Sunday, June 21, 2020

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, "From the Housetops," Matthew 10:24-39

Sermon 6/21/20

Matthew 10:24-39

From the Housetops

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, and unsurprisingly, about ministry and preaching and about my years as a pastor and preacher. And I’ve been thinking about “good news” - what it is when we’re talking about life with Jesus, and how and why we share good news. Way back when I did my Women in the Bible sermon series a couple of summers ago, you might remember that we talked about Deborah and Jael from the book of Judges. Their story is a really compelling one, and worth our learning about, but it’s also vivid, we’ll say, when the story describes Jael killing Sisera, bringing victory to the Israelites. I told you then that I had been having trouble figuring out how to preach on the text, even if I wanted you to know about the events Judges described. I was sharing about my struggle with a group of clergywomen on facebook, and one of them asked me, “What’s the good news in the text?” Her simple question really helped me refocus, and remember: whatever else preaching is about, it needs to be about that: sharing good news with people who need to hear it. 

A couple of weeks ago I preached on the Parable of the Rich Fool and his bigger barns, sharing with you that it was the first text I ever preached on. This week I was reflecting on what we think of as Jesus’ first sermon: Jesus going to his hometown of Nazareth, and reading from the scroll of Isaiah. Jesus’ first text was about good news: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” After sharing those words from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus said to the people, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-19) He preached good news and he was good news. That’s what the angel - a news deliverer - tells the shepherds about Jesus at his birth: “Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10) When disciples of John the Baptist ask Jesus on John’s behalf  if Jesus is the Messiah, he replies that they should tell John what they’ve witnessed Jesus doing. “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.” (Luke 11:4-5) What is that good news? Jesus tells the disciples, “Proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’” God’s reign is not far off, it’s here and now, ready for us to be part of this instant, when we make God’s ways our ways. The good news is that we can be home with God not just in eternity, but now too. The good news is that God wants not only life for us eternally, but life for us now. Good news. Whatever else Jesus is preaching about, he’s preaching that: good news for people who need it.

You know that I always want us to be more specific when it comes to our commitments to God about what we’ll do to live as disciples of Jesus. I want that because I know if I’m not more specific with myself, it’s easy to make broad generalizations about loving God with my whole heart and loving my neighbor that have no real impact and let me off the hook too easily. We have a good example in Jesus of someone who tells us and then demonstrates what he means when he talks about good news. Jesus says that the humbled will be exalted and the exalted humbled, and we see him confront the religious leaders about the ways their teaching and interpretation ends up being bad news for people who are hurting and vulnerable, weighed down by their requirements. And we see him dismiss opportunities to increase his personal fame and status, whether tempted by Satan in the wilderness, or pressed by crowds of followers who adore him and want him to be king. He says that he comes not to be served but to serve, and we see him wash the disciples’ feet, and eat with those labeled sinners, and heal and cure and tend to even when he seems exhausted and longing for rest. He says that those who would be first shall be last, and the last first, and we see him bring to the center women, and children, and foreigners, and the disabled, and the diseased, and the destitute. And he says that whoever wants to save their live must lose it, and whoever loses their life for the sake of the good news he brings will save it, and we see him unwavering before the Council, before King Herod, before Pontius Pilate, and so many who hold his life in their hands, until he is put to death on a cross. In everything Jesus is about, he’s about that: good news, living it, embodying it, sharing it with those who need it. 

Sharing the good news is the work to which he calls us too. In our gospel lesson for today, we find ourselves jumping in part way through a conversation Jesus is having with the twelve disciples. He’s given them authority - the power to do what he does, to cure, and cast out demons. And he sends them out with this mission: “Proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’” Only, for some people, the good news of Jesus feels more like a threat than a promise. Good news for the poor can sound like bad news for those who have been hoarding, and accumulating, and taking more than their fair share. Liberty for those who are oppressed is bad news to those who are oppressing, enjoying their power over others. Even the healing that Jesus does, as we saw last week when we talked about the man blind from birth, was a threat to the status and authority of those who usually controlled how others could acceptably  relate to God. And so even as Jesus sends the disciples out to preach good news, he sends them with warnings, too. He tells them they’ll be like sheep in the midst of wolves. Jesus anticipates that they’ll be brought before governors and kings because of him, persecuted because of him. That’s where we pick up in our reading for today. If we’re disciples of Jesus, then the more we preach the same good news he did, the more likely we are to face the kinds of consequences he did, as we encounter those who hear bad news where Jesus announces good

