July 2022, similar to in my pro life addendum, I am making an exception and placing the following link, which also appears in my links pages, here. It fits the topic so well, I wanted to make sure you had the opportunity to see it, without having to accidentally stumble across it elsewhere.
At a worship service on August 22, 2021, after the Gospel reading, and message, the congregation sang a song titled O Jesus I have Promised. I am not a particularly good singer. So often, when I am unfamiliar with a song, I will simply read the words as others sing. I was so impressed by this song that I decided to share the words here. I think they would make a really great prayer. Especially, for those who are seriously embracing the In His Steps question, what would Jesus have me do?
My wife is a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church here in Grand Ledge. It has a very long history in this community. Reverend Chuck Foerster serves as the current pastor. Since I accompany my wife to services, I get to hear a lot of his homilies. In this year of Covid-19, those have been mostly sitting in our parked car facing the church entrance, plus serendipitously the altar beyond the walls, along with 30 to 50 other vehicles, and their passengers. It feels more like an extension of the pews doing it in this manner, rather than abiding by the lines of the parking lot. They began this "drive-in" worship early in the pandemic, and as of this writing, at the start of November, it is still the way many members "come together" to safely worship. In the midst of dealing with all that has been going on this year, I have been amazed at how his words blend well with the what would Jesus have me do program concepts. They encourage me. I have decided to share some of them with you. I mostly left the text unaltered, keeping his capitalizing, and bold highlight, emphasis. Rather than inserting any Scripture readings that are being referenced, but are not already in the text, I am going to presume most of you who would be interested in reading this will be familiar with the passages. Additional items have been added my TIP addendum page.
Homily for Easter A, April 12th, 2020
Be still and know that I am God;
Our scripture tells us a fair bit about the week leading up to today. We hear of the Passover supper that Jesus celebrated with his disciples, praying in Gethsemane, the betrayal and arrest of our Lord. We come away with the institution of the Eucharist and we recall that day and events with our own Maundy Thursday worship, footwashing, meals and the like. Then there is Good Friday; that dark, sunless day, that we read of Jesus brutal treatment, his crucifixion, death and burial in the borrowed tomb. We recall it with our serious worship, our bare altars, songs in minor keys and our solemn reproaches . . . But what about yesterday? Holy Saturday? The day of waiting. Although scripture does not say much about Holy Saturday, we can imagine that it was a day that the disciples, including Mary, would have been taking Sabbath, waiting to see what was next, perhaps locked away in isolation, in a quarantine of fear, not knowing what was coming. Their expectations regarding their future have been ripped apart. Jesus, their master and teacher is dead and their world is turned upside down. The door to the tomb is closed and their sense of purpose for their lives is in a shambles. How could this happen? What will they do now?
In these last few weeks, we have found our lives turned upside down by a virus and the effects of trying to contain it. This global event was not what any of us expected and for some it has found us without direction and asking some deep questions. How could this happen? What will we do now? Isolation can be a very frightening place to be; routines have been interrupted, sense of self questioned. It has caused our world to be afraid, to experience tremendous loss, personal, financial and emotional; and to worry about the future, for us, for our children. We too, have been waiting, a perpetual Holy Saturday, quarantined, longing for life to return to normal.
We have been waiting; for all this to be over, to go back to work, or school or our daily visits. Some have been waiting for weddings, or graduation, baptisms, sporting events or perhaps to attend to loved ones who have died. We have been waiting, and like Mary and the other disciples, perhaps one of our greatest longings, one of the things we miss the most is having a sense of direction and purpose.
The Gospels of Mark and Luke tell us that Mary was headed to the tomb to fulfill her duty, her purpose, to finish the Jewish tradition of anointing Jesus body with spices after his death. Preparations had been done on Friday and Saturday was the Sabbath, so she waited in obedience to the commandment. First thing Sunday morning, Mary set out to complete what she understood was her divine responsibility, her purpose as a disciple. But did you notice something? Mary did not achieve that which she went to the tomb to accomplish.
