Only One Thing!

July 21, 2019

Luke 10:38-42

As a child, I could not wait until Christmas break came upon us. It meant that Christmas was usually less than a week away and the excitement that built up in my family home was almost uncontainable. At least among myself and my younger siblings. The excitement that my parents exuded would at times be present in raised voices because of the anticipation of getting everything ready to host Christmas Eve. Four of my older siblings would return home with their families and the house would nearly be bursting at the seams.

My mother had to get her Martha on, at least a week or two before Christmas Eve. The amount of Christmas treats that she made was incredible. She would plan for dinner on Christmas Eve, which usually consisted of ham and various sides topped with all those wonderful treats that she would make. Over the years, as nieces and nephews were born, and then they began having their own children, Christmas Eve became a good type of chaos. Unless you were my parents because it could easily become overwhelming.

I could see my mother and Martha agreeing on the hecticness of having a houseful of people. Martha’s anxiousness that appears in Luke’s gospel could be expected as she wants to make sure everything is right for Jesus and his disciples. We have no idea how many people came into their home. I am sure that it was Jesus and at least the twelve closest disciples, but nothing rules out that this group could have contained the seventy that Jesus had sent out earlier to share the peace of God and cure the sick. It is the hospitality that Martha is showing now that he had told the disciples to look for.

Mary and Martha have chosen to be hospitable in their own ways and sometimes the better part is to pause and listen to the Lord.

It is not hard to find a sermon that puts Martha in a bad light. She appears to be self-obsessed because she must do all of the work while Mary sits at the feet of Jesus. Mary has stepped out of the norm as she chooses to listen to Jesus and his teachings. Much like the Samaritan last week that stopped to help the stranger, which in Jesus’ time would have been viewed as counter-cultural, Mary chooses to sit at the feet of a male teacher. This was nearly unheard of in first century Israel and if the right person had seen it could have possibly got Mary in trouble.

Jesus’ teachings and actions move well beyond expected norms. Martha is uncomfortable with Mary’s actions and raises her concern to Jesus. She is anxious and wants help. Jesus does not necessarily tell Martha that she is wrong, but let’s her know that Mary is in the right place at the right time. She has chosen the better part. She has released any concerns that she may have so that she can fully turn her attention to their guest, Jesus. We do not hear Martha’s response, but I would like to believe that she began to fully understand what Jesus was talking about in this moment. Martha was serving where she felt called to serve at that time and so was Mary. We each have our own calling that connects us to the body of Christ.

I must admit it is easy to forget that. It is easy to forget that everything we do affects those around us. It is easy to forget that our own actions have consequences, either good or bad. It is easy to get caught up in the anxiousness of making sure our checklists are completed. It is easy for us to get caught up in our work (even if it is the work of the church), in school, with finances, in our relationships, in our time management, in the events of the world, and even in our aging. In all those things, are we preaching the gospel, or is Jesus just an afterthought?

The better part of this is to pause and sit at the feet of Jesus. To listen to his teachings and be fully present to his word. This is the kingdom of God that has came into Martha’s home and Mary has chosen the better part for her of sitting and listening. Perhaps Martha has even chosen the better part for herself if what she is doing is a proclamation of God. For her to project her expectations upon Mary is not what Jesus expects in the kingdom.

We are each called to serve the Lord in various ways and sometimes we must break out of the barriers that fence us in. The Good Samaritan visibly showed this last week by loving his neighbor and caring for his wounds. Mary shows her love for God by sitting at Jesus’ feet and hanging on his every word. While Martha gets caught up in her anxiousness, her act of doing may be the best way that she can express her love for God. The Samaritan and Mary have both broke through the fence of the norms of their day.

Hopefully, we can point to times in our own lives where we have welcomed God into our midst in our lives and the lives of those around us. Jesus helps us break through the barriers that fence us in and welcomes us and walks with us in love. To love others as we love God requires us to break through those barriers. Jesus sets us free! It has happened many times throughout the last couple of centuries as we have confronted the evils of slavery, racism, sexism and homophobia. Not to say that we have fully came to a full reconciliation of any of these, but we have made our voices be heard as we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus sets us free to open our hearts, minds, and souls to embrace all of God’s beautiful creation.

