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As I read Isaiah the first lesson for this week I feel a little bit like the munchkins in the Wizard of OZ….

 

“Come out,” to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.” The prophet is exclaiming to the people to come out from their hiding, to show themselves in the presence of a magnificent God who loves and cares for them.

So what are we hiding from?

Are we hiding out of our own shame? Are we hiding from the communities persecution? I know in my own community of LGBT’s fear and hiding comes from pain and the feeling of isolation, that you are all alone sometimes dealing with hate and pain. God says to us though – “come out” come out of your hiding and into the benevolent presence of the one who provides everything that is meaningful. Do not cloud yourselves in worry, come out and see that I can provide everything.

I find that especially difficult as i approach getting ready to leave a job and a paycheck to go on the journey that is ordained ministry. I have a hard time letting go and “coming out” into that fellowship. I constantly doubt what will be provided for me even though I know that when you are working for the Body of Christ, the body can do some amazing things to take care of it’s stewards. The gospel today is from Matthew 6:24-34, where we hear Jesus telling us of how God provides for the birds and the animals and they don’t worry about material items. So too will God bless you so much more then even the plants and animals if you would just stop worrying…

Ok so God provides….. but i have a hard time trusting that…. I sometimes get the image of the man on the roof in the flood when I hear people saying they are waiting for God to provide. The man is waiting for his God to save him and sees a man in a Canoe come by and offers him rescue, to which the man replies, “no I am waiting for my God to save me”, soon a row boat comes along, still same response, about an hour later as the waters continue to rise a power boat came along, still same answer. Soon the water was up to the roof and the man was getting anxious, a heliocopter comes by and offers him rescue, but still the man replies with “waiting for my God to save me.” Later when the man was standing before God, he asked Him, “why God didn’t you save me? why didn’t you provide for my rescue?” God simply replied with, “well i sent you a canoe, a row boat, a motor boat, and a helocopter, what MORE did you want?!?!?!”

See we have to be willing to look around and see what God is providing in our lives. Without sounding too much like Joel Olesten though the critical question for you today is what do you do in response of God’s blessings? God says don’t worry, come out dwell in the fellowship of believers, know that i love you, and call you to be my hands and feet to the body of Christ. By devoting our lives to the mission and ministry of this church we will care for each other, provide for each other, comfort the people, and praise our Risen Savior that much more. This is my hope, this is God’s hope, Come out – wherever you are and taste the fullness of God……

As i begin to transition into the next phase of my life i am having a hard time letting go. The acceptance letter has come, the award money has been offered, the date in the not so far off future is now set. As my friend Jill said tonight on facebook… “so you stopped ignoring it” and so here I stand at the edge of the precipice and I have no idea where i will land.

We take comfort in our lives in the ordinary. Things fall into nice little boxes and we can deal with them, categorize them and see how they fit on the shelves with our other things. I am personally having a hard time in letting go of all my ordinary things that i have put on my shelves in nice neat little boxes. My job goes nicely with my family (mom and i do real estate together in case you didn’t know), my family relates well to my friends (mom and i work with one of my best friends in the whole world), my friends fit in with things that make me happy. It is pretty ordinary.

I take the word play of ordinary fitting into extraordinaryvery much at heart. When i was thinking about my call it was the alternative call process through the ECP (Extraordinary Candidacy Project) that helped me see that there was a way for my extraordinary call to be put on the shelf with other heterosexual people who seek a call to ordained ministry. Suddenly my ordinary life was not so ordinary anymore.

I watched Brother’s and Sister’s tonight where i watched my favorite character Kevin get married to his boyfriend Scottie. An extraordinary marriage. Kitty, Kevin’s sister, presided at the ceremony and said that it was when we let go of our sense of ordinary that we can start to do extraordinary things. Which made me think about how much i need to let go of what ordinary things i am holding onto in my life. I need to be open to allow the spirit to come in and fill me in ways that defy what ordinary conventions are so that through the work of the spirit I can help accomplish extraordinary things in the name of Christ.

It is also fitting that it is the day of Pentecost. Today we celebrate the beginning of “ordinary time” in the life of the church and see the awesome works that are possible when we are filled with the Holy Spirit. We see how when the Spirit fills us with it’s gifts we are able to do extraordinary things.

