Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

2014 Winter Youth Assembly sermon

Jeremiah 29:11-13
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.

1 Timothy 4:12-16
Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Matthew 5:13-16
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

We’ve had and awesome Winter Youth Assembly 2014, haven’t we? We’ve done so much together – we’ve laid down our burdens together, we’ve sang with the awesome band together, eaten milkshakes together, eaten together, played games together, read the Bible together, talked about issues we are deeply passionate together, worshipped together, prayed together, learned about what the wider church is doing together, had too little sleep together – we’ve been the people of God together for the last thirty-six hours. And it’s been awesome. But now you have to leave.

 In just a couple hours, you’ll be on your way home or home already, back to your own house and your own family and your own bed, with homework waiting to be done before school starts tomorrow. In just a few hours, we’ll all be back to our regularly scheduled lives. You’ll be back in a world that we talked about in open space yesterday – a world full of stress and scary things and big issues and everyday obstacles. That world waiting for won’t be any different from the one you left. But maybe this time, upon reentering that world, you’ll know who you belong to and who is the one walking with you in the chaos.

Today, before we go, Jesus has some words to say to us. What we just heard a moment ago and what you read in your small groups is from a larger section in the Gospel of Matthew called the Sermon on the Mount. It’s pretty much what it says it is – its Jesus first sermon, and he preaches it on a mountain. Well done, Bible scholars. Last we you might have hard your pastor preach on the Beatitudes, the “blessed are the ‘fill-in-the-blanks’” section. And this week, we hear the next movement of the sermon, about who we are and what we are for in this world. Jesus knows that up here on the mountain, things can feel pretty safe. We may even want to stay up here forever, chillin’ with Jesus. But we have to go down the mountain sometime, and Jesus is getting us ready.

Jesus tells us, “You ARE the light of the world.” Jesus did NOT say, “you are the light if you do A, B, and C.” He didn’t say, “You’ll be the light when you get older.” He didn’t say, “You’ll be the light when you get confirmed.” Jesus said, “You ARE the light” as in RIGHT NOW, this very moment.

That light does not come from you. It doesn’t come from how awesome you are at sports, or how good you are in school, or how many friends you have, or if you are good at singing or video games or knitting. It doesn’t come from doing everything right, being the perfect son or daughter or student or athlete. If it did, not a single one of us, even the adults, would be able to generate even the tiniest spark.

Instead, your light comes from being a child of God. Last night we remembered that God created us and knows us each by name. We remembered our baptisms, where God claimed each of us as daughters and sons through water and the Holy Spirit, who keeps that light burning in us. Our light comes from the source of all light, from the one who we are called to follow, Jesus.

Right now we’re in that in-between season of the church year, between Christmas and Lent, with the funny name – Epiphany. It is a time that is all about light. How the light of Christ first dawned on us as he was born in a manger in Bethlehem, how his light shone out during his ministry in his preaching and teaching and feeding and healing, how that light could not be put out even by death. Jesus entered into our darkness, bringing God’s healing light to all the dark and broken places. And by being a child of God, you become a bearer of that light to all the world.

You are shining that light right now, even as we speak. That light might be a bright spot light, a flashlight, the light shining through the window, blinking colored Christmas lights, or a dimly burning candle flame flickering in the wind, but you are the light if the world, and you have the light of Christ in you.

Just a little light goes a long, long way. Think back when you last lost power – whether it was during Hurricane Sandy or even this last week during the snow and ice storms. When it got dark, just a little bit of light could give you enough to see by, even by just turning on the tiny light built into your phone.
But what is light for? It’s meant to shine. The light is not meant to stay in one place, to be hidden away – though it is really tempting to hide your light. God did not give you the light to put a basket over it, though that is what happens sometimes.

What are the bushel baskets in your life? Think about that for a moment. Only you know what is in your life that can hold you back, that can make you want to hide. For Timothy, who gets a letter from his mentor Paul, it was his youth and inexperience. Fortunately Timothy had someone in his life to remind him of the gifts that God had given him, to remind him to let his light shine, no matter what, so that everyone might benefit.
You are the light OF THE WORLD. It’s for the sake of others. And it’s not about shining bigger and brighter than the next person. It’s about shining enough for what that person needs right now. Its stuff that you are already doing – like service projects in your church or youth group, or seemingly little things like welcoming those who are different from us or trying to get to know people we don’t understand.