Jesus also sets us free so that we can love the strangers and refugees among us. Jesus sets us free to love our Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and atheist neighbors. In that freedom we are given the chance to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his words. The words that bring us closer to him and our lives in the kingdom.

So, let us continue to be hospitable and embrace all of God’s creation with love and compassion. Let us listen to Jesus for what is the better part in our lives.

Let us pray. Loving God, you walk with us and in that we can be empowered as faithful witnesses. We give thanks for the faithful witness of those that have gone before us, those in our midst, and those that will follow. May we be bold in proclaiming your good news and share your love beyond all boundaries. Amen.

Listen to Him!

March 3, 2018 Transfiguration Sunday

Luke 9:28-43a

I have a confession to make, I am an introvert!

When I am with my peers, I quite often will sit back and listen to everything that is going on and the conversations that are occurring. Now, I am not saying this to lift myself up, because I could still do a better job at listening; just ask my wife!

When I get frustrated, and I am sure you could all agree, is when people do not listen to what I am saying. So, we can all relate to this, yet when it comes to listening, we quite often fall short of truly pausing to listen to what is being said. Listening is just one of our five senses, yet it is a very important sense. For those that are hearing impaired, they learn to listen through their other senses by what they see and even feel.

We can listen with not only our ears, but also with our eyes and hands. Of course, to use the other senses takes practice and the majority of us will never come to a full ability of using all of our senses to listen.

I believe that one of the important things that Luke shares with us in our gospel is when the disciples are called to Listen to Jesus. In the call to listen to Jesus, we are changed. That change welcomes us into the wonderful mystery of God.

Did you know that the average person can speak 150 words per minute? However, the average person can listen to 1000 words per minute. So, what do you do with that extra time that you have while listening to people? Are you gazing off into the distance wondering what is on your schedule next? I will admit that I catch myself doing this when I have a lot going on and I must intentionally pull myself back into a conversation at times. To intentionally focus on a conversation takes practice. With that in mind, I want to try something. I would like you to all take a moment to relax and prepare to really listen, more intently then you are right now. I am going to read you a paragraph and I would like you to listen and take notes if you would like.

You are a bus driver. At your first stop, you pick up 29 people. On your second stop, 18 of those 29 people get off, and at the same time 10 new passengers arrive. At your next stop, 3 of those 10 passengers get off, and 13 new passengers come on. On your fourth stop 4 of the remaining 10 passengers get off, 6 of those new 13 passengers get off as well, then 17 new passengers get on. What is the age of the bus driver?

To truly listen, we must block all distractions and focus on the thing right in front of us. We can listen with our ears, but we can also listen with our eyes through watching body language and movement. Perhaps we can even feel the vibrations of what is happening around us. Today we get in trouble when we allow ourselves to become distracted with our phones, the task that we are in the middle of trying to accomplish, or the thoughts of what needs to be done next.

The disciples were nearly caught in their sleep, yet they stayed awake to see what was about to happen on that mountain top. They are amazed by everything that takes place. The sights and sounds that they see and hear are so overwhelming that they kept silent when they came down from the mountain. The appearance of Moses and Elijah had to be overwhelming, and then Jesus’ appearance transformed right in front of them. They are overwhelmed by the mystery that they are welcomed into. Not, only that, they hear a voice from the heavens, “This is my Son, my chosen; listen to him!”

Peter had been so impressed, he wanted to stay there forever. Yet, they follow Jesus back down the mountainside. The call to listen to Jesus comes as a challenge. Nearly everything that Jesus preaches and every healing that he does, appears to bring out trouble for him and the disciples. His words and actions are resistance to what is currently being practiced by the leaders in the temple. Where they have become accustom to complacency and not disrupting the good thing they have going, Jesus begins to change all of that with every word he speaks and every step he takes.

