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With all your heart, mind, soul and strength

(A sermon on 1st Corinthians 13:1-13)

“God is the force and the love that created, sustains and that transforms the universe, including you and me.”

Those are the words of Rev. Stephanie Spellers, an episcopal priest in New York.  That was her answer to being asked “Who is God to you?”

To Stephanie (and to me) I see God’s very nature as love.   God created the world through love. God sustains the world in love.  God does what God does BECAUSE of love.  Love is the essence. The main ingredient in Creation’s stew.  Love is the motivation for everything God is, does and hopes.

This God of love is the God that the apostle Paul tattoomet on the Emmaus road.  When Paul encountered God in Christ—he found himself turned upside down. When God’s love touched him, he could do no other than respond IN LOVE, serving the living, and loving the God he had encountered.  And thank God, he couldn’t stop. He had to tell everyone, be they Jew, Gentile, slave, free, male or female, gay, straight, black or white.

Which brings us to the familiar Corinthians 13 known as “the love chapter.” We read it at weddings and at funerals.  And I wonder if we’ve heard it so often that we barely pay attention.  Is it a simplistic affirmation of Christian love and unity?

Is it a Duh. A “so what.”  NO. It’s not.

That’s not what was happening when Paul spoke those words to the church at Corinth. He wasn’t affirming that they had love. He was calling them out because they lacked it. Today we have the opportunity to place Paul’s words back into their context, wrestling them away from their warm and fuzzy misunderstanding.

It’s likely that he spoke the words with love and exasperation in his tone.

Things were not going well in Corinth.

The Corinthian Church was not a happy and homogenous body. They were not a comfortable gathering where people fell into step with each other because they shared a belief in Jesus, OR fundamentally similar lives, or values, or experiences. Quite the contrary.

The Corinthian fellowship was a melting pot of backgrounds, gender, age, rank, status, and life situation. Most of its members were from the lower classes but some sat on the opposite side in rank and resources. There were slaves and free people in the community, as well as people with different skill sets and gifts.   The problem was, the diversity among the Corinthians had dissolved into discord and rivalry.

This was a community fragmented, rather than enriched, by difference. So Paul is introducing them to an ethic-a way of living, being and thinking, that is necessary if they are to survive the muddy waters of difference and disagreement.  Without love they would be doomed.  Without diversity they would be less than.

This topic of diversity and how communities can get sideways when they become divided has always fascinated me, especially within the church.

In fact the title of my doctoral dissertation was “Divine Diversity: The church’s challenge or God’s greatest imagination?”  God has built diversity into all of creation, human, animal, biological.  In biology diversity is a mark of health. When absent, that biological system is diseased.  Logic tells us that it’s the same in humanity even if we humans haven’t always caught up with God’s brilliant design for OUR optimum health.

I grew up in a culturally diverse neighborhood and an interreligious home. My home was half Methodist and half Serbian Orthodox.  We had a Jewish family across the street, Italian Catholics on both sides, a Lutheran family next to the Jewish family and another Catholic family next to them.  The Jewish family invited us to Seder dinners and Hanukkah celebrations.    Everyone invited everyone to church or synagogue.  My neighborhood was a successful experiment in Love. We were close—like Salem. We tried always to show love and live from love. Knowing ourselves loved by God was our universal unifier.

Knowing ourselves loved, we cannot help but live in love. It’s in our divine DNA. It’s how we’re wired.  Only from that place can we call each other beloved and only from that place can we serve one another other in love.

And while faith and hope are essential elements of faith, LOVE is the empowering gift of the three. It is the glue, the fuel, and the reason.

The God of Christ and of Paul keeps calling us back into that love.

WE never “have” love — Love has us! Grasped by a love that never ends, we are privileged to be channels for that same love.

And today I am not calling you out because you don’t get it. I am affirming you because you do. With all your heart, mind, soul and strength, thank you Salem for being who and whose you are, claimed by love and compelled to respond in that same love.  It’s what people feel when they encounter us.

I love you for that.


And What Do You Think about That?

