Thursday, December 8, 2011

Waiting with the Prophets Dec 4th 2011 Isaiah 40:1-11, 2 Peter 3:8-15, Mark 1:1-8

Waiting with the Prophets

Peace and Grace to you all from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ,

In my exploration on this week’s texts one fellow pastor found it interesting that we began Advent with a Gospel lesson from Mark’s 13th chapter, and this week we hear a reading from the beginning of that same gospel. In his exact words, he told his hearers that it was not a step backward, but rather a move forward—forward to the beginning. I had to chuckle at Reverend Fisk’s treatment of time. In some strange way the more I thought about it, it made sense. It seems to me that during Advent, time does something really funny. Christians all over the world are preparing for a birth that happened just over 2000 years ago. That is exactly what is happening; Advent is not merely a time to get ready for the holiday, but it is a time to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of the Messiah. During Advent, the story of Jesus’ first coming and the promise of his second coming become intertwined in a way that denies all we think we know about time.
This divine compression of time shows up in today’s readings. Our lesson from Mark’s gospel begins with, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” It seems like a good place for Mark to begin his gospel. However as we read on, we realize that where he places his beginning is not with the birth of Jesus like Matthew and Luke. Mark actually begins his Gospel by bringing his hearers all the way back to the prophets.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; [3] the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,' "
John the Baptist is then introduced to us as the messenger who was sent ahead. John’s message calling God’s people to repentance is nothing new. It sounded much like the messengers who prophesied about coming Messiah centuries before the birth of John the Baptist. Even his seemingly unique wardrobe and dietary choices are important—only because they connect him to all of Israel’s prophets, people for whom living in the wilderness as hermits was often a part of the task. The job of “prophet” is by far the only position when dressing in camel hair and eating insects actually lends credibility. This connection would have been made by most—if not all—of the people who wandered to the Judean countryside to hear him.
It is a connection we should make as well. This morning we are reminded that we are waiting for the same Messiah on whom the prophets and their hearers waited. When we realize that the prophet Isaiah lived and ministered 750 years before Jesus was born, this seems astounding. How is it that we are waiting with prophets who walked the earth almost 3000 years ago for a Messiah who was born 2000 years ago? Perhaps today Peter had a word for us in this regard:
That with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. [9] The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.
Whenever I hear this passage from Peter, I am reminded of a line by Gandalf in Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring. When Frodo accuses him of being late, his response is “A wizard is never late, nor is he early; he arrives precisely when he means to.” Peter’s letter today reminds us of two things. First, the thousands of years between the prophet Isaiah and us is merely a blink of the eyes to the God of Eternity. Secondly, this is important: as we wait and prepare for the Lord, He never stops waiting on us and preparing our hearts and minds. As a matter of fact, the acts of repentance that John the Baptizer (and the prophets who went before him) are never something we can do on our own. The very act of acknowledging our need for God’s righteousness depends on God’s guiding presence.
You see, brothers and sisters, God’s will is more perfect and holy than anything we could ever come up with. And as easy as it is to be impatient with what we perceive as God’s slowness (or even absence), we must remember that God keeps His promises. He has promised to be with us yesterday, today, and tomorrow. As we prepare to know God in yet another way, we remember all the ways He has been present for His people.
He was present for Isaiah’s original hearers in the midst of exile—in the words of comfort and hope spoken by His prophets. Also many who came to be baptized by John in the wilderness experienced God’s presence by experiencing firsthand the birth, earthly ministry, death, and resurrection of His son Jesus the Christ.
He continues to be present for us as well. In the words of scripture, we come to know the God of all Creation who humbles Himself so we may be in relationship with Him. As we gather as a faith family to worship, we encounter God in the words of the liturgy and songs—and in the mutual love and support of each other. Moreover, in Holy Communion, we get to taste and see God as He offers Himself as bread and wine for our eternal sustenance.
So in typical Advent fashion, we prepare for the coming of God’s Messiah with all of God’s people that went before by acknowledging the ways that God is already present for us—or rather (recalling Rev. Fisk’s query about the opening lines of Mark’s gospel), we prepare ourselves for God’s future by remembering God’s beginning. May the coming of the Christ-child be a source of great joy and hope this Advent season