The story of the transfiguration comes to us every Sunday before the beginning of Lent. It is a sign for the disciples that points to the glory of Jesus. It prepares them for the rest of Jesus’ ministry and as Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah, it is a sign for Jesus’ own exodus, when he will leave this earthly life through crucifixion. It is on the cross that Jesus will encounter release from this world and realize the freedom that comes in faith. It is a sign of God’s promise for us.

The words that are spoken to the disciples on the mountain are similar to the words that Jesus hears when he is baptized. The difference on the mountain top, is that the words are for all to hear. Those words are not just for the disciples. Those words come to us today in scripture and we are called to listen as well.

The listening is not a one-time thing. We do not just listen to God once and discern what we are to do with our lives or careers. To listen to Jesus Christ, is always to listen to what may be happening in and around us.  It is a two-way conversation. As we pray and listen for His response, something begins to happen within our very own beings. We too are transformed. We are transformed in our listening to Jesus and in that we are called to go out and share that same message of love, grace, and freedom that is shared with us when we find ourselves in Christ.

Let us pray. God of change, may we be transformed in your love as we listen to your calling in our life. Amen.

You Will Be Free Indeed!

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October 28, 2018 Reformation Sunday

John 8:31-36

As many of you know, I grew up in a town that was just a little bigger than Richmond. It lacked diversity, much like Richmond. And honestly, there was little to do in town, so we would quite often drive to Lansing on the weekends to go shopping or see a new movie that our little theater in town would most likely not get.

I don’t think I was much different from most people when I looked forward to getting out of the town to seek my own freedom. As soon as I got my drivers license and my own car I was able to go anywhere that I wanted. My parents even trusted me enough to drive all the way down to Cincinnati without adult supervision. When I decided to attend Central Michigan University, it was an hour and a half from home and it meant I would have the greatest freedom yet!

That freedom also came with responsibility. There were times when I questioned the freedom that I sought when I would have little money and things were just not going the way that I expected them to. The freedom that we often desire when we are younger is a false sense of freedom. It is only in Jesus Christ that we find true freedom that cannot be found elsewhere.

The Israelites think that they have it all made. They believe that everything is alright in their lives and that there is no where else they need to turn. They have not been held captive like their ancestors and all they have seen and encountered is freedom. Yes, their land may be under Roman rule, but they have been given the freedom to worship the way they choose. As long as they do not disturb those in authority. Thus, Jesus coming onto the scene is a big warning sign for them. His actions and words are starting to stir up the people and thus the freedom in which they thought they had. In truth, it is not a freedom that is anchored in the truth of God. Their sense of freedom does not reside in the truth of God, rather it resides in their own personal doing.

This was the same issue that Martin Luther had over 500 years ago now with the leaders of the church. They attempted to control everything and did not leave room for the truth that is Jesus Christ. They attempted to control grace when it was not theirs to control. They began to judge others when it was not in their right to judge.

While we think we may be free today, I am sure that you too at one point or another have been captive by some ill devised thought. We like to test the boundaries of our perceived freedom. We like to think that we are in control when really the only thing that we can control is our own personal actions. We make the decision to follow Christ and in the midst of that, there are always other distractions that attempt to steer us away from Christ. The sin that steers us away from Christ is evil. It distracts us and pulls us away from the word of God. It holds us captive in its grasp and yet, Jesus reminds us that he is present to release us from its grip.

Each and everyone of us are called to be in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Like our day to day relationships, we sometimes get out of line and make bad decisions. Despite our bad decisions, the word of God never leaves us. It is present for us to turn to in our time of need and be the foundation for us to rest in when our faith is troubled. It is in the power of the word that Martin Luther realized that we are justified by grace in our faith alone. While others may attempt to judge us, it is only in God that we must answer. While others may sometimes look at us differently, it is probably because we are following the word of Jesus Christ and walking in the way as his disciples.