A sermon on Mark 12:13-17

My friend Sue grew up with a favorite aunt, Aunt Jenny.  Aunt Jenny never told Sue what to think, however  by example she taught Sue how to think. Whenever they would discuss an issue Aunt Jenny would leave the conversation open ended by simply asking, “…and what do you think about that?”  What a marvelous way to teach critical thinking.

Reflecting on Mark’s gospel this week brought Sue’s stories of Aunt Jenny back to me. Frankly I’ve been relieved by the admission of several colleagues that we do not know what Jesus meant when he said, “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.” I do offer a thesis about what he didn’t mean.

The story opens with the arrival of representatives from two factions who together have come up with a render_to_caesartrick question for Jesus, “Is it lawful to pay money to the emperor?”

The first group is the Pharisees, a group resistant to paying the head tax to their Roman overlords, most likely because the emperor considered himself a deity making giving to him the same as idolatry.

The other group, the Herodians, advocated pragmatic collaboration with the Romans. We don’t know much about the Herodians but the name implies sympathy with a line of violent and irreligious kings who ruled in Judea at Rome’s behest and who were generally despised by pious, nationalistic Jews.

That these two opposing factions were in cahoots would have been the ancient version of working across the political aisle.

They were setting Jesus up when they asked if it was lawful to pay the tax to the emperor. Jesus knew if he said, “Yes. We should pay the tax,” the popular base that resonated with his anti-establishment preaching would complain that he was giving in to special interests.

But if he said “No,” he would be accused of sedition or in other words he’s be inciting people to rebel against the government.

And so he brilliantly asks to see a denarius, the Roman coin used in Israel in those days. Whose face is on the coin? The emperor! “Then…give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.”

Yay, Jesus! That settled it only if you lived in the first century. What about today?

Most biblical scholars agree that our modern separation of church and state is just that, modern. A devout Jew of the first century could never imagine separating their lives into political and religious spheres. To be Jewish is to fully integrate the ethics of your life with and because of your religion.  It should be the same for Christians.

Crediting Jesus with laying the foundation for the separation of church and state doesn’t make sense. Remember that the past few weeks Jesus has been telling us that the first should be last, and the last will be first. That the greatest are those who humble themselves and serve. That the rich man should sell all he had and give it to the poor. Jesus regularly inverted social values, teaching the disciples a better and more embodied way.

He was NOT advocating for state sponsored religion but I do believe he was advocating for us to likewise integrate our faith with the way we live out our lives.

Let me be clear here. America was founded by Christians but not exclusively FOR Christians. Our founders escaped the tyranny of state sponsored religion which is why we have separation of church and state in our government. 

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”

That said, as individuals I think Jesus invites us–actually demands of us–that we be thinking regularly and relentlessly about how all of our decisions (what we think, what we buy, who we vote for, where we spend our time) should be shaped by the confession that, indeed, the whole world is God’s and everything in it! Including us!

With that in mind our ushers are distributing sharpie markers. I’d like you to take out the debit or credit card you use most often and mark it with a small cross.  OK? Now, show me the money!

How does someone who belongs to God allocate their money? How will you make decisions of conscience about what you support and what you do not?

By all means, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.  This is more than a cute exercise. This is a way of being daily mindful about your choices, a way of being more integrated.  The way we spend our money as individuals and as a nation is a moral confession of who and whose you/we are.

This beautiful nation is made up of people who answered the call inscribed on the statue of liberty.  “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

Yes, it is true that my colleagues don’t always know what Jesus means. Sometimes what is true is that we know what he did not mean. And that is equally important.

My name is Dr. Robyn Provis and I approved this message.

And what do you think about that?


Jesus Loves Me Yes or No?

A Sermon on Mark 6: 1-29

“There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell but the mere pleasure of God. Therefore let everyone that is out of Christ now awake and fly from the wrath to come!”   On this “Throwback” Sunday, those are the words of Pastor Jonathan Edwards when he preached a sermon titled “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” That sermon from 1790 is still studied today-as a literary form and as an example of fire and brimstone preaching, preaching designed to emphasize hell as a real place.  Now before you run away screaming, give me a chance to redeem the theology behind such declarations.