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sermon August 14th

Unmerited Membership

Peace and Grace to you all from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ,

One Sunday while we were still living in Chicago Heather and I wanted to attend a church where our friend’s mother was the pastor. This congregation was in the south suburbs; an area that we didn’t frequent and know our way around to well. We thought we gave ourselves enough time but lo and behold we got lost and showed up a little late for worship. Heather and I tried to inconspicuously find a seat in the back of the sanctuary, so we picked an uncrowded section of pews and sat down. At one point in the service there was activity around us and we looked and noticed that the worshippers that surrounded us were passing out sheet music. They then stood up while the rest of the congregation remained seated, except for Heather and me. What we did was kind of shrink in our chair trying to be as little as possible, which is always a feat for me. That is right brothers and sisters we managed to show up late to a church we’ve never been and sit ourselves in the middle of the choir. Any chance we had to feel like we belonged or were even welcome worshipping with this community of faith flew the window that morning. Truth be told the people were extremely gracious and hospitable after the service but the damage had been done. It was obvious that we were lacking the knowledge and the experience to be a part of what had been created.
Brothers and sisters, the truth is that much of what humans do by their very nature creates boundaries and walls. Whether or not we it is done intentionally by creating rules, traditions, expectations, and stories or memories we define who is in and who is outside the boundaries and walls we create. I don’t think this is inherently a bad or sinful thing. The gift of community and/or family can and should be a blessing to us all.
However one thing I have learned in life is that our gifts or blessings and our sins and weaknesses are often the two sides of the same course. For instance my outgoing and extroverted nature is often seen as a gift, however I have had to work much harder on the more introverted aspects of the Christian life.
The gift of community is the same way. When we try to apply the boundaries and walls we create to our understanding of God our gift becomes a burden and our blessing becomes a curse. When we get so caught up by our limited perspective that we fail to see that God’s grace and majesty transcend our human categories we fail to see that our faith should bind us and not separate us.
This is kind of what happened to the Pharisees throughout the New Testament. They weren’t inherently evil or sinful; any more than you or I at any rate. We actually share a common intent, they wanted to learn more about God. The Pharisees were religious leaders who desired to teach people about God. In order to do that they arranged rituals and rules to help people encounter God. By the time Jesus was in the picture many Pharisees forgot the original intent and the rituals and rules had attained a kind of primacy in the views of the Pharisees. Right before Jesus’ teaching today the Pharisees approached him upset that his disciples wouldn’t wash their hands before they ate. The catch was they didn’t talk about washing hands as a matter of health or cleanliness but us a matter of tradition, a matter of ritual. Jesus responds as he does not against the act of washing hands but against thinking that any human act will make anybody clean enough to be worthy of God’s promises. According to Jesus failure to conform to a specific group’s practices and requirements will not inhibit one’s faith but what will are the ways we live and the thoughts of our hearts. Brothers and sisters let me say this one more time and another way, what defiles us is our words and actions, and they will. We will wish harm on others, we will speak with a barbed tongue, struggle with the desires of the flash, and we will create divisions and not just communities and those things that create distance between us and others will also drive us from farther from God. On the flipside there is nothing we can do, no group we can attach ourselves to that will make us clean enough, good enough to be worthy of all that God promises.
But God can. In the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ he draws all people to Himself, all we need to do is trust that God’s incarnation has accomplished all that has been promised. Hear again God’s words though the prophet Isaiah,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.
[6] And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant--
[7] these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
Brothers and sisters as the Canaanite woman that Jesus encounters today reminds us, the gifts of God are for all who call him Lord. Her confession of faith began with an acknowledgement that she wasn’t worthy, it is that which Jesus names as faith and then offers her daughter salvation forever claiming them both as children as God.
Brothers and sisters, you and I are no more worthy than that woman to be children of God. And that is truly good news because those are the people that are claimed as God’s sons and daughters. The amazing thing about grace is that it tears down all the fences that we build to keep ourselves in and others out and the fences that are built to keep us out and others in and creates a family of faith that transcends time and our own shortcomings, in the kingdom of God there are no haves and have-nots only forgiven sinners who have been claimed as God’s children and inheritors of eternity.
Today (at the 10:00 service)we get to celebrate this amazing grace in a special way. In the sacrament of holy baptism God will be claiming Charley Sage Dipasquale as a part of His special family. Baptisms always offer us a unique opportunity to be reminded that the Body of Christ is a group where the only criteria for membership is met by a God who hangs from a cross and defeats death for our sake.
Please pray with me,
Lord God,
Thank you for claiming us all as your children. Help us remember that just as nothing we say or do can stop your love for us we also can’t say or do anything to earn that love. It comes unmerited from you because of who you are.
In jesus’ name we pray.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Pentecost/Confirmation Sermon

