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 25, 2018

November 25 -- Christ the King Sunday

Grace to you and peace, from GOD who creates us from the good stuff, from Jesus who redeems us from the bad stuff, and from the Holy Spirit who accompanies us, challenging and comforting us, along the way, through all the good and the bad stuff.  AMEN.
Today on this Christ the King Sunday, we have an interesting picture: Jesus is not crowned in our readings with glory and gold—as much of our art and our music would have us believe.  Jesus is standing before Pilate, “a prisoner” in the Empire’s terms.  
Now why would we focus on this picture on such a regal Sunday, on such a celebratory day?  Jesus is about to be sentenced to death…and that’s our reading for Christ the King?  Other years, the assigned reading on Christ the King is actually the story of Jesus on the cross.  That’s a little strange, a little depressing, don’t you think...especially in this festive, holiday time?  
But sometimes we need to be confronted with the starkest of contrasts in order to hear and understand the Truth of Jesus’ way.  Sometimes we need to see him, face to face with the powers of this world.  [pause] The Roman Empire was the most powerful nation on earth, the greatest country in the world—the mightiest, most sophisticated, most majestic.  It had the most advanced and well-trained military, the best technology in its cities, an order and system of governing that was proven to be most effective, the promise of freedom and peace for all citizens of Rome.  Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome.  It’s a little scary to think about comparing the Roman Empire to the United States of America.  Often we imagine ourselves as the underdog, I mean we Americans love the underdog stories, as we should—it’s written into the fabric of our history, with our humble beginnings and all the underdogs who worked and suffered to get us where we are today.  But we mustn’t kid ourselves now, we are one of the wealthiest, most powerful nations in the world, even in these days.  I like to imagine Christ on our side, but at the beginning of this text today, Jesus is opposite us.  The USA looks a lot more like Pontius Pilate.  Jesus is standing face to face with the power of this world—military might, brute force, Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea, ambassador of ROME.  Pilate represents us.
It’s kind of a classic build-up we’ve got here, at first glance.  ESPN and Fox Sports have mastered the building up of classic rivals before the great match.  Virginia Tech vs. UVA.  The Red Sox vs. the Yankees, the Cowboys vs. Redskins.  Other rivalries?  Help me out… You can almost hear the music and see the helmets clashing and exploding.  “Jesus vs. Pilate!  TODAY ON FOX!  Let’s get ready to...!!”
That’s the way of this world.  Two contenders, someone’s going to win and someone’s going to loose.  And that makes sense to us, doesn’t it?  And in retrospect, every time we read the story, we’re rooting for Jesus.  We’re rooting for Jesus’ might to make everything right.   We’re rooting for our idea of power to be expressed and made known in the ONE TRUE GOD dominating and even destroying the opposition.  “Yeah, show ‘em Jesus!”  It’s so easy to want what the disciples and the Jewish people wanted—an underdog but powerful leader, eloquent and brilliant like a star quarterback to spearhead the underdogs from oppression to freedom, freedom in the world’s terms.  That would make sense!  (& be awesome, right?)
But that’s not what we get.  
First of all, what we get is someone we can’t relate to.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus is ice cool.  He is what he says he is—not of this world.  I don’t know about you but I like a Jesus who I can relate to.  I like Mark’s portrait of Jesus: a guy who gets angry and impatient at times, who gets scared at times, but still manages to overcome death and the grave.  
But not here in the Gospel of John—oh, he overcomes death and the grave alright—but totally unflinchingly.   Jesus has always been portrayed as weak, wracked with pain, humiliated during the Passion, in movies and probably in our imaginations.  Sometimes we try to recreate that on Good Friday.  But in John’s Gospel you’ll notice that he never shows fear.  He never cowers, sweats like blood, praying in the garden that he doesn’t have to go through with this.  Always remember that in John’s Gospel, Jesus is ice cool, calm, almost inhuman.  He practically climbs up onto the cross himself!  In fact what we see here is Pilate getting more and more upset at Jesus’ lack of fear in the face of all the power that ROME represents.  In those classic head-to-head battles that we can relate to so well, we know that both sides have to have a healthy dose of fear in order to take on their opponent.  But Jesus has no fear, never did.  Certainly the most courageous leaders in history tell us that they had to overcome their fear in order to succeed.  But Jesus never overcame fear because he never had it.  Jesus is all God, all divine.  It’s hard for any of us to relate to that kind of Jesus—we kind of draw a blank.  So we imagine other models.  We draw from other Gospels.  We want so badly to relate to Jesus.  We write hymns about “what a friend we have in Jesus,” and we cling to them.  We need those ideas of Jesus to which we can relate...but that’s not what we get today.  [pause]
WE GET A MONARCH, A SOVEREIGN.  You can’t be friends with a heavenly king, no earthly underdog can.  Now how is that Good News?  
[slowly] It’s good news because what we get this day—on this New Year’s Eve Day of our church year, on this day of turning a page in our congregation, on this day of looking both back on this past year and forward into the next—is the all encompassing love of God for this world.  What we get this day is not simply another clash between good guys vs. bad guys, to put it simply, but an embrace…an all encompassing embrace.  In the Gospel of John, LOVE just pours out of Jesus like an ever-flowing stream.  It’s inhuman, that is, beyond this world.  Jesus is LOVE.  There is no clash because Jesus’ reign covers the entire cosmos.  All the world.  Pilate can’t see it, his view is so narrow.  (His love covers the cosmos like light fills a room.  It’s everywhere.)  
It’s like the children’s song, “He really does have the whole world in his hands.”  No one is conquered when they are conquered with love.  That’s what we have today.  Forgiveness of sins, the promise of eternal life, freedom from fear ourselves, confidence to walk in grace led only by the voice of the one true Shepherd King who guides our feet into the way of peace, who is our only true protection.  How quickly we forget and seek other forms of comfort and protection (like Pilate, the disciples, the Jews all did), but Christ is our King—not King in the way the world understands it, but King [pause] over the way the world understands it.  [pause] Jesus’ love pours out all over us and this world today, saturating us with joy, pouring over us comfort and security, flooding us with forgiveness, drenching us with eternal salvation.  It’s overwhelming really.  There’s no contest—a classic duel between good guys and bad doesn’t even make sense.  
It’s all God, all Love, all Jesus.  That’s the cross of Christ, around which we gather here again, before a new year begins.  In this cross is healing, peace, love, life and joy.  Happy New Year.  Thanks be to God.  AMEN. 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

