Here we are entering another Advent, the annual observation of a four-week period leading into Christmas. Without a biblical reference to the actual date of Jesus’ birth, the ancient church chose this time of year to observe Advent and Christmas because it was the darkest time of the year, with reduced hours of light in the shortening days. What better time for the church to turn away from darkness and remind people that God’s light still illumines our way.
I love the prophecies that we remember during Advent. They are so hopeful to us at a time when darkness takes over the skies. They are also reminders that anxieties about world events are nothing new to God’s people. The prophet Isaiah lived during a time when the people were disillusioned and discouraged by the loss of their homeland. Their leaders had turned away from God, formed unholy alliances giving them the illusion of protection. Under siege from the Assyrians, and later under rule of the Babylonians, Isaiah had a vision of the Word of God, a vision of a new future where the light of God would shine through cracks in the darkness and draw all to God’s ways.
Isaiah calls the people to come and walk in the light of the Lord. That command comes with a promise, a promise that one day, when all have turned toward this light, and seen God’s Word, God alone will be the righteous and merciful judge who brings peace to the world. God’s Word has the power to turn our weapons of destruction and death into tools of cultivation, community and nourishment. God will show us, through the light in the cracks, that what unites us as God’s children is much stronger that what divides us. We see in God’s Word that love is stronger than hate, light is stronger than darkness, life is stronger than death.
It’s important that Isaiah claims to have SEEN God’s Word. In order for God’s Word to be seen, it must then be visible – and visible even though the darkness of these current days. During Advent we look for the light shining through the cracks, knowing that we wait and we watch – for God’s Word is about to become visible, revealed for all the world to see. We see God’s Word in the face of Jesus, and we can then see God’s Word in the face of all.
For the full text of the Sermon - CLICK HERE
Devotions for the Week of November 27, 2016
Across much of the Church throughout the world, this Sunday is known as “Christ the King” Sunday, or “Reign of Christ” Sunday. It is the end of the church year, and as people tend to do as we close the calendar year, the church, on Christ the King Sunday, looks to put the whole of the year’s teachings into a unifying perspective. In some ways, this is a celebration of Christ, the ruler of our lives as disciples. And as disciples, we hold to the promise that Christ has already conquered the powers of the world, was victorious even over death, and has begun his reign while seated at the right hand of God.
With that in mind, we might expect the church to proclaim this through images of Jesus conquering the world in glory, gathering his mighty armies to break down the corrupt powers that dominate the world, and tear down the walls of exclusion that deny people access to the resources of the dominant. We might expect to celebrate a coronation, a grand, glamorous and gaudy spectacle to show the world how powerful our King Jesus really is. And while it is true that King Jesus has risen victorious over death, it is not a crown we proclaim, but a cross, not a sign of power, but an instrument of death. What kind of king is this, we ask? A different kind of king and a different kind of throne.
On Christ the King Sunday, we are reminded that the Jesus movement did not result in a new world order, but ended in failure with the execution of its leader as an insurrectionist. Most scholars suggest Jesus’ active ministry on earth lasted only one year, before the entrenched powers of the time decapitated the movement and scattered its members abroad. His executioners mocked his importance by placing a crown of thorns on his head, and above that, affixing assign with the title “King of the Jews” He was dismissed as a common criminal, crucified with two run of the mill thieves on either side of him. He was left on that hill to die – embarrassed, tortured, miserable, defeated. If this is the face of a king, it must be a different kind of king.
Jesus was divine, fully God, even through his death on the cross. His claim that his kingdom was from another world caused one of the thieves to ridicule Jesus for his failure to use his divinity to save himself. Instead of a kingly show of supernatural powers, Jesus instead used his “throne” to proclaim forgiveness to all who participated in his execution, and to promise of eternal life to the thief who trusted in Christ’s kingly power. A king who would not use his power to save himself, but to save others, must be a different kind of King.
If Jesus is a different kind of king, he must have a different kind of reign. As disciples, we live under the reign of Jesus without holding on to any earthly power to overcome the dominant forces of the world, the forces of death. Instead our power comes from the Jesus whose throne is the cross. Our only power is to offer forgiveness, even to our enemies, and to offer promise, and not judgment to those who know they are guilty. That power is what Jesus died for, and what we now live for, the power of a different kind of king.
For the full text of the sermon - CLICK HERE
Devotions for the Week of November 20, 2016
During Jesus ministry, he had the opportunity to take his disciples on many journeys to places they had never seen before. The disciples had no doubt heard of the great city of Jerusalem and the splendor of the temple which had been restored by King Herod, but being from Galillee, the “country bumpkins” of the time, most had probably never seen Jerusalem until Jesus led them into the city to begin the last week of his life. During that week, they spent several days observing life in the temple courtyards and Jesus continued teaching and preparing them until the day he was executed on the Cross.
While in the temple courts, the disciples did their fair share of “rubbernecking”, craning their necks in amazement at the size, beauty and busy-ness of the city and its central building. Any of us who have toured a city for the first time in our lives can relate to this, and to the momentary loss of awareness that might ensue as we are captivated by something grand, beautiful or unusual.
