November 13, 2016 – “Stewards”

Today’s text is from Acts 17:24-28

We’re talking about stewardship today – a word that might make you cringe because so often it has to do with money. And when we think of stewardship and money I’m sure many things come to mind. But often it’s so easy to think of it as the church simply doing a money grab. Often we feel the same way when it comes to taxes. Or when charities want donations. Or when anyone asks for anything. Why would I give away what’s mine to someone else? Why should they get something for free when I worked for it?

Or it’s possible to fight back and say that I’ve given away enough – whether it’s 1%, 5%, 10% or even more – and that I’ve got to keep the rest since, after all, it is mine. But let’s unpack that thought; because ownership deals with possessions which deals with creation which deals with humanity.

In all our readings for today one thing is clear: God is the author of life. God is the breath in our bodies. God is the light in the darkness. God is everything. This is crucial in our reframing of what stewardship is. Christianity often sells us a bill of goods that God is an old man with a white beard sitting on a throne in one physical location somewhere in the universe. And when we see God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as bounded by time and space then it only becomes natural to assume that things like dirt and rocks and leaves and sidewalks and buildings and random objects are just that – random.

And the list continues on and on to include more important things like money and possessions and people. It’s easy to fall into the trap that money and possession and people – and everything else – has a bit of it that’s not part of who or what God is. It’s possible to view money and people and the world around us as less than everything that God is.

It’s possible to view some parts of creation as better than others.

Let’s dig into this idea with a thought experiment: You’ve been told you have the opportunity to win one million dollars. That sounds great until you hear the caveat: In order to receive this million dollars you must press a button. And when you do, you’ll receive that money, but one random person on this planet will die.

Now, the odds are that you’ll never have known the person who dies if you press the button. Their family will never know they died so you could become wealthy. And it’s easy to stand here and say that I would never press the button for a million dollars in exchange for the death of one other person. And I can guarantee that’s correct. And I can guarantee that’s correct for you as well.

Because we’d all do it for a lot less.

Here’s where stewardship and taxes and donations and charities all merge together with ownership and possessions and creation and humanity. Now, if at this point you’re just as stunned with me that you’d be okay with someone else dying for a lot less than a million dollars – or you’re upset that the accusation has even been made – let’s again unpack this thought.

Every day people die from hunger-related causes. About 56 people have died – mostly children – since this sermon started. 21,000 people over the course of one day – one every four seconds. Now, as people of God who live amongst other people of God the question can be asked: Why are people dying of hunger-related causes? There is definitely enough food for everyone. Certainly over-population is a huge problem, but there’s no reason at the moment why everyone can’t be fed properly. Or drink clean water. Or be clothed and kept warm.

And we do our best as people to fix these problems. I just received the ELCA’s annual Good Gifts catalogue that lists all the different ways you can support those with almost nothing by buying things like goats, cows, wells for water, school supplies – the list goes on. And we need programs like that because without it I’d have no idea how to get a goat for someone else. But at the same time, after I buy my goat for someone less fortunate than me, pay my taxes, toss some coins into a red kettle this winter, or volunteer with an organization, something happens.

Our sense of ownership takes over. We feel we’ve been good stewards of what is ours – we’ve helped others out and now it’s time to settle back in and focus on ourselves. We forget that scripture makes it clear that: God is the author of life. God is the breath in our bodies. God is the light in the darkness. God is everything.

So, would you press a button that kills someone else in order to receive one million dollars? I’ll speak for myself here to say that I metaphorically press a button in order to live the life I’m currently living at the expense 21,000 people dying every day – because am I really doing my best to help these people of God thrive and survive?

This is where stewardship becomes frightening. This is where Jesus’ words to us are chilling. Sell everything we have? Having money and getting into heaven is impossible?

This is why seeing God in every inch of creation is so crucial. This is why seeing Christ in every person on this earth is critical. This is why feeling the Spirit’s presence in one another is key. Because if we don’t, then it’s so easy to keep the focus on ourselves instead of on the world around us.

Now, I’ve heard the sentiment before that, “why should we help those in other nations when we can’t even help those in our own backyard.” Because no one is worth more or less than anyone else. A child in Africa has the same Spirit of Christ in them as your next door neighbor. A terrorist and a humanitarian worker both are children of God. Reframing stewardship is about removing the lens of ownership from our eyes – because society has done a good job tying it tightly around us.

We’ve been taught that having money means power. If you have it, then you’re in control and if you don’t then you’re left for dead. Reframing stewardship means not wondering how much of our stuff we should give away, but instead how much of God’s gifts should we keep for ourselves?

Because God is everything. We are children of God. This cannot be underscored or stated enough. You have the gift and promise of new life through Jesus Christ. But the question remains: What are we going to do with that freedom?

Because we have been freed for, not just freed from. We have been freed for mission in this world. We’ve been more than simply freed from the powers of death and given salvation, but freed for the life of the world.

In Jesus Christ we have been given everything. We have each been blessed to be a blessing. We have each been called to be stewards of God’s creation. This includes rocks, trees, buildings, possessions, money, and people.

Our challenge this day as followers of Jesus Christ is to wonder how much of Christ’s gifts we can give away. Our challenge this day as people of God is to give all that we are because through Jesus Christ we have been given everything.

November 6, 2016 – “Trials”

Today’s text is from Job 1.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: In a couple days you’re either going to be really happy or really upset with the election results. The recent attacks on police officers have you wondering what can be done to stop the violence. The understanding that racism is alive and well in this country troubles you. The seemingly constant anger and division simply turns you away. The lack of basic resources for the poorest among us reminds you how society has failed others. The loss of a spouse, family member, friend, loved one has brought you to your knees in pain and grief.

At some point I’m sure we’ve come across one or more of these sentiments and feelings. At some point in our lives we’ve probably wondered, shouted, and gotten angry with God and cried out, “Why?!”

One of my favorite movies is Remember the Titans – a movie about the integration of a high school and it’s football team in 1971 Virginia. And a quote from that movie goes like this: “Sometimes life’s just hard for no reason at all.” Sometimes life is just hard for no reason at all.

Job is learning that lesson in today’s reading. The amount of loss and suffering that crashes down on him in a matter of moments is staggering. All his cattle are killed, his sheep are killed, his camels are killed, his sons and daughters are killed, and all but three of his servants are killed.

Now, it would be understandable, at this point, if Job gave up on God. It would be understandable if Job wondered what he had done to deserve such a punishment from God. But he doesn’t. His friends to that for him.

