Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving thanks to God

Matthew 6:25-33

Thanksgiving Eve 2009

When it comes to God and what God says and what God promises, there are simply times when I just don’t understand what God is doing or what in the world God is saying to you and me. This text that we just heard, and this national holiday that have for tomorrow is just one such of those times. Jesus says, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” And this confuses me because I keep hearing that, if I’m going to continue on living and not die, then I need food, water, air and shelter. Those are the very basic things that I need. They are the very basic things that everyone who lives upon this planet earth needs. So I’m not supposed to worry about what I will eat, what I will drink, or where I will sleep tonight?

Of course, when you take the whole world’s population into account, I am simply among the richest people on the planet. It doesn’t feel like it, but think about this. I never had to ask myself these questions: Will I have a place to sleep tonight? Will I have food to eat today, let alone this week? Will I have water to drink? Instead, I’ve asked myself these questions: Should I have a Diet Mountain Dew or Diet Pepsi? What will I have for supper tonight? When will I lay down in my warm bed after I get home tonight? Do you hear the difference in those questions? So the thing that has me completely befuddled with what Jesus is saying is how do I tell someone who’s physical well being depends on the very basic of needs to not worry about them?

The thing is Jesus telling us not to worry about we will eat, drink or wear is not a word of scolding for the person who is dealing with those basic needs in all actuality. It isn’t, because Jesus is simply stating the truth that worry will not put food on the table. It can’t. Only going out and finding food like a bird flying in the air will meet that need. Maybe I’m befuddled by what Jesus is saying, because I don’t know and I can’t understand what it truly is like to be that impoverished.

If you are aware of this or not, the Northwest Synod of Wisconsin, our synod, has a companion synod in Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malawi in Africa. The bishop from that synod said while he was visiting here in Wisconsin, “I don’t know how you people can believe in God. You have everything. What do you need God for?” Maybe this really gets to the core of what Jesus is saying tonight. Maybe Jesus is shaking us to look at the blessings that we have been given from God. Maybe Jesus is telling us what it is like to live a life where we truly pray to God “Give us this day our daily bread.” Maybe what we truly are called to be is a people who strive not for securing our future but instead striving for and seeking the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. Maybe what Jesus is saying shows us our need for God and tells us that our trust, our faith should be in God alone, believing that God does provide.

I think that every year we enter into Thanksgiving day we have in our minds thoughts of what we have been blessed with in our lives. We give thanks for the people who have cared for us, who have made our life a little more joyous. We give thanks for the things that we do have even as we see the things that are slipping through our fingers. But perhaps we should give our greatest thanks to the one who has given us the life that we do have and who has freed us from the death our sins condemn us to. At times in our life it can be hard to see exactly what God is up to because we don’t see our need for God. But nevertheless, God is still faithful and God continues to provide for us even when gone as far as we possibly can go and taken our last breath. And God reaches down, scoops us up and hold us within those loving eternal arms. Let us give our thanks to God.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The insignificant made significant...

Mark 12:38-44


Insignificant. That’s maybe a word you could describe how it feels to be just one person amongst a whole world of problems. Just one person. Just one life. Living in a world with six billion people, a nation with 350 million people, a state of five and a half million people. Who am I in the midst of all this immensity? The world is filled with problems ranging from wars to hunger to pandemics to looming environmental disasters to financial crises. To confront any of those problems by myself would be like a rain drop falling upon a slab of granite – barely felt and quickly forgotten as it evaporates into the heat of a day.

I could hold up a sign the declares that all sides should give up fighting and make way for peace, but myriad other voices would drown that out as each side would press on with their calls for fighting and defense for what is good. I could cook a meal for someone who needs food and nourishment, but that act of kindness would be statistically unimportant and thrown out of the gathered data as outlier insignificant to the overall picture of what is going on. Of course, I’m not exactly a faceless, nameless person without any voice to speak to a good number of people. I’m a pastor, and I have a place and time to speak at least weekly. I’m charged with inspiring people to action. I’ve been called to be a leader of people, to preach and to teach. As the world sees it, I am no faceless, nameless, homeless person without the power to influence people and situations. I have a position of authority. I have a position of importance….at least those are things I could say if I was delusional and completely concerned with who I am and what power I wield. Let me assure you. I am not completely delusional. Although, maybe there are times when I let that fantasy enter into my mind. Perhaps I will yet receive “the greater condemnation.”

