out ahead of Jesus to witness to his presence.

And take note, it’s not easy.

I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.

And it gets harder.  When we travel we prepare.  We all complain about the baggage fees the airlines charge.

But Jesus says, with this mission take nothing with you.

Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals.

To be a guest means to be totally dependent on your host.

 

St. John’s does take breakfast to the Home Depot parking lot, still they catch the spirit of this lesson, as they learn to become vulnerable on another’s turf.

And for them it’s worked.  We’re all inspired by this story.

But as our gospel continues, we see it’s not always this easy.

 

5.

Jesus prepares the 70 for rejection.  Some hosts are not so kind.

It happened to the 12 in chapter 9.

As Jesus and the disciples go on their way to Jerusalem they enter a Samaritan village, and we are told that the Samaritans did not receive them.

This was our gospel last Sunday.  Do you remember James and John’s reaction?

Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?

This is not an example on how to be a good guest.

What does Jesus tell the 70 this morning about rejection?

Shake the dust off your shoes, a symbolic action that says, “we can see we’re not welcome here.”

It’s okay.  Apostleship is not all success.  Often there is failure.  Not everyone is receptive to the gospel.

But Jesus says, don’t seek to destroy the ungracious host.  Just shake the dust off your feet and move on.

 

6.

And so we go, but where?

It’s hard to plan mission, but it’s important to be ready.

 

Across the street from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia is a Wawa.  Some of my colleagues who are graduates of the seminary, bemoan the fact that it seems the Wawa is better known in the neighborhood than the seminary, despite the fact that the seminary has been there since 1864.  As they describe the location on Germantown Avenue in Mount Airy, people often say, “Oh, it’s by the Wawa.”

The seminary could resent this, or they could be sent out as apostles, even if it is only across the street.

Recently the Wawa experienced a robbery.  Thankfully no one was hurt, but understandably the staff was disturbed.  In response students from the seminary who frequent the store, offered a prayer service.

The people at Wawa said “please.”  So the students and faculty crossed the street, they took nothing with them, they entered as guests, witnessed to Jesus and prayed for peace.

 

We’re not asked to go very far, or to do anything heroic.  We’re just asked to be willing to go.  To be who we are.  To do what we do.  To pray, to worship, to feed, to witness.

 

We still need the church.  We need a place for the community to gather; to hear God’s word and to share in God’s sacraments.

But the call of the faith is to go, to be sent, to be a guest who offers Jesus in places that might not know him.

I don’t know exactly where we’re being sent; the Home Depot?  Wawa?  But I do know that our gospel this morning equips us to be ready.

Amen

 

Pastoral Response to Conversation With Pastor

Pastoral Response to Conversations with Pastor

This past winter I made the commitment to engage the congregation in conversation.  I visited a total of 50 members representing 33 families.

The initial motivation was based on our budget shortfall.  I wanted to know what the congregation was thinking.  But I heard little financial talk.  Instead, I heard a desire for Prince of Peace to connect.  Yes, I heard stories that helped me better understand our present situation.  And I certainly got to better know the congregation.  But most importantly, these conversations were about connections, especially the connection between pastor and people.

We are developing a growing partnership that is building trust, and helping us traverse our rapidly changing church landscape.  Walking up the sidewalk to the Urbaneks for dinner one night I thought to myself, “this is really old fashioned.”  The pastor never comes over for dinner anymore.  People are way to busy.  But these visits convinced me that people still do want to meet, people still value this relationship, and people still want to work together with the pastor to help this congregation thrive.

I’ll continue to be in conversation.  Whether we break bread, drink coffee, have a beer, or just talk; these visits will strengthen our bond, and help us work together to be vital.

Thank you for inviting me into your homes, into conversation, and into this developing relationship we share.

So what did I learn?

During my council interview Bob Durie shared Prince of Peace’s deficit for that year, 2013, at $80,000.  Bishop Bartholomew, then Assistant to the Bishop, said that she was surprised I didn’t fall off my chair when I heard the amount.  I was a bit taken aback, but attributed the deficit to the vacancy.  With a pastor in place, the deficit would become manageable.                                                                                                                                    I was naive.  Looking back I didn’t appreciate how tenuous the financial situation was at Prince of  Peace.                                                                                                                                              The pastoral vacancy took its toll.   It was long.  Some left.  The church took a financial hit.  Many extended themselves to keep ministry happening.  But after I arrived, many were burnt out and ready for a  break.

