From the Pastor
Pastor Chris Ramsey Community Thanksgiving Service November 22, 2016
One of the readings for this Community Thanksgiving service; is Paul’s thank-you note, which he included as a final topic in the letter to his favorite congregation, the house-church at Philippi. Paul’s “thank you” in a little gem that speaks to us across two thousand years of the humanity faith and love in Jesus Christ which we share with the Apostle.
One of the fruits of Christian love is that we are honest with one-another, even when we are disappointed. So, Paul rejoices that “after so long a time” his friends at Philippi have sent him gifts of support. He then reflects that they really hadn’t had the opportunity, but the fact that he mentions how long it’s been suggests that he thinks they could have found an earlier opportunity to express their care.
Waiting to hear from people we love is part of our Christian walk of faith. We had hoped for some word, some sign or gift of love and sometimes it takes a long time. However, that reminds me of the Christmas letters from 2015who’s writers are waiting a long time to hear a word from me in reply
If Paul shows dissatisfaction in his fellow Christian’s timing, they might be a little put out with Paul’s difficulty in receiving the gift. He is pleased but then goes on about how he really doesn’t need it, can get along without it and is content in Christ whether he has a little or a lot! Once again, we meet our humanity. I’ve been taught modesty to a fault! While an important part of tonight’s service is in giving out of what we have for others, an equally important feature of thanksgiving is grow in grace to accept with joy and gratitude the gifts of God and the blessed gifts from others.
It can take us spiritual work to deeply appreciate the gifts of God and the gifts of others, but the Holy Spirit will lead us there as Paul eventually gets there. He recognizes the goodness of his Philippian friends for giving him generous gifts to provide for him while he is in prison. Indeed, Paul lifts up their long history of supporting his missionary journeys spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ from the early days of his calling.
Paul also gets to the heart of what Christian giving is about. In so doing he uses the economic language of profit, loss and investment; as well as worship’s language of sacrifice and offering. I know of no one among the early followers of Jesus who has a better sense of the unity of the economies of the Spirit and material wealth as driving forces for supporting and spreading the saving love of Jesus Christ to all people.
The gifts that were given to Paul by the Christians at Philippi were not simply to Paul, they were investments in the work of Christ through Paul. There was profit and loss, some ventures went well, some did not. That remains true for both spiritual and material investments in all sorts of ministries and good works for our neighbors in the name of Jesus today.
But there is a dimension to giving as members of the Body of Christ that is unique. Our gifts are received not only by people institutions and communities in this world, they are also offerings to God which Paul pictures as sweet-smelling and pleasing to our Lord.
We gather together this evening to offer thanksgiving for all that God has given to us. We also gather in our neediness to receive what God in Christ offers as we join in a Thanksgiving supper of God’s Word and in the holy mystery of Jesus Christ feeding us all with his body and blood in Holy Communion. Thanks be to God Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Amen.
Pastor Chris Ramsey
November 20, 2016
For Christians in the United States, Christ the King Sunday comes with God’s own timing. The revealing of Jesus of Nazareth, even while still on the cross, as God’s Son, victorious over sin and death was an upset victory with political consequences that are far more decisive for you and for me than the outcome of any human upset election or change in governmental leadership.
That is not to dismiss the very real effects of the upset election of Donald Trump to the office of President of the United States. Millions of Christian and other Americans are excited and delighted by his election and look forward to many of the changes he has promised. Millions of Christian and other Americans are disappointed and dismayed by his election and fear many of the changes he has promised.
Christ the King comes to remind us that we have elected neither our savior nor the devil, but a human president and human government leaders whose virtues and sins are not so different from our own. We are to pray for our leaders with faith and sincerity. We are to work for common ground and unity while striving with a variety of visions for America’s future. But we already have a savior, a Lord and King who has purchased us with his own precious blood and claimed us as his own through baptism, as he claimed Ethan Penner last Sunday.
Jesus is the most unlikely of kings by the standards of “the world” in which Christ is not King. Earthly “kingship” in whatever form of leadership it appears, is all about being in control, being number one; about winning and defeating our enemies. The execution of Jesus is a calculated mockery of his power and authority. “Save yourself, since you ARE the Messiah!” “Save yourself, since you ARE the King of the Jews!” “Damn it! Save yourself and us …”
So, what do you think we would have done if we had been in Jesus’ place? I’ll bet I’d have come down off that cross in divine payback! Imagine the look on those sneering faces then! Time to kick butt! But what would that accomplish? The shoe would be on the other foot, and we would call it God’s justice, but condemnation, punishment and death would still reign!
That is what the rule of Satan and human sin does. That is NOT what Jesus, our Lord, the one who saves us from our sins does. Pay attention to Jesus on the cross! Instead of giving his enemies a dose of their own deadly judgment, Jesus forgives his tormenters and announces that they “don’t know what they’re doing.”
That royal decree of Christ the King strips evil of its power. Far from being an act of brutal certainty to rid the world of a false Messiah, the Jews and Gentiles crucifying Jesus, as well as the cursing criminal on the cross are forgiven. Evil is not repaid, it is cancelled by the upset victory of God’s love.
This upset victory in Christ doesn’t wait for the empty tomb! That second criminal, with his dying breath, admits he’s guilty and deserves punishment. Jesus is innocent and suffering undeserved punishment. That is the truth about us too. We are joined to the dying criminal in our sin and in the saving mercy of Christ our King.
The justly condemned sinner asked only to be “remembered.” He gets far more than he asked for. This pathetic, dying “King of the Jews” promises: “I tell you today you will be with me in Paradise.” It will be the upset victory of God’s love through Jesus Christ that delivers this desperate soul from death to life.
That is what Christ our King does, in this world and the next. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Can we deny that all too often, the recent election brought out the worst in the candidates and in us? Kneeling at the cross of Christ our King, we can truthfully confess the folly of our prideful predictions and the brutal rudeness of our judgments of one-another. But thank God for the political consequences of the upset victory of Christ the King. Since Jesus is the Christ, we repent of our sins and turn in all humility to his Word and his guidance. The presidency, the Supreme Court and the constitution, though good and useful, are not our salvation.
The upset victory of Christ our King has freed us and bought us as citizens in his blessed kingdom. He unites us in his body and blood and sends us as lights of justice and love. The Christian character of our families, communities and country is lived out, not through laws and leaders, but through forgiven and Spirit-inspired children of the King at all levels of government and society. Amen!
Pastor Chris Ramsey
Baptism – Corina & Jonathan Grimm
August 7, 2016
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” With that statement, the writer of Hebrews gets right to the heart of what our Christian faith is. This Sunday, every Sunday and in the days in between, time and again we get right to the heart of what our Christian faith really is; “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen!”
Now it is true that, while John and I could not see St. Matthew/St. Peter from Hagerstown, it took no great conviction to expect this place of worship to be here when we arrived. The odds that the building had been sucked up by an alien spaceship are probably even greater than winning the lottery jackpot. Likewise, we hoped with some assurance that some of you faith full sisters and brothers in Christ would show up and praise God, we did and you did!
But no sooner do we gather for worship than our faith journey together begins to get out of the ordinary. The faith-less indoctrination of the world and of our own sinful natures is to deny, excuse, cover up or blame others for anything we’ve done wrong. Yet in the assurance of faith, we announce to God and to each other that we have sinned. We read the words from the bulletin, but they open up the sins of our hearts, make no mistake.
And where do the words of our confession go? Do they vanish into the air? Faith, the conviction of things not seen, sees our words going to the ears and the heart of God who we cannot see. And what do we dare hope for? Do we yearn not to be condemned for the rest of our lives for what we have done and said and thought? Give me another chance!
In the faith-full assurance of God who loves us, the radical and unbelievable words are announced. God sent his son Jesus to die for us, to take our sins upon himself for all time so that, when we confess our sins, Jesus forgives us and gives us that new chance and renewed life that the faith-less world cannot offer. New life in Christ isn’t a free ride, it is the daily work and play, tears and laughter of God’s children growing into maturity of faith.