On a day/weekend like today, All Saints’ Day/Weekend, we come before God to remember all those who have died in this past year. We remember and give thanks for their lives and for the promise they now live into in Jesus Christ.

But for the rest of us it seems like the suffering remains. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, the suffering in the world around us, or the death of innocent people – often we wonder where God was in the midst of that suffering.

And so we’ve often come up with convoluted and toxic theologies to describe why suffering exists. Like Job’s friends we do our best to comfort, but then we can’t help but offer some advice as to why these bad things are happening.

Job literally lost everything. And not just money and possessions, but loss of life for his animals and family. Job’s friends eventually will go on to say that, “the innocent don’t perish.” They’ll go on to claim that, “suffering is the result of sin.” That this much pain and suffering has got to be Job’s fault somehow – because the only other option is that God simply didn’t intervene.

Perhaps you’ve felt this way in your life too. That a tragic event occurred and you wondered if you’d done something wrong. Or perhaps you wondered if God was simply testing your faith. Or perhaps you’d heard the saying that, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle,” and figured this was that moment. Or perhaps a loved one died and you were so angry with God for letting it happen.

Because if we’re honest with Job’s friends’ claims that the ‘innocent don’t perish’ and that ‘Job must’ve done something wrong to deserve this’, we can say they’re pretty suspect theologians.

Because if Job is to hold onto the claim that the ‘innocent don’t perish’ he’s going to wonder what his children were guilty of. He’s going to wonder what his animals were guilty of. He’s going to wonder what his servants were guilty of. If we hold onto the claim that the ‘innocent don’t perish’, well, then we’ve got a lot of explaining to do. Because it’s simply not true. Bad things happen to good people. Children die every day. Innocent people go to jail. Innocent people are killed.

When we look at the world around us this is the reality. And with that reality we have a couple choices: We can blame the world or we can blame God. A lot of people don’t like to blame God. There’s been a mountain of theologies crafted to take the blame away from God and to put it on these innocent people.

Look at what Job’s friends will eventually tell him. They know that Job is a good person. They know the type of life he’s lived. And yet they still end up claiming Job’s children and animals died because they weren’t innocent. After comforting Job for a few days they eventually decide this is the best course of action: To evade the question of suffering altogether and simply say these people and animals deserved to die.

But Job, and we, didn’t and shouldn’t buy it. Job sees the suffering in his life and simply calls it what it is: suffering. He cries out to God and says that he knows he didn’t deserve this amount of pain. He knows that there’s been no sin he’s committed to warrant such death penalties for his family, servants, and animals. And so he simply cries out to God in pain. He asks God, “Why?”, knowing that there isn’t an answer.

Because, “Sometimes life’s just hard for no reason at all.” Sometimes life isn’t fair. Sometimes the cards will be stacked against us. And it’s in these moments that we, like Job, simply cry out to God in pain. It’s in these moments that we tell God about our pain, suffering, darkest fears, and grief, and anger. We let God know this is how we’re feeling. And God will hear our prayers.

If there’s something the Bible tells us it’s that God hears our cries. From Job, to the Psalmists, to Jesus himself – we see that it’s okay to cry out to God in pain, that it’s okay to let God know exactly how we’re feeling – and that God will listen.

In Job’s darkest moments he doesn’t place the blame of his situation on himself. He doesn’t place it on the people around him. He doesn’t place it on God. Instead he allows himself to live into the dynamic relationship he has with God and allows himself to once again see the possibility of new life in God.

This same promise hold true for us today. In Jesus Christ we have each been given a promise. Not that pain will go away. Not that suffering will disappear. Not that our lives will be fair. Not that everything will be perfect. But that we have the gift and promise of new life.

That in the midst of despair, darkest night, or greatest suffering – we can, like Job, the Psalmists, and Jesus – cry out to God and claim that the pain and suffering are unfair, but that ‘sometimes life’s just hard for no reason at all.’

When life seems to be at its most difficult we can know that God and Jesus are with us. Not to make things perfect. Not to shield us from every storm. Because that’s not the reality of our lives or the life of the world.

But instead to journey together through this thing we call life. To be in relationship with one another and to see this promise of new life isn’t just reserved for a far off date, but something we can live into right now. That even in the midst of pain and suffering the God of all creation surrounds us each and every day.

For in Jesus Christ we have a savior who holds our pain and suffering with us. In Jesus Christ you have a friend that walks with you in this life. In Jesus Christ you have been given the gift of new and abundant life.

October 31, 2016 – “Trust”

Today’s text is from 1 Kings 17:1-24

“Don’t be afraid.” Once again we hear these words – this time from the prophet Elijah. As we’ve wondered in the past perhaps we should actually be afraid when we hear these words. They’re definitely interesting words coming from Elijah because he doesn’t seem to be in any position to offer reassurance. Neither the widow nor Elijah have much control over their situation. Thanks to the king of Israel a drought has come over the land and we’re told a widow and her son have given up all hope and are waiting to die. Meanwhile, Elijah himself is living off the generosity of others.

But not just anyone. A raven and a widow. Now, if you were a good Israelite you would have known that in Leviticus and Deuteronomy ravens are among the birds that God forbids the people eat. These birds are scavengers – they feast on the misfortune of others. And yet here we find this forbidden bird bringing food to Elijah. But notice they’re not doing this on their own.

The ravens haven’t decided to bring a random person bread and meat in the morning and evening because they feel like it. We’re told that God has directed them to do so. That’s a bit surprising, isn’t it? A bird that seems to be rejected by God is suddenly an agent of God’s actions. But we’re just getting started with surprises.

It seems that God has been providing Elijah with food from the ravens and water from a nearby brook. But eventually that water dries up. So God tells Elijah to travel to another region where a widow will apparently be waiting for him with food. If I’m Elijah at this point I’m wondering what God is up to – God is acting through ravens and a widow. In ancient Israel they would not be seen as traditional holders of God’s spirit.

And once Elijah finds this widow it seems like this tradition is about to hold up. It doesn’t seem like she has any idea what Elijah is talking about. Providing him with water and food? Why on earth would she do this for him? Does he have any idea what situation she and her son are in? Food and water for living? She’s thinking the exact opposite – food and water for dying.

This is where Elijah’s, “Don’t be afraid” comes into play. In this case he has the audacity to not only tell this widow to ‘not be afraid,’ but to also to tell the widow – “Go ahead and return home to make a meal for you and your son, but also make a bit for me too if you would because God will be with you.”