Combine this with the general decline in the church at large, and we can see that Prince of Peace’s struggles were a kind of perfect storm.

Despite this, the mood of the congregation remains positive.  We are hopeful about our future.  We look forward to attracting new people and new ministries.  And we realize we are currently experiencing a “holy discomfort,” to which God is moving us to new life.

In the new year I preached about pushing the “reboot” button, as in God rebooting our church structure.  I like the metaphor, though Joan New said that, “rebooting” the church only gets us back  to where we were, not to where we need to be, some place new (no pun intended.)

I’ve thought a great deal about these “new places.”  What are they?  Where are they?  In my conversations no one “new place” was indentified, but there were common threads which revealed what these “places” might look like.

I often I heard this term “connection.”  The congregation wants to connect more on a social level.  This is not insignificant.  But more importantly the congregation wants to connect on a deeper, spiritual level.  More than once I heard how Sunday morning is not enough.  We need to connect beyond worship.  We need to connect with lasting relationships.  We need to connect on line through a virtual prayer group.  Now there’s a new place of ministry!

I was struck by a comment of Doug’s referring to younger generations.  He said millennials have serious questions about biblical truths, but they are very much searching for the deep relationships that our Christian faith offers.  While millennials remain skeptical of the institutional authority of the church, they very much relish the authentic community that the church can offer.

Another common thread centered on outreach.  From a budgetary standpoint a comment was made that our spending plan was too inwardly focused.  Another comment spoke to creatively getting into the community.  One member shared how other religious groups in our community are proud of their religious faith and speak openly about it, whether they be Jewish, Hindu, or Muslim.  But Christians seem timid amongst this multiculturalism.  We are so concerned about offending other faith traditions, that we remain quiet about our own.  She said the stronger our identity, the more willing we will be to reach out.  I  liked what another member said, “The church is to be the essence of Christ, helping people find Christ as we serve the community in his name.”

While none of these comments named a specific new place the church should be, these common threads of connection, deeper relationships, and focus on outreach all set the stage for a mission centered congregation.  I find this very encouraging.   Prince of Peace wants to be the church.  We’re aware of our challenges, but totally understand that this mission is God’s, and God will see to us, and will equip us to be vital in our ministry.

In conclusion, I add one final comment I heard in regards to all that is going on around Prince of Peace.  “Pastor, no matter what happens, we’re in.”  So am I!

Pastor Froehlke

 

In addition, I’d like to share a few comments of which I took notice.  They might give us some direction as move forward.

  • Move the coffee pot.  We make it too easy to leave church with the coffee pot is in the corner.
  • Do away with the budget. This one’s radical and perhaps unpractical, but is there a radical way to rethink how we structure the church finances?
  • Hold a congregational retreat.
  • Be satisfied taking baby steps into new ministries.
  • Send out a weekly email blast with church communications.
  • Don’t brand ourselves as an institution, but rather as the place to spread God’s love.
  • Don’t throw everything away.  (I like Phyllis Tickle who said every 500 years the church holds a rummage sale where they decide what to keep and what to get rid of.)
  • Our mission is not build the church coffers.
  • Utilize social media more.
  • Have worship in the park.
  • In our multicultural communities, name why Jesus still matters.
  • We’ve left too much to the church staff.
  • Light up the pulpit, it makes a big difference in our ability to hear.
  • Parents in the community regret not having their children grow up in church.
  • We need intensive prayer.
  • Ministry trumps finances.
  • Invite the AA groups to worship.
  • Don’t be too tied to an end result.
  • Hold a healing service more often.

 

 

 

 

 

The Fruit of the Spirit

6th Sunday after Pentecost                                                                                                           June 26, 2016

 

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

 

1.

In the 2000 French film Chocolat, a woman by the name of Vianne, a drifter, finds her way into a rural French village; and opens up a chocolate shop.

The story line doesn’t seem all that riveting, except for the fact that Vianne opens the shop up during Lent, a season when all good Catholics refrained from eating chocolate.

It didn’t help that the chocolate shop was directly across the street from the church, and was open on Sunday.

Add to this that Vianne was not a church goer, and had a daughter outside of wedlock.  None of this set well with the mayor of the town, who felt Vianne was tempting the town folk away from the conservative values that held the town together.

