Sunday, May 5, 2019

Peter's Sermon

Readings begin at 14:00
Matthew 28
The Holy Gospel according to…
Narrator: In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, 
Angel: “Cornelius.” 
Narrator: He stared at him in terror and said, 
Cornelius: “What is it, Lord?” 
Narrator: He answered, 
Angel: “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” 
Narrator: When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa. About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, 
Angel: “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 
Narrator: But Peter said, 
Peter: “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 
Narrator: The voice said to him again, a second time, 
Angel: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 
Jesus: This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven. Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. Then Peter began to speak to them: 
Peter: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” 
Narrator: While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 
Peter: “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 
Narrator: So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days. 
 The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you…

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
“He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”  
I am honored, I am blessed, I am astounded to be here today, proclaiming to you the great news of Jesus Christ.  I am Peter, the rock of the church, whom God has sent to bring you into it. The church doesn’t know it yet, but it has been waiting for you!  You people, Cornelius’ people, who are gentiles, who have never been Jews, but now, I can see, are invited into the salvation history that God has offered to Israel, God now offers to you, through Jesus Christ. 
Jesus was a man, anointed by God, given great power over evil.  He came as our savior to die, that the evil of the world, the evil that displays itself in disease and addiction, the evil that pretends to rule our lives, that feels as if it wins in the world by forces that defy God and create the illusion, the façade, of life abundant (that is truly life in opulence).  It is evil that corrupts the powers of this world that they might rebel against God, by drawing you, ever more slowly away from the God who loves you. This evil is that which God came in Jesus to destroy.  This is the evil that Jesus upended when he subverted death. 
[go to font]
This is the evil that is underneath this water.  This is the drowning that takes our breath away here in this font.  
I come here to ask you to profess your faith in Christ Jesus, reject sin, and confess the faith of the church.
Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?
I renounce them.
Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?
I renounce them.
Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?
I renounce them.
Who can withhold the waters of baptism!  
So often we want to judge for ourselves who is deserved.  So often we forget that the only judge we have is Christ, he who has defeated the one great separation, the great illusion of separation, he who has defeated death!  
There are many people in our world who are in need of a good drowning. There are those we think we are better than, there are those we would prefer to disappear into the abyss of death, there are those we would cast out into the outer darkness… and yet, it seems, God does not!  God does not cast them away, God pulls them under. Under the water to cleanse away the evil, the sin, and to bring them out into new life! To make All Things New! Even you!
I had a vision just now – before you got here. A sheet came down with unclean animals on it.  Animals I should never touch as an observant Jew. And God spoke to me, God’s messenger told me, clearly, that which is unclean has been made clean.  That which I have been taught not to touch has been redeemed. That which has prevented me from sharing table fellowship with you has been wiped clean.  We are the same, you and me! God has made it so in these very waters of baptism. These very waters that birthed us into a new life. A new life that together we live – for God has made all things new!  Giving us growth in community.
Will you live it with me?  Will you together, as God calls you, to proclaim the good gift that God has given you in Jesus Christ?  Will you care for others and the world God made? Will you work for justice and peace? Yes? Yes! How will you?  
Will you proclaim God’s salvation by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and sheltering people who need a community of faith?  Will you find a way to give out clothing again? What if it is via a mobile store? A truck that we open up in our neighborhoods and invite folks to shop? Even for free?  Will you build relationships with one another here so that Bethlehem itself, the community, not just the building, becomes a place of safety for all God’s children? No matter their race, gender, or sexual orientation… 
Will you find ways to care for others and God’s world at the garden in our yard or in our faith formation, both of which came together today during our Children’s Word time?  Will you participate in nurturing faith in others by going to a Bible study or a pub theology, by learning more about what God’s Word promises and expects of us? Will you give of your time to help make faith formation happen for our small people? 
How will you see justice?  Will you participate in your democracy?  Call your sentators and representatives about issues that concern you, where you see that justice is not being done?  Will you consider how your vote will impact the election of officials in your town, state and country?  
For all this, these are not just tasks to add to your list.  These are our particular ways at Bethlehem to live out God’s kingdom!  And if you see other ways to do that, share with the leadership what God is speaking to you in your dreams.   For we are God’s people, named and claimed as GOD’s. We are in this family of faith so that we might be surrounded and loved and SENT to share the good news… God makes All Things New! 
Christ is Risen!  Alleluia!
He is risen, Alleluia!