November 18 -- 26th Sunday after Pentecost

Grace to you and peace…

Take a moment and turn to your neighbor and describe to her or him the most impressive building in which you’ve ever been in your life – doesn’t have to be religious, but it could be.  Perhaps a cathedral, perhaps an athletic stadium or a building in DC, perhaps a skyscraper or a castle.  Think about it for a moment, and then tell your neighbor…

[share some responses. Wrigley Field, Castle Church]

Well maybe you had to think about what the most impressive building you’ve ever seen is, but for the people of Jesus’ time and place, this would not have been an interesting question, because everybody knew:  It was the temple in Jerusalem.  

And in our Gospel text, as some of the disciples are admiring that temple – “What large stones, and what large buildings” –  Jesus prophesies:  “See these stones?  See this temple, see that cathedral, that stadium, that mall, that skyscraper, that castle?  Not a stone will be left on stone.”  In other words, all earthly things will eventually deteriorate and waste away…as glorious as they may be right now.  “But my body,” Jesus says to us today, “will rise up through the ashes.”  

Friends, Christ speaks to us today about ultimate things—the end of the world, the end or our lives—and thank God for it.  The world will end.  Our lives will end.  But Christ will rise up through the ashes to take us with him, to shower the ruined world, the dead and all creation with compassion and righteousness. Christ will rise up through the ashes, the crumbled buildings and wasted empires, to rule all in all.
Come, this morning, sisters and brothers in Christ, receive the comfort of God in the midst of our fears and tears. 

