November 4, 2018 – “Uncommon”

Today’s text is from 2 Kings 5:1-15.

This day we come together as we always do on Sunday mornings to give thanks and celebrate the promise and hope of new life through Jesus Christ. And yet this day, this first Sunday in November we also come together to remember all the saints who have gone before us.

We come together to remember all those for whom this no longer just a hope or a promise – but instead a reality they now live into. The reality of everlasting life. The reality of healing. The reality of peace. The reality of comfort. The reality of joy and love through their shepherd and Lord.

And so for those of us still on our journeys we, too, look forward to the day when that same peace and comfort and healing and love will be our reality. And yet, those promises and hopes aren’t just for a future time. In our present reality we are each called and empowered to bring them about.

This very day you have been empowered and called and strengthened by Jesus Christ to bring about the kingdom of God amongst your family, friends, and the communities that surround you. This very day you have the opportunity to shine the light of Jesus. Today you have all the gifts and blessings you need to be a blessing to others. To bring about justice in the world. To bring about healing. To bring about love. To bring about hope. To bring about new life.

Because although the saints that have gone before us now live into the reality that is the kingdom of God – we too have the opportunity to bring about that same kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

In our reading today we see individuals bringing about the very presence of the kingdom of God. But they’re not the people we’d probably expect. Especially because our reading today from 2 Kings is full of powerful and privileged people. Kings, prophets, commanders of armies.

Surely these people – those in positions of power – the kings, prophets, and commanders would be the ones gifted and blessed to bring about God’s very presence. And, they certainly are from time to time.

But, more often than not, God tends to act in unexpected ways. Work through unexpected people. Change the world in unexpected ways. Because the person who begins the process of healing today – the person who creates the change necessary to bring about healing and new life – that person is not a king. It is not a prophet. It is not a commander of an army.

Instead, it’s a young girl. Now, if that sounds familiar it’s because in less than two months we’ll be hearing about another young girl that God called to help change the world. Except this time the young girl we hear about isn’t engaged to be married with her whole life ahead of her.

This time the young girl has been taken captive. A servant of the enemy. This young girl – an Israelite – captured and at the mercy of a foreign power. And yet this young girl – even after having been stolen from her homeland – even after having been forced to become a slave to a foreign enemy – this young girl shows uncommon grace. Uncommon mercy. Uncommon love.

This young girl knows her captor is in need of healing. Her captor: the one who has made her a servant and slave – her captor: the one who has taken her from family and friends – her captor: the one who shows her no grace or mercy – this young girl actively chooses to see this individual as a child of God. As a fellow human being. As someone she can extend the hand of grace and mercy and love to just as her God did when God claimed her as a child of God.

This young girl shows uncommon grace by telling Naaman that he can find healing within her homeland. This young girl shows uncommon love by letting her captor know that he can find comfort and new life in an unexpected place.

But, this is the God this young girl worships and it is the God that in due time will send his own Son to be born as one of us and dwell with you. It is a God that turns the world upside down. It is the God that gave everything to provide you with an abundance of forgiveness and grace and mercy and love in this life and the promise and hope and reality of everlasting life in the next.

It is the God in Jesus Christ that leads us down uncommon paths. The God in Jesus Christ that encourages us to not simply hope for the future kingdom of God, but to actively bring it about in our present lives.

It is God the Holy Spirit equipping and empowering you to be the light that shines in the darkness. It is God the Holy Spirit that calls you to look beyond race, ethnicity, nationality, language, culture, and every other way we’ve figured out to divide ourselves from one another so that we can see the presence of Christ that dwells within all our brothers and sisters.

This day you have been gifted with uncommon grace and mercy and forgiveness and salvation and love through and in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is a salvation and love that carried the saints that have gone before us throughout their lives and it is a salvation and love and new life that they live into in the loving arms of their Savior.

And it is a grace and mercy and forgiveness and salvation and love that you are called and strengthened to bring about in this life. For while we know that the saints that have gone before us live into the reality of the kingdom of God – you too have been called to bring about God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.


October 21, 2018 – “Justice”

Today’s text is from 2 Samuel 11:1-5, 26-27, 12:1-9.

The Bible is full of good people. The Bible is also filled with bad people. The Bible is filled with stories of hope, grace, and promise. The Bible is also filled with stories of deceit, murder, and abuse. 

