Here I Am- Mary’s statement of faith

Coming in 2018-  I will write weekly, posting on Tuesdays. For now, Merry Christmas and check out the sermon from this morning!

Preached on the 4th Sunday of Advent 2017 at New Light Lutheran Church. Mary13

For the last 6 months or so there has been angst and wringing of hands among pastors and church councils about what to do with this worship service. Christmas Eve is on a Sunday we have all said. What should we do? We’ve torn our hair.  Should we move Advent up a week and cancel Sunday morning worship services all together? Or just scrap Advent 4 and make the morning services our Christmas Eve service? Some churches did that. But among all of us who found the idea of cancelling church on Sunday morning for no good reason except a fear that no one would come unacceptable, we have been talking for months about you. Who would be there to hear about Mary and light the 4th Advent candle. Who would show up in the morning on Christmas Eve? So you should all take a bow- you are famous. I have wondered for months- is anyone gonna be there?  So say it with me- Yes! Here I am!!

 

And thanks be to God for you. What you don’t know maybe is that saying that “Here I am” is a profound faith statement- something the true heroes of the faith say all the way through scripture. Abraham hears God calling his name to stop him from sacrificing his son and when he hears a voice from heaven calling him – he says “Here I am.” When Moses sees a bush burst into flame and not be consumed and a voice from it says HIS name- he kicks off his shoes and says “Here I am.” When young Samuel is sleeping- 4 times he hears his name being called and he says “Here I am.” All 4 times. When the prophet Isaiah is called and God says Who shall I send- he answers, “Here I am.” When Jacob has a dream and God said “Jacob, Jacob” he responded, “Here I am.” When a messenger comes to Ananias and asks him to go and talk to Saul who has been persecuting Christians- he says “here I am.”

 

Over and over and over again in scripture – when God or an angel with a message from God comes to a person – while it might be instinct to hide from a voice and light you don’t recognize calling your name- they don’t hide. While it may be instinct to hide from God knowing how fallible and sinful you are- they don’t hide. When God calls their name – they answer- “Here I am.”

 

In her short life, Mary couldn’t have experienced all that much. Some joy for sure- some birthdays and Passovers, some celebrating with family, and some grief. She had become engaged. There were exciting things in her future. But, her life to this point was not extraordinary. It was decidedly ordinary.

 

Until one day when an angel named Gabriel comes to her. To her and Gabriel knows her. An angel says to her- Greetings, favored one. Can you imagine? What does it feel like to have a messenger from the very presence of God not only appear to you but to name you- favored. A favored child of God. Known among the company of heaven as favored of God. Greetings favored one- and not only that but God is with you. Then the angel tells her do not be afraid- and then Gabriel repeats himself- you have found favor with God.

 

Then comes the plan- a plan about conceiving and carrying the Son of God- the promised Messiah- whose kingdom will have no end. And Mary is overwhelmed- how can this be – and the angel tells her explaining that God who has always done impossible things has already done an impossible thing with her relative Elizabeth. Because nothing is impossible with God.

And there it is again. “Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Here I am. I don’t understand it. I can barely get my head around it. I don’t know why you chose me. But, here I am. I am showing up for God’s will in my life. I am saying yes- to God’s will for my life. Here I am- and God I trust you- your plan and whatever comes next – even when I can barely conceive it.

 

Here I am – what a powerful faith statement. There are no footnotes. No caveats. No OK, if…s Here I am- I am all in for whatever you are calling me to.

 

There’s a quote that is attributed to Woody Allen although the citations are all sorts of fuzzy on the percentages. 90%, 80%, 50% 75% anyway let’s go with 75%- 75% of success is just showing up. Well with God 100% is about showing up. 100% is about those three words- Here I am.

 

When a stuttering fugitive said them- God used him to break the chains of slavery and to get Pharaoh to let his people go. When a trusting nomad said them- he became the father of nations. When a man trusted them enough to walk right up to the political enemy who was executing his people – Saul became Paul and shared the word across the Gentiles. And when an ordinary girl from Nazareth said them – she gave birth to the one who would save us all.

 

Here I am. There is surrender in those words. There is trust in those words. And there is potential that takes my breath away.

