Sermon: Let Jesus Be Jesus

Matthew 16:13-20
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 24, 2014
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

 

youngjusticeI’ve always had an interest in superheroes.  Which is kind of odd, because I tend not to buy comic books or as they are now called, graphic novels.  I know friends that have boxes of comics from years past, but that’s not me.  No, the way that I found out about superheroes was through TV, specifically, the SuperFriends- a light-hearted take on the Justice League which ran on ABC at various times in the 1970s starting in 1973.  Then it was watching the live-action series “Wonder Woman” and the “Incredible Hulk.”

 

In the years following college, I would catch an animated version of the X-Men and during the seminary I was loved watching Batman Beyond,  a futuristic take on on the Dark Knight.  And yes, I still watch superheroes in the movies and on television.  I watch shows like “Arrow” which is a take on the comic book hero, the Green Arrow; Young Justice which focuses on the sidekicks of famous heroes, and well, there are more, but I think that’s enough for you all to know for now.

 

I think that I am fascinated by superheroes because the stories can sometimes take on things that are taking place in the wider culture.  I like the X-Men because the story makes these superheroes are not treated like superheroes by the wider culture.  In fact, they are seen as threats hence why they are referred to as mutants.  Since I was coming out during that time period, I could see X-men as an allegory to how LGBT persons are accepted in society- or not. Comics can also allude to the changing demographics of a society.  Earlier this month, Marvel Comics announced that the next Captain America was going to be African American.  The character is currently one of the current Captain America’s superhero associates, Falcon. Falcon was considered one of Marvel’s first black heroes when he was introduced in the late 1960s and assume the identity of superhero that embodies the American ideal represents the changes take place in the United States.

 

Superheroes tend to have aliases.  Sometimes they want to keep their other identity a secret. Batman was actually billionaire Bruce Wayne. When Superman wasn’t saving the world, he was Clark Kent, a journalist.  Very few people around them actually know of their secret identities.  I think comic books and television use a ton of suspended disbelief in thinking that a mask around people eyes will prevent them from knowing who they are, but for some reason people buy it.

 

Because these heroes didn’t tell people who they were, people became curious.  Who are these people?  Is it someone they know?  What was it that people said after meeting the Lone Ranger: who was that masked man? Regular folk just want to meet their hero and find out about them.  There are some that see them as a threat to society and they want to expose them before they cause more trouble.

 

Superheroes can remind people of how we relate to God: a mysterious powerful creature that seems to want the best for us.  Some just want to meet God and learn more about God, while others see God as a threat to their way of living. Continue reading “Sermon: Let Jesus Be Jesus”

Sermon: Things Fall Apart

Genesis 45:1-15 and Matthew 15:10-28
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 17, 2014
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

 

thingsfallapartrootsHow is your heart today?

 

You could answer that in two ways.  The first way is probably literal.  How are you doing healthwise?  Are you eating right?  Are you getting enough sleep?

 

As a society, we are obsessed with health, even when we don’t act like we care.  We are told we are to heavy need to go to the gym.  We are told we eat poorly and try the latest fad to get to health.  We’ve quit smoking.  We are doing everything we can to keep our hearts healthy. I try to go to the gym twice a week, and try to walk as much as a I can daily.  I’ve also gained all the weight I lost a year ago, but I still do what I can to keep my heart healthy.

 

But heart can also talk about our whole being, not just the muscle in the center of our chest.  And looking at the news from the past week, humanity’s heart is not doing so well.  Events like the shooting of Michael Brown, an African American man from Ferguson, a Saint Louis suburb by the local police have shocked us.  Islamic extremist have taken one of the world’s great faiths and turned into a murderous ideology that kills anyone from a different faith or who don’t follow Islam in the same way they do.  And then there was the tragic death of actor Robin Williams.  A funny man that we learned took his own life after battling depression for years.

