Monthly Archives: February 2012

“Walking Wet Out of the Wilderness” Sermon 2.26.2012

Mark 1:9-15 • February 26, 2012

Click here to hear the audio recording of this sermon.

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

I have a collection of hanging file folders in my office that contain old e-mails, or articles, or thoughts from books that I’ve read that I want  to remember because they may be of use for something someday. These file folders have titles like “Jesus” or “End Times” or “Grace.” There is even one that is simply called “quotes.”

I opened that file this week and came across a set of quotes from people in managerial positions communicating to their employees, or at least trying to communicate. Here a just a few of them.

“What I need is a list of specific unknown problems we will encounter.”

“Doing it right is no excuse for not meeting the schedule.”

Or this one from a manager to a brand new employee. Probably my favorite –

“No one will believe you solved this problem in one day! We’ve been working on it for months. Now, go act busy for a few weeks and I’ll let you know when it’s time to tell them.”

Thoughts like this kind make you scratch your head a little, don’t they? Sometimes I worry that the language of Christians is a little like that. Like the mangers that I just quoted. I think they knew what they were trying to say, but it didn’t come across very clearly when they said it.

As Lutheran Christians we share something in common with many other, not all, but many other brothers and sisters in Christ. We share a yearly journey in worship and really every facet of our life in Christ that’s known as the Liturgical Year – or the Church Year. This church year doesn’t begin on January 1st. It begins four weeks before Christmas with the season of Advent and ends in late November with the celebration of Christ the King Day at the end of a season called Pentecost. This liturgical year is not focused on the seasons of a chronological calendar. Its focus is the story of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of a savior named Jesus. As Lutheran Christians, we live in the ebb and flow of the liturgical year as we seek to follow this Jesus.

Needless to say, I love the seasons of the church. I find comfort and hope and challenge and growth as the seasons change. But I was a surprised again recently to discover that not everyone shares my passion or even understands or follows the seasons of the church year as part of their life in Christ.

I was having coffee with a friend of mine who is an active member of a non-denominational Christian church in town. They celebrate big events in the church year like Christmas and Easter, but pay little, if any, attention to other seasons like Advent or Pentecost or Ash Wednesday or Lent. My friend knew that we were preparing for the beginning of a new season, but he didn’t understand what it was all about, so he asked me a very simple question. He said, “You have a new season starting soon, right? Is it Lent this time? What is Lent, anyway?” I wonder how many of us gathered in this worship space today have asked that same question before. “What is Lent?”

Of all the seasons, I think Lent is my favorite. One of the reasons why I like it is because it’s a season that hasn’t been high jacked by our consumer driven culture yet. I mean, there are no Lenten reindeer or jolly snowmen dancing around with ashes on their forehead. There are no colored food products like Easter eggs.

Another reason why I like Lent is that it’s not a one day event, but a journey. Lent is not like a New Year’s resolution where we try to give something up or start doing something healthy in our lives. Lent is a never-ending journey that invites you and me into relationship with God each day and into relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. In this journey of Lent, we are reminded once again just how much God loves us and how we are called to share that love with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

At about this time in my effort to explain Lent to my friend, I noticed that he was staring at me blankly. You know that stare. The one that screams out, “I have no idea what you are talking about.” I know for a fact that you know what that looks like. Actually, it’s very similar to the stare I’m receiving from many of you at this very moment.

So let’s try this again. Like nearly every aspect of our life in Christ, we can’t just look at Lent on the surface and expect to understand what it is and why it is such an important part of our journey as followers of Christ. If we only do that, it will be hard to understand how in the world we are ever going to live up to the expectations that seasons like this place on us.

Think about it in connection with our gospel reading today. This is the same “temptation” text that we hear every year on the first Sunday in Lent. Trying to connect our lives today with the temptation that Jesus experiences with wild beasts and wilderness and Satan lurking around while angels serve him is confusing for us; or at the very least a little intimidating. Wild Beasts. Wilderness. Satan. Angels.

But Pastor Scott Black Johnston seems to think that these images in the desert, the wilderness as the gospel of Mark calls it, are helpful. I hope you can relate to what he says about Lent and the wildernesses that we encounter in our lives.

Pastor Johnston says, “You can lose part of yourself in the desert. Of course, that is exactly what we need: a few key losses-letting go of ceaseless information gobbling, longstanding resentments and destructive dreams; refusing to care about the wrong things, the stupid things, the things that really don’t matter. Then, when the desert is done with us, we just might find ourselves with more capacity to care about the things that do matter-that matter more than anything else!”

So, Lent is not about giving up all of the things that tempt us each day for a prescribed period of time – in this case 40 days or so. Lent reminds us that as we struggle with temptations, regardless of where we are in life, God is with us. Through Lent, we remember that we are resurrection people even as we live in a world that often looks and feels and smells a lot more like the darkness of Jesus’ crucifixion and death on Good Friday. And as people of the resurrection we are invited to live in the hope and promise that God is always with us. In life and in death. In times of wilderness and in times of peace.

As Professor David Lose offers, “Lent reminds us that whenever we find ourselves in the wilderness of disease, loneliness, joblessness, depression, or all the other things that challenge us, Jesus has been there before and meets us there in order to bear our burdens with us and for us.”

So, “What is Lent, anyway?”

Lent is a season of the liturgical year, the church’s year, when we remember that Jesus has already been to every wilderness we will ever face. Jesus knows when we are lost in the wilderness. And Jesus will always meet you and me in those wilderness times and carry the weight of those times with us and for us. This God will never let us walk alone. Brothers and sisters in Christ, I think that is what Lent is. And that’s why Lent is my favorite season. May God bless you and keep you along your Lenten journey. Amen.