The Gift of the Holy Spirit

Grace and Peace from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ,

One of my good friends from my early 20’s grew up in the Lutheran tradition but found himself in one of the more charismatic and evangelical communities in American Christianity, his name was Mike. I like to think that our friendship provided each other with some balance and accountability. It definitely provided us with some great conversations about some things like salvation, infant baptism, the power of sin, and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Because you see Mike held the all too common perception that the mainline churches including those who claim the name Lutheran are no longer able to talk in any significant way about the Holy Spirit or worse yet, the Holy Spirit is no longer even at work in our churches. I remember at one time saying to Mike, we can talk about the Holy Spirit we even have a day devoted to the Spirit its called Pentecost. He looked me square in the eye and said yeah but Matt where is he the rest of the year. Now if I was as clever then as I am now I would’ve said in the creed. Mike’s thoughts of the Church’s inability to perceive the work of the Holy Spirit should serve as a wake-up call and not simply a zinger to be ignored. We should ask ourselves what we are doing or not doing to lead people like Mike and author Anne Dilliard to ponder the spiritual poverty in our churches. Anne Dilliard’s quote is a favorite of mine.
On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does any-one have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.
The truth is brothers and sisters we as American Lutheran Christians would do well to remember the importance of Pentecost, not as a day in our church calendars or a day that took place millennia ago but as an ongoing event, and a gift from God. Because as Paul reminds us in the letter to the Corinthians as our ability to talk about the Holy Spirit goes so goes our ability to call Jesus Christ Lord.
God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to the church manifested itself in such a miraculous way on the first Pentecost we heard all about it today. That same Holy Spirit continues to manifest itself in an equally miraculous way; by creating and recreating faith in the hearts and minds of us sinners.
The creation of faith is a miracle because it allows Christ’s disciples to get out of bed and face dire pain and suffering day in and day out. It is a miracle because it empowers us to set aside our will and desires in order to pursue God’s will. It’s a miracle because it has called, gathered, and enlightened 17 of our young people today and enabled them to call Jesus Lord. Appropriately on Confirmation Sunday I want to offer two quotes by Martin Luther. The first is one we who have gone through confirmation in the Lutheran tradition should be familiar with. In his explanation to the third article of the Creed in the Small catechism he writes.
I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has calls me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith, Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins - mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.
And again he writes in the large catechism he writes.
Neither you nor I could ever know anything about Christ, or believe on Him, or have Him for our Lord, unless it were offered to us and granted to our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel.
You see brothers and sisters, being able to receive God’s gifts and acknowledge God as the giver of all good gifts are in themselves a result of God’s greatest gift. It is this gift of the Holy Spirit we celebrate today and we rejoice to see it especially today as our confirmation students are blessed with the ability to say yes to their baptisms. Brothers and sisters the Holy Spirit is alive and well at Christ Hamilton, it is evident in those confirmands, it is evident in those friends and family members who gather around them in love and support, it is evident in the many ways we have reached out to the wider community.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Luke 24:13-25