That’s a bold statement. Don’t be afraid. Really?  She has everything to fear. She’s a widow with a son with no sustainable source of food or water. Don’t be afraid? Give her one good reason why. She’s given up hope. She knows her place in society. No one is coming to save her. And then this man shows up asking her for a meal. Asking her to trust in God. Why? Because God has been so active recently? Where was God when the rain stopped falling? Where was God when the crops died? Where was God when no one came to help her? Instead of receiving help now she’s receiving a request for help.

Don’t be afraid. The audacity of that statement is off the charts. When God spoke it to Abram it was unbelievable. When Mary heard it from the angel about what was going to happen to her she had to be incredulous. Don’t be afraid?

Everyone else had given up on Abram, on this widow, on a young girl named Mary. Everyone except God. The tricky part was seeing God’s presence. Because it wasn’t found in the expected places.

We find God’s presence today in ravens and a widow. We find it in an animal that was put on the rejected list by God and we find it in a widow from a different region and a different religion. But more importantly the widow saw God’s presence in Elijah and Elijah saw God’s presence in the widow. These two people – one far from home and the other living on the margins of society – are not forgotten by God. Although the powers that be had forgotten about them and left them for dead God was present for them.

Because notice that when Elijah was looking for water and food – something I think we can all agree on are just basics for staying alive – God didn’t direct the priests to supply him with these items. God didn’t direct the faithful and religious people living nearby to help him out. God didn’t work through the usual suspects. God worked through a widow who had given up all hope and was preparing to die – through a person considered worthless to society.

Don’t be afraid. Here’s where this saying hits home for us, today: Often God shows up in places we don’t expect. Often God shows up in people we don’t expect. But ‘expect’ is just a code word, I think, for people that don’t look, or think, or act, or believe like us. Because often God shows up in the places we hope he won’t. Because then it just might mean that we have to show up there too.

Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to stand with the oppressed and rejected in society. Don’t be afraid to dig deep into our own shame and fear about standing up for others – or the lack thereof. Don’t be afraid to be a voice for women – who thousands of years after the likes of Hannah, this nameless widow, and Mary – are still told ‘it’s their fault they were raped’ or that ‘boys will be boys’ or that Joseph divorces Mary quietly because she’d be stoned to death otherwise, but not the guy who would’ve committed adultery with her. Don’t be afraid to be a voice for refugees and immigrants who, like the widow, are often forgotten about and left for dead.

Because even when we’ve forgotten about these people of God – God will not. And God will often use the most unlikely of people and situations to bring about God’s presence. God will hear the cries of those living on the margins of society, of those rejected by those in power, of those rejected by the inaction of others – and God will act. God will act through you, me, our friends, neighbors, even our enemies to accomplish God’s will.

For in Jesus Christ we do not need to be afraid. For no matter what happens in our lives we will be able to find Jesus’ presence in the people and world around us. Just like Elijah and the widow we too must simply be on the lookout for where God and Jesus will show up next – because often it will be surprising. For we each have been given the amazing promise that God’s presence, Jesus’ love, and the Spirit’s guidance will be with us – our challenge this day is to be open to seeing that presence in the midst of creation.

Do not be afraid. For Jesus Christ is with you this day and always.


October 23, 2016 – “Grace”

Today’s text comes from 2 Samuel 7:1-17.

We hear another promise from God in our reading for today. And it’s once again a promise that is so extravagant, so abundant, so unexpected that neither David nor the prophet Nathan can comprehend it.

They can’t comprehend it because in their minds they’ve built their success on their own and it’s only natural that they’d want to contribute to God’s success as well.

Our culture seems to be built around having the biggest and best things too. We’re taught to consume and consume and consume. We’re taught that the rich are rich because they’ve simply worked harder than the rest of us and that with money comes power and comfort and happiness.

This seems to be the case for David. He’s had quite the journey in his life. He’s gone from just a shepherd roaming on the hillsides keeping his sheep safe to the king of the people of Israel. What a rags to riches story.

And now that David, the king as we’re told, is all settled in his fancy palace and safe from his enemies, he brings in the local prophet to voice a concern that he has.

See, it seems odd to the king that his home appears to be nicer than God’s. The people of Israel had been on the move for quite some time so they simply kept God’s presence in the Ark of the Covenant – which they kept in a tent. It makes sense; a tent is easy to pick up and move at a moment’s notice and simple to set back up at a new location. But, now the king and his people appear to be at a permanent location.

So, the king assumes that now is the perfect time to build a lavish home for God since the king himself is living in a pretty nice one. The prophet, Nathan, agrees and all seems well. They agree on this decision to build God an awesome home and Nathan even reports that, “God is with the king,” in this decision.

But then something happens. There’s a slight snag in their plan. God speaks. God speaks and says the complete opposite of what God’s own prophet and appointed king were thinking. Oops.

God comes along and does what God always does – reverses the status quo. It seems like we could use that line every week. But God says even more interesting things than telling the king and prophet they’re wrong. Up until God speaks in our reading David has been called, “the king”. It’s a title that he worked his way up to from lowly shepherd and it shows his place amongst the people of Israel. But there’s only one problem: He didn’t earn this on his own. He doesn’t own this title. This categorical distinction from other people isn’t seen by God.

The first words from God in this reading are, “Go and tell my servant David.” My servant David. That seems like another reversal. From king to servant. First to last. But what’s most shocking about this revelation from God isn’t that servanthood is better than being a king, but that being a servant is where God’s spirit lives.

David and Nathan had all the right intentions when they said they wanted to build God a big house. But to their surprise this isn’t where God wanted to live. Now there’s some irony here as well because over the centuries Christians have built magnificent places of worship. Over time we’ve come to think of these buildings – these churches, these houses of God – as places where God’s spirit is definitely present.

Again, we’ve had all the right intentions. And it seems obvious that God is present in a church. We even have an eternal light burning all the time to show that God’s presence is always in this specific place. But just when we think we’ve done everything right to honor and praise God, God comes along to us, and to David and Nathan, and says, “Wait a minute.” God comes along and wonders why God would be located in one specific location or place.

God tells David that for generations he had been in the midst of the people no matter where they went. God tells David that God didn’t need a fancy home to be located in – that God’s presence or reign or power didn’t come from the fact there was a magnificent temple to locate God’s presence. Instead God tells David, and God tells the people, that God is with them wherever they go.

This isn’t always the easiest promise to remember. See, it’s easy to be reminded of God’s presence when we stand in a church. It seems especially easy to think of God’s presence located even just around the altar space – as if even within the church building itself this is the holiest spot in the place because this is where God seems to be the most present.