So the mayor sought to shut down the newly opened chocolate shop.

 

2.

I was reminded of this movie this week as I read the “Fruit of the Spirit” text from Galatians 5.  We hear this morning St. Paul contrasting the works of the flesh with the fruit of the spirit.

As I think about Chocolat, I wonder who are the Christians in the story?  Or at least, who are exhibiting the fruit of the spirit?

There’s more to be told about Vianne.  Though she is a newcomer, she is able to connect with the community.

Vianne’s eccentric landlady is miserable over the fact that her pious daughter will not allow her son to see his grandmother.  The daughter thinks her mother is a bad influence on her son.  So Vianne arranges for the grandson and grandmother to meet in the chocolate shop.

Another towns woman confides in Vianne that she is living in an abusive marriage.  So Vianne invites the woman to live with her and also gives her a job in the chocolate shop.

As the movie continues river gypsies approach the town and camp out on the outskirts.  While most of the town objects to their presence Vianne embraces these misfits and  shares chocolate with them.

 

3.

On the one hand there is the mayor of the town.  He is well respected.  He is a church goer.  He seeks to live the Christian life and tries hard to live the Lenten discipline of denial, especially the denial of chocolate during Lent.  Yet, throughout the movie we see in him the works of the flesh; jealousy, enmity, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions.

On the other hand we see Vianne.  The outsider.  The free spirit.  The non church goer.  Yet, we see from her the fruit of the spirit; love, joy, kindness, generosity, and gentleness.

I’ll refrain from telling the ending of the story, outside of the fact that they mayor eventually comes around, and the local priest gives in to the temptation of enjoying chocolate during Lent.

But I’ve told enough of this story to reveal how deeply theological it is, especially in light of Galatians 5.

How do we live as Christians?  Are we led by works of the flesh, even as we wear the label of being Christian?  Or do we embrace the fruit of the spirit, even if we don’t always follow the rules of religion?

 

4.

Paul builds an argument in Galatians for the freedom of the Christian.  It reaches a climax in our second lesson this morning.

For freedom Christ has set us free.

Christians are set free from the demands of the law.

In chapter 2 Paul writes:

We know that a person is justified not by the works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ.

Martin Luther loved Galatians, literally.  He says, “Galatians is my epistle to which I am betrothed.  It is my Katie von Bora.”

I’m not sure what Katie thought of that, but you get the point.  We are save by grace, and not by works of the law.

But here’s the rub.  If we are free from the law, are we free to gratify the desires of the flesh?  Are we released from the law to do “whatever.”  Is life just one great big free for all?

 

It is our Galatians text this morning where Paul says to us, “of course not.”

You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence.

I read this week that Christ does not set us free to be a jerk.  We are not set free to get drunk.  Our freedom does not give us license to tear our community apart with our selfish desires.

No, we are set free to live by the Spirit.

 

5.

This is what the mayor needs to learn in Chocolat.  Refraining from chocolate during Lent is a helpful discipline to reveal our sinful nature and our need for Christ.  It’s why we may give up certain indulgences during Lent.  But these rules can never save us.  How often do we succeed anyway?

We are free from such burdens.

But Paul reminds us this morning that we are not free to embrace fornication, sorcery, anger, envy, drunkenness, or carousing.

The mayor needed to learn that free from the law, he could now embrace the way of Christ.  He too could show a little kindness, generosity, gentleness, along with love, peace, and patience.

 

Here’s the deal about the Christian life.  The law never saves, only Jesus saves.  And since we are saved, we respond not with works of the flesh, but with the fruit of the spirit.  We do not behave, so God will save.  God has saved, so we behave.

Martin Luther writes in On the Freedom of the Christian: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.  A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”

 

6.

This winter I invited the congregation into conversation.  At the end of these visits I promised a pastoral response to let congregation know what I heard and how I respond.

I didn’t have Galatians in mind as I wrote my response, but our lesson this morning sets the tone for my words.

Woven through my visits were two common threads; a desire for the congregation to connect, and a desire to reach out to the community.  I’m encouraged by this as it sets the stage for a mission driven congregation.

And this morning let me say that Galatians leads the way.  The Christian life is not about  being bound by church rules.  Too often it only leads to the quarrels and dissensions that we see from the mayor in Chocolat.

