Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nov. 15, 2009; Pentecost 24, Lectionary 33

November 15, 2009

A sermon preached at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Knoxville, TN

Texts: Daniel 12:1-3; Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25; Psalm 16; Mark 13:1-8

Morgan Wooten was a basketball coach. He coached at DeMatha High School in the DC area. His teams won 1274 games while losing only 192 times. He was considered by everyone who knew him to be one of the great ones. Well, everyone except his grandson.

Wooten is one of only three High School coaches in the Basketball Hall of Fame. At his induction, he told a story about his grandson's first day of school.

The teacher asked Nick: what's your favorite sport?

He replied: Baseball.

The teacher knew who Nick's grandfather was. She was surprised. She said: Not basketball?

Nick said: Nope. I don't know anybody who knows anything about basketball.

The teacher was even more surprised: but Nick, a lot of people think your Grandfather Wooten knows a lot about basketball.


SOMETIMES WE ARE LIKE Nick. Because we see the game of life going on and have a hard time seeing the hand of God anywhere in it, we think:

God knows nothing about it,

or, God cares nothing about it,

or, God can't do anything about it, because, after all,

We never see God get in the game.

The Bible readings today talk about the art of having faith in a world gone mad,
of seeing God's hand in the wild whirlwind of life around us.

Each is an example of APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE. Though many use these types of writings to try to make predictions about the future and to frighten people in the present, that is not what these Bible readings are about.

They are intended to bring us reassurance of God's love when we go through hard times and God seems to be very far away.

Daniel was written at a time when the Hebrew people and the Jewish faith were in a tough spot.

They were in exile, they were oppressed, they were persecuted.

Daniel was written to give hope to a people who had lost all hope; to give faith to those who were losing touch with God.

Chapter 13 of Mark's Gospel was written about thirty years after the death of Jesus, to the early Christians, a community of faith that was also in a tough spot,

They were a people who were fearful and hesitant about the future. These words were written to give them hope and faith in the God of the future.

Hebrews was written to the Jewish Christian Community in Rome. They were struggling with the Romans on the one hand and their Jewish brothers and sisters on the other. They needed a word of hope in a time of distress.

Each of these communities was like Morgan Wooten's grandson. They saw the activity in front of them, but they couldn't see the hand of the one running the show; and so they were afraid, they were anxious, they were losing hope.

I love old 50s' television, and everyone once in a long while, on TVLand or something like that, you can get lucky and see an old skit with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks.

It's called the 2000 year old man. Reiner plays a TV reporter and Brooks plays, well, a 2000 year old man.

Newsman: Well did you worship God in your village?

Old Man: No, at first we worshipped this guy in our village named Phil.

Newsman: You worshipped a guy named Phil? Why?

Old Man: well, he was bigger than us, and faster than us, and he was mean, and he could hurt you; break your arm or leg right in two; so we worshipped Phil.

Newsman: I see. Did you have any prayers in this religion?

Old Man: Yeah. Want to hear one? PLEASE PHIL NO! PLEASE PHIL NO!

Newsman: Okay. When did you stop worshipping Phil?

Old Man: Well One day we were having a religious festival.
Phil was chasing us and we were praying. (PLEASE PHIL NO! PLEASE PHIL NO!)
and suddenly a thunderstorm came up and a bolt of lightning struck and killed Phil.
We all gathered around and stared at Phil awhile and then we realized:

That is the ultimate message of Apocalyptic literature; There's something bigger than Phil, there's something bigger than the bad stuff that happens in our lives.

And that something bigger is God.

That something bigger is Grace.

That something bigger is Love.

That something bigger is Faith in God's tomorrow overcoming our yesterdays and todays.

That something bigger is the faith that God is indeed very much in the game.
God is involved in all our pain and sorrow, our suffering and disappointment.

God is bigger, much bigger than all those things that frighten and haunt us.

Almost every church sings the Hymn Now Thank We All Our God around Thanksgiving. You know it, it goes like this:

Now thank we all our God, with hearts and souls and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices.
Who, from our mothers' arms, has blest us on our way,
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

As you sing that this year, reflect upon this: Pastor Martin Rinkhart wrote that hymn in the early 1600's, in the midst of the Thirty Years War. 6000 - 8000 people in his village and territory died in an epidemic, including the other two clergymen, for weeks at a time he buried as many as fifty people a day, including his own wife and children.

Either Rinkhart was heartless and a bit crazy, or he was in touch with a deep, deep spiritual truth about a God whose promises are ever sure and whose love never fails.

If Rinkhardt was right, if our Bible readings are telling us the truth that in the midst of this world's trouble and sorrow, pain and disappointment; we can hold fast to the assurance of God's concern and involvement in our lives; what are we to do, how are we called to live our lives?

There's a fascinating line in our Hebrews lesson, verse 24: "And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,"

Usually, I would say almost always, the word provoke is used in a negative sense; as in "Honest Officer, I didn't aim to hit him, but he, he PROVOKED me!" but here it is used positively, as encouragment, as stirring up, as prodding and pushing and being active in love.

We are called into a world full of scared, lonely, hurting people, and we are called to provoke one another into acts of love, into works of mercy, into commitments to compassion, into doing the right thing for all the right reasons.

Jesus showed us the way to live in the light. Jesus' entire life, death and resurrection were about a divine provocation to love.