Nonetheless, Jesus tells the disciples, tells us, “Do not be afraid.” He says, “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” I think Jesus means for the disciples to be bold in exposing, uncovering  the evil and injustice they encounter. And I’m reminded yet again of our baptismal covenant, words that Hannah and Tucker affirmed just last week in their confirmation, and Lindley’s family affirmed at her baptism yesterday: We renounce the forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, repent of our sin, and accept the power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression. But even when the disciples confront what’s been kept in the dark, and even when we confront injustice, we shouldn’t be afraid. God knows each hair on our head. God treasures us. Disciples’ souls are safe even when their physical lives are in danger. Don’t be afraid. Oof.

Jesus, Prince of Peace, has more hard words.”Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set family member against family member. One’s foes will be members of one’s own household.” He says that whoever loves their family more than they love him isn’t worthy of being his disciple. And he concludes, “Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Jesus has such good news for people who so need it, and he asks us to be part of sharing it. But sharing that good news? It is such hard work, and carries a great cost. Is it worth it? How good is this news? 

To share the good news, we must reject the evil powers of this world. We resist evil and injustice and oppression. We tell in the light anything that’s trying to work against God’s plan. We proclaim from the housetops the falsehood of anything that tries to convince us our value is determined by anything other than our identity as a beloved child of God. We know, deep in our souls, that following Jesus means putting him first, even if prioritizing discipleship causes a rift between you and the people you love the most. How good is this good news?  

Today, God-willing, is not my last sermon, but it’s my last sermon as your pastor, and maybe my last sermon for a while as a pastor of a congregation (I remind myself as I remind you never say never to God.) What can I say in a last sermon? I think I want you to hear this: Being a committed, all-in disciple of Jesus is hard. But Jesus isn’t kidding when he says “Don’t be afraid!” He says it twice just in this text, just in case we missed it the first time. It is going to be hard. It’s going to be like sometimes Jesus has brought us a sword  instead of peace. Or like you have to choose between your family and God. Or like you have to take up a cross, an instrument of death, and follow Jesus down that painful road to be a disciple. Or like you have to lose your life, in fact. 

And maybe you wonder: Is Jesus’s news so good it is worth all this? Is Jesus such good news that it is worth all this, all we have, all of us? Only something that’s worth everything would be worth all this. And that’s exactly Jesus’s point. The good news he shares is the only thing that’s worth our everything. The news that’s good enough to make us unafraid despite it all. The good news that offers the only life that is really life. The way that will set us right, set the world right with God. The way that will bring us deep and lasting joy and peace. Friends, I want you to know that the good news Jesus shares with us is worth your everything, worth your persistence, worth your struggles, worth changing your life for, worth giving your heart and soul for. Worth everything. In some ways, our paths are diverging. We’re heading in different directions, and I’m grieving that deeply. But in another way, in the way that counts the most, as long as we are taking up our cross and following Jesus? Then we’re always on the journey together, together in the body of Christ, bound for the same destination after all. And that is very good news for people who need it. Let’s proclaim it from the housetops. Amen. 


Sunday, June 14, 2020

Sermon, "One of the Crowd," John 10:1-18

Sermon 6/14/20

John 10:1-18

One of the Crowd

We spent a few weeks after Easter talking about planting seeds, and during that series we explored several of Jesus’ parables. Last week, too, we heard another of Jesus’ parables. And we talked about how the parables of Jesus help us learn something about the kingdom of God, about God’s reign and how we can live in God’s reign in the now. We learned, too, that parables aren’t always allegories where this equals that, but stories that are meant engage our imagination, and unfold more and more as we look at them from different angles, see ourselves in different parts of the stories. They can be challenging, but for many, Jesus’ parables are favorites among his teaching. 

