Justus et Peccador – Homily on Romans 6:12-23

We are all of us Saints and Sinners. And this is what it means when we’re talking about it.
Wednesday’s homily was delivered without notes, so you may listen to the sermon rather than read it.  

Homily delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley.

June 28 – Fourth Wednesday after Pentecost

“Justus et Peccador”.  Text is from  Romans 6:12-23

Sermon audio follows:

 

Hard Truths – Sermon on Matthew 10:24-39

Sometimes people just don’t want to hear hard truths. That doesn’t mean that the truths are frightening, they can simply shatter their worlds.
This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley.

June 25 – Third Sunday after Pentecost

“Hard truths”.  Text is from  Matthew 10:24-39

Sermon audio follows:

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Jesus is telling his disciples some very tough things to hear, at least to the sensitivities of our 21st century ears. This message is a continuation of the Matthew commission in which he is sending out the 12 to the ends of the earth in order to bring the good news to the people. And it’s a stern warning that the word of God will not always fall on willing ears. That there will be many who will adamantly oppose what they have to say. But that what has before been secret. That the good news is about much, much more than how everyone previously understands it. It’s about bringing the truth to the light and a new comprehension of the relationship between God and humankind.

It is an upending of how we have come to know the Messiah. The Prince of Peace is telling the disciples that rather than peace be brought to the earth, he is going to upend the natural order with a sword. And this sword will be a truth that cuts through natural relationships. Children will turn against their parents. And if a parent cannot set their sons and daughters aside if it means following Christ, than they should not bother following Christ. The path to discipleship is sometimes hard and can sometimes be lonely. But the promises that Christ is telling his disciples, the sharing of this new kingdom and the opportunity to spread the news of it to others, is far greater than any family bond.

2017.03.07 -MuslimBan 2.0 Protest, Washington, DC USA 00784 (33279470586)On examination, the familial bonds that Christ is talking about echo the words from the prophet Micah in chapter 7, who we don’t often hear from:

5 Put no trust in a friend,
have no confidence in a loved one;
guard the doors of your mouth
from her who lies in your embrace;
6 for the son treats the father with contempt,
the daughter rises up against her mother,
the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
your enemies are members of your own household.
7 But as for me, I will look to the Lord,
I will wait for the God of my salvation;
my God will hear me.

However, It should also be noted that Jesus is not simply bringing words designed to destroy the traditional family. He’s telling the disciples the truth of the matter. That relationships among them will be relativized. The definition of family becomes something new.

Remember when Jesus’ own mother and brothers were troubling him about wanting to speak with him while he was busy teaching in Galilee? Jesus responded, “Here are my mother and brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” What we have known as the natural bonds of the nuclear family has become occluded. Family is no longer who you share genetic material with but who acts like family. And in telling his disciples that these bonds no longer mattered so much in the longer scheme of things, Jesus is giving them freedom to act against the status quo, because not all of their parents will accept the truth of their decisions.  Not all of their siblings will drop everything and take up their own crosses to follow them.

In fact, this is the first time the gospel writer Matthew uses the word cross in his gospel. And while we read it with the understanding that the crucifixion of Christ always eventually follows, it is not meant to specifically reference Christ’s crucifixion but as a prerequisite to the life of discipleship. One must always be prepared to carry one’s own cross to share the good news, to be worthy of Christ. No matter what the cost.

So there we sit with this message. The truth, which is meant to set us free, in fact seems to be engendered to cause strife. The Prince of Peace seems to destroy peace. Families uprooted, and all we have to show for it is a costly grace that we have earned for it. And it may appear, if one sees this in the cynical manner than one sometimes gets when woken up on the wrong side of the bed after a particularly emotional stressful day, that the good news really hard to find amidst this message.

But Jesus is sincerely not trying to frighten them, he’s not trying to test their mettle to see which ones actually have the chutzpah to stand with him when push comes to shove. He’s underscoring the reality of what being his discipleship really means. And we’ve been talking a lot about discipleship since Pentecost, and for myself I think it’s quite a good focus on what it means to be sharing the truth of ourselves. What it means to be in this covenant we have with God.  When Jesus is talking about his not bringing peace to the world, we can always look on it with the context of the world he was living in. Indeed, do you know what the Pax Romana was? This was a period of time where there were no wars abroad, because the Romans, at least in their serious influence, held the Mediterranean in thrall with iron chains. When Jesus talks about disrupting peace, many people immediately think about the overthrow of their oppressors.