But this isn’t what we hear God tell David. We hear God tell David that his Kingdom will not be built of cedar or stone, but of flesh and blood. We heard God say that God’s Kingdom will be made manifest not through power and might, but humility and servanthood. We hear God tell us today that God’s spirit and presence are seen through you and me and that wherever we are that is the perfect place for God to be.

This is the amazing promise given to David and given to us – that we have the ability to show the world who God is because God is always with us. We have the power to shine the light of Jesus’ love to our communities because Jesus is with us. We have the strength to give words of healing and forgiveness through the Holy Spirit. We can do these things because God isn’t stuck behind four walls. We can do these things because God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit aren’t boxed in by theological constructs or ideas.

No matter who or what we think God is – God is greater. No matter how much grace or love or forgiveness we think Jesus has given us – Jesus has given us more. No matter how much strength we think the Spirit gives us – the Spirit has given us more. And not just us. But our friends. Families. Communities. People we disagree with. Enemies. The world.

Because God doesn’t live in just one place on this earth – and – God doesn’t live behind the walls that we construct and try to contain God in. Just like David and Nathan we may think that we’ve figured out all of God’s intentions. Just like David and Nathan we will make decisions in our lives and think that God is all for them. But then God will surprise us. God will show up in the most unlikely of places, in the most unlikely of people, and yet it will be exactly where God wants and needs to be.

Jesus Christ came into this world and showed us that God’s presence would travel and spend time with people that wouldn’t have pegged as followers of Jesus. Jesus showed us that the presence and Kingdom of God didn’t reside in one place or time, but instead lived amongst God’s people in their hearts and minds and souls.

That is the promise for you this day: That no matter where you are, or who you are, the love, grace, healing, and forgiveness of Jesus Christ is with you always and forever.

October 16, 2016 – “Vows”

Today’s text is from 1 Samuel 1:9-11, 19-20; 2:1-10.

This reading from Samuel can be broken down into two different parts and I’d like to do that today – to focus on Hannah’s pain in the first section and to focus on her joy in the second section.

To get to the hidden pain that Hannah is experiencing I would like us to put on our history hats today. I wasn’t here last weekend because I was visiting Boston. Now I’ve never been to New England before and I was excited to see what history the city had in store.

There’s something fascinating and eerie about standing in the midst of locations that have hundreds of years of memories. There’s something strange about standing in a cemetery staring at headstones that have dates from the 1700s written on them. There’s something strange about standing on the exact spot that the Boston massacre took place. There’s something odd about being in the church that helped signal the start of the Revolutionary War.

It’s odd because now these locations are surrounded by a bustling city. These historic spots are now buried within the city itself. A city and a people that are so far removed from the events that no one is able to remember the pain of the events that took place at these locations.

The pain, suffering, and death that once happened in some of those spots is lost and hidden away in the past. They’re stored away, never to be seen again. And if we can agree that it’s difficult to see this history on the crowded intersection where people walk absentmindedly over where the Boston massacre took place – where there’s a giant stone medallion marker on the ground pointing out what took place on that spot – then imagine what people are like.

People, unfortunately, don’t have these giant medallions or markers on them that point to the history they have gone through. The people around us don’t have plaques that remind us what they’ve gone through in their lives and that they’ve fought their own battles and perhaps are in the midst of fighting one right now.

Often we’re like the city and people that have slowly overtaken these moments of pain. Often it’s simply easier to pretend that everything is fine in our lives, but especially that everything is fine in the lives of the people and world around us.

We’re told that Hannah is in pain this morning. We’re told that in her deep anguish and bitter weeping she prays to God. She prayers for the pain to go away.

Her pain stems from that fact that she hasn’t been able to have any children. Now a helpful piece of our reading is missing today from the verses just prior to the start of the text – and I’m going to warn you now, if you’re against polygamous marriage then turn away for a moment – because Hannah is upset that her husband’s other wife has been able to have a lot of children.

But this is more than simply a rivalry between who can have the most children. Hannah has none and would just like one. Now, it’s pretty easy to read stories in the Bible and come to the understanding that having children is a blessing – we heard this about Abram and how he was going to be blessed with descendants as numerous as the stars.

And for people who have lots of kids nowadays they’ll often say that they have been blessed by God. Now, this troubles me, and apparently Hannah as well, for a couple reasons: First, claiming children are a blessing from God is a very specific theological claim; and second, if having children is a blessing what does that mean for Hannah and for women everywhere who are simply unable to conceive? Or don’t want to conceive? Or were raped and forced to carry this so-called blessing?

See, Hannah is in deep anguish and pain because, for her, infertility is often seen theological as a curse. And it’s a pain and burden that is hidden away in Hannah. See, it’s not obvious that there’s this history with her.

Sure, people probably ask her why she’s not pregnant yet. Sure, people probably joke with her that “she’s gotta start having kids soon before she gets too old”. People probably recognize that there’s supposed to be this blessing there because theologically and culturally we’ve been trained to assume that women have kids and if they don’t then something’s wrong with the woman.

I always love when stories of women appear in the Bible because they’re few and far between. Women in the Bible aren’t held in very high regard. Their place in society is near the bottom – they basically don’t exist. Case in point: The feeding of the 5,000 is 5,000 men. And you’d think that after all these centuries and millennia since Hannah lived something would’ve changed. And certainly some things have changed for women. But then other things have stayed the same.

And this is where Hannah’s joy is made. Because while Hannah’s society doesn’t value her, God does. While women today as often still treated and talked about like sexual objects with no value, for God there is infinite value to be seen.

God steps in and flips the script and tells Hannah that she is worth everything to God. God steps in and does what God always does – reverses the status quo. God steps in and lifts up the lowly and crushes the rulers. God steps in and takes nothing and makes it everything and takes those with everything and makes them nothing.

By this point this shouldn’t be all too surprising. We see it with Hannah here in the Old Testament and we’ll see it in two months with Mary in the New Testament. We’ll see it with Jesus walking this earth and doing things that didn’t make sense like eating with sinners, healing on the Sabbath, bringing the dead back to life, providing forgiveness where there was once judgment.

Because when Jesus and God look upon you – when they look upon the world – they see the markers of the past pain, suffering, and agony you have gone through. This hidden pain and suffering that Hannah was experiencing was not hidden to God. God was with her in the midst of that fear and terror. She who was once lowly has been lifted from the dust.

For Hannah there was a happy ending. In this lifetime she was lifted from the pit and received the answer to her prayers. But not all of us are as lucky. This life changing reversal that Hannah experienced through prayer isn’t really a formula that we can simply repeat and then expect to have the same results.