This is one of those texts – that although maybe familiar to some of us – is not a good one. In summary: King David – the same David who we hear about every Christmas season – the one for whom Bethlehem is known for – the “City of David” – the one for whom is talked about in Jesus’ genealogy – the one who beat Goliath as the underdog – the shepherd – the writer of most of the psalms – this David – the king of Israel in our reading today: Well, he’s not the good guy. And this isn’t an easy story. 

First, David neglects his duty as king to lead the troops into battle by staying behind. While relaxing at home while his soldiers are dying he rapes Bathsheba – who then becomes pregnant. David then has Bathsheba’s husband killed and marries Bathsheba. 

And that’s what I want us to focus on today: Bathsheba. Bathsheba is mentioned 13 times total in the Bible. David’s name is mentioned 8 times in just the first half of this reading. Bathsheba – a nobody up until this point – and certainly a nobody in comparison to the king of Israel – Bathsheba is doing exactly what the law requires her to do after her period is over: Bathe.  

Now, that comes from a law in Leviticus 15 which had every woman do an asinine amount of work following their period in order to become “clean” – including offering a turtledove as a sacrifice for their supposedly monthly “sin”. And I say that in quotes. According to this law in Leviticus simply being a woman is a sin. 

So, Bathsheba is following the law. David is not. He’s abusing his privilege and power as king by staying at his royal palace while the troops under his command go to battle without him – and verse one clearly tells us “the kings go out to battle” in the spring. 

And then he sexually assaults Bathsheba. Now, our translation says that “David sent messengers to get [Bathsheba].” Now, the Hebrew word behind the English phrase “to get” in that sentence is used about 1,000 times in the Old Testament. About 800 times it’s translated as “take”. 

The king – the one who is basking in privilege instead of duty by going to battle – this king is using all the social powers of his office and stature to quite literally take Bathsheba – to sexually assault her for no fault of her own. 

And this doesn’t even get to the fact Bathsheba became pregnant by this rape and then the king decides to have Bathsheba’s husband murdered so he could continue taking everything that was possibly hers to begin with. 

So, as I said at the beginning, the Bible is also filled with bad people and oftentimes quite devastating and gutting stories. So, what do we do with this? Because this is an unthinkable nightmare for Bathsheba. A woman whose name has now been mentioned more times in this sermon than in the entire Bible. 

What do we do with the people – what do we do with the women in our society who are marginalized and oppressed by men in power? Because it happened thousands of years ago and it’s happened every year since. 

Because, again, make no mistake, Bathsheba did nothing wrong in this story. David was the one who abused every privilege and power he had in order to assault and murder. Again, this is nothing new.  

The former candidates for the 2016 presidential election have both made startling comments regarding privilege and power and what they apparently should afford you. Starting with Hillary Clinton who recently was interviewed and said that her husband’s resignation had nothing to do with the Monica Lewinsky scandal. When asked if it was an abuse of power by the former president, Ms. Clinton said, “No. [Because Lewinski] was an adult.” 

And a couple years ago a tape from 2005 recorded Donald Trump saying that, “when you’re a star they let you do it.”  

So, we have two people who at one time were vying to be the President of the United States who seem to agree with David’s assessment of the situation: Use power and privilege to take what you want. So, what are we, as the church, called to do? 

Well, I think we’re called to follow in the footsteps, first and foremost of Nathan the prophet – Nathan who in today’s reading calls out the king. God literally sent this prophet to the king to tell him that the acts he had committed were evil. The king – the one who assaulted Bathsheba and then murdered her husband – Nathan receives a call from God that he needs to tell that guy – the murdering, raping king – that he’s committed acts of pure evil and that he should probably ask for forgiveness. Not an easy calling. 

And our second example comes in the form of Jesus. This time death does happen. Jesus tells the people things they don’t like to hear – he lets the powerful know they’ll be torn down and the oppressed will be raised up – he tells those in charge they’ll one day be last and those pillaged by the powerful that one day they’ll be first. In a sense, Jesus tells Bathsheba that one day she will be redeemed, made whole, and loved by her Lord and Savior and shepherd and he tells David that the power and privilege he once had will all come crashing down. And the result of Jesus telling the people this is they become upset and kill him. 

And yet this is our calling: As a church – as a people – we are called to seek out and find the Bathshebas of this world. The people on the margins – the people abused and used and forgotten by the powerful in society. The people whose stories are rejected, the people whose lives are neglected, the people whose hopes and dreams are crushed by those racing to power, the people who are labeled as less than, the people who are left for dead, the people who are murdered, the people who are raped. 