What harsh words we are confronted with by Jesus in the beginning of our gospel reading. The scribes are just doing their jobs and fulfilling their calling as teachers and preachers of God’s word. We hear Jesus denounce them for wearing long robes (oops.). We hear that they are greeted with respect and like to sit in the places of honor (yeesh.). We hear that they like to say long prayers (*gulp*). Jesus is not kind to the thought that some people are better than others because of the trappings they surround themselves with. Yet, it is pretty clear that Jesus, while passing harsh judgment upon the scribes, is not passing judgment upon them for simply being scribes but for taking the fact that they are scribes as something to be especially honored. Then these scribes go further yet and take that position of authority as something that is even higher than the welfare and life of widows who in this society are relegated to total dependence on the care and generosity of others. Thankfully, we never get caught up in the “show” of who are, or do we?

It’s sad but you and I can get caught up in the image that other people see of us, and we can get caught up in the image that other people show to us as we encounter them in our lives. These scribes that Jesus is condemning have given up care for other people and care for the godly work that they perform for care of how they look and seem to other people. I bet that there are times when we can and should rightly indentify with these scribes and condemnation that Jesus proclaims for them. At least when we see that condemnation and hear it speaking to us in our lives, we can finally reassess who we are and who we should be. You see, that is part of the power of Christ. Part of the power of Christ is to shake us to the core so that we can see that we have turned away from the things that we should be concerned about and turned towards ourselves and how righteous and just we appear before the world. That is a power that names sin and names its hold upon us. That power can show us how we fight for our appearance. That power can show us how we devour widow’s houses, maybe not literally, but certainly figuratively as we are either implicit or complicit in the systems that keep people poor, that keep people hungry, and that keep people in conflict. It’s not even the money we spend in all the various places of our lives. It’s the way that we tend to put ourselves and our wants above the things we should really care about – our trust in God and our care for all the people and the rest of creation that God has made.

So today, where is grace to be found? Certainly we cannot find grace in our ability to always trust in God above all else and to always care for the needs of others. For as we know, a single person’s quest to do everything right will do nothing to change the reality of the situation. That is until one person was born showed us all that his IS the power to bring in a new reality. That is until Jesus is born and walks among us, teaches among us, and dies for us and our sin, that inability to trust in God above all else.

You see, grace is to be found in the way that Jesus declares and proclaims that even the seemingly insignificant contribution of a poor widow is deemed the worthiest gift of all. Normally, such a gift would go unnoticed and be considered meaningless the total sum of that is collected in to the treasury of the temple, but Jesus is seeing that poor widow give all that she had left took notice of someone and something and turns it into a proclamation of grace that, in God’s eyes, no goodness, act of kindness, sharing of love, or trusting in God is deemed insignificant. In the reality that Jesus ushers in, it is that trust in God, even as flawed as it is for us sometimes, and goodness that makes this immense world and universe a significant place. That is our hope in the face of the hopelessness of fulfilling the Law that God would have us fulfill. It’s not that we forget how to be sinners, we probably remember all too well how to be sinners, but has deemed each one of us as insignificant as we are individually as worthy of God’s love and forgiveness.

Today we will/we have baptize(d) a new child into the church. We will baptize a child that the world vastly on the whole has taken no notice. Yet, today God will take special notice of Evan and proclaim him to be as special and loved as anyone else in the history of the world, even the really great and really important ones. Today the Holy Spirit will enter into him and forever hold him in the eternal promises specially for him just as specially it was for all the rest of us here today. God has taken notice and God will not forget.