In Edwards time the goal of preaching do-you-love-me-filteredwas in part to keep people scared enough of hell that they’d live a good life despite themselves. Such sermons were crafted to awaken an audience to the horror that awaits them should they continue life without devotion to Christ.  My opening words this morning were Edwards’s final ones—every Sunday. Yikes.

His words and approach do not represent the God of love that I follow, just like we don’t beat our children in the shed anymore. But there are times when we would be well served by being made a little uncomfortable.

Paraphrasing Brian McLaren, if your goal is to keep yourself untouched by the world, preserved in roses until you can arrive without blemish in the afterlife, you’ve missed the heart of the gospel. The gospel isn’t something you learn. It’s something you live. The gospel is a verb. And there is a certain heresy to playing it safe when it comes to your faith.

Jesus loves me, yes or no? If you’re not sure, maybe you’ve grown too comfortable with your faith and possibly with Jesus?

Today’s gospel reading is largely about rejection, beginning with Jesus’ own rejection in his hometown.  What if we are the ones rejecting Jesus…. maybe because Jesus is just so darn familiar to us in the church. We, the church, are Jesus’ hometown. We’ve known him since we first heard the Christmas story. We’ve grow up with him. He is our constant companion – so constant a companion that we hardly notice him anymore. He’s one of us, a good buddy, a comfortable presence. And when he acts in divine ways and calls us into that same work with him, we’re no better than the Pharisees saying – who is this guy anyway?

Jesus loves me, yes or no?  Is your belief mere intellectual assent or is your faith a radical get-off-your-couch-to-join-God-where God-is -working kind of belief?

Verse 6 reports Jesus “was amazed at their disbelief.”  Would anyone want to be in the number to whom Jesus referred? God, no!

Their disbelief was not only crippling their own lives, apparently it was crippling his! Save a few minor healings here and there, we’re told he could do no deeds of power. Think about that for a moment.  Despite or perhaps because of rejection he sends out the twelve to proclaim and heal. Sending out is always at the center—even of these bookended stories.

Next… Mark reminds us of Herod’s own rejection of the truth and how it resulted in John the Baptist’s death– his head on a platter. He couldn’t say yes to John OR yes to Jesus but he couldn’t say NO to his wacky wife!  Herodias’ problem was that she was offended because John the Baptist condemned her marriage to her brother in law.  And Herod didn’t want to acknowledge John’s indictment. To do so would diminish his power because the one who rules the king, rules the kingdom.  And did you catch that Herod was freaked out because he thought Jesus might be John the Baptist resurrected?

Resurrection was at the heart of Jewish faith. It was connected to hope and hope is one of the most dangerous things oppressed people can have.  As king, Herod couldn’t risk hope if he couldn’t be the one to deliver it. Jesus loves me, yes or no?  No matter. After all Herod might say. It’s my birthday.

When we follow the narrative arc of God’s unrelenting pursuit of us, how can we answer the question without absolute confidence? Jesus loves me, yes or no? Jesus loves me THIS I KNOW!

You and I are called to tell the story, not only to be prophetic to others, but to be prophetic to ourselves: to rediscover who this Jesus we think we know so well, really is. We don’t need fire and brimstone to live a good life. We need a reality check!

God came down in Jesus to: bring good news to the poor, free the oppressed, release the captives, and to recover sight to the blind. Even today, Jesus’ message of good news is often met with rejection. Where would Jesus stand on the issues of our day?

Justice isn’t about violence and retribution. Justice is what loves looks like in public!

Jesus came to confront us. See Mathew 23.

Jesus came to include us. See Luke 18.

Jesus came to challenge us. See Matthew 9.

Jesus came to call us into service. See Mark 6!

Jesus loves me yes or no? See the whole bible!  Frankly I’m tired of anyone using fear to sell a good life. Fear sells. But love transforms!  Don’t live the gospel because you’re afraid not to! Live it because God first loved you and now you’re crazy in love right back!

Today’s preaching is designed to call you off your couches to share that good news with the world.

As for hell. Hell isn’t a place. It’s an experience: Hell is what the families in Flint Michigan are going through.  Hell is a child going to bed hungry, their parents frantic and broken not knowing where their next meal is coming from.  Hell is hoping the war in the Middle East doesn’t claim more children-our children. Hell is standing at the border of an unfamiliar country, holding a sick child, only to be turned away.

