Posts Tagged ‘Gospel’

Light Show & Tell

This message based on John 1:6-8, 19-28 explores the hope that we have in Jesus as the light that shines in our darkness.

This was preached and recorded at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Greenvine, TX on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, December 14, 2014

Click the following link to listen to the message or scroll down to read the manuscript:

http://www.spreaker.com/user/5989422/light-show-tell

 

Light Show & Tell

Hope. We hope for lots of things in this life. Some of what we hope for is really profound, like the tenacious teen who says, “I hope we will have peace on earth.” Other times we hope for something more of the moment, like a child who says, “I hope I get what I asked Santa for this Christmas!”

Grown-ups hope too. They may say something like, “I hope I get the job promotion I’ve been working toward.” Or, “I hope I don’t have to have surgery.”

And in the church, we hope. In fact, “hope” is one of the major themes of our time of Advent.

Our Gospel reading from the book of John has a lot to say about hope. But to get the full meaning, I’d like to back up to the beginning of the chapter and read a selection for you. You can look this up in your pew Bibles if you’d like to follow along. [Read John 1:1-8]

The “Word” referred to here, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” is Jesus. And in Jesus, “was life, and the life was the light of all people.”

While the emphasis of the verses officially designated for the day is on John the Baptist, it’s important to see the connection to Jesus. John’s entire role was to be “a witness to testify to the light.” In other words John was there to show and tell people about Jesus.

Jesus coming into the world was the fulfillment of many hundreds of years of hope by the people of Israel. God had made promises to them over the centuries, setting them apart as God’s chosen people. But the people of Israel saw their kingdom rise and fall and spent most of their history occupied by foreign powers.

But all throughout that time, even the darkest days for the people of Israel, the light of God’s promises shined in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.

It seems difficult to fathom—holding out hope over centuries of uncertainty. And even when Jesus did come, he wasn’t exactly the Mighty King for which many had hoped.

And that’s a tricky thing about hope—sometimes we hope for one thing, but we get something greater still.

I don’t know about you, but hope tricks me like that. My greatest time of longing in my life was the time after I was married and before I had my son. My history of infertility made it difficult to have a child. I had hoped so hard to become a mother, but year after year it wasn’t happening.

When I couldn’t have a baby—and I knew it was my fault—my thoughts grew very dark. I began to question my value, my worth as a woman. I wondered if God had brought this infertility on me as a curse because I didn’t deserve to be a mother. I felt hope slipping away.

But light shined in my darkness.

Y’all know that I have a son. And he is an answer to prayer, but I tell you, his being born was not what restored my hope.
In the midst of my darkest days, God met me and assured me of his love for me no matter what. Not because I was “good enough,” not because I was “woman enough,” and not because I would be a mother some day. But right then, God loved me, God cherished me even in the depth of my pain.

I don’t know what all made it possible for me to have my son. I did have some help from modern medicine, I also was on a special diet at the time. I wish I knew. I had hoped I could have more kids. And even now, some days I go to that dark place and wonder and worry about my “womanhood” and my “worth” since I still can’t have another child.

But God continues to shine his light in my darkness, giving me the hope and reassurance that only God’s love can give.
The specific words that bolstered my hope when I question my worth were spoken by a theology professor of mine years ago, “Remember that God loves you for Christ’s sake and will not let you go.” In fact, when children come forward at the communion time and ask for just a blessing, those are the words I use. “God loves you for Christ’s sake and will not let you go.”

We can hope for lots of things. And some of what we hope for will come to pass—we may very well get what we asked Santa for or that job promotion. Yet, our faith tells us that there is something deeper still in which we can place our hope. It’s what John the Baptist came to bear witness to, it’s what is at the heart of Jesus’ story: That God loves us for Christ’s sake and will not let us go.

No matter our circumstances, God loves us. Whether we are naughty or nice, God loves us. Whether we can do all the things we wish we could or not, God loves us. Whether we accomplish what we want to in life or miss one opportunity after another, God loves us.

It’s not wrong to hope for all kinds of things in this life. But sometimes the circumstances of life don’t go our way. And if everyday circumstances are what we place our hope in, we may disappointed. But this light, this love of God, is a sure and certain hope in which we can place our ultimate trust.

May you bask in the light of God’s love and allow God’s love to radiate through you that you may also bear witness to his love, and show and tell others, “Remember that God loves you for Christ’s sake and will never let you go.”