 

In the next 48 hours you and I are going to show up all over the place. Some of us will walk into homes of family and friends and say “here I am.” Some of us will be answering the call of grandchildren or children or parents saying where are you- and say “here I am.” Some of us will be present with people by phone or text – some of us will walk into hospital rooms or nursing homes and show up for people. “Here I am.” We may come bearing gifts- we may bring only our hearts full of love.

 

What does it look like for you and I to show up for God this Christmas and into this next year? What if right here today we say in our hearts to God- here I am- I am all in for what you would ask of me next. May your gospel be proclaimed Lord- and if there is a way my life- and the places I am going to show up can be a part of that proclamation- Here I am.

 

God can do great things with you- I am certain of it. I am certain because I know God has already done great things FOR you. God has called you beloved. God has chosen you and named your name among the whole company of heaven as favored and worthy – worth showing up in the most vulnerable way possible for- worth dying for. God has seen you and through Mary and through the cross said those three words to you- Here I am. And there is not one thing in this world or the next- not death, not life, no powers or heights or depths or anything in all of creation that will ever separate you from my love.

 

God has shown up for you- and in response- whether you are afraid or excited or overwhelmed or just not sure what difference your life could make- dare to trust that God who is there with you can do more than you can imagine. Dare to say these words to God- here I am. Then breathe- and see what God does next.  Amen.

March 11- you’re not supposed to go it alone!

When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”

15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”

17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

24 Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. 25 He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 26 They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves. Exodus 18: 13-26

Oh Moses, I have struggled with your problem too. In fact, it has been one of my biggest struggles.

Moses thought that being a leader meant he had to do everything himself. Thank God for Jethro’s strong words “The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.” And so he told Moses to take note of the people God had provided. To notice the gifts all around him- people who feared God and were trustworthy and hate dishonest gain and to lift them into leadership. And what will happen- “you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.” In other words, when you try to do it by yourself Moses, no one is happy. If you share the load- everyone is.

When you have work that is too big for you- what stops you from asking for help? For me, I worry that I’m imposing. But the biggest worry, is that sharing the work means someone will think I’m not working hard enough. I bet you can guess what Jethro (and God!) would say about that!

If you are feeling overburdened today, especially if you are feeling overburdened in the ministry of God, look around. Who has God placed near you with the gifts to do this work alongside of you? Lay aside the arrogance of thinking you have to do everything. Lay aside the idea that you are asking something that is an imposition. In fact, not asking might be denying someone the opportunity to DO what God is calling them to do.  Take a deep breath – and delegate.

(a note to all who know me well and who minister with me at New Light- yes I heard that this word is for me! Please pray for me as I try)

Holy God, preserve me from thinking that I have to do it all myself and getting in the way of what you have called others to do. When I need it- send me a Jethro- and may the work in your name be done to your glory. Amen.

March 10… need a hero?

Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me;
    fight against those who fight against me.
Take up shield and armor;
    arise and come to my aid.
Brandish spear and javelin[a]
    against those who pursue me.
Say to me, “I am your salvation.”

Psalm 35: 1-3

Sometimes life is overwhelming and the things we face too big. We live in a world where lies are easy to spread and attacks commonplace. And so it is easy to feel at war in everyday life. I am praying especially for anyone in our world who feels under siege in that way today.

If this is you- know that you aren’t the first of God’s children to feel that way. The scriptures are full of God’s people praying in response to unjust attacks that God would come to their protection and deal with the problem.

It is so tempting to think it’s all up to us- we must avenge ourselves. But, it is not our responsibility. Instead this is our prayer too- and God will answer. Just remember that God doesn’t always answer the way we expect. And 2000 years ago God answered the world’s prayer and the world’s need by going to the cross.

Holy God, transform the way of the world and bring peace. We will try to love our enemies as you command. Transform hearts that our enemies may turn and love us. In Jesus’ name. Amen

 

 

March 5… say what now?

The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!” 34 So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing. 35 The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. 36 The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians. Exodus 12: 33-36

If you had asked me yesterday how well I know the Exodus story I would have told you I knew it very well. Moses in a basket, the burning bush, the plagues, passover, the parting of the sea… I have both read the book (several times) and seen the movie (animated and not!). But I tell you, I never noticed this amazing God stuff that happened on the way out of dodge once it was God’s time for the people to leave for freedom.