Ask any gay person if there was a time when Hell was being afraid that the answer to Jesus loves me, yes or no– really was no!

Truth is, there is nothing that keeps the world at any one moment out of hell but the mere fact that God sends us to make sure that does not happen. It is silence and inaction that makes hell a possibility for any of us.  Let’s reform Edwards benediction saying therefore let everyone that is out of Christ now awake and fly towards the LOVE to come!

People of God, the world is waiting on our next move.

In Jesus name. Amen.

Oh Say Can You See?

A Sermon based on  Mark 10: 32-52

Our Lenten journey continues with the theme “opening our eyes to God,” framed by a gospel that artfully places before us a story of spiritual and physical blindness.  It is a kind of vision test that invites us to become aware of how we Bartimaeusare using our physical and spiritual eyes.  Referring to our spiritual eyes, the 13th century poet RUMI said “Close both eyes to see with the other eye.”

It’s a timely reflection during a contentious election year when we are living with a level of division that can cause us to question what we see and if others are looking at the same thing.  Clearly not everyone sees the candidates or the presidency or the best course for America the same way–not our neighbors and not even our family members.

What we see and how we see it is more than a matter of how light rays reflect and enter the cornea.  Vision infers a kind of interpretation or as Anais Nin famously said, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are”.

I learned the hard way that even history is up for interpretation depending on who is doing the interpretation.  What happened was that I simply brought home my middle school history homework.  Not surprisingly my Serbian mother took issue that my textbook pointed to the two Serbian “terrorists” who started World War 1 when they assassinated Arch Duke Ferdinand.  Apparently that was a small part of the larger story. Still she was furious that Ferdinand’s death was being viewed in isolation and she was ready to march down to my school to give my teacher a history lesson of painful personal context.

She knew first-hand the complexity of events and ideals that would become World War 1, telling me what the classroom had not. That years of ethnic conflict had resulted in 30,000 Serbians being held in Austro-Hungarian death camps. Her mother, grandmother and my aunts were held and several died there. This was the first time in my life when I questioned that not everything we’re told—even in school–is the entire truth.

So does that mean truth is a moving target? Not exactly but it can involve a certain amount of bias, positive or negative. We see what we’ve been taught to see and… we see what we want to see. It was the same with the disciples. They did not want to see that Jesus wasn’t going to save them in the way they wanted to be saved. They were looking for a military hero so in the beginning it was not good news that he was a global hero of an entirely different type.

And so Mark tells us the story of Jesus’ desire to instruct his followers in matters of spiritual and physical short-sightedness. Their myopathy didn’t allow them to see who Jesus was or the fullness of why God came down in Jesus. Despite his every attempt to tell a larger truth– that he had come to set ALL the captives free, that he had come to bring sight to ALL the spiritually and physically blind, they remained blind to the big picture.

They were so blind that they skipped right past Jesus’ painful pronouncement of suffering and certain death, jumping like spoiled children to ask for status in the life to come. They may as well have said, “Wow Jesus. If you’re going to be THAT kind of king, then can we sit next to you? Do we get a crown? What color will my robes be?” Which—spoiler alert–Jesus then contrasts with a physically blind man who asks Jesus not for privilege but for mercy.

The irony that jumps off the page is that Bartimaeus COULD SEE Jesus’ truest identity when the disciples could not.

I heard recently about a strange but real innovation in tourism. It’s known as “sightseeing for the blind.” If it sounds like a cruel and insensitive joke, it is in fact a bona fide industry that enables the vision impaired to safely experience famous landmarks and locations through their other senses, particularly hearing and feeling.  It was these same senses as well as spiritual eyes that guided Bartimaeus to Jesus.

What a great lesson!  We would all be served by employing all of our senses!

What if we asked ourselves if what we think we are seeing is accurate?  What if when a person in our circle is acting mean, we ask if there something behind the behavior that we are not seeing?  Is God placing before us clues to spiritual transformation that we are missing because we don’t know to look for them?  We cannot see what we do not think is there?