Rather, in the events of that morning, Mary’s life was RE-Purposed! Not the one that she had believed she had come for, but rather the one that the NOW RISEN LORD CALLED HER TO! Mary! The Lord called her name and in that moment of recognition she was given a new purpose and a new identity. Everything had changed for her. No longer would she be someone who would attend to the dead, but rather someone who would PROCLAIM that Christ was alive. Jesus called her to GO AND TELL. To tell the disciples this incredible news; to deliver the Easter message of hope for all the world! I have SEEN THE LORD!! Instead of a spirit of sorrow and a somber purpose, her life had been re-purposed into a spirit of JOY with a message of life. NEW LIFE!
As we emerge from quarantine, as our waiting draws to an end, chances are, things will never be the same. The world has changed. And in many cases, our lives have been re-purposed. From worker to full time caregiver for the family, from retail sales to home school teachers, Sewing masks for health care workers and folks who are vulnerable, checking in on elderly neighbors and friends, reaching out with technology to share smiles and laughter. The purposes that we had before, have been transformed into something that we perhaps did not expect, but which now serve others in different ways.
We have waited. And our wait has not been in vain. I believe that this Day, that we celebrate the Risen Christ, that our LIVES have be re-purposed by something even bigger than COVID19. Christ has called our names and we have been given the responsibility to proclaim him RISEN. To proclaim the incredible news of great joy that because he lives, so too shall we have new life. Not just at the end of our earthly lives, but RIGHT NOW. In the middle of this crisis, we have been re-purposed to share this message of hope for all the world. Called to speak the truth that no virus, no war, no political division, no power on earth or in heaven, no death, can keep our Lord in the tomb. It is empty and he has Risen. NOTHING, will ever be the same.
Praise the ONE Who breaks the darkness! The one who is worthy to be called the Lamb of God, the ONE WHO HAS COME FOR THE SALVATION OF THE WORLD. The one whose blood was shed for us . . . . Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. He is RISEN!!
Homily for Easter 3a, April 26th, 2020
The road to Emmaus story is by far one of my favorite Bible stories. Partly, because it contains surprise and mystery. I love a good mystery. But also, because it contains a story of tremendous transformation. Notice, if you will, the mood, when Jesus first encounters the disciples: their gaze most likely downwards, heads bowed low in grief, walking along slowly. When Jesus asks them to explain what they were talking about as they walked, they answer with the four saddest words ever to be uttered by a human being. “BUT WE HAD HOPED”. Past tense, a hope that is dashed to smithereens, a hope that had so much promise, so much potential, but now is NO longer. We had hoped. In those words, are found such a deep and profound sense of loss, it would seem that nothing could heal that wound.
But then notice, after their encounter with Jesus, how the mood has shifted. In the breaking of bread and conversation with Jesus, their eyes were OPENED. They recalled that their hearts were burning within them while he spoke, and then, they are so elated, so excited to share the news, that they leave the comfort of where they are staying and RUN back to Jerusalem in the dark! From the lowest mood, to being elated because Jesus is alive and HOPE has been restored! The disciples have been transformed by this awakening to new life, a new beginning for them and the world.
We are living in a time of numerous hopes being dashed. We too could echo the disciples on that road with our very own, “But we had hoped”. Hoped for weddings and gatherings, graduations and celebrations, concerts, performances, plays and musicals. Talent shows and milestones of life that will not be fully celebrated. Of memorials and funerals that will have to be put off or video recorded. Make no mistake, this has been one of the most difficult times for our world with a great loss of hope, and health and happiness. It has also clearly shown that we are broken. Our systems are flawed, our divisions cause the lack to be amplified because we have strived to be RIGHT, rather than forgiving and understanding and merciful. We have seen first-hand, the problems that continue to plague societies. The universe has proven how fragile our life really is and we are the students of that lesson.
And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened and rested, and exercised, and made art and played games and learned new ways of being and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced, some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. And the people healed. And in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless and heartless ways, the earth began to heal. And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed. Kitty O Meara.