And it is also stuff you were inspired to dig deeper while you were here – being involved in the continuing Hurricane Sandy relief effort, fighting human trafficking, or world hunger, or bullying.

You are the light of the world. And when you let your light shine, you are pointing to where that light comes from. And you are not shining your light alone. On our own, shining our light in the world may seem like a tall order, something totally overwhelming, especially after seeing this weekend that there is so much to talk about, so much darkness that is still out there. But my light, plus your light, plus your light, and yours and yours and yours adds up to something really bright and strong. And together, we are enough to shine into the dark world. A wise singer once said, “You’re beautiful, like diamonds in the sky. Shine bright like a diamond.”

We may not know what the future holds for us as we shine. But we do know that God intends our future to be for good, and not for harm. And we know that Jesus walks with us into the darkest places of our lives even as we leave this place. Like Timothy, don’t neglect the gift that is in you, and don’t forget to let yourself shine. Amen.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Fishin' With Jesus

Sermon from 1-26-14

Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Are you ready to follow Jesus and fish for some people? Have you been practicing your casting technique? Are you using the right kind of rod or bait? Or are you finding that your boat won’t start, your lines are hopelessly tangled, and the juiciest worms seem nowhere to be found?

January really isn’t the ideal time to go regular, in-a-boat-on-a –lake kind of fishing like the disciples were doing… but January is perfect for ice fishing. If you’re in northern Minnesota, that is. There are people from where my husband is from who practically live on the Lake of the Woods during the winter. Over winter break one year we went up to see his family and his dad wanted us to take us… you guessed it… ice fishing.

So we bundled up, laced up our boots, and drove out onto the giant frozen lake where the ice shanty was set up. Beau very patiently baited my hook as his dad drilled holes in the ice under the very bright and very cold January sun. And then I caught a fish. And then I caught another fish. Then another and another. I think that day I caught around half a dozen fish… and I swear I had never been ice fishing before in my life.

But I couldn’t have caught all those fish without Beau to bait my line and his dad to drill the holes and build the fish house.  I would never even have gone if hadn’t visited his family in January. As much as I would like to claim that I am just so awesome at ice fishing, it wouldn’t really be true. I actually had a lot of help. And, to be honest ice fishing is not an activity I would really leap at the chance to do again. So I highly doubt that Jesus would ever say to ME, “Come and I’ll make you ice-fish for people.”

For me, and I’m guessing for many of you, Jesus would draw on other experiences and passions and expertise other than fishing. For me, my call from Jesus, put into words, might sound something like, “Follow me, and I will make you be like a camp counselor, not just in the summer, but all year long.”

Maybe you heard Jesus say, “Follow me” when you learned about him during Sunday school or vacation Bible school. Maybe you heard Jesus at confirmation camp too, as a camper or a counselor. Maybe you heard Jesus while at college, or while talking with a friend, or caring for an aging parent, or having your first child. You may even have heard Jesus’ voice here on a Sunday morning. Did it feel like a voice, nudge, a push, a feeling, a thought that grew on you and stuck with you, not unlike a fungus or that bit of a song you can’t get out of your head?

Jesus calls everyone differently, at different times and different speeds. But we have all been called, in one way or another. Like the fish, we have all been caught by Jesus. Just regular, ordinary people, scooped up together, caught up in following Jesus.

Jesus began his earthly ministry by gathering together other remarkably normal and exceptionally ordinary people. After he heard about John the Baptist’s arrest by King Herod, Jesus relocates to Capernaum, a fishing town on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, which is actually a giant lake. There, he begins preaching – “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

And then… Jesus took a walk. But this was not just an idle stroll by the lakeside to watch the boats bring in their catch. No – Jesus was doing reconnaissance. He was out to do some fishing of his own.

When these two sets of brothers he calls, Peter and Andrew, then James and John, got up for work that morning, they had no idea that in the course of just one day, their entire lives would change. They had no idea that this local preacher would come out to them and call upon them to be his followers. Perhaps, until that moment, they did not even know for sure if they WOULD follow, until they found themselves dropping their nets and following after Jesus.