But neither is the Christian life a free for all, allowing us to succumb to the works of the flesh.

We are not free to misbehave.  And if we do, we don’t get what Christ has done for us.

Instead, because we are free, we respond with the fruit of the spirit.

As we seek to connect, as we seek to reach out, as we seek to be the church; certainly we don’t carouse and become drunk.  But neither do we quarrel, or let anger or jealousy drive us; because it won’t drive us very far.

As I respond to Prince of Peace, as we look ahead to our mission and ministry; know that in Christ we have been set free.  We are not bound by the law, by religious rules.

We are set free to be led by the Spirit.  To be a faith community of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

If we live by the Spirit, we will be guided by the Spirit.

 

Amen

 

Missoula, Orlando, and the Human Heart

5th Sunday after Pentecost                                                                                                             June 19, 2016                                                                                                                          Missoula, Orlando, and the Human Heart

 

Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave.

How often do we ask Jesus to leave?

1.

On my office door is the word “Transform.”

It’s the word I took from our Arts Ministry presentation in March.

Literally, transform means to move the form, to change the shape  or the character.

I’ve taped this word to my door because I believe the church is transforming.

But, as we’ve experienced, this transformation is not easy.

Karoline Lewis from Luther Seminary says that transformation entails exposure.

If we are going to change; we first need to see what is broken.  We need to admit what is wrong.

Often this is where we stumble.

Karoline Lewis calls this the “imposter syndrome.”

Instead of being transformed, instead of exposing what is wrong to make it right;we learn to live with dysfunction and disease.

It’s easier than taking the cure.

2.

Last summer I read the book  Missoula by Jon Krackhauer.

It sounds like the title of a Western movie, but Missoula is a disturbing book.

Krackhauer investigates two sexual assaults at the University of Montana, located in Missoula.

He chose Montana because it has one of the highest rates of these crimes in the country.

In the book Krackhauer delves into the police reports and the university’s investigations.

He follows these cases through the justice system.

Not unusual to what we see around the country; in both cases, the focus  was on the legitimacy of the testimony of the victims, as opposed to the horrors of the crimes.

Why is that?

You may not realize that football is huge at the University of Montana.  The Montana Grizzlies are ingrained into the culture of Missoula.

Guess who the accused were in these cases?   Football players, one being the star quarterback.

Krackhauer writes that it wasn’t the coach that defended his players, it was the justice system.

The system resisted transformation.

The community didn’t want the university exposed.  They didn’t want to acknowledge that something was very wrong.

3.

There is a full blown transformation in the gospel this morning.  And did you notice there was resistance?

Jesus has gone to the other side of the sea of Galilee,  the land of the Gentiles.

Immediately we see that something is horribly wrong.

A man possessed with demons meets Jesus.   He is naked.  His home is among the tombs.

Before he broke into the wild we are told that this man was kept under guard, bound in chains and shackles.

Now as soon as Jesus steps off the boat he confronts Jesus, and he knows who Jesus is.

What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?

The man knows the power Jesus holds over his demons.

I beg you do not torment me.

With that Jesus acts.  He commands the unclean spirits to come out of the man.

Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

Jesus Christ holds power over demons.

4.

As the city folk came out to see what happened, they found the man transformed.

He was sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.

But as they come to Jesus what do they ask?

They ask Jesus to LEAVE!

When this possessed lunatic is made well, the people ask the one who made him well to leave.

Biblical scholar Fred Craddock says that Jesus upsets the status quo. The city had learned to live with evil in its midst.

As Jesus now confronts this evil,  the people cannot calculate or manage what’s happening.

Though Jesus is the source of wholeness and well being, he is a power they cannot control.

Transformation is hard.

Often it is easier to live with disease and dysfunction, because then we can pretend that nothing is wrong.

Instead of exposing the truth and opening ourselves  to the one who holds power over evil, who has the ability to make the wrong, right; we resist.

We ask Jesus to leave.

And what’s scary about this text,  is that when the city asks Jesus to leave,  he goes.

5.

Which brings me to Orlando.

We all agree that when one lone human is capable of walking into a bar and killing 49 innocent people, something has gone horribly wrong.

But I wonder, instead of seeking transformation, are we asking Jesus to leave.

I can only lift myself as an example.

What scares me about Orlando is how I am learning to live with these stories.

They are so frequent  and so horrible  that I tempted to ignore them.