Looking at extraordinary things takes work though, they aren’t immediately relevant in our lives. Receiving the gifts of the spirit is not like Christmas where it comes neatly wrapped with a gift receipt at the bottom. Sometimes it comes on us like a rushing wind (kind of like the gusty winds outside my house tonight…jeesh) while at other times it comes to us in the still calm of sitting quietly with a friend.

One way that people encounter Christ is through the Sacraments that fulfill and sustain them empowering them to become ambassadors for the risen Lord. And really it doesn’t make a difference how it comes to you, the larger question is what do you do with it.

Letting go of the ordinary is not easy, it’s not comfortable, and sometimes it isn’t pleasant. The disciples where letting go of everything that they knew about Christ, they were experiencing the RISEN Christ. In the matter of 3 days everything that was ordinary in their world quickly became extraordinary. I think when we look around at our ordinary structures today and let go of them being so comfortable and see ways in which we can become extraordinary people becomes our vital task as the church. We need to see that the gospels get inside of us and challenge us to become extraordinary people. That is my hope for you today, that we are open to receive the Holy Spirit, encounter a Risen Christ, and go forth into the world to be extraordinary disciples.

THANKS BE TO GOD!!!!

 

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Your love. Through the diversity of tongues You gathered together the nations, in the unity of the faith. Alleluia, alleluia.

Today’s second lesson struck me as especially powerful today. It comes from 1 Peter and is found in  4:12-14 and 5:6-11. The lesson starts with “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” The refiners fire is strange and uncomfortable, so hold on we are about to jump into the crucible.

Take a moment to visualize fire… some it is a fire in the fireplace, some the candles that adorn the alter, some may have more horrific images of wildfires or even a devastating house fire. Yes fire is a forced with which to be reckoned. Fire and heat also has a purifying element. Think of how we make iron and steal and how we “burn” away the impurities that are left in the metal – making a harder substance. This kind of “fire” is what Peter was talking about. Christianity is like the “refiners fire” – it is a process by which we come to know the glory of God. The ordeal of being a Christian was very important to first century Christians as they faced much public humiliation and degradation.

 

A message like this coming from Peter was not something that was ill timed – I think it is truly ponent that it speaks to Christians across all of time. To often we get caught up in America in occupying the moral majority as Christians. We very comfortably can exercise our faith and do not need to hid as the Jew’s did in Nazi Germany. That is not to say that their are not people in the world who are suffering for their Christian faith today. I am reminded of Christians in Palestine, India, and Africa who face open persecution for their faith. These are easy Brothers and Sister’s in Christ to remember, but what about those that are persecuted right here in America. What about our Brother’s and Sister’s in Christ who are “illegally” in this country, who are divorced and put off by their particular Christian institution, who love a member of the same sex – yes I said it, the people out occupy the “marginalized” space in our culture, may – just may be one of our fellow Brother’s and Sisters. How different is their ordeal in coming through the fire then our own?

As we share in this refining process we should be aware of the presence of sin and temptation. “Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” Nice imagery going on there. Devil prowling…. How are you setting yourself up to be devoured? The temptations are all around us everyday, which is why it is important to remember that we practice our faith not in a vacuum but in the presence of one another. Reach out to the community of believers for support, we find strength in one another. We should (as the Puapa New Guinea Synod taught me) “cast our burden’s unto Jesus, for he cares for you….”

I – unlike my father, am going to stay away from the 1 Peter reading for this week. I don’t feel confident enough in my writing – or dare i say preaching – yet to address it fully and without stumbling around the issue.

Today’s Gospel we hear of how Jesus Christ brings us into the “fold” of God. We hear a parable about a Shepard who calls to his flock and in response the sheep are moved. The children experienced this first hand this morning when they went to one of our member’s farm and stood at the fence and tried to “call” to the sheep. God bless them they tried so hard to bring those sheep closer to them, but all they could do was stand at the fence in vain. It wasn’t until Kathy (our good Shepard and Council President) stood at the fence and called them over – “here sheep” – that they came, some came with great haste, others got a little distracted along the way, but all came at the sound of her voice.

