Sermon: David: The Unlikely Choice

We begin a new sermon series on the early life of King David (before he was king). There are many things to learn from the life of David. We begin with God’s unlikely choice of David as future king.

Article: Principles

I ran across this phrase and it resonated with me. “It is always easier to fight for ones principles than to live up to them.”

 This appears to be true from what I can see. What do you think? There is a war of words going on in our country and compromise is nothing short of a curse word. Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporter who brought the Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration to light believes our nation is in (what he terms) a “cold civil war.” It is a war of words and there are two distinct sides. Each side is trying to either tear down the other or win converts. It isn’t working.

Human beings (us) are more concerned about what others are doing than doing the harder work of defining our own principles and striving to live up to them. We are much better at trying to impose our will on others than the hard work of self-reflection and self-discipline.

The issue itself doesn’t really matter, it could be anything. It is the behavior not the issue(s) I am talking about and it is the behavior that I want to address.

It is a fool’s errand to think we can make someone do (or believe) something if they don’t agree. Yet what do we see? People getting louder and louder about something they are passionate about wrongly thinking that if they are more brash than the “other side” they will either give in or give up. In the end, it will only cause further alienation.

The Christian church in America (not just the Lutherans) is declining because many outside the Church views us  as being hypocritical in our moral pronouncements on certain issues and people even if we aren’t doing that. This hurts all of us but most of all it hurts the cause and mission of Jesus which is all about love. But it is not just that. The world sees the Church acting poorly as individuals and wonders why we don’t live up to our own moral judgments and/or why we are so full of hate and exclusive.

Even if we aren’t doing those things at Bethel, we are lumped in the churches that do. This is hard to overcome.

Did you ever notice that Jesus never made anybody do anything? He never forced his will on anyone. Sure, Jesus instructed the disciples and even sent them out to share the good news of God’s love but he never, ever forced them to do it. He didn’t make the rich young ruler sell everything he had and give it to the poor so that he could follow Jesus and inherit eternal life. Nope, Jesus let the decision rest in his lap and this man decided to walk away. Jesus understood free will better than we do.

Why is it that the Church (in general) and some Christians tend to act more like Darth Vader of Star Wars in trying to impose their version of Christian moralism on others rather than letting people choose for themselves whether or not they want to experience the life changing love of Jesus? There is a big difference between imposing a moralistic ethic on people and loving on them in Jesus’ Name…I’m just saying.

All I am trying to make clear is this, maybe we should worry more about ourselves as individuals and trying to live up to our own principles than trying to impose our moral framework on others.

Let’s just be kind and compassionate.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

 

 

Sermon: Jesus is the Key to Our Humanity

It is Holy Trinity Sunday but what does that have to do with ever increasing lack of humanity in our world. A lot actually. However, we must turn to the person of the Trinity that came to us to understand this. Yes, it is about Jesus.

Article: The Pentecost of Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal was quite the human being. Born in 1623, Pascal’s mother died when he was 3, and his father moved the family from Clermont-Ferrand, France, to Paris, where he homeschooled Blaise and his sister.

By age 10, Pascal was doing original experiments in mathematics and physical science. To help his father, who was a tax collector, he invented the first calculating device (some call it the first “computer”).

With this last invention, he had made a name for himself (at age 19!) and began his richly diverse scientific career. He tested the theories of Galileo and Torricelli (who discovered the principles of the barometer), culminating in his famous law of hydraulics.

He wrote important papers on the vacuum (not the cleaning your carpet kind), on the weight and density of air, and the arithmetic triangle. He developed the theory of probability, which is still used today. He invented the syringe, the hydraulic lift, and is credited with inventing the wristwatch and mapping out the first bus route in Paris. See I told you he was quite a person!

Yet he was also a committed Christian (Roman Catholic). He spent many hours studying the Christian faith in the same way he studied the things mentioned above.

It is one thing to be knowledgeable and quite another to know God.

One evening in 1654 he met God and this is what he wrote about the experience…

The year of grace 1654.

Monday, 23 November, . . .

 From about half-past ten in the evening until about half past midnight.

 FIRE.

 The God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob.

 Not of the philosophers and intellectuals.

 Certitude, certitude, feeling, joy, peace . . .joy, joy, joy, tears of joy. . .

 Renunciation, total and sweet.

 Complete submission to Jesus Christ. . .