Sunday, December 16, 2018

A Visit with Joseph

Watch here
*Readings begin at 12:15

Isaiah 42:1-9
Matthew 1:18-24

Grace to you and Peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Today we transition from Old Testament to the New, from the Hebrew portion of our Bible to the Story of Jesus.  As we have heard the witness of these past many weeks of faithful people, Esther, Isaiah, Habakkuk, Jeremiah, and Micah, we have heard how they are not the only ones called to be God’s People with a Purpose – we too are called to be a Light to the Nations and Food for the Hungry. Today the great timeline of faith gets pinched together.  Two Kairos moments are picked up from the storyline of the Bible and are laid one on top of the other The first is the time of the Jewish people in exile, who are promised hope by Isaiah. They are described as the Suffering Servant who is a Light to the Nations in the midst of their own great darkness, God promises that they are made for a purpose, and their suffering will not be wasted.  That moment in time gets pinched together on the great timeline of faith with the coming Messiah who is already gestating in Mary’s womb. For this new human will fill full of meaning the promise that Isaiah speaks.
Just as it is Israel’s example as God’s servant in the world that will illuminate for the world who God is and how God continues to bring justice, righteousness, freedom, tenderness, compassion.  Who will not snuff out a smoldering wick or break a bruised reed. Who will be an example of what all the world hopes for: justice for all and freedom for the oppressed. Just as it is Israel’s example… all of God’s promised deliverance is embodied in the person of Jesus.  
Several hundred years are between the “pinch” in the timeline.  And now God comes to Joseph.  
Joseph: Hey!  Hey everybody.  Anyone need any carpentry work done?  I am expecting a child, you see, so any jobs I can get done now for you will help me support my little one. 
Pastor:  Hi! I’m Pastor Kirsten.  And this is Bethlehem. 
Joseph:  Bethlehem?  Wait… what? I’m in Bethlehem.  Must have walked a lot further than I thought!  Well, I’m surprised we’ve never met before. This is my hometown.  I’m Joseph, the carpenter.    
Pastor: We have just heard about you!  It’s so great to meet you in person! I’ve heard you are a great man, a great man. 
Joseph: Oh, you are too kind.  I am just an average Joe. Call me Joe, will you?  People have the worst habit of gossiping. Usually it goes in a bad direction.  With me, some people would like to make me into some kind of saint. So Please, Call me Joe. 
Pastor: Ok, Joe… Actually, we were really hoping you cold straighten out some of the rumors for us.  These folk have a communication covenant and they are really good about trying to go straight to the source for information.  They know it’s never helpful to participate in rumors.  
Joseph:  Well, what can I help you with?  Please don’t tell me what you’ve heard, I’d rather just tell you my story.  
Pastor:  Well that would be great!  We just want to know about the story when God’s messenger came to visit you.  Sounds like it was quite a shocker!
Joe:  Fright. Of. My. Life.  I tell you. But that wasn’t the worst of it.
Pastor: No?
Joe: The visit from the angel was exhilarating.  Thought I was going to die, but once I realized that hadn’t happened, it was the sweetest relief I had felt.  It was agony before that.
Pastor:  Agony? Wow, that’s a strong word, Joe.
Joe:  Yeah…. To hear that Mary was pregnant, and I knew I wasn’t the father.  That was a scary time. I felt so angry and disheartened. It was so out of character for her!  Never would have imagined it. Yet, there I was, after living such a careful life of obedience and finally reaching the point of stability where I could marry.  Then that shocker. I never wanted to take it out on Mary, but I was pretty angry at the whole situation. Who would do this to her? To me? Steal my bride? Take away my joy?  And that was nothing to what it did to her. Not to mention this awful man’s son. Who was going to care for him – they would just be out on the streets. But there was nothing I could do at that point, at least, that’s what I thought.  In my culture, it isn’t respectable for a man to marry a woman who is already pregnant. I would be shunned. Would have trouble getting work, my friends and neighbors would think I had no self-respect.  