I wonder how Jesus stands at your pen and calls your name…. of course i can’t say that without immediatly thinking about the hymn “softly and tenderly jesus is calling… ” and i have issues with that, sometimes jesus does call softly – other times it seems that he hits you over the head with his voice. Either way he is calling all of us to a life of abundance sealed in his death and resurection. I know for myself i sometimes am like the sheep who get distracted easily on the way to the sheapard. I hear the voice calling and see the nice patch of grass i would rather be eating…..

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe”

Doubt… miss-trust…. fear….

We all walk around with it everyday. We see it on our neighbor’s face as they struggle through rounds of radiation treatment in their battle with cancer; we see it on a child’s face as they leave school only to know they are going home to deal with abuse; we see it on a mother’s face as she confronts her child dealing with addictions; we deal with it when we are let down by our community; we see it on our politician’s faces as they face difficult decisions; we see it around the world in poverty, hunger, and disease. We all deal with fear and doubt in one way or another every day.

Doubt and fear is a scary topic to talk about. It leaves people uncomfortable – it forces people to deal with a theology of God that isn’t so pretty and nice and clean. I think in some ways it was even scarier for the apostles immediately following the death of Christ. Their world had crumbled around them – their strong leader had suddenly been executed and his body was miraculously raised from the dead. Talk about too much drama for one week – I can only imagine the amount of fear that the Apostles must have been feeling. Then something interesting happens. The presence of Christ shows up and simply says “peace be with you” a simple act that we do as part of our everyday liturgy, “peace be with you”. The disciples where facing emanate persecution, they were hiding in a room, fearful for their very lives, and Jesus shows up and says “peace be with you”, I don’t know about you but I probably would have told Jesus where he could put his “peace be with you”.

This is the RISEN CHRIST – and this is exactly how he comes to us in our everyday lives, “peace be with you”. Stop, slow down, do not worry and know that I am with you, “peace be with you”. We experience this peace when we worship, when we celebrate the sacraments, when we greet each other as Christ greeted the Apostles in that room that night, “peace be with you”. Know that through the Holy Spirit I am with you always and I am sending you out just as my Father sent me, “peace be with you”.

God’s peace is amazing and I wonder how often we stop to see that Christ’s peace that he shared with the Apostles that night is with us today.

“….In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith–being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

Trials of faith are interesting events, I know that I personally go through them a lot and wonder how many other individuals go through so called “crisis of faith” situations. I continue to turn my back on the “peace of Christ” and let the real world get me down. I struggle to find Christ’s peace in a world full of pain and suffering. I too, am like Thomas. I doubt in a world full of so much hatred that I find it hard to see the Risen Christ in everyone and everywhere I look. I struggle to find the hope in a world that is so full of malice and war, hunger, disease, suffering.

“Peace be with you” – for by his Resurrection and re-birth we too are given a new life. A new life free from pain and suffering, from disease and affliction, we have faith in a death like his so that we can share in a Resurrection like his – and this gives us HOPE. Through the deepening of our faith we share in the HOPE of the world to come, a world where there is no more afflictions, no more abuse, no more disease. This HOPE becomes our LIVING HOPE that we share right now with the world around us, we share a RISEN CHRIST.

 

As we start this journey to the cross I am moved to write about my reading that I am preparing for our Easter Vigil that we are having on Saturday night. My assigned reading comes to us as the story of the Israelites crossing the Sea of Reed’s with Pharaoh’s army in hot pursuit. We hear the words coming to us in what can only be described as coming from the pages of God’s and Angels of an epic battle with unforeseen odds. The mighty Egyptian army is in pursuit of the Israelites as they flee their rule. The Egyptian people doubt their journey into the wilderness and cry out to their leadership…. “why have you lead us into the desert to die…”

In that act of desperation is where I come to you tonight, at the end of a Lenten journey that has caused us to prepare ourselves for a journey with Christ I wonder how many among us are like the Israelites ready to throw up our arms and say “why…..”

In the mist of a country with a decreasing economy, a war without a seeming end, and with the threat of world hunger, poverty, and what seems like a hopeless world condition I think that we can all stand and say “why….”