Sometimes we don’t see this reversal until we’ve left this earth. Sometimes the pain and suffering we see in this world just won’t go away. No matter how hard we pray, or how faithful we are, sometimes the answers just never appear.

At least, sometimes they never appear in this lifetime. But as we’ve seen from God from creation through Abram – we worship a God of promises and covenants. We worship a God who has given us the amazing gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. This is the character of God.

That God is a God who reverses the script. God turns the world on its head. God takes systems of power and oppression and crushes them. God takes what was outcast and left for dead and provides abundant life.

This is that promise to you. And it’s a promise for the world. Our challenge this morning is to live our lives seeing the markers, medallions, and sign posts in the lives of our brothers and sisters that are often hidden from view. Our call is to move out into the world to see the hidden pain and suffering that exists all around us and to give away the blessings and promises we have already received from God.

For then, like Hannah, we can sing praise to God. For in Jesus Christ you have been lifted up to new life and through Jesus Christ you have the same power to lift our brothers and sisters in this world to a life that is filled with the joy and peace and grace of a God who changes everything.

October 2, 2016 – “Passover”

Today’s text is from Exodus 12:1-13, 13:1-8.

The connection between smell and memory has been long documented in scientific and medical communities. And I’m sure you’ve noticed this throughout your life as well – you run across a certain smell and it immediately brings you back to a specific childhood memory or a random event in your life where you encountered this smell before.

For me growing up a smell that I always associated with a certain time and place was being at the ballpark. Whenever you went to a baseball game there was just this certain smell to it: Greasy food, charcoal from the people tailgating, and just a conglomeration of other smells that you could only find at the ballpark. But for some reason Miller Park always had a unique smell to it.

As a family we would travel to different ballparks and they never quite had the same smell – they were similar, but there was just something different about the way Miller Park smelled. As we continued to go to games here I would always to be reminded that, “Yep, we’re at Miller Park.” It just had that familiar smell to it.

Well, in recent years I finally became old enough to nail down exactly where that smell was coming from. The team name and the stadium name aren’t random in this regard – Miller Park, to me, has the distinct smell of Miller Lite beer. That was the smell that always reminded me of Brewers’ games. I had been classically conditioned to think of a Brewers’ game from the smells of the ballpark, but one in particular in this case: Beer.

Now that’s a lighthearted example, but smell has this raw ability to transport us back to a place and time that mere memory couldn’t do on its own. This is why rituals and traditions carry such weight in terms of bringing the past to life. They’re unique ways of remembering – more than just through oral tradition, but in this case tangible ways of experiencing this memory.

That’s in part what the Passover meal does. Now, we’ve leap-frogged through Genesis and straight into Exodus this week. And we’ve skipped over whole narratives, including the birth of Moses, the plagues, and the actual exodus itself is wedged between our split reading today. We’ve seen God create, we’re seen God promise blessings upon blessings to Abram, we’ve seen God’s people be put into slavery, and we’re now witnessing God freeing God’s people from this bondage.

And God is using tangible memory to remind the Israelites to continue looking forward and not to the past. And not only tangible memory through bread and lamb, but tangible memories through time itself. Notice the beginning of the reading – within the first couple of sentences we have numerous markers of time.

We have God telling the people that the month they’re in is going to be the first month of their year and that on the tenth day of that month these Passover preparations are to begin. On the fourteenth day of that month the lamb or goat that was chosen is to be slaughtered at twilight – literally a time between the evenings, a marker of ending and beginning, a marker of transition between daylight and nighttime. That very night they’re supposed to eat the meat, bitter herbs, and bread with haste.

And by morning if anything is leftover they must burn it. These are very specific markers of time. First month. Tenth day. Fourteenth day. Twilight of the fourteenth day. Morning of the fifteenth day. God is setting before the Israelite people tangible memories. Memories and rituals to anticipate and prepare for a new beginning. Memories and rituals that help them focus on the future instead of the past.

And I think we need these tangible memories and rituals because eventually things go wrong. Or, like in the Israelites’ case, perhaps things were never right in the first place. Whether it’s our own lives, families, friends, the life of the world, sometimes things don’t go our way. Sometimes there are problems that aren’t fixed. For some people systems of injustice permanently hold them down. For others getting things like food and water are daily struggles.

And it’s at these points in our lives where we just want to sit back and scream at God. We want to hold someone accountable for what’s going on in our lives. And trust me, it is really easy to point the finger at God and Jesus because they’re the ones who promised us new life in the first place! They’re the ones we read about creating time and space, providing blessing upon blessing and promises upon promises to Abram and the people of Israel only to find this people of God – who were supposed to be blessed – in slavery and bondage.

This isn’t lost on us today and it definitely wasn’t lost on the people of Israel. Because in just a few short chapters they are going to want to go back to Egypt. They’re going to want to go back into slavery and bondage because it appeared that their lives were much better in Egypt than wandering through the wilderness like they eventually will for 40 years.

Because sometimes that’s what life feels like – like we’re just wandering through the wilderness. We knew that God was supposed to have blessed us and that we were supposed to have received the promise of new life – but where is it? Sometimes we can’t see it or feel it or know that it truly has been given to us.

But that’s where tangible markers of time, space, location, and memory step in. That’s why we gather at the foot of the altar every week to receive the simple sign of God’s presence. The simple signs of Jesus’ forgiveness, mercy, grace, and love. Because the markers of God’s presence truly are that simple.

The tangible reminders of God’s presence in our lives are everywhere. As the sights and sounds and tastes of summer fade away new ones take their place: Leaves turning colors, the smell of apple orchards and pumpkin patches, crisp air, shorter nights – the tangible markers of God’s promises and blessings to us are all around us.

So as we receive bread and wine today, as we come together as one body of Christ, as we move out into the world as children of God – I challenge and encourage you to soak in all the tangible ways that God is present in your life. Because God is there – sometimes hidden, sometimes obvious – but through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit we will find that an abundance of blessings and promises have been poured out upon us.

So taste God’s presence, hear Jesus’ call, breathe in the Holy Spirit, feel the God of all creation at your feet, holding you hand, and beating within your heart. Because the God of new life reminds you this day and always that you are a beloved child of God.