Pastor:  Wow. That’s intense, Joe.  I can see why you describe it as agony.  Losing your respect in the community, your livelihood and the marriage you were hoping for.  That’s a big hit, man. 
Joe:  It was the lowest point in my life.  I had many a sleepless night trying to figure out a way to take care of my reputation and keep Mary off the streets.  But there just didn’t seem to be a solution.  
Pastor: But then the angel came?
Joe: Then the angel came.  
Pastor: What was the message?  We’re dying to know.
Joe:  The angel spoke God’s very words to me.  This I know to be true. There is just no other way for all of what’s happened to have happened since.
Pastor:  What words did God have to say to you?  
Joe:  Words of absolute compassion and love. …It was incredible.  You see, I was sleeping, and the angel came to me in a dream.  It was vivid, so real. Like more real than even everyday life.  Do you know what I mean when I say that? [to congregation]  
The messenger called me Son of David.  Named my part in the body – the people descended from David, all of us we now call Jews.  “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.”    
Do not be afraid.  Those were powerful words.  The One who had sent this messenger knew who I was, knew how I would react.  And knew I needed assurance. Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife… 
“for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." 
The baby’s name is Jesus – the rescuer.  Like our forefather Joshua. The one who rescued us in ancient days of Judges, before King David.  Who delivered to us our promised land, where we can be God’s holy people, set apart to share God’s ways with the world.  
Pastor:  And didn’t you say that the angel said the baby is conceived from the Holy Spirit?  What did you think of that?!
Joe:  Oh, you’re going to think I’m raving mad.  It sounds like lunacy, but its’ just simply true.  God intervenes sometimes. If we are lucky enough, it will be with us.  It rarely seems to be, I certainly never thought it would be me. But it’s true.  Sometimes God meddles with the human history. Not often, most often we live with the consequences of living in this sinful world, and I was sure that was what this pregnancy was… until that angel showed up.  And you know, however it all came about. The message from God was clear. This is God’s son. God’s Son. Jesus. And I am just lucky enough to get picked to be his earthly dad.
But you should know, the angel didn’t leave it just at that.
Pastor:  Really?  
Joe:  This was the clincher.  The messenger said that Mary’s son would be promised like the son Isaiah, the great prophet, refers to in Isaiah 7:14.  A baby named Emmanuel will be born, Isaiah says in the prophecy to King Ahaz. Emannuel, which means God-with-us, this baby is a sign that foreign kings will be overthrown – in Isaiah’s day that was Assyria who had us all in bondage.  Today… could it be? Could it mean that this baby would be born as…. As… as the…. 
Pastor: As the what?
Joe: [loud whisper, looking around] The Messiah!
Pastor:  A Messiah.  Huh. So you think this surprise pregnancy could result in the Messiah being born? 
Joe:  Shhhhhhhhhh…..! [looking around as if someone will hear them]  Keep quiet! The last thing we need are the Romans hearing us talking about the – you-know-what – and [pantomimes being hung on a cross].  
Pastor:  Yikes. That seems serious.  What are you doing?
Joe:  The Romans love to hang people on crosses who challenge their authority.  So if this kid is going to grow up to be our Messiah, our Savior, I got to get him to adulthood first.  Probably time for me to get back to looking for work anyway. 
Pastor:  Well, it sounds like you have a big responsibility to get to.
Joe: No question.  And hey, if you know anyone looking for a master carpenter, send them my way!
Pastor:  Will do. So nice to meet you, Joseph, I mean, Joe.  Thanks for coming by.  
Joe:  Just looking for work.  Have to head back to Nazareth now, time to take care of the donkey and get back to work.  Got to save up as much as I can for this special baby!
Pastor:  God bless you, Joe.
Joe: God bless you, Pastor Kirsten.  God bless you, Bethlehem. Enjoy my hometown!