Speaking of God’s children, faith as the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen is on display with the baptism of Corina and Jonathan Grimm at St. Peter this morning. The faith claims are absolutely extravagant. “In Holy baptism our gracious heavenly Father liberates us from sin and death by joining us to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. … in the waters of baptism we are reborn children of God and inheritors of eternal life. By water and the Holy Spirit we are made members of the church which is the body of Christ. As we live with him and his people, we grow in faith, love and obedience to the will of God.”
Did you hear that? I mean, is this mind boggling or not? Are these claims true? There’s one way to find out. That doesn’t start with “believing” as accepting faith claims as “truth.” “I really, really believe!” Baptism dresses us for action. The witness of our faith is whether we act as if it is true. We reject the devil and all his empty promises. We act on faith as if we belong to Jesus Christ. We aren’t simply acquainted with who he is through Scripture, we belong to him.
Living into this wild faith, assured of things still hoped for and convicted of things not yet seen is not a life-long adventure. It will take longer than that. It will carry us beyond death to eternal life and great joy, as it did for our brother Wayne Saylor this past week. Can I prove this? No. Do I have personal stories of faith? Oh yes, and how about you? Do we live in the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. You bet we do! Amen.
Pastor Chris Ramsey
July 3, 2016
On this Fourth of July weekend, we citizens of the United States of America celebrate our declaration of independence from Great Britain on July 4th, 1776. We recall the long hard Revolutionary War to achieve that independence. We probably think less about the even longer and more difficult struggle to work out politically, what kind of government we were to have as independent states. Indeed, that is a living heritage of the men and women of 1776 that continues to be a part of who we are and what we do in this blessed country.
What the Founding Fathers and Mothers accomplished was remarkable. Was the hand of God involved in the struggles that resulted in government “of the people, by the people and for the people”? Most of those who devoted their hearts, minds and livelihoods to the cause of American liberty thought so. I agree with them. God provided a truly remarkable number of gifted leaders and ordinary people tenaciously committed to the risky idea that they could fashion a new and better human government.
As American Christians we also celebrate the 240th anniversary of another risky blessing passed on to us in the cause of freedom. Freedom of all religions was established by law and the government was not constructed to favor one religion over another. This was a radical break with all of the European countries from which the American colonists had come, where one tradition or another of Christianity was legally established by the government and required for the country’s rulers.
Breaking with that tradition alarmed many Christian leaders. Pastor Henry M. Muhlenberg, the founding father of the organized Lutheran church in America, expressed his disapproval in August, 1776, of Pennsylvania’s government: “Any member of the future new government will be sufficiently qualified if he merely acknowledges by word of mouth, a Supreme Being as the creator and upholder of all things. Moreover, every religious party and persuasion shall, without distinction, have equal freedom to believe and teach what it pleases according to its own so-called conscience or judgment.”
We might, on this Fourth of July weekend, find ourselves sharing Pastor Muhlenberg’s forebodings. The ethnic and religious make-up of our country continues to change. Religiously different folks who were once out of sight and out of mind in foreign countries are now living, worshipping, becoming U. S. citizens and raising families among us.
We might be alarmed and fearful, but Jesus isn’t! Consider the country into which he sent the seventy disciples. Nobody was a Christian! There were Jews and pagans. Only a few were receptive to the good news of God’s love being revealed through Jesus Christ. The followers of Jesus dared to go “as lambs among wolves” because the Lamb of God is more powerful than any beast of the biological or spiritual world. Inspired and led by the Holy Spirit, the tiny, often despised minority of Christians began spreading the faith that would bring millions of people to Jesus.
It is the frightful joy for us as missionaries for Jesus that we no longer have to go to the Middle East, Asia, Africa or India to be a missionary to people of other faiths and cultures. It is a calling for which most of us, including pastors, feel inadequate. Praise God! Only when grasp how little we can do, are we freed to rely fully on how much God will do through us to show and tell the Kingdom of God to others.
That’s what missionary work is, show and tell. We are on public display every day. We are being heard and overheard every day. What we say and do either helps people to see Jesus or discredits our Lord. We don’t know how influential we are to others. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for the seventy, but they returned with joy! We are blessed to be Americans and to celebrate this weekend. We are blessed to show and tell the good news of what Jesus Christ is doing in our lives here and now, that others might see and hear and live in the promise of eternal life in Christ. Amen.
Pastor Chris Ramsey
June 16, 2016 Fathers’ Day
Who is this frightening, wild, naked man who so abruptly confronts Jesus as he steps ashore on the Gentile, that is, the non-Jewish, pagan shore of Lake Galilee? We can call him the “Gerasene demoniac. Luke associates him with the region’s town of Gerasa and this man was possessed by demons, he was not in his right mind.
For you and I to be confronted by this man is to meet someone we know all too well. We meet in him, someone who is both “stripped” and “possessed.” The same demonic forces of evil today intend to possess and strip us in the same ways but Jesus comes to cloth us and to restore us to spiritual and mental health.
This man’s nakedness was both physical and spiritual. The demonic forces which had taken over his life stripped him of his clothes and of his humanity. He no longer lived as a human being in a house in community with other people, but like a wild animal, among the tombs, in a place of death, not life..
A young man named Omar Mateen also appears to have been stripped of his humanity by demonic possession. He might have been mentally unstable. He might have had issues of his own sexual identity. Those things are not demonic. They are problems he shared with many people What is demonic is the radical perversion of Islam to which he was exposed, an addictive and fatal poison diligently spread by those who teach fear, hatred and murderous violence towards people who they brand enemies of God.
The death-dealing sin of ideologies that strip us of our humanity and unchain fear and violence is not limited to Muslims. It is an evil that seeks to possess Christians. In the name of Christ, deluded believers have preached and carried signs saying things like “God hates fags!”
Even with the horrible killings in Orlando, Latin night at the Pulse Lesbian, Gay and Transgender Nightclub will seem to some Christians, all to similar to what we were taught to think about the godless people of Sodom and Gomorrah.
No! No! No! The young folks slaughtered at the Pulse Nightclub were dear, beloved children of God. I don’t have any understanding of the puzzling varieties of human sexuality. I was born a heterosexual as others of God’s children are born gay, lesbian or transgender. When we are clothed in the love of Christ, our discussion can end right there. Then we can move on to things that really matter!
It really matters what Jesus does for the naked demoniac. He orders the demons out! The powers of evil are dumped into the abyss, dispossessed and powerless! The man’s humanity is restored. He goes from being naked to being clothed, from living in the tombs to returning home to human community. Spiritually, he is now clothed in the love of Christ and is sent by Jesus to tell what God has done for him.
Yet what Jesus has done for this man scares the daylights out of the crowd. They beg Jesus to please go away! Why? For the same reason meeting Jesus as our savior can scare the daylights out of us. Jesus comes with real power to order our demons to get out. Jesus comes to clothe us in his love just when the demonic powers would possess our hearts with fear, prejudice and contempt for others.
Jesus says we are made in God’s image, all of us. He is out to change our hearts. That is the only path to being clothed and in our right mind at Jesus’ feet. Survivors of the shootings in Orlando proclaimed that evil will be overcome by love. That is what I preached after the Oklahoma City bombing, after 9/11, and after Charleston. That is what the cross of Jesus Christ proclaims. Jesus is stronger than demons, God’s love is stronger than human sin, New life in Christ is stronger than death! Let us go tell that! Let us go live that!. Amen.
Pastor Chris Ramsey
May 22, 2016 Trinity Sunday
Uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh. It’s Trinity Sunday, it’s Trinity Sunday, it’s Trinity Sunday! And you know what that means. The pastor is going to make us read the Athanasian Creed. That’s right, as your worship leader for this Trinity Sunday, I checked the bulletin to make sure that we would all be confessing this creed together on the Sunday when the majority of Christians in the world focus on the mystery of the Trinity, God Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately, many of us find the Athanasian Creed about as welcome as a dose of cod liver oil or a serving of our least favorite vegetable which we are supposed to eat once a year because it’s good for us! Indeed, the creed doesn’t go down easily. It is long, and it seems to be even longer because of its repetitive sentences and unfamiliar terms. Even worse, some statements are so harshly uncompromising that the committee who put together our new “inclusive” Lutheran hymnal, excluded the Athanasian Creed!
