Fear and Faith

August 11, 2019

Luke 12:32-40

Fear and Faith.

These are the recurring themes from our lessons this morning.  Could living our lives be as simple as stripping everything away to whether we are living in fear or if we are living in faith? Do we know how to name fear, and do we know how to name faith?

Sometimes fear is very evident and can be seen in the faces of little children. This past Thursday I had the opportunity to meet Alice whose husband was deported after following the legal process for nearly two decades. She shared how her five-year-old granddaughter had developed a fear of police after her grandfather had been taken. She would scream and cry while they were in the car whenever they saw a police officer. To combat this fear, she had a friend dress up as a police officer come over to their house and teach her that the police are not people to fear. She wanted to make sure that if she was ever in trouble, she knew that she could go to a police officer for help. For some, that feeling of safety and freedom is hard to find in this earthly world. That is when we turn towards God to catch a glimpse of the hope that resides in Jesus.

There is an absolute freedom in the reign of God which calls us to live in faith and to banish fear from our lives.

It can be easy to let fear control our lives. It has happened over and over again. As we turn to history, we can look at the rise of the Third Reich and Nazi Germany. Fear in the face of Hitler gripped Germany, while many people knowing what was happening, chose not to raise their voices. Many of those people were Lutheran! The fear also went the other direction as the reich created a fear of those that were different, resulting in nearly 11 million people killed during the Holocaust, simply because they did not fit the model picture of what the leaders thought humankind should look like. Fortunately, the rest of Europe and America stepped up to this manufactured fear of the other and fought to bring peace and freedom to Europe.

It is easy to co-op the gospel to your own making and we have seen it done in our own country through slavery, segregation, opposition to suffrage, and even to our present-day treatment of the stranger and neighbor among us.

Fear is not new. Fear has shaped humanity from the very beginning. Fear gripped Abram as he was afraid that he would not have any heirs to receive the blessing of the Lord. He was fearful of what would happen to his possessions after he died. What would happen to those things that he had been promised? He was fearful it may go to a slave born within his house.

Fear has gripped the disciples as they think about the difficult call that Jesus is continuing to make for them to follow. They worry about what is coming next and how they are going to live in their lives with Jesus. Jesus’ ministry is changing things and that change brings the unknown. Change can easily heighten our sense of fear.

When our surroundings change, our sense of direction is thrown out of whack and it can be easy to get lost. Do we become complicit to the negative changes around us like history has done in the past, such as Nazi Germany?  Do we embrace the change that lifts up all of God’s creation and pray for it as the in-breaking of the reign of God?

To move toward the freedom found in Jesus, we must acknowledge our fear.

Jesus is well aware of our fears and says, “Do not be afraid.” Our first response may be cynicism.

Thanks, Jesus! Sometimes that is much harder than what you suggest. Change is difficult. The unfamiliar can scare us. When we venture into the unknown our knees begin to quake and buckle. And in the midst of it, you tell us, “do not be afraid!” Yet, somewhere amid our fear we can begin to find just that tiniest seed of faith. That is all it takes. And, each one of us has that seed within us, even when it does not feel like it.

The author of Hebrews reminds us of what faith can look like. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Abraham learned what it meant to have faith. He found the freedom that is in the grace of God. As he listened to God and released all of his fears, he began to truly understand what God had been calling him to from the very beginning.

Jesus nurtured the seed of faith in the disciples that are following him, “have no fear little flock.” Jesus continues to nurture those seeds within us through the freedom that is given to us to follow and obey his word. Our faith, as it grows, begins to drive the fear out. There is an absolute freedom in the reign of God which calls us to live in faith and to banish fear from our lives.

Throughout history the faithful have been lifted for us to remember. Today we remember the faith of Clare of Assisi. Clare was friends with Francis of Assisi before he heeded the call from God to rebuild God’s church. Clare faithfully followed in the footsteps of Francis. Clare learned what it meant to give herself wholeheartedly to living into her faith. Her faith led her to found the Order of the Poor Ladies. Fear was not on her radar and the example of her faith lives on today as we remember her.