Well that was cool.  So glad Joseph could help us see what it might mean to have a baby born that is the Rescuer, the Savior, the Emmanuel.  
God sure has blessed me today with this conversation – and all of us… seeing as we know the end of this story.  We know that Israel, the suffering servant is the model for how God works, the archetype. God shows up in human bodies.  In Jesus we have God…fully present, in a single person. God keeps doing this again and again. God incarnates in human bodies – the whole body of Israel, in Jesus, and in the whole Body of Christ!  In me and in my neighbor! God continues to Immanuel among us, through different people in various circumstances. God works through human bodies not just because it is beautiful, but because it is how he becomes accessible to us!  When he walked the same earth we walk, and when he offered his very body as food for the hungry. For we are fed here at this table by a God who wants us to remember that we are, like Joseph, a part of the community of believers that display God’s self to the world.  
So on this third Sunday of Advent we wait.  We wait for that baby born to Mary and Joseph.  That God-in-Flesh surprise arrival that catches everyone off guard and redefines everything about what it means for God to be among us.  Come, O Come, Emmanuel.  


Sunday, December 2, 2018

Advent Apocalyse

Jeremiah 1:4-10; 7:1-11

Grace to you and Peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
[singing:] Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

This week I sang that song to Renate Lowy, a member of this congregation who is struggling with dementia.  She lives in a nursing home and only speaks to me in German.  I do not speak German.  But I can sing it.  And so I did.  I sang Silent Night to her, and she closed her eyes, and quietly, peacefully listened to the music in her childhood language.

Renate is not going to get better.  She is God’s child, she is beloved.  And she is trapped inside her own mind.  It is a situation many of us dread. Some might call Renate’s situation hopeless.  Some might be tempted to abandon her to the care of paid professionals.  She doesn’t know who I am, she may not even recognize her children any more.  She lives in the darkness of disease.

Darkness is all around.  This is the time in our year, the rhythm of our lives as a church that we have descended into darkness.  The days are shorter, the light eludes us.  Our awareness of darkness all around is heightened, we see what is happening in Jerusalem and on our border and for the people in Yemen and war about to break out around the globe.

In the midst of this darkness, we find ourselves in the book of Habakkuk today.  A book I am guessing most of you have never heard of.  We are in the midst of our so-called “minor” prophets… prophets who are called by God to speak into the darkness.  Prophets name the darkness, giving voice to the deep chasm between us and God.  Putting words to the distance in our relationship to God.  To our longing for spiritual vitality, to the longing we may not even recognize yet as longing.  Prophets speak into darkness…into that deep darkness, where all might seem lost, Habakkuk points to the hope… he delivers the message that God will bring justice and a whole different kind of world than what we are living in now. God will bring us what we long for.

In Habakkuk’s world we find ourselves in a cinematic scene of destruction and despair.  This is the Exile.  The lives of the people in Habakkuk’s world have been turned upside down and torn apart.  We stand with him at the end of an Armageddon movie, next to the man with his arms raised to the sky asking God, “Why?” We find ourselves in the flashing darkness of explosions and separation.  Children torn from their parents arms.  Tear gas spraying.  Hospitals incapacitated.  Starvation on the brink. Wars brewing.

In the midst of this, scene, there stands a man.  Lamenting.  Despairing.  And Defiant.  Demanding of God for help, for answers, for intervention, for hope. 

This is how we enter Advent.

We stand with that man.  The man of lament, despair, defiance.

You and Me.  We are standing in the midst of that apocalypse, that end of everything, and we raise our hands to God above.

In the midst of this scene, I stand behind this table of bread and wine and offer it to you.
In the midst of this scene, you ask “Where is God?”

In the midst of this, we stand together.  Stand defiantly in hope, in anticipation, with all expectation that the God we know shows up.  That the God we know never abandons those who are in darkness.  The God we know is present where we are overwhelmed.  The God we know comes to feed the hungry with his very own body!

