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

 

 

 

 

Pentecost Sunday Trains, Fire, and the Church

Pentecost Sunday             

May 15,      2016                                                                                                                    Trains, Fire, and the Church

 

Fifty days after Moses led Israel through the Red Sea,  God’s people find themselves at Mount Sinai  in the midst of a heavenly moment.

From Exodus 19.

…there was thunder and lightning as well as a thick cloud on the mountain and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled.

 

1.

If you ever stand on the platform at the Princeton Junction station as Amtrak’s Acela comes barreling through, you know the sound is loud as the whole station trembles.

The train is a powerful force. It’s on a mission, as it blasts through the station in a matter of seconds.

Often we speak about the Holy Spirit as wind, but  Acts 2 this morning tells us the Spirit is not wind, but the sound like the rush of a mighty wind.

Thankfully I’ve never experienced a tornado, but many who have report that the sound of the storm is like the roar of an approaching train.

On Pentecost Sunday Can I say  that the Holy Spirit is like the sound of a train; not a freight train, not the local train,  but like the rush of Amtrak’s Acela?

2.

After the trumpet blast Israel took their stand at the foot of Mount Sinai.

The mountain is wrapped in smoke.  Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Again from Exodus 19,

Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire; while the whole mountain shook violently.

As the presence of God is a blast so loud it makes the people tremble; so is it fire that makes the mountain shake.

We built a fire at church last week.

Our midweek service gathered around a camp fire.

It was damp, it was cold,  and I stood right next to the fire to stay warm.

It was the same fire that provided the source for roasting marshmallows.

But this is not the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Instead think Fort McMurray, Alberta.

I read an account this week by an emergency responder explaining how wild fires are the worst natural disaster in which to respond.

Hurricanes blow in and out.                                                                                          Earthquakes rumble, but eventually stop.

But wild fires keep burning  and responders don’t know where the fire is striking next.

The Fire Marshal from Alberta Province  said that the Fort McMurray wild fire has forced the province to rewrite their code on fighting fires,  because nothing about this fire followed the script.

It is big, unpredictable, destructive,  and it is still burning, like the Holy Spirit.

3.

On the day of Pentecost we read of heavenly moment, now in the New Testament.

The apostles are together in Jerusalem as the Holy Spirit blasts in.

And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them.

In the midst of this devout Jews were gathered in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven.

They were on pilgrimage,  fifty days after Passover they gathered in Jerusalem to commemorate the Sinai Covenant,  God giving the Ten Commandments to Israel.

But this pilgrimage was not just another boring worship service.

They too heard the loud sound, and they stood bewildered as these followers of Jesus, simple Galileans,  now all spoke in their native languages.

Twice Luke writes that the people were amazed,  astonished, and perplexed as they asked, “What does this mean?”

4.

Trains, fire, and the church.

Peter’s answer to this question now becomes the mark of the church.

He reads from the Prophet Joel.

I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.

Prophecy is truth telling.

As Peter reads from Joel he speaks the truth of this heavenly moment.

After the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,  the Holy Spirit blasts into Jerusalem  to mark Christ’s followers, to prophesy, to speak the truth in languages all these foreigners can understand.

This truth is revealed in the last verse.

Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

The church, filled with the Holy Spirit, is a force like the sound of an express train,  that speaks the truth of God.

A truth that is like fire; unpredictable and destructive; but never to condemn,  only to save.

5.

I visited Yellowstone National Park in 1992, four years after the historic wild fires of 1988.

Those fires destroyed 36% of the park.

Four years later the earth was scorched with vast stretches of black ash.

But I will never forget getting up close to ash  on my hikes through the park.

There, through the ash, little green sprouts popped up  all across the landscape.

Do not underestimate the force of the Holy Spirit.

We may not want to think of the spirit as destructive fire, but God’s work of salvation must first destroy the power of sin, death, and the works of the devil.

The mark of the church, is the rush of the Holy Spirit, that speaks the truth of resurrection,  so that out of the ash,  new life will sprout.

6.

Our guest at the recent New Jersey Synod Assembly  was the Bishop of Namibia, Rev. Ernst Gamxamub.

The Bishop preached at our opening worship under the theme, “Be Not Afraid.”

He spoke about the church as a train; not standing on the platform, but actually being on board that fast moving train.

It’s a completely different experience.

It is quiet.  The world seems to glide by.   All is well,  until the train enters the tunnel.

The tunnel is dark.  The train moves fast.   Sometimes you can’t tell if you’re going forward or reverse.

You feel like maybe it’s time to get off this train.

But the Bishop said that the tunnel is not the place to tear up your ticket  and jump off the train.

No, you need to stay on board,  and wait for the light at the end of tunnel.

If the sound of a train can be a metaphor for the Holy Spirit, perhaps riding on the train can be a metaphor for the church.

We’re on a mission.  We are a force in the world.