If we think God is a nice idea but an absentee parent we’re secretly mad at–what if we’re not seeing the evidence that God is very much present! Even when we do not SEE God, God is there!

Bartimaeus could not see but Bartimaeus wanted to see.  Bartimaeus could see that Jesus was coming near and he called out. Jesus answered.

Be like Bartimaeus. Open your hearts and your eyes to God and you will see.


The Empire Strikes Back…Meanwhile

As a new generation prepares for the Christmas 2015 premiere of the latest Star Wars film, here are the cliff notes for all of you padawan (Jedi apprentices).

Star Wars tells the story of a pstar-wars-and-the-bible-cover-e1374981428379eople and a galaxy in the distant past described as “far, far away.” Those representing good are known as the Jedi and the Jedi are in conflict with the evil “Sith.” The Sith’s culture of war and oppression is referred to as “the Empire.”

The six films that precede the one premiering December 18 have taken movie goers through the narrative arc of the story of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker who battles the evil
Darth Vader.  Like all good storytelling, the plot thickens when we are taken further back in time to meet young prodigy Anniken Skywalker. Anniken is selected for Jedi training though his Jedi masters sense that he is somehow conflicted and his future could go either way.  As he grows to become a man he is haunted by premonitions that his secret wife, Padme Amidala, will die and Anakin Skywalker is seduced by the dark side.  In a stunning plot twist, we learn that Anakin left good behind changing his name to be forever known as….Darth Vader.  Later in mortal battle with Luke Skywalker, Vader reveals “Luke I am your father.”  Luke and Darth Vader are faced with a choice.  Will good triumph or will evil?

As we’ve studied the older testament these past years, does the narrative sound a bit like those more unfamiliar bible stories?  The bible invites us to make choices.  We are not Jedi. We are disciples of a man named Jesus.  The battle for good over evil is timeless, though we wish that battle was fantasy.

The bible tells us the stories of a people and a land also in the distant past that could be likewise described as “far, far, away.” God has tried to remain central in the lives of his chosen people.  God has sent kings to rule righteously only to have them become seduced by the greed and… the dark side. God has sent judges to help the people choose right over wrong and God has sent prophets to teach the people, bringing God’s word directly.  And doesn’t it all come down to the same question?  Way of Empire? Or way of God?

In today’s reading, the prophet at the center is who scholars refer to as second Isaiah. This is the Isaiah of the Babylonian exile. We’ve moved 40 years into the future, from King Josiah in the year 620 BCE to 586 when the Babylonian empire’s military has invaded Jerusalem, destroying the city, the temple and deporting its people into exile. God calls Isaiah to preach good news to frightened and lost people. (Anyone else hope he is talking also to us?)… But Isaiah thinks they won’t listen. “People are like grass and what’s more they’re incapable of being constant,” he says.  In verse 8 God answers with “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever! [Now] get up on that high mountain and preach it!  Tell them “Do not despair. I’m coming to get you. Just as I always have always done, I’m building a road to bring you back to me. Go! Tell them Here is your God!

Sounds eerily similar to something we might hear in Star Wars, as if the Millennium Falcon starship has just radioed “we have you on visual and we’re coming to get you!” The Empire will be struck down and evil will not prevail!  Han Solo out!

Isaiah is speaking words of comfort to the exiles but, yes, what about you and I? Don’t we need those same words of comfort? Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly. When bullets fly in places bullets should never fly, speak tenderly because we are afraid!

What has dominated in this week’s news cycle, from serial violence right here in Minneapolis, to San Bernadino, California and from ISIS–these are the newest installments in the piecemeal war that’s been going on for centuries.  Look again at the word of God and let it speak to you. The God announced by Isaiah is both powerful and gentle, able to comfort as well as defend. This God is a shepherd who will “gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom.”

And then we hear what we wait for each and every Advent.  A new voice joins the scene declaring: “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”  For soon and very soon, God is personally coming onto the scene!

According to Mark’s gospel, “From The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  Lord in your mercy get ready to get ready! Stand by to stand by!

Because my “padawan” star followers, isn’t that what Advent is all about? The Good news proclaimed is this!  “Here comes God!”  The ultimate Jedi force for all that is good; all that is holy is coming, is here and will never leave us.

