Following Jesus is the part of Christianity I find most compelling. Weekly worship, Bible study, even believing certain things, these for me are not as compelling as Jesus’ call to follow. I imagine where Jesus’ disciples, his original followers, went when they followed Jesus. I imagine the people they met and with whom they spent their time. I imagine their lifestyle. I imagine their surprise and hesitancy to follow at times because of the outrageous things Jesus did. And imaging all this makes me laugh because it in no way resembles the lives of most Christians here and now.
My dad’s also a Lutheran pastor.Three weeks ago, he retired after 39 years of ordained ministry from Spirit of Hope Lutheran Church in east Mesa. Of all the Christmas Eve sermons I have heard him preach, the one that sticks with me is the sermon where he told the story of a young woman giving birth in her car, a hatchback, behind a particular Circle K in east Mesa, cold, alone, scared.
John was clear about who he was and who he was not. John knew where his authority began and ended. He was meant to prepare the way of the Lord, to point to Jesus. If John had lived in the 21st century, he might have picked up one of those large foam fingers sold at professional football games and pointed that foam finger in the direction of Jesus, turning everyone’s attention to the star player.
O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down!
An apt prayer from the prophet Isaiah for this first Sunday of Advent. For Advent is a season of emptiness. Emptiness because the One for whom we wait—Jesus—is not yet here. Emptiness because the presence of God may not be readily apparent in our world. Emptiness in our Advent practice of meditation, silence instead of incessant Christmas music. For me, the emptiness of Advent is a relief
Each November, Christians who follow the Revised Common Lectionary, that is, the series of biblical readings shared in worship each Sunday, find themselves in a bit of a mini-season.
November is a mini-season of the end times, the season when we consider Jesus’ return, eschatology in the vocabulary of theologians. Usually on the last Sunday in November or sometimes the second to last, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, the very last day of the church year, when we look forward to the kingdom of God come in its fullness. Today, we begin our mini-season with the tale of five wise and five foolish bridesmaids with their lamps who wait for the bridegroom that they might accompany him to the wedding banquet.
Far from a book of doom and gloom, fire and brimstone, fear and terror, the book of Revelation offers hope.
Because Revelation is apocalyptic literature, it employs fantastic images and bizarre metaphors similar to the science fiction of today. Biblical scholars now recognize that, as apocalyptic literature, Revelation is not meant to be read literally but to be understood through its metaphors to say something profound about its historical context: that of the Christian community during the Roman Empire.
On October 31, 1517, Roman Catholic monk Martin Luther challenged the Roman Catholic Church in their practice of selling indulgences to the peasants of Germany. These indulgences were meant to confirm the release of their dead relatives and sometimes their living loved ones from purgatory, a space between this world and the afterlife, at least in the Roman Catholic tradition. We may be well familiar with Luther’s theological concerns: the very existence of purgatory, the ability of a piece of paper to release someone from it, the idea that anything we do can ensure our salvation.
Imagine this scene. Jesus. The Pharisees and Herodians. This is not a quiet, sit-down meeting in Jesus’ office. This is not a polite exchange after church in the fellowship hall over coffee.This is Jesus versus the Pharisees and Herodians, one wise but illiterate peasant against likely a couple dozen learned, powerful men, come to entrap him. Think less Downton Abbey and more Game of Thrones. (Well, at least, I hear. I don’t own a TV.)
I wanted to preach a sermon about doing the mission of God, not just talking about doing the mission of God. I thought a sermon about how we can change our minds in the process of determining what God is calling us to do would be interesting. I would have loved to talk about how Jesus deems tax collectors and prostitutes more worthy of the kingdom of God than the chief priests and elders and what that might mean in our context. I would have settled for a sermon about how everyone in the parable enters into the kingdom of God whether or not they actually do the will of God.
Unfortunately, none of these lovely sermon ideas actually reflect the point of Jesus’ parable and encounter with the chief priests and elders.
Compassion. Jesus had compassion for the crowds, verse 36 reads. Out of Matthew’s account of Jesus summoning the disciples and giving them authority to heal and cleanse and sending them to cure the sick and raise the dead, the word compassion jumps out at me. When we practice compassion, we see the world from the perspective of someone else. We at least momentarily step into the head and heart space of another person. If the person is sick, we imagine ourselves in the hospital, poked by nurses and doctors who are working to heal us, releasing control over who comes in and out of our room, enduring a roommate with noisy relatives or constant TV-watching, feeling lousy all the long, long days that we are there.
In 381 of the common era, approximately 300 years after Jesus lived, died, was raised, and ascended, church leaders gathered for the Council of Constantinople. The council was called by Theodosius I, the Holy Roman Emperor, in the city of Constantinople, a city now called Istanbul in the present-day nation of Turkey. This was the second time the Roman emperor had convened church leaders to debate the core beliefs of Christianity. The first time had been in 325 in Nicea where they wrote the first version of the Nicene Creed. In 381 at the Council of Constantinople, the leaders of the church formulated the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the doctrine which states that Christians believe in one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each equally and fully God. The output of the council was the Nicene Creed in basically its present form. From the first council in 325 to the second council in 381, the major item up for debate was whether the Holy Spirit was equally God in relation to both God the Creator and Jesus.
Hey, church, happy birthday! Today is Pentecost, the birthday of the church. Not the birth of a building, not the birth of a denomination like Lutheranism or Presbyterianism, not the birth of a hierarchy or structure. Today is the birthday of the church, the people of God gathered together in community.
The first time I ever felt alone, I was eight years old. For the whole of my remembered life, my family had lived in Greenbush, Minnesota, and a month before the dreaded alone date, my parents sat me down—along with my sister—and told us that we would be moving to a town called Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, three hours away. While my sister graciously accepted this news, I told my parents through tears that it was fine that they were moving but that I would be staying in Greenbush. Moving day came, December 26, and lots of people from church came to help pack up the moving van. After avoiding the moving van and pretending that I wouldn’t be moving, I finally succumbed to reality and got in the van.