I’m the city folk in the gospel, or the justice system in Missoula; I want to believe that nothing is wrong.   I don’t want our society exposed.  Let’s just move on.

David Tiede, former president of Luther Seminary, writes; “The plight of those seized by fear will prove more difficult, then the   horrendous possession of evil forces within.”

In terms of God’s kingdom, apathy to the crime, is worst then the crime itself; for in apathy we ask Jesus to leave.

And when asked, Jesus gets into the boat and goes home.

 

6.

Jesus is the source of healing, the source of non-violence, the source of good over evil.

Jesus is the transformer,  so when we ask him to leave, we’d rather put up with bad behavior,  than to embrace the abundant life Jesus offers.

Orlando calls us to this gospel this morning;  a call to examine our hearts, to confess our sin, both individually and as a nation.

It is a day to expose what is wrong, but then allow Jesus to make it right, that we all might live in peace.

At the end of the gospel the man possessed by demons is clothed, he’s in his right mind, and he’s sitting at the feet of Jesus.

He wanted to go back to Galilee with Jesus.  In fact he begged Jesus.

But Jesus says:

Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you. 

 How do we declare how much God has done?  We speak.

Personally I want to become more vocal on common sense gun laws.  I’m inspired to publicly stand with my Muslim colleagues here in West  Windsor.  I want our nation to be transformed.  This senseless violence must end.

And it begins with Jesus.

Jesus is the source of healing.   Jesus expels evil from our midst.  Jesus bring wholeness  and well being to our lives and to our nation.

Jesus transforms.    Let’s ask him to stay.

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forgive, As Christ Has Forgiven You

4th Sunday After Pentecost                                                                                                           June 12 2016

But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins.”

I wonder if those at the table were also able to “go in peace,” like the woman?

 

1.

The early 17th century English poet John Donne, wrote in his Meditation 17; “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

Because of this he continues: “any man’s death diminishes me, therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

John Donne speaks to the oneness of humanity, our connectedness.  So much so that when you hear the funeral bells tolling, they are bells that indicate the grief of all humanity, including us.

 

2.

We like to live on islands.

Our current political landscape is a collection of islands.  We have those on the left, the right, and in the center.  We have islands of the establishment, and the extreme; islands of the insiders and the outsiders.

But it’s not just politics that divide.  Religion is a collection of islands.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said; “11:00 Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week.”  That was back when everyone went to church at 11:00 Sunday morning.

And it remains true today.  I read this week that 86% of congregations in America are compromised of one main racial group.

But it’s not just race that divides.  We also have our islands of particular theologies.

I was surprised to read recently that there are 313 Christian denominations in America.  Even under the banner of Lutheranism we have our islands.  We know about the ELCA.  Most of us know about the Missouri Synod, and maybe even the Wisconsin Synod.  But I googled Lutheran denominations this week and found we have 38 Lutheran Denominations in North America.

We live on islands, and many of these islands are very far apart.

And most of these islands are driven by our egos; egos that seek to justify ourselves, while they seek to diminish those living on different islands.

 

3.

This is why we need to read our gospel this morning, because in this reading humanity is connected through Jesus Christ.

The focus today is two people who live on two very different islands.

The story begins with a Pharisee, a Pharisee who has a name, Simon.  We know Pharisees were religious leaders, experts in the law who considered themselves righteous.

This Pharisee held prestige in the community.  Simon had a home.  He was able to invite guests over for dinner.  And one of those guests today is Jesus.

 

The second person we meet today is a woman.   We don’t know much about her.  We don’t know her name.  We don’t know where she lives.  But what do we know about her?  She is a sinner.

We don’t know her crime, but she has a bad reputation.  We hear this Simon as he says to himself,

If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him- that she is a sinner.

She lives on a different island.

 

4.

As the story is told this woman crosses the  boundary.  She moves into the Pharisees world.

Having learned that Jesus was in Simon’s house she enters.  She is not welcome, but it doesn’t stop her.

Next, she expresses her devotion to Jesus by anointing his feet.

She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair.  Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.

This woman has a bad reputation.  Not only does she enter Simon’s house uninvited, not only does she touch Jesus, but she expresses an intimate act of love.

 

5.

Simon was offended.  Those at the table were offended.  And if I’m honest, if I was at that table I would have been offended too.