Do you ever worry about the world coming to an end?  You wouldn’t be alone.  It seems like no matter what era/period/administration/chapter we’re in, someone is always able to relate to these texts about nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom, natural disasters...  Whether the halls of power are dominated by Democrats some years or Republicans other years, there’s always that voice:  “Uh oh, this is the end.”  With fires and hurricanes and blizzards and for decades now, mass shootings.  Maybe the fears and tears come from whatever political party is not currently in power.  Or maybe it’s on our tv sets or radios or computer screens.  Or maybe that voice is in our own heads, when we read passages like this (of which there are a few in Scripture), that we say to ourselves: “Uh oh, the end is at hand.”

But here’s what’s at the heart of our readings today, friends in Christ:  Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to God!  That’s actually from the book of Romans, but it’s at heart of today too.  Come, you who are scared about the end of the world or the end of the church or the end of your life!  Come, you who are terrified about what’s going on now or what might be next.  Come—all are welcome in this place—and receive the comfort of God this day—offered to us in Bread and Wine, Word and Water.  The comfort and presence of our God: the antidote to all our fears and tears!  Our places of worship—i.e. our stadiums and shopping malls, and amazon.com and FB—will one day be gone!  Those are the places where we sure can put our trust, our joy, our money and our time.  (Not us Lutherans though, right?)  

Maybe our beloved places of worship—our churches, where Christianity is studied, preached and practiced—feel like they’re slipping away these days.  “Nobody cares anymore,” I hear.  I don’t happen to believe this actually (I actually see our post-Christendom challenges as a refiner’s fire moment), but I’ve been wrong before; and sometimes we forget that everything we have, is actually God’s, and it can be gone even in the blink of an eye.  

But even if we were to lose everything, sisters and brothers who follow Jesus, remember that Christ rises up through the ashes to save us, to heal us, to redeem us, and to comfort us.  Can we trust that promise?  Can we open our hands to receive that gift freely given in Christ Jesus?

The Church is not a building, the church is the body of Christ.  The Church is you.  But not just you, it’s the generations and generations that came before you and me.  And it’s the generations and generations that, thanks be to God, will follow.  The church of Jesus Christ will live forever, wherever 2 or 3 are gathered, wherever the word is preached and the sacraments are administered.  It’s OK: God’s got this.

What if this structure was all to fall down?  That’s worth asking with our text today.  What if this beautiful building was reduced to a pile of ashes along Little River Turnpike?  Would Bethlehem Lutheran Church still exist?  Would you still have a church home?  According to the children’s song, it would: “I am the church.”

Christ rises up through the ashes.  Our God lives, not confined to buildings and rituals (which rise and fall), but our God lives…among us (prof who threw the Bible against the wall), in us, around us…as we seek ways to love and care for each other and this frightened world. 

Let our reading from Hebrews guide us this day and always: Let’s wait for God by caring for each other.   Let us lift one another up… let’s “provoke one another to love and good deeds.”  Let us be the church together.  Let us wait for God by reaching out.  (Luther’s apple tree quote.)

Sisters and brothers in Christ, someday it will all end—maybe tomorrow, maybe light years from now—but remember this day and always that whether you live or whether you die, whether this world lives or whether it dies, WE BELONG TO CHRIST.  May that strong Word, that enduring promise, that unshakeable truth be your comfort in all you do.

Let’s read together our HOD #327.  

God, our help in ages past, help us to trust in you now.  In the midst of our joy, in the midst of our fears and tears, help us to trust in you now.  We give you thanks for the gift of your Son, who rises up through the ashes, and leads us on our journeys.  Continue to hold us together, strengthen our hearts, and assure us of your promise, forgiveness and all embracing love, this day and for evermore.  AMEN.

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.