Monthly Archives: December 2019

2019 Christmas Eve Sermon

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ-child we are here to worship on this holy day. Amen.

There is an ancient spiritual practice among Christians called Lectio Divina. It’s a way to read scripture slowly, repeatedly and prayerfully. In recent decades, the practice of reading and studying scripture like this has seen renewed interest. At Good Shepherd, we regularly practice something called Dwelling in the Word, which is a similar kind of prayerful scripture reading.

Both of these practices are an important part of my own faith journey. There isn’t a sermon I offer or a word I write that isn’t impacted by using lectio or dwelling in my study and preparation. Drop me an email or give me a call if you’d like to learn more about either of them. I promise they will positively impact your faith journey. Now, before I lose you completely because you are probably wondering what any of this has to do with Christmas or our worship today, stay with me.

Even if this is the first time in your life that you have been in a church for worship, I’m guessing you have heard Luke, chapter two before. You’ve probably heard about the baby Jesus before. You’ve heard about the shepherds and the angels. About Mary and Joseph. Maybe you’ve even heard this story as it is told by Linus from a Charlie Brown Christmas or heard it told through one of the thousands of Christmas movies that exist.

But, I ask every one of us gathered here today on this holiest of nights, have you really ever heard this story before?

In fact, I would challenge you after all the Christmas craziness is over and gone, I challenge you to sit down and read through Luke chapter two again. Read it slowly, quietly, prayerfully. It might surprise you what the Holy Spirit will reveal to you about Jesus and his birth and why any part of this story still matters for you.

Pastor Amy Redwine points us to why this story still matters and who it’s for, as she writes, “Of the four gospels, Luke’s is written for the most ordinary of us, including – maybe even especially – all those who have been pushed aside and marginalized: the young, the poor, the refugee, the laborer. Luke wants to make sure we know that this baby, who is nothing less than Emmanuel. God-with-us, came not for some but for all. Luke wants us to know, there are no extras in this story. Everyone belongs. [Amy Starr Redwine, Journal for Preachers, Vol. XLIII, #1, Advent 2019]

As I began preparing for this year’s Christmas Eve sermon several months ago, I began as I always do, by slowly, intentionally and prayerfully reading the scripture texts for the day. And, as we all know, and I’ve already shared, the scripture for today includes a story that we most often hear on Christmas. The story of Jesus’ birth as offered to us in the second chapter of Saint Luke’s gospel.

I’ve read this story hundreds, if not thousands of times before. I’ve written countless articles, blog posts, sermons and seminary papers about it. Surely, there is nothing new that I could hear from it. Surely I’ve uncovered all that the Holy Spirit wanted to reveal to me in a lifetime spent hearing and studying this story. Surely I know everyone who belongs, who is important in this story.

This year, though, the Holy Spirit decided that I needed to hear something new. Something I wasn’t expecting. Something I had never heard before.

In the nineteenth verse of the second chapter of Luke, I heard, as if for the very first time, “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” Mary pondered them in her heart. While everything around her was blowing up with shouts of joy from shepherds and angels and everything else in all creation, Mary was quiet. Mary pondered. Mary.

To be honest, I’ve never given Mary much thought before. Of course, I should have. She is, after all, the mother of the savior of the world. But it is so easy to focus on the excitement and noise and chaos of the Christmas story that I think I may have actually been missing part of the center of the Christmas story my entire life. An unwed, teenage woman, giving birth to the savior of the world, the Messiah, Emmanuel, God with us. A birth and a woman who’s experience on that holy night changes creation forever.

And in that moment, as Mary holds the baby Jesus and ponders in her heart what this might mean, she doesn’t send a tweet. She doesn’t rush to her Shutterfly account to change her Christmas card order before it ships. She’s not posting on Facebook all that she has seen and heard. She simply, quietly…ponders.