You might have noticed, though, that while we heard parables from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we never read a parable from the gospel of John. In fact, the word parable doesn’t appear anywhere in John’s gospel. Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the synoptic gospels, which means they “look together with one eye,” because they have similar content, drawing on common sources to tell us about Jesus. But the gospel of John has a lot of material we don’t hear anywhere else. And, John’s style of telling us about Jesus is significantly different than that of the other gospel writers. Jesus does a lot of talking in the gospel of John - long discourses of teaching. These discourses include “I AM” statements - where Jesus gives us different images to understand who he is to us - two of which appear in our reading for today. John’s Jesus uses a lot of symbolism in his teaching. John’s style of writing is poetic and beautiful, absolutely. But as challenging as the parables of Jesus can be, I personally find Jesus’ discourses in John even harder to understand, particularly when I’m trying to figure out what they mean for my life and faith today. Still, though, John’s gospel contains my very favorite verse of scripture, and that’s the text I want us to explore this morning. 

I’ve shared with you before that John 10:10 is my favorite verse in the Bible. Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” When I first really noticed the verse when I was a young teen, I just loved the idea that Jesus wanted us to have abundant, full life. I think a lot of spiritual formation for teens, at least as I experienced, was about what you should not be doing in order to be a “good Christian.” No sex, no drugs, no smoking, no swearing, no cheating, no lying, no this or that. It seemed like it was mostly about the “Thou shalt nots.” But here was Jesus saying that his purpose, his aim was for us to have abundant life. That sounded a lot more compelling than a list of things I shouldn’t do. It’s still a compelling message. But I think, as with all of Jesus’ teachings, we understand more when we look at the context. 

John 10 actually brings us Jesus’ wods mid-discourse. There’s a context here that might help us understand more. In John 9, Jesus heals a man who had been blind from birth. As was common, everyone assumed the man was blind because he or his parents had sinned, and his blindness was God’s punishment. Jesus tries to give them a new perspective through his healing of the man, but mostly, the Pharisees - religious scholars and interpreters of the law of Moses - mostly they just seem upset. Jesus had healed on a Sabbath. And if he was willing to disregard an important part of the religious law, how could he be from God? Instead of rejoicing in the man’s healing, the Pharisees question him and his parents about Jesus. I encourage you to read the exchange between the now-healed man and the Pharisees, as the man neatly challenges these scholars by questioning them as much they question him. At the end of the scene, Jesus says, “I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” The Pharisees, overhearing, respond, “Surely we are not blind, are we?’ And Jesus answers, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.” So while the Pharisees assumed the once-blind man was full of sin, and that Jesus was a sinner too, Jesus says that they are the ones who are blind to God’s purpose in the world. 

And it is from there, continuing in conversation with the Pharisees, that he launches into the extended, complicated, and compelling message that we find in John 10. Jesus talks about a sheepfold. Some people try to enter the sheepfold by climbing in, breaking in, instead of coming through the gate - thieves and bandits. But not the shepherd. The sheep know the voice of the shepherd. They follow the shepherd’s voice because they trust the shepherd. Jesus says that he is the gate and he is the Good Shepherd. Others are thieves and bandits, and the sheep shouldn’t listen to them. Even a hired hand doesn’t have the same dedication as the good shepherd, and will leave the sheep vulnerable when danger comes. But the Good Shepherd is one who puts their own life on the line for the sake of the sheep. And in this context, Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

If Jesus is the good shepherd who gives us abundant life, I most definitely want to be a sheep in his flock. And I think part of that is very appealing at first. Jesus is the shepherd, we’re the sheep. We follow him. He leads us by those green pastures we hear about. We don’t have to know much, do much, except trust Jesus. That’s a pretty good life, right? Except: sheep aren’t necessarily wise. We sometimes use the word sheep in a derogatory way to indicate someone who is just a crowd-follower, not thinking for themselves. Is that what we want to be? I can’t help but think of a video that I saw on facebook a couple years back - a shepherd pulling a sheep out of a hole in the ground that it had somehow gotten stuck in. The shepherd really had to yank on that poor sheep; it was so stuck in that hole, which you could barely see in the long grass, that it would have been easy to miss and walk right by. What an image for the places we get stuck in life when we wander away from the shepherd! What a compelling image for how much we’re sheep, even if we think we’re too wise to need to be ourselves in the hands of someone who will lead us! I know there are times in my life when I can relate deeply to that sheep stuck in the ground. You? If Jesus is our good shepherd, then we are sheep. And some days we’re happy to be one of the flock, but some days we chafe against following Jesus. Our best bet for claiming the abundant life the shepherd promises is following the shepherd at all times. That means putting the shepherd in charge instead of the sheep. Jesus in charge instead of you. God’s will instead of our own. Working so that God’s will and our will are in sync! 