But it is more than that, because the truth of our lives may disrupt more than that. In those days, the choice to follow Jesus was a hard one to take, particularly for people who had family steeped in the old law, the Hebrew law. The way of Jesus ran counter to centuries of tradition and understanding of a person’s relationship with God. And if his followers’ parents, siblings and children were not ready to follow him, or worse, stood against all that Jesus stood for, then it was best for Jesus’ followers to essentially shake the dust off of those places. Genetics does not hold a candle to the word of God.

And speaking our truth in our households can often be disruptive. There is a parade going on today in San Francisco that was first organized at a time when most of the people involved had been rejected by their families wholesale for proclaiming the truth in their lives. And while the world has come a long way for LGBTQ people since the 1970s not all families or communities, particularly those from certain more fundamentalist faith traditions, are inclined to be open to the natural condition of their children without trying to force compliance to sexualities or gender identities that are unnatural to them.

And other truths can be just as disruptive to our relationships with our families of origin. When many people, and particularly white people hear someone proclaim the words “Black Lives Matter”, they seem to go to this place inside of them that tells them that this means that their lives don’t matter. And so, this fragility so often experienced by people of privilege, who don’t usually see their privilege prevents them from moving toward an understanding the frustration of people always having to explain, by virtue of the color of their skin to police why they’re carrying a licensed firearm, why they’re driving their own nice car, why they are walking through a neighborhood in which they live, why they have to go through hoops to do things the rest of us take for granted because they’re afraid of being shot by cops. And nothing you can say to them will help those who don’t get that from opening their hearts for people who have different experiences than them, because those who don’t get that hear their own frustrations echoed, intentionally and pointedly sometimes, in the language of pundits on television with million dollar mansions who have no moral compunction against disavowing the state of the minorities among us.

And so, what can you say to people who don’t realize that they don’t need to hear that “white lives matter” because there has never been a time that society has not subconsciously provided that message? And truth-telling these members of our families, our community, becomes a source of contention. And divisions prevail, even when the gospel message calls us to uplift the persecuted and welcome the stranger among us.

But God calls us into a new family paradigm. And while we may in fact, be in a place where we have great relationships with our families of blood, but remember that many of us are not. We live with our families of choice. And at the end of Matthew’s gospel, which we read two weeks ago, the disciples were called on the great commission to bring people into this new family of choice, and to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Peace is a beautiful goal and it is one that we long for, but the message of truth and salvation, the heralding of God’s heavenly kingdom is one that disrupts complacency and destroys the old ways of doing thing. The Good news cries out in new and wonderful places, and we are God’s

Because the good news needs to be proclaimed, and we are God’s tools to do it.

Amen

Hospitable places – Sermon on Matthew 9:35–10:23

We don’t necessarily need comfort when we share the good news. But hospitality helps us establish intimacy. We need to know who we’re proclaiming to.
This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley.

June 18 – Second Sunday after Pentecost

“Hospitable places”.  Text is from  Matthew 9:35–10:23

Sermon audio follows:

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God.

I am going to describe something to you and I want you to nod your head if you have seen it.

Image of tea setting, two cups, crackers, tea kettle, books and pensA man is standing on a box in the middle of a public square. He may be holding a megaphone or may simply have a loud enough voice that to those who hear him don’t need the amplification. He probably has some signs in front of his box declaring how and in what manner God is going to send down his wrath and what people must do to be saved, and he may be with other people. The words coming out of his mouth are a combination of bible verses picked all across scripture and his interpretation of what those verses mean to those who may be listening. He might point at one or two people walking by, almost in a carnival barker style, declaring that this woman is dressed like a harlot or this young man should change his gangster lifestyle.

Regardless of his words, and usually it involves condemnation of just about everything, yes these are the type of Christians we mainliners just want to roll our eyes at an shake our heads to, because their hellfire and brimstoney speeches are clearly giving the rest of us a bad name. But the words are almost always falling on deaf ears. How can you call something good news that does very little but frightens people listening to it? And besides all that, what kind of message is shared when the messenger is so far removed from the object of the message? With such a lack of connection, is it any wonder that these street hawkers of biblical condemnation meet with very little success?

Yes, the gospel message is offensive to those who are afraid to embrace the gift of faith that Jesus Christ has bought for us. That Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. Yes, some people shirk at the mere mention of his name, because of what they think people are saying versus what the good news is all about. But that doesn’t mean that the gospel message is one that should be offensive! Christ calls us into community, and the grace of Christ is meant to be shared between people who are connected, people who are able to look each other in the eye and speak to one another by name. We break bread when we are gathered. The message that Jesus Christ is Lord is a message to be shared among all peoples, but one that is shared with kindness and love and understanding.