Said in Star Wars parlance, “The force. It’s calling to you. Let it in. “ May the force AND the faith be with you. AMEN.

Rediscovering a New Hope

Welcome to Advent, the season when HOPEFULLY we rediscover GOD’s hope for the each of us as revealed in Jesus.  Hopefully we are transformed by that rediscovery.  Which is why we enter the story of Christ’s birth again and again.  And so as a way to bring that about, I thought I might seize on the December premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the first new installment in the Star Wars franchise in more than ten years.  It has inspired my advent sermon series which I’ve titled “The Faith Awakens.”

I confess that I am a Star Wars geek but I’m also a bible geek. StarwarsWhether we’re talking first century Palestine or a galaxy far, far, away, there’s something magical and transformative in both.  Author director George Lucas admits that the Star Wars films contain elements of biblical truth mixed with fiction designed to lift up the ongoing battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil.

But would the movie going public recognize hope when they saw it?”  Apparently they did. From Christians to Taoists to those who identify their religion as “Jedi,” fans of “Star Wars” have long seen elements of their faith reflected in the films.  The films offer a model for how to find strength in God or internal balance. He knew exactly what he was doing when he created the concept of “The Force.” (The mystical energy of good and evil) In fact he said, “I put the Force into the movie in order to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people.” He also said “Not having enough interest in the mysteries of life to [ever] ask the question, “is there a God or is there not a God?’–that is for me the worst thing that can happen.”  Lucas and I have that fear in common.  Every time I step into this pulpit I pray that your faith will be awakened and that you’ll find a fresh relevance in these old stories.

And so in the words of Yoda “Much to learn you still have…my padawan.”… “This is just the beginning!” On this first Sunday in Advent we begin with the little known but important story of  King Josiah.

Josiah’s reign changed the history of Judah forever because something happened to Josiah that changed HIM forever. Josiah discovered the word of God.

Throughout our Old Testament study the story has been building to this scene. There has been this long trajectory of the people falling in and out of relationship with God. It’s a cyclical story of remembering God and forgetting about God, of God sending a king, then a new king, then a judge, then another judge, then a prophet then another prophet.

Spoiler alert. You and I know what Josiah did not.  Ultimately God will take matters into God’s own hands. How? By being born in a manger as a baby who would walk with us, directly leaving it up to us whether or not we recognize hope when we see it…

It’s a human conflict as old as time. God continuously calls us back to the centrality of relationship.  Sometimes we listen and sometimes we relegate the entire matter to a very nice story that doesn’t have much to do with our real lives.  Or worse, we memorized just enough bible stories to pass question night during our confirmation years…and for some, never picked up a bible again.

Last week I read an article about a recent survey. The survey rated how involved Christians were with their faith as evidenced by how often they attend worship and what kind of programming they participate in.  Would it surprise you to learn that Lutherans are at the bottom of the list with the only denomination less engaged being Episcopalians? At the top of the list were the Mormons and evangelical Christians.

I am a convert to this Lutheran faith. I was a Mormon and it breaks my heart that most Lutherans do not recognize the theological treasure that is ours.  Evangelicals rush to church because they cannot get enough of the bible. Mormons and evangelicals hang on every word, every preposition, and every participle in certain and desperate hope of deepening their relationship with God. It’s an obsession.  But there’s a problem. Their literal and sometimes ignorant interpretation of scripture gets them in trouble.

Mainline denominations like ours brings with them a method of interpretation that is sane, historic, contextual and full of grace and scholarship.  It can lead us to a depth of relationship with the holy that cannot be rivaled.  But Lord in your mercy we have got to open the book and let it speak to us as it spoke to Josiah. King Josiah was transformed by the reading of the book and so should we be transformed.

The hard truth is that church is no longer central in people’s lives because God is no longer central. Why is everything in life more important than wanting to be here and wanting to be about THAT?  Otherwise we’re throwing the baby out with the bath water even if we put the baby back into the manger for the annual Christmas pageant.