I think we do that work by making sure we know the voice of Jesus. Jesus says that the sheep know the good shepherd because they listen to his voice. They recognize his voice. And because they recognize Jesus, they don’t get confused and follow other voices that intend harm instead of good. How do we make sure we know Jesus’ voice? I think of some of the work our confirmands have been doing over this last year. They met with me regularly throughout the year and we read the Bible together and talked about different aspects of our faith. Being immersed in scripture is one of the more direct, literal ways we listen to Jesus’ voice. They also committed to regular worship attendance, even if by the end of their journey attendance meant watching worship on a computer screen! Being part of a community of faith, being part of a flock of sheep, is a way we can gather together to listen to Jesus’ voice. They committed to acts of service throughout the year, writing notes, and serving at dinners, and volunteering with outreach activities. Since Jesus’ life is marked by serving others, and he calls us to love our neighbors, we learn his voice through acts of caring and compassion. Tucker and Hannah also had to interview someone who was a member of the congregation, and they had to learn about our history - as local church and as a denomination. We learn to recognize Jesus’ voice when we learn from others who have been a part of his flock for a long time and know his voice well. How are you making sure you know Jesus’ voice? 

Jesus, our good shepherd, offers us, the sheep, abundant life. What is abundant life exactly? What does it mean when Jesus promises us “life to the full”? He doesn’t mean that we’ll all get rich, and be able to get bigger and better houses and cars and bank accounts, I’m pretty sure. So what makes life full and abundant? I asked that question on facebook this week, and got a few responses. Nichole Fullerton shared this: “If you had asked me this question a year ago my answer would be completely different than it is now. Last year I thought my life was fulfilled by a job I loved but this year things are so much different. I honestly believe God blessed me with this time in quarantine. Although I love my job, this break has given me time I didn’t have before to focus on my family and the things I enjoy in life. I’ve built a stronger relationship with my children, my husband and God. I’ve found time to bake and try new recipes. I even mastered a cheesecake! I’ve become creative with arts and crafts and I started a blog hoping to help others grow in their faith and their relationship with God. I’ve even made connections to start becoming a lay minister. My life is always evolving but in this moment I am abundantly peaceful, content and hopeful for my future.” Maybe you can relate to Nichole’s response, finding that this difficult season of pandemic has caused you to reevaluate how we experience blessing and abundance. I also connect with Nichole on the way our experiences of abundance change over time, as God journeys with us through the stages of our life. 

When I think about times I’ve experienced abundant life, some surprising things pop into my mind. I think about moments of deep grief - like when my grandparents died. Even in the pain, they were experiences of abundant life, both because we could treasure faithful lives well lived, lives entrusted to God, and because of the incredible bond I felt with my extended family in those times when we rallied together, pouring over family stories together, comforting each other. I think about worshiping with you all on Christmas Eves, and on Wally’s hill on Easter morning, or when we celebrate communion together, or when we rejoice together, like on Confirmation Sundays, and my heart is so full. I think about times we work really hard, and that hard work is deeply satisfying, because we’re serving others, or because we’re using the gifts God gives us, or because we were able to do something we thought we couldn’t, or because we know, with God’s help, we’ve made a real difference to others. I think about the fullness of life I experience when I know that I’ve wrestled with a hard decision, and found the peace that comes from hearing and understanding God’s call. The common thread of abundance, unsurprisingly, is in times when my relationship with God and my relationships with God’s people are flourishing. And that, that flourishing, that true joy that pervades even great sorrow, that deep peace that comes from knowing that we are created by God and that we belong to God - that’s what Jesus promises when we’re sheep who belong to the Good Shepherd. And that’s why this verse continues to be my favorite, long beyond my teenage fascination. 

Do you want to be part of Jesus’ flock? Today we celebrate as Tucker and Hannah say “yes!” And as they are confirmed, we have a chance to say yes too - maybe for the first time, or maybe renewing our yes for the 1000th time, or maybe saying yes after saying no. Whatever brings you to your yes, Jesus welcomes you, too. Together, let’s continue to make sure we know his voice so well that we can follow wherever he leads. Life abundant as one of the flock. Amen. 