This Advent we stand in witness in this church as a light in the darkness.  We stand in the dark and cold with scene those who need coats and visit Holy Trinity for the coat closet.  We stand in the dark and cold with those who need clothes and seek a new place for Bethlehem’s closet.  We stand in the darkest days of hunger and no heat and no rent and not enough food in the fridge and anyone who shows up at St. Vincent de Paul and we say in defiance… there IS ENOUGH.  We stand with the guests at St. Luke’s who have no homes and say in defiance…there IS ENOUGH.  We stand with the patients at Augusta Victoria hospital in East Jerusalem and say in defiance…there IS ENOUGH. We stand with the children in Yemen and on the border and around the world and say in defiance… there IS ENOUGH.

For the darkness is full of lies.  Lies about resources.  Lies about who we are.  Lies about the threat of the stranger.

But we know the truth.  We know there IS ENOUGH.  We know that God shows up in the darkness.  We know that God gives richly.  We know that God gives everything to us, even his very body to feed us! For the darkness has an insatiable hunger, it devours “widows, orphans and strangers” and it is coming for us.  But we stand in defiance and say… there IS ENOUGH.  There is enough to clothe the naked.  There is enough to shelter the homeless.  There is enough to feed the hungry.  There IS ENOUGH for us all.

We join Habakkuk first in lament, and then in defiance of the darkness.  For this is the call on our lives that Habakkuk reveals.  To live a life of faith.  This is living an Advent faith, our time of longing.  Longing for what God will do, living the life God has promised, defiantly claiming the hope that God gives us in the midst of darkness. 

Renate’s daughter, Barbara, visits Renate every day, twice a day, in fact, to feed her.  Renate eats best for Barbara, standing by her chair, lovingly suggesting this food and that. Barbara knows this will not take away the pain of Renate’s entrapment.  It will not take away the pain for Renate or for Barbara.  But Barbara, by the grace of God, is being a witness to Renate’s pain, and is being with her in it in the best way she knows how.  This is the life of faith.  By lovingly feeding her.  Barbara gives her the bread of life.  Food for the hungry. Barbara stands with her.  I sang with her – representing you.  We stand and sing together, simply as a witness to the love of God, in defiance of the disease.  In defiance of the darkness we stand where we know God is already, in faith and hope for Renate’s future wholeness with God.  We won’t get to see it in this life, and yet we witness to the defiant hope of it, together.

It is in this reality.  In seeing the pain and struggle of the world, the unfairness and injustice of it all and still holding tightly to the truth that God has promised us more than this.  God is in this pain and is working to transform it. And God uses us, God’s most amazing and flawed creation, in God’s work of transformation.  Starting with us standing, in defiance of the darkness, feeding in defiance of the hunger, and in so doing…proclaiming the truth of God’s presence, movement and power.

So let us stand and sing today.  For this is our defiant witness.  Whether we sing quietly in the halls of a nursing home or shout our song in the halls of justice.  This is the faith we live by. That, though we live in a mess of a world, this pain and destruction of our own making…it is God who will transform it.


Will you sing with me?  We can sing in English this time.  Hymn 723 in your Red Hymnal, Canticle of the Turning:
My heart will sing of the day you bring, let the fires of your justice burn.  
Wipe away all tears for the dawn draws near and the world is about to turn. 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