During a season when we must deal with this virus and endure the fall out, death and loss and despair, even hopelessness, there is a growing recognition, an awareness, an eye-opening revelation, that we have all been given an incredible opportunity to become more alive than ever. We have been given a second chance, a do over if you will; no doubt a transformation has occurred in our world: Now we can decide how we will be transformed, how will our world be transformed in light of all this. Can this transformation be a lasting one?
Like butterflies emerging from cocoons, we have an ultra-rare chance to change our world for the better. Did you know, that in our seclusion, our earth has been healing, the wild animals are reclaiming the forests, the air and water are cleaner, the earth is less agitated. Many families have grown closer, we have begun to learn what is truly important and how before we were too busy to notice. It is like we were on a fast-moving treadmill. That we just have learned how to appreciate one another, a smile, a wave, a gesture of compassion. We have been witness to the fact that we actually care about one another! We have seen what loving one another can do, the joy that can come from helping, the happiness that comes from letting other humans know you care!
In the coming months as we emerge from this cocoon of isolation, we will be bombarded with messages that our country needs to get back to normal; which to many will mean buying things, supporting the national GDP. There will be a tremendous push to purchase things that you put off during quarantine and advertisers will use all the tricks of the trade to convince you now is the time.
But what if we defined what it means to be happy, not based on what we purchase, but based on how we treat one another, based on how we show love and compassion to one another. What if we define our human nature by the things we do when we are considering what we have gone through, what we have learned about what is important in our world? What if our transformation causes us to pay more attention to our planet, to get more involved in how this country is governed, to spend time listening to all sides of any situation, to resolving to end the great divide? What if we, as a world, decide that because of the potential we have seen for good, that we will not let things go back to the brokenness of before? The possibilities are only limited by our imagination and commitment to NOT letting our world return to “ normal” but rather following a NEW PATH. We can see this time as a time to slow down, pause our frantic pace, a gift to better our world and to help those most afflicted, or we can treat it as a blip on our screen, a glitch in the matrix of empty, mindless living. The choice is ours! Do your hearts not burn within you to live a fuller life, where we recognize that the world and all that God made is connected and vital? That we have been called to be stewards of all creation, all living things?
Let us not fall back into despair, but because of the hope that has come in the risen Lord, let us rise up from our heavy-laden spirits and walk the path that God has cleared for us. May we be transformed because of God’s love and may we seek to lift up all people, and mold our societies to live as we have been given life in Christ. TO NEW LIFE. Amen!
Homily for Pentecost 8, July 12th, 2020
Last week my Uncle Kenny, at the age of 83, went to his heavenly home. Now Kenny was a farmer; he also had a job that paid the bills, but like his father before him, and his father before him, and his father before him, Kenny was a farmer. He knew what it meant to prepare the soil, to help create the proper environment for a successful harvest. He knew that once he planted the seeds, the rest was up to God. Oh sure, weeds could be pulled and what not, but Kenny knew that HE did not cause the stalk to come up or the beans to pop out. He knew that once he did his part, the result would be up to the creator, the same one who created the cosmos, would be the one to cause these plants to bring forth fruit. So, Kenny learned to prepare the soil, plant the seeds and trust that God would bring forth a harvest.
Our text today, the parable of the sower is most likely a familiar one. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus even offers up at least a partial explanation of what the parable means. But one thing Jesus does not explain is why, in heavens name, why was the SOWER so foolish! Why does he cast the seed on ground that has little or no chance of bearing any fruit? Any good farmer would know, you can’t just throw the seeds willy-nilly, recklessly scattering them on the ground, if the ground is not prepared ahead of time. It is likely you will not get any return, or very little. It seems a careless waste of valuable resources to sow in this fashion. I am sure most farmers would be scratching their heads about now wondering what was the sower thinking, being so wasteful, so extravagant? Just does not seem to make any sense.