As Mary takes in all the events of Jesus’ birth, Luke tells us she “treasured” and “pondered” them in her heart. The word “pondered” here is the word symballo in Greek, which can also have stronger and more contentious meanings like “to engage in war with” and “to wrestle with.” Mary takes in, treasures, but she also wrestles deeply with the meaning of the experiences she is having because of Jesus birth.

Later in our worship today, we will sing “let every heart prepare him room.” Will our hearts have room to wage war with, wrestle with, to ponder what the birth of a savior named Jesus has to do with us as we seek to try and follow this savior beyond today?

I’m not going to pretend to know why you are here. I don’t know what you are feeling as I share this crazy discovery I’ve had with a scripture reading that we hear every year at Christmas. I don’t know if you’ve ever had an experience that felt like you were wrestling with God before. Or if you believe that the Holy Spirit has anything to do with our faith journey. I’m not going to judge you if this is your 1st or 500th time hearing the Christmas story as told from the gospel of Saint Luke.

I’m okay with wherever you may be.

As I’ve studied and wrestled with and pondered in preparation for this time of worship, I want you to know that I’m glad you are here today. I want you to know that I’m really glad you and I are able to experience the Christmas story together tonight. To ponder it a little more deeply.

I believe the people who are sitting near you today are glad that you are here as well, after all, they are part of this story too. They might even be wrestling with it just like you are.

And I believe with everything that I am as a Christian pastor that Jesus Christ, the savior of the world whose birth we celebrate tonight, is glad you are here too.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as our journey of faith continues beyond this time in worship on this most sacred night called Christmas, take time to silence the chaos and noise of the world around you once in a while. Take time to wage war with the things that pull you away from your relationship with God. Take time to simply be with God. To make room in your heart for the Christ-child to live. To ponder a little in order to hear the quiet voice of God speaking to you by name. To wrestle with the fact that God has come to us in Jesus, and because of that truth, nothing in all creation will ever be the same again.

Merry Christmas brothers and sisters. Merry Christmas. Amen.

“Are You the One?” 12.15.2019 Advent 3 Sermon

Matthew 11:2-19 • December 12, 2019

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ child who comes. Amen.

If you have been in a Christian worship service during the season of Advent – either this year or any other year before – chances are likely you have heard a little bit about Jesus’ cousin, John. John the Baptist or John the Baptizer as he is often called. John plays a pretty significant role in the story of Jesus. Most of the scripture that we hear during Advent, John is present in one way or another.

And most often, when we think of John, we think of this crazy man living in the wilderness, wearing clothing made of camel’s hair, and eating locusts and wild honey. A crazy man running around telling people to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” There’s more to that crazy story about John the Baptist in the third chapter of Matthew if you want to dig deeper.

In short, though, John is not only a crazy guy living in the wilderness or simply Jesus’ long lost cousin, John is also kind of a prophet. A prophet who is confident that the Messiah is coming. John is the one whom the prophet Isaiah said would be a voice crying out in the wilderness, declaring “prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” John is someone whom the Old Testament prophets proclaimed would be the strong, confident person who would tell us exactly when the Messiah had arrived. The person who would let us know when the Kingdom of God was being ushered in with the Savior’s arrival.

Just a few chapters after this image is painted for us of a confident and bold John, the writer of Matthew’s gospel gives us a very different vision of who John is.
Rather than being a crazy guy living in the wilderness calling us to repent.
Rather than a man filled with passion at the arrival of the Messiah.

This John is unsure.

This John has doubt.

He is sitting in a prison cell, knowing that his death is near. He’s no longer certain whether the Jesus he has known is actually the Messiah. Was the one he baptized really the one he, and the rest of creation, had been waiting for all along?

In John’s darkest moment, in his weakest day, he calls out to Jesus “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

How often do our lives of faith sound or look like John’s? Living life fully and adventurously. Partying it up, shopping until we drop, oblivious to the needs of others around us as we head toward Christmas at a frantic pace that leaves us exhausted and confused.

And then all of a sudden, we discover ourselves confined.