Islands are meant to segregate, but this morning boundaries are crossed.  The woman enters Simon’s world.  How dare she?

 

But Jesus does not condemn.  Neither does he condone.

Jesus acknowledges her sin.  But Jesus was able to see beyond her sin.

I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven.

 

This anointing of Jesus’ feet is a little weird, until you understand how deep the tears flowed from this woman.

Jesus saw her humanity.  He looked beyond her sinfulness.  He accepted her personhood.  He offered this woman his forgiveness.

Jesus tells her:

Your faith has saved you; go in peace.

No man, no woman; is an island.

 

6.

Does our faith save us?  Can we go in peace?

Typical of the gospels, Luke drops this scene and goes on to the next.  Hence, we never hear of Simon, or of the rest at the table who witnessed this interaction between Jesus and the woman.

Did they get it?

Luke doesn’t end the story because he puts his readers into the story.  Never mind how Simon and the others responded.  How do you and I respond?

 

Humanity is diverse.  We look different.  We think different.  We believe different.  But does this keep us forever separated?

 

The gospel this morning teaches that no man, no woman is an island.  Humanity meets in Jesus Christ.  We all belong to the continent of God’s creation.

And we will go in peace, when we are able to forgive.

 

7.

Jesus says in the gospel of John, “forgive as you have been forgiven.”  In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

Sin runs deep in humanity.  The tears flowed deep within the woman’s soul.  But forgiveness begins with Christ.  On the cross Jesus prays for his perpetrators; “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

As sin segregates, forgiveness connects.  As humanity connects, we all are able to go in peace.

 

Wayne Dyer, in his book Wisdom of the Ages, comments on John Donne’s poem.

When you see yourself as connected to everyone, you immediately cease your     judgment of the other. Therefore compassion becomes an automatic reaction to   everyone.   Once you can view all others as family members, rather than competitors or           traitors, you will reach out with love, rather than with a weapon of defense or       destruction.

 

I’ve heard our political climate labeled as toxic today.  Race relations continue to be strained.  The gap between rich and poor is as wide as ever.  It seems we are all living on our islands of judgment and condemnation.

We need Jesus.  Yes, we have our differences.  Yes we have our conflicts.  Yes we hurt others as others have hurt us.

But we need to see that our egos don’t save.  It is only the love of Jesus that saves.

The woman in our gospel got it.

We too can go in peace, when we are able to approach Jesus, confess our sin, and express our great love to him.  That’s when we enter this same story and hear the words of our Savior:

Your faith has saved you; go in peace.

 

Amen

 

 

Be Kind, Everyone You Meet Is Fighting a Great Battle

3rd Sunday after Pentecost                                                                                                        June 5, 2016                                                                                                                                         “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

 

When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said, “Do not weep.”

 

1.

The Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, once said: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

Prince of Peace Lutheran Church - NJ's photo.

Some of those battles are more apparent than others.

 

Last Friday I was walking through the Denver airport.  On my way to the men’s room I passed, what looked like a service hallway, and there in the hallway was body lying on the floor.

This hallway was on a level above the hustle and bustle of the main concourse, and so it was isolated from the crowds of travelers.  I could see that this person lying on the floor was a custodian, so I immediately assumed he was just taking a break from his job of cleaning the airport.

Still, the image bothered me.  What if this was a medical emergency?

I was tempted to ignore the situation, to continue walking to my gate and continuing my journey, forever removed from this situation.

But I couldn’t.  It is strange to see a body lying on the floor.

 

Thankfully I noticed another custodian not too far from this scene.  I approached him and told him about the body laying on the floor.

I was very relieved when this man responded, “Oh it’s him.  He’s just taking a nap.  He sleeps there all the time on break.”

I breathed a sigh of relief and turned towards my gate when this custodian put his hand on my shoulder and said, “but thanks for noticing.”

 

2.

Last Sunday as I was telling this story to my brother, he said, “well I have one better than this story.”

Last Christmas Eve as his family was driving home from midnight mass they came across a body laying in the middle of the road.

My brother was tempted to drive by.  It was Christmas Eve.  The children said, “just keep going dad.”  Everyone was afraid.

But they were driving home from church, to drive by really wasn’t the spirit of Christmas.

My brother stopped the car, approached the man, and determined that he was flat out drunk.  He got to the middle of the road and passed out.