But sometimes being the church is like entering a tunnel

Tunnels can be like the smoke and clouds on Mount Sinai,  where we are not sure where we are  or where we are going.

But know that the tunnel is not the place to jump off the train.

In this time and in this place,  change happens all around.

It might feel like the church is traveling through a tunnel.  It might feel like the fire of the Holy Spirit is only destroying.  But now is not the time to tear up our ticket  and jump off the train.

Remember that we are participating in God’s plan of salvation, and through change God initiates new activity, that always leads to the light at the end of the tunnel.

God continually works new life,  within the church,  and within the world.

This the prophecy we bear,  and the truth we proclaim.

Amen

 

 

 

7th Sunday of Easter The Prayer of an Adoptive Mother

Easter 7                                                                                                                                       May 8, 2016                                                                                                                                       

The Prayer of an Adoptive Mother

 

If you can make it to the end of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer this morning, you will hear, perhaps the clearest expression of Christ’s mission in the New Testament.

I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

 

1.

Eighteen years ago on Mother’s Day, Dale and I were in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is fascinating city, but Dale and I were on edge.  That night we would fly to Nanning, on the Chinese mainland, for the next day Sara Grace would be placed into our hands.  We were in a foreign land about to become parents.

Perhaps it was divine providence, for directly across the street from our hotel in Hong Kong was a Lutheran church, Truth Lutheran Church.   On this Mother’s Day we had to go to worship.  It was large.  The church was full.  As we walked into the sanctuary a young man, a teenager, handed us headphones which would translate the service from Cantonese into English.  We felt as if the church was waiting for us.

Truth Lutheran Hong Kong (2)

After worship this same young man approached. He wore a New York t-shirt.  If I remember correctly his mother had studied in the United States and he was fascinated with these two Americans.  I remember an infectious smile, and his broken English as he tried to converse with us.

His name was Faith. Appropriate because the love of Jesus Christ was in him; a love he expressed by making us feel right at home halfway around the world.

Besides making sure we had headphones for worship, afterwards Faith took us on a tour of the church. He introduced us to his mother and to others in the congregation.  In honor of Mother’s Day the congregation was serving lunch, which he made sure we were invited to.

I have never forgotten Faith. On day of high anxiety, Faith calmed our fears with his welcome to his church.

 

2.

On this final Sunday of Easter, for the third week in a row, we read Jesus’ Final Discourse in the Gospel of John. This morning Jesus brings this discourse to a close with his High Priestly Prayer.

Barbara Lundblat, retired professor of preaching at Union Seminary, calls this Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer in John’s gospel.

Remember in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, right before his arrest, Jesus takes his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane, and only asks that they stay awake as he prays.

In Gethsemane Jesus’ humanity is exposed. He’s in agony.  He’s confused.  He prays:

If possible Lord, let this cup pass from me.

In John this prayer is different. While Jesus prays it right before his arrest, Jesus is not disturbed.  Instead, Jesus is in total control.

He begins with verse one of chapter 17:

Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.

Jesus is not tormented by what awaits. To the contrary, Jesus sees this “hour” as the fulfillment of his ministry.

 

Notice another striking difference in John. In Gethsemane, remember Jesus went off by himself and prayed for himself.  In the High Priestly Prayer the disciples are very much awake and listen in.   And they hear that Jesus prays for them.

 

3.

Barbara Lundblat calls this the prayer of an adoptive mother.

Jesus understands how God has handed over the disciples to him. In verse 6 Jesus prays:

I have made your name known to those whom you gave me. They were yours, and you gave them to me.

So like a loving mother, Jesus prays on their behalf:                                                                                                                                  Holy Father protect them in your name.                                                                                      

May they have my joy made complete in themselves                                                                     

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

It is a prayer that any mother would have for her children.

 

As we come now to our text this morning, this High Priestly Prayer reaches its climax.

Jesus’ prayer for his disciples goes beyond protection, it goes beyond joy being made complete, it goes beyond being sanctified in the truth; Jesus prays that he may be in the disciples.

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.

Jesus doesn’t pray that God may be near. He doesn’t pray that God may be beside.  He doesn’t pray that God may be around the disciples.  He prays that God may be in them.

 

And understand in John, the disciples are not exclusively the twelve, the disciples are all who believe. The High Priestly Prayer is not just for those sitting around the table in the upper room.  This morning Jesus prays on behalf of all believers, of every time and place, including us here at Prince of Peace this morning.

Jesus prays for you, that you may be drawn in to the very life of Christ.

 

4.

It strikes me that the last words of this prayer, come right before Judas brings the authorities to arrest Jesus.

As Jesus is betrayed, he prays for love. Jesus concludes:

I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

Matt Skinner, professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary, says about this text that we are not God’s play things. We are not God’s pets.  God doesn’t love us for his pleasure.

God gives us to Christ, who loves us with the love of the cross, so that the love of God will be in us.