So good riddance! Would we not do well to put the whole issue of the Trinity, which involved fierce controversies, ruthless politics and difficult personalities (Bishop Athanasias was no sweetheart!) behind us? Who cares about the Trinity? What difference does it make whether Jesus and the Holy Spirit are God or whether they are fully empowered, but are not equal to the one God the Father? That conclusion makes good logical sense.
But as a person of faith, I care a lot about the Trinity. First of all, the illogical argument that there is one God who has revealed Gods self through three persons is how God is experienced repeatedly by the followers of Jesus and the witness of Proverbs, which has a wonderful, playful picture of the Spirit of God present from before creation personified as Lady Wisdom.
Jesus is God in the flesh. He and the Father are one, what Jesus says and does are not the words and actions of the best man who ever was, a person who was spiritually in tune with and obedient to God like no one else. Jesus is God who loves us so much he died on the cross for us: God who was raised from death to bring us forgiveness and everlasting life.
Furthermore, God Father, Son and Holy Spirit does not leave us stuck in the past, waiting for the return of Jesus. As the Good News from John tells us, Jesus and the Father are directly present in the Holy Spirit that continues to speak to us as people of God and through us in a changing world. As in the long and sometimes bitter argument among Christians about the person of God in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the voice of the Trinity is heard amid other voices claiming to speak of God’s will. Faithful Christians have faithful differences and that is the normal reality of the body of Christ.
We also have one faith, which we will speak of in the still contraversial words of the Athanasian Creed. As a writer who hammers out and stitches together my written words as if I were a blacksmith or a quilt-maker, I admire the grand effort of the faithful writers who tried to put into words, that which goes beyond words, the indescribable, illogical person of God. I think we might do even better to sing of the Trinity, to put it into Rap music. There’s a ministry for our youth!
But however we speak of the person of God Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or find the revelation of the Trinity beyond words, the Trinity reveals God’s love, The Father with the Son and the Holy Spirit who created us in love, Christ with the Father and the Holy Spirit who suffered and delivered us from our sins in love, the Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son who sweeps into our changing world with guidance and challenges in the Holy Fire of God’s love for us. That is the catholic faith through which we live. That is the Good News for all peoples, for all times. For us and for our time! Amen.
Pastor Chris Ramsey
May 15, 2016 Pentecost Sunday
Confirmation – Josh, Kendra, Elana, and Malorie!
“YES!” That single, enthusiastically spoken word has become popular; especially among young people (anyone under eighty) to express joy, approval or delight over something to be welcomed and celebrated. Today is Pentecost Sunday and for our young folks being confirmed, their “Affirmation of Baptism”, their “YES” in response to God’s “YES” to them through baptism.
In baptism that many of us don’t remember, God made the first move of welcome to us in love. Baptism is God’s enthusiastic “YES” to us! Yes we are named before our heavenly Father as his child, yes the water of baptism, no matter how little or how much water, drowns us to sin and raises us to new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.
God’s “Yes” in baptism is not an inoculation against going to hell! Baptism is God’s promise of who we are to be on which we build and grow, responding in faith. Adults take responsibility to nurture the baptized in the faith, including seeing to it that reluctant youth and pastors go to catechism classes!
Today, our young folks, Kendra and Josh, Elana and Malorie, having learned something of the Bible, the creeds, sacraments and our Lutheran Christian traditions, make public confession of their faith, their YES as growing Christians.
Saying “YES” to Christ as our Lord and Savior means saying “NO” to “the forces of evil, the Devil and all his empty promises.” That is part of being a follower of Jesus. We cannot be neutral about evil, injustice and wrong-doing, whether great or small. It is not somebody else’s job to say “NO” to sin and evil. It is part of our holy calling.
Is it easy to take a stand against sin and Satan? No. Perhaps for teenagers even more than for adults, there is great pressure to go along with the crowd. Being singled out and put down for naming wrong-doing, refusing to be part of it and calling others to account can be painful. It is the kind of suffering all Christians take on to bear the cross of Christ, to carry on his redeeming, saving work of love in this world.
People’s response to the Good News of God’s saving love through Jesus Christ has always been divided. We might think of the men and women gathered in the upper room as a class of older confirmands. They had followed Jesus, studied Scripture, had known highs of faith and lows of faithlessness and fear. Now the gift of the Holy Spirit swept in and pushed them out into the street to be public witnesses of God’s saving love.
Some in the crowds were turned on by the good news. Others were totally turned off and sneered that Christ’s followers were drunk with alcoholic spirits, not THE SPIRIT. Every Sunday we gather in the presence of the Holy Spirit as God’s love is poured into our hearts through Word and Holy Communion, prayer and fellowship. Every Sunday, we find ourselves out on the street, going home or out to eat, to a game or a nursing home.
We go as witnesses of the love of Christ in our lives. Some people will think we are crazy for forgiving our enemies, giving money away, welcoming unpopular people and all the other stuff believers do when we are high on the Holy Spirit. Dear confirmands, welcome to a greater share of the trials and the great joy of Christian living! YES! Amen.
Pastor Chris Ramsey
April 3, 2016 (Second Sunday after Easter)
I doubt if any of us go through life without scars, permanent marks of accidents, operations or deliberate violence. Some are physical scars that can be seen and remind us of how we got them. I have a diagonal scar where I cut myself with a saw, the ancient tracks of hernia surgery when I was a baby, and the traces of eight stitches in my scalp where David Billings hit me with a rock. Most of us have such visible wounds, suffered and healed, but which leave a permanent mark and memory.
We also have the marks of wounds that cannot be seen. There are the sometimes accidental hurts of unkind words remembered for the rest of our lives, the lasting pains of guilt over things we’ve done or the losses through death and broken relationships that have been cut off like invisible amputations. We can also be marked with the deep scars of sexual abuse or emotional violence.
It is part of our humanity to have such wounds, but how shocking that God comes to us as a mortally wounded savior, triumphant over death, yet still showing the wounds of his execution. They are not the healed but scarred places where the nails had been driven through his wrists and the soldier’s spear was plunged into his side. Jesus shows the piercing nail holes and his torn flesh, not to gross his disciples out, but to make it explicitly clear that he is the same person who was crucified and is now raised by God’s power and love from the grave.
The wounds in his body from nails and spear were turned from being the fatal effects of human sin and cruelty, into marks of the defeat of the sin and cruelty that made them. Jesus, in his full humanity, also suffered grievous invisible wounds. When he was arrested, his disciples ran in fear, all except Peter, who stayed around long enough to deny Jesus three times. On the cross, Christ was mocked and verbally tormented by his gleeful enemies.
But the victorious love of our risen Lord has emptied the wounds of hatred, guilt and fear of their power. Already, from the cross, he forgave those who crucified him. Now, as he comes through those locked doors in love’s divine power, he finds wounded disciples. Their escape from physical violence only plunged them into piercing guilt and paralyzing fear. Can we imagine how many times Peter replayed in his mind the scene in the courtyard when he had repeatedly denied Jesus? All of our Lord’s closest followers were huddled in fear behind locked doors, immobilized and silenced.
That is, until Jesus arrives, showing his wounds. He has danced on death’s grave and now delivers his followers from their shame, guilt and fear. There are no lectures or disapproving scowls from Jesus. I imagine him with a great Godly grin as he gives them his peace. Jesus is at peace, at love with them and with all sinners who he comes to release from shame, guilt, fear and death. The peace of Christ is not a peace that offers them, or us, a safe, calm, unwounded life. Jesus leads us in his death-conquering love into this deadly and lively, risky and wonderful world in daily ministry.
The physical scars that we have remind us of hurts and dangers to our bodies that have been healed through medical treatment and prayer. For our invisible wounds of our spirits, the love and peace of our wounded and risen Lord breathes his peace upon us, his forgiveness and his reconciling love that rouse us to be peace-makers. We are to stop the use of cutting words and with our words and actions, be healers of painful rejection. We are commissioned by Jesus to put a decisive end to violence and abuse wherever we encounter it, not to lock ourselves away in guilt, shame and fear.