First he called the police.  In the meantime he realized he couldn’t just leave this guy in the road.  At that time he noticed another man standing nearby, not totally sober, but in better shape than his friend.

My brother told him we need to get your friend out of the road.  With that the two were able to get his man to his feet, walk to the side of the road, where he would at least be safe until the police arrived.

You never know who or what you will encounter.

“Be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

 

3.

The widow of Nain in our gospel this morning is fighting a great battle.

First, remember she has no husband.  In this patriarchal society husbands were women’s only source for financial security, unless, of course, they had sons.

We are told this woman had one, but he had just died.  This widow was alone and left vulnerable.  One commentator mentioned this week that with her son’s death her social security was gone.

 

The gospel begins with Jesus coming into the village of Nain.  A large crowd is with him.

At the village gate, this crowd meets another large crowd.  It is the funeral procession of this widow’s son.

The crowd with Jesus is coming into the village.  And the crowd following the funeral bier is going out.  The two crowds seemingly have nothing to do with each other.  You’d expect them to just pass by.  But in the midst of this scene Luke focuses on two individuals in these crowds; Jesus and the widow.  He writes:

When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.”

Next Jesus comes forward and touches the bier, and with that these two processions stop.

 

4.

These two large crowds seemingly have nothing to do with each other.  You expect them to pass by like you pass by hundreds of travelers in airport concourses.  But in reality these two crowds have everything to do with each other.

The crowd following Jesus is about his mission.  They are coming from Capernaum.

Last week we read the story of Jesus healing a centurion’s slave who was close to death.  Jesus is about life.  It’s why the crowd has chosen to follow him.

And the crowd following the widow, of course, is all about death.  Her only son has died.  This is a funeral procession.

A crowd following life, meets a crowd following death; they can’t just pass by.

They meet, they stop, and Jesus acts:

then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still.   And he said, “Young man, I say to rise!”  The dead man sat up and began to speak.

 

5.

Do you notice that this story is not about the dead man?  The story is all about the widow.

She was a widow.  The crowd was with her.  Jesus saw her.  Jesus had compassion for her.

And most importantly after the man sat up, And Jesus gave him to his mother.

Unlike the centurion from last week, the woman doesn’t ask for help.  We’re not told anything about her faith.

All we know is that she is fighting a great battle.  She’s a widow.  Her only son has died.  She is crippled with grief.  And she now has no means to care for herself.

But Jesus saw her, he stopped, he acted, and gave her son back to her.  The relationship was restored.

 

6.

We are the crowd following Jesus.  We follow him just like the crowd going with him into Nain.  Jesus is about life.  He healed the centurion’s slave.  He gave the son back to the widow.

The church is a movement that follows Jesus, and so the church is all about life; healthy life, abundant life.  Our lives are seeing, stopping, and acting when we meet those fighting great battles.

I had nothing to do with that body laying in the hallway of the Denver airport.  My brother had nothing to do with that body laying in the road on Christmas Eve.  Jesus had nothing to do with that body laying on the bier coming out of Nain.

We all could have passed by.  No one asked for our help.  No one would even notice.

We have nothing to do with those we meet fighting great battles, yet because of Jesus, we have everything to do with the bodies laying in the hallway, the road, the bier.

Because we are in the large crowd that follows Jesus, we see, we stop, we act.

God has looked favorable on his people.

Be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.

 

Amen

 

 

Lady Wisdom

 

 

Holy Trinity Sunday                                                                                                     Confirmation Sunday                                                                                                                                May 22, 2016

1.

Aubrianna and Jeanette I know that your families travel. I’ve heard of some of your adventures.  So this morning I’m going to make a suggestion of a city to visit, if you haven’t been.

Rome. And when in Rome go to the Vatican City.  Once inside the city gates, find your way to the Sistine Chapel, and look up at the ceiling.  There you will find a world famous painting by Michelangelo entitled, The Creation of Adam.

It shows the finger of God reaching out to touch the finger of Adam. God touching humanity.  Heaven meeting earth.

Michelangelo_-_Creation_of_Adam

But if you look closer at the painting you will see a woman embraced within God’s left arm. Through the years it has been assumed that this woman is Eve.  But many scholars will argue that the woman is Sophia, or Lady Wisdom.  This woman is the feminine personification of the divine in the Old Testament.

 

2.