Fear and faith are both powerful entities. The question is, which one are you allowing to direct your life? Will you live into the fear of the unknown, the fear of change, or the fear of those that are different? Or, will you embrace your God-given faith to bring the reign of God closer to all of God’s creation?

This morning I leave you with a prayer from Clare,

I pray you most gentle Jesus…

Give me a lively faith, a firm hope, and perfect charity,

so that I may love you with all my heart,

and all my soul, and all my strength.

Make me steadfast in good works

and grant me perseverance in your service,

so that I may please you always. Amen

Cultivating Change

March 24, 2019

Luke 13:1-9

Once upon a time a psychology professor walked around on a stage while teaching stress management principles to an auditorium filled with students.  As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the typical “glass half empty or glass half full” question.  Instead, with a smile on her face, the professor asked, “How heavy is this glass of water I’m holding?”

Students shouted out answers ranging from eight ounces to a couple pounds.

She replied, “From my perspective, the absolute weight of this glass doesn’t matter.  It all depends on how long I hold it.  If I hold it for a minute or two, it’s fairly light.  If I hold it for an hour straight, its weight might make my arm ache a little.  If I hold it for a day straight, my arm will likely cramp up and feel completely numb and paralyzed, forcing me to drop the glass to the floor.  In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it feels to me.”

As the class shook their heads in agreement, she continued, “Your stresses and worries in life are very much like this glass of water.  Think about them for a while and nothing happens.  Think about them a bit longer and you begin to ache a little.  Think about them all day long, and you will feel completely numb and paralyzed – incapable of doing anything else until you drop them.”[1]

Quite often, when we hear the word change, we get that uneasy feeling in our bodies. We become tense, or possibly get butterflies wondering what that “change” may be. We get caught up in our stress and worries yet fear change and what that may mean. However, Jesus calls us to a life of change. He does not want us to be stagnant in our practices and wants us to encounter the triune God in new and exciting ways every day.

In the gospel lesson for this Sunday, Jesus calls us to change. Twice in the gospel lesson Jesus calls for those that are listening to him to repent. He is simply telling them to seek forgiveness and to return to God. He is well aware of the sins that they partake in every day and his call for them to repent is done with great love so that they will come to know the love of God which is greater than anything else. To repent though, means to change. Not only are they to return to God and seek the forgiveness that comes in repenting, they are also called to stop sinning. They are called to change their life and start following Jesus.

He follows this call to repentance with the parable of the barren fig tree. Its placement seems odd, yet let’s see how we can tie the call to change with the fig tree. There are many times in our lives that we attempt something new and it simply does not work. We try to change and then we wonder if it truly made a difference. Just maybe, we are not giving it enough time to germinate. To begin growing. Just maybe, God is still at work and we must be patient. Remember, God does not work on our timeframe.

I recall one such time in my first congregation when I got frustrated and did not let a new ministry germinate. I sensed God calling me to start a new cross-generational worship that seemed to be almost dead on arrival when it kicked off. Don’t get me wrong, there were people that showed up. However, I was disappointed, because my expectations were not met. I expected something grand and glorious. However, after three months in, I decided to pull the plug. I was not much different from the man that owned the fig tree and wanted to cut it down because it was not bearing any fruit.

How quick we are to cut off those things that we see no purpose or production coming out of. Isn’t this the practice in the business world today? It is all about the bottom line. In this season of Lent, we talk about letting go, but also, we must contemplate when is the proper timing to let go of something. We must discern it and ask ourselves, is it something that is pulling us further from God, or is it something that we can simply let be and see if life will come out of it?

When we are called to change, that does mean letting go. Letting go of the way that we used to be. Letting go of something that draws us away from God. Letting go of something that may be holding us back. It could be thoughts, fears, expectations, practices. The call to change brings us to a different point in our lives. It could be scary. It could come with anxiety. It could come with questions.