And if we are still doubting and fearful, here comes Jesus to show us his body, broken for us. Here comes Jesus to give us his life-blood poured out through his hands and side. The body and blood of Christ cleanses us from sin and touches us with his intimate holiness. We are to share our stories of the wounds from which we have been healed for others who are suffering and looking for healing.
We have memories and stories about our physical scars to tell. More importantly, we have memories and stories to tell of our invisible wounds that speak of our ongoing rescue from fear and guilt, sin and death through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ and the sin power of his love, raised from death, wounds and all! And so we too, are raised to new life through Jesus Christ, wounds and all! Amen!
March 27th, 2016 (Easter!)
Seminarian Sean Titus
We hear God’s Word today in celebration of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was once crucified, and is now Risen! Christ is risen, indeed!
The Resurrection is everything. Yes, the Resurrection is the most audacious thing we Christians claim: that death is not the last word. That because the grave could not hold our Lord and Savior, He became the firstborn of the dead. We confess in the creed every week to believe in the “resurrection of the dead.” This means that we, too….when it’s our turn to enter the grave….will not be held in that grave. And so, we gather this morning in celebration that death, the thing we fear most, has no ultimate power over us.
The Resurrection is everything. It is absolutely key to everything we proclaim as Christians. This gives us courage as we face the reality of human suffering and death….a reality made apparent in the last week with terrorist attacks in Brussels and continuing violence in Syria and other parts of the world. This world is full of fear and full of death. And when we are in the depths of despair, we can remember that Jesus faced that, too. God joined us in the reality of real, physical death…a death that we reflected upon on Friday. Good Friday is somber. And it’s not comfortable to linger there. On Good Friday, we long to say, “Alleluia, He is Risen!” But it reminds us that though we die….that although our loved ones die….we say that the story isn’t over….that God still holds us in his hand.
The Resurrection is everything. If Jesus died, was buried, and just remained dead, His death would have been lost in obscurity, just one of many such episodes perpetrated by Roman oppression. The disciples would have just gone back to their fishing nets and tax collecting, and would never have been remembered today. And our distant ancestors centuries ago in northern Europe probably would have remained tree-worshipping pagans, and we would be living without hope any real hope today.
But we know that’s not how things turned out after Jesus, our Lord, was crucified. Luke’s Gospel text today says that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women were looking for Jesus’ body so that they could anoint the Lord’s body early that Sunday morning. But Jesus, who they thought was dead, was alive! They had no expectation that morning that they were in for a great surprise…..the greatest surprise! They did not expect to see Jesus ever again. And as they walked to the tomb in the early morning….at early dawn….even earlier than we are meeting this morning!….their thoughts were occupied by how they were going to get in to see the body. The tomb wasn’t a hole in the ground like our graves are. They were more like a small cave, with a big stone to cover the opening. And so, occupied with their thoughts about logistics of getting the stone out of the way….they got there, and to their surprise….the stone was already rolled back! But when they entered the tomb, instead of finding the Lord’s dead body….they encountered what Luke’s Gospel calls a “two men in dazzling clothes” who we understand to be angels, who announced the greatest proclamation for us. He said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead. He is not here, but has risen!”
He has risen! The angel’s proclamation that “He has risen” is what we celebrate every Sunday….every Sunday. Sundays aren’t so much “mini-Easters” though, as much as Easter is a highlighting of what every Sunday’s celebration is about: the Crucified and Risen Christ! “Jesus has risen” is the promise of God given at every baptism. The real presence of Jesus, who has risen, is at every Holy Communion. And the promise that Jesus has risen is given at every funeral. The Resurrection gives us hope and power and life. The Resurrection is everything.
When we are baptized, we say that we die with Christ, and are given the promise of God that we will join Christ in his resurrection. In the early church, people were usually baptized in a giant pool of water, which is still the practice in the Eastern Orthodox churches. Even babies are dunked under water when they baptized in the Orthodox church. When they would go down into the water, it signified death and dying to sin. And when the one being baptized would be brought up out of the water, it meant being raised to new life, and the gift of the hope of Resurrection. St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3) …and…..Paul continues: “United with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:5)
It is this Easter Resurrection hope that infuses everything we do as the church….and is what we celebrate on every Sunday, not just today. Sundays are a special day for the church. It is the day when most of us join in worship together to hear God’s Word and to receive the Sacrament of the Altar. Whenever we commune, we receive the Real Presence of the crucified and risen Lord into our bodies and souls. In Holy Communion, we receive not just the body and blood that was broken and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins….but ALSO (and most importantly) that body and blood which was resurrected in the power of the Holy Spirit! And so, the Body of Christ continues on in the world in and through us!
This is why we as the Body of Christ worship on Sundays, which isn’t really a “Christian Sabbath”, though. Sunday doesn’t replace the Jewish Seventh Day Sabbath for us Christians, but in the first two centuries A.D., Sunday became the day when most Christians assemble together for worship, as the particular day of the week set aside for gathering around Word & Sacrament….because it’s the Day of Resurrection. We are a Resurrection people….a people of new life, and the Resurrection is everything. We worship on Sunday, rather than Saturday, also as a reminder of the freedom that we have in Christ (in our righteousness depending not on Mosaic Law, but on the grace of Jesus Christ alone).
With this Resurrection that we celebrate today and on every Sunday, we can see that life is beautiful….that the world is full of signs of hope….like leaves in springtime…..like blooming flowers….and like new births. Because Christ was Resurrected, we are given hope for eternal life…..and a new way to see the world and experience the beauty of life, and the wonders of creation. Because Christ was Resurrected, sin and death no longer have the last word. The last word is a word of life….a word of hope…..a word of Resurrection.
And that great Easter story continues with us. The women in our Gospel text….including the two Marys and Joanna, who encountered the angels greeting at the empty tomb, then went to tell the disciples. And so Mary Magdalene, a woman remembered by tradition as being of ill repute….became the apostle to the apostles. She and the other women were the first to tell the Good News that Jesus is alive! And after they tell the disciples, Peter gets up to go see for himself….and it says he went home in amazement! It is, indeed, the most amazing story. That death is no more! That the thing we fear most is powerless…..that new life is given to us, because Jesus returned to life from the grave. And so, may our encounter with our Risen Lord give us hope in the midst of our fear and amazement at life. May that Easter hope infuse all that we do…and May we proclaim with the angel, “He is not here, but has risen.” He is risen, indeed!
March 24th, 2016 ( Maundy Thursday)
Pastor Chris Ramsey
A few days ago, a small group of young men in Brussels, Belgium, made a power play. Recruited to be disciples of terrorism by leaders of the Islamic state, they exploded several bombs in public places where innocent people, going about their ordinary, daily activities, would be killed and wounded. Two of the bombers blew themselves up, giving their lives so that others might die.
On this evening, some two-thousand years ago, Jesus of Nazareth made a power play. He met for supper with a dozen young men whom he had recruited to be his disciples. They were his intimate friends and students. They called him “teacher” and “Lord.” His power play looked like anything but power. Taking a towel and a basin of water, Jesus began to wash and dry each of his follower’s feet. Foot-washing in those days was demeaning slaves’ work. Even as a ritual sometimes done as part of Maundy Thursday services among Lutheran Christians, there can be awkward discomfort and memorable humility in the experience.
But what Jesus is doing is far more than a lesson in humility. Jesus is personally showing God’s gift of love to each of his followers. Yes indeed, he is their Lord, who teaches and shows them the work and will of God as he heals the afflicted and forgives sinners. But on this night, he gets down on his knees, washes and wipes their feet as his gift of love and service. Only as they are able to receive the gift of love from Christ, are they enabled to give the gift of God’s love to others and carry it like light in the darkness wherever they go.
Jesus’ gift of love, that evening and this evening is not offered to the chosen few. It includes Peter. Impetuous Peter, who seems to speak for us! I find a certain self-abasing pride in Peter’s indignant objection: “You’re not going to wash MY feet!” Can you and I use the self-certainty of our unworthiness to keep the love of Christ at a distance? I’m not worthy of Christ’s love. Of course I’m not, you’re not. Peter, who will deny Jesus three times, is not worthy. It is God’s gift to us.