Look Who’s Stooping

Sometimes we’re asked to do something that we don’t feel worthy or prepared to do. How does the life and ministry of Jesus affect our sense of worth?

This sermon based on Mark 1:1-8 explores this idea. This was originally preached and recorded on the 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 7, 2014 at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Greenvine, TX.

Click the following link to listen to the message or scroll down to read the manuscript:

http://www.spreaker.com/user/5989422/look-whos-stooping

 

Look Who’s Stooping

A missed call showed up on my cell phone a few weeks ago. When I saw that it was from Pastor Blair Lundborg from the synod office, I said to my sister-in-law, Karen, “If this is about a job, the answer is ‘yes.’

“Don’t you want to find out what the job is first?” Karen challenged me.

“Well, of course I’ll hear him out before I say ‘yes.’ But I think this is an answer to prayer. I have hoped to find a way to be of service in our synod, and if my synod is calling me about a job, then this might just be what I’ve been waiting for. So, I’m pretty sure it’s a ‘yes.'”

When I got a free moment I returned Pastor Lundborg’s call. It was, in fact, about a job, but to be completely honest with you, when he told me what he had in mind, I was a bit nervous. He invited me to serve as the interim for Emmanuel in Greenvine. This job was a step beyond what I had imagined for myself.

For one thing, an interim assignment—even one at half-time—would mean a great deal more hours than I had worked at a paying job in a very long time. But also, it is a job that is ordinarily filled by an ordained pastor, which I am not.

I found myself rethinking my words to Karen about being able to say, ‘Yes’ on the spot. I did indicate interest, but wanted some time to think it over.

I had to ask, ‘Am I prepared for this ministry?’

After some thought and prayer and conversation with my husband, I realized that, with the help of God, I could do this. So I told Pastor Lundborg I wanted to move forward with the possibility. He got me in touch with y’all and we agreed on a contract for me to come be your interim minister.

The feeling I had about wondering if I was prepared for this assignment, is similar to what John the Baptist experienced. Despite being the one to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry, John the Baptist wrestled with his own anxieties about the situation.

John the Baptist had crowds coming to him from the big city and from across the countryside. They were eager to hear his message and receive the baptism he offered.

But John knew that his work was not for his own sake. He was there to point to Jesus.

John himself recognized that Jesus’ ministry was more important than John’s and that Jesus would surpass him. In Mark 1:7-8, John says of Jesus, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I think of John the Baptist, I imagine him as a rather primitive character. He wore clothes made of camel hair and he ate locusts and wild honey. So, when John talks about feeling “not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of Jesus’ sandals,” I can begin to imagine why.

Yet, as I already noted, he did have crowds coming to him, so he obviously had a good thing going. Still, he had that sense of feeling unworthy compared to Jesus.

Goodness. I can certainly related to feeling unworthy as compared with Jesus. I was even nervous about becoming an interim minister, but John was the opening act for Jesus!

“Not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.”

It’s not clear from this text whether John the Baptist knew the identity of the one coming after him.

Did he know that it was his cousin, Jesus? If you’ll recall from the story from the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptist was 6 months older than Jesus; their mothers were pregnant around the same time.

I have a lot of cousins, some older and some younger. The older ones will always be people I am in awe of. And the younger cousins will always be people who I knew as babies.

When you think about it, it almost seems strange for John not to feel worthy compared to his baby cousin.
But see, that’s just how disarming Jesus’ story is.

John didn’t feel worthy to stoop down and untie Jesus’ sandals, and yet God himself stooped to become one of us in the person of Jesus Christ.

And this is the wonder that we behold as we prepare for Jesus birthday at Christmas. Jesus stooped to be born as one of us, to be a baby—even a baby cousin! He stooped to live out life among us—and one of us.

It is worth noting that the name of this church, Emmanuel, means “God with us” in honor of the reality of God stooping to be one of us.

And Jesus stooped lowest of all, enduring the humiliation of a death sentence.

God in Christ Jesus came to be one of us to demonstrate once and for all that we don’t have to do anything to become worthy. Humanity is so loved by God, that God came to be one of us—to live and die and rise again for our sakes.

And through Jesus’ rising from the dead, Jesus proves once and for all that we have nothing left to fear—not even death and the grave. And that with God’s help, we can do more than we thought possible.