Emmaus Road
I remember reading a news story in 1991 about a professional athlete named Hugh Millen. If you never heard of him, don’t fret; most people probably have never heard of him. You see, that was kind of the point of this news story. He was the New England Patriots starting quarterback, and he was able to walk around Boston’s Hot Spots and even attend a Sox game with other Boston Sports fans without being recognized. Keep in mind that a NFL team’s QB is generally the most high profile player on the team, and here was a starting quarterback who was able to walk around without any harassment, precisely because people had no idea it was him. This was even more amazing given the fact that they were in the midst of a 6 game upswing. The Patriots who were 1-15 the previous season finished at 7-9 during Hugh Millen’s first season as a starter. Yet they were still so steeped in mediocrity that fans couldn’t see their quarterback even when he was right there in a seat in front of them.
I know that Hugh Millen is not the savior of the world and a 7-9 record is far from a resurrection from the dead. However I was reminded of this as I struggled with the road to Emmaus story this week. Cleopas and his fellow sojourner were walking the road to Emmaus when they encountered Jesus and mistook him for some ignorant out-of-towner. We don’t know why we they were going to Emmaus, but as I hear Cleopas’ testimony I wonder if they’re moving on to find the next best thing, the new prophet and miracle worker to put their hope in, because he and his friend were obviously without hope. Listen again to his own words.
Luke 24:19-24 Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."
These are not the words of a man who found hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The tone that I hear when I picture this scene is a solemn mixture of sadness and disappointment. I actually think “disappointment” may not be strong enough word. It’s the kind of ultimate disappointment that comes with lost or unfulfilled hope. I am sure that you can all remember times in which God answered prayer in ways different than we had hoped; we all know the despair of unfulfilled hope. It is precisely this kind of grief which blinded the two travelers to the fact that their resurrected Lord and Savior still walked with them in spite of their grief and in the midst of it as well.
Sadly this isn’t the only emotion that can hinder our ability to acknowledge God’s presence. Anger, sadness, loneliness, shame, even pride and ambition can all hide God’s presence in our lives. Pride and ambition can do it by hiding God behind ourselves, we become bigger than God. The others do it using our problems; they become bigger than God.
Brothers and sisters, praise God that His presence on the road to Emmaus did not depend on Cleopas’ ability to see him, and the truth of the resurrection is not dependent on his or even our capacity to understand it or believe it. We live in a world where we are often told that truth is only a matter of perception. Thankfully this was not the case in Emmaus and it’s not the case today either.
Ultimately, brothers and sisters, our perceptions fail us. They cloud our minds and our hearts and we are at a loss with nothing to grasp onto for hope and assurance. However, brothers and sisters, where our perceptions and emotions fail us, God does not. He journeys with us in our denial, disregard, disbelief and reveals himself in many ways; in the prayers and lives of other Christians, through our time with scripture, the music and liturgy of our church service, and the sacraments. That is right; much like those in Emmaus we meet God in the breaking of the bread and passing of the cup. This week I encourage you to think about where your Emmaus Road is, the place in your life where your perceptions fail and God is hidden. But also think about how God opens your closed eyes, minds, and hearts and thank God for those moments. Please pray with me.
Great God, We don’t always see you and appreciate you as we should. Sometimes we put our hope into other things or give up hope entirely. But you are an amazing God who continues to walk with us, and you persistently show yourselves. Thank you for not quitting on us; help us not quit on you.
In Jesus’ name.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Reflections on 4 of the 7 last words for Good Friday