 

In Matthew’s gospel we see Jesus first talking the crowd.  He calls out the Pharisees for their concern of rules like ritual handwashing, but very little concern about what really defiles a person.  There was no concern for the inner life of a person. Continue reading “Sermon: Things Fall Apart”

Sermon: “Waiting to Exhale”

Here’s a sermon I preached in 2007 on Pentecost Sunday.

“Waiting to Exhale”
Act 2:1-21
May 27, 2007 (Pentecost Sunday)
Lake Harriet Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

 

When I was about two years old, I was diagnosed with asthma.  From about age two until maybe age 9, I dealt with constant asthma attacks where I had hard time breathing.  I can remember sitting in the doctor’s office of Dr. Cory Cookingham, who was my allergy and asthma doctor, who would sometimes have to give me a shot of adrenalin to open up my constricted lungs.  More than once he worried if this didn’t work, that the hospital would be the next stop.

Growing up as a kid with asthma was not fun in the early 70s.  I still had a pretty full childhood, but there were things I was limited in doing.  My made sure all the schools I attended were clean and not dusty so as not to trigger an attack.  I remember when I was very young, not playing outdoors again for fear of an attack.

As I got older the spectre of asthma grew smaller.  I was able to play outdoors and have fun, no longer fearful for another attack.  In fact I went without an asthma attack for eight years until the summer I graduated high school.  I still have attacks few and far between, but I do carry an inhaler just in case. Continue reading “Sermon: “Waiting to Exhale””

“Being There” (Version Two)

I will let you in on a little secret.  This is actually the second version of the sermon I preached on Pentecost.  I had written one sermon and it just didn’t work for the situation.  So, with about 40 minutes to spare before the service, I made some major edits.  So, here is the second version.  You can listen to the sermon podcast by going here.

“Being There”
May 27, 2012 (Pentecost Sunday, B)
Acts 2:1-21 and Romans 8:22-37
First Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN
It was about ten years ago that I was in Clinical Pastoral Education, which is something I had to before I could get ordained.  CPE, as its called is a for pastors and pastors to be to be placed in expiriences where you have to kind of “work without and net” and reflect on how you responded.  I worked at Luther Hall here in Minneapolis and was blessed to have Jay Hillestad as one of my supevisors.  I went to through a lot of experiences, but there are two that I remember vividly.  The first was a family gathered around man who seemed comatose.  He had a brain tumor that seemed fatal.  The wife saw that I was a chaplain and gathered me in and asked prayers for healing for her husband.  She told me that the family hoped he could leave the long term care faculity and get therapy.  I had seen his chart and I looked at him and knew there was no way he was going to get better.  I prayed the best way I could, not praying for a mircale as much as praying God be with the man and the family.  The other situation was a short time later when I met a man in his early 20s who lost a leg in an ATV accident.  Maybe he was the quiet type normally, but this guy said nothing much.  You can tell he was angry.  I really didn’t know what to do in that situation.  There was no place for glib talk.  Heck there was no place for talk.  All I could do was just sit with him.  I always felt that I had failed him in some way, but I also felt that I learned that there were times a pastor just needs to shut up and just be with a person.

Where is God in the midst of all this?

Pentecost seems to be a holy day about action.  It’s about mighty winds and fire and people speaking in strange tounges.  It’s about the young church leaving the bounds of Jerusalem and doing as Jesus said, going throughout the known world spreading the good news.
e is yet another language and then another and another.  After a while the folks in the room realized the voices where coming from each other.  Something strange was happening to them.  None of them totally understood what was going on, but they did know that they couldn’t stay in this room; they had to get outside and keep talking to anyone who would bother to listen.

We hear this story every year.  We hear about the wind and flame, about the 3,000 people and all that.  If you are familiar with this story, you probably have heard it over and over again and think you know everything there is to know about it.  I know that I at times think I do.

It’s easy to look at this story and not give much thought to it.  We associate this text and this day to things like kites and wearing red things like that.  We hear this text and wonder what in the world does it have to do with us, with our day to day lives as working folk, dealing with the hurts of the world.