The Israelites- the slaves in Egypt- weren’t asking to leave anymore. Now the former power holders were encouraging them to leave and do it quickly and on the way out-  The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. 36 The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for

Say what now? Not only has God made it possible for them to head to freedom but the very people who were holding them are now handing over their valuables to fund the journey! Sometimes in the midst of already big miracles God is doing something just as tremendous in the details.

Once God makes a way- there is no telling what might happen. What are you enslaved to today? Know that God calls us to freedom and when God makes a way for that to happen- sometimes the very thing that held us captive can be a source of strength in our freedom, I’m thinking a modern example might be the recovering addict who finds a career as an addiction counselor or someone who struggles with depression using that wrestling as a tool to empathize with others. As God leads us to freedom sometimes what was oppressing us hands over what we need for what comes next.

May we be patient as God prepares and astounded by what God can do- today and all weekend.

Holy God, we get ourselves enslaved to all sorts of things – lead us into freedom and shake loose what we need from whatever holds us. In Jesus’ name. Amen

 

Friday, March 4… a weekend blessing

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word. 2 Thessalonians 2:16–17

If you live in the Baltimore area, outside your door today is one last winter gift. The little bit of snow we received is that perfect wet snow that sticks to the trees and is absolutely beautiful. One more snow of winter to remind us of our favorite parts of winter before we head into spring. A March morning blessing.

This word from 2 Thessalonians is a blessing too- a blessing reminding us of what God has already done for us and praying for the future.

As you go into this weekend:

May God comfort your hearts- and ease your burdens. Strengthen your hearts and give you courage for what is ahead. May that comfort and strength help you live your faith with good works all weekend long and good words too. May the blessings of God be on your tongue.

Holy God, thank you for the blessings you give us- help us be a blessing to others in Jesus’ name. Amen.

*photo credit: Earl Janseen, taken March 4, 2016

March 3… a new song

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully, and shout for joy.

For the word of the Lord is right and true;
    he is faithful in all he does.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of his unfailing love. Psalm 33: 1-5

There are songs of praise that stand the test of time- Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art. And, every new person of faith finds their way to a new song of praise- language to shout for joy.

At New Light, we have found ways that music on the radio can be a song of praise. We have brought it to worship- singing “I’ll Stand by you” by the Pretenders and adapted “Here Comes the Son” by the Beatles’.

Listen to the radio carefully today- what song also is a song of praise if directed to heaven? Are there any that will open up your song to the Lord in a new way? Indeed the earth is full of God’s unfailing love.

Holy God we sing your joy in the morning and your praise when the day is done. Thank you for everything! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

March 2…. Beautiful feet

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Isaiah 52:7

These spring like days have me ready to wear my sandals again but I will tell you the truth- my feet are less than beautiful. I will be pulling out my lotion and pumice stone and nail polish to remedy that… but these words from Isaiah remind me God has a different definition.

Beautiful feet are ones that bring good news, who proclaim peace, who proclaim salvation.

Think of all of the places your feet have walked already today. When have they carried good news? When have they brought peace? How have they proclaimed God reigns?

Whose feet have brought that word to you? Think about going back to that person and saying “Hey, beautiful feet!!” (and then explain- ’cause otherwise it’s a little creepy!)

Holy God- thank you for the feet that carry your word to me. Help my feet bear good news to the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, March 1… what do we expect?

** A note- sorry about the last 2 days. I have been sending this blog into my draft box instead of into the world. So now you get 3 for the price of 1!

When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20: 24-28

For Jesus, authority looks very different than it does for the world. James and John wanted to be the very big deals. They asked Jesus if they could be the ones in power, next to him of course. Jesus said that for this community of disciples, power is not power over but service.

Today is super Tuesday and many are spending a part of the day casting a vote for one of the many people who are running for the office of President of the United States. Every election year, candidates speak about and are questioned about their faith.

It takes a certain amount of arrogance to believe about yourself that you should be the president. And, for those candidates who claim they are also people of Christian faith, shouldn’t we expect some humility too- for some clarity about service?