He recorded the experience (called the “Mé-morial”) on a piece of parchment, which he carried with him the rest of his life, sewed inside his coat.

Can you imagine? A moment so profound that you write it down and carry that piece of paper with you for the rest of your life. This moment “rocked his world.”

It was not (in his words) a philosophical or intellectual encounter. It was way more than that! It was an intimate, emotional, up close confrontation!!!! Blaise Paschal encountered the God of Pentecost! He experienced the grace, tenderness and power of the Holy Spirit.

On Sunday we will again hear the story of the giving of the Holy Spirit to that small group of believers as found in Acts 2. My hope and prayer for all of you is that you feel the touch of that same Spirit promised to us. It is good to hear the story again but it is better to experience the Holy Spirit in our lives.

When you believed, you were marked in Christ with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:13b-14

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon: The Ascension of Jesus: Boring or Amazing?

At the end of the season of Easter we remember the ascension of Jesus. Compared to the resurection this might seem a little boring. However there is a message for all of us in this last encounter of Jesus.

Article: Thank You

 

I am extremely grateful for all the kindness shown to me and my family last Sunday. If you were not at Bethel on May 6th, let me fill you in. It was my birthday and we had a party at church. Not only that but we also celebrated the 20thanniversary of my ordination. The actual date of my ordination is the 24thof May but we combined these two events on Sunday and we had one big party at Bethel.

I also convinced my father (who is a retired pastor) and my son Carl to come out and join us for the weekend.

I figured this would be a low key affair. Church, lunch, birthday cake and then go home. I had told the staff (the party planners) that I didn’t want anything more than lunch. As it turns out the bishop wrote a really nice letter that was read during our worship services (with a fake llama delivering the letter at the 10:45 worship). The celebration continued at lunch where we served hamburgers and sausage to about 200 Bethel members and friends. That is a lot of people! Once again I am humbled by the turn out.

I figured the party was wrapping up when Tom, Patricia, Amanda, Dawn and Dave (Bethel’s program staff) came forward and said very, very nice things about me. I prefer them to talk behind my back because they embarrassed me with kindness.

Later on, Rachel and my father relayed all the nice things Bethel members said about me to them. I am floored by your thoughtfulness.

On our way home, Rachel opened the cards I received and read them to me (I was driving). Wow. I am not sure I am worthy of your love. Seriously.

I am so moved by your kindness and I wonder to myself if you really meant those things? (I know you do.) I think I am ok and I can hold my own in the pastor department but I am not sure if I am things you said to me and about me. I always feel like I could do more yet you assured me that what I am doing is enough. Thank you.

I do feel loved by you. I am deeply touched. I am not perfect but I do try hard to be a leader, caregiver and shepherd. Thank you for affirming my call to be a pastor these past 20 years. I will always cherish this day and that I shared it with you.

I am grateful for your love and I am thankful to be a pastor in the ELCA and more specifically… I am joyful that I am your pastor at Bethel.

With love,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: A Tour of God’s House: Generosity

We finish our tour of God’s house and we go to where generosity is expressed and received! Generosity in giving is often the last step in spiritual maturity.

Article: Sin and Confession

Sometimes we keep the sin in our lives well protected, guarded, covered over with lies. Sometimes we are not free enough to own our sin, so we cannot be healed of it. An unacknowledged wound cannot be healed.—MACRINA WIEDERKEHR, Seasons of Your Heart

 Sin always wounds the sinner.—CARYLL HOUSELANDER, The Reed of God

 Is sin a big deal? Is confession an archaic remnant of our faith? I’ll answer these two questions right now: Sin is a big deal and confession is important.

We often think of sin like a minor annoyance in the same way we occasionally get headache or twist an ankle. It is a small problem and it is no big deal. We have minimized sin. We all want to paint ourselves in the most positive light. Even I do that.

When we do that (and we do) we are minimizing our need for Christ. If sin is no big deal or a problem in my life, then I don’t need Jesus as much as others. Yikes! We all need Jesus and what he did for us.

Even modern theologians have tried to de-emphasize the atoning sacrifice of Christ while emphasizing that Christ is present with us in our darkest moments. These two theological ideas do not conflict with each other and both are true. Yet many theologians have made it an either/or proposition.