Parables are Jesus’ way of telling a story that will have you pondering, scratching your head, in order that you might discover the deeper meaning behind the parable. And like so many of Jesus parables, our tendency is to put ourselves in the story, to associate with one or more of the elements, the characters in the parable. Even with the explanation that Jesus gives, we might still be wondering, “are we the soil, are we the good soil, are we the seed, are we the sower?” in this parable? To which we can only answer yes.
I imagine that if we look at our lives, there are times in our faith journey where we are the soil? Perhaps early on in our faith life, we were receptive to the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit. Maybe it was in baptism, maybe later in life. But at some point, one of those seeds took root and allowed us to blossom, growing into a deepening relationship with Christ today. There might be times that we would be considered good soil, and maybe some times that we are rocky soil. There may have been times in our lives where the Word was choked out by the cares and wealth of this world, like weeds that overtake our gardens, we got caught up in worldly pursuits. I’m guessing at one time or another, we have been all those types of soil.
There are times when we are the seed. It has been said that we might be the only Bible someone reads. In other words, our lives are a living testament to what God has done. We are seeds for the kingdom and the message of salvation with our words and our actions. We do not have to display a cross or tell anyone that we are Christians, for they will know it by the fruit we bear, they will know it by our love and our loving actions towards others, especially the stranger, the widow, the voiceless and the oppressed. These are the seeds we plant in the lives of others.
Certainly, if we are sometimes the soil, sometimes the seed, then we are sometimes the sower. But now, we circle back to the parable and the recklessness with which to sower in the parable cast seed on ground that was unprepared, that has little or no chance of bringing forth a harvest. Well, that sower is our example, that sower is God, who so abundantly, so recklessly, so prodigally casts his mercy and grace and forgiveness on all kinds of people, ones I would imagine we would not have an inclination to . . . with all our common sense and all, we might recognize that those folks are not hardly worth our time. Yet when you look at the scriptures, those are exactly the people that Jesus invested himself in; tax collectors and sinners, fisherman and harlots, zealots and troublemakers . . . and then of course, there is us!
So if we are to follow the example that Jesus has given us, we are going to have to sow those same seeds, mercy, grace and forgiveness, with the same reckless abandon that Jesus has done. Not caring where it falls, not examining others for their worthiness, but rather what has come to us in such abundant fashion, should now be cast in a similar way; prodigally, foolishly, all over everyone.
For as the sower, our task is not to determine the outcome of the harvest, but to sow the seeds that have grown in us and can now be bread for the world. We live, in order to help others to do the same without regard for where those seeds land, but trusting that the Lord of all will bring about what the Lord has set forth. If God has planned it, it will happen, if God has promised it, it will happen. Like a famous movie philosopher has said, “Do or do not, there is no try.” For God, there either is a harvest or there is not. And God has promised that his Word will not come back empty, that it will accomplish what God has set forth to accomplish. On your way home or as you are driving around this week; notice the wheat fields. Almost ready for harvest; the farmer sowed the seeds and then trusted that God would grow the plants. In the midst of Covid and the craziness of this world, in the midst of divisive rhetoric and taking sides; God is at work bringing an abundant crop, in spite of humans.
So whether we are at the stage in life of being soil, trying to figure it out, or are seeds for God’s kingdom, or whether we have grown into sowing those seeds, know this: God will bear fruit in all. Because that is what God does; God brings forth the harvest. May the Lord of the harvest be moving and growing in our lives. Amen.
Homily for Pentecost 12, Year A, August 23rd, 2020
When we speak of our identity, there are many factors that might play in to that conversation. We might talk about who we are in relationship to our education, career, race, gender, age, family, even the obstacles that we have overcome. But there is a big identifier that all Christians share; our faith calls us to follow THE MESSIAH, the Son of the Living God.