Sunday, June 07, 2020

Sermon, "Consistency," Luke 12:13-21

Sermon 6/7/20

Luke 12:13-21


As I wrestled with this week’s gospel text, I had a few things on my mind. First, and always lately: packing. I’m in the process of packing, preparing for my move in a few weeks. In the fall, I’ll be hopefully living on campus at Drew University, where I’m headed to work on my PhD. In the summer, I’ll need to do something I never thought I would: rent a storage unit. I’ve always found storage units kind of distasteful, I’ll admit. I know there are lots of good reasons folks rent storage units. A Syracuse theatre company I’m fond of keeps all their set pieces, including those for my beloved Jesus Christ Superstar, in a storage unit since they don’t actually have a building of their own. That’s certainly more cost effective than trying to maintain a building that needed extensive repairs ever was. But in some situations, a storage unit has always just been a signal to me, a sign that we have too much stuff, if we have to find a place to keep what we can’t fit in our current living spaces. So yes, I’ve been judgy about storage units. But now, I find myself in between places this summer, and then heading for what is likely a campus housing situation this fall, and my campus housing will come with some university issued furniture, and it certainly won’t have room for my queen sized bed, or full-sized couch. And so I’ve been asking myself: what possessions do I have that I cherish enough that if I had to pay to store them for even the first couple of years of my PhD program, I’d consider it worth it - all that money on a student’s income just to store stuff. Asking that question has helped me let go of a lot of things. But I have some things I really treasure, too. Some of you might remember the pretty china cabinet and buffet table I have in the parsonage dining room - they were my great-grandmother’s, and they were in our dining room when I grew up, and I’ve had them since I moved into my first parsonage. The china cabinet is full of plates from the other side of my family - I have my grandparents’ dishes. I hardly ever use them. They’re delicate and fragile, and mostly all they do is sit in the china cabinet. And I tried, I tried to talk myself into giving them away to my cousins and siblings. But I just couldn’t. I want to keep them, even if I have to store them for years. 

I’ve also been thinking about greed, and what it means to wrestle with greed when we’re sure we’re not greedy. In our family, one of our favorite stories is about my youngest brother Todd. Todd will tell you that when he was little, he always wanted to be Scrooge McDuck when he grew up. Scrooge McDuck is the Disney variation on Ebenezer Scrooge, and in the cartoons, he kept all his gold in a giant vault, all these gold coins, and he would swim in the money, literally. Todd really liked the sound of that! Well, Todd was maybe four years old, and it was Easter morning, and we were doing our regular Easter egg hunt, and Todd was determined to find more eggs than anyone else. He didn’t want to take time to set any of them down, since that would slow down how many he could find before the rest of us, so he was carrying the eggs he had under his arms while he searched. Only, some of them weren’t quite hard-boiled all the way through apparently. And suddenly, Todd was standing, runny eggs dripping all down his sides, crying and confessing: “I was selfish!” 

Or I think about this silly game my mom and I play on facebook. You win coins for doing various tasks, and you can spend the coins getting boosts and extras that make it easier for you to in turn win more coins and get to the top of the scoreboard. I was tired of not having enough coins, so I played and played so I could build up a sort of cushion of coins. That way, I could use as many boosts as I wanted without worrying. Only a funny thing happened. Once I got more coins, I didn’t want to spend them. I liked having them. And I kept raising the amount in my mind that it would take for me to feel like I had enough and could relax. Now, my mom still plays the game, and she never has any coins, and I hardly play it at all, but I have millions and millions of coins. Silly, of course. Just a computer game. But it made me wonder how easy it would be to feel the same way about my stuff and my money. If I was able, how easy would it be to need more and more before I felt comfortable. 

Or here’s a really timely example for you: I was in Target last week, and I noticed that they had a display of hand sanitizer - the big bottles, the gel kind, the kind I used to get all the time before hand sanitizer became so precious. I have plenty of hand sanitizer. I have plenty to last me for weeks and weeks, no problem. But I really had to fight the urge to buy a bottle at Target. It’s been hard to get, and the urge to make sure I had plenty stored up was strong. I didn’t need it. But it was very hard to walk away from even so. 