As our faith grows in the word of God, we are led to freedom from the powers of sin and death. While it is in the powers of sin and death that enslave. We must learn to place our trust in our faith and the freedom found in the truth. For when we place our trust in sin, we are not free. Whenever we place our trust in death, we are not free. It is the truth that will set us free. That freedom was found in Jesus Christ for the disciples and is where we find our freedom today. It is not in our ability to move away from home. It is not in being able to decide whatever we want to do. It is in following Jesus and the way in which he is calling us to journey.

It was through Martin Luther’s revelation in the word, that he found a freedom that he had been missing. A freedom that had went on hiatus from the teaching of the church. In this revelation he saw the need to re-form the church. While Luther found this revelation in the letter to the Romans, a movement was started to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people. A gospel message that is full of grace and mercy. A gospel message that gives us freedom like we could never experience in our earthly treasures, but only embrace in a truth that sets us free. The wonderful thing is that this freedom is not just for us. If it is true for us, it is true for all of humanity. Our God welcomes all of creation into relationship and the freedom that comes in knowing the truth found in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let us pray. Ever re-forming God, you have created us, yet are far from finished in seeing us grow as disciples called to live out your word. May we be shaped by your truth so that we can embrace the freedom that can only be found in you. Amen.

Freedom

free-birdcage

John 8:31-36

If I were to ask each of you to define freedom, I would get just as many different answers. Some of them may be very similar, while others may be unique to the individual. The dictionary has many different definitions to freedom. The first entry defines freedom as “the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint.”

Quite often when we think of freedom in the United States, we jump to our founding documents of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. We have freedom of speech and religion. We have the right to vote and select our leaders. We have certain rights that we have come to expect as American citizens. We have had many groups within this country stand up for these same freedoms and rights from the beginning of this countries founding.

Freedom in another country around the world may look completely different however. The Syrian refugee may just be looking for the freedom to not worry about losing their life. The persecuted Christian in Asia may wish they had the freedom to proclaim the Good News boldly without fear of prison or even death. The silenced women of Iran may wish they had the same freedom as their husbands.

It was in 16th Century Germany that Martin Luther raised his concerns about the freedom a Christian had in the church and the practices of the Roman Catholic Church. The grace of God seemed to be overlooked and he raised his belief in the justification of faith. As our Gospel lesson points us to this morning, true freedom can only come to us in Jesus Christ.

In the midst of this, it is hard for us to acknowledge that we are slaves to sin and are held captive by that sin. Even the Judeans, whom Jesus is talking to, seem to have forgot of their own ancestors that were once slaves in Egypt. The concept of being a slave was just as foreign to them as it is to us today. While our own country has had a negative history with slavery, we tend to forget it or gloss over it at times.  We do not know what it is like to be held in physical slavery. Yet, we are slaves nonetheless. Could I go as far to say that we are even possibly slaves to our own misconstrued concept of freedom?

Don’t get me wrong. The physical freedoms that we have in our country are incredible and those freedoms have been fought for and I give thanks for them. However, do we let ourselves get so caught up in the freedoms that are given to us in our rights as citizens, that we forget about our lives as Christians?  The true freedom that we should be seeking as Christians comes to us in Jesus Christ.

We like the truth. We want to know what is right and what is wrong. We seek out the truth to make decisions. As Christians the truth is more than that. The truth comes to us as Jesus Christ. Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life.  When we come to know the truth that is Jesus Christ, we will experience the freedom that can only come through Christ. That same freedom that Jesus promised to the Judeans in today’s gospel continues to come to us in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, today, tomorrow, and forevermore.

As we enter into a year-long 500th Anniversary observance of the Reformation, we continue to be changed daily in our life with Christ. The reformation of the church was not a one and done event. Through Christ we experience a freedom that changes not only the church on a daily basis, but our own lives as we encounter a freedom that can only be found in Christ. In Christ we have the freedom to give ourselves as a Christ to our neighbor; just as Christ offered himself to us.