In our Gospel text today, Jesus asks his followers a question about his identity. Now this is not some random question, but rather probably brought on by their location, Caesarea Philippi. CP would have been the place of numerous shrines to a wide variety of false gods. And as far as Rome was concerned at the time, almost any belief or practice was ok as long as one was able to participate in certain aspects of Roman religious life. The people had NUMEROUS options from which god to choose from. So, Jesus question in this place, seems more intentional.
Now, Jesus being the great teacher he is, throws out an easy question to warm up the disciples; Who do others say I am? What is the word on the street, what is the gossip these days? What have you heard? What do the latest polls say? I can imagine all the disciples are scrambling to raise their hand on this one: OOOh, this is an easy one! I know this one! Some people say John the Baptist, come back from dead, or Elijah; Yeah, chimes in another one, some are saying you are Jeremiah or one of the other prophets! The disciples are probably answering based on their opinions too or what group they are a part of. Notice Jesus doesn’t correct them, he just lets them speak; after all, repeating what we have heard is a great place for faith to start. We inherit the creeds, the sermons, the studies of our youth and eventually they become ours. These are safe answers. They don’t involve us sticking our necks out. They hearken back to history and tradition and do not require a great deal of commitment on our part.
But then Jesus asks the really tough question; WHO DO YOU SAY I AM? Meaning forget the public polls. You have walked with me all this time and you have seen what I have done and heard what I have proclaimed freely. Who do you believe me to be? I imagine the disciples are much like the congregation when I ask a direct question during my sermon; just look away, don’t let him make eye contact, stare at the ground, he won’t call on you that way. One by one, Jesus waits for his friends to answer and he gets crickets. Then Peter steps up to the plate and knocks one out of the park! You ARE the Messiah, the Son of the Living God! Cheers erupt! High Fives exchanged! Peter nailed it. Peter has stumbled on the answer that requires investment and conviction. Proclaiming Jesus, the ONE, especially in this place, is an example of the kind of commitment to following Jesus that he has asked of them since day one. Peter’s proclamation, the truth he speaks, is costly. It is on this truth that Peter has expressed, that Jesus will build the church, that is, the kingdom of God, on earth and in heaven.
IN other words, all who are to come after these disciples, will have their faith based and founded in the truth that Jesus IS the Messiah, the one came to Save the World, the SON of the living God. Jesus is the divine truth, the way and the wisdom of God. This is the foundation of OUR faith that Jesus IS LORD of all and to live our lives in that truth is our call to discipleship. To do so IS COSTLY. But it is our identity, the only one that truly matters, the one that we have not earned, but rather the one that we have been given!
So, how would you answer the question that Jesus poses? Especially now you know how costly it is? Especially now you know how difficult it will be to live by that truth. Who do you say that Jesus is? Who has he been to you in the past? Who is he now? Who do you hope he will be in the future?
I think there are no easy answers to this question. I believe we must daily discern what it might mean if we echo Peter’s proclamation. Following Jesus is the foundation of our faith for which we journey a lifetime, but he is not some simple Biblical fact rather he is the LIVING GOD. Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow!
What stories of Jesus have you inherited? Are there truths about Jesus that you need to say goodbye to? Things that others have said or religious assumptions you are clinging to simply because they're familiar, or safe, or easy? What have we learned that we must now unlearn if we are to follow Jesus as disciples rather than merely members of an organization. None of us has ARRIVED as if Jesus is the destination; HE IS THE WAY. We are faithful when we follow Jesus even when it is dangerous, even when it means sacrifice or suffering. Even when it means we struggle to understand our faith and what God is doing. This is what it means to be a DISCIPLE. This is WHO WE ARE, people constantly seeking to discover who Jesus is and following faithfully all of our lives.
To find our identity in following Jesus took a great deal of courage back in Jesus day. It takes a great deal of courage nowadays too! May God grant us the strength to proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God, and may we be given the courage to live out that proclamation all along our faith journey.