The Challenge of Following

Note: I find myself away for the weekend, but of course I couldn’t help but write something. In hindsight the following words fit in nicely with the text my congregations are wrestling with this weekend: The story of Joseph in Genesis 37. A story about a brother who is sold and then later forgives his brothers for selling him. Who in their right mind would forgive someone for such an evil act? Apparently Joseph. And most definitely Jesus. Oh, and we’re called to forgive with such reckless abandon as well. And be loving. And gracious. And merciful. And that leads us to the…

The challenge of following. Because, if we’re honest with ourselves, that’s what this is: A challenge. When we listen to the story of the first twelve disciples we don’t find them walking the easy road. We don’t find them having all the answers.

We find them dazed, confused, tired, anxious, fearful, and usually doing the exact opposite of what Jesus told them to do. These are people that are now labeled ‘saints’ by many Christians. ‘Saints’ who when they walked this earth couldn’t fathom what Jesus’ ministry was; ‘saints’ who didn’t have a shred of understanding as to what Jesus’ mission was; ‘saints’ who gave up hope and faith once Jesus was considered long dead after three days.

And yet, for some reason, 2,000 years later we, as Christians, have concontacted document after document – millions of pages – of theologies, beliefs, doctrines, apologies describing how we ought to believe.

Rooted in the ELCA, or even just rooted within Lutheranism, we ascribe to the Book of Concord. As it sits on my desk it is a 660 page book that outlines the early Protestant beliefs and theologies.

In great detail it describes and unpacks all the minute details of faith, theology, and doctrine. In excruciating detail it outlines what the early reformers believed.

And it’s seemingly required of every seminarian, pastor, church member, Sunday Schooler, Confirmation student that they memorize and pin these words to their heart of hearts. And I would say that’s fine, that’s perfectly okay, if but for one thing: We can’t even do what Jesus asked us to do in the first place.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

– Matthew 22:36-40

The two greatest commandments. Love God, love your neighbor. We can’t do either. Period. We fail greatly at actually fulfilling these. Not in a million years could we ever hope to love God with all our heart and soul and mind. Not in a million years could we love our neighbor as our self.

Not all hope is lost, however. This is where Jesus steps in and provides mercy and grace that are we are undeserving of. This is where Jesus fills the void and instead of punishing, sends us out in mission for the life of the world.

But here’s where I get hung up: As a church we say week after week what our faith is in the Apostle’s Creed. Week after week we slap “ELCA” on our church signs which says who we are as a church. It says we believe 660 pages worth of doctrines and beliefs. But guess what – we can’t even believe and enact the greatest commandments Jesus told us. Before we even get into believing what’s on 660 worth of pages we can’t even love God or love one another.

Time after time in the Gospels Jesus tells his followers that getting in heaven and following him is effectively impossible. That believing in him is impossible without the help of the Holy Spirit. That on our own we can’t believe.

Even with the Spirit’s help we still get in the way. Even with the Spirit we still try to control and take over and dole out God’s love and forgiveness and grace and mercy on our own. Because to love the world, and its people, as God loves it would require giving forgiveness and grace and mercy and love as Jesus did.

That’s the challenge of following. It was never meant to be easy. It was never meant to be fun. It was meant to be life changing and life giving.

So what do I believe? I believe that God is love and that we are called to love God and love our neighbor. And since I, and we, will fail our entire lives trying to accomplish just these two things, why on earth would I begin to try and believe the myriad of other theologies that have been developed in the two thousand years since Jesus?

We are called to serve and love as Jesus did. Period. It is, and can be, that simple. Although, as Jesus pointed out, it’s anything but simple.

And that’s the challenge of following.

September 18, 2016 – “Abundance”

I must first apologize; I’ve gotten a bit behind in posting my sermons lately – the beginning of September has been a whirlwind. So, without further ado:

Today’s text is from Genesis 15:1-6.

“Don’t be afraid.”

You know, the more I hear this phrase in Scripture the more I think we should be afraid. Or, perhaps it means the fear can finally end. Maybe it means that with God by our side we can’t possibly fear anything. Although that’s easier said than done, I think.

Now, by this point you’ve probably noticed I have quite the affinity for anything outer space. So as we blaze through the beginning of Genesis I’ve been pretty excited about reading these creation texts. And although we’re 15 chapters removed from the beginning of Genesis we still have a beautiful reference to creation today.

“Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then God said to Abram, “So shall your offspring be.”

Now, I’ve looked up at the night sky in the Milwaukee area before. And if God told Abram this same thing tonight Abram would be lucky if he could see a few dozen stars in the night sky. If this story happened later this evening Abram would be pretty disappointed. Not only at God’s lack of confidence in his counting skills, but also at the sheer lack of stars in the night sky. What kind of blessing would that be?

But move out to the countryside, far away from the glaring lights of the city, and a different picture is painted. Luckily for Abram this was the night sky that he viewed. One that shone with the brilliant light of countless stars. But notice that shift in perspective – depending on where Abram might have stood – countryside or city – he would’ve had a different understanding of God’s promise. Because usually a change of perspective is a good thing. It’s especially helpful when you’re lost.

If you’ve ever had the chance to walk through a corn field I would encourage you to do so. And I’m not talking about the city slicker version called a “corn maze” where there are nice wide paths knocked down and where the entrance and exit are two very specific and findable locations. Now, those are fun, don’t get me wrong – they’re fun for a nice stroll on a chilly October afternoon. But the kind I’m talking about are the original version – just a field of corn planted on acres of land with only narrow strands of space between each row.

When I was a kid I used to venture into these true corn mazes with my sister. You’d run up and down the narrow paths, your arms would be getting sliced up by the blades of corn leaves – you’d have to cover your face at times to make sure the same fate wouldn’t happen there – and you’d eventually be buried in the heart of a field of corn.

You knew you were far away from the proverbial entrance when you could no longer hear the voices of family who had stayed behind. Often shivers of fear would hit you because direction didn’t make much sense in a corn field. Finding north or south or east or west became a tricky task.

And it’s ironic to get lost in a corn field because just feet above your head was your answer. If you could’ve just managed to stick your head above the tassels at the top of the stalks you’d know which way to go.

But there were other ways too – the sounds of people in the distance. The shadows cast by the sun. The direction the corn was planted. The slope of land you were on. But each of these required replacing fear with calm. Each required you to hear the words, “Don’t be afraid.”

And when you’re lost or when you’re feeling dead and deserted like Abram these words don’t seem to bring any calm or peace. And yet for Abram the answer was right above his head. The answer was in the stars and the answer was found in God. But again, easier said than done.

Often it feels like the answers to all our problems dangle just feet away from our reach – just out of our sight. For Abram this was solving his heir problem by his own means – or how getting lost in a corn field often results in wild running in circles. In both cases it seems like progress is being made – an answer is being found, right? More like manufactured.