Christ’s gift of love includes Judas. It is given as humbly and deliberately to the disciple who is going to betray Jesus as to all of the others. It is not a last-ditch effort to change Judas’ mind. It is rather another sign that Jesus comes to save sinners and that no one is excluded from the love of God. It is Judas who will exclude himself in suicidal despair. Whether that separates Judas forever from God’s love, God knows.
The young men sent out into the world by the Islamic State are equipped not to love. All disciples recruited to hold other people in contempt, to torture, hurt and kill in the name of God or country, are not sent to serve others in love, but to destroy them in judgment. The disciples of terror and torture are not monsters. They are lost children of God who have chosen evil or been tricked into evil. All are deep in the darkness of sin and death. To think that we are not capable of deep darkness is to ignore the sin that shadows our hearts and to take too lightly the saving power of the love of Christ who died that we might live.
In the name of Jesus, in the name of love, you and I are recruited to fight the darkness of sin, evil and terrorism. We have the most powerful force that there is; the power play of God’s love. Tonight, Jesus comes to this small gathering of his disciples, young and old, women and men, sinners yet saints. He invites us to the table with him. He stoops to serve us by raising us from the death of sin to new life in his love. With body given for YOU, with blood shed for YOU and ME. He equips us to be missionaries and ministers of his love as we go about our ordinary daily activities. That’s what a life of holiness is! That is where the love and world-changing power play of Christ is to be found! Amen.
March 20th, 2016 (Palm/Passion Sunday)
Pastor Chris Ramsey
Over the years, I’ve spent a good deal of time in Washington DC. As a grad student, I did research at the Library of Congress and my brother lived in nearby Arlington, VA for over 40 years. Many foreign leaders come to our nation’s capital. I could tell when such a visit was taking place, because downtown would be decorated with both American flags and the flag of the visiting officials’ country. What flag is that, who’s in town this time?
Of course, I was never involved in the receptions at the airport, the parade of limousines or state dinners, let alone the official meetings that are the substance of these visits. Meetings between our President and officials with leaders of other countries always have goals they hope to accomplish, economic agreements, military cooperation or working on difficult issues and problems between the United States and other countries.
Jesus comes to the political and religious center of Jerusalem with God’s agenda of liberating human beings from our bondage to sin and death. He arrives with, as Luke’s Good News remembers it, a modest but royal welcome by enthusiastic disciples. This time, his “followers” get out ahead of him to spread their cloaks in humble honor of Messiah Jesus riding on a young donkey. (I can imagine a scolding mother saying “How on earth did you get these dirty donkey tracks on your coat!”)
“Mom, you had to be there to understand!” What the enthusiastic crowd understood too loudly for the cautious, responsible Pharisees among them was that Jesus embodied the blessed power of God through his teaching and healings which they had seen and experienced. These Pharisees are apparently, sincere religious laypeople, devoted to following God’s laws who seem to be included among the crowd of “disciples.”
However, when folks begin to shout about the immediate power and presence of God in the world in Jesus, the Pharisees think they’re going too far. But Jesus comes to Jerusalem to go “too far.” The other part of Palm Sunday is Passion Sunday. He rides into the city to confront the religious leaders of Judea who are waiting for a Messiah to liberate them from Rome. Jesus will confront the pagan political power of Rome which claims “Caesar is Lord”, end of discussion!
If the Son of God is on a diplomatic mission to establish better relations between God and God’s people and the pagan, Gentile world, his mission looks like the most humiliating failure. God in the flesh is arrested and Jewish religious leaders and Caesar’s representative Pilate cooperate to reject, nail to the cross and kill, “God with us.”
But the passion of the Christ is the strange, triumphant work of God. Jesus does not enter Jerusalem to negotiate better relations with sinful humanity, Jewish and Gentile, but to destroy their deadly diplomacy of sin and Satan’s lie that death is the final solution to religious and political conflicts. Jesus, who rode into Jerusalem on a colt on which no one else had ridden, will be raised from a tomb in which no one else had been laid, to liberate us from the power of sin and death, which no one but the Son of God can do.
So what do we do with Palm/Passion Sunday? We take a real look at our own resistance to the real power and presence of God in our world and in our lives. If we do not recognize in those who reject Jesus, our own resilient opposition to God who calls us to justice and mercy, and away from the false gods of prejudice and punishment, we are not paying attention. If we act as if political power, whether for our nation, communities, churches or families, is about getting our own way, then we have made ourselves little gods and goddesses and are set up to make ourselves and others chronically unhappy!
Jesus doesn’t come to us as Lord and Savior through our baptism to negotiate with us about being better people. He comes to liberate us from our sinful selves to be his people! God’s better relationship with us through Jesus Christ is about liberating us from everything that would separate us from loving Jesus and loving others.
Be gone all hatred from our hearts!
Be gone all prejudice from our lips!
Be gone all envy from our thoughts!
Be gone all fear in the Name of Christ!
Jesus suffered the weight of all those sins that we would have them lifted from us and live in the deep joy of noisy (maybe quietly noisy, among Lutherans!), palm-waving followers, leading God’s holy charge of love, mercy and forgiveness in God’s screwed-up beloved world! Amen.
March 13th, 2016
Pastor Chris Ramsey
Holy Scripture brings us both law and factual information, but it does so much more! Listen to what today’s reading from John does for us. This story has the power to take us into an awkward and embarrassing situation, a place we’d rather not be, in order for us to grow in love, understanding and action as followers of Jesus.
Imagine that you and I are guests at the dinner party being hosted by Jesus’ friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Not only do we get to have dinner with Jesus, but his disciples and Lazarus, the guy he raised from the dead are there too. Wow! We would be comfortably lounging on couches around the table in the custom of that day, eating and talking.
But then things get out of hand! Mary unexpectedly brings out a whole pound of very expensive perfumed ointment. Getting down on her knees, she rubs the whole container of it on Jesus’ feet with her hands and wipes the excess off with her hair. Eeoww! What is she doing? We, the other guests and Mary’s family, are silent with embarrassment and blushing with discomfort.
The voice that finally breaks the awkward silence is that of Jesus’ disciple Judas, the one who will betray him, the one whom, John informs us, is a dishonest treasurer, embezzling money from the group’s common fund. Yet for all of his faults, Judas asks the right question, the obvious, practical, moral question; our question: “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for three hundred denarii (that’s nearly a year’s average wages) and the money given to the poor?”
Why wasn’t it? It is Judas who appears to be the sensible and moral voice speaking truth about how Mary’s money could have been far better spent to help many poor people. Mary’s heart was in the right place. She wanted to show her great love for Jesus through a gift that cost a fortune. But surely her extravagant love could have been shown in a more prudent way!
Jesus’ answer will require us to listen closely: “Leave her alone. She bought it that she might keep it for the day of my burial.” There is more to Mary’s anointing of Jesus than she knows. She is not only showing her love and devotion to the one who raised her brother from the dead, her action is the anointing of Jesus, “the Messiah”, the “anointed one”, for his death. Earthly kings were anointed with oil as “messiahs” before ascending to their thrones of power and authority. They were anointed on the head, which wore their king’s crown. (Queen Elizabeth was anointed with perfumed oil in a religious ceremony at her coronation.)
The perfuming of Jesus anoints his feet, which will be nailed to that most strange throne of Messiah Jesus authority and power, the cross of his execution. The perfuming of Jesus is an act of unselfish and costly love that fills the whole house with its sweet aroma. The unselfish and priceless gift of God’s love through Jesus’ death on the cross, and his resurrection from death, will fill the whole world with the sweet aroma of God’s love for all people, overcoming the stink of death and human sin.
The sweet smell of God’s love in Christ, spreading throughout the world, also answers Judas’ question and ours, about caring for the poor. “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” That was the fact of the dinner party in Bethany. Mary’s anointing of Jesus was for his entry into Jerusalem and his crucifixion. Did Judas really care about the poor? Do we? There are always unlimited opportunities for Judas and for us to give out of what we have to minister to the needs of others.