David's Repentance

2 Samuel 11:1-5, 26-27; 12:1-9

Grace to you and Peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Let’s just ignore this story and talk about Stewardship. 
This might be the one week when I am tempted to preach about anything that is NOT scripture. 
I mean, the questions this texts poses are so painful that it would be easier to lay out all my own personal financial history and practices and foibles and successes with money over the last 20 years than to deal with God has put in front of us today.
But I guess that’s not what you came here for.  Nor is it what I am called to do.
This is a stewardship text – it’s a case study of poor stewardship of David in how he uses his power and resources.
So… it is time for me to point out to you the good news and the bad news of this text.  The liberating gospel and the convicting law. 
Let’s start with Bathsheba:
What do you think she thought and felt when King David’s servant showed up at her door?
I have a message for you!  King David requests your presence at his home.  Now.
Did she feel excited? Honored? Curious? Worried?  Sick to her stomache? Did she know why she was being summoned there?  D
How do you think she felt when she was in King David’s presence? 
Do you think he tried to seduce her?  Was she ready to leap into his arms, having been alone a long time with her husband at war?
Did she wonder why the king was in town?  Wasn’t there a battle being fought?  Was she a bit offended that her king would be summoning women – her – while her husband fought on the battlefield?
Did she have any time to think?  Was she left alone in a room – maybe a bedroom – and wonder what on earth the king wanted with her?  Or did she know.  Did she know what was coming next?  Whether she wanted it to or not.
What was running through her mind when she realized she was pregnant?
Did she fear for her own life? 
Did she want to stop her pregnancy? 
Was she, being a lawful Hebrew (we know this because she was following the purity law), trying to find some honorable way out when she told the king?  Was she appealing to his mercy, knowing her pregnancy could lawfully result in her stoning? (Not the man’s, mind you, just hers).
How did she feel when she realized her husband had come home, but had slept outside rather than stay in their bed?
What did she think when the message came he had died? 
Did she know it was coming? 
Did she know there was no other way out for her?  Did she wish she had died in his place?
In what kind of situation did she find herself, once in David’s household? 
Was she isolated?  Did the other wives accept her?
Was she his favored wife?  Was she an embarrassment to him?
We won’t know.  The story doesn’t tell us. 
The story expects us to read it, over and over and over again, to glean what we can about who God is. 
And what do we learn about how little we know of Bathsheba’s thoughts, feelings and voice?
We know God is with her.
But that sure is small comfort when the child she bears dies.  Even if she was in the torturous position of having been raped and being forced to carry a child that was, through no fault of it’s own, a baby she would struggle to care for with the full love she would want to care for any child. Even this child.
We know God is with that baby too. Even though that baby dies at God’s very hand, as the story says.
Because this story is not about the baby or Bathsheba… obviously.
This story is about David. 
Why didn’t David go out to that battle? He was a great warrior with many successes under his belt. 
What possessed David when he saw a woman to believe he could just take her?  From another spouse at that!  Had his power gone to his head?  Did he believe he deserved everything he wanted at this point in his life?
How could David possibly forget God’s law when David was the one who was chosen by God to be God’s chosen king?  The one through whom God promised to fulfill God’s covenant.  Once again.
Why did David’s righteous anger take so long to come forth… how did he act so blindly?  So selfishly?  So brutally, at least to Uriah, without a shred of remorse, it appears… until Nathan told him a story?
And then Nathan.
This story isn’t really about him either.  But he plays the role of God’s mouthpiece. 
That sweet story, that sweet little lamb, the object of one man’s affection, taken, eaten, devoured really… by another man. 
And Nathan gets to do what I want to do in the story… what likely any woman reading this, and probably all the men too, want to say to David. 
You Are The Man.
You are the man who devoured the lamb.
You are the man who ignored God’s law.
You are the man who stole another man’s wife, using your power and privilege to damage her with unimaginable trauma and loss of her own body, her offspring, her spouse, her life.
You are the man who killed, so that you could have what you wanted. 
That is the law of this story—the driving conviction God makes of David and of anyone who uses their power and resources to abuse others.  And the law does just what the law is supposed to do—it brings about a change in David.
And David repents.
It’s almost anticlimactic.  There is no raging David at the end of this story defending his actions and his right to take what he wants.
David repents.
And the baby dies.
And God sticks with David.  I wouldn’t.    
But God uses even the scum of the earth if that is what God has to work with.
Just imagine what God has in store to do with you.
And me.  And all those with me who would have preferred to see God abandon David.  
But that is not our God. 
This is the good news – the gospel that liberates us… while we might choose to stay in a place of judgement and condemnation of David; God moves the instant David repents.
Our God demands repentance.  And our God accepts repentance. 
Our God loves us beyond and through absolutely anything we do to each other. 
And God demands we do better.
And God gives us the power to transform.
Because it wasn’t by his own power David repented.  It was only by the power of the Holy Spirit… leading him, guiding him, insisting that he grow beyond this terrible, unredeemable action.  Because while the action is absolutely unredeemable, the man is a different story.
This story. 
This sacred, holy story.  Of a man who repents, at God’s prompting.
And I wonder over what must have happened between him and Bathsheba after this … that his repentance includes a transformation in his relationship with Bathsheba.  That she is no longer his object, but a human with whom he relates, hopefully, even loves.  Those details are not exactly in the story either.
But that must be true.  For it is through these two people that Solomon is born.  And down the troubled line of this family that Jesus comes to us.
Jesus.  God in flesh who came to redeem the David’s and the Bathsheba’s of the world.
And you and me.
Jesus who left this world to hand it over to the Spirit.  The spirit that gifts us with so many redeemable qualities.  Aspects of ourselves that God would love to use, and does, often in spite of us, but maybe we will want to participate.  Hey, maybe you even want to come to the spiritual gifts inventory today and learn more about what God might be working in you right now.
The God who made you gifted, shows you how to love and redeems you from everything, is here, with us, breathing his Spirit right here in our midst. May you feel God’s outpouring love today.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

