Monday, September 30, 2013

St. Michael and all Angels

St. Michael and all Angels Daniel 10:10-14, 12:1-3, Psalm 103, Revelation 12:7-12, Luke 10:17-20 In my life as a churchgoer and now an ordained pastor in Christ’s church I could probably count on one hand the number of times I have heard angels discussed in a sermon. If I were to discount the few times I was at General Retreat for a weekday service commemorating St. Michael on this date and the Christmas sermons where angels are given their usual place at Christ’s birth the number quite possibly reaches zero. Why do you think that is? Why have these messengers and warriors of God that get extensive airtime throughout both the Old and New Testaments become so silent if not downright non-existent in our proclamation and faith practice? Perhaps it is because the deeper the church sinks and modernity, or even post modernity the more hesitant it is to linger on those parts of its legacy which carry a sense of the supernatural; you know those things that might put us at odds with a world that likes only what it can see and measure empirically. As things like miracles and angels are discarded by the modern Christian church we have ended up forfeiting a lot of what we have to offer the world. For what sets us apart from social service agencies, community groups, and political action groups is our worship of the God who created the world and our claims that this God loves the world so much that he came to it in the incarnation of Jesus the Christ His Son, that in His, birth, life, death, and resurrection he has defeated death and earned for all who trust in Him eternal life, and that this same God continues to care an make his will and his presence known on earth in the lives of all who call on his name, even through supernatural means. You see brothers and sisters, the efficacy of our faith and proclamation hinges on the truth that there is more to this life then what we can see or feel; that there is an unseeable and unknowable world. And that is a good thing because we see a lot of pain and suffering and often what we think we know is proven wrong. Brothers and sisters, Miracles and angels remain a part of how God interacts with this world. And I think this world is so hungry for that message. The irony that as the academy and the church become less likely to talk about the unseeable and unknowable pop culture has become a place where things like angels and demons thrive. And not just angels and demons but things like faeries, vampires, and werewolves. It seems like the seat that the church has vacated has been filled by movie producers and novelists and that is dangerous for the stories they tell are rarely about a compassionate God who loves unconditionally and they are never ever true. But the story that the church has to share is very true; angels still walk in our midst, defending us from Satan’s wiles, and ministering to us as God’s heavenly host. Throughout scripture we see angels ministering to God’s faithful in a variety of ways. They are healers, heralds of good news, protectors, and even warriors. Today we remember by name the mightiest of all warrior angels. Michael, in Daniel he is called a great prince. He is one of the might archangels who continues to fight by God’s side for our very souls. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians that our true enemies are never flesh and blood, but are what he calls principalities and powers, that unseen world we don’t talk enough about. And in ministry I have seen the effects of this battle in the lives of people I have ministered to, Heather and I have felt this battle being waged in our own lives as we face the trials of ministry, being so far from friends and family, and the struggles that come with trying to be faithful servants of God. And the hard part is the closer we get to God the harder His enemies fight. I have told people that seminary is the devil’s playground. I have never seen so many people in such close proximity struggle with things like divorce, depression, and doubt just to name a few. All these people trying profoundly to become the servants that God is calling them to be. I often wished that we were encouraged to talk about in terms of spiritual warfare. Perhaps we would have been more equipped, more willing to claim the victory that has been promised us. Because brothers and sisters, spiritual warfare is real. And the outcome has been decided and eternity has been won. Yes the closer you get to God the harder God’s enemies fight. But also the closer you get to God the more confident you become that being in God’s hands is the best place to be. And being the recipients of Angelic protection is truly a gift and a blessing. Today we rejoice that as Christians we can know the unknowable and catch glimpses of the unseeable. That we don’t have to turn to Hollywood to feed our hunger for things bigger and greater than ourselves. And we thank God for his everlasting and supernatural involvements in our lives. Please pray with me Gracious God continue to send your angels, that they may protect us in our comings and in our goings, that they may defend us from what threatens our faith in you, and as we breath our last that they may escort us to our eternal home. In Jesus’ name.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sermon from September 8th Counting the Cost