It might not be a prison cell as in John’s case. Maybe it’s burdensome debt in the aftermath of joyful Christmas shopping or simply a lifetime of irresponsible spending? Maybe it’s a relationship with someone we’ve loved deeply that is anything but loving and healthy right now? Maybe it’s unrealistic expectations you and I place upon a season like Christmas, expectations that only actually come true in Hallmark Christmas movies or greeting cards?

Wherever you may be today, I invite you to join John from whatever prison cell you are in and not be afraid to ask Jesus again “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Jesus’ response to John’s question is not what John was expecting. John was expecting a Messiah that would be powerful in ways that would destroy evil people like King Herod, the very reason why he was in jail in the first place. John was expecting a Messiah who would destroy all that was wrong with the world in his eyes, and make it right.
But that’s not who Jesus is as the Messiah. By this point in time though, John is probably wondering if all that baptizing, wearing odd clothing, eating weird food, and preaching in the wilderness meant anything at all. After all, it certainly hasn’t made John’s life any better. Was all of his work done for nothing?

And then Jesus responds –

“Go and tell John what you hear and see; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” And then Jesus goes on to show the crowds further examples of what the Kingdom of God coming into the world through the Messiah looks like.

Brothers and sisters, in this Advent season, what are you seeing and hearing as you ask Jesus if he is the one? How are you experiencing the Kingdom of God coming into the world?

Is the Messiah you are seeking one who will rule the nations with military power and might? The Messiah who is coming into our world is the one standing next to you as you feed the hungry and help the poor in our community with your hands, feet, voices, and financial resources? Work that you and I do together as Good Shepherd each year by volunteering thousands of hours of time and hundreds of thousands of dollars to share Christ’s love with our brothers and sisters.

Is the Messiah you are seeking the one who can only be found in church buildings like the one we are sitting in right now? The Messiah who is coming into our world is the one who is walking beside all of God’s children, in every place and time. That might look an awful lot like a public school classroom or the state capital building or on the internet and social media sites you and I visit or among those living in refugee camps in parts of the world that we will never step foot or among fellow child of God who lives in our own state’s penitentiary.

John’s expectation of the coming Messiah needed to change. What he expected and what God actually sent are very different. How do our expectations of the coming Messiah need the same kind of change this Advent? Maybe for you, they need to change in ways you can’t even imagine while sitting here today? Maybe you have a bit of fear or anxiety about the change that needs to take place? I know my own expectations of the coming Messiah have been challenged and needed change recently.

For the past year or so, Good Shepherd has been part of a mission project with Luther Seminary and the Lily Foundation called Leadership for Faithful Innovation. A recently formed Guiding Team in our own congregation will continue to walk us through this project. In so many ways, this process may change how we see and hear the coming Messiah. At least, that is my hope as one of your spiritual leaders.

During Advent, our Guiding Team is inviting us to share God Moments with each other. To share times when we see the Messiah coming into the world in our everyday lives. These God Moments might simply be a photo that captures a moment or a brief reflection or a short story. It might be a life-changing experience or a simple encounter that caused you to stop for a few seconds and give God thanks.

What you and I are being invited to do is the exact same thing that Jesus tells John’s disciples to do – “Go and tell John what you hear and see.”

As our Advent journey continues this week, you and I will probably again ask Jesus the question “Are you the Messiah, or are we to wait for another?” In our journey of faith, as we ask that question, do not be afraid to tell others what you hear and see. It probably won’t look like a military takeover, but it might bring good news to the poor. It probably won’t immediately solve all of the hunger and homeless issues our communities face, but it might relieve the suffering of one child of God, or maybe even two.

A colleague, Pastor Dave Lose writes, “Because we believe Christ is coming to bring healing, peace, justice, and hope, we act now to make our congregations and communities, our country and the world more healthy, more peaceful, more just, more hopeful.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, may you be blessed in all of your God moments this Advent. I hope and pray that they are moments to show others what you hear and see, moments that prepare the way for Christ, moments that celebrate the Messiah who comes to us. And in the hope that each moment brings, I will continue to pray…Come Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.