God is not near, God is not close, God is not beside; God is in; God is in our very lives.

The reality of the Christian faith, is that we are drawn into the love of Christ, so this love may be expressed in our lives, for the sake of the world.

On this Mother’s Day I remember Faith at Truth Lutheran Church in Hong Kong. Eighteen years ago as Dale and I ventured into parenthood, Faith relieved our anxiety as his welcome in this foreign land expressed the love of Christ in him, to remind us that Christ was in us.

 

On this Mother’s Day, listen in to this prayer of an adoptive mother. Jesus prays for you.  He prays that the love with which God loved him, may be in you; that you may be Christ for the world.

 

Amen

Change

Prince of Peace is journeying through change. Change is never easy as we seek the security of what was.  In our own ways we mourn the loss of two services, the loss of a traditional Sunday School hour, and the loss of the usual Vacation Bible School week in the summer.  But I believe energy is being directed to new ministries and new ways of being church that better respond to a changing church landscape.

I’m amazed over the planned Labyrinth Arts Program being planned for June 20-24 by our newly formed Arts Ministry under the leadership of Nancy Herrington.  I’m looking forward a proposed Jazz Vespers Worship Service at Prince of Peace.  Charlie Frantz has begun conversation on what this could like; perhaps once a month on Sunday evening.  It is exciting to look at the plans for the proposed Labyrinth and Meditation Garden in back of the church and church house.  These plans will soon be available to the congregation and we hope that the project will be approved by the congregation at our June 5th Congregational Meeting.

In addition I look forward to planning next year’s Christian Education Hour.  This continues to unfold as we seek to offer effective educational experiences for all ages.  Some highlights from this past year were our Worship Hike, our Stewardship Sunday, Christmas Caroling, and our Arts Ministry presentation.  I am inviting the congregation to join me during the Christian Education Hour on May 8, for a discussion on how we can make this educational opportunity even better.

Yes, change; it’s not easy, but often it is the Holy Spirit’s nudge to follow the energy and move to new places that help us to be faithful in our witness as the church.

 

Pastor Froehlke

A Parent’s Blessing for the Start of School

I’d like to share the Parent’s Blessing that was a part of the Family Blessing Service at Saint Joseph’s University on move in day for incoming freshman.  The blessing named my emotions as a parent sending my daughter off to college for the first time.  It’s words speak to all parents as we begin another school year.

Parent’s Blessing to Child

May you be powerfully loving and lovingly powerful.             

May love be your guide with family, friends and colleagues.

May you listen carefully to your own heart and to the hearts of others.

May you have strength to overcome fear and pride, and follow instead what has heart and meaning for you.

May you be an active, committed positive force in your community.

May you show respect to people of all ages and races and help make a better world for the poor, the sick, the elderly, and the young.

May you constantly bring your gifts and talents forward everyday without hesitation, reservation, or expectation of reward.

May you know everyday how grateful I am to God for the gift of you, and know as well in your heart the depth of my own love for you.

AMEN

 

 

Faith or Fear?

I find myself recently traversing the fine line between faith and foolishness.  When is a decision a bold act of faith and when is it a big mistake?

The Parish House Task Force has offered a proposal to renovate the church house to be used  for a ministry of spiritual development  under the leadership of Pastor  Dale Selover.  Spiritual development is a growing movement within the church that seeks to draws people into a closer relationship with God through spiritual direction, contemplative practices, and spiritual renewal.

The Church Council supports the ministry.  Not only will it serve the people of Prince of Peace, but a ministry of spiritual development will be an outreach to our immediate community.  It will also allow Prince of Peace to be a resource to our New Jersey Synod and to our ecumenical partners in our community.  This ministry also offers a new model of how to be the church in a changing landscape.  The church house can make all of this happen.

But, as we know, there is a cost.  And this is where I ask if the decision to go ahead is foolish or faithful.

I answer the question reminding myself that the church is in the faith business, not the fear business.  I’m convinced the church has been in decline through the years because we’ve been afraid to step out in faith.  Whenever the church seeks to hunker down and hold on to what it has, the church has made the decision not to respond to opportunities God has placed before her; and that is never a good, or faithful, place for the church to be.

Is this the right time to renovate the church house for a spiritual development ministry?  Are we making financial choices that could jeopardize an already fragile financial picture?  Or is God inviting us to take a step into new life?

I appreciate the financial concerns that come with this decision.  But I know that mission never follows money.  Money follows mission.  In other words, when the church lives by faith and responds to opportunities that God places before us, people want to support the church’s ministry, and the money follows.

On May 31, before worship, Pastor Selover will be leading a session on her ministry of spiritual development , how the church house can benefit that work, and how Prince of Peace can partner in this ministry.   Following worship we encourage the congregation to walk over to the house for a tour and to share your questions and concerns with the task force.  The congregational meeting is scheduled for June 7th following worship.