As congregations and followers of Jesus, our service to others spreads like a sweet smell from what the sweet, anointed love of Christ has done for us. We too are the poor. No one ended up more poor than clever, conniving Judas, who traded the riches of knowing Jesus Christ as Messiah for thirty pieces of silver. All of us need to be delivered from the poverty of self-serving calculations.
No one was more rich than uncalculating Mary, who responded to the love of her Lord and Savior with a costly gift that was worth far more than she knew. Uncalculating love is anything but sloppy and irresponsible. It is governed by how much we can do with what we have, not by how little we can do. Like Mary, when we thank Jesus for his sweet love for us by spreading the perfume of good deeds, persistent prayers, and love which may embarrass others, we give more than we know – how sweet it is! Amen.
February 28, 2016
Seminarian Sean Titus
We gather to reflect upon God’s Word in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Unless you repent you will all perish as they did,” Jesus said to the crowd about some Galileans who apparently suffered a grisly capital punishment at the hands of Pilate. And Jesus says it not once, but twice in the story. “Unless you repent you will all perish as they did.” At first this sounds pretty harsh. This isn’t warm fuzzy Jesus. This isn’t a Jesus who makes us comfortable. But there must be some Good News in it, right? Well, I think there is…..because in saying this, Jesus is answering a question people had about the sinfulness…not of themselves…but of the other. The Galileans that the crowd was asking about suffered a horrible death….with their blood being mingled with the sacrifices, which Pilate did because he was known to have great disdain as a Roman for local Jewish religious practices, according to the Jewish 1st century historian Josephus. Though we believe differently in a theology of the Cross…. in that culture at that time, any kind of physical suffering was thought to be a result of sin.
Notice here what Jesus does with the crowds questions about this. He doesn’t allow them to keep pointing their fingers at these Galileans. He doesn’t allow the crowds to go on with the illusion that those Galileans who suffered a grisly end were bad, and that the people present in the crowds must be better people because they didn’t meet such an end. No. Jesus turns it back around, answering that, no, these Galileans aren’t the worst of the worst….and furthermore….he tells the people that they themselves need to repent! “Unless you repent you will all perish as they did.”
Jesus, as he does so often in the Gospels, he cleverly turns questions around, giving answers that no one expects, even when people are trying to trick him. In this case, Jesus refuses to play the blame game. He refuses to say who is better than who. And instead, he points out that at the end of the day, we’re all in the same boat. Because regardless of what we’ve done, how much we’ve sinned, we still all need repentance. We all fall short of God’s glory. We all have failed to obey God’s commandments in their fullness. And Jesus calls us, too, to repentance. Our season of Lent is a particularly penitential time in our church year. It’s an opportunity for us to take stock of our lives once again, and to remember in a more intentional way than usual, that we are all in the same boat. Often we’re tempted to think that we’re the good people, and our neighbors who choose to sleep in on Sundays after a night of who knows what, are the bad people. We’re tempted to do what the crowds around Jesus did that day….to point at others in their sinfulness. Today, we’re reminded that, yes, others are sinners, but, in truth, so are we.
In Lutheranism, we recognize that repentance is important….that it is a daily return to our baptism. We confess our sins together at the beginning of the service in our order of confession and forgiveness, not so that we can “tsk-tsk” at each other…but so that we can be honest with each other….recognizing that our sins always hurt not just our relationship with God, but also our relationships with others, even if we think we keep them hidden. And what a liberating thing for us to hear the words of forgiveness that Christ offers us! Repentance begins in sorrow, but ends in joy, hearing the words of forgiveness from Jesus! But before we confess, it’s good to examine our consciences, which is why we have a moment of silence before the confession. The hard reality is that even after we are converted to Christ…..even after we have received the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit in our baptism, we continue to live in the midst of this broken world that God is continuing to transform through the work of Christ.
Conversion and repentance isn’t something that we do once in our lives, and then we don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s a daily, continual reception of God’s baptismal promise in our lives. If we look at the Greek word for repent in our text, it’s μετανοητε. The tense of the word there isn’t aorist imperative, or past tense. It’s present subjunctive, which means that it should be translated as “unless you are repenting.” For us as Lutherans, “getting saved” isn’t done once through a prayer…at an altar call, perhaps, when we pray this prayer or that prayer. No, in our tradition, “getting saved” is something that was done for us 2000 years ago! It’s something that we continually receive in faith, trusting not in ourselves or in our own prayers, but in God’s promise for us in Christ. And in our text today, Jesus calls us to continual daily repentance, meaning not a particular act that we do or a particular prayer we make, but our continual attitude to life, our continual attitude of simultaneous sorrow for our brokenness and hope for the future before God and each other. Every day we are called be repenting… to be continually trusting God’s promise that we are sinners of his own redeeming.
What a great consolation it is when we hear the Word of God that we have the entire forgiveness of all our sins” because of Jesus Christ. We do it because it sets the stage for us to hear the consolation of the Gospel. The Augsburg Confession says that when we repent, we are led to faith, which “believes that sins are forgiven on account of Christ, consoles the conscience, and liberates it from terrors.” We needn’t fear that our sins will send us to eternal torment, because when we trust in Christ, death and sin have no power over us.
For me, one of the most important results of any liturgy or service of worship is that we leave and go forth in the world reassured of God’s love and forgiveness. We should never leave the church doors feeling simply that we’re sinners or that we’re comdemned. We should leave having been reminded that, though we are sinners, we are also saints….that we are beloved children of God despite everything…..that we ARE redeemed, forgiven, freed, saved, and loved. In Christ, we are not condemned sinners; we are redeemed sinners, beloved by God.
The second part of our Gospel text has to do with a fig tree. I’ve never seen a real fig or a fig tree, other than those little fig bars you can buy at the store. But figs are very important in the eastern Mediterranean, and the fig tree is a frequent symbol of the people of Israel. The fig tree in the parable isn’t producing fruit. It’s not fulfilling its purpose….but the gardener gives it another chance. And so when God’s people aren’t living into the fullness of God’s will for us, God gives us a second chance. God, in essence, “gives a fig” for us. And because our God of second chances “gives a fig” for us, we can respond by “giving a fig” for others.
And Lent is a perfect time for us to pause and reflect upon all of this, keeping in mind that the end result of all of our spiritual practices should be for our consolation, freeing us to live in a Christ-like way, in fervent love for one other.
February 21, 2015
Pastor Chris Ramsey
Lk. 13: 31 – 35, Lent 2/C
Feb. 21, 2016, St. Matthew & St. Peter
There was an older couple in one of the parishes I previously served, who were active and devout Christians. They had raised five children, four of whom, as we say “turned out well.” Sadly, the same could not be said of their oldest child and only son. He was emotionally abusive and an alcoholic whose marriage and career had been destroyed by his problems. Time and again, his parents tried to help him.
Time and again they helped him to get counseling for his addiction and emotional problems. Time and again they come to his financial rescue. Over the years they spent thousands of dollars, but that did not compare to what they gave their son in love emotional support and prayers that his life might be turned around.
But he would not. The time came when his parents, in love, gave him no more money to misspend, when their ability to accept his excuses and promises was exhausted. Indeed, they had to change their phone number to escape their son’s abusive phone calls. Their love for him did not end. Their prayers for him did not end, but his misconduct forced them to love him from a distance.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets; you stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!” This is the Son of God’s cry of anguish, love and grief over a city and a people with a long history of rebellion against the will and love of God. What’s worse, they are headed for further rebellion and destruction. What is Jesus, their awaited but rejected Messiah to do with them?
How many of us have family members, friends, neighbors or people we work with who we yearn to embrace with love and help to turn from self-destructive behavior? We may see all too clearly the consequences of where their thoughts and actions are taking them, yet how often are our best efforts rejected or their promises to change broken? What are we, who are marked with the cross of Christ’s love to do?