Now Jeannette and Aubrianna, having three years of Confirmation and instruction in Luther’s Small Catechism, could explain to us the 2nd Article of the Apostles Creed.   It speaks to the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity.  We name this second person “Son,” or “Redeemer.”  But mostly we name this person “Jesus.” “I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord.”

But this morning I’m going to stretch our understanding of this 2nd Person of the Trinity.

I know Aubrianna and Jeanette can handle this. As 6th graders, just starting out in Confirmation, I was impressed how these two spoke up in class.  They had good questions, they had deep questions, and they had questions that I sometimes couldn’t answer.

So this morning let me ask a question of my own. Could this woman embraced by God’s left arm in Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, be a feminine 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity?

 

3.

The reading from Proverbs captivates me this morning.

The text speaks about Wisdom. And if we read the text carefully Wisdom is a person, who is female.

Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?

As we keep reading we hear that wisdom was with God at the beginning of creation.

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.

This sounds to me like John 1.

In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God.  And the Word was God.

And of course in John the Word is the male personification of the divine.

He was in the beginning with God.

Biblical scholars tells us that this Hebrew understanding of “Wisdom” in the Old Testament, has been transitioned into the Greek understanding of the “Word” in the New Testament.

This matters, because in a church that has been dominated by men and male imagery for God, Proverbs 8 lifts up this feminine image of God that is known as “Wisdom.”

 

4.

This morning we read how Wisdom is active and alive in the middle of life.

On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand.

Eugene Peterson in The Message translates this verse, “She takes her stand at First and Main.”

Quite simply the text proclaims that through Wisdom God is in the center of life. God’s presence is not bound only in the holy places of this world.  But God is present in the public square.

As Wisdom invites to a of faith, so does she invite us to take our faith out to where we live.

Matt Skinner of Luther Seminary says that this Proverbs text invites us to be a theologian. Theology, remember, means simply “thinking about God.”

And Skinner says that theology is not done well in the library. Theology may not even be done well in church.  This thinking about God is done best where we live, where we work, where we play, and where we spend our time.

 

5.

Ok Jeanette and Aubrianna, you’re probably not all that interested in becoming theologians this morning, but in a few moments you are going to be asked to think about God, and what you believe.

I will ask: “Do you intend to continue living in the covenant God made with you? To live among God’s faithful people?  To hear God’s word and share in his supper?  To proclaim good news in word and deed?  And to serve all people striving for peace and justice?”

This really is an invitation to be a theologian, to think about God in the midst of your life.

At the end of Proverbs 8, Wisdom invites us to a life of faith:

And now, my children, listen to me: happy are those who keep my ways. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord.

Matt Skinner says this feminine presence of the divine invites us to see the world through the lens of God, through the lens of scripture, through the lens of our faith, and through the lens of our relationships with the people at church.

 

This is what Confirmation is. Aubrianna and Jeannette, you don’t have to be experts on the 2nd Article of the Apostles Creed.  But my prayer for you this day is that you can take your experience of these last three years; your faith, your Bible, and the deep questions you asked in class, and the people of this church;  take us wherever you go, maybe even Rome someday, and see the world through the lens of God.

 

6.

Now if you really do get to Rome, there’s one more place I recommend you go, the Catacombs of Priscilla. I haven’t been but this week a colleague spoke about his visit to these catacombs.

He explained how Priscilla was from a prominent, wealthy family in Rome, and also Christian.

People go to this catacomb to view the ornate tombs, but what struck my friend was painting on the wall; a self portrait of Priscilla, wearing an alb, extending her arms in blessing. Priscilla was a pastor.

Throughout history the church has denied leadership positions to women. It is only in my lifetime that women have been ordained in our church.  In fact we know many churches still do not allow women to be pastors.

But isn’t it interesting that way back during the Roman Empire, in these ancient catacombs in Rome, we see a woman as pastor.

Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand.

 

Jeanette and Aubrianna, you don’t have to be pastors in order to be theologians.

As smart, intelligent young women like Priscilla; on your Confirmation day, my prayer is for you to be inspired by Lady Wisdom. Think about the feminine image of God.  Think about Priscilla standing at the crossroads leading the church.  But mostly think about Wisdom and her invitation to think about God wherever you go, and view this world in all its craziness through the lens of faith, that you too may take your stand for God.

 

Amen