Christ came to us because we were far off from God. Jesus came to draw us close to Him.  How did He do this? Through his death and more specifically the shedding of his blood to cover (and forgive) our sins. It is our sin that causes a spiritual distance between us and God. Even if God is present in our darkest times, our sin gets in the way of experiencing the peace of God’s presence. Look what Saint Paul wrote: But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:13

 Confession for the Christian is the activity that brings us near to Christ again and again.

This is what Martin Luther says about confession while quoting an early church John Chrysostom.

“I do not say that you should expose yourself in public or should accuse yourself before others, but obey the prophet who says, ‘Show your way to the Lord.’ Therefore confess to the Lord God, the true judge, in your prayer, telling him of your sins not with your tongue but in your conscience.”- Augsburg Confession, Article XV

 It doesn’t need to be a show and it doesn’t have to be done publicly but it is the vehicle that will allow reconciliation. The same applies to our closest relationships. Asking for forgiveness allows healing between two parties.

However, when we can’t see our own brokenness, we minimize sin and we have a hard time establishing intimacy with others including God. A few weeks ago in church, I referenced this verse from Isaiah 64:6 to help us think through our fragile human condition.

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

 We like to think our good deeds are really good! See! I am a good person! And when do mess up, that is an isolated incident. It kind of reminds of me of McDonald’s when they released the Mc DLT sandwich. They featured the packaging that “keeps the hot side hot and cool side cool.” It is called compartmentalizing. It may work for a sandwich but it doesn’t in our lives. The verse above reminds us that even our “righteous acts” are sinful in God’s eyes.

That may seem harsh but it points our need for Christ. I completely understand what God is saying to Isaiah. Imagine if we lived in a mud pit and that was all we knew. Guess what? It would not be a big deal that everything we have (including ourselves) was always covered in mud. That’s just how life is. We cook in mud, we clean in mud, we shower in mud. If we lived like that, we wouldn’t even notice the mud but it is everywhere.

That is the way sin is. It is pervasive and infiltrates every part of our lives including our good deeds.

Once we come to realize how sin covers everything in our lives, we are more apt to confess our sins to God. Remember: confession is a return to our baptism where we are washed clean by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

 

Sermon: A Tour of God’s House: The Linen Closet

We continue the tour of God’s House. We go back to the lobby– the narthex as a place of movement and where we marshall our forces! Time to elevate!

Article: Earth Day/Week

April 22ndwas Earth Day. I didn’t have the chance to talk about it on Sunday because we are right in the middle of a sermon series on our core values. (These sermons are available on this website.) Although Earth Day is not on the church calendar, it is an important day because it reminds us that we are stewards. We have been entrusted by God to manage (stewardship) all that He has given us, including the world we live in.

Of course we get conflicting messages found in the two stories of creation within the book of Genesis. (FYI: Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are two different stories of creation. Genesis 2:4 begins the second story of creation.)

In Genesis 1:28 God commands the first humans to “rule over” creation and “subdue”it. Many Christians have pointed to this passage to treat the world we live in without care. As French President Macron pointed out this week while speaking to United States congress, “There is no planet B.” This is the only world we have.

Yet when we look at the second story of creation we find a different command from God. Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” The word “work” in Hebrew is “abad.” It means to serve or work for another (steward). That is in addition to God’s command to “take care of” the garden of Eden.

Which one do you believe? Which directive is to be followed? Do they cancel each other out? Throughout scripture, God encourages us to be good stewards (managers) of all the things placed in our care including the world around us. In Deuteronomy 22:6, there is a reference to managing natural resources so that they do not run out. In this case, it is about birds.

In the next chapter, God tells the people of Israel that when they go to war against another nation, they should not chop down the trees of that region because they might produce fruit.

In Exodus 23 there is a command to farmers to let the land rest on the seventh year.

In the book of Proverbs King Solomon writes this, “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.” Proverbs 12:10It is righteous (a Godly thing) to care for the needs of animals in your care.

When you look at the body of evidence within scripture, it clear that caring for creation is important to God. After creation was complete, “God saw allthat he had made, and it was very good.” Genesis 1:31

 Most of us are well aware of the potential dangers of climate change and how most of it is caused by humans. Scientist who study such things are in overwhelming agreement over the human impact of climate change. Although this is important work and imperative for humanity to digest and act upon; it shouldn’t make any difference to a Christian. Here is why: we should always be good stewards of God’s creation all the time, period. We should not suddenly start caring just because there is a possible growing problem if not a looming tipping point. As Christians, we should always care for God’s creation regardless of the situation.

God bless,
Pr. Ben