Martin Luther described the Holy Bible as the "cradle of Christ"...in other words: The Manger.
Not only at the Christmas stable, but all year-round,
God's people are fed at this Holy Cradle.
We are nourished at this Holy Table.
We are watered at this Holy Font.

This blog is a virtual gathering space where sermons from Bethlehem Lutheran Church (ELCA) and conversation around those weekly Scripture texts may be shared.

We use the Revised Common Lectionary so you can see what readings will be coming up, and know that we are joining with Christians around the globe "eating" the same texts each Sunday.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

November 11 -- 25th after Pentecost

Grace to you and peace…

“For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Sisters and brothers in Christ, I would venture to say that none of us can truly put ourselves in the shoes of the widow.  I could be wrong about that, and if you offered your last two coins to God recently, I stand corrected.  But I would venture to say that all of us — even the most trusting-in-God among us — contribute, as Jesus pointed out, from our abundance.  

I even wrote those silly lyrics in the giving song we sang for the last month.  “So if you got 10, give 1 to God and keep the rest.  How ‘bout 30?  Well that 3 for JC, 27 for me!  And a 1000...dollars, well that’s 100, you could, you’re still looking pretty good.  You see offering is fun, in thanks for God’s lovin’ everyone…”  But the widow doesn’t have 10 or 30 or 1000, she’s got 2 and she offers those last 2 up to God.  

So where’s that leave us?  It leaves us with a challenge.  It leaves us on a journey.  It leaves us with Christ watching.  

I actually like that.  Jesus is watching us: what we do, what we say, and what we give — not ready to punish us or pounce, like some kind of angry God.  No we confess that God is a God of grace.  And so this Jesus “sitting opposite the treasury” is a loving God.  What do we say to our kids — most of us — when or if they’re getting frantic and anxious about being perfect or winning it all or performing seamlessly?  “Honey, I just want you to do your best, and I’ll love you no matter what.”

That’s what we’re dealing with here today.  Are we doing our best?  Giving our all?

Are we “leaving it all on the field,” as a good coach would say?  And I hope you know I’m not just talking about money.  Our relationship to money is very important to God, we can’t deny that.  Money can help identify our own personal and collective idols, and releasing it in church, with no strings attached, has been called an ‘exorcism’!  But this is about our actions and our words and our thoughts — our time and our talents, too.  Are we “leaving it all on the field”?

What does it look like to “put in everything [we] have, all [we] have to live on”?  

This isn’t a guilt thing!  Please, hear me.  This text is an invitation, a chance to re-evaluate and recommit.  I know the world doesn’t hit the new year’s reset button until January, but the Christian calendar is actually about to turn over on December 2, with a new liturgical year, First Sunday of Advent.  And what a gift a new year can be.  

What does Christ see, sitting across from you...and me...as we bring our whole selves forward to the altar?  Is there some resetting that we might do?  A little more we might offer?  A confession we might need to shed and entrust to God’s forgiving grace?  “Honey, I just want you to do your best.” 

Jesus sees us, friends.  He is looking at us, and that’s a good thing.  You don’t watch what you don’t like; you watch what you love!  Christ watches us...and therefore loves us into lives of deeper commitment, fuller generosity, bolder action, and more expansive welcome.  What a blessing to even start to live that way, to even take steps in that direction...this new year!
On the other hand, when we toss out just a bit out from our stashes, our gross abundance, we are ultimately missing out.  I sense a tone of mourning in Jesus’ voice, as he looks at those who aren’t giving in a deeper, more prayerful and trusting way.  They’re still “in control,” and yet there’s pain in that failing to offer their whole selves back to God.

My dad graphically likes to say: “Not giving [regularly, freely, joyfully] is spiritual constipation.  We get backed up.”  When we hang on to what we have so tightly, it stops being a gift.  Remember when we did that exercise with our hands — clenching vs. open?  If not giving is getting backed up, then giving...is a healthy, easy, joyful “movement.”  And there’s nothing better than that!