In the parable of the fig tree, the gardener tells the owner of the tree to give it some more time before coming and looking for fruit. Did you know that it could take up to six years for a fig tree to bear fruit? Perhaps it has not had the proper nutrients fed to it. Perhaps there have been other factors that have led to it not producing. Perhaps, it just needs time to germinate and to absorb everything around it.

Change is very much the same. It takes time. Yes, you may see some immediate results when you begin to change something. To fully live into the change takes time and living through some difficult times of transition. When we start a new ministry, we should not expect it to be perfect right away. It takes time to plant the seed and for it to germinate. We may have one image in our mind of what success may look like, and God may have another. Sure, we would love to have this sanctuary full every Sunday morning, but are we planting seeds with people and letting those seeds take root? Or do we just think someone else will do it or it will happen on its own and it will somehow all of a sudden be the way it used to be?

When we let go of the past and repent, we are telling God that we are willing to change. We are willing to be in a relationship with the very creator of life. We are willing to open our hearts and minds to the mystery that is unknown. Jesus bears this loving relationship for us through his life, from birth to baptism, to his life of ministry and ultimately his willingness to succumb to death on a cross so that we know the depths that God is willing to go, to redeem creation and share God’s love. The ultimate change that takes place is in the resurrection, and that is the promise we are walking towards this Lenten season.

Let us pray. Patient God, may we let go of things in the past that distract us from your very word. You call us to live a life following Jesus and in him may we cultivate a life of change where we begin to embody Christ. Amen.

[1] Story from http://www.marcandangel.com/2013/05/21/4-short-stories-change-the-way-you-think/

Are You Ready to Believe?


April 15, 2018

Luke 24:36b-48

Emotions are powerful!!! However, being emotional, is often seen as weakness. We are encouraged to keep our emotions in check so that we do not appear weak. Whether that emotion is one that brings tears or anger, there are individuals that will chastise us when we show either of them in the workplace. At times, those emotions are justified and are calling us internally to pay attention to what is happening.

Jesus was no stranger to emotion. He cried when his friend Lazarus died, and we know that he showed anger in the Temple when he overturned the tables of the money changers. It seems quite often, the emotion that emanates from the disciples is one of fear when they struggle to understand the divine that is in their presence.

In this morning’s gospel, we learn that Jesus, “opened [the disciples] minds to understand the scriptures” (v. 45).  This is after various times when they were left understanding nothing about the things Jesus said.  We too may feel like that when we read scripture. The sermon is one way for you to get a little better understanding of scripture, yet it is usually one sided. Christian education is a great way to enter into dialogue with one another over scripture and various topics.

A way that you can do it on your own is through Lectio Divina. If you are not familiar with it, Lectio Divina is a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading, meditation, and prayer. In Lectio Divina, we welcome the word of God to live among us and listen and pray. There are four movements to Lectio Divina. We will quickly move through them this morning, not too quickly though.

  • Lectio (“read”): perhaps several times. Meditate on it as it is read.
    • What do I notice?
    • What feelings does that word or phrase bring up in me?
    • What might God be saying to me through my reaction, the emotion that is drawn?
  • Meditatio (“meditate”): Listen for the Holy Spirit, how is it moving you?
  • Oratio (“pray”): enter into dialogue with God. Listen.
  • Contemplatio (“contemplate”): A chance to just be silent and still

I pray that as we walked through that process you were able to listen and perhaps hear something different in the word that you may not have heard before. It is even better when you can spend more time with the word and an extended dialogue with God.

Each of us heard different things. Different words and phrases that spoke to us. Different emotions that developed within us. As I do this weekly with our Sunday lessons, it usually leads to the culmination of my sermon. This is the word that I need to hear from God at this present moment, and also one that the Spirit guides me to speak to Trinity Lutheran as well.

The disciples first response when Jesus appears to them in this passage is not much different than when they encountered the divine previously. Even though they heard of the previous two times Jesus appeared after the resurrection, they were startled nonetheless. They may have been joyful, but their disbelieve was still present.

I wonder if it was too soon! In their mourning, they did not want to see Jesus yet. Jesus reappearing to them means that they must get up and leave that upper room where they have been sulking. They must start living out the calling Jesus has placed on them to proclaim the good news and baptize. I wonder if they are ready to step up to these tasks and Believe. There seems to be a bit of reluctance and dragging of feet.