Reflection 1 Father Forgive them, they know not what the do.
In a reflection about Good Friday Martin Luther wrote that we are viewing Christ’s suffering rightly when “we deeply believe and never doubt the least, that we are the ones who thus martyred Christ. For our sins most surely did it. Thus St. Peter struck and terrified the Jews as with a thunderbolt in Acts 2:36-37, when he spoke to them all in common: "Him have ye crucified," so that three thousand were terror-stricken the same day and tremblingly cried to the apostles: "O beloved brethren what shall we do?" Therefore, when you view the nails piercing through his hands, firmly believe it is your work. Do you behold his crown of thorns; believe the thorns are your wicked thoughts”
Oftentimes when I hear of the suffering of Jesus my first instinct is to blame others for that suffering. Whether it be the high priests, the Jewish crowd that greeted him with palms one minute and called for his crucifixion the next, the Roman officials, or even my neighbor with his blatant denial of Christ and corresponding lifestyle. After all I am a good Christian and am nice to others; I never would’ve participated in the ugly beating and execution we remember today.
Brothers and sisters, that kind of spiritual arrogance doesn’t do ourselves any favor. Without his blood on our hands we are not redeemed by that blood. Failure to properly place ourselves among those who crucified God’s son is a failure to claim for ourselves the forgiveness that Jesus offers at the cross. .And that forgiveness is for us brothers and sisters, when we find ourselves incapable of living the life that God hopes for us, we can be forgiven. When we refuse to acknowledge God as the giver of all good gifts, we can be forgiven, when we are utterly unable to throw ourselves at God’s feet and call him Lord, we can be forgiven. Perhaps this is why today is Good Friday because in the midst of our sin we see God’s goodness, despite our role in Jesus’ death and persecution we can hear him say, Father forgive them they know not what they are doing.
Please pray with me,
God we come to you as sinners. We don’t treat you or others as we should, we fail to thank you for all your blessings in our lives, and we stand with the mob this Good Friday that mocked you and spat on you as you were crucified for our sakes. Yet your beloved son stands in the face of it all and speaks your forgiveness. Thank you for making this day and our futures good with your holy forgiveness.
Reflection 3 Woman Behold Your Son, Behold Your Mother
Hopefully our confirmation students can tell you that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. On the way to the cross we see both the divine Jesus and human Jesus in many ways. I think we encounter the human Jesus in all his despair the moment he looks upon his mother from the cross. He sees this woman who gave birth and raised him, this woman he called mother. We can’t even begin to imagine the grief that took place in Jesus Christ when he looked out and saw this woman’s tears. He was able to heal his own heartache at least a little by assuring that Mary would be taken care of after his departure, after all that’s what people who call themselves Christ’s disciples do they take care of the sick and lonely. Mary and the beloved disciple were called in their grief to open up their lives and their homes to each other.
Something else may be happening here as well, something beyond a man making sure his already widowed mother will be in good hands after he departs this life. What happened on that cross that Friday night radically alters our relationship with God. Altering our relationship with God can’t help but change our relationships with the people all around us.
At the cross any boundaries that we may use to group or divide us are blown out of the water, for example things like biology and ethnicity. At the cross of Christ we gather and are joined together by God’s Holy Spirit into one community called the church. We are called to love and serve each other, and doing so we are loving and serving Jesus Christ whose death we remember today. You see brothers and sisters the bonds that are forged at the cross of Christ will create a new intimacy with all we worship and serve with, so in our hours of great need we are blessed by one another.
Please pray with me,
Suffering God, you know our pain and struggles. And you have blessed us with your words and comfort in our relationships with each other. May you continue to work in our lives so we may be touched by you in our relationships with others.

Reflection 5 I Thirst

Due to the crucifixion and the days that preceded it Jesus would’ve lost many bodily fluids between blood, sweat, and tears, thus he would’ve been extremely thirsty. However John tells us that its inclusion here is about so much more than a statement about mere dehydration. John tells us that Jesus said this to fulfill scripture. In the 69th psalm the suffering servant is seeking solace and comfort and is instead given poisonous food and sour wine.
You see all that happened on the fateful night of the crucifixion was fulfilling scripture, and God’s will. That was ultimately what Christ thirsted for, to do God’s will. The very cup that he tried to rid himself of the previous night was the same cup that would quench his thirst in a way that bitter wine never could. As disciples of Christ we should also hunger and thirst for God’s will in our lives, or as the beatitudes call it hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Brothers and sisters there’ll be times in our lives that God’s will tastes like bitter wine, but that God who used death on a cross to offer us life eternal will turn our burdens to blessings. Just as God has blessed each and every one of us through this awful burden that Jesus Christ took upon himself for our sakes. Please pray with me,
Lord God, we so often try to quench our thirst with things that leave a bitter taste in our mouths and leave us thirstier than we were before. Only you can quench our thirst nourish our troubled spirits. May we boldly receive the cup you offered us as Jesus did. In Jesus’ name we pray.