As I prepare to go on a journey toward ordained ministry I can’t help but sympathize with Moses, after all it wasn’t a path that he chose for his life, he him self said to send his brother. Moses didn’t posses the powers of speech or persuasion and probably wished he would have gone the other way so that he wouldn’t have found that burning bush. But this is where God encounters us. In the place where we least expect it and when we feel that we are not able to be the victor in the situation. We encounter a God who is with us throughout our journey and when we call on him is able to do miraculous things. “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still”.

As we prepare to go through the Easter season and join in a death like Christ’s we are reminded that through him, in him, and with him we are able to achieve the final victory. It is through him, in him, and with him that we will be able to close the waters on the enemies.It is through the waters that he calls us all to be with him as well. The salvation that comes to us through the waters of baptism are a gift freely given to all. I am reminded of this as I review the draft statement on sexuality that the ELCA has put forth. Just as God has delivered his people out of captivity, God delivers each of us into eternal salvation. This gift is given to EVERYONE regardless of background, personal beliefs, or particular sexual situation; I would even venture to say that the gift of baptism would have been given to the Egyptians – shocking I know.

It is in this hope of saving waters that we bring about change in the world. We join in the waters of baptism to fight world hunger, to end war, to bring about peace and bring the Promised Land not just to the Israelites but to all people so that they too may be delivered to eternal salvation.

 So how do you stretch out your hand over the waters? 

 

So this week we are faced with the incredibly founding principle of grace…. something that is near and dear to me and many of my fellow Lutherans. I am reminded of a story I heard in North Carolina to describe grace in a way that every southerner will understand. A pastor from a church in Pennsylvania is coming to a conference at Southern Seminary, on the way he stops for breakfast at a roadside dinner that can only be described as having come straight from an episode of Dinner’s and Dives. He asks the waitress for a cup of coffee and then orders pancakes, eggs, and sausage. When his food comes, he inquires to the waitress – “excuse me miss, this isn’t what I ordered” pointing to the white steaming bowl of grits. The waitress replied with “honey, you don’t order grits, they just come…” and turned around and walked away.

See grace in a way is just like that… you don’t ask for it, it just comes… So how does it come and what do we do in response of that grace?

If you are like our for-fathers in this country you believed that by divine providence God was showing us the way to the Promised Land and that it was our manifest destiny to become the greatest nation in the world. The early founders of America were escaping religious persecution and went a different way – found a new land, founded on a moral order and a “right” way to live. They had brought with them their identify; the same way that we keep our own identity today in the context of the new worlds that we encounter.

We strike out into unfamiliar worlds all the time, we go off to school, we go to work new jobs, we take job relocations, we find ways that God takes us out of our comfort zones and puts us into places that challenge us and our beliefs. My challenge and change was going to college and being confronted with people that didn’t accept my homosexuality. It was a constant struggle for me to see how God was working in all of this. I was struggling to find out how God speaks to us through so much adversity.

I was being confronted with people who where living in the law, people who said that these types of actions are against what God wants. The law for them was how they lived their life.  To limit God to just the law, or just these laws greatly misses the salvation we have in Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the law.

We hear in today’s reading from Roman’s how Paul rectifies the law to our system of works righteousness. Luther tried all his life to make his life here on earth worthy in the sight of the lord, and no matter how hard he tried fell short in the terms of the overwhelming gift we receive in eternal life through the grace of God. 

God’s greatest gift was his son which he sent to die for us. The only way for us to be saved like him is for us to share in a salvation like his. We remember this every time we celebrate communion – by taking the body and the blood – we are united in humanity with him and will share in a resurrection like his. The only way Jesus says to have the kingdom is to be born again – born again a gift of grace freely given to all – we in tern through faith are empowered to act as Christ in this world.

Any good Lutheran can recite that mantra after confirmation class, “for we are saved by grace through faith….” And this is not of our own doing but by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It truly is a very liberating thing once you stop and realize this fundamental part about salvation. You can stop running the race of who does enough for the homeless, who donates the most to charities, who teaches the most Sunday school, or who has done the most terms on council. All of these works righteous efforts are for not, if you don’t do them with the right heart. These actions should be done out of faith and love of Christ and not out of the “this will get me to heaven faster” mantra I see so many people undertake. This isn’t a race people – it’s a re-birth a re-orientation of your heart for God. And that may just be the greatest journey ever – that truly is the promised land….