That freedom found in Jesus Christ does not make us free to sin. It makes us free from sin. May you continue to be reformed through the living Christ and encounter the truth which sets you free. Free to live a life of love and joy in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Freedom in Christ

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Galatians 6:1-16

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

For the past six weeks we have been walking with Paul as he shares his concerns with the people of Galatia. His concerns for the miss-direction they have taken in their journey of faith and their willingness to so easily drop the truth that Paul had shared with them when he first visited. Once again he shares his story with them on how he was on the wrong path and does not start following Jesus until Jesus actually appears to him.

If you recall, the main struggle that Paul is confronting is the fact that the Galatians have started following a different teaching that put an emphasis on the works of the law. the law does have a purpose as it leads and guides us in our lives, however, it is in our faith that we turn to God. Grace comes to us as a free gift. There is nothing required of us and nothing that we must do to receive that grace. Thus Paul’s argument arises against those that believe to be a follower of Christ you must also be circumcised; of course, this goes back to Judaic law. Remember, the Galatians are Gentiles, and would not have followed through on this Jewish practice shortly after they were born.

Paul’s hope is to turn them away from the works of the flesh, which steers people in the wrong direction, and he reminds them of the fruits of the Spirit which should pervade their life. It is in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that they will grow closer to Christ and learn to experience the Christ that is within them. It is in the fruit of the Spirit that we should all be striving. If the Galatians were to follow in these instructions that Paul has set-forth, then they too will truly experience what it means to live into a new creation.

Many of the people that first immigrated to the America’s were looking for something different, escaping from tyranny, and hoping for a new beginning. Isn’t that what we are looking for in a new creation? They sought a freedom that they were not experiencing in their home countries and had the vision to establish that in a new country. Independence Day is our opportunity as Americans to celebrate the freedoms that we have in this country and to recognize those freedoms that we are still working towards. While we are Americans, we also must remember that we are Christians as well and everything that we do should be coming from our lives as Christians. We have already experienced a new creation in Christ through our baptism and it is this that comes first. God does not care what country we are from.

The freedom that we have as Christians exists in our faith and the grace that we receive from God. Remember, nothing is required of us for this to be true. As we conclude our series on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians this morning, we are reminded that we live in the same freedom that he shares with them. The trouble that ensued in Galatia is more times than not the same issue we have in our world today. Those in authority attempting to use their position to control others. This is what happens in Galatia as the teachers that came in after Paul tried to convince them of something other than the true gospel of Jesus Christ that Paul preached.

The freedom that we seek is not always at hand and sometimes we live in opposition to the majority as we follow our Christian faith. For many of us this may be a foreign concept. We did not grow up in struggle and have therefore forgot what it means to be longing for the freedom that comes to us in this country. The same freedom that slaves in America desired. The same freedom that our ancestors longed for when they first immigrated to this land. The same freedom that our ancestors in the bible longed for when they met opposition and struggled against those that persecuted. The same freedom that many people around the world still long for today.

A new creation is everything! It is in Jesus’ death and resurrection that we experience a new creation and it is in this new creation that the grace of God is revealed to all of God’s children. In this new creation the fruit of the Spirit flows for all to absorb and to learn from. By living in the Spirit, we experience the Christ that is within us and should be compelled to share that with our sisters and brothers.

I encouraged you six weeks ago to read all of Galatians to get a deeper sense of Paul’s passion for the people of Galatia. While chapter 6 concludes Paul’s letter and summarizes his preaching, it is not the end. Instead it should be the beginning of conversation for the people of Galatia and us as well. What does it mean to live into our faith and the true gospel of Jesus Christ? I encourage you again to go back and read it and listen to where you hear God calling and speaking into your life.

As you celebrate with friends and family this weekend, give thanks for the freedoms you have in this country. More importantly, remember the freedom that we have in Jesus Christ and celebrate the new creation that he promises and gives. Now as Paul concludes, “may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.” (6:18)