True story:  pastor friend back in California, who was making house calls during stewardship season.  (Ever happened here?  I’ve never.)  He was going around...and next on his list to visit, was dear old Doris, who had been a member for years, tithed generously all that time.  They visited for a while...

“Pastor, aren’t you going to talk to me about money?”
“Oh Doris, you’re good…we don’t need to go there.”
“Don’t you do that, Pastor.  Don’t let me off the hook, don’t deprive me from the gift of trusting in God more!”

None of us is truly the widow in this text, I’m guessing.  And that’s ok.  What Jesus is inviting us into — always — is better digestion!  Grace comes freely.  Time, talents, treasures shower our lives, our church, our souls.  We enjoy it all, we revel and frolic in God’s abundance.  And then we let it go freely and joyfully.  

That movement is what discipleship looks like.  And everyone should get that chance.  That’s what discipleship looks like.

The poor widow got it.  The others were suffering.

Now there are all kinds of justice issues we can talking about — why she’s poor, what kinds of systems of discrimination and  oppression and greed and just plain tragedy in her life might have forced her into that place of poverty...  
But this is about faithful discipleship!

It’s all the more powerful, actually, that even with all that, she still gets discipleship, she’s not deprived of that!  Nothing — not tragedy, not poverty, not injustice (not even constipation) can exclude us from following Jesus!

This is what Christ longs for, for us:  Peace in our hearts.  Trust in grace to abound.  Joy and hope in knowing that we can bring our whole lives forward, offer our whole selves to God, rich or poor, young or old, with all our blemishes and brokenness…

Friends, God takes us as we are.  God forgives our faults — even and especially the big ones.  God longs for us to stop clenching, and open our hands to this bread of life, this cup of mercy.  It is shed for you and for all...so that a new day, a new year might begin, even right now!  

There is no poverty in God’s grace and peace and welcome!  It is abundant, it is for everyone!  It is for you, this day and always.  Thanks be to God.  AMEN.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

November 4 -- All Saints Sunday

Grace to you and peace from God who is our peace, even and especially as we find ourselves in the mix of the mix. 

Here on this All Saints Sunday, as we celebrate and give thanks, as we bring our pledges forward in a sign of our trust and joyful thanksgiving for God and all of the blessings of this life, as we brace ourselves for a big election week and all the division that comes with it, as we move into the hectic holiday season, as we sustain all the changes all around, with work and school and family and news...here in the mix of the mix, God meets us again, and Christ speaks peace, calling us back to the center:  Love God, love neighbor. What if we measured every word that came out of our mouth, every thought in our head, every tap of the keypad or phone screen, every action from our bodies on these two core commandments?  Love God. Love neighbor.  (I read these as equated...loving God = loving your neighbor.)  What a simplifying gift that might be!

Today in the thick of it all, and in light of this text from Mark’s Gospel, I’d like to share a bit about 2 saints in my life.  They are not pictured up here, but I can certainly see them here with all the rest.  All Saints Sunday is a day when we remember that the dearly departed saints are looking down on us saints still here, cheering us on.  Lining the balconies of our churches and our world, rooting us on...like Ann’s team at the marathon.

Well, first illumination on this text comes from a dearly departed member of the last congregation I served, Lois Hellberg.  Lois was a saint from the beginning, a passionate advocate for those who were overlooked — always the poor, the immigrant (she and her husband set up a library in Mexico and when everyone else was screaming about the dangers of crossing the border, she would take Saturdays to go down to Tijuana and deliver books to the library, visit with the families, and then sometimes she’d race back to host a fellowship event for church at her lovely, modest, peaceful home.  Her hosting always included strong coffee and singing.  Anyway, in my visits with Lois, as health problems accelerated toward the end, one time she told me a parable as we were talking: 
“Two able-bodied men were walking along the beach in San Diego,” she paints a picture for me. “And suddenly, they both hear the screams of a little boy drowning and struggling in the undertow, out in the water!  
“The first man drops to his knees in the sand and starts praying:  ‘Dear God, please don’t let that boy drown.  Please don’t let that boy drown.”  
“The second man looks around incredulous that no one is doing anything.  ‘Goddamnit, that boy is drowning!’ he shouts and goes running out to rescue him...even with bad knees.
“Now,” says Lois like a rabbi, “which of these two men took the Lord’s name in vain?”