Today is the first Sunday in that long season after Pentecost known as “ordinary time”.  And each year, we follow along with Jesus and his disciples as they travel throughout the appointed Gospel for that year, with miracles, parables and words of wisdom.

Jesus is traveling throughout Galilee and doing miracle, healing every person that asks, and feeling for the growing crowds that gather around him, knowing that they are facing things in life that make it difficult for them. Is it oppression from their rulers? Is it that the people who are gathering are homeless, jobless, kicked out of their communities? For whatever reason, Jesus sees them and has compassion, telling his disciples that the people need direction, that this harvest is plentiful, and that it’s time.

Jesus gathered all of his disciples together to give them instruction as to what they should do in his name. Matthew recites the name of all twelve of them for us, and this is telling for he names them alongside of the instruction and authority that Jesus gives them: Curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers and casting out demons. Last week we were talking about people who are unworthy doing deeds in Jesus’ name. And yet it is clear what Matthew intends here, that all twelve of the disciples, including the one who was to eventually betray Jesus, are given the power and authority to perform miracles even as they proclaim the good news.  As if the power of God is greater than any weakness of humankind.

And the additional instructions, included here give us a decent idea of what is entailed with the sharing of the gospel. That the disciples, even those of them who were men of means, such as Matthew, take only the clothes on their back, no money, none of the comforts of life. That they should expect hospitality where they go, and if they do not receive it, those places are definitely not ready to hear the good news. Jesus’ message seems to become more prophetic toward the end of the instructions, because the details seem to be more about the time after the resurrection than they do the current commission.

But one thing is clear in the instructions that Jesus is giving out. He is not telling them to go to the town square and shout at passersby warning them of the impending apocalypse. He is telling his disciples to accept the hospitality of strangers and to become vulnerable to those people and therein lies the good news.

What does it mean to be vulnerable to people we are bringing the gospel to? It may seem easy at some times. People like to host guests, show that they can spend time over a carefully prepared meal and provide a welcome respite for a weary traveler. Accepting hospitality of strangers is no great chore.  But while the message is the same, the world has changed greatly. We don’t travel from town to town spreading the good news. Our proclamation happens right in our own back yard.  Perhaps that is in part some reason why some people find it simply easier to get on a soap box and shout at passing strangers with whom they share no real connection.

So what is it like to accept hospitality and become intimate with the people that Jesus calls us to witness to in this day and age.  How do you accept the hospitality of prisoners, for instance, when you’re in an environment where there is no possibility of the exchange of food, of comfort? How do you establish the kind of intimacy required to share the good news?

What about on the street with a person who is living in a doorway. Who has nothing real to offer to you except what they have managed to collect in their day to day. Where the kind of comfort one expects from living indoors does not exist. Sometimes hospitality may mean bringing your own cup of coffee and one to share as well.

How about in a nursing home? Where the resident may have a cache of candy but receives only the food that comes with their daily meals? Their home is possibly one half of a two-person unit.  Like with the others, hospitality is being invited into a space. Establishing intimacy is being able to look the other person in the eye and naming them. Being able to see the Christ in them as they see the Christ in you. Opening yourself up to the Holy Spirit to guide you as you open your heart to the person in front of you.

Because in a world where people are often mean to each other, hospitality is a unique thing. How many of us know the names of our neighbors on both sides of us? How about across the street or hallway? And how many of them know that we are Christians called upon to proclaim the good news as his disciples? In the world today, we must sometimes be uncomfortable to become intimate, we must sometimes brave strange places to go where Jesus calls us. Because the good news needs to be proclaimed, and we are God’s tools to do it.

 

Amen

Good enough: Sermon on Matthew 28:16-20

Do you linger with doubt? Jesus calls you to do his work in the world anyway.
This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley.

June 11 – Holy Trinity Sunday

“Good enough”.  Text is from  Matthew 28:16-20

Sermon audio follows:

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God.

Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity badgeDo you ever think that you’re not good enough for the gospel? Do you ever think that something that you’ve got inside of you, maybe a yearning doubt or maybe that your faith isn’t strong enough, or maybe you’ve done so much in your life that you don’t think there’s a chance in the world that you would feel the call of God to do the work that he calls you to do in the world.

Sisters and brothers, this is not an unfamiliar feeling, even to those of us who are seemingly the ones to whom God has issued a call to discipleship, whether they be pastors, deacons, leaders of the church, or other types of ministry. I know that I’ve experienced many doubts in my lifetime, unable to be certain of whether I was good enough to share the good news, or even worthy enough to earn the merit of salvation. They can be some hard feelings to overcome.