Before being told not to be afraid by God, Abram was panicking. What was he going to do? How was he going to carry on his legacy and family name? And so instead of trusting God’s presence in the world around him he began to plan for a one generational fix. But God had bigger plans in mind.

God usually does. See, whenever we hear that word from God to “not be afraid,” we should be very, very afraid. Not because God doesn’t hold us secure, but because God does hold us securely.

We should be afraid because God is about to walk with us into that corn field and say – it might seem like confusion and fear and desolation and nothing but death in here, but do you see the sun above your head? You can use that for direction. Do you see the rows planted at your feet? You know which way they’re headed. Do you see the ground falling off to your right? You know where the valley is. Do you hear the sound of family and friends? You know where they’re located. Do you see the sky above your head? Drink it in, relax, breathe, feel my presence and know that I am God.

Like Abram, we should be afraid, because God takes nothing and makes it everything. God takes a few loaves and fishes and makes an abundance. God takes death and makes it life. We should be afraid because God is forever jumping out from around the corner and surprising us. God is forever pulling us down paths that seem challenging or difficult or dangerous. We should be afraid – until we realize there’s nothing to fear.

There’s nothing to fear because Jesus has already secured everything that matters for us. There’s nothing to fear because even in the most frightening situations God is by our side. But this is easier said than done. It’s good in theory, but hard in practice because we need to remember the markers of God’s presence in creation, in the world around us.

Like Abram, we need to remember the promise given to us in God and given to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a promise that isn’t always obvious, a promise that sometimes seems far away or simply hidden from view. But, if we change our perspective and put our trust in God anything is possible.

Because when we hear the words, “Do not be afraid,” we can know that we truly have nothing to fear because Jesus Christ holds us secure.


September 11, 2016 – “Creation”

Today’s text is from Genesis 1.

What color is creation? If you had to pick one specific color that would align with what the average color of creation is what would it be? Blue? Green? A mix of the two to identify earth’s water and plants? Or maybe black since the universe appears that way? Or maybe white for the light of the sun?

Now, there is a potential answer, by the way. The 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey was a project undertaken between 1997 and 2002 by a group of Australian astronomers. Now their goal wasn’t to determine the color of the universe. In fact, it was to look out 2.5 billion light years from earth to see the large-scale structure of the universe. Just under 400,000 objects appeared in the survey – most of which were galaxies.

But then a group of astronomers from Johns Hopkins decided to take this survey in a different direction. They analyzed the objects in the image to determine what the average color spectra was using the data gathered during that 6-year survey.

And they actually came up with a specific color. It’s a variation of white – a color which was given the unofficial name of “Cosmic Latte”.

Now, this very prestigious sounding name for the average color of the universe forgets one thing: That’s not how we live. The universe is so grand and large we can’t even fathom its size. Creation means something different for us than it does for the rest of the universe.

Creation for us means living on this chunk of rock – even more specifically on a certain continent next to a large body of water. Our view of creation is grounded and rooted in the very minute world around us.

Some days the color of creation is a blue sky with green trees next to us. In a short time the color of creation will be red and yellow leaves. In a few months the color of creation will be nearly pure white with snow covering every inch of the world around us. “Cosmic Latte” assumes creation is static and unchanging. On a grand scale the universe appears very generic and boring. But on a human scale creation is anything but.

Often the creation around us is chaotic and frightening. 15 years ago chaos and fear consumed this nation when thousands of people lost their lives in multiple terrorist attacks. In the years since we’ve gone to war with various countries, peoples, groups in order to try and stop the chaos. In the 15 years since it feels like we live in a pseudo-chaos free country – like we’ve put up a thin barrier between us and the possibility of another 9/11 happening. Yet it feels like we’re always on edge, waiting for it to happen once again.

Chaos in our creation doesn’t seem like it’s gone away. Yet that’s exactly what the writers of the book of Genesis say happened during creation. But before we get there I want to connect the accounts of Revelation and Genesis again. We’ve gone from the last book in the Bible to the first one this week because, as we talked about last week, they both paint a picture of creation. They both can be taken literally, metaphorically, allegorically, poetically.

And before we have a debate over the proper interpretation of the account of creation I want us to focus on the theological implications of the Genesis account.

When we usually say, hear, or think of the word, “creation,” I’m sure a lot of things come to mind. When we hear the word, “creation,” in a religious setting it’s natural for us to immediately think of how creation came to be. But perhaps there’s another lens we can use – a lens that focuses on why instead of how.

Because creation is more than a one-time event. As we talked about last week we find God still creating at the end of time and this morning we find God creating at the very beginning. We find God’s fingerprints to be all over the creation that surrounds us. But I think we find more than just the ghostly reminders of God’s presence in the creation around us – we find the very presence of God.

Let’s just take a moment to wrap our heads around that idea. That God is in every inch of creation. That God is in fact the very fabric of creation. That every single thing around us is interconnected not only with us, but with the very being of God.

I find this to be an incredible reminder of our place in creation. I find this to be a comforting and reassuring thought in the midst of an often chaotic and violent world. In a time and place where we can look deeper into the universe, into creation, than ever before and realize just how small our home is in comparison to the rest of creation we realize that God isn’t located in one space or time lightyears away.

Because when we step back and view creation from that distance it looks the same. When we view God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit to simply be distant observers who occasionally join us on this earth then the world around us looks very bland – and very chaotic. It looks very “Cosmic Latte”. It looks fragile and helpless and insignificant.

One of my favorite pictures of the earth that showcases our small place within the scale of the universe was a picture taken by a spacecraft orbiting Saturn. The planet of Saturn takes up nearly the entire frame and is backlit by the Sun. But there’s more to the picture than that. In it, you can see 3 other planets from our Solar System – Venus, Mars, and Earth. But our home planet of Earth only takes up a few pixels of the image. It’s simply a speck of blue amidst a vast field of darkness.

Everything we’ve ever known in our lives appear in that tiny, blurry group of pixels. And looking at it it’s easy to get caught up in how “Cosmic Latte” it feels. Because when I hear “Cosmic Latte” I’m especially reminded of a nice coffee. And this time of year I’m reminded of all the new fall drinks that will hit the shelves soon. It’s a sign that the seasons are about to change. It’s a sign that the creation around us is constantly changing and transforming and never standing still.

But “Cosmic Latte” can also mean that bland, off white color. It can mean creation when viewed from so far away that it seems bland and all the same color and unchanging and pointless.