Whenever we are pushed out of our comfort zone, it creates an uneasy feeling and causes us to drag our feet. Change will do this. Change means that things as we knew them are no longer the way they used to be. The disciples no longer had Jesus to lead them on their journey through the countryside and beyond. The change of having to go out on their own and become leaders is startling and terrifying.

While there are similarities and skills I can take from my previous career in retail management, I will admit that the calling of a pastor brings much more anxiety. I had the answers when working for large corporations and was given directions to follow. That does not happen in the church. Each of our churches are in different context and different ministries are required in each of those contexts. It takes time to learn those contexts and the communities that we minister.  Many of you may have experienced similar situations in your careers or if you have moved from community to community.

It is easy to just sit back and hope that everything will take care of itself. There always comes a time that we must step up and believe what has been told to us and what we have seen. Jesus wants us to be transformed as we encounter the living word.

Before Jesus opened the minds of the disciples to understand scripture, he showed them how human he was. He encouraged them to touch him and feel that he is real. He is standing right there in their presence, not as a ghost, but in his physical human form. He has flesh and bones just like them. After that, he eats. Once again, to show them that he is physically with them. In their heightened anxiety, he brings them peace. That is the grace of God at work. When the disciples are exhibiting the most human emotions of fear and anxiety, Jesus comes to them bearing peace. A glimpse of the kingdom to come. He shows them that he is truly real and once again sits down to eat with them.

When we are called to be transformed, Jesus is with us. Jesus is with us in our own anxiety and fears. Jesus is with us in our doubts and uncertainties. Jesus is present to guide us when we have no idea where the road is going. Our emotions are a great indicator that something is about to happen or may not be quite right. They are our own internal thermometer that measures how we are as people of God. Jesus is present with us in all our emotions.

Whether we are fearing that next step that we must take or are joyful of the promotion that we just received. Whether we are depressed over a relationship that just ended or elated over the birth of a child. Whether we are angry with a co-worker whose errors seem to be overlooked or happy that we made our quota for the month. Jesus is present with us all the time to provide us peace. A peace that gives a glimpse of the kingdom to come. A peace that gives us the resurrected Christ.

Let us pray…All comforting God, we give thanks for the times you bring us peace and we are unaware. May we be open to the indwelling of your Spirit and the living word that resides among us. In whatever emotions we bring to you, may you still the waters with a love that knows no bounds. Amen.

Picture: Fish & Pita, Mark Hewitt, April 2012. Pastel 290W x 210H.

We Cannot Remain Silent


Although, that is what I feel I have done since the largest mass shooting in United States history occurred this past Saturday evening. I did not hear anything of Orlando before service on Sunday and therefore did not have an opportunity to include it within the prayers of intercession.

Personally, I am at a loss for words. Not knowing what to say, other than to pray for the lives lost and the families affected by yet another shooting. A shooting in which we are still not fully aware of all of the details. ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton penned a wonderful letter in response, stating that “we are killing ourselves.” We are all created in God’s image and as Paul rightly proclaims in this weeks epistle,

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

To skim through the headlines, it is amazing the finger-pointing that is now happening. Yes, things need to change, however pointing fingers is not going to make that happen. We must use our voices and talk with those that are in power and let them know we want change.  We do not know what is going to work until we try it. Because if we keep on doing what we have been doing, we will continue to witness on average one multiple murder a day in the United States. In the words of Bishop Eaton, we are killing ourselves.

The fact that the extremist that took 49 lives was Muslim should not factor into the equation. If you recall, the shooting that took place a year ago tomorrow in Charleston in an AME Church was perpetrated by someone that was raised in the ELCA. Evil is evil, no matter what your faith tradition is.

I encourage you to reach out. I encourage you to pray for the victims by name; they could have easily been one of us, a family member, or a friend. Most importantly, continue to show the love of Christ that you do so well. The love that knows no label and places no barriers in it’s way.