Which brings me back to Star Wars.  Are not you and I are star followers who, like the wise men, spend our lives following the Christ child?  In the gospel according to Yoda, “Yoda says, `Do or do not. There is no try.’ Becoming a Jedi master and taming the force, this isn’t something you just try. It’s the same as Jesus’ saying, `Be doers, not hearers.’  Advent is our time of reawakening our faith. It is also a lot like a gym. You get out of it what you put into it.

I hope you will be a part of the adventure.  “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’  (Luke 24)


…In the place just right

Hosea 11:1-9

Pray with me please… As we focus our compassion on France, Beirut, Bagdad and beyond remind us this day that our every action allows us the opportunity to expand love or contract love, to hear & see the divinity within another or disregard their humanity. Remind us today that in the midst of the grieving you are present, saddened by the failure of your people — all of us — to live as we were created to live.

All over the world people of faith are gathering. Gathering to worship and gathering to make sense of what is happening in the world. People of God gathered here today– you are in the place just right.

The things that have happened in Paris, in Beirut, in Bagdad and in Syria have prompted many to conclude that we have entered a new kind of world war, a piecemeal war.

The world doesn’t feel safe today.

This— is a molten moment for the people of God. How will we arrive in a place just right when we are frightened out of our wits sitting in Lazy Boys in Minnesota?

Is our faith relevant and is it enough when the world feels off its chain?

And there is something else. No doubt there are those who rail at God asking “Why did God let this happen?” Answer: God didn’t. God is never the author of such atrocity. It is one of many miscarriages of theology that lead people leaving the church.  Believing God to be author of violence is not an accurate depiction of God’s pathos! Believing God is an absentee God is wrong.

It is not God’s job to stop evil in the world. Defying evil is humanity’s job.  However, God promises to be in it, with us.

Which brings us to this beautiful and challenging passage from the book of Hosea. The metaphor of parent and child can be powerful and intimate when it shows us how God feels, when it shows us God in relationship during times of great joy and great pain.

Hosea was a prophet from the northern kingdom of Judah. And he was a prophet to the northern kingdom. He lived about 850 years before Jesus. He was no stranger to unstable governments and dynasties which puts him in the place just right to teach us things about God we forget when we’re frightened. Having spoken judgement, his predictions have come true and now Hosea issues this incredible and beautiful promise of God.

Hosea offers us an accurate pathos of babiesGod’s tender and very real love and pain—the love and pain of a parent. How do I exercise my relationship with this rebellious child of mine? Hosea’s metaphor shocks us into facing a God who weeps, loving Israel despite Israel’s continued infidelity.  God’s anger is not the opposite of God’s love, its part of the love.  Parents, am I right?

At one time or another every parent has to deal with an errant, strong willed child! When we disappoint God, God never gives up.  I wonder to what extent children are oblivious to all that their parents do to make them happy and whole, courageous and competent? Does any parent have any less of a wish for their children? Of course not.

In a few minutes we will participate in another depiction of God’s relational hope for us as we witness the baptism of Genevieve and Henry.  Little Vivi and Henry will be sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. We will reprise our oaths to renounce the forces of evil that defy God.  That is how we “come round right” for this world God loves and how we consciously allow God to work in, with and through our lives.

Baptism is its own defining and molten moment. It’s when we acknowledge what God has already done.  Remembering our baptism is the daily spiritual practice of paying attention to what God has, is, and will do in our lives and in the world.

Michael Chan is assistant Old Testament professor at Luther Seminary. He writes, “When Christians think about God’s willingness to suffer on behalf of sinful humans, we often think about Christ hanging from the cross. And we should. But Hosea 11:1-9 helps us realize that the cross is not a new development in the life of God, it represents who God is fundamentally.”

It is that truth that should captivate our hearts. The terrorists will continue to wreak havoc but think of this.

According to reports it only took a handful of people to cause the level of havoc we’ve seen this week.

In a moment we will sing the Shaker Hymn Simple Gifts. What is our role in turning the world and bringing it around right?

What if the body of Christ said, “No more!”  What if we expanded and radicalized love? What if we never again disregarded the humanity of another person? What if we did all we could do to help others live as they were created to live?

What we know for sure is that despite pain, God will redeem. God will heal. And God will bring to new life. “Liberté, égalité et fraternité” These are God’s values. Amen.