Reflection 7 Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit,.
Once more the only words that Jesus has to express himself in his dark hour come directly from the psalms. Here Jesus invokes the 31st psalm when he commits his Spirit to his Father.
The 31st psalm begins as a desperate cry for divine help, it evolves into a committal of the psalmist’s very life into God’s hands, this is the verse that Jesus speaks from cross. This statement is a radical act of trust and faith, Jesus knows that our most precious and personal things belong entirely in the hands of God the Father, even things as precious as our very lives and as personal as our own deaths.
In God’s hands this death that we remember tonight destroys death and transforms life. In God’s hands the death of His only Son offers us life as God’s children. In the hands of God we who gather around the cross of Jesus are made into a holy people, people who are called to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and commit our very lives to God, as broken and imperfect as those lives may be.
One of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther replayed in my mind as I thought about Jesus’ words.
I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess”
Brothers and sisters, by committing his spirit to his Father in heaven Jesus Christ shows forth both the love and Power of God. Let us gather around Jesus and with him place our lives in God’s hands, after all there is no safer place.
Please pray with me,
Lord God,
Your son Jesus Christ trusted in your Holy will, and doing so trusted you with his life, even as he hung from a cross. May be we granted with faith so fixed on Jesus that our lives can be placed in your hands.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lent and Discipleship:
“So What Are You Giving Up For Lent?”

The practice of choosing something to give up during the 40 days of Lent has become common throughout the Church. So much so that I have often heard it compared to making a New Year’s resolution. I think there is a crucial difference between making a New Year’s resolution and struggling with a Lenten discipline. When we make a New Year’s resolution it is undeniably about ourselves. To be sure, losing weight or volunteering more are worthy endeavors, but sometimes we do these things for no other reason than to feel better about ourselves. Lenten disciplines, on the other hand, should focus on our spiritual lives. As Christians, focus on our spiritual lives should mean that the focus is off of us and on God and our relationship with Him.
That is right; the goal of a Lenten discipline should be increased closeness to the God whose voluntary suffering and self-denial for our sakes we remember during this season. So, before you decide to give up pizza or videogames for Lent I encourage you to ask yourselves, “in what ways will eliminating pizza from my diet or my favorite game from my daily schedule bring me closer to God?” You may find that more important than what you lose is what you gain. The time that would be filled with video games can be filled with more praying or Bible reading. The money that isn’t being spent on pizza can in turn be given to charity or added to your support of the ministry of Christ Hamilton.
What it boils down to is that Lent is a time in the Church year where we pay more attention to what it means to be a disciple. Discipleship is about self-denial to the extent that disciples make their own will secondary to the will of God. You may have heard it said in this way; “I must decrease so Christ can increase”. I hope and pray that our lives of discipleship are nurtured by the decisions we make this Lent.
- Pr. Matt for
The Stewardship Committee