Homily for Epiphany 4, January 29th, Year A, 2023
Last week our text was about Jesus calling the first disciples, you remember, fishers of people text. In his message, Pastor Rick reminded us that we all have been called; God has given us gifts to use for the sake of the in-breaking of God’s kingdom in our world. Each and every one of us has these gifts through the Holy Spirit and each and every one of us has been “called out” to use them for the sake of the Gospel. Have you ever been “Called out” before? What do you think of when you hear those words? Are you immediately defensive? As if you are called out to battle or called out on something you did wrong? Or are you not moved at all because you don’t feel this is meant for you, you don’t honestly believe that God’s call is for you, nah, it is meant for pastor types and others.
Todays, text, often called the Beatitudes, has Jesus creating a list of characteristics that bring blessing or happiness to a person’s life. Never mind the fact that they go in direct opposition to what the world would have us believe which could lead us to struggle to see these as blessings, oh, sure some of them would not be that difficult to adopt, being peacemakers, being merciful, we all mourn, and being meek is within our grasp. But then I am stopped in my tracks when I read, “blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”
Because it causes me to take a hard look at myself; when is the last time I truly hungered and thirsted, not for food and drink, but for God’s righteousness, for God’s justice, for the way God would have things be?
Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness or do I look the other way?
Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness or do I assume someone else will?
Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness or do I explain away my perceived indifference because I don’t want people to think I take sides, because I choose to play it safe?
Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness or keep silent so as not to offend, not to disappoint, in fear of not meeting expectations?
Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness or sit on the proverbial bench because I don’t want to be seen as being “political?”
Elie Weisel, who survived the Jewish concentration camp Auschwitz said “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
I propose to you that today’s text is an example of followers of Jesus being “called out.” Interesting to note, when you look up “called out” as a verb, the definition is a summons to action. It is a call to act under the direction of God’s will, seeking God’s kingdom. But, wait, I signed on for the EZ pass for being a Christian, the one where I zip right through....Why pastor, why must we, God’s church on earth, people who follow Jesus, why must we hunger and thirst for righteousness....
Because our world actively works against it, it overrides it due to color and money and power. It limits it as something that belongs to those who can afford it or it deems worthy. It works against justice for those on the outside and it acts as if it belongs to all when we all know that is far from the reality.
Even the church sweeps it under the rug sometimes, making excuses for its inaction so as to protect the powerful at the expense of those victimized. We are called to hunger and thirst for righteousness because even our internal systems that have been put in place presumably to pursue righteousness seem only to seek to save themselves when they should be in the business of trusting in God’s salvation.
Why should we hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness?
Because the Gospel that we know and love is a word of protest. In this time and in this place, we cannot forget this. Jesus was a person who stood up and said no to systems, no to kings, no to status quo. The Beatitudes are a call to action that points out who Jesus really is. Perhaps not the Jesus we want. Perhaps the Jesus who might rub us the wrong way. Perhaps the Jesus that tells us the truth about ourselves. The Jesus who reminds us, at the most inconvenient times and places, what the Kingdom of God is all about.
The Beatitudes are a call to action to be church, a call to action to make Jesus present and visible and manifest when the world tries desperately to silence those who speak the truth. “There was a time when the church was very powerful — in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days, the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society . . . If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning . . . ” (Written 60 Years ago, by Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”).
The Beatitudes are a call to action for the sake of creating the world God imagines. And these days, we need this reminder — when perhaps our imagination may be stifled. When our hope for the future might be dimmed. When we look around us and have to wonder if things are getting worse or getting better. When we think what we do and what we say and what we believe does not matter.
Our hunger and thirst for righteousness matters. It really does. We have been called, and called out, and equipped by the Holy Spirit for such a time as this. May we be given the courage to answer the call and be moved to action for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Amen.
(all of the above were shared with Pastor Chuck's permission)
Here also is the link to more from Pastor Chuck on the TIP addendum page.
At a worship service on September 26, 2021, again after the Gospel reading, and message, the congregation sang a song I was so impressed with that I decided to share the words here. Titled Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart, it is yet another song I think would make a really great prayer. Especially, for those who are seriously embracing the In His Steps question, what would Jesus have me do?