The Cross is the place it all comes together.
There Christ suffered so that we might be healed,
There Christ wept, so that we might have joy in the morning,
There Christ was punished, so that we would be forgiven,
There Christ was lost and forsaken, so that we could be found by God,
There Christ died, that we might live.

And there we are called to go out; to go out into the world
with the message of God's love and hope.

Amen and amen.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Lectionary 32/ Pentecost 23

A sermon preached at Martin Luther Evangelical Lutheran church, Mobile alabama on the Occasion of their 87th Anniversary.

November 8, 2009

Texts: I Kings 17:8-16, Mark 12:38-44

Today, we have read Bible lessons about two widows, both of whom were poor, and both of whom were generous with what they had.

The Gospel lesson, the story we know as the widow’s mite, was a little tough on Pastors and other official church folk.

-Beware of scribes, who like to walk around in long robes Well, I wear them during service, but I don’t walk around in them, much.

-and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, Okay, I do like it when people in grocery stores and restaurants call me Father or Reverend or Padre and treat me a little extra nice.

And to have the best seats in the synagogue - well, I don’t know if it’s the best, but it is bigger and it is different.

And places of honor at banquets
- What can I say, I obviously like to eat!

They devour widow’s houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers, Okay, I’m clean on these two, I’ve never tricked a widow out of her house, and I’m famous for short prayers, not long ones, so perhaps I’ve escaped the “greater condemnation” by a narrow margin.

Whenever we hear a bible story, one of the most important things we can ask ourselves is, "With whom do I identify, who in this story feels like me?"

Of course, none of us would like to think we’re like the scribes, making a big, loud public display of our religion; in particular, none of us wants to look like a hypocrite.

And we all want to believe that we’re like the widow, doing all we can with what little we have.

Most of us, most of the time, hear the Widow’s Mite story and think it means something like this:

"See, it’s not HOW MUCH you give that matters, it’s the spirit with which you give that counts. A little bit is just as important as a lot."

That is true, as far as it goes.

But most of us miss an important point here, Jesus did not say that the widow gave all she could afford; Jesus said she gave all she had.

Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. Far all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.

Truth be told, most of us, myself included, most of the time, give out of our abundance.

We give what we think we can afford to give without seriously affecting our standard of living.

What Jesus points to in the widow is another thing entirely; her total commitment of everything she has, all her resources, “all she had to live on” to the Kingdom of God.

At root, this story is not so much about giving and generosity as it is about TRUST IN GOD.

That is why the Hebrew story of Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath is read with the story of the Widow’s Mite in the appointed readings for today.

These two stories are not only about widows, they are about putting your complete trust in God.

The Widow of Zarephath also gave all she had. She shared with the Prophet of the LORD the last of her food in a time of famine.

Yet, when she did, she discovered she had enough, enough at least to keep going, day by day; the jar of meal and the jug of oil having in them each day enough for that day’s needs.

This is the way God operates. This is the way God provides for God’s people.
Remember the manna from Heaven, the bread upon the ground provided to the Israelites
as they went from Egypt to the Promised Land?

If they took more than they needed for the day, the extra would rot before the next morning. It was a lesson in trusting God to provide each day’s needs.

What Jesus notices and comments upon with the Widow is not the size of her gift, but the fact that she gave her all, trusting that God would provide for the next day.

This is the Biblical Principle of God’s economy; this is the way God always works.

God’s promise is not: If you return to me a tithe, I will make you rich.

God’s promise is: If you commit to me your all, I will provide for your needs.

The history of Martin Luther Evangelical Lutheran Church teaches us that this is true.

When Mrs. Mayme Dixon and her aunt, Mrs. Theresa Pratt, began a Sunday School in the Laundry Workers Hall on Adam Street, teaching on Sunday afternoons in 1922, the odds were stacked against them.

They were women, they were black, they were Lutheran in the south. They had nothing going for them; except the fact that God had called them to the work and promised to provide for them as they pursued it.

Over the years, the Sunday School became a Church and a Church School and a ministry served by many pastors. We especially remember the long and fruitful ministries of Pastors Routte and Carstensen and Branch and Bradley-Love and all the faithful laypeople who served and worshipped and lead this church with them.

And at no time did this church have anything other than the call of God to serve and the promise of God to provide.

And the church has served and God has provided.

The Bible stories about the widow's and their generosity, our own remembrance of Martin Luther Church's history of giving while trusting God are not so much about finances as they are about the relationship of trust we are called upon to have with God.

And, we must admit, this is hard for us, we like to hedge our bets, hold a little something back, play it safe.

A couple of years ago, a college student went into a camera store to have a picture enlarged.

It was a framed 8x10 of the young man and his girlfriend. When the clerk took the picture out of the frame, he read the writing on the back:

My dearest Tommy, I love you with all my heart. I love you more and more each day. I will love you forever and ever. I am yours for all eternity. With all my love, Diane

PS - If we ever break up, I want this picture back!

Today God call us toward making a complete and total commitment of ourselves to Christ and the Kingdom of God.

We are called upon to make all that we are and all that we have available to the work of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ into all the World.

And the Gospel, the Good News, for us today is that we can make that leap, that commitment, with full confidence in God’s promise to provide our every need, now and forever more.

Amen and amen