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Transfiguration sermon

As you probably know a few weekends ago I was at an event with some of our youth and a few of our adults called a youthquake. I have been to several of these events in 3 different states and have come to love watching both the young people and the adults just become saturated in the constant and concentrated praise and worship, especially those people who have never been to one before and have usually never experienced anything like this before. One word that I have heard used to describe this experience numerous times from numerous people is the label “mountaintop experience”. This label may bring to mind some experiences that you have had in your walks with God. Women of faith retreat, marriage seminars, certain bible studies, for me the Society of the Holy trinity general retreat always provides me with a mountain top experience.
What exactly is a mountaintop experience? My understanding of a mountaintop experience is when a person is so completely in the presence of God that even our limited senses and understanding can’t help but recognize it for exactly what it is. In this experience of God’s presence the sense of the holy is all around us. In these moments we truly encounter all that is pure and good in an extraordinary, even supernatural way. I believe that God provides us with these experiences to equip and empower us to live out our lives of discipleship in a fallen world, these are supposed to serve as moments of preparation if you will as opposed to moments of completion.
In today’s Gospel lesson Peter, James, and John had a mountaintop experience that actually took place on a mountain of all places. The three of them were walking up a mountain with Jesus when all of a sudden Jesus’ appearance changed, he began to glow, now it wasn’t like a spotlight being shone on some celebrity but the light was coming from Jesus himself. And all of a sudden he was joined by Elijah and Moses and God’s voice was heard saying this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him."
Peter being the spokesperson of the crew had something to say before he was driven to his knees by the voice of God. I must say that Peter is by far my favorite disciple. This is because we see in Peter what a life of discipleship is made of. The life of a disciple brothers and sisters is full of highs and lows. They’ll see moments of astounding faith and understanding followed by hours of obliviousness. The Christian life will be marked both by acts of radical obedience and times of inaction and indecision. Just like Peter’s life of discipleship.
For example at the beginning of the trip up the mountain we are told it was 6 days after an event. Do you know what event this is referencing? The meal where Peter responds to Jesus’ question “who do you say that I am?” with his confession “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God”. Only to be rebuked and called Satan by Jesus a few minutes later because of his unwillingness to accept Jesus’ description of the work of the Messiah.
Once again on the mountaintop we experience this kind of two faced disciple in Peter. First he realized that something special is truly happening and that it is truly a blessing for him and his colleagues to witness this holy encounter. But then he makes a move that displays that he doesn’t quite get it in its entirety. He offers to Jesus to build 3 booths or tents, one each for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. These shrines would serve to capture this very special moment. However what Peter failed to understand is the purpose of this moment wasn’t to be caught and captured in some glass box. But instead I think the goal was in part to nurture a heart and mind that would allow the disciples to stand beneath the cross of Jesus in bold and steadfast faith and continue the work of Christ Jesus as the church.
We may hear Peter’s words and roll our eyes thinking Peter, Peter, Peter you did it again. However the truth is that Christians are constantly struggling with this same tendency that Peter is showing today. A tendency to confuse God’s gifts with God. The result may be making idols of all the things God offers, things like mountaintop experiences, offered to bring us closer to him become an end instead of a means to an end. If the goal of faith is an intimate and profound relationship with God than like any relationship it’ll be made stronger in moments of increased closeness and love. However if our sole purpose of relationship is to have those moments we will be disappointed by human relationships that are characterized by disagreement and hard work. Even our relationship with God isn’t easy on this side of eternal glory. It’ll be full of moments we have to chose between our wants and desires and obedience to God’s call, thankfully we have the memories of past mountaintop experiences to help us make the right choices at least sometimes.
Because you see, in the end we need to remember that it wasn’t Peter who was transfigured, no he still leaves the mountain and denies his Crucified Lord 3 times. Jesus who shone with his own brilliant light and glory lifted Peter, James, and John off of their knees to bring them off the mountain back to the world he came to redeem. If anybody had a reason to build a dwelling and stay on the mountain it was Jesus who knew exactly what awaited him in the valley. Although if Jesus didn’t want to redeem the world he never would’ve left his holy mountain and come to us in the womb of a virgin to begin with. A God who would do that for us would not want us to create mountaintops for ourselves where we escape the world that God so loved that he gave his only begotten son. Instead he creates those mountaintops for us so we can more fully love the world he created and redeemed. Please pray with me.
Thank you for the times in our lives when we were brought closer to you. Help us remember those times on those days we drag ourselves farther from you. In Jesus’ name we pray.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Church Forged in Persecution
This week I received a mailing from The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM). For those of you who don’t know, VOM is an international ministry organization whose goal is to heighten awareness of and advocate support and services to the persecuted church around the world. I often include persecuted Christians around the world in my personal prayer life. So the work of VOM is something I am interested in and try to keep up with.
Anyhow this most recent mailing in particular was noteworthy because of a world map that was included. This map was color coded to portray two things. The first category was what was called “restricted countries.” These were countries in which government policy and practice prevented Christians from obtaining Bibles, other Christian literature, and assembling for worship. In these countries laws may allow or even promote harassment, imprisonment, or even assassination of Christians. This category includes Egypt, China, Cuba, and Iraq among many others. The second category is what VOM has labeled “hostile countries.” These are countries in which Christianity is technically legal and laws may even protect them, however Christians continue to be victimized by violence because of their witness. These countries include Columbia, Ethiopia, Mali, and Turkey among others. This map struck me because no matter how many stories I hear or books I read on Christian persecution, American Christians have no idea what communities of Christians around the world face. In a world of religious freedom, we have nothing to fear as we gather to worship and read the Bible together.
This week, however, as I looked at this map and read the stories that came with it I started wondering if we could learn something from these persecuted Christians. In many instances these countries and regions where the Christian Faith can get you incarcerated or killed are precisely the places the church is thriving and the gospel is being spread like wildfire. Perhaps this is because when faith remains something worth dying for, it becomes increasingly something worth living for.
Throughout the history of the church, the places where it faced resistance are also the places where it was strengthened. We do not have to go all the way to the early church or the Acts of the Apostles to see this is true. As a matter of fact in much more recent world history we can see how the church was blessed by many faithful leaders during the regime of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. There are three well known church leaders who are still remembered and celebrated and whose work was essential to the “confessing church” (i.e., the name given to the segment of the European Church that continued to resist Hitler’s rule): Karl Barth, Martin Niemöller, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
The life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, especially, have continued to provide inspiration and faithful witness to the church. I am happy to provide Christ Hamilton with an opportunity to explore that life and work during the season of Lent. On Wednesday nights, I would like to invite you all out to come out and learn about this amazing martyr. We will watch a portion of the film Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace each week followed by a presentation/discussion. In the midst of this time together, I also hope to introduce you to his work entitled Life Together. This book remains to be an authoritative text on Christian community and came out of his experience directing an illegal seminary for the confessing church in Finkenwalde. Although we shouldn’t wish persecution upon anybody, I pray that the faith of the persecuted church can bless and inspire us as we explore what it means to be disciples of Christ.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cold Hands, Sore Feet, and Hard Foreheads