Our other Pentecost text in the book of Romans seems to have nothing to do with today.  Paul is telling Christians in Rome that all creation is waiting for God, waiting for hope.  He tells them that the Spirit is there, helping people in their weakness and interceding for us with “sighs to deep for words.”  The Spirit is present with us in our daily walk, allowing us to be with others when their lives fall apart.

I didn’t have the worlds to help that family of the dying man or this young man that had to deal with life now with one less leg.  But God’s Spirit was present and was present in me and present in all of us as we feed the hungry, knit a prayer shawl for someone who’s sick or welcome the outcast.

We, this gathered community called First Christian, gather in this space this morning waiting.  We wait for God to show up.  Like the disciples, we aren’t very sure why we are here or if what we heard was really true.  But we wait on God, wondering if anything is going to happen.

And then something does happen.  It might not be the sound of wind or being set on fire, but it might be something that shocks us out of our doldrums.  We see the Spirit of God show up, and when that happens, get ready for some weirdness.  We may not be speaking in French or Swahili, but we might do things that makes people wonder about us.  Spirit of God might empower us to do odd and wonderful things, like, sell our buildings and move in with two other congregations.  It might send us out into the streets because we can’t keep quiet about what is happening to us.  It might bring together people who had been separated.  The Spirit can do amazing things through this gathering called the church, if we are open to where God is moving. And if a church is powered through the Spirit, you can be sure of one thing; like the disciples of old, it will be on the move.

Like the first disciples, God is calling us out our rooms and into the world.  God is calling us to hear the wind and see the flames.  We are called to testify of the good news seen in Christ and tell everyone we see.  And that’s scary, because we will face situations where we fear we aren’t up to the task to bring hope and healing.  But the God’s Spirit is there forming us and shaping us to be agents of hope.  We called to be in a ministry of presence in the world, not always shouting our presence, but sometimes sitting with someone in the midst of their hopelessness to let them know that God cares for them and that there is good news in the midst of sadness.

Since this is Pentecost and we are receiving the annual Pentecost offering for new churches, I want to leave you with a story of being led by the Spirit. Many of you have heard the story of Stephen and Rebecca Haney, the clergy couple who left their native Oklahoma to move to Rochester, MN (in the winter, no less) and plant a church.  It has been a challenge for them, but I am amazed at how they have heard the call to follow Christ and be wiling to go on a journey with Jesus, telling the good news slowly but surely.  Here’s a little of a letter that shows how the Wind and Flame of God is moving in Rochester:

Open Source (Disciples of Christ) , a newer Jesus centered spiritual community in Rochester, Minnesota has been doing all it can to build relationships and make a difference. Not only do we build relationships with God and others, but we are working to make love real in the Rochester community and beyond.

As a community, we engage both art and intellect to begin to know Jesus and the Gospel. Open Source just recently held its first Wine 2 Water event, raising funds ($700!!) for clean water sustainability in Nicaragua. Additionally, our Open Source Artist Network is selling art and sharing the Open Source story at a local Art on the Ave event next Saturday. On the very same day, we will be partnering with Christ United Methodist Church to feed hungry people lunch. This meal may be the best meal those present may receive all day.

On Sunday, we will have a picnic, where we intend to play, laugh, tell jokes, share a meal, and then have communion. Even though the picnic is not one of our worship experiences, we acknowledge that God is still present, and the Lord’s Table is definitely a distinctive part of our community life. Even in our play we embrace the idea that “we are a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.” We do welcome all to the Lord’s Table, even as God has welcomed us, and In this, we rejoice!

The Spirit is alive in God’s world.  We might not be called to plant a church, but we called to share the Good News.  How will you respond to the wind and flame?  Thanks be to God. Amen.

Note: The pictures are of paper airplanes flown by the kids and the rest of the congregation at the beginning of the service.  Thanks to Dan Adolphson for the photo.