And so many of us linger, unsure of where the spirit is moving us, how the spirit is driving us. Determined that while our soul is being fed on Sunday morning, the task of discipleship is best left to others, those that are truly meritorious of this, the final commission that Jesus Christ sent his disciples out on the final days he was in the world.

But we have the love of God within us. And we have the peace that Christ offers us. And through the communion of the Holy Spirit, we are compelled to act in ways that are contrary to often selfish human nature. God calls us into discipleship. And in the words of Christ, it doesn’t matter whether or not we believe strongly enough or behave righteously enough. He sent all of his disciples into the world to do the work, as we read at the end of Matthew.

The final commission completes the Gospel of Matthew, and takes place not long after Jesus has risen from the dead. All of the disciples return to their homeland, in Galilee, where Jesus appears to them all at the same time time (at least in the Gospel of Matthew). The end of the Gospel of Matthew is the beginning of the work of Christ in the world.

Jesus’ place here is no doubt. This dialogue takes place after all the miracles he has performed. All the prophecies he has fulfilled. This happens beyond the Last Supper, the betrayal, suffering, crucifixion and death. We have witnessed the empty tomb, and Christ has appeared to the women, Peter, John, the rest of therm. There is no question that Christ is Lord and that his divinity is from God’s own self.

And so the command that Jesus gives the disciples, to go out into the world and make other disciples, stems from that divine authority, directly from God.  To baptize them in the triune name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The same authority that Jesus had to forgive sins, that the Pharisees called blasphemy. Jesus is telling his followers to baptize in his name. In the name of the Father. And in the name of the Son. And in the name of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is God. End of question. And he has given this special commission to each and every one of them.

And so, when we read what Matthew tells us in verse 17: “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” My mind simply boggles. After all this time, after following Jesus, after seeing him appear to them already several time and after listening to the testimony of others, some of these people continue to doubt. Some of these human, frail, imperfect human beings doubted that what they were witnessing was, in fact, the return of their teacher, their friend. Despite all the evidence.

But that’s not what really throws me.

Because despite that doubt. Despite that disbelief, Jesus still sent them out to make disciples. Yes, you who doubt me, go and make disciples of humankind. You who resist the faith that I have entrusted to you, yes, you over there, you are yet qualified to baptize in my name, in the name of God the Father, in the name of God the Son, and in the name of God the Holy Spirit, make disciples, and tell them to obey all the commandments that I have given you.  Love each other as I have loved you. Love God with everything you’ve got. Love your neighbors like you would yourself, and I don’t mean the way you fail to love yourself when you harm yourself but the way you’re intended to love yourself to preserve yourself and make yourself feel good. Yes, do that with your neighbors too.

This I tell you to do everywhere in the world you may go.

These are God’s commandments that Jesus tells them to do, but in the resurrection, they are not simply God’s commandments, they come from Jesus too. And he has the strength and power to instruct anyone to share the good news of his new covenant with mankind. Even those who doubt. Even those who are less than perfect.

And so we can doubt. And if you realized this was Holy Trinity Sunday and was hoping for a sermon whereby the pastor explained the hypostatic nature of the Holy Trinity, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Because I can’t even say I completely understand it. I know and declare that God is the Creator and Jesus is God and God, the Holy Spirit directs us in our day to day activities. That God, the Parent made us and loves us and that God the Son and the Word gave his life for us and rules over us and God the Holy Spirit breathes in us and enables us to live righteously and love each other. And we don’t need to understand the nature of the Trinity to be God’s wonderful servants, to be disciples.

We don’t need to lead perfect lives and we don’t need to be exemplars of faith, and we don’t need to worry about all of our past deeds. Faith is a journey and we journey together.

If we want to lead more holy lives, we can take a loo at what it means to declare everything that we do, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” What would it look like if all of our efforts were done with the understanding that right there, in the room with us, were the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That all the promises that they entailed, all of the meaning that went with them. How we behave and how we experience each moment. Every meeting, every dinner, every car wash, in the triune name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Any fear we have will be assuaged. Any doubt we experienced is relieved.

Sisters and brothers, the doubt that we sometimes fear is not somehow telling us that our faith has failed or that we are somehow unworthy of God. It is telling us that we are human, and therefore absolutely loved by God, and as Jesus has called us to act as disciples, and given us authority to do great things in his name, having doubts doesn’t discount that. Being imperfect simply reminds us that we need God to complete us, because in no way are we able to have the strength on our own, and God is always there to do that.

God loves us, just as we are. Jesus calls us into mission, no matter how we believe. The Holy Spirit moves us forward, whether we’re ready or not. And the good news is that we never have to doubt. We never have to fear. Because God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is with us, from beginning to end.

Amen

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