“How Full Do You Want Your Plate?” Sermon 02.05.2012

Mark 1:29-39 • February 5, 2012

Click here to hear the audio recording of this sermon.

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

I think many of you might be asking a question today after just hearing this gospel reading. It may sound something like this, “If Mark’s gospel is in such a hurry with his abundant use of the word immediately and quickly changing scenes, why are we spending five weeks getting through one chapter?” If you’re asking that question, good. It’s a good question. And my pastoral response to your question is this – “Because.”

In other gospels Jesus proclaims his ministry – his mission – his purpose so to speak – in lengthy, beautiful sermons like the Sermon on the Mount in the gospel of Matthew. In Mark, it’s a little different. Instead of several dozen verses and a few chapters of scripture, the Jesus in Mark’s gospel gives us one verse, Chapter 1, verse 15, with Jesus saying “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Or as the paraphrase of scripture called The Message puts it, “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.”

Mark chapter 1, verse 15, may just be the shortest sermon ever offered in the history of humanity. It’s pretty revealing that centuries after Jesus first spoke these words; we’re stilling trying to figure out what they mean and how we are being invited each day to live as brothers and sisters in Christ if we really do in fact believe what this new teaching from Jesus claims.

When we hear Jesus say, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” what do you hear? For many of us, it’s not so much a matter of whether we believe these words; we’re just not sure what to do with them. I mean – your plate and my plate are already way too full.

A couple of weeks ago I was getting ready to go home after our Saturday evening worship service. My phone rang. It was one of my daughters informing me that they were standing in line at HuHot and it wouldn’t be too long before we would get a table, so I should come and have dinner with them. It was the first HuHot Mongolian Grill experience for our family, so I gladly went.

Dining at a Mongolian grill is an interesting experience. Not only because of the way the food is prepared, but also the way in which we, the customers, participate in that preparation. You grab a bowl, which by the way are simple and very adequate serving size bowls. Not too small. Not too large. You place the ingredients that you would like to eat in the bowl and take your bowl to the grill to be cooked.

However, it quickly became clear to me that the size of the bowl was not adequate for the amount of food that I thought I needed to choose. I desperately tried to figure out how I was going to get everything I wanted to eat in this now itty bitty, tiny little bowl. And then I remembered what our waitress said, “You can go back, if you would like more.” I sighed in relief.

So in this first trip, I was very selective with the amount of ingredients I chose. I didn’t want to exceed the capacity of the bowl. And I have to say, I think I was successful in that quest.

As we made our way to the grill, what surprised me was that I was one of only a few who had selected just enough ingredients to actually fit into the bowl. Most everyone else had filled their bowls way beyond capacity. They were struggling to keep all of the food in or on top of their bowl.

As I watched many struggle, I thought about the many times in my life that these bowls reflected. The many times in life when there were way more ingredients placed in front of me than I could actually keep in my bowl. Some would fall to the floor. Some became smothered by the constant weight and pressure of other things on top of them?

“Everyone is searching for you,” is what the disciples say to Jesus in our gospel reading today. Jesus had a busy day – healing a man possessed by unclean spirits in the synagogue, releasing a fever from Simon’s mother-in-law, and countless other healings throughout the day.

Everyone was clamoring to see this Jesus and experience for themselves how the kingdom of God was coming near. From the very start of the gospel of Mark, Mark reveals just how many ways Jesus proclaims and witnesses to the kingdom of God. And in today’s gospel Mark also reveals the source of Jesus authority and power as he tells us that Jesus rose early in the day to be alone with God in prayer.

All of us have times in life when we feel more like a piece of vegetable at the bottom of our HuHot bowl, crushed by the weight of an 80 hour work week that we try to maintain? Weightless as we fall to the floor after being pushed over the edge because of emotional stress that simply can’t fit on top of our already over stacked bowls. Clinging to relationships and habits that we should have let go of years ago? They cause us to constantly be sick with a fever and keep us from experiencing the healing touch of Jesus.

The question I have for you today is this – How are you getting away to be alone with God in prayer? Times of prayer that reveal God’s strength and faithfulness and healing touch given to you through a savior named Jesus.

Saint Jerome said that we all have fevers in a sermon that he preached around 400 A.D. in Bethlehem. “O that he (Jesus) would come to our house and enter and heal the fever of our sins by his command. For each and every one of us suffers from fever. When I grow angry, I am feverish. So many vices, so many fevers.”

And nearly 16 centuries later, Bishop NT Wright said, “With Jesus, God’s rescue operation has been put into effect once and for all. A great door has swung open in the cosmos which can never again be shut. It’s the door to the prison where we’ve been kept chained up. We are offered freedom: freedom to experience God’s rescue for ourselves, to go through the open door and explore the new world to which we now have access. In particular, we are all invited – summoned actually – to discover, through following Jesus, that this new world is indeed a place of justice, spirituality, relationship, and beauty, and that we are not only to enjoy it as such but to work at bringing it to birth on earth as in heaven.” Bishop Wright continues, “In listening to Jesus, we discover whose voice it is that has echoed around the hearts and minds of the human race all along.” (This quote is from the book Simple Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense)

So we get to spend five weeks in the season of Epiphany in the first chapter of the gospel of Mark. Thanks be to God.

And I hope and pray that our time with this one chapter in this one gospel, causes you and I to experience new life as we feel Jesus’ healing touch. That it empowers us to remember that the number of ingredients and the size of our bowls is not a burden, but a renewing freedom challenging us to serve one another. And that it challenges us to purposely spend time with God in prayer, which restores us and makes us whole through the strength and power and healing touch that we are given in Christ Jesus our lord and savior. Amen.