What Are We To Do Now? (July 12 sermon)

What is this book? What is Scripture? What’s its use to us, what’s its place in our faith and in our life? 

Is it a set of origin myths? Not to be taken as real, but as beautiful stories and analogies to truth. They’re just telling us the history of humanity in the form of story; story is, of course, one of the most powerful tools of communication throughout time. 

Or maybe the point of Scripture is to name and detail the heroes of faith. Like the stories of Roman and Greek and Norse gods, their exploits, their accomplishments, their foibles, and how, through their leadership and formation, the world came to be as it is. 

Is Scripture, perhaps, a moral code, a compass for humanity, gathered up over thousands of years, comprising the “best practices” the greatest wisdom that humanity has been able to come up with over ages?

I do not believe that the Bible is any of these things, or, that it is limited to being any of these things. Scripture is full of misfits; there is not one hero among them. Nobody was born in the right lineage, no one was full of courage, not one was wise with wealth or power of prestige. None of the patriarchs or the characters we know had any kind of squeaky-clean character. Not one. Fight me. 

But that’s exactly the point. Scripture is not about human superheroes. The Bible is not a moral code to keep us hemmed in. The point of Scripture, from the first verse, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” to the last, “the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” This book is about Yahweh. About the Almighty God. About the power of the universe, and his revelation of himself, and his love for and relationship with humanity. 

So it is in this context, this spirit, that these Words come to us today. Drops of manna, of nourishing bread, from the mouth of the Lord God, creator, redeemer, sustainer himself. 

Brothers and sisters it is hot, so the message this morning is short and it is simple.

 I don’t know of one person on the face of the earth whose plans for 2020 have not taken a detour. things are not shaping up the way that we thought, and that’s a lesson not only this year but one that we have surely experienced throughout our lives and will do so again. No one plans on divorce. No one expects cancer. No one is prepared to lose their income or their home or their family network. In ways big and in ways small, we face jarring disappointments, frustrating deviations, and dizzying changes every single day. We see through the parable of the sower, at least, that this is nothing new, and perhaps less comfortingly, that change and variability is a constant in earthly life. 

Paired with this parable which promises upset and unpredictability, the lesson from the prophet Isaiah, declares one thing in which humanity and history and all creation can trust: that God’s will cannot be thwarted. Giving voice to God, Isaiah says definitively that God’s purposes, God’s plan, God’s words, will absolutely be accomplished. There is nothing that will come in his way, nothing that can divert him, nothing that might squash him, no way to stymie the Lord of Hosts. 

We see this message threaded through the Gospel passage, too. Despite the sower who casts willy-nilly, and the seeds which land in places unfit for growth, the harvest of God goes forward, and it is miraculously abundant. God gives the growth. It may not be the way we imagined, and it may look different than we thought God’s will would, but we have assurance throughout all of Scripture, and indeed, I would wager, testimonies of assurance sprinkled throughout your own lives. 

There’re a lot of things — most things, I suspect we’ve found — that’re out of our control. There’s very little that we can do to shift the course of history, and only a bit more we can do to shift the course of our own lives. 

Brothers and Sisters, this is a comfort. This truth is a freedom — we haven’t got much of any power anyway, so we might as well do what we can and leave the rest alone. 

One of my favorite psalms says, “I do not concern myself with things too great for me.” It is one I pray often, because it is something that I have a hard time following. 

I have seen over and over in the last months, and continue to have presented to me on a silver platter of uncertainty each day, that we do not know what the future will bring. 

The virus is moving more rampantly across our state, and soon it will be time for school to start again — but what will that look like? We have both students and teachers in our midst, we have working parents and we have those who live alone, who are desperate for contact, for companionship. We are, all of us, stretched to our limits. 

And while I have seen the response of some of my friends, saying, “How can you believe in a God who would let something like this happen?” I have seen all the more in my own life my need and desire for the companionship and the security of the unflumoxable God, the Almighty God, creator of all, revealed in Scripture, made man in Jesus Christ, indwelling in the Holy Spirit. 

As we’ve been reading Jeremiah this month, the hard truths keep landing — the consequences of sin and disobedience weigh heavy, with little relief. But again and again we see in Jeremiah the same thing that we see prophesied in Isaiah, and that is revealed in the parable of the sower: This God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, this God revealed in Jesus Christ, this God who is the bridegroom of the church, whose image is stamped on each human life, whose love alone conquers death, whose kingdom will prevail, is unstoppable. He will accomplish that which he has set out to do, and he will bring all nations to himself, and he will be with you and me, and every living thing till the end of the age. 

Amen. 

Millennials: We Are the Disease

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Maybe the whole generational divide thing is just an invention to create angst. Maybe the Boomer-versus-Millennial trope is false.

But one of the comments I’ve seen around those sorts of arguments in the last few years is that Millennials have a chance to be the next Greatest Generation. It sounds good, doesn’t it? I want to be known as part of a group who were awesome, like my great-grandparents! I bear my great-grandma’s name (Rose), and of everyone in my family, my mom can’t stop talking about my great-grandpa, Tony. They even lived long enough (both of them, to over 100) for me to get to know them pretty well. And they lived small, and lived faithful, and lived well. They lived a lot of sacrifice, and they lived a lot of love, and they lived a lot of tough times. 

So, here’s the thing, Millennials. We can’t just slide into being Great. We can’t just trip into the DMs of history. 

Continue reading

Don’t Have it Your Way

I have bad news: the Kingdom of God is not like Burger King.

Really, this is Good News, we might even say it’s the Good News, but just like the questioners in John’s Gospel this morning, I wonder if we often expect that the Kingdom of God, that the way of Jesus, that the call of the Cross, will be somewhat more familiar than it is, that the habits we’re called to take up would fit a bit more seamlessly into our lives as is, that the modes of thinking and talking and relating that God often inhabits himself would be a bit more accessible, comfortable, more common sensical to our current proclivities and desires.

“Tell us plainly,” they say, “are you the Christ?” Remember, these are not strangers off the street, they are not pagans who have never heard a word of Scripture in their lives, they are not even worshippers of some other religion, used to sacred words but not familiar with the proclamations of the God Yahweh. These are people who have heard the words of the God of the burning bush and of the great prophets since they could understand language, and probably even before that; the voice of God ought to be one of the most familiar to their ears, one of the most identifiable to their minds and hearts, and yet as they are faced with the very Son of God, the man who proclaims, “the Father and I are one,” they eye him suspiciously — even more than that, the verse after our Gospel lesson ends today, their response to his saying that he’s one with God, is to pick stones up to kill him. No joke. Continue reading

Better than New

ERH Sermon photo 04 21 2019

Easter Sermon; John 20:1-18

Charles, my two-year-old son, has just learned a new phrase: “Good as new!”

It comes from a cartoon he watches where the medic, a penguin, will declare the various sea creatures that he treats to be, “good as new!” as soon as the penguin affixes a bandage or ointment to the affected spot. Charles, in true toddler form, applies this maxim liberally: Goldfish crackers on the floor? Just sweep them up — good as new! (Then he’ll swipe one out of the dustpan and pop it in his mouth for good measure!) Crayon marks on the wall? Surely a wipe will make them: good as new! Tender herbs ripped out of pots, with dirt all around? Let’s just stuff them back in — good as new!

While my Midwestern heart deeply resonates with this sentiment, that just a bit of glue or elbow grease can erase any defect, a piece of me wonders how to teach my child — as I myself am still trying to learn and accept! — that the biggest, most important things in life aren’t ever “good as new” again in the same way, but that when something else rises in its place, it can be different and new in its own way, and deeper, though perhaps heavier, for it. Continue reading