These people – men, women, children – the ones who have done nothing wrong – these are the people we are called to seek so that the abundance of love and grace and hope from Jesus Christ can be seen in their brothers and sisters – people just like you. 

But, in doing so, we stand toe-to-toe with the powerful. The privileged. Those for whom power negates all else. And yet, this day the Holy Spirit calls, strengthens, and empowers you to be a prophet like Nathan. To follow in the footsteps of Jesus. To never forget Bathsheba’s story. 

For this day you have been called to speak publicly to the world in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, calling for justice and proclaiming God’s love for the world.  

You. A prophet, apostle, disciple. Bringing about the grace and love of Jesus Christ to every beloved child of God. 

August 19, 2018 – “Water”

Today’s text is from Matthew 9:14-26.

I want to talk about water this morning. Now, I know we live on the east side of the state where Lake Michigan is the central water feature – and that’s definitely a tough one to beat. But, on the west side of the state is another prominent water feature – and that’s the Mississippi River. 

Like any river, it cuts its own course. It makes its own path. It finds its own way down to the Gulf of Mexico. But, once there it doesn’t stop flowing. You’d think the moment the water from the Mississippi hits the Gulf of Mexico it would stop flowing. Stop moving. You’d think it’d begin to mix with the gulf waters. 

But, it doesn’t. It keeps flowing. Its muddy, brown waters stay together so well you can see the river waters still cutting a path through the gulf. And this path doesn’t just last a few miles. Satellite images show the muddy outline of the Mississippi’s waters as they leave New Orleans, travel through the gulf, go down and around Florida, and head north toward Georgia before finally mixing in with the Atlantic. 

That’s over 1,000 miles past the river’s delta in New Orleans. The Mississippi is only about 2,000 miles long to begin with. 2,000 miles on land; 1,000 miles on water. The river goes where it wants. Does what it wants. The river can’t be stopped by land or water: It’s as if it has one, sole purpose: To move. 

Throughout all four Gospels – throughout this Gospel – throughout this reading, Jesus has a purpose that like the Mississippi can’t be stopped. Sure, it runs into bumps along the way.  It runs into forces that try and tell it where to go – yet in the midst of it all Jesus keeps on going. 

The first hill that must be made low is a question that is posed not by political opponents or religious insiders, but followers of John the Baptist. And it’s certainly a good question. They’re simply wondering why Jesus and his group don’t follow rules about fasting when they and the Pharisees do. 

Jesus gives them not one answer, not two answers, but three answers in return – and they all say the same thing: The new thing is here. Celebrate! But, be prepared to change. 

The second valley that must be raised is a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. Jesus doesn’t even do anything here – the woman simply has faith – or hope, or maybe just plain desperation after 12 years of being outcast from her community. 12 years of being rejected made this woman reach out in faith. 

And finally, the third road that must be straightened is a girl who is dead. But, not according to Jesus. She’s just sleeping, he tells the crowd. They laugh. And then Jesus wakes her up. 

Jesus is a river that cannot be stopped. If he’s hungry, he eats. If he’s celebrating, he celebrates. If he’s stopped in his tracks by a woman who bled for 12 years, he has compassion. If he’s told someone has died, he brings about new life. 

Jesus often doesn’t have time for rules and laws that get in the way of God’s path of mercy and grace. He often doesn’t have time for systems of structure and order. If someone pulls on his shirt and asks for help, he gives it. He often doesn’t have time for the powers of death. So he defeats them. 

Jesus is a river with a mountain, a valley, and a desert all standing in front of him. And no matter where we find ourselves in this life – whether on highest mountain or lowest valley – Jesus comes to us. 

Your Lord and Savior has a purpose, has a goal, has a ministry, has a kingdom with a focus so defined and expansive that nothing can stand in its way. Nothing you do in this life can scare God away. Nothing you have or will do will stop the rivers of new life in Jesus Christ from flowing right to you. 

For the kingdom of God is like a river. A river that is quiet, yet mighty. A river that changes the world around it. A river that decides how to operate not based on human rules or laws, but instead by the mercy and grace of God. 

A river that is defined by the life of Jesus Christ: Compassionate, forgiving, gracious, and loving. These waters of compassion, forgiveness, grace, and love are with you now and always. These waters of new life wash over you each and every day. 

Because the river goes where it wants. Does what it wants. The waters of new life can’t be stopped by land or water: It’s as if they have one, sole purpose – to serve. And to love.