People with a Purpose

Joshua 24:1-15

Grace to you and Peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

All the people are gathered there at Shechem, the holy mountain, the leaders, the elders, and all the people.  They are gathered there to present themselves to God.  Make and offering.  Worship, Thank God for bringing them to this point in their story.  Gathered much like we are gathered here today.  Gathered as People with a Purpose by God, for God, with God.  Understanding ourselves as part of God’s Sacred Story.  God’s holy People.

·        God started this church June 1, 1984 by gathering us together in the conference room at Crabapple’s restaurant…making us into the Body of Christ right here in Sturbridge!

·        On March 3, 1985, God led sixty-six persons to commit to the Membership Charter of Bethlehem Lutheran Church. The charter reads, in part:

We come together as a community that publicly and joyfully

confesses the reality of Jesus the Christ.

We willfully and gladly accept the responsibility that such public announcement carries and commit ourselves to the task of its fulfillment.

…We believe that Bethlehem Lutheran Church shall go forth

actively engaged in this mighty task empowered by the Holy Spirit

in this place and all places, at this time and at all times.

·        From the beginning, God provided gifts to birth this congregation.  God gave us a cross, hymnals and a recorded musical accompaniment through Zion Lutheran in Oxford.

·        God used the various expressions of the Lutheran church to pay for our worship resources, and to care for the needs of our mission developers and pastors and made it possible to apply for a charter as a congregation in June 1985.

·        God grew the small group quickly to 35 or more and God provided us with a place to worship at a diorama called “Bethlehem in Sturbridge” owned by George Duqette.  From here the name Bethlehem Lutheran Church was adopted.  God provided other locations too as we found our way, a small church in Brimfield, Kitty Cline’s "Barn."

·          In 1993 God gave us a house on Simpson St!  This became the parsonage and church offices.

·        God gave us incredible ecumenical relationships!  For the first 15 years, many congregations in the area hosted us for our annual meetings and other events.

·        In 1994 God inspired our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters to walk alongside us in covenant - the first ever covenant between a Catholic Church and a Lutheran Church in New England, signed by Father Donald Espinosa and Pastor Mary Barnes (Iverson).  God gave us a worshipping home in their historic building for 12 years while we planned our own ministry outpost – and God gave us ministry to do together, most significantly the Southbridge Interfaith Hospitality Network (SIHN) – where we began providing hospitality to our brothers and sisters in need of homes.

·        In 1994 God used Klaus Tittel to craft the cross behind me out of the old pews from Saint Anne's.  It testifies to us that we would not be here with the Cross of Christ – without God’s work to partner us with St. Anne’s and so many other congregations – without God’s inspiration of us towards sharing generously for God’s work here at 345 Main Street!

·        Through ups and downs and twists and turns of changing pastors, and financial challenges, God built this building.  Right here.

·        God used us to build this building – and our beloved family members: Bob Piehl, Kitty Cline, Wolf Fuchs, Bill MacDonald, Paul Merritt, Mike Shocik.

·        God pushed us to seek wisdom and understanding of our call here.  God challenged us to a life in service to him and a building in service to him.  With each challenge we have encountered, we became stronger in our faith.

·        In 2002 we dedicated this building and re-dedicated ourselves and all our work to God’s purposes.

·        God used this building to serve SIHN families.