What was Jesus to do? Surely any reasonable Messiah would change his travel plans and not go to Jerusalem. But Jesus is not a reasonable Messiah and the love of God will not be turned away because God’s people repeated turn away from the very one who would save them from self-destruction. Jesus’ grief over the people of Jerusalem is a deep cry of love. This love yearns for turn-around and change from God’s people. To continue in their self-assured ways will bring judgment and destruction.
But God loves them! Jesus will go to Jerusalem, not to reject and punish those who reject him, but to suffer the full weight of human sinfulness, the worst we can sink to so that sin will be defeated. Jesus will die on the cross so that on the third day, he will finish his work and it will be death that has been rejected and defeated! Through his cross, Jesus embraces us all in his arms of love and welcomes all people under the sheltering wings of God.
Through the baptismal embrace of the love of Jesus, you and I bear the cross of Christ. As Paul puts it, “our citizenship is in heaven” while we are still 100% in this world. Therefore, as Christians, our love is not limited to being practical and reasonable. Christian love is demanding, or it would not be love! It insists on responsibility, morality, humility and generosity.
There is hardiness, yes, a holy stubbornness about the love we have for others through Jesus. It is love that does not shut down in the face of repeated rebellion and rejection. In the love of Jesus, we are enabled not to give up on those we love, or on those who we can no longer love. Abusive behavior, physical or mental, requires us to get away from danger, while still holding those who “will not’ in God’s love through prayer.
What eventually happened to my former parishioner’s son, I don not know. Sometimes those who are entangled in self-destructive behavior “will not” to the end. But how many others have found deliverance and turned-around lives only through the holy and unreasonable love of citizens of heaven who ourselves struggle against sin and know the love and forgiveness of God and of others. For we bear the cross of God’s love which will never give up on us and ever seeks to gather us and mother us through this world of sorrows and joys with strong and patient love. Amen.
The Imposition of Ashes
In the Bible ashes were a symbol of frailty and brevity of human life(Genesis 18:27). They also were worn or sat in as a sign of sorrow and repentance for one’s sins(Jonah 3:6). They are therefore, an appropriate biblical reminder of the shortness of our lives on earth and the need to confess our sins to the Father, the very themes of Ash Wednesday. The sign of the cross on our foreheads furthermore points to the true source of forgiveness and healing and reminds us of our Baptism where our sins are washed away. The ashes are produced by burning palms left over from last year’s Palm Sunday Celebration. The practice of imposing ashes on Ash Wednesday goes back before the reformation to medieval times. It has been commonly observed by Roman Catholics and Episcopalian communities and more recently by many Lutheran Congregations.
Feb. 10, 2016
Pastor Chris Ramsey
2 Cor. 5: 20b – 6: 10 (rather loosely), (C)
Some time ago, I bought a bag of Doritos. I’m sure all of you have given up what I shall politely call snack food for Lent. Anyway, this was a mixed bag, containing two kinds of chips, “cool ranch” and “spicy hot.” I was struck by name selected to market this combination of different chips; “Doritos Collision.” “Collision” is a word of jarring impact, of spicy hot and cool ranch jostling in conflict!
Despite their differences in color and taste, I could detect no actual signs of antagonism between the cool chips and the hot ones. They seemed to be sharing the confines of the bag quite peacefully. I certainly enjoyed both kinds, and they cooperated in my stomach, providing calories I didn’t need!
And yet, the fact that something as ordinary as snack food should be advertised in the language of conflict caused me to notice that we are often taught by the world that differences are about disagreement and collision. Differences in taste and color, even slight differences, are to be feared. People who are “not like us” are threats, and understandably draw our disapproval, prejudice and contempt. So we have confessed:
“For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us … Accept our repentance Lord.”
Oh yes, it isn’t only the profit-driven voices (that’s “profit” with an “f” not a “ph”) of what I call the media fear industry that incite us to false judgments of others and self-righteousness defensiveness about ourselves. That is what sin does. This sin afflicts our nation, our communities our churches and families. The sin of prejudice and contempt seduces us as good people, sincere in our faith and trying to follow Jesus in our daily lives.
How easy it is and how natural it becomes by the standards of the world’s merciless judgment, to be critical of people because they differ from us in appearance or taste, habits or politics, religion or personality. How easy to believe the worst of others. We suspect their motives and find fault with whatever they do.
The sins of false judgment and contempt also contain a false judgment about ourselves which claims that we are better than they are, our motives are more pure and if we were in that situation we would do the right thing.
Maybe so, and maybe not! The sin is our attitude of judgment. I speak from ongoing personal experience! Especially in my first job, I got into considerable well-deserved collisions because of my sharp, witty, sometimes accurate, un-loving, self-righteous judgments of others.
The apostle Paul had been criticized by other missionaries and by some in the congregation at Corinth for not being a real apostle. His preaching wasn’t what it ought to have been and his background was suspicious. Paul contrasts that to what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Instead of judging and condemning us for our profound difference from Jesus in our sin and self-centeredness, Jesus gave himself to the ultimate collision with sin, death and the devil on the cross. God reconciled himself through Jesus who took our sin upon himself and gave sinful humanity his right relationship with God.
Our summons of love through Christ is to repent of our sins. Today is always the best possible time to do it. Ours is a ministry of reconciliation in this world. As God has made peace with us through Jesus death and resurrection, so we are to bring the reconciling love of Jesus to others.
We come together for worship this evening across our differences. We have distinct traditions and histories as movements of renewal and commitment to living the Good News of Jesus. We share the Beaver Creek community and the intimacy of family-sized congregations. My experience in serving small congregations is that we are wonderful circles of love. However, there is also the temptation to be closed circles of love where some have been excluded or ignored and some have been hurt by the church.
The Holy Spirit has gathered us here as one family of differences, not to be in collision, but in reconciliation. We come together in the common dust of our mortality. We come together in the one saving body and blood of Christ and in Christ’s saving word. We come together in the truth of our sinfulness and the truth of God’s love and forgiveness. We come together so that we can go where the Lord sends us with the witness and gift of God’s saving love for all through Jesus Christ. Amen.
February 7, 2015
Pastor Chris Ramsey
St. Matthew/St. Peter
Lk. 9: 28 – 43, Transfiguration C
We could have ended our experience of the Good News of Jesus in the awed silence of Peter, John and James. On the mountaintop, the three followers of Jesus saw and heard things for which, at the time they couldn’t find the words to describe or talk about. Maybe it seemed to them as if Jesus had taken them beyond this world, to the very edge of heaven. At the edge of heaven, the man Jesus shone with divine brilliance, the boundary between this world and the next vanished as Moses and Elijah appeared and the voice of God was heard.
But we disciples, past and present, aren’t allowed to stay in awed silence on the mountain. Down into the valley Jesus brings us, where we land with a thump in the so-called “real world.” In the valley, there are no dazzling visions and no prophets from heaven. Instead, we meet a desperate father and his tormented son. Instead of the voice of God, we are told of Jesus’ disciples’ unanswered prayers for the boy’s healing.
And yet, the epiphany, the revelation on the mountaintop is not intended to give Peter, John, James and us a glimpse of the edge of heaven, a divine place beyond this world where God is more fully present. That thousand-watt shining Jesus, the prophets Moses and Elijah and the uncomplicated word of God all intend to show us how heaven has come to earth.
The first revelation is dazzling Jesus (we always knew he was really bright)! He glows with the divine light of the presence of God. For us to be with Jesus through our baptism, hearing his word and meeting him in Holy Communion is to be in the light of God’s love. This divine light floods into darkness of all kinds, revealing things as they really are. This is light that heals, sustains and invigorates our lives as children of God. Because of our sinfulness, there are dark places we don’t want the light to reveal, but that is where love’s light is most needed.
Then Moses and Elijah show up. Why? Well, who had they worked for? They brought the liberating power of God’s love and justice to the tough and demanding valleys of this world. Moses led the Hebrew slaves out of bondage in Egypt and on the road to new life in God’s promised land. Elijah was called to deliver God’s people from another kind of slavery, idolatry, putting “other gods” above God (certainly not football!).
God’s work of delivering human beings from slavery, this time the slavery to sin and death; will be completed in Jesus. Moses and Elijah talk with him about; the “exodus” to be accomplished in Jerusalem. His departure will begin with the Son of God’s death on the cross at the hands of sinful human beings.