I had all these things on my mind as I studied our gospel for today from Luke. You might remember that this text is the first text I ever preached on, 22 years ago now. And so it’s really stuck deep in my heart, and I wanted another chance to reflect on this powerful parable with you. Jesus has been teaching the crowds when someone asks him to settle a family dispute. “Teacher,” the man says, “tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” We don’t know what the dispute was. Is this a younger brother wanting a bigger share than the law allows? Has the man’s father just died, and they’re arguing over his things? We just don’t know. And we’re not sure why he wants Jesus to settle the matter. But Jesus was a teacher, and he was wise, and he radiated authority. Maybe the man thought: Who better to ask? Jesus will be able to settle this! In Jesus’ usual way though, he doesn’t respond how we expect, turning questions back to us, urging us to think critically about our life and faith. He says, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” And then he tells a parable: A rich man had land which produced an abundant crop. And the man thought to himself, “What should I do? I don’t have any place to store all this!” So he decides he will pull down his existing barns, and build larger ones. Then, he will have room to store everything. And he imagines saying to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God interrupts his thoughts with a harsh reality; God says, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Jesus concludes, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.” 

So, is what the rich man does in this parable so bad? He has a good crop, and he stores up the abundant harvest. Yes, he could have shared. Absolutely. But I think about Joseph in the book of Genesis, and how his careful direction when he worked for the Pharaoh of Egypt to store up grain for years meant that when the famine came, the people had enough food to see them through and to help other people as well. I think about how we’re urged to think ahead and carefully plan for our eventual retirement, or to care for children whose college tuitions we might have to pay, or other long-term projects. Is it wrong to store up now so that we have something for later? Isn’t that just wise and careful planning? This week during our Bible study, Annetje shared that it was hard to decide what we do that’s about survival - making sure we have enough to get along, not being surprised and unprepared for what life throws at us - and what’s about being selfish - always wanting and gathering more than we need. How do we figure it out?  

I don’t think there’s an easy, clear-cut answer. There rarely is in our life of faith! We have to wrestle with these questions, and listen for God’s leading. But I think there are some questions we can ask ourselves. First, we have to acknowledge that even if we don’t long to swim in a pool of gold coins like my brother Todd, that doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. We have to ask ourselves: If it isn’t stuff, money, possessions, what is it that we are trying to store up just as fast as we can? What is it that we just can’t get enough of? We listed lots of things at our Bible study that we might get greedy for: Attention. Being liked by others. Feeling like you belong. Status, in a group, among your friends, among your co-workers. Privilege. Power. Control. Respect. For anything new. For technology. And yes, sometimes and way more often than we’d like to admit: money, stuff, wealth. What is it that we’re storing up? 

We’ve talked many times about how idolatry is the biggest “no” that God gives in the scriptures. Idolatry isn’t just about making golden calves and worshiping them instead of God. Idolatry is when we give anything else the place that God’s supposed to have in our lives - first place. I think that’s why storing up more and more of anything should put us on alert. Because when we store up more and more of anything that’s not God, it means that we’re giving more and more space in our lives and hearts over to something that’s not God. What’s claiming more and more of your time, your attention, your resources? We’re always sure we’re not letting other things claim more of our heart, but Jesus knows better. We’re giving room in our heart to whatever we’re storing up, and we need to be on guard, lest we find that God isn’t really first place for us after all. 

Jesus wants us to be rich. Jesus wants us to be rich towards God. How can we be rich toward God? What does that mean? We’ve talked often about seeking to make God’s ways our ways. I think we need to make what God values what we value as well. What is it that God values? And who does God value? And how does God value? I encourage you to spend some time reflecting on those questions. I’d love for you to share your responses with me. What and how and how does God value? And how can we, through our actions, reflect those same values? I keep asking myself: is there anything that Jesus was storing up? I can only come up with two answers to what Jesus made more and more room for in his life: God, and us. How can we be rich toward God? We need to give God and God’s people more and more room in our hearts. In the end, they’re the only things we can store up that have eternal importance. They’re the only things we can store up that will help us mold our lives to be more and more like Jesus. I do want more room: more room for God, and more room for each precious person God created. What do our lives consist of? May our answer bring joy to the heart of God. Amen. 

Sermon, "In Denial," Mark 8:31-37

Sermon 2/20/24 Mark 8:31-37 In Denial My sermon title is both a reflection of our gospel text for today, and a reflection of how I felt abou...