Wearing our Christianity on our sleeve is one thing.  But Christ is about something else:  “Show me your discipleship by your actions,” Scripture calls us back again today, “by the decisions you make, by how you spend your time...and your money...and your able-body.  Don’t tell how faithful you are.  Show it.  Love God by showing me how you love your neighbor,” Christ nudges us again today.

In this text, Jesus is not actually arguing with the scribe.  He’s agreeing with him.  The scribe gets it, the scribe is the one who says all this, and so Jesus commends his deep wisdom and says to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  In other words, you got it!  Love is not about right doctrines and showy sacrifices, but rather about faithfulness, humility, trust and grace.
In a moment, we come forward and place our pledges on the altar.  That’s not a showy sacrifice ritual, like the scribe was describing: “Hey, everyone, look how great I am!”  Rather, physically coming forward at the Offering time on pledge Sunday is ritually ‘getting our bodies’, i.e. our whole lives, into our giving.  In other words, we’re running out into the waves!  Bringing our whole being up to the altar, and of course that includes our money.  We bring our whole lives before God, right past our beloved saints, gathered cheering us on.  As broken or crude or lost as we might be, bad knees and all, here we are, God! Where we’ve been, what we’ve done, doesn’t matter; God is calling us now.

My prayer in this pledge campaign this past month, has always been that every BLC member participates and pledges something.  Wouldn’t that be awesome?  Everyone according to their ability brings something forward.

All ages, all levels of income, give from the top of our baskets, first fruits, proportional to all we have, weekly, in a way that stretches us, and most importantly, we pledge joyfully.  We all come forward and bring what we can because it’s a reflection of how much we trust in and love God.  We’re not “taking the Lord’s name in vain,” we’re running into the waves.  Love God, love neighbor, you see?

The second saint I want to tell you about is my Grandpa Roschke, my dad’s dad.  Grandpa was a loving pastor for more than 60 years! [cross] He served so faithfully.  Sidenote:  As the churches Grandpa served grew, every 7 years, he would gather the leadership together and say, “OK, as I say every Sunday from the pulpit, we are called to go outward and spread this Gospel.  So who’s going to go?”  Can you imagine?  
No one ever wanted to “run out into the waves” at first, they were liked where they were.  But he Grandpa would pastor them...and new churches were born all over Kansas City.  Just a glimpse into his evangelical, i.e. good-news-sharing spirit.

After Grandpa died a few years ago, my dad discovered these laminated cards in his files:  John 12:21. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  You see, Grandpa would put these in every pulpit he ever preached from.  It was a reminder to himself and all preachers to ‘get out of the way’.  All preaching is meant to point to Jesus.  “Love God, love neighbor,” you see?  Stay to the side.  This isn’t about you!  In all our preaching and teaching, in our giving and sharing of our resources, in all our living, this world needs to see Jesus.  We knew Grandpa prayerfully liked to install these cards.  What we didn’t realize, was that he lived with the hope and vision of preaching so much more, of sharing so much more Good News of God’s love, so many more pulpits to go...

I’m growing to love this pulpit off to the side.  Altar center.

Friends in Christ, God shines through in the mix of the mix.  And it’s the saints of God, both those looking down on us and you...you are all saints too!  Ye watchers and ye holy ones — it’s the saints of God that get out of the way, and run into the waves to serve a world with everything we’ve got!  All Saints bear witness to the mighty works of the One who is deeply alive and abiding among us.   All Saints bear witness to the One who forgives us and challenges us.  All saints bear witness to the one who sends us now back out to love and serve in peace.  ALL SAINTS bear witness to Christ Jesus, who lives and reigns, this day and forever more.  AMEN.