But that horrible event leads to the final exodus when our risen Lord Jesus exits his tomb to lead Peter, John, James and us out of sin into God’s forgiveness, out of death into new life. That is the real world we live in, that is where we are going and Jesus is continuing to deliver us through the ups and down of this life.
And it is Jesus who leads his friends down to where there is still work to be done. Peter, John and James go with the words of God in their heads and hearts: “This is my Son, my chosen. Listen to him.” This is God’s very simple word to you and to me. Listen to Jesus. Listen to Jesus as he confronts the crying need of the desperate father, the convulsions of his possessed son and as he grieves the cost of sin and faithlessness. But at the word of Jesus, the evil is overcome.
For us to be followers of Jesus, baptized into his death and resurrection is to be part of the kingdom of God in this world, of heaven coming to a world that is where sin and satanic evil are present and where the light of Christ pierces the darkness of human need. Listen to Jesus. It doesn’t take an extraordinary personal experience to listen to Jesus. His word in scripture reveals the extraordinary to us. Gathering soup for the needy is walking in the light of Jesus and listening to him. Serving on church council is serving others and our Lord. Playing sports for personal pleasure and as a team member can be a Christian calling. Our prayers are spoken to the one who hears us, our confessions to the one who forgives us and leads us out of darkness into light. And so for us, shine Jesus shine! Amen.
February 14, 2016
Seminarian Sean Titus
We gather to hear God’s Word….in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the
Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s so nice to be back here among you this morning on this Valentine’s Day. And about that…I have some good news. The 40 days of Lent, technically, do not include Sundays. So, if you’re one of those people who gave up chocolate for Lent, you can still enjoy some of that
Valentine’s Day chocolate today, whether you have a sweetheart or not. But in any case, Happy Valentine’s Day! As on every day, we proclaim the grace-filled message that we are loved indeed! God loved us so much that God became one of us; to die for us and with us in Jesus Christ. God is love. And just as God has loved us, so we can love one another as the Body of Christ.
Some of you may know that I wasn’t raised in the Lutheran church…so I didn’t get to have Lent or Ash Wednesday or even Good Friday growing up. I don’t think I even knew what it was. In my youth I was raised in a non-denominational evangelical church. And for college, I went to an evangelical institution called Messiah College, outside of Harrisburg. I had a great experience there, but while I was a college student, I began to do a lot of searching. I never gave up on church or Christianity overall, but I wanted something different than the evangelical experience I had growing up. So, I explored various other Christian traditions in my early to mid 20s. But I was reminded of a time during my college years, when I decided to try going to an Ash Wednesday service for the first time, just to see what it was like. And so I went to a local church…..got the ashes on my forehead. And upon my return to the college campus, my friends who were evangelicals and Mennonites, gave me a weird look, and one of them said, “Umm, you’ve got some dirt on your head.” They literally didn’t know what it was. I just played it cool, but the reality was that it was a new thing for me, too. But the 40 day season of preparation for Easter is something that has become a blessing for me, as I think it is for the church, too.
So, here we are on the first Sunday of Lent. I love Lent on the church’s calendar….because it’s a time of remembering. Remembering that we are sinners in need of grace. Remembering that Jesus Christ saved us at Calvary. And remembering the promise that God gives to us in our baptism…..of the hope of abundant life, both now and forever. It’s also a time of renewal….a time for the church to get a recharge. It’s a time for us as individuals to take stock of our lives…to get realigned to the will of God for us. And it’s a time for us together as the church to be renewed in our mission to witness to the saving work of Jesus for us. And this time of renewal in the Word is a such a positive experience for us. And the most positive thing of all is remembering what St. Paul writes in our epistle reading for today: “that if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Lent is a time for us to once again ponder what it means for Jesus to be Lord for us in our lives. In pondering this phrase….this oldest creed in Christian history….. “Jesus is Lord”…..we remember that, in fact, we have not made Jesus our Lord. We have fallen short.
We have denied Christ’s lordship in our lives in so many ways. During Lent, it is a time for us to remember once again that Jesus is Lord.
Repentance is, indeed, part of the season….because to say “Jesus is Lord” is to say I am not. To say “Jesus is Lord” is to say that, despite ourselves, despite the fact that we take Jesus’lordship away in our sin, that we are sorry, and that we now, at least, desire the lordship of Jesus Christ. And so, we take this time of year to re-orient our hearts and our lives to God’s Way. In this honest recognition of who we really are when we’re left to our own devices, we remember also that we have a Savior and Lord. We remember that Jesus has come for us, forgives our sin, and saves us. But, though we are freed and entirely forgiven in Christ, we still falter in our response to God’s baptismal gift. One of the many phrases unique to our Lutheran tradition is simil iustus et peccator, which means that while we remain in this life in Christ, we are simultaneously saints and sinners. So, mindful of our both our imperfection & also of Christ’s saving work for us, we daily and continually reorient our lives all year long (but especially during Lent), remembering and trusting God’s promise & receiving God’s forgiveness.
Though we have been unfaithful, Christ our Lord is faithful. Much of what we do during Lent is about remembering, remembering both who we are….remembering Who Jesus is….and remembering who we are now in Jesus Christ: baptized and beloved children of God. So, I
would encourage us all to take on a spiritual practice this Lent to remember the saving work of Christ for us. We Lutherans observe Lenten practices not because we must or because we thinkthat they will earn us grace (which comes only through the work of Christ!), but because we can…if they might be useful in helping us to remember that we are sinners, that we need Jesus,and that because of Jesus…and only Jesus, we are freed & forgiven. Lent should help us to remember what Jesus did for us.
And I think the most important thing we can do during Lent doesn’t have anything to do with chocolates or whatever treats we might give up. It has to do with what Jesus shows us in today’s Gospel text. The story is about the temptation of Christ, who has gone out into the
wilderness….which means into the desert to fast and to pray. And notice how many days there were for this fasting and praying of Christ during his temptation: forty! Just like the fasts of Moses and Elijah, and forty, just like God’s testing of the people of Israel during their 40 year wandering in the desert before entering the Promised Land. Our 40 days of Lent is in this biblical tradition of fasting and praying. Lent is our 40 day wilderness of fasting and praying before we enter our Promised Land at Easter.
But then, during his temptation, notice what Jesus does. First the devil tries to get Jesus (who must have been starving) to turn a stone into bread. And Jesus said, “It is written, One does not live by bread alone.” And then the devil tried to get Jesus to worship him by offering him the kingdoms of the world. Again Jesus says, “It is written…….Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” What does Jesus do? He turns to Scripture, specifically the Book of Deuteronomy, part of the Jewish Torah. The devil knew what Jesus was doing….and the devil
knew the power of God’s Word….so the devil actually quotes the Bible back at Jesus, telling him to throw himself down from the top of the temple because “God will command his angels concerning you to protect you”, quoting Psalm 91, our psalm for today. But Jesus countered
with more Scripture, again quoting Deuteronomy: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Jesus prevails against the devil, and he shows us how to prevail: the Word of God. For us Christians, the Bible directs us to Christ, both in showing us how we fail God’s Law & also the Good News that Christ is the fulfillment of the Law for us. The Bible is our comfort and joy.
The Bible is the most amazing thing we could possibly read, which is probably why it’s both the best-selling book of all time, as well as the most shoplifted book of all time. The Bible contains Good News for us today, so if you do anything this Lent, spent more time in the Bible. Martin Luther called the Bible “the cradle wherein Christ is laid.” The more we spend time in prayer and Bible study, the more our hearts and minds will be directed to Jesus. And the more our hearts and minds are centered upon Christ, the more we can be part of what God is doing to draw all people to himself. During this time of transition in your parish, I truly believe the most important thing that can be done to prepare for both our celebration of Easter, and for the future, is spiritual revitalization centered at its core in prayer and Bible study. And Lent offers us the perfect opportunity to get deeper into the Word, and allow the Holy Spirit to renew us, in the sure and certain hope we have in Christ, making the “Lord [our] refuge.”