We’ll never know exactly why Jesus chose these four to be his first followers. But I think we can guess that he saw something in them that others did not. The truth is that Jesus did not choose the best and brightest of the seminary educated. Jesus did not choose the biggest and strongest. Jesus did not choose the wealthiest or the most powerful. Instead, Jesus choose some regular guys to do some rather extraordinary things, things that would stretch these guys out of their comfort zones pretty regularly.

This is indefinably not like following someone on twitter. We don’t get to choose to follow Jesus just to read his interesting and witty status updates. Jesus chooses US to follow him, in the flesh, with our hands and feet and hearts and minds, with our flaws and our mistakes, with our strengths and weaknesses.

Sometimes Jesus does call us for the things we are awesome at, but sometimes Jesus calls us for the very things we are NOT so awesome at. Sometimes Jesus calls us because we just didn’t know that we had it in us.

Take Billbo Biggins, of the Shire, beloved creation of writer J. R. R. Tolkien. Did you know that Tolkien was devoted Christian? If you haven’t noticed, his books are full of illustrations of the Christian journey, the Hobbit included. And even though right now Hollywood is cashing in on the magic of these books, the realities of faith still are able shine through.

Take Bilbo’s own call story. Bilbo is living the hobbit dream when his quiet life is upended by the arrival of the wizard Gandalf and a group of questing dwarves who need one more member of their party. They eat his food and sing and belch and break things, and he is beside himself and paralyzed with fear at the thought of leaving home. When he wakes up the next morning to find they have gone, he is at first incredibly relieved. The house is quiet and mostly back to normal. Then he sees a list of the company, oh so conveniently left on the table for him to see, like a calling card, with a space still left for his name. In the blink of an eye, Bilbo packs up his things and dashes out the door after them, yelling, “Wait for me!” When one of his neighbors call after him, “where are you going, Bilbo?” He yells back, “I’m going on an adventure!”

The disciples who dropped their nets and followed Jesus that day did not know how their adventure was going to turn out, and right now neither do we. Some days will be easier than others. Some days we’ll catch the fish and other days it will get away.

But Jesus is the one who chose us, caught us, and called us to a life of living in his footsteps. It may seem like these would be some big sandals to fill, but really, we doing this adventure along. We have one another as companions along the way, and we, at St. Paul Lutheran church are continuing this journey so long after these first disciples. As we prepare to look back as a congregation on 2013, let’s listen hard to what Jesus is calling us to be and do in 2014 too. Together, let’s look and listen for how Jesus is causing the kingdom to come near to us, right now, with us and among us. Then we too can take up our nets in our own different ways, and follow Jesus into a new and exciting future.

There is a prayer that can be found in the ELW that is perfect for venturing with Jesus into the unknown.

Lord God,
you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go,
but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Let Your Light Shine

February Newsletter Article

“In the same way, Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and glorify you Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

I remember coming across this verse as a teenager and instantly loving it. For me, this verse told me that the light of God was in me, shining out. And yet, at the same time, this verse frightened me a little bit. For a shy, introverted teenager the thought of shining out and attracting attention scared the dickens out of me. But I still liked this verse, and even used it as my confirmation verse. Because it reminded me that the light does not come from being and doing good. It is through what I do that shows God’s light shining within me. And light is meant to be shone. It would not make any sense to turn on a lamp and then through a blanket over it.
And yet, that is what we so often do. In this extended season of Epiphany, the season of light, we are reminded that it is not darkness that we are really afraid of. It’s the light. Darkness is comfortable – it covers a multitude of sins. It gives us an excuse to NOT to live into who God is calling us to be. But, as Marianne Williamson wrote in her poem “Our Deepest Fear:”

We were born to make manifest 
The glory of God that is within us.

This year, in the New Jersey Synod’s yearly February retreat for high school youth at LBI, the theme is “Mine” – the fact that we belong to God enables us to navigate an often scary and unsafe world, knowing that our God walks with us. Each of our young people are lights shining out in the darkness every day, in the midst of bullying, drugs and alcohol, challenges at home or school, navigating social media, and growing into who God has created them to be. And they need our support and example now more than ever.

We too can let our light shine into the darkness that is in our own lives and in the lives of others. It does not have to be complicated or heroic. Just the normal, regular, everyday light-shining of love will do.

Here is the entire poem: