Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Sunday, October 3

The reading

Exodus 12:1-13, 13:1-8    

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight.They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt         

The Lord said to Moses: Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the Israelites, of human beings and animals, is mine.

Moses said to the people, “Remember this day on which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, because the Lord brought you out from there by strength of hand; no leavened bread shall be eaten.Today, in the month of Abib, you are going out. When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he swore to your ancestors to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall keep this observance in this month. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a festival to the Lord. Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen in your possession, and no leaven shall be seen among you in all your territory.You shall tell your child on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ It shall serve for you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead, so that the teaching of the Lord may be on your lips; for with a strong hand the Lord brought you out of Egypt. You shall keep this ordinance at its proper time from year to year.


1- A lot of things happen between the story of Joseph (last Sunday) and the Passover.  One of the most challenging and relevant for us today is the enslavement of the Israelites.  After Joseph establishes his family in Egypt, they grow in number, power, influence and wealth.  After several generations, the people of Egypt start to protest that the Israelites are becoming too numerous, too strong, too influential, too powerful, too much a burden and too rich. They are not assimilating into Egyptian culture and not practicing the Egyptian religions. In response, the Egyptian authorities enslave the people of Israel.  (if these arguments sound familiar, that's because we hear them every day about refugees and immigrants).  The other issue is that during the time of slavery all but a few people give up on God and God's promises (it makes today's decline in faith seem like no big deal). God never gives up on people though.  

2- I am struck by the importance and value of ritual in the reading. Each step of the celebration is done with obedience and packed with meaning.  In the same way our worship is packed with obedience and meaning, we do not go to church because its fun or interesting, we go to encounter God through word and ritual.  (reading this is okay but really people need to be part of a church, community and practice).

3- So much of the Passover is about urgency.  The bread is unleavened (since its much faster to prepare), people eat standing with sandals and staff (ready to run at any minute) and you need to eat fast (not exactly healthy for you but time is running out).  As a church we are called to ask what is urgent for us.  

Sunday, September 25th

The reading

Genesis 37:3-8, 17b-22, 26-34; 50:15-21
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed.  There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.”  His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.

” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him.  They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father.  Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.

When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes. He returned to his brothers, and said, “The boy is gone; and I, where can I turn?” Then they took Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat, and dipped the robe in the blood. They had the long robe with sleeves taken to their father, and they said, “This we have found; see now whether it is your son’s robe or not.” He recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s robe! A wild animal has devoured him; Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” 34 Then Jacob tore his garments, and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son many days.

Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.
I was away this Sunday and did not prepare a sermon.  I did want to share a few thoughts on this reading since it has been a very important part of how I understand the world, especially in terms of suffering,  Joseph (who I also share a name with) endures suffering. There is the betrayal by his brothers, being left for dead in a pit, being rescued then enslaved in Egypt, being falsely accused of a crime and his subsequent imprisonment. From prison Joseph becomes a powerful authority in Egypt (since being in prison gives him the opportunity to interpret the pharaohs dream).  Joseph looks at all this as part of God's providence or plan, which goes beyond our knowing.  All these things had to happen for Joseph to be able to rescue Israel from famine (although no one had any idea when it was all going on)  

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sermon for September 18

The Reading

Genesis 15:1-6
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’ But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’ He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Lord; and the Lord  reckoned it to him as righteousness.

The Message

I am continuing to preach without a manuscript and I am still trying to figure out how to format and post audio so I will share a summary of my sermon. (If you want audio, just send me an email to stjacobuspastor@gmail.com and I will send it out),

This morning I talked about 2 main ideas;

1- That Abram believed the Lord and it was reckoned to him as righteous.  This is something that St Paul picks up on in his letters and that Martin Luther often looks to.  Abram is not made righteous because of his works or obedience to the law, he is made righteous by trusting in God's promises.

 2- When Abram is first told "your reward will be great", he doubts that God could give him the only thing he wants.  Abram assumed the reward would be gold, land or fame (which he was too old to spend or care for).  Instead God gives him the impossible, an heir.   We are invited to have big dreams as the people of God, that we will do things that matter

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sermon for September 11th

The reading 
Genesis 2:4b-7, 15-17; 3:1-8
These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that theLord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.
Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.
The message
This week I started a new style of preaching without notes or manuscript (I'm working on figuring out how to record and post good audio)  Im going to share a short summary of what I said until then.
I made 3 points about the reading today
1: This is one of 2 creation stories at the beginning of Genesis. Each one has a different order of creation and each one teaches us something about God and us. In the first story God is distant, observing creation from heaven, from a distance. Here people are a unique creation, made in God's image. In today's reading, the second creation story God is walking around the garden of Eden, in direct communication and contact with the world.  Here people are made from dirt, not too special and not too unique.  This introduces us to 2 experiences of God, the unknown God and the revealed God. It also introduces us to the confusing truth that we are dirt that is special to God. 
2: We are called to be in relationship with God, God's creation and each other.  We are all in this together.
3: God walks with us. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sermon for Sunday, September 4, 2016

The reading
Luke 11:2-4

Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. 
     And forgive us our sins,
        for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
    And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

The message

This is our last week with Luke 11:2-4 as our reading at worship.  Over the past 3 Sundays we had a skit dramatizing a conversation between a person praying the Lord’s prayer and God answering her, we had the newly retired Deacon Florence Poeskhe as our guest preacher who took the church through a petition by petition review of the Lord’s prayer and we had 4 things you might not know about the Our Father (Jesus shares two versions, it’s a model prayer,  the ending, “for yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever amen” is not included in all ancient biblical manuscripts and while Jesus combination is unique, the actual petitions and praise in the prayer are found in other monotheistic faiths (Judaism and Islam)).

This week, I wanted to share some personal reflections on the Lord’s prayer. I will also look the role of these words for our faith, in particular the part they play in Martin Luther’s Catechisms.  The words of the Our Father are probably the most familiar words in Christianity. As my mother first brought me to church, I can remember feeling like I was connected and fit in because I knew the Lord’s prayer (and once we said it, church was almost over). Today, they are the words that Jen and I pray each night before bed.  They are the first prayer we teach our children at home, the first lesson for those entrusted to us at Sunday School, the words we often get tested on at First Communion or Confirmation, the words we turn to when we do not know what else to say and the words that guide our understanding of how to pray.

Early on in my ministry and pastoral care training, I was taught to make sure you include the Lord’s prayer during moments of crisis, care and loss.. Over the years, it has created a sense of comfort for me, the words to cover anything I might have missed or any lingering concerns about God’s grace or presence.  Jesus’s words often offer comfort at times when we fail to. I still remember the hours after my father died. It was about 20 years ago and once we found his body, we called our church for a priest to visit.  The priest who arrived was relatively new and on his first call like this. We knew him from youth group and putting faces to names, he was shocked that we were the call. At the time he talked and listened and probably wondered what happened as much as we did. All I really remember from the visit is that a priest showed up and we said the Lord’s prayer, that’s what mattered.  

For all of those reasons this is the prayer that people never forget. I can remember sitting with people at the end of their lives, with people who were virtually unresponsive due to sickness and its treatment. Often as I said this prayer to them or led their loved ones in this prayer around them, they responded, appeared listening, or even trying to pray it too.

As familiar and comforting as the Our Father is, people still wonder about and wrestle with parts of it. I  can think of moments when people have struggled with petitions in the prayer. “Thy will be done” is easy when things are good, but it is a hard one at times of tragic loss or unexpected, undeserved suffering.  At those times, Thy will be done goes from words we say to a confirmation of our powerlessness and limited understanding.  
As we started this series on the Our father, someone of deep faith and knowledge told me she “didn’t get lead us not into temptation”.  My first thought was that’s easy it means….. and then I wasn’t sure. This conversation made me think of being in school when teachers would say “if you don’t understand something, ask, others probably don’t get it either”.   

After a good deal of study and 2 or 3 long emails, the sort of rambling ones that you do when your not really sure of the answer, we worked it out.  First, it is worded in a strange way,  God does not tempt us. There is enough temptation the world without God adding to it. Perhaps we are asking for God to keep us on a path that lets us walk right by temptation or if we stop, to get moving again, to stay focused on the joy God offers. We are not going to avoid temptation without God's word, guidance and promises.   

As I studied “lead us not into temptation”,  I turned to Luther’s small catechism for help in understanding this petition. The Lord’s prayer takes up a good portion of Luther’s Small catechism. This guide was written in response to Luther and other reformation leaders visiting churches in the 1520’s and being shocked, annoyed and angered by how little pastors and members knew (I can imagine Luther waiting on the greeting line after church, walking up to the pastor and unloading a barrage of  nasty comments “you are pathetic, how can you wear these robes and share the word of God and know so little about it”) .  In response to what he observed, Luther wrote the small catechism or teaching. Each part of this guide, the 10 commandments, Lord’s prayer, apostles creed, sacraments and daily prayers or blessings work together to teach and to bring us to God’s grace
The teaching part is systematic, looking at each commandment, petition and prayer and explaining “what is that”, what are we saying, asking for or confessing to be true”.  In response to “lead us not into temptation” Luther writes,  We know God will not lead us into temptation without us asking, we ask as a reminder to ourselves that this is true and we can depend on it.   That phrase, we know God will do something without us asking is the foundation of The Lord’s prayer in Luther’s small catechism.  We know God will provide our daily bread without us asking, God's kingdom will come without our praying for it, God’s name will be holy without our request.   

The catechism also preaches, bringing the reader to God’s grace. This is accomplished through a process called Law and Gospel.   The 10 commandments are the law.  Each one is examined and expanded upon until they become impossible for anyone to keep regularly. By the time you get to number 10, you know you are a sinner and cannot save yourself. The commandments expose our sins to us and drive us away from ridiculous attempts to save ourselves by our good works.   They drive us to God’s saving work through Jesus cross, his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins. We are saved by faith alone.  The depth and saving power of that gift is revealed in the Apostles Creed and the Lord’s prayer.  That gift is put in our faces daily through the sacraments and ordered prayers of the day (at waking, before sleeping, before and after meals)

Today was our last week with the Lord’s prayer as our reading and the last Sunday of our first year with the Narrative Lectionary .  Next Sunday, we start our second year with the Narrative Lectionary. Our list of Sunday reading will literally start in the beginning with the book of Genesis. Each Sunday from then to December, we will go through the Old Testament leading up to Christmas. As we worship God, we will hear the stories of the promises, expectations and amazing events that prepared the world for the birth of our savior.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sermon for August 28

The reading
Luke 11:2-4  (NRSV)   
He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

The message

We are now on week 3 of a 4 week series on the most familiar words of our faith, the Lord’s Prayer.  It might be week three but this is my first sermon on the Our Father.  I would like to start out by admitting this reading always challenged me. It would come up from time to time on Sundays and it was always hard for me to think of what to say. I would also like to start by reviewing what we have done so far.  On week 1, we did a skit, a dialogue between a sort of sarcastic but  loving God and a person doing their daily reciting of the Lord’s prayer.  It was not my idea. The original skit was created by a youth ministry group called body builders. I did work though,  I made some considerable edits to highlight the Lord’s prayer as the words that we turn to experience and celebrate God’s grace. The skit was meant to help us think about these very familiar words in a new way. Like many of us can be guilty of, the pray-er says this powerful and grace filled prayer without thinking too much about its power or its grace.  The skit was an invitation for us to say these words with awareness, trust, hope, excitement and joy.

Last week, we had some church switching and I was at Trinity, Middle Village while Deacon Florence Poeskhe was here. From talking to people who were at worship, I learned that she shared an in-depth, petition by petition sermon on the Lord’s prayer.    I do not want to repeat what she said last week (which can be tough, since I’m really not sure what she said).  This morning,  I am going to talk about “4 things you might not know about the Lord’s prayer”     

1: Jesus teaches two different versions. Many of you who heard our repeated reading from Luke over the past few weeks probably thought “that doesn’t exactly sound like the prayer we say” and you would be right, It’s not.  We are used to the longer version Jesus teaches the crowd during the sermon on the mount.  In Matthew 6:9-13.   Jesus taught them: Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one).   The two versions were shared with different people and in different ways. In Luke, Jesus shares the Our father in private, in response to his disciples questions on how to pray.  In Matthew, Jesus publically shares the Our father with thousands during the sermon on the mount, a long conversation with the crowd on 
God’s love, way and instructions. 

As we hear both versions, people can struggle to figure out the difference between sins, debts or trespasses. Don’t do that.  They all mean the same thing, the times when we fail to love God and neighbor as ourselves.  Matthew has a tendency to highlight economic based parables and uses debt as a metaphor for sin.  Luke avoids using the word “debt”  and just says “sins”. Trespasses is used in the English speaking Roman Catholic world (which I grew up in) and is considered to mean the same thing as sin

The second thing you might know is that the Our Father is considered a model prayer.  As I thought of this, I thought of a TV show called Arrested Development. It’s about a family of inept or corrupt housing developers.  They end up living in a model home, which looks just like a real home except most of the things inside are fake or not working. No one was ever meant to live in it, it was simply to show people what the actual for sale properties looked like. Their use of the model as a home often results in funny or silly things (think putting ice cream in a non-working freezer made of cardboard or watering fake flowers). No one is meant to live in a model house. We add our own colors, furniture, art,  decorations and desired conveniences (a big tv, small tv, no tv or 11 tvs). When Jesus tells us to pray in this way, he is telling us that his words are a model to guide and direct us. Jesus teaches us to communicate with God with praise, trust and thanksgiving.  We are invited to make the prayer our own.  We can name specific sins when we say “forgive us our sins”, we can use another word for father that better captures a relationship of care and support, or we can ask for things other than our daily bread to express what we need to sustain us. 

The Lord’s prayer as a model is not a new idea.  In fact the actual ending may have been added on. That’s the third thing you might not know about the Lord’s Prayer.   As you just heard in the readings, “for yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever Amen” is not found in either Matthew or Luke, well at least not in our modern translations.   I am going to explain this with the short version of something really complicated. The ancient manuscripts that our bible translations come from can be divided into Byzantine and Alexandrian. The Byzantine group is newer (dating from 600 AD or later). This collection is relatively complete.  The Alexandrian group is considerably older but are mainly incomplete and found in fragments. Most of the times, these 2 sources are in agreement.  One time they are not is the long ending of the Our Father. It is in the more recent Byzantine manuscripts but not in the older Alexandrian ones.  In modern times, translators, inspired by humanist ideals (assuming older means closer to the original and more accurate) usually opt for the Alexandrian text when there are differences.   Since the Reformation 499 years ago, Protestant churches have included “for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory” while Roman Catholics have not (for slightly different and even more complicated manuscript reasons).   This ending has been attached to the Lord’s prayer for a very long time. It is found in the didache, a very early Christian worship guide and book from around the year 90 ad.   

This ending is actually found in the Old Testament, in1 Chronicles 29  “Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty” .  That takes us to the last thing you might not know about the Lord’s prayer.  While Jesus combination of petitions and praise was unique, he did not create it from scratch. There were lots of prayers just like it. A lot of people have looked at the Old Testament origins of many or all of the individual petitions in the Lord’s prayer. For example: Proverbs 30:8 "Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread."  and Psalm 71:4 Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel  

The opening words of the Koran, written about 700 years after Jesus introduces the Our Father, share a similar prayer, which Muslims recite 5 times a day: In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful: All Praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Universe. The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. Owner of the Day of Judgement. You alone do we worship, and You alone we turn to for help. Guide us to the straight path;The path of those on whom You have bestowed your grace, not (the way) of those who have earned Your anger, nor of those who went astray.

As people have tried to understand the revelation of God’s love to the world, the words and ideas of the Lord’s Prayer have transcended time and culture, offering God’s comfort and care to all people.  The actual petitions and praise in the prayer are found in other monotheistic faiths (Judaism and Islam). This news of love is ultimately revealed to us through Jesus whose words guide our prayer and lives.  Next week, I will complete our time with Lord’s prayer with some reflections on the role of Jesus’ words in my own faith and life and in our shared history and traditions.  

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sermon for August 21

(I covered the church service at a different congregation this week, so the readings were from the traditional Revised Common Lectionary)

The readings
Isaiah 58:9-14

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Psalm 103
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits—
who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
For he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust.
As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.
Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, obedient to his spoken word.
Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers that do his will.
Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul.

Hebrews 12:18-29
You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.”Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”)But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

Luke 13:10-17
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

 The message

Sermon for August 21, 2016 Trinity Middle Village Pentecost + 14

I am glad to be here with all of you this morning.  I am thankful for this time to lift up our prayers together, to sing God's praise, to hear and share God's word and gather around the communion table together.  We did some church swapping this morning to ensure a congregation whose pastor recently left would have coverage today.  There is a deacon who has been part of our community for decades currently leading worship in my church and here I am.  This is the 3rd time I have led a Sunday morning worship service someplace other than St Jacobus in almost 10 years. This is also the first time in almost a year that I am using the traditional Sunday readings list. About a year ago my church changed our readings to a list called the Narrative Lectionary, which has only one reading each Sunday and follows the story or narrative of the Bible.  As I looked at the readings for today, I quickly realized I could share one of the most joyful and important moments in my ministry and it would be new to you.  (they have heard it at St Jacobus 3 or 4 times)
Our Gospel reading this morning tells of Jesus meeting with a woman who had a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.  I met this woman once, well a young girl in the same situation.  It was after my first year in Seminary. I was working on my CPE, which is an intensive, hospital based pastoral care training program for ministry students. I was at a large hospital in the city.  There were about 15 students from all different faith traditions in my group and each of us was assigned certain areas as well as on call emergency hours.   One morning about half way through the program,  I happened to be in the pastoral care  office and since I was there, one of the supervisors asked me to respond to a request from a patient for a chaplains visit. The call was from the children's ICU unit, which is often a mentally and spiritually challenging place to walk through.  I had no idea what to expect.  As I entered the room I meet a girl who was 16 or 17 years old and her mother.  The girl was a frequent guest at the hospital due to infections and the need for IV antibiotics. She suffered from some several muscular and mental disabilities that left her unable to speak or move much. She could only communicate some with facial expressions and sounds, which her mother was proficient in interpreting. The girl also had a spinal curvature which left her significantly bent backwards.  I never saw anyone with this sort of condition before and did my best to hide my shock.   

Now I truly and honestly wish I could say, like Jesus,  I cried out "Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” and when I laid my hands on her, she immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.  That did not happen.  Our first meeting was polite and nice but uneventful. I got to the know them, their difficult story and their deep trust in God. We prayed together for healing and strength. At the end the mother said "she really likes you" and I promised to stop again.   My next visit a day or two later was eventful. During our conversation, the mother told me something that shocked me more than my initial meeting.  As we talked about different things, our discussion led to talk about church.   She mentioned that their church viewed them pretty much viewed as an annoyance and their pastor refused to baptize the girl since she could not sufficiently show she made the decision for Jesus. 
My first thoughts were, "you need to find another church" but it was not really my place to push that.  Our conversation moved around a bit more, then we had a time of prayer.  As I left and got near the door,  the mother called out "would you baptize her".  I said of course and explained why.  My explanation was probably way too theological and I think she got a bit lost but basically, I told them Baptism is the time when God chooses us and God chooses everyone decision or not.

I left to prepare for the baptism (which like healing on the Sabbath in our gospel reading was pretty clearly prohibited).  Part of the seminary rules for CPE was that you were not authorized or supposed to perform baptisms, especially if it was not an emergency and you could easily get an ordained person to do it.  The hospital I was working at had slightly different rules, summarized as "you do whatever you have to do for the spiritual care of the people entrusted to you".  (On a side note, we are not a church of blind, law and rule following bureaucrats, as I talked about this event at a pastoral candidacy interview later on, no one became indignant, it was celebrated). 

Baptisms are pretty easy to prepare for, all you need is some water and something to carry it in.  As I got ready, I was telling everyone what happened (this was exciting news in a pastoral care department, this was, after all, what we were there for).  One of the other students said "I know that family" and asked to come along and see or help with the service.  I said okay and off we went. As we returned for the baptism, we gathered together a group of nurses, doctors, even other patients and people who knew the girl.  Someone managed to grab some balloons and flowers.   After the Baptism, we all could tell that this girl knew something special had just happened.  The mother had a great sense of joy and relief (and plans to find a new church).

We did nothing to help the girl's physical or mental ailments. She would remain in the hospital a few more days and be released and likely return in another month or two. She was however, set free from other ailments.  The girl no longer felt like a second class citizen in God's kingdom,  she knew that she was as loved and cared for as any healthy or well person, that God knew and loved her too.  The mother knew her daughter was included in God's kingdom, that this girl she loved so deeply and cared for so much was also loved deeply and cared for so much by God. Jesus died and rose for her salvation too and now she saw the water to prove it. 

These are the joys that Jesus invites us into. There is the joy of seeing what we can offer others. If we cannot allow someone to stand up straight and walk,  maybe we can offer the gift of comfort and acceptance, peace, a second chance, prayer, economic help or welcome. There is the joy of knowing we are part of God's kingdom, each with a unique story and ability to share God's love.  There is the joy of knowing our faith does not center on rules and traditions, it centers on Jesus who revealed God's word, showed God's  love and brought us to God's grace by his death and resurrection.  Finally, I do not want to imply that keeping the Sabbath is meaningless, Jesus did not want to imply that keeping the sabbath is meaningless.  This day and time of rest is a gift we deeply need.  It is a time to stop and remember these things are true and meant for us to enjoy, celebrate and share.