For a short time, it was the temple that held the attention of the disciples, and no doubt for thousands of others alive at the time. For some, the temple might have symbolized the efforts of King Herod to "make Israel great again". Not only had the temple been restored to its glory from the days of Solomon, Herod commissioned the restoration to double the size of it. Could a return to Israel's former glory be far behind? For others, the temple symbolized the continued exclusion of various people from the benefits contained inside. Each of the temple's outer courts served as obstacles, first denying access to those who were not Jewish, then to those who were not male, and then to those who were not priests. For those people, the restoration and expansion of the temple could not have been the image of hope.
Can you imagine what the disciples were thinking? After dreaming about how great again the newly restored kingdom would be like under King Jesus; after musing about how they might live in the city as Lords and not working class Galilleeans, Jesus stops them dead in their tracks and reorients their focus.
Jesus told them that as great as this looks now, don’t count on it. Don’t rely on it. Don’t give it more attention than it deserves. Because it will not last. It will go away. It will come tumbling down. It will let you down. Don’t be distracted by this most temporary of symbols. Instead, Jesus says to keep your eyes focused on me and it is through my view of the world, my love for the world, my sacrifice for the world, through my breaking down the walls of exclusion that you will find the true greatness in life.
As I was looking at this text, it seemed appropriate for reflection after last week's surprising election results. For some, the Trump election was a victory, a symbol of America rediscovering its way to be great again. 60 million citizens were willing to vote for a man whose grand persona is indeed larger than life, while looking past the ruthlessness of his character which has left victims in his wake for decades, sacrificed at the altar of his business and his own ego. It remains to be seen if Trump can deliver on that promise to his followers, and what that vision of a great-again America will look like.
Sadly, I think Trump supporters will be disillusioned before long.
For others, the Trump victory was a reminder that there remain forces in our country that are fond of the traditional social boundaries that stand as high walls between women, minorities, immigrants, same-sex couples and others, preventing access to equal rights and equal opportunities. They see the Trump Presidency as a monster who will gobble up freedoms and progress made in recent years. The amount of hatred being spewed by both sides is appalling, disgusting and dangerous to our very souls. For Christians, our focus on the coming Trump Presidency has distracted us from the one voice that should matter to us, the same voice that told his disciples “Beware that you are not led astray, for many will come and say “I am he” or “the time is near”. DO NOT GO AFTER THEM!
In a country where separation of church and state is an important, though often misunderstood value, you might wonder where I am headed right now. Well, let me be clear, though I voted for Hillary Clinton, I won’t stand here and denounce the President-elect with hate in my heart. I will honor the legal will of the American public and stand in support of him and the office he will occupy. I will pray for God to grant him wisdom, patience, compassion and repentance so that the way in which he governs will stand in contrast to the way in which he campaigned. This does not mean, however, that I will be silent, and the church should not be silent if the policies of a Trump administration cause harm to people without voices of their own, who have long been kept outside the dominant center of opportunity in this country.
My friends, this will not be easy. We know how deeply entrenched the power systems are in our own country. But we also know how deeply entrenched the Gospel commands to love God, to love one another, and to love even our enemies is in the heart of our faith in Jesus Christ. And we know because of God’s promises that our faith is something that will stand the test of struggle, and the test of time.
The walls of the Temple will crumble. A Trump presidency will be temporary. But we the children of God have something precious to carry us through the distractions and through the struggles – the promise that not a hair of our head will perish, the promise that our struggle will be life-giving to ourselves and to others, the promise that God loves us and has claimed us for Christ, for the Gospel and for love itself.
For the full text of the sermon, CLICK HERE
Devotions for Week of November 13, 2016
High School Football programs often observe an annual celebration of homecoming in the autumn when one game is chosen where the graduated seniors from the prior year class return home for the weekend to remember where it is they came from. College freshman look forward to this weekend, not just to reconnect with old friends, but for many it is the first time returning home after having left for college. Many students develop a yearning in those early days away from home, and homecoming is a time where those yearnings to return to parents, friends, school and community are sated, even if for just a few hours, and students can return to college with the reassurance that indeed they can return home again!
I like to think of All Saints Sunday as the church’s celebration of homecoming. On this day in the church year, we remember people who have died, specifically for how these saints have modeled faith, love and service in their lives, and how they taught us to follow in that example. But it is also a day on which we give thanks that these saints have gone home after their long journey. And by doing so, they point us toward the way home – the promise made to us in our baptisms – that God will someday welcome us home to eternal life.
Jesus teaches blessings and woes to his gathered disciples with a two-fold purpose. Jesus is pointing the disciples to the needs of the present – that the poor, the hungry, the grieving – are all blessed in God’s eyes and that we need to be about God’s business of caring for those neighbors who are hurting. And woe to those who are living comfortably, but in ignorance of the suffering so prevalent around them. It is a call to repentance – to reorient our focus to present and urgent needs of God’s people.
Jesus also points us to the realities of the future with God, and what it will be like as we journey toward the home to which God is calling us. It’s a home where all people are welcome – where there is no division between rich and poor, hungry and satisfied, joyful and grieving, friend and enemy, haves and have nots. It’s a homecoming that promises eternal satisfaction, not just a few hours of getting in touch with a familiar place. It’s a homecoming that Jesus promises us will cause us to “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy”.
But for now, we are on that journey home, and every time we give welcome to a stranger, love an enemy, bear the burdens of the suffering, and act selflessly for the benefit of others, we are adding another stone to the walkway that will end with our homecoming – our eternal life with God.
Devotions for Week of 11/6/2016
For the full text of the sermon, CLICK HERE
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Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.