So, being an interim minister is new for me. And, this particular pastoral transition is new for you as a congregation. While you’ve had pastors come and go in the past, each pastor is different. There is no one quite like Pastor Rich. And having your lives touched by him has changed you—and from what I can tell, it has changed you for the better. Now that he is no longer pastor here, you too may have your anxieties about your future as a congregation.

Or maybe there are other challenges you’re facing in your daily lives? Perhaps you have a new job, a new school, new friends, or new stage of parenting. Whatever it is, we are often faced with experiences that push us to do more than we feel prepared to do.

Oh, sometimes we might need more training or study to be able to do what is asked of us. And it’s a good idea to take advantage of opportunities to learn and grow in our skills. But let’s not overlook the ways that God can and does work through us right now.

We can entrust our ministry together, our jobs, our classes, our friendships, and our families to our Lord. We don’t have to be anything other than who we are to be dearly loved by the God of the universe. We don’t have to feel unworthy of service in the church and in the world, because we look to and trust the God who stooped for us, empowering us to love and serve in his name.

What Are We Waiting For?

The culture thinks it’s time to celebrate Christmas, but the church tells us to wait and keep watch during these weeks leading up to Christmas day, a time historically known as Advent. But what are we waiting for when we already know the Jesus story?!

This message, based on Mark 13:24-37 was recorded on the first Sunday of Advent, November 30, 2014, at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Greenvine, TX.

Click the following link to listen to the message, or scroll down to read the manuscript:

http://www.spreaker.com/user/5989422/what-are-we-waiting-for

 

What Are We Waiting For?

“I know some good games we could play,”

Said the cat.

“I know some new tricks,”

Said the Cat in the Hat.

“A lot of good tricks.

I will show them to you.

Your mother will not mind at all if I do.”

Dr. Suess is one of my all-time favorite writers. Depending on your perspective, Suess’s iconic “Cat in the Hat” is either great fun or a horrible influence. In the books about him, this Cat comes around when the kids are home alone—this might be a clue that he’s trouble. But then he plays these wild games and makes a huge mess.

Somehow his assurance, “Your mother will not mind at all if I do,” fails to convince them. The pet fish speaks up,

“No! No! Make that cat go away!

Tell that Cat in the Hat you do NOT want to play.

He should not be here.

He should not be about.

He should not be here when your mother is out!”

The kids try to choose between the Cat saying, “Your mother will not mind at all,” and the fish saying, “He should not be here when your mother is out!” And it’s kind of like the dilemma we are faced with this time of year.

On the one hand, our culture from Thanksgiving forward is pushing Christmas on us—the holidays have begun! It’s as if our culture is saying to us, “Come and celebrate! Your Savior will not mind at all if you do!”

But the church is a bit like the fish, saying, “No! No! You should not celebrate when Advent is about!” The church is urging us to slow down, to wait, to keep watch, to prepare for Jesus’ coming.

Maybe our culture is a little bit right, our Savior may not mind terribly…but maybe the church is onto something in asking us to wait…

Still…waiting is hard.

And it takes vigilance.

In our Bible reading from Mark, chapter 13, Jesus compares this vigilance to a doorkeeper’s watch—waiting for his master’s return from a journey. “Therefore, keep awake,” Jesus says in verse 35, “for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.”

There was then another time Jesus said to “keep awake.” In the garden before his death on the cross, he invites the disciples to “keep awake” while he prays. He then returns to find them fast asleep. They couldn’t even keep awake a single hour!

Waiting is hard indeed.

But also…it kinda doesn’t make much sense to “wait” when we already know how the story goes! We know there’s a Messiah born and he lived and preached and helped people and then he died on the cross for our sakes and then he rose victorious over death.

We know the story. And so, we might rightfully ask what it is that we’re waiting for anyway?

Well, for one thing good stories deserve retelling. And our Savior will not mind at all if we keep telling it. In fact, that is part of what we are called to do—to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to all the world—to keep telling the story.

And the best stories are the stories in which we want to take part. Our Savior will not mind at all if we do! Indeed, it is precisely when our stories are touched by Jesus’ story that we can be salt and light for the world.

So, the invitation of the church year, which begins today, is to hear the Jesus story once again, bit by bit, week by week. And there are some slow parts—like now with the waiting. And there are some high points with all “glory to God in the highest!” And there are some sad parts with dissension, denial, and death. And there is the victorious part of Jesus triumphing over death.

Again though, it seems like it’s all wrapped up neat and tidy, so what are we waiting for now?

Well, the thing is, the story isn’t over. And the story isn’t over because we’re still here! And even though Jesus has already conquered death, his reign on the earth is not fully established. There are still wars and rumors of wars. There is still brokenness in the lives of God’s created people. And there are still people who need to hear the Good News of God’s love in Christ Jesus.

So, this Advent, we begin again retelling and rehearing the Jesus story—which begins with waiting for that baby to be born! And we remain vigilant, spreading God’s way of love in all we do and say. That which we are waiting for is the full drama of the greatest story ever told—and our Savior will not mind at all if we get caught up in it all over again.

Salt, Light & Caring – Thankoffering Sermon

Salt, Light, & Caring

Thankoffering Sermon based on Matthew 5:13-20

Deaconess Jennifer Clark Tinker

 

To learn more about the Thankoffering tradition, you can read about it in this PDF from the Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:

 

All About Thankofferings

http://www.womenoftheelca.org/filebin/pdf/resources/AllAboutThankofferings.pdf

 

Listen to the sermon by clicking the link below, or scroll down to read the manuscript.

 

Audio of “Salt, Light, & Caring”

http://www.spreaker.com/user/5989422/salt-light-caring

 

Fleeing from inside my in-law’s house, I urged my son, “Quick, get in the car!” Once inside the car, before I turned the key in the ignition, I took a few deep breaths. My son was good to oblige my sense of urgency, but he’s old enough that it seemed an explanation was in order. Why did I feel the need for this quick get-away?

Well, I had to get away from my mother-in-law…

Now, don’t get me wrong here. My in-laws have been very dear to me. And my mother-in-law, Elaine Tinker, died a month ago, so I want to tread carefully here and honor her memory. She was an extraordinary woman. She was kind and social, involved in women’s ministry at her church, and various clubs and associations in the community. She was very smart, excelled in her education and kept sharp throughout her lifetime by reading a lot. She was also very detail-oriented, my father-in-law even bragged that she ran the family from her hospital bed in the weeks leading up to her death.

She was fabulous in so many, many ways. And I learned so much from her. But sometimes that “detail-orientation” of hers…well, sometimes I had trouble orienting myself to it. So, you understand, this is a confession about myself, and not speaking ill of my mother-in-law.

On the day that I fled to the car with my son, I was planning to take my son to run an errand while my husband and in-laws went to a meeting. I had it all worked out in my mind how the day would go. But my mother-in-law was concerned about the details.

How would we get back into the house if we finished our errand before their meeting was over? I tried to dismiss the concern telling her we’d be fine even if I didn’t have a detailed plan.

But she continued to wonder aloud. Finally I explained that we would just go for ice cream to fill time until their meeting was done.

But what if it took longer that that? I had to assure her that we had brought work to do, books to read, and paper to write or draw on. For good measure, to allay her worries I made sure she knew we had electronic devices to keep us busy if all else failed.

I think I set those concerns to rest.

And then she turned to worry about how they were going to get out of the driveway since my car was behind theirs. I said, “We’re leaving when you do.”

“But we have to leave very soon,” she countered.

“Well, we will too.”

“We need to leave any time now.”

Exasperated, I finally said, “We’ll just go right-right now, so we’re out of your way.”

That’s when I grabbed my kid and got out of there. After I caught my breath in the car, I explained to my son, “Sometimes I feel really stressed out when Grandma Tinker frets over details like she was just now.”

“Yeah, I know,” my son acknowledged. He knows me too well. There was a pause as I continued to breath deeply. “But,” he broke the silence, “at least it shows that she cares.”

He couldn’t have been more right about that. Every detail Elaine relentlessly followed up on was because she cared. She wanted so much to know that each of us had what we needed and would be okay in life. Even when I slipped out of her questioning, I was always blessed by how much she cared for everyone.

I think the “why” of someone’s detail-orientation makes a difference in relationships. People can be detail-oriented for less-caring reasons: perhaps out of a sense of compulsion, maybe to control other people, or for selfish gain. When it is less-than-caring, relationships are jeopardized, but when it is for caring reasons, relationships are enhanced.