Cold Hands, Sore Feet, and Hard Foreheads
My Reflections on my First March for Life

“I am a feminist as well, and I think women deserve better than abortion”
She looked me in the eye and said “Don’t you dare call yourself a feminist”

Stacy shared the encounter with me moments after it happened outside the Supreme Court building. We were sitting in a small sandwich shop blocks away from where the march ended. The small eatery was buzzing with pro-life activity, most of it from one group of college students from University of Dallas. Rob and I sat at on adjacent table with our paninis and I nodded at the young women and thanked them for their witness, commenting on how wonderful it was to see so many young people come out to make a stand for life. That is how the conversation started, we never knew each other we were from different generations, different parts of the country, and didn’t share a gender. These divisions however were bridged in the moment by a singular love for life and devotion to the God who created it. I shared that when Heather was pregnant with Toby he tested as possibly having a high probability with downs syndrome and they wanted to know if we would consider “terminating the pregnancy”. She shared that her mother gave birth to her younger sister Sophia at age 47 and was also encouraged to “terminate” the pregnancy. Stacy’s profound intellect and passion for the battle she chose were evident throughout our short time together and was easily beyond her years. The fact that she was seen as a threat and extremist by her peers would not deter her from being who God called her to be.
Stacy is only one of the faces that will come back to me as I remember marching in DC this year. Other faces belong to a group of young Catholics from Brooklyn who had brought guitars and bongos. As I marched with them singing Psalms and the Magnificat I commented to Rob and anybody within earshot that I felt like I was in Joshua’s army toppling the wall that was created by a culture of death and decay.
I know that many colleagues and classmates would tremble at the sound of such an explicit militaristic analogy (some might even accuse me of contributing to our country’s uncivil discourse) but I feel that especially in the area of life issues the Body of Christ needs to continue to wave its banners and blow its trumpets. Perhaps we can learn from young people like Stacy and the musical Brooklynites who are faithfully standing against the world and standing for God’s creation and for LIFE. Their steadfast determination and bold faith are gifts from God that need to be recaptured by the whole Church.
I am reminded of the Call of Ezekiel.
Ezekiel 3:7-8 But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me. Because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. 8 Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads.
Sometimes answering God’s call to discipleship and faithfulness requires acts of stubborn determination. Acts that would by today’s standards label us as zealots. In a world where love is confused with indifference and conviction is seen as problematic as opposed to virtuous the church has often ignored God’s call to pronounce judgment. Let us remember however that God’s judgment is always an act of steadfast love. When we fail to pronounce God’s law we also fail to proclaim God’s love. God gave Ezekiel a hard forehead to equip him to speak all God’s oracles including;
Ezekiel 36:26-28 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
The church needs to say no the culture of death and decay so the whole world can know God’s ultimate and eternal yes. And if Monday’s march is any indication there are many young people in the church ready to deliver that message. I just hope we don’t soften their foreheads.

Lord God.
Thank you for all your faithful who stand for life. Especially thank you for the youth who love you enough to say no to the sin that the world offers them. Bless the whole Church on earth with zealous determination and bold faith so we can speak the word you have called us to speak to a world in desperate need to hear it.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son :and to the Holy Ghost; As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be a world without end. Amen