Count the Cost Luke 14:25-33 A few short weeks ago I got out of preaching one of the toughest passages in Luke’s gospel. The week of the Outdoor Worship Service I was able to preach on creation instead of Jesus saying that his coming will bring division. At text study that week I was able to take a sigh of relief as we discussed Jesus’ harsh words. This week it came back and the opportunity for me to preach on Jesus’ harsh words and for us to reflect on them is before us. And brothers and sisters I promise as your pastor to never ignore Jesus’ hard words as it is often his hardest words that we need to hear the most. And today’s Gospel lesson is a tough one. In one fell swoop Jesus tells us we must hate our families and get rid of our possessions. If the crowd was large at the beginning of today’s reading, I’m sure it thinned out by the end. We are told a couple times in the Bible that we must sell or renounce all our possessions. These are more about our tendency to turn things into idols then they are about a call to sell things for the sake of the poor and hungry. It is about ridding us of all things that keep us from fully embracing our new identities as sons and daughters of God. And there is always the reality that all we have is first and foremost God’s so even if we don’t get rid of all our possessions we do surrender our “ownership” of it. I am sure we can all think of something in our lives that we have placed more trust or value in then we have God and as hard as these words from Jesus are we can understand them and they are far from the hardest words Jesus spoke today. Now this bit about hating our families is hard. And it flies in the face of all the times Jesus talks about loving others. In our warm fuzzy world of political correctness and tolerance we hear the word hate and we are likely to shut down, turn inward, and refuse to hear what the speaker has to say, even if that speaker is God in the flesh. So I challenge you to stay alert, return your gaze on our Lord and savior and listen to him. I think that today he speaks of hatred because we are all called to Love God so much that our love and desire for anything or anybody else pales in comparison, even our love for mother and father, brother, and sister husband, and wife. My best friend Lewis and I were talking about this the other day; we both have many siblings and talk together a lot about the complexities that a big family can create. It was in this context that this week Gospel lesson came up. Lewis shared with me an awesome story and granted me permission to share with you all today. You see Jackie and Lewis have struggled to get to church on time. Over the last year or so Lewis has been entering a new phase in his faith life and this tendency to be late for church was really weighing heavy on his heart. One Sunday morning recently he and their 12 year old son were ready and Jackie was not. Lewis decided to drive himself and Michael to church and let Jackie take the second car. Lewis was feeling guilty and when Jackie arrived he apologized. Apparently Jackie’s response was to tell him he had nothing to apologize for and that she never wants him to put her before Jesus. In that story Jackie and Lewis both answer the call to love family less than they love God. You see Jackie’s affirmation that Lewis made the right choice by placing his relationship with Jesus before his relationship with herself was also putting Jesus first in her own life. This real life story may help us put Jesus’ difficult words in the proper light. Brothers and sisters, as strange as it seems the most loving things you can do for your families is love God more than you love them. For right relationship with God being made possible in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes possible right relationship to others. A distorted, worldly view of priorities only creates distorted and worldly relationships. And the incarnation of Jesus Christ does indeed shatter any human definitions and boundaries we may place around this concept of family. He creates faith families like ours and brings people together who need to be together, like he did in the lives of Kalyb, Kary, Keltyn, David, and Brenda, I am so thankful that they were all open to the new and radical things that God was up to. And I am honored to celebrate those things with you all today. I firmly believe that they were a result of you guys putting God first in your life. Whether or not Jesus is talking about letting go of possessions or loving family a little less they are both ultimately about attachment. You see when there are things that we place too much importance in or things in which we find our identity instead of finding our identity in our relationship with God we need to do some work. This is what Jesus means when counting the cost, and the cost can be steep. Has my relationship with God caused me to hate my atheist brother and sisters? No but it caused some added distance and moments of discomfort. CS Lewis did not receive a full professorship until 30 years after he joined the faculty at Oxford because the damage his conversion did to his reputation. And there are still places in the world today where the cost of discipleship can be persecution, imprisonment, or even death. So in perspective our costs may seem very payable. For our young people it may be the pains of standing up for what is right when they see another being bullied, even by their friends. The cost for some may be let a sure promotion fly by because their faith discouraged them from cutting corners that may have helped them on the climb to the top, or waiting until next year to take that dream vacation because we aren’t ready to cut the tithing line item and the family budget. As we discern what our cost of discipleship is, it is always helpful to remember that God counted his own cost. He paid for our eternal life with the life of his only Son our Lord. And I can’t think of anything or anyone I would rather call Lord than Jesus Christ, whatever the cost. So the question shouldn’t be can we afford to follow Christ. As we see the affects of sin and struggle in our lives and in the lives around us perhaps the real question is can we afford not to.