It’s easy to view our lives from that vantage point as insignificant in the grand scheme of things. But our God lives for the seemingly insignificant and forsaken.

The God of all creation is in the minute, the destitute, the forgotten, the worthless, the left for dead. The God of all creation is located within us – no matter what category or group or social structure we fall into.

Because in God’s eyes we are worth everything. In Jesus’ eyes we were worth dying for. In the Spirit’s eyes are worth breath of life that fills our bodies. If there’s anything that this text from Genesis tells us it’s that we are created by God. Saved by Jesus. Loved by the Spirit.

Theologically this text tells us everything we need to know – that we are made in God’s image. That we are part of the very fabric of creation. And that we are loved by a God who sent his own Son to this very Earth. Sent here for you. To join us on this journey of life – a life that takes us through the very heart of God – through the very fabric of creation.

September 4, 2016 – “Creation”

Today’s text is from Revelation 21:1-6, 22:1-5. It is our final weekend in the arc of the Narrative Lectionary’s yearly cycle.

As I was driving home on Friday I noticed more traffic than usual. As I drove southbound on the Interstate, the northbound lanes were hardly moving and seemingly backed up for miles. But then I remembered what weekend it is. Not only the first weekend in September, but Labor Day weekend and the unofficial last day of summer. It’s everyone’s last chance to get out of town for a long weekend and get up to a lake, or a cottage, or perhaps just find a place away from the noise and busyness of the city.

But it also made me think: Why do we always have this need to get away? I’ve heard the joke, and made the joke myself, that after taking a vacation you sometimes need to take another vacation from your vacation. I mean, how weird is that? That we purposefully take time off and usually away from where we live, but then when we come back we’ve gotta take a breather from the fact we were taking a breather.

It makes you wonder what’s so fantastically wrong about the life that we spend 99% of our waking hours in if we’re constantly on the lookout for a break or time away. But that was the case for the early Christian church.

We’re the book of Revelation today for a one-week stint before we jump all the way back to the beginning of the Bible next week with Genesis because both books talk about creation. We land in Revelation this weekend because it speaks of God actively creating. It speaks of God, who after all this time is still creating new from old, still taking what is already here and changing it.

Revelation says a lot of things. Taken literally, metaphorically, allegorically, poetically this book seems to be an odd ball in the Bible. But really it doesn’t say anything different than what we already know about God. Our reading for today speaks about a God who is always creating. It speaks of a God who began creating in Genesis and at the end of time is still creating. So what does that say about the here and now? Is God absent from creating? Is God taking an extended vacation this Labor Day weekend from creating?

While that Sabbath rest is good, working on Mondays is part of God’s M.O. as well. Creating new things even in the year 2016 is still part of who God is. But for the writers of the Old and New Testaments there almost seems to be this longing for the new world. Theirs is a longing for the time spoken of in our reading today – when the earth is made new, when chaos is no more, where suffering is gone, where darkness has vanished. This is the future hope that is spoken of and clung to.

Sometimes it’s all we have. Sometimes our lives descend to the place of mourning and suffering and pain and tears and there just isn’t a way out. And so at the bottom of that pit all we have is the promise given to us in Jesus Christ – the promise that we read about in Revelation today.

But our lives are a both/and. Because heaven isn’t some faraway place that’s hidden from view until some future date. If you want to know what heaven looks like I guess I’d point you to the reading today where we find out that heaven is a new Jerusalem located on a new earth. Strange, isn’t it? After all this time where we thought heaven was high above us, God still shows us one final reversal of thought.

After all this time that we thought the world around us was going to hell – century after century of people claiming the coming year would be the end – because the earth and its people were destructive and turned from God’s ways – it turns out that heaven is on earth. This chunk of rock spiraling around the sun and galaxy is actually okay, after all. Because for some reason God is creating a new earth and a new heaven. New, new, new.

Perhaps we could make the argument that the earth is being created anew because sin and humanity tarnished it. But what about heaven? Apparently it’s being created anew as well, just like the earth. Perhaps that’s because new creation is in God’s DNA. Perhaps that’s because God can’t help but take the very fabric of creation and transform and change it.

New creation is akin to a new identity. In Jesus Christ we are created anew and given new identities: Children of God. In Jesus Christ we are a new creation – in Jesus Christ, God stepped foot on this earth as one of us. And Jesus spoke surprising words to us like, “The Kingdom of heaven is here, now”.

Again, that’s strange, isn’t it? That this creative force is all around us, constantly making things new. That perhaps this far off day that we’ve been waiting for is actually already around us – currently in the making – currently in the process of being made new.

And this brings us back to our 3-day weekend. What does new creation look like in a world where suffering and death are so prevalent? What does being created anew look like when there is a 100% chance that our lives will end in death? What does being made new look like when it looks like the exact opposite is happening on a daily basis?

Where is this God of all creation? It seems like God’s taking a break sometimes. It seems like God forgot some of us – forgot to change and transform us so that we wouldn’t have to die years before we’d planned – forgot to make us new by curing us from our ailments and lifting us out of the pit.

Where is this God who is found in the very fabric of creation? Because sometimes creation seems evil, unfair, harsh, deadly, wrong. I can see the appeal of wanting this new heaven and new earth. I can see the appeal of wanting to get out of this life that ends with a 100% chance of death – sometimes after a long life and sometimes too soon. But often it’s the ‘too soon’ part that catches us off guard. Often it’s the diseases and natural disasters and people dying from lack of things like food and water that make us wonder why God has taken a vacation away from God’s people.

It may seem like that. It may feel like God has taken a trip out of town to get away for a bit. But new creation cannot happen without death. Change cannot happen without movement. Transformation cannot happen while being static. And the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of heaven cannot be far away because just like God it is everywhere. Just like creation it not only surrounds us but is physically a part of who we are.

One day, it could be tomorrow, next year, 50 years from now – one day we will each turn to the next chapter in our lives – it’s usually called death. But in Jesus Christ it is simply part of a longer journey. A journey that involves the constant change, motion, and transformation of creation. A journey that never ends, but instead is constantly being made new.

This is the creation that we are a part of. This is the creation that is woven together by God’s very being. It is a creation that is constantly being made new and it is a creation that will one day live under the light and love of God in a new heaven and a new earth. But until that time I invite you to look at the world around you and your own life as a miracle of creation that is already in the process of being made new.

I invite you to see the world around you – the broken, mundane, and so often beautiful world around us – and see God’s kingdom, God’s presence, God’s very being. Because we are not alone in this frightening journey called life because we are a part of creation and because of Jesus Christ we are part of God.