We have before us in the Bible reading from Matthew 5:13-20 the vision of being salt of the earth and light for the world. This is then quickly followed by Jesus talking about the law. In verse 17, Jesus says that he has not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Now, in one way of looking at it, the idea of keeping to the law can sound like a pretty nit-picky, detail-oriented prospect. Indeed, Jesus even goes so far as to say in verse 18, “not one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”

Now, the pharisees were big on keeping the law and Jesus often got himself in trouble with them when he didn’t stick to the details quite like they thought he should. For instance, the Pharisees were pretty angry when Jesus healed on the sabbath because it was unlawful to do work on the sabbath.

But Jesus showed that the details of the law are not to impose arbitrary rules on our lives. The whole of the law can be summed up as loving God and loving our neighbor. In other words, keeping to the details of the law is about caring rather than control.

Whenever sticking to the law gets to be about something other than upholding relationships with God & neighbor, then those details get in the way, that obsessive, detail-orientation can actually do more harm than good. I mean, it just doesn’t make sense relationally to leave someone ailing just because no work is to be done on the sabbath!

It is in this spirit of wanting to do good for our neighbors that we celebrate Thankoffering this morning. The special offerings collected here will go out to be “salt and light” to neighbors near and far to show our care. And it is in this same spirit that our women’s ministries go about being “salt and light” throughout the year, making quilts, putting together school kits, and health kits, throwing birthday parties in nursing homes, supplying food pantries, and much more. There are many details that go into carrying out so many ministries: funds to manage, supplies to gather, and people to mobilize.

And this isn’t just in women’s ministry. There are many details involved in other ministries of the congregation, in our jobs, in our schools, in our recreation, and in our homes. And even though some of us have more patience with details than others of us…we see to all of the details because we care.

Except, there may be times when the details themselves become overwhelming. How should we direct our funds? What supplies do we need? When is this or that going to get done? And who is going to do what needs done? When all the details begin to press in on us, it may be tempting to flee the situation altogether. Or we may decide to stay and seize control, barking out orders to others to get everyone in line!

If we begin to feel burnt out or stressed by the details, there’s a good chance that something is off kilter in our relationships. It is in those times that we need to be reminded that it is not up to us to do the work of caring on our own strength.

When Jesus says that he has come to fulfill the law, I believe part of what he is telling us is that his example is the ultimate representation of loving and caring. Indeed, Jesus loves and cares for us without limits, even to the point of giving his very life for our sakes. But Jesus’ fulfilling the law goes a step further in his rising from the dead. Jesus’ victory over death means that Jesus himself, through the work of the Holy Spirit, empowers us to tend to the details, to be the salt and light that the world so needs, and to be the loving and caring presence for our neighbors that we are called to be.

We give thanks for the details that have gone into caring ministries by all people in and through this congregation. We give thanks for women’s ministry in particular. At the same time, we honor the source of our loving and caring—the God who first loved and cared for us. And it is that God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that we look to for support in tending to all of the details involved in being salt and light in loving care for the world.

Footwashing is Worse Than I Thought

20131109-083051.jpgFootwashing–in particular Jesus washing his disciples’ feet–is a centering symbol for my Deaconess community. I thought I understood the importance of this humble act of service that Jesus modeled but it is more important than I realized because it’s worse than I thought it was.

One of my favorite Biblical scholars is Kenneth E. Bailey. I even did one of my podcasts for Life & Liberty based on some Bailey wisdom. He is well-acquainted with Middle Eastern culture and brings powerful insights to bear on the Bible.

I was asked to speak with a neighboring women’s group about Deaconess ministry. I chose to lead them in a Bible study of John 13–the passage where Jesus washes the disciples’ feet.

I could’ve just gone with what I know about it, but since I’ve discovered Bailey I wondered what new insights he would bring.

My husband found me this 16-minute video of Bailey teaching on this passage. I learned a few things from the video that painted footwashing as even more profound than I knew. Please take the time to watch and see what I mean:

A highlight for me was the insight that the radical nature of the act would form a bond between Jesus and his disciples if they chose to accept the act. The idea of the intimacy forged through Jesus’ self-giving really resonates with me.

And of course, Jesus was willing to go even further–and do something even worse–for the sake of not just those few disciples but to reconcile the whole world to himself.

Thanks be to God for the lengths to which he goes for us!