·        God used our hands to cook food for SIHN and for our community.

·        God used our resources to bring about Grace House, a local shelter.  And God worked, even when Grace House struggled, to inspire in us a love for those who do not have homes.

·        In 2012 God called us into a new mission identity. God decided to use our fundraising efforts and turn them into ministry providing affordable clothes.

·        God used Saint John Paul II Parish and their flea market to make clothing ministry happen, through us!  God used the TJX Corporation to turn our clothing sale tables into Bethlehem’s Closet.

·        God used US to clothe the naked.

·        God inspired us to a new Mission: to Welcome all through the light of Christ by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and being a place of shelter.

·        In 2015-16 God used Karen Bodamer and a partnership with Holy Trinity Episcopal church to plant a community garden to grow our mission!

·        God has inspired this church.  God has given this congregation the desire, the longing, to work together in ministry for the good of all.  Just a few more of the people God used are Irene Lee, Barbara Jensen and Melany Gronski, to whom God gave the love for children and for forming their faith.  And they did it mightily!

o   Faith Formation at every age.

·        God gave this congregation Carol DeBeradinis, a faithful servant in leading music for 14 years, voluntarily.

·        God gave this congregation Ginger Piehl, a sacrificial servant in administration for 12+ years, voluntarily.

·        God gave this congregation many other wonderful musicians, faith formers, leaders, stewards and pastors.  If you will stay for several hours, I will be happy to name many of them and their specific gifts for you.

·        God gave this congregation and place, a calling, a passion, a love for Christ… God has given this congregation Everything we have!  Every. Single. Thing.

·        And God continues to give, and will give us a renewed mission this day.  A renewed covenant, just as God did with the people at Joshua’s hand.

Now, if we are faithful to Joshua, we have reviewed this history.  We understand that our gifts and resources are entirely a gift of God.  And not just that.  God give us all these things FOR A PURPOSE.

God gives us all these astounding blessings so that we might bless the world.  So that we might life as People with a Purpose, with transformed hearts and minds, conformed to God’s will and God’s ways.

And so, Joshua the prophet asks us the age-old question.  It resounds from the valleys and hills of our lives and our story.  It bounces off our blessings and multiplies with echos across all our experience.

Who will you serve?

Choose this day.

“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Choose, says Joshua.

And we have a major advantage over Joshua.  We already know that we have already been saved.  While Joshua posed an ultimatum, we look at this scripture with our Christ-lenses on and know… Oh… God is going to save them.  God already has saved them.  And God will save them again and again and again.

And you.  And me.  God has saved us.

And we are part of this story.

We are in this story.

We ARE these people with a purpose.

For we too have been blessed, just like them.

We too are God’s beloved who have been chosen to bless the world.

We too are bound up in this community of people – the community that attributes absolutely every good thing to God.  The community who lives differently from everyone around us.  We are a covenanting today to build a community that serves the Lord.

This is the covenant we live under: God will save us.  And we will serve God’s purposes.

There is no half-hearted, oh, that’s such a nice story – and I can be a nice person sometimes so sure, I’ll put my name on the list… No.

You have to give up those other gods.  There is no worshipping the almighty dollar or political power or at the altar of busy-ness if you commit to God.

This covenant is about showing up.  It is about doing the work. The work God has for us to do right here and right now.

The work of serving at Bethlehem’s Closet, or fully utilizing our community gardens.  The work of engaging with the community, intentionally building relationships  - for we must know one another to know what kind of powerful Work God is up to among us!  The work of showing up at newcomer dinners to welcome and to be welcomed.  The work of showing up to bless your animals, like Victor and Aly did last week, so that the community folks that show up will see there is a church here that cares for them and their lives!  The work of Loving our Neighbor!

So, will you join Joshua?

I will. 

For me, and my family, we will serve the Lord.

Not perfectly, but we will give ourselves over for God to use.  Just like the saints at Bethlehem have for 38 years.  Just like the saints of the church have for 2000 years.  Just like the Hebrew people have for millennia.

Come, discover your spiritual gifts today.  And pray this week about how God is right here, ready to use you, your gifts, and all your resources to bless the world.