And maybe we should expect it of ourselves also? We are fortunate enough to live in a place where we have the freedom to choose our own leaders. Let us approach that freedom with humility and prayer.

Holy God, we pray for all who are running for office – call forth a high degree of accountability and integrity and a large measure of humility and dedication to serving. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, Feb 29, Getting it right

Now when the Lord spoke to Moses in Egypt, 29 he said to him, “I am the Lord. Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt everything I tell you.” 30 But Moses said to the Lord, “Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?” Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Exodus 6: 28 – 7: 4

“I’m not going to do it right” or “someone else would do this better.” These are fears that haunt me and sometimes have paralyzed me. But here, Moses is clear about what he is not good at and the whole time, God has a plan. Aaron will do the talking.

Here’s what is interesting though to me- Moses says he won’t do it right. God says Aaron will speak. But even with that- it’s not gonna work. God is hardening Pharaoh’s heart too. Sometimes if I’m not seeing the result I want quickly enough- I think I am doing it wrong. That’s not necessarily the case.

All work that matters is sown in faith. The results we see and our assessment of them may not be God’s assessment. Whatever work you are called to today- do it faithfully- the results or whatever comes next leave in God’s hands.

Holy God, help me bravely do what you call me to do and help me to be patient as I watch and wait for what comes next. Amen.

Sunday, Feb 28… purpose of the poop

This is the text of today’s sermon. And also, the first time I post a sermon anywhere!

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.  [Jesus] asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.  Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.  So he said to the gardener, ‘See here!  For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none.  Cut it down!  Why should it be wasting the soil?’  He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.  If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ” Luke 13: 1-9

Some pastors have a name for their sermons each week and they can put it out on the sign or into your bulletin. 98% of the time it would be some hard extra work for me to try to come up with a clever titile for a sermon. Today is part of the 2%. If this sermon had a title it would be “the purpose of poop.” Or maybe “considering crap” or at least “managing the manure.” Or maybe “the subtext of the….” Well you get the picture.

There’s a phrase that we use often enough as a society that it’s on tshirts and bumper stickers and a part of everyday conversations that just concedes that a certain amount of crap is just what happens. So here’s the edited for the pulpit version- poop happens. It does. Terrible things happen. Sometimes you can spot that crap you are about to walk into on your journey of life- there on the road. Sometimes you can avoid it, sometimes you smell it coming. Other times it takes you by surprise – you are going along and life is good and managed and then all of a sudden you are up to your knees in a big steaming pile of life’s crap. Moving on is never easy- first you are marked by it and everyone around you can tell and is affected. Later even though no one else can anymore- you can still smell it and it still affects you.

When I am talking about the crap in life what I mean is suffering. And when we are suffering in the middle of life’s crap- we’ve got lots of questions. Why is this happening? Why didn’t I see this coming? Couldn’t I have avoided it? How can I get out of it? And some heart wrenching questions about God when we wonder about our relationship with God. Starting with Am I being punished? Why doesn’t God fix it? Where is God? And sometimes ending with Does God even exist at all?

It is the primary question and struggle of faith this side of heaven. All powerful, all knowing, all loving God – evil and suffering exist. The theological word for that struggle is theodicy. Which to me always sounds a lot more clean, powerful, and in control than the reality of it. The reality of that struggle is wrestling in tear filled filth for a sign of something holy and to make meaning in things beyond our understanding. It’s the silent scream beside a hospital bed. It’s the cry for justice drowned out by the drums of the powerful. It’s not pretty or easy.

Theodicy- or where the heck is God in the midst of this crap- is the question some followers bring to Jesus in the middle of our gospel lesson today. You see they have watched the evening news and the powerful- namely Pilate- has executed people in Galilee. Sacrificed them along with other sacrifices. And everyone is feeling afraid and vulnerable and horrified at the powerful sacrificing the weak especially since it was so random. Why those guys? They are trying to make sense of it. And Jesus asks them, “hang on, do you think because they were victims in this way they were worse sinners than everyone else? Do you think that God was punishing them and that’s why Pilate did this?” And then Jesus pulls the next headline- what about the ones that tower fell on? Do you think God was punishing those 18 because they were really terrible sinners- worse than everyone else?

It’s our default system when bad stuff happens. That person must have messed up with God and God is punishing them. We default to it because it feels in control- it means we can try to be good enough that the crap we see others wrestle with will never happen to us. And then it does and the whole system falls apart. Jesus answers that question clearly. Does this suffering happen because they are worse sinners than everyone else? No. It’s what you and I actually know to be true. Suffering happens to terrible people sometimes. And suffering happens to really wonderful, faithful, and God fearing people sometimes. And that either means we have an unjust unfair God who is cruel and inconsistent and unpredictable- or that suffering is not at all a punishment from God. Jesus tells us clearly- is this suffering a result of their being worse sinners than everyone else? No.

No he says.  OK. So if the purpose of poop isn’t a direct punishment from God what is it? No, not a direct punishment from God Jesus says. And then he says but, unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Well what’s that mean? Suffering is not a direct punishment from God for sin- but it is a result of sin. Why did the tower fall on those people? Maybe someone was drunk when designing it? Maybe someone cut corners and used a cheaper mix to make it so they could make more money off the top of it? Why were the Galileans sacrificed? Whose sin is an oppressive political regime where the strong exploit the weak? Is it Pilate’s sin? The whole of Rome? The sin and brokenness in this world leads to suffering- sometimes our own- sometimes it lands on someone innocent.

If I cheat on my spouse and my spouse divorces me- is God punishing me? If I am texting while I’m driving and I hit someone crossing the road- is God punishing the person I hit? No of course not. Is that suffering a result of my sin? You bet it is. What about the bigger struggles of our whole culture? Greed? Racism? When a CEO makes 500 times what the worker in the company makes? Whose responsibility is the sin? All of the tragic headlines we see- is God punishing us? No, Jesus says. But Repent. From Donald Trump who says he has never had to ask God for forgiveness to you and I who know full well why we need to – repent. Repenting means to do a 180 from sin- repent because the result of the sin is this suffering. Turn away or everyone suffers just like this- repent because it’s the only way that things change to be the way God designed us to be- the individual things and the big cultural systemic things too.

And there’s more. Jesus says let me tell you a story to try to help you understand. And he tells this story of a fig tree that won’t grow figs- which is what the owner planted it there to do and what the owner needs it to do. And it’s not. Not sure why – but just when it is time to give up here comes the gardener who says give me time. Let me work with this tree- let me loosen up what is binding up its foundation- let me spread some poop around and we’ll see what happens. Isn’t it just a weird truth of nature that stuff needs poop to grow? I called my brother the scientist to try to find out why- he gave me a big answer about bacteria I only kinda understood. But we accept it to be true right- gotta spread manure on the fields because stuff needs poop to grow.

Sometimes you and I get bound up in our own stuff- our sin – our reactions to the sin around us- it has us so busy that we forget that we are planted here for a reason- that we are called to bear fruit. And so when crap comes- when life spreads poop all around us- Jesus uses it. Jesus can use that moment to help us grow. It is certainly true that the biggest times of growth- where I learned to become more the person I think God made me to be- where my life started to grow more effectively the fruits of the spirit- those times have come out of deep suffering. I bet that’s true for some of you too. How is that for some terrible and awesome amazing grace of God?

Poop happens. Some of us this morning are finally starting to move free of a time of deep suffering. Some are brokenhearted on behalf of someone else. Some are despairing from the morning paper. Others are in the midst of suffering so deep and so hard they can barely breathe. Wherever you are this morning know this- You are loved- you are not on God’s bad list- this is not a punishment- you always have been and always will be God’s beloved child. And because God loves you -God walks beside you and Jesus took on all of the hurt- all of the brokenness- all of the poop of this world – took it to the cross- until it buried him- and it could not hold him.

It cannot hold you either- the risen Christ leads you through it and is using it- to call every single one of us to repent- to stop submitting to sin and submit to God- and using it to build up the foundation of our lives and help us to bear fruit. It’s OK if you can’t see it yet. God is still at work. With the kind of grace that only one who has conquered death can manage- God can